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Death of an economist who was reduced to a labourer (2)

From The Rejected Stone by Osa Amadi

LAST WEEK

After lying his way into SARS, GID, Ikeja, in an effort to rescue his younger brother in detention there, Chima was battered by policemen for coming into a restricted area. Although beaten mercilessly, he had gotten a lead with Mohammed. But Mohammed is asking for an outrageous sum as bribe. Chima didn’t have the money. Mohammed ignored him and drove home. Now, Chima is stranded in Ikeja in the midst of the worst fuel scarcity in the history of Nigeria.   

After Mohammed drove away, Chima waited there until dusk before he became convinced that Mohammed wasn’t coming back. Then he came out from the GID and walked towards the railway near Agege Motor Road. The bus stop was filled with people who had managed to come out in the morning, but could no longer find transport back home as a result of the fuel scarcity.

Tired, hungry and confused, he sat on a stone under a nearby tree, watching people as they struggled for the few buses that managed to come out. Some bricklayers were also washing their spades, trowels and head pans in a building under construction. An honest means of livelihood, no matter how poor, is better than a life of crime, Chima reflected. He could not understand how anybody could choose crime in preference to millions of honest labours in the world. He could not understand how someone who was born a king would choose to walk through life on hands and knees.

It was getting dark and there was not even a single commercial vehicle on the road any longer. People began to trek, that is, people who knew where they were going. Chima joined them. Soon he fell into conversation with a young man who was also trekking. ‘I am new in Lagos. I am staying with my brother at a place called Ilasa. I came out in the morning with a public transport. But as we are trekking now, I will not be able to know the place,’ Chima told the young man.

‘Don’t worry. I am also going to Ilasa.’

It was past midnight before they got to Ilasa. Chima was surprised to learn that the young man was one of the men he had seen washing their bricklaying tools at the site of the building under construction at Agege Motor Road.

‘I am a graduate of economics from UNN, Nsukka.’ The young man, Chukwuma, said.

‘And you are doing bricklaying work?’

‘It’s not even a bricklaying work. I carry blocks and cement mixed with sand and concrete. It’s five years now since I graduated. I’ve not been able to find a job and I have nobody to help me. So I have to do whatever I could to keep body and soul together.

Chima was able to find his way when they got to the bus stop. His dislocated wrist had swollen. He went to a chemist shop to massage and bandage the wrist. The next day, he came out very early in the morning, and yet there were no buses on the road. The bus stop was already filled up with passengers. Two hours later, one Molue, a 911 Mercedes converted into a passenger lorry, came coughing and sneezing. The inside was filled up with passengers surging out of the doors and yet more people were still jumping onto every available space on the body of the Molue without it stopping.

As the Molue was passing, Chima jumped with all his strength, slipping his injured right leg. The passengers on the door grabbed and held him until he found a place and dug in his left foot. The bus got only as far as Oshodi. From there, he followed groups of other trekkers to Ikeja.

‘I was here yesterday to see Mohammed. He told me to come back today,’ Chima told the armed mobile policemen at the gate. They passed him and he walked down to SARS department.

The same man who had first begun to beat him was at his duty post. He recognised Chima. ‘Mohammed is not around,’ he said sternly to Chima.

‘Can I wait for him?’

‘Go and sit down there,’ he pointed to a bench under a mango tree.

It was not until afternoon before Mohammed drove in with the same pickup van. As he was coming out of the vehicle, Chima walked down to him.

‘You are here again today,’ he said. ‘Do you have the money?’

Chima shook his head. ‘Sir, my father just died and we don’t have access to the little money he has in the bank.’

‘Ok. Go and look for twenty five thousand naira,’ Mohammed said and walked away.

‘Please sir,’ Chima said, following him.

‘You’d better not follow me. And don’t come here again if you don’t have the money.’

Slowly, Chima walked out of the GID. He went back to the place where he had sat yesterday, under the tree, near the building construction site. He sat down on carton papers left behind by some beggars. For the first time, he began to realise that the problem that brought him to Lagos was bigger than him. His money was fast running out and Lagos was grinding to a halt due to the fuel scarcity. And how was he going to get the twenty-five thousand naira?

So Dimkpa is going to die just like that? Tears ran towards his eyes and nose. He folded his head into his knees and began to weep as he had not wept before in his life even when he was a little boy. His entire body was convulsing. ‘God, please help me. This problem is bigger than I can handle. Jesus, I hear you deliver people from this type of problem. Please help me to save my brother. We have no other help. Our father is dead, and no other person wants to help us. Our enemies have destroyed us. Please, God. How can I go back home without my brother? What will I tell my mother?’

Owing to his sorrow, hunger and exhaustion, he fell asleep lying under the cashew tree. Around 6: 00 p.m. he woke up, feeling so strangely peaceful and full of energy similar to the one he had felt, long time ago, on that day he had promised Nne that he would break the door to the university locked against his family.

The whole place was deserted. As he looked towards the building under construction, he saw some men washing their working tools as usual. Perhaps Chukwuma my friend, the economics graduate will be there, Chima thought. He stood up and walked down to the site. His friend was there quite alright.

‘Ah! My friend Chima,’ Chukwuma called out to him, ‘so you managed to come out again today.’

Chima related to him how he managed to get to Ikeja in the morning. ‘Are you not going home? It’s getting late.’

‘If I trek back to Ilasa this night, how am I going to come out again in the morning? There are no more vehicles on the road.’

‘So where are you going to stay?’

‘I am going to sleep here so that in the morning, I will continue work.’

‘Is one’s life safe here at night?’ Chima asked, surprised.

‘Does it matter? My life even has no value,’ said Chukwuma.

Chima decided to spend the night there with Chukwuma. Of course he had no option. It was 2:00 a.m. before they slept on the carton papers Chukwuma had arranged on the floor in one of the uncompleted rooms. The two friends took turns telling each other the story of his life.

‘I have taught in a private school for a salary of five thousand naira only. Everyone regarded me as one who was working. But I could not contribute to the rent of the house where I was squatting. I could not eat a decent meal just for one day in a month. I could not afford even one fairly used okrika clothe throughout the one year I taught in that school. So the best thing for me was to resign and find some other thing to do. That was how I came here and started working as a labourer. For me, this is better than teaching. Which is better: to be clean and perish or be dirty and survive? At least I make five hundred naira every day here.’

‘Five-hundred? That means if I work here like you for about two months, I can save the twenty five thousand the policeman is demanding,’ Chima said.

‘It’s possible. But remember that you have to feed yourself and do some other little expenses out of your daily earnings,’ Chukwuma reminded him.

‘Yes. But at least I will be close to that figure.’

‘Yes.’

‘I will start in the morning.’

‘But you have an injury on your right hand.’

‘I will manage.’

In the morning, Chukwuma introduced Chima to the foreman. ‘But how can he work with that kind of hand?’ the foreman asked.

‘Sir it’s only a minor injury. I can work with it sir.’

But his friend Chukwuma knew it was not by any means a minor injury.  He helped Chima in every way he could. He shoveled gravel into Chima’s head pan and helped him put it on his head. So also they did with every other material they had to carry to the bricklayers. Throughout that day, pains exploded from his injured hand but Chima gave no single sign capable of betraying his suffering.

They were asleep that night when they heard gunshots. Some men ran into the uncompleted building followed by another group of men spraying bullets all over the building. Chima laid flat on the floor wedging his head into a nearby stone. But Chukwuma, on hearing the gunshot and seeing men running into the building, jumped up trying to run out of the building. The bullets cut his body into pieces. He shouted, fell down, and laid still.

Then strong flashlights converged on Chima and a very strong voice shouted: ‘don’t move! Hands up!!

Not knowing which of the two contradictory orders to obey, Chima decided it was safer to remain still. A jackboot hooked to his neck and crushed his head to the floor. Chima shouted.

‘This one is still alive!’ the owner of the jackboot on his neck shouted

‘Sit up!’

Chima raised his two hands and slowly sat up. Swiftly, a pair of handcuffs locked his two wrists together. Then two strong hands on each of his shoulders hauled him up roughly and dragged him out of the building into a waiting police vehicle.


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