The year was 2008 and I have just been kicked out of my apartment -a boys’ quarters- with only 500 naira left in my pocket. I remember this because I bought 500 naira worth of suya for myself that night, as a way of saying goodbye to the good life I once enjoyed and ushering in the bad life I anticipated before going to bed.
My landlord, an Elder in my church, who housed me for a total of three years had just thrown me out after I defaulted on paying for staying an extra three months. His wife was a stay-at-home mother who secretly passed me food in his absence because I often helped her with cleaning and emptying the trash.
My landlord was a man of grit and believed in hard work. None of his children took buses to school. They all trekked to and from school everyday, under the burning heat of the sun. He glorified suffering and refused to employ a house help to assist his wife in taking care of the family of nine. He made power moves. Every time. The way he walked with his shoulders held high capped it all for me.
That night when I was awoken by 11pm, few hours after I switched off my lights and was asked to leave with my belongings -a backpack and a flat foam- I knew that the devil was camping right in that compound. I had sold off most of my clothing and furniture to sustain myself after the last woman I brought home from the club stole all my jewelry, cleared my rack of footwears and cleared my flat clean of any valuables.
Outside, it rained heavily with the flashes of lightning and rumbling thunder terrifying me. The fear of falling into a gutter, full of debris and fast running water, hunted me as I walked on the empty street. Unable to see much and lost in my thoughts, I stumbled on a rock and fell with my face on the mud. I cried as the red, cold, sticky earth clung to my skin and my backpack slipped away from my back and into the gutter and floated away.
Unable to get myself to stand, I lay still until I could no longer feel my body in the cold. I had swallowed enough mud to develop toothache and a brittle tongue. There was no energy left in me to exist. In the darkness, I could see the foam some where in the far distance where I had dropped it because I didn’t know of what use it was to a dead man like me.
So, I muttered my last prayer and tightly shut my eyes, hoping not to see the dawn of the next day. Maybe some kind man would pick me up before I froze to death or death itself finished me off before anyone saw me. Either ways, I was prepared for whatever followed next.
Suddenly, a whip fell on my back and I sprang to my feet. Who could be this unsympathetic fellow trying to kill me? I charged up, ready to fight until my eyes cleared and I saw the head of the vigilante, with his broad shoulders and blood shot eyes swinging a koboko while the rest of the men jeered.
I could tell by the shadows of people, buildings and vehicles as well as the odor emanating from the bodies of bystanders that it was almost noon. I quickly glanced around and spotted Abel, the village drunkard, clutching a beer bottle in one hand and a cigarette stick in the other under a mango tree and Tent, the wood feller, playing card games in front of Mama Paulina’s provision shop. Those were my two friends. I expected them to fight for me but there they were, living their lives with no regard for me.
I returned to face the monster before me and sized him up. He was pumping his biceps, ready to throw me a punch in the face. Why was he so bothered about me? Why couldn’t he have walked past without having to wake an innocent man like me who was having a quiet nap by the gutter side? Then, it struck me. 😭
My landlord refused to pay his security dues for the estate a year ago and when the vigilante approached him, he ordered them out of the compound and instructed me to bolt the gate after them. I had gone the extra mile by throwing mild insults at them, including calling the head of vigilante, ‘a weakling’.
If this was the only time I wronged him, he might have left me to walk away unharmed. Orinma had dug my grave earlier than I thought. She used to be ‘his’ Orinma until I used a line from Elder’s poems and she began to follow me around.
She thought Elder was my father because of how nicely his wife treated her whenever she visited the compound. Things ended badly because I woke up one morning and heard she died the previous night. No one cared to find out what killed her but some how, I knew it was the handiwork of that creature before me. The markings on his body were numerous and the cowries on his neck embraced his neck as if to strange him.
Before any of the men knew what was happening, I knelt down and started begging him -the head of the vigilante. I called him adorable names and hailed him as the supreme leader of our land. I revered him like a titled man and rubbed his feet. Soon, he began to dance around like a true Nze and I thanked my stars for giving me such brilliant idea.
My joy was short lived because another woman saw through the show I had put up and quickly pointed out that it was me who showed the Money lender the way to her sister’s house, where she had gone to hide when she heard that they were looking for her. Nsogbu! 🙆🏻♀️
Those merriment turned into a stampede and they came at me with full force with the woman taking the lead. It was truly doomsday for me and there was no escaping it. I pleaded for them to allow me crack a joke -albeit dry, once last time before taking a bow from Mother Earth. Fortunately, they obliged me and afterwards took me back to Elder who accepted me but this time, as a gateman.