The fumes from the exhaust of the bus across from where I slept woke me up from my sleep and I stretched languidly, acutely taking in my surrounding. It was time for my daily musing at the bus stop and I slowly rose to my feet. Ah curse it! This damn slipper has cut again I groaned inwardly. It was still dark and a little difficult to find a nail to patch it up. The busy Ojota’ bus-stop was coming to life as pedestrians, bus drivers, conductors and hawkers went briskly about their business. Ojota itself has become one of the city’s terminuses. Luxury buses and the many eighteen seater Hiace busses dock their passengers by the road side often a few meters from the designated motor park thereby causing long grid lock traffic. It was sometime around five thirty in the morning. And like clockwork she arrives to take her spot a few meters away from the pedestrian bridge as she waits for her staff bus to arrive. I often see her just standing there by herself or sometimes with her colleague looking about suspiciously and a little afraid I think. But she is harmless and I have self-appointed myself as her guardian angel. She is beautiful, but way out of my league. I wonder if my life had been different, would she even look my way. The others are plotting to snatch her bag but I give them a stern look and shake my head in annoyance. These fools are going to blow my cover. Jobless pot heads!
Ah a nail! I get to work patching my slipper and almost miss them. It’s the ‘one chance J5 Peugeot bus’ now and it is about to pick gullible and innocent passengers. Where is Killer this morning? He promised to be here so that I can tip him off. Ah! This is bad. I can only watch helplessly as the people scramble for the bus whose destination the conductor was calling out as Obalende” but was heading under the bridge where the passengers would be robbed at gun point and some, unluckily might be killed or maimed if they resisted.
Being an area boy is not the easiest job in the world but it was not without its perks. The conditions are harsh but the hours are mine. The only bit I hated was to give account and render some of my hard earned, however- gotten money to an area father’ who I didn’t very much care for.
Just then Killer creeps up on me. I hate the way he does that. He has an uncanny habit of creeping up on me silently and it is almost deadly when I think of what he can do to me in a crowd and he also has a technique of vanishing away without a moment’s notice. I swear he must be on some local and strong Jazz. It is getting brighter as the sun is rising and full of promises of another hot day. And like clockwork her bus soon arrives and I see her give that smile of relief.
Killer nudges me and say don’t even think about it.
“Where you been dey? I asked angrily
“the vultures have completed their cycling’ it was our code language.
Killer merely shrugged his shoulders. I saw the bus from my location but my guys were not in sight. He said and walked away abruptly leaving me wondering what was wrong with him. No sooner did I turn around, than I spotted the notorious Banji walking towards me with two of his goons. Now it made sense why killer had vanished like that, he didn’t want to blow my cover. The goons around here can spot an undercover cop a mile away. I was a bit nervous of Banji and his proclivity for crime often preceded him. But then I had to quickly switch to my area boy mode which is often that of false bravado and wild gesticulations. I began to hail him, hopping from one foot to the other fawning him with loud accolades. I could see that he liked this and reveled in the attention that he was getting. I quietly whispered in his ear to slip his boy some change and he roughly shoved me away saying that he was expecting my dues and I had the audacity to hustle him up on some change. His goons also joined in shoving me back and forth and like a spineless creature that they thought I was, I allowed it. Putting up a fight will end in futility.
My singlet is a murky color that was once white in another life time and the sun is in its full glare, blaring down heavy heat waves today. Pores of sweat run down my face in rivulets whilst the endless traffic of people around me almost becomes a blur. I am consumed by an unbelievable hunger for food. Mama Bisi the akara” seller by the pavement has had it with my constant begging and so that avenue is blocked this morning as she has refused to give me anymore free food. The bus drivers here will not employ me as their bus conductor as they do not trust me. I wonder if Bisi herself is here today. I can always lure her to the corner where I whisper empty promises in her ear for some balls of akara. My stomach rumbles in protest yet again. It seems am in luck today as Bisi sashays into the garage carrying a bucket of freshly grounded bean paste on her head. The bean paste her mother is going to fry for akara. She is full of abuse as soon as she sights me. But I know it is her fondness for me that evidently shows through her insults. I smile inwardly know that breakfast is soon served.
I wink at her and give her a playful smack on her growing backside and she rains some more insults on me. It is our mating call game because later tonight at the darkest corners of the make shift shanties that the traders call shops, prostitutes and garage boys will convene for the nightly sex romps and quick coupling. Perhaps Bisi will come to me this night. But my hunger is of a different one today. One thing at a time I muse silently. Food first.
It is a miserable existence and this year 2003 is no different from the last. But I wasn’t always like this, hard to believe that I once had a home with parents and siblings and I went to school once. I was in secondary school when death and cruel fate had snatched all that was precious to me one horrible night.
Some hoodlums broke into our apartment on a rainy night when the world was fast asleep and had taken away my very essence of life. I became orphaned and without focus and direction moving from one distant relative to the other when I found a calling with the area boys who gave me temporary shelter at the bus stop. I was introduced to all sorts, joints, drugs, racketeering, petty thefts of the latest gadgets “mobile phones” and finally a victim of the rapid response squad team, where I had met Killer.
The raid had been a surprise for I often knew ahead of time when raids would be carried out. The commando style in which the raid was carried out, informed me of this new breed of law enforcers the RRS. They were very quick and efficient and all over the place. They got quite a number of us that day. I was not so lucky and was soon rounded up and arrested with the not so lucky ones. Till this date I don’t why Killer picked me up from that damp and cold floor of the cell where I was thrown in with twenty other randomly arrested persons. We were packed like fishes in a sardine can. It was a dark and filthy place. I quickly made a bargain with him, and chose to be his informant and be under his protection. If I hadn’t he’d have handed me over to his other team mates and I knew my fate would be sealed. I know what they do to miscreants like me in the night; I saw a few and heard tales of how suspects could no longer be produced in courts or to their relations upon demand. I had no one to even bail me out. The squad was above any law that I knew of. If I hadn’t met Killer I would probably graduate to an armed bandit or otherwise. I really don’t know.
Killer and I often met in an empty run down bus which was mounted on old tyre rims, parked in the bus garage. Sometimes I would pass the night in this run down bus or sit on its iron skeleton benches cushioned with planks. I would pretend to be fast asleep whilst killer asked me for information. He would be on standby, scouting various faces as they passed by. He had the most canny and discrete way of handling situations and I was in awe of him but I never let him know that. But he could be vicious when dealing with criminals. He often talked to me about the law and how he upheld the law. Killer knows he will die in his line of duty but would put down as many criminals as he could whilst he was still walking amongst the living. I was a little afraid of the clarity of his pronouncements and wondered why anyone would want to die for his work. His devotion to his job and the seriousness he alluded to fighting crime often baffled me. Come to think of it the Police force are not the most respectable in this country and the pay is a laugh compared to all those politicians and government workers who ply the roads in their shinny cars and expensive attires. I see them all but wondered why Killer could not.
Killer never told me his name I only heard that he was called Killer by his colleagues when I was in jail. Even though he had a tough mien he seemed to have a soft spot for me as he often gave me money for food and sometimes catered for my wellbeing but my life was on the streets and I would not change it for anything. From my constant mingling with the drivers, the garage men and women I have become a depot of information and I too could spot any gang or crime a mile off. Some days are good and some days aren’t. But there is always one adventure or the other to look forward to every day at the bus top.
Another day, another morning, I wonder if the J5 bus will come today. I walk up and down the bus-stop, munching on a dry loaf of bread, peering into faces, eavesdropping on conversations and trying to spot careless commuters. I had stopped picking pockets after my redemption with Killer, as I would not want to jeopardize our relationship by getting caught for petty theft. Killer is becoming impatient with the situation as he is itching to clamp down on this particular gang. They are becoming more daring and their victims have greatly increased by the number. The latest is that one of their victims was thrown off the third mainland bridge into the lagoon awhile back.
It has been awhile since they plied this route, and I have not given up on my vigil. I know how moody Killer can get when things like this elude him. My little stipends will gradually thin out if he doesn’t get some action soon.
My girl is late today and I begin to wonder if she will come at all. As usual Killer soon creeps up on me and he is standing in full glare with me. Ah! he is not taking his usual precaution of being seen with me publicly.
I ask why he is here in full glare but replies “do you think people don’t know about us?
‘Ah Oga Killer I swear I never tell anybody’ I gesticulate by touching my tongue with one finger and raising it to the sky.
Just then she walks by us and takes her usual spot which is on the pavement after the service lane. Killer and I are directly behind her and we continue our talk. Killer is threatening to abandon this current beat as he thinks that the J5 gang must have relocated to a more thriving location like Oshodi but I warn him that the area boys in Oshodi are more vicious than those here in Ojota and if caught will suffer a fate worse than Ojota’s which are sometimes law abiding.
If I catch them then they are in for a surprise he replied in a deadly voice.
Just as I was about to make a remark, the J5 bus pulls to a stop right in front of my girl.
Yeah Killer it’s them I cried.
The next few minutes happened like one of those American action movies. CMS, CMS, cried the fake conductor of the J5 bus and I saw a man and a woman scramble for the slow moving bus. Almost immediately like a super human that he is, I saw Killer pull out his gun, shove my girl away to the right making her almost lose her balance and her bag fell to the ground. He also managed to shove the boarding passengers to the left. I had to tackle the two foolish goons who attempted to make a dash for her handbag and I was rewarded with a gratified look from her upon seeing my mad dash to her rescue. Meanwhile Killer shot at the tyre of the bus and held on to the conductor while pointing his gun at the driver.
He began to call out at the top of his voice Bruno! Sammie! Engage, engage or else I will file complaint.
Soon enough two other undercover Kango cap, denim shirt wearing colleagues of his came up brandishing guns to assist him by rounding up the J5 gang.
A lot of things began to happen at the same time. There were rapid response squad (RRS) panel vans, military boys and police cars. They certainly caused an obstruction with sirens blaring and raised voices.
Ok even I was getting really confused.
Was this not supposed to be a quick rescue and arrest operation it seems to be turning into a small riot and traffic had built up for miles now. Why was one bus causing so many fracases? It is not the first time that operations like this have been carried out. Well it’s time for me to be off before this turns to a raid. I can always get the gist tomorrow. My motto was live today fight tomorrow. But then again I was very curious and I wanted to know what was happening and so I climbed the pedestrian bridge and was graced with a vantage position. I couldn’t hear majorly what was being said but I could see rifles being brought out from the J5 bus and the driver was already bleeding from a cut on the head. Soon enough I saw Killer handcuff the two criminals and shepherd them into his colleagues RRS vehicles. And they soon sped off.
Just like the norm in Lagos the traffic began to thin out and soon enough the show was over. Looking at the slow moving different vehicles raging from trucks to luxury busses and cars, no one would believe that there was a monumental event that had just taken place. I continued to look on at the now flowing traffic and wondered about the fate of the J5 criminals. In the commotion I had lost sight of my girl but hoped that she got away and will be back tomorrow.
The one chance crime was the talk of the garage for the rest of the day and some of the motor park touts were soon hinting about the informants in Ojota selling out on the criminals. There were all sorts of opinions raised and I was listening intently for any one suspecting me of being an informant. The informant was brandished as a sellout and the head of the garage warned that anyone caught selling out will be severely dealt with. I was a bit uncomfortable with this declaration and wondered if Killer had not compromised my status by the early morning’s activity. Already I was getting to feel as though the walls were closing in on me and all eyes were on me. For some reason I felt that Banji and his cronies were going to be a threat to me as Banji’s boys had been shadowing me for a while now.
The next morning Killer comes to me like a phantom that he is, he tells me that the J5 gang never made it to the station as they were rounded off after he had extracted a confession from them. Apparently their sponsor and head was a military man who provided them with the weapons and the bus to conduct their nefarious activities. It was upon sighting of the J5 bus that pricked the interest of the army boys who were on their way to the cantonment as some of them recognized the bus as belonging to the army hence the fracas during the arrest. He also told me that some other informant had given out my name as the informant for the operation and so my position has been compromised.
You need to move out. He concluded.
But I have nowhere to go I answered him.
Then stay and get killed he replied. Even I cannot save you here.
And with that he walks off. I am still musing about what to do when my girl comes to stand by her usual spot and I fill my eyes with her calm demeanor. Her colleague comes to stand beside her and notices me. He leaves her and engages me in a conversation about what had taken place yesterday morning. I give him the full story wildly acting out the scenes that had taken place yesterday and notice how my girl tries to strain her ear from time to time to catch the gist.
Someone soon grabs me by the shoulder and says that Banji is calling me I look around for Killer but he is nowhere to be found. A cold hand soon clutches at my chest as I am shoved and kicked. I have a feeling that I have met my waterloo.
I look sadly as my girl made a quick dash to her staff bus which was parked meters away from the ensuring commotion. I continued to look at her willing her to turn and give a last look as she boarded the bus. Just as I thought that she would not, she turned a raised her hand and wove to me. I smiled as a sudden blackness enveloped me.
Written by Jumie September 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, Characters, Places and Incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.