By Omoruyi Uwuigiaren
I went into the printing press and I have to tell you that it was the best press I have ever seen in my life. It was beautiful. There were customers. There was help on the floor. One of the staff approached me. He greeted, “Good evening sir.” Smile paraded his face.
“Good evening, young man,” I replied, beaming with confidence. “Where is your boss? I came for my books. Are they ready?”
He shifted his weight to one leg. He smiled, and threw out a question, “Are you Mr. Robert?”
“Yes!” I nodded affirmatively.
“My boss is not in the office but he left a note for you!” He handed the letter over to me and moved to one side.
Without wasting time, I browsed through the piece. In a couple of minutes, I was done. I let go a mighty heave, raised my head and turned to the young man. “Thank you, I got the message. Where are the books?”
“They are over there,” he pointed to a corner in the press. “Please, follow me.” We walked to the corner where the books were neatly packed.
I considered myself the happiest visitor. My first book was finally printed and they are now within my reach. Beautiful prints and my world has become an intriguing place. It was the best any first time author could ever ask for.
I was starting a new life altogether. Every turn had taught me a lesson. Richer in wisdom but I could not tell if my new endeavor would turn out to be a gold mine that I could be mining forever. My passion was great, taller than the pair of legs that carried me.
Some of the valuable lessons will certainly stay with me forever. If I do not make them applicable to my everyday life, I will be a loser and it might haunt me for the rest of my life. We ought not to look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors and for profiting by dearly bought experience.
The process of getting the book published was turbulent. I met folks who challenged me. They hit me hard and I almost gave up. It was obvious that it was up to me if anything remarkable would happen. If I were not forthcoming with money as quickly as possible, my job would be thrown out of the window. It is dangerous to hang around the wrong people. I was a man brought to his knees by bandits with guns pointed at him. They made me tough.
Most people want their lives to keep improving, yet they value peace and stability at the same time. People often forget that you cannot improve and still stay the same. Growth means change. Change requires challenging the status quo. I had stumbled on a path that I would be glad to see where it would lead me.
The printer had done his job. The books were glossy and neat. Not everyone will be this meticulous given the short time he had to deliver. My life was a festival. The young man joined me and we moved all of the books to my car outside. After the excruciating exercise of arranging them in the boot of my car, I was exhausted. I thanked the good soul and he walked back into the office.
I dusted my clothes and got the car keys from my chest pocket. My rickety legs carried me to the driver’s seat where I settled into the car. My eyes travelled quickly about to see if everything was in place. The books had settled in nicely in the boot, there was no stone left unturned, so I ignited the engine and drove off.
It is cruel to negotiate some roads. One could spend several hours and some do not care if you die trying. It hurts. The loser is a meal to the bald vultures.
Regularly counting the cost of my valor has helped my poor soul to tread cautiously. Smart people draw strength from their fall. The cost of finishing strong and staying alive against all odds is not cheap.
I drove through Lawanson road, an old narrow way leading off Itire. I had my first sight of the Palace of the Itire Monarch. It was old-fashioned. It was African with a fine red painted threshold. Here, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Every day is a journey. The day we close our eyes upon the light of the world, the journey ends. Most times, it is out of our hands to choose how we will embrace the next world. There are forces that rule in the affair of men but fate would place a man where he truly belongs.
Now I am on a journey that looks like a formality. Sadly, in this ever-changing world, there are challenges. A man must bend any circumstance to his favor.
The Lawanson road connects Oshodi-Apapa expressway. If you are in a hurry to embrace silence, get out of misery, you are welcome to this part of the world. You can never have enough of the misfortune on this highway. Trucks queue on both sides, trapped in a constant battle to outsmart one another. There are dilapidated buildings along the road and their numbers scary.
Most of the buildings have no occupants because they are like a dead man bound by horrible tradition that made it difficult for his people to commit him to mother earth. The cost of maintenance and travelling back and forth from the buildings would leave a deep hole in any pocket. The implications are damning and grievous. Weight of which tied to a large man and tossed overboard a ship into the sea would drown him.
No matter how frugal, miserly or clever a man is, he can hardly recover all of the loss of wasting his time. You cannot live out your life in happiness in a poorly organized city. It is a tragedy to be born in such a place.
Wild waves of the sea are casting up the foam of their own shame. Wandering stars, for which the gloom of utter darkness reserved forever. Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his soldiers to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodliness.
All the harsh things punished and the law exalted. When hope comes, it comes with vengeance and the downtrodden are blessed. The tragedy of the time will not hurt the laborers and workers who long night and day for change.
Every culture has its own story. If we have to see a future, a vision of hope, we have to do what is right. Sometimes the city feels sick as if there is a plague. With every victory, their evil grows and darkness descends. When have we allowed evil to be stronger than we have? She is elevated above her means and then suffers the disappointment of being overlooked.
Sanity is a very expensive commodity. Every single day, we risk raising weak people. When weak people are more in number, they are powerful. If unhindered, they could also raise for themselves a leader. You will think like the people with whom you spend most of your time. The world will suffer under the feet of the weak. Of noble blood or of weak conscience, we are in troubled times.
The recklessness of men has made it tough. The gods of the underworld or the people on the street, there is a drop of evil lurking in the dark. It does not require an invitation to unleash terror. It is second nature to leave men humiliated. Humanity is at her mercy. Man made of the dust has but a short time. The circle hardly ends before the ruthless creatures overtake him. Disrupt his path and cast shadows over him. Men who no one can predict have overtaken the world. It is insanity. It is grave danger to exist alongside these creatures. The brutish, the brutality and the brash which demeaning any unfortunate soul lives within our walls. At what cost?
Hang in there for too long, you are marked. If you slip, you are in the web, groveling at the feet of the hungry spider. The creature twists and turns, entangling her soul all the more. In the passage to demise, the countryside where hell is a permanent resident, you are stung. The dreadful sting leaves you with no chance of seeing tomorrow.
The loser robbed of his future and the bald vultures gladly feed on the corpse. The victim takes to the street an empty man, drifted off course or tossed about by the cruel hands of the morning breeze. Life is tough. He tries to fill a vacuum. How can the empty desire to fill a need? What does he have to offer? He cannot fit in anywhere. He cannot see because he is a loser. The predators have made him a loser. A piece of work created to fail and with no chance whatsoever to see the sun.
The prey does not even know he is a prey. He considers himself fortunate to eat from the crumbs that fall from the table that is the size of an Olympic stadium. The generations of men that love evil are on the rise. They have reached the high heavens and only the heavens and his soldiers can cut them off.
The gridlock never dies. The dark nights never end. There is no charity on the table. The cruel hands of fate snatched it. You cannot approach the finest thieves with eyes closed. Every gambler knows that the secret to survival is to know what to hold on and what to throw on the table. In truth, no table is alone. It must bear the burden of men. The table is where many lives are destroyed, destinies overturned and deals cancelled. The men who rule the world have nearly everyone on their table. Some are powerful enough to decide who lives or who dies. You wonder how people wake up in the morning and discover that they have lost everything? Someone on the table pushed him to the abyss. He is relieved of the misery and will never be the same again. It hurts but that is the world. Not everyone owns the world. We all can exist here but very few are in charge.
Evil knows no race or color. In those buildings along Apapa-Oshodi expressway are economic losses. Weakness is also borne out of nothingness. There is no point to prove. You can never live out your life in happiness and freedom in a city under siege. It is a tragedy to train up a child in this creepy kind of place. If there is doom, it is because they allowed it. They are the doomsday. They are the reason why the world is sad. The world is in the hands of few.
It is easy to be a prophet of doom when the young men emerging from the college after a hard five years were faced by a world indifferent to their enthusiasm and bursting knowledge. Results that are never palatable. Those who lack courage and a will to survive, leave the troubled world behind. Others take to vices, which leaves them less human.
Trying to live at all cost, they end up paying the price. The cost of breaking the law far outweighs the price of obeying it. The horror stories of heartless and vicious people cannot be undermined. Tales by young people who managed to secure employment only make one hardened and embattled.
Some were just little bits of dirt to be starved and worked into the ground by heartless employers. There is never a day off. Some to wash the car, dig the garden, feed the dogs, and push trucks and do family shopping for the boss. Many stretched beyond limit. No human is carved out of stones.
Their lords are grumblers, malcontents, following their own desires. They are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. In the unfortunate hour, there will be scoffers who follow their own ungodly passion. Good nature leaves them annoyed because they are devoid of spirit. Good conscience is a priceless of work regardless of who bears it. Sadly, it is the least of the investment. They consider it a fallow ground that probably leaves you chasing shadows.
They are foul-mouthed sepulchers, destroying everything in their part. One crushes the destiny of men under his feet. He leaves a belch in the air and the earth trembles.
My mind had wandered far away. Far too long that it was resident in the abyss. The extent of which I had gone had little or nothing to do with what hands were doing on the wheel. They were firmly on the steering as the day rolled away. Darkness headed my way. You cannot cheat this beast. You cannot burn her fingers on the furnace. You cannot evade her captivity. It is insanity. Our estate in life whether rich or poor, high or low cannot make the natural phenomenon quiver.
The sun had done enough. It was retiring from her duty. Now it stood in the east and smiled at the horizon. It was easy to see her exhaustion. It had been a long day. Something we are fond. We see the old, raging beauty every single day.
It was fading very fast. The wandering clouds are pulling the sun from the eyes of men into her estate. Her fiery darts had grown weak. The poor soul would be back.
My journey so far was smooth. I was yet to reach the nightmare at the other side, Oshodi-Apapa expressway. There are visible signs of life wasted on that road. You can hardly tell the difference between the highway and a garage. There are more trucks packed on the road than vehicles moving and humans possibly to have spent several weeks in their trucks are spotted either sleeping on the wheel or are they under the truck taking a nap as if they might have been carved out of stones.
The helpless people are like ten or more sardines squeezed into a tiny container and sealed. Imagine the stench that hung in the air each time one of the creatures fart. They are far from redemption. And if it ever exists here, it is bought with a price that I doubt the men in the trucks could afford. Life cannot be this cruel and you expect healthy men to walk the street.
No doubt, this is human failure. Man against man is so unjust. The highway needs a healing. If the people in power do not begin the process of healing themselves, there can never be a permanent solution to the problem.
To reach the bridge at Cele bus stop from where I was in Surulere and then navigate Mile 2 is insanity. It is a sour taste in the mouth, morbid and damning. No matter how smart, my poor soul would be trapped in the web of tragedy caused by many years of cluelessness. Cluelessness will not swallow me. I turned the other way and drove straight down the road. If I get to the road at the other side, I will face the way to the airport.
I was alone in my car, a grey colour Mercedes Benz. Model 200, manufactured in the year 1998. The car is elegant, automatic and durable. It has good engine, tough gearbox, neat interiors, solid sound system and factory fitted air conditioner. It was famous in time immemorial. There was a time such a car was a luxury. It was a sign of opulence and strictly for men who had bottomless pockets. Now overtaken by advancement and technology or reserved exclusively for citizens in the pool of old age. Life is good but you cannot gain all in her circle. No matter how hard you try, there are things that will always be out of your reach. For instance, you cannot be wealthy and still be poor at the same time. It will never add up. Strangely, both worlds cannot fit into one piece. No man in his finest has ever managed to do so.
Nowadays, old people are becoming choosy, though many are still clinging to the same old path. There is nothing wrong if you stay the same. It only has a price. At some point, you will get bored. If you cannot control this, you will find living tough. People die of boredom. It is nothing new. It is old as ages and grand as the pyramids of Egypt.
There is a car for everyone. Strangely, I, a young man in his late thirties, bored by circumstances that I could hardly bend to my favour, cannot afford something better than a monument. The Benz 200 was night. What does light have to do with darkness? I arrived at the scene too late. Everyone in the marathon race had left. Mercedes Benz 200 is gone for good.
After covering a huge distance, I drove into some police officers. About four or more were in a van and one was standing at the middle of the road. He was like a monument in vast land. I think it was his turn to put road users under pressure. He waved me to stop. I slammed my leg on the brake. My vehicle rolled to the corner and halted a few poles away from their van. From the mirror, I could see the machination against my soul.
The police officer approached my car. His movement was not coordinated. To avoid suspicion that he was drunk, he tried to control himself. But every step he made only betrayed him. He was like the windblown rain, ship without a rudder, woefully tossed about by every wind that emerged from the belly of the sea.
Then the creature whose eyes were crimson red and his head shaven like an egg leaned forward. “Good evening,” he greeted. He smelled like a bar. The smell made me want to throw up. “What do you have in your boot?” he asked and kept a straight face.
“There is nothing much in my boot sir. I have only my books!” I disclosed and flashed an exaggerated smile at him.
My innocent smile had no impact. It seemed to have upset the man. He stared coldly at me and flung a glance at the back seat to see if he could find what could implicate me. There was no luggage on the seat. I have learnt never to leave anything on the seat. If I could not squeeze any luggage in the boot, I forget about it or come back for it another time. Drivers in Lagos know how painful it is to be dragged for avoidable offences.
Then he returned his gaze to me and cleared his throat. “Off your engine!” he bellowed. “Come out of the car and open your boot!” He adjusted to vertical and made a few steps back so that I could have enough space to open the door and get out of the car.
“Okay! No problem.”
Without wasting time, I alighted from the vehicle. Slammed the door shut and carried myself to the back of the car. He followed me, still not comfortable standing on his feet. As we walked quietly side by side to the back of the car, I placed the car keys in my chest pocket and made for the wallet in my trousers. Some of these men love bribes. Sometimes, it is pleasant to save them the embarrassment of checking vehicle particulars that are not expired. The routine can be so boring, especially when they are desperate to find fault and make you pay for a crime you did not commit. Some are comfortable living a lie, whereas others prefer to keep it real.
As strange as things are, a few naira notes could save me unnecessary questions. So I decided to take my chance and initiate a bribe. Break a long line of trust if it ever exists and get out of the mess. I got some naira notes out of my wallet. My plan was to beat the traffic along Apapa-Oshodi expressway as early as possible. Wasting time with the police officer could jeopardize that and leave me in a bloody mess. “Sir…” I cleared my throat and scratched my head.
“Yes,” he responded and glanced up at me.
“I have something for you.” Smile paraded my face. I stretched out two hundred naira notes at him. “Please, manage it,” I added politely, bowing my head. “I still have a long way to go. I need to beat the traffic at Oshodi-Apapa expressway. If I do not go now, I might not make it early to where I am going. I live very far and I hate to drive at night.”
He breathed deeply and aimed a slight dig at me. “Bribe is a crime, you know,” he told me. “Offering policeman money in order to stop him from doing a proper check could land you in jail. You are a criminal irrespective of who you are. Always give room for due process. It will not cost you anything to be patient and allow us to do our job. The government pays me to look after you. I know what I am doing. If I want to eat frog, I eat the one with eggs! As you know, it is an offence to bribe a police officer. Do not make my job difficult for me. Let me do what is right. Once I am done, you will know if your offer is good enough or not. If you provoke me, I will take the money and put you in trouble.” He let go a belch that took some time to mix with the air and kept a straight face.
“Sorry sir,” I apologized and tossed the money back into my pocket.
As soon as we arrived at the back of the car, he watched me opened the boot as his colleagues who sat in the van fixed their gaze on us.
He was sweating. I was at a loss as to why a police officer would be sweating profusely with only a rifle. I guess the rifle was too heavy for him to maneuver. Nearly everything in this life is a nightmare to the drunk. With liquor gaining prominence, the gun was only unavoidable. The rifle was old and it is a tragedy for a drunken man to wield such a weapon.
He’s a representative of the state mandated to protect lives and properties. Entitled to a weapon and can kill for the state if there is a need to do so. His present state of mind only made him evil. I was not in the position to fix the problem. I was the victim. He was supposed to be my friend and protector. The man who the law has entrusted my life into his miserable hands was drowning. He had betrayed the state and the people he had sworn to serve. I threw the boot open, turned to him and crossed my arm over my body.
He peered down at the books in the boot. His eyes travelled back and forth. He nodded, simpering and staggered back and forth. He almost knocked me over as he tried to steady his already disorganized soul. He swallowed hard, licked his lips as he continued to inspect the books. I proudly showed him my picture at the back of the books, my name on the front cover and my identity card, so that he could familiarize himself with the latest author in town.
Suddenly, a deep melancholy sat on his wrinkled face. He seemed not to be impressed with my accomplishment. He had barely glanced at the identity card, when he yelled at me, “How can a fine man like you be a thief? You are into piracy. You are in soup!”
“What soup? They are my books! Can’t you see I publish them? I spent several hours to write the book and had to take loan to print them,” I protested, innocently. “How can you accuse me just like that? Sir, I am innocent!”
“You are innocent as you just claimed, yet you tried to bribe me?” He barked at me. He turned to the van and signaled the other men to come. About three police officers jumped out of the van and approached us as if they had caught a very big thief.
Before I could blink, he turned to them, pointed at me and thundered, “Arrest this man! He is a thief! Take him to the station. He needs to tell us how he got the books in his boot and why he tried to bribe me!”
They glanced at me as if they had doubts about his claim. One of them smiled at me. Perhaps he was not disappointed about the harsh judgment of his colleague because they already knew he was drunk. “Good evening sir,” he croaked a greeting. “Please, can you identify yourself?”
“Yes,” I cocked my head to one side and looked at him. Without hesitation, I handed him my identity card.
He inspected it carefully. He picked some books from the boot and checked them too. He looked at my face and then back to the identity card. He inhaled sharply and nodded his head. “It’s all right,” he stated. “You are okay.” I did not fit the profile of the criminal that their colleague had just described. He returned my identity card and slammed shut the boot of the car. “My friend, you are free to go. Get back into the car.”
“Oh, thank you, sir,” I said to the cop, bowing my head. “God bless you, sir.”
He smiled and told me, “No problem. You have no case to answer. You can go!”
The police officer who was under the spell of liquor became furious. “Why will you let him go?” he barked at his colleague. “Can’t you see he’s printing books without permission? What other evidence do you need to get this man arrested? He is a thief! He should go to jail!”
Since his colleagues did not answer, he was irritated. Then he turned to me, glared his eyes and yelled, “If you move, I will shoot you! I will dump your body in the canal behind us!”
Life was at stake. Trigger-happy police officers could take any life. Afraid that he could kill me, I paused.
“What is wrong with you?” One of the police officers barked at their colleague. “Respect yourself. I have warned you to stop drinking. If you continue like this, I will write a report about you and the commission will dismiss you. Lower your weapon now!”
“NO! I will not lower my weapon! The man is a criminal. He tried to bribe me!” the drunken officer protested.
“You are drunk. How do we believe what you are saying is true? Lower your weapon and return to the van or I will take the gun from you!”
The drunk turned to the police officer. He smiled faintly, pointed to me, he said, “Why are you ranting? What has this man given you? Oh, you have begrudged me right. Now you want to fight. Touch the gun and you will see my dark side. I will remove my uniform and we will kill ourselves here!”
The other police officers glanced at each other. They clenched their fist. Before the drunk could blink, they pounced on him. They went for his rifle. They wrestled him to the ground in a bid to disarm him before he would do the unthinkable and put the team in trouble.
Not to be hit by stray bullets, I took cover behind my car. There was a struggle between them. As they fought gallantly with him, he yelled at the top of his voice, “Who gave him authority to write? He should provide documents to show he is a writer! Or else, heaven will fall on us!”
I was a still water in my corner. Not long after, they disarmed him. They collected the rifle from him and ordered him to return to the van.
I came out of the corner. As he moved away, staggering, he turned to me, he muttered, “You are lucky today! I would have sent you to hell!”
One of the men turned to me. “Sir, we are sorry for the embarrassment. You can go now but if you have anything for us, you can drop. At least you see how we saved you from our colleague. That is how he behaves each time he‘s drunk. You are safe now.”
“Thank you, sir. I am happy the way you guys put the situation under control.” I placed my hands in my pocket, brought out some naira notes, and handed it over to them. They were very happy.
I entered my car and drove off.
As I descended the bridge at airport road, my mind began to work. What would have happened to me if the police officers had not intervened?
Omoruyi Uwuigiaren is a former cartoonist turned writer. When he was a kid, he loved music and composed songs for his high school band. After school, he wanted to pursue a career in music. Instead he embraced writing and studied Mass Communications. His literary works and books have appeared in Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Journal, Open Books, Urban Express Live and many more. He’s the owner of Ruyi’s World of Books and Stories.