I couldn’t sleep the night Steven agreed to take me to Lagos. It was more difficult for me to concentrate because I didn’t tell my parents immediately. I was scared they might want to know why Steven decided to take me and not Ikerebewu his own brother. At the end, I came up with a lie. When my father heard I was going to Lagos, he declared a free meal for all his friends, though on credit. My mother was quite skeptical about the story and the arrangements; but Lagos sounded too sweet for her to want to attack my story. Besides, I think she was more afraid to see me leave her side.
The night before the day I actually traveled was the longest of my life. It was as if that night was tied to some delayed protocol which made it difficult for the night to metamorphose into a broad day. I endured the unquestionable frustration and sleeplessness. Dreads, elation, uncertainties and joy made rounds within me with each passing away of time. The last thing I brooded over that night was what to wear to Lagos. It was a bit difficult for me to decide, Lagos was a special place so I had to look the part. I intended to appear in my best so I contemplated my dead brothers’ kotun clothe but my father suggested buba and sokoto I inherited from him. He said it would look great on me and befitting for that kind of royal journey. My mother on the other hand thinks the hand weaved clothe she made for me two Christmas ago would appreciate my appearance to those in Lagos.
The morning of the following day, my entire family joined me in the walk to the jetty where I and Steven boarded a boat to Warri.
My father helped me with my nylon of clothes, my mum with my mat. My uncle carried my box of books while my sisters and brother, each carried small sacks of food item; from Garry to Palm kernel seed. My father walked in tandem with me throughout the short walk. With his voice raised so high, he advised me to make the best use of my going to Lagos. He also reminded me of our licking roof, my mother’s grinding stone that was wearing out and my sibling’s education. My mother on the other hand was sobbing behind us like a two-year old. While my uncle was busy telling my father from behind not to forget to tell me about the clothes he needed. And of course, my siblings discussed with me earlier about the kind of clothes, sandals, biro they wanted.
With a thunderous sound from their footsteps, my family escorted me to the jetty to meet Steven. My mother’s continued cry and father’s continued talk was near irritation but I couldn’t do anything.
“Okay my son? Don’t forget your promises. What your brother couldn’t do, you promised to do much more so don’t renege on them. The whole family is relying on you to bring back our lost glory.”
“Okay father” I responded amidst tears. A nostalgic feeling of leaving my entire family, though in supposed search of a greener pasture, overwhelmed me.
“I have strategically mapped out how to make more money in few days. I won’t just fix the licking roof; I will build you a new house. I will likewise change your bicycle and God willing buy you a boat.”
I promised mama to change her wardrobe and my siblings education would start immediately until I could take them to Lagos.
“But you know I have to further my education too.” I tried to remind my father who was all smiles that was difficult to hide.
“My good son, I have always known you are the destined child to change our story in this family.”
There he go again, always with the right words.
“I know father, and with the help of God, I will proof I am.”
On the boat, Steven told me everything to expect from the journey to Lagos.
“We have two days to journey to Benin; First to Warri and then to Benin and about seven hours on the road to the center of excellence, Lagos.
In my mind, journeying three straight days was abnormal. But anything to be in Lagos, even if I had to walk down, I wasn’t going to mind. On the boat with us were twenty-eight other travelers, none was going as far as I and Steven. Majority were going to buy goods, while others were returning to Warri or Benin from the end of the year break to resume work.
Entering Lagos ended my long preconceived fantasy. It put an end to all doubts in me. Growing up, going to Lagos became an obsession and my brother’s death made it looked impossible. To me, this is a dream accomplished; an end to my secrete tears. To have succeeded in the first phase of my dream, ‘the rest of the phase I won’t fail you brother if you can hear me’ I mused.
I could feel the air of civilization ooze into the bus; it was totally different from the congested air in our community. I could see vehicles move in numbers, big houses to the left and right. Oh, see light over there? But why would anyone need light on the street? See those people, most of them are even wearing the kind of clothe Steven brought back home for Ikerebewu his brother. Everywhere is just busy, people hanging on buses as if the bus is not moving. But what if they fall? See road under another road, and the one on top didn’t fall. What miracle is this? How can anyone suspend a road and vehicles are passing under. This one is another miracle! A tall house, I remember my corper teacher used to call it something, sky…..sky…, I can’t remember what that was again. To walk to the last floor of these tall houses may take days. Ikerebewu even told me Steven once told him about this kind of tall houses. He told me they have markets in them, hospitals, and schools for the children and even stream in one corner for people to swim and fetch water to cook. Anyway, I will ask Steven to take me there now that I am finally in Lagos.
As if Steven noticed I was having a lot of intra personal discussion.
“So welcome to Lagos, things are quite different here from what you use to see in the community”
As quietly as he said it, the man to my immediate right couldn’t help but look at me as if to feel sorry for a village boy like me. I noticed his questioning look that probably said you should have stayed in your community young man.
“Obviously, I can see the difference, am just amazed with the kind of miracle I am…………..Jesus Christ!” I was responding to Stevens comment when the view before me forced the name of Jesus out of my mouth so loud.
I couldn’t really explain how my voice went so high. All eyes in the bus immediately concentrated on me with mixed facial expressions. Even the driver I noticed had to look through the rear mirror.
Steven, briskly twisted his sitting position to give me little of his profile before asking,
“What is the problem with you?” Anger fumes through his nostrils as much as I could tell
“I am sorry,” my voice became shaky.
“But are we actually going to move on this big water. A road on water, won’t it sink?” I elaborated at least to give meaning to my exclamation.
Steven’s silence says it all, he was so angry his eyes were red.
“Until we get to where we are going, I don’t want to hear your voice again. Okay?”
My okay was almost inaudible. Immediately, I became scared I might have made a wrong call coming to Lagos. As if Steven’s treatment wasn’t enough, some passengers’ in the bus couldn’t help but laughed their ribs to crack.
Fifty minutes after, at about 5:30pm, Steven said we would soon alight from the lorry but he had to visit his friend to pick the keys to his own apartment.
I started noticing something was wrong when the street to his friend’s house was all bush on both ends. Few houses graced the street but then, it was pervasively quiet. As shocking and scary as the street was, I didn’t have a choice but continue with him.
The next shocking revelation came when a lone uncompleted fenced house, adjacent a church was the property Steven claimed to be his friend’s house. Confusion took over from shock and dread replaced hunger. He led me inside the compound after a short dark ugly-looking guy opened the gate in response to Steven’s fifth knock. They greeted each other in an uncanny way and proceeded while I followed inside where I could call a living room. Steven told me to drop my nylons and sack somewhere in the room. About five other huge men got up from where the game of Wot was deciding the exchange of few Nairas. They all greeted Steven and talked a bit. I couldn’t even look up as fear and regret had gripped me. The next thing I heard was,
“This is the boy.”
From nowhere came the first slap. Another guy I think I saw with a bottle of vodka visited me with a punch in the face and the last slap I guess was anaesthetic. I went flat down. It was only my body that knew the effect of the blow when I eventually came back to life. By this time everywhere was dark. I couldn’t sense any presence and every part of my body aches. It was when I tried to move that I realized my ankle had a chain round it tied to God knows what.
The night was thickly dark I could feel it. I could feel the thick darkness move on my skin like insects. By the time I tried to call for help, I realized an excruciating pain in my jugular, to cry became a call for trouble on its own. That was when I relapse to what I was left with; my thoughts and reminisce. My regrets and wishes. Steven must have planned it all out after I blackmailed him to bring me to Lagos. I began to sob within, an alternative to a loud cry. He is probably planning to kill me I thought.
A hard kick woke me up. How I could sleep in such danger, pain and hunger surprised me. I couldn’t explain, even till today. A calm looking man stood before me, a countenance I know will soon change going by the bottle in his hand and smoke.
“Are you the one who blackmailed our Chilin Chacha in your community? God really saved you, he should have allowed them kill you last night.”
Without wasting much time, he covered my face with a dark dirty clothe, unlocked the chain around my ankle while my hands remained chained and led me out. I heard voices but not Stevens. He pushed me to climb into what feels like a container, told one of them to stay with me. After a while, I noticed different noises were coming at intervals, vehicular and human sounds taking turns to penetrate where I was caged. That could only mean I wasn’t exactly where I was, I thought, maybe in transit in a vehicle but where to? Nothing was so convincing like the response I got within me, it dawned on me they were taking me where to kill me. I became weak and too hungry to be scared of death. I tried to call out to Steven as if he was there but was quickly made to shut up by who I supposed was to check me. He came close to me, uncovered my face a little to show my mouth and without delay taped it together.
About two years after, I became the closest to Steven. He trusted me with everything he had and showed me everything he knew, from how to be the best in the midst of miscreants to how to be the best fighter with bottles. He showed me how to steal and cheat. I became the best taker of weed and only strong drink satisfies my thirst any time of the day. I always knew how I got money; if we didn’t steal we would cheat. But how I spend money eludes me when I try to look into it.
Lagos indeed is a place to be. I came to Lagos, saw and conquered. Steven totally brainwashed me, coerced and threatened to kill me if I didn’t join his team. I was practically watched by his boys for three months after that first day. They fed me with weeds and drinks. That was the only criteria for food; weed and food, drink and food. I remember I once tried to run. His boys tracked me down, beat me till I passed out again, and chained me for another four weeks. That was when I knew Steven wasn’t ready to let me go. Yet, our relationship wouldn’t let him kill me. I remember the fifth month of being internalized; I asked if he would allow me go to school and run his business for him at the same time.
“I will allow you go to school when you are free from all I am teaching you” a simple but rather deceiving response. But being so naïve and hopeful, I believed him.
“When do you think that would be, I mean how soon?” I tried to make him put a date to it.
“It’s a process young man; it will take a while, maybe five years.” This time he was going through the information we got about a project.
“But Steven……….” Wish he allowed me finish my comments. He knew I was going to contest and just to re-affirm my place of ‘no position to decide or contest’ he cuts in.
“I do not want to hear a word more from you!” he looked from the sheet in his hand to my eyes as if to tell me he was making that point for the last time.
That was the end of my educational aspiration. It affected me for a while before I could totally acclimatize to the fresh realization of my predicament.
That same year, about two months to December, it occurred to me I had not been home with my family since I got to Lagos. What I did was to send cash to them either through Steven who had been there two times or through a friend. I realized I had abandoned and was really missing them. After about two years away from home, the promises I made to them came rushing in my head. Although I constantly do send cash and regards, but not an amount that could carter for the various needs I left back home. I decided to visit that December and I told Steven about my intention. Steven tried to understand why I needed to go home but warned me to be careful because he thinks I had changed. He also reminded me we had three hits to run before December. With that, I was expecting enough cash for the trip.
On the day of the first hit that should precede two other hits to crown the year, everyone was very high with hopes. Going by information from the informant, the man drives alone to his house from work every day of the week. He was supposed to go home that night with huge amount of money slated to be paid first thing the next day to his contractors. All information giving was correct except that we didn’t know a mole was working with the informant. The mole sold the operation out. It was after we stopped the vehicle, opened it that we realized another person drove the car. Before any thinking could ensue, we heard shots and we reflexively reciprocated.
The shooting stopped not long after it started. I had to stop shooting when I realized I was the last man standing.
“Drop your weapon now!”
I really don’t know how it happened; we were overpowered by the police. To my right was Steven in the pool of his blood, behind me were my accomplices also floating in the ocean of their blood. So why do I need to continue shooting, if I didn’t stop, I was going to be next free styling in the spring of my blood.
“The last of the suspect has surrendered his weapon, over!”
But two other people actually escaped that day, how and to where I didn’t know up on until five months after when one of them first came looking for me in the prison where I had served my jail term. He is now a born again Christian. He came around for about twenty times preaching the word of God and how God can save me the way He saved him. I wasn’t interested and the last time he came I asked him not to return to see me.
During proceedings, several charges were raised against me; several eyes witness nailed me with their testimonies. For the past two years, I have served my jail term. I don’t know if I would ever leave the prison soon since I still have twenty-eight years to serve. I don’t know a lot of things, if my parents were aware or not, if the community heard about Steven. All I know is that the echoes of eko ile I do hear, feel and smell back in our community isn’t what I am experiencing now. I have been pulled by the strings of eko ile to the undesirable wall of the prison, caused by my do or die demand of Steven, leading to my forceful initiation into the criminal group against my wish, dreams and aspirations.
The writer tweet @manueladesola and you can read the first and second part of this story