The Taxify driver showed me a big black welt on his neck. It ran around his neck, bluish black, swollen.
He told me that in October, he had gone to a real estate agency on Allen Avenue to pay for six plots of land in Lekki EPZ zone. The sum was twenty-four million plus naira inclusive of all charges. It was the balance of the money he had saved during a three-year stay in Germany, which he had brought back with him.
He had imported five cars from Germany into Nigeria. He gave his parents one, his wife the other, sold two, and was driving one. He had paid for two years rent for his house in Surulere and furnished it; bought a piece of land in his village in the East which he was still developing. And he’d hurriedly done the traditional and white wedding to his Igbo bride who had waited for him during his stay in Germany.
The purchasing of the land at the Lekki EPZ zone was a long term investment for him.
While in Germany, he had got into a partnership with a manufacturing company and was going to build a factory on the land for the fabrication and assemblage of solar power equipments using their proprietary technology.
He had inspected the land, met with the Baale and the Omo oniles, got the C of O, and took it to the local government and the land registration offices. He had met the officers he was directed to and their authenticity was confirmed.
Then in the first week of last month, he had paid the money into the accounts of the real estate company and promptly, upon the advice of his wife, had mobilised builders and gone to the land to fence it in order to ward off trespassers.
At the site, as they began work, some of the Omo oniles who he had never seen accosted them and an argument ensued when they told them that the plots of land belonged to three other individuals collectively. He protested and marched with them to the Baale to make his case.
On getting there, the Baale he saw was different from the Baale he met the first time he visited the palace. There was another bout of arguments that took hours, during which the other owners of the land were summoned. They showed him their C of Os. One owned two plots, the second owned two plots and the last one owned three plots.
Not believing the authenticity of their documents, they all went with him to the local government and land registration offices where he once again met different people from the ones he had met when he first came there.
The verdict: his documents were fake. Theirs were genuine.
Beside himself in shock, he drove to the real estate agent office on Allen Avenue. It was closed. The agency had packed up and left. The guards at the bank next to the building told him that they had moved out at night.
The Taxify driver said that as he heard the words from the guards, he actually felt a dark cloud envelope him and a deep sadness seize him. It was so deep he could barely breathe or think. He had never felt such sadness before. Never felt such sense of hopelessness.
He called the real estate agent. It rang unanswered thrice. And then it was switched off.
He tried repeatedly and got the same result: The number you are trying to reach cannot be reached at the moment. Please try again later.
Each time he heard the message, he felt the grip of sorrow tighten around him.
And it was in its grip he drove home that afternoon, his heart drumming in his ears.
The house was empty since his wife was at work.
He sat in the living room and stared at the television which was not turned on. All he could see was himself working so hard in Germany to save the money he had just lost.
The questions rained on him.
How would he complete the house in the village? How would he raise the money for the factory? What would he tell his business partners in Germany who had already advanced him a credit facility and were sending him a shipment of the equipments he would need to set up the factory? What would he tell his uncle who had collected a high interest loan on his behalf from his bank to finance the building of the factory? How would he take care of his new wife? How would he take care of his aged parents?
The more he thought, the more he couldn’t think.
And all he heard clearly and distinctly, as though someone was talking to him, were the words:
“There is no hope. No need to stress yourself again. End it all. Kill yourself. End your suffering. Your wife will remarry and move on. Your parents will survive and your sister will marry and take care of them. God understands. God knows you have tried. Go and rest in heaven.
“It is easier to die than live through this suffering. There is no way you can raise that money again. There is no way you can pay back the interest on the loan your uncle has collected even if you return the loan itself. Three months have already passed since he collected the loan for you. Didn’t you already give him his cut? You see, you don’t even have the complete loan itself even if you return it. The bank will take whatever you return as the payment of the interest that has already incurred. Then the balance they would use as part of the loan itself. The rest of the loan will then accumulate interest for everyday you have not brought it in. How would you pay that one? How would you pay that interest, let alone more of the balance of the loan?
“You can’t pay it. The bank will harass your uncle. They will take the house he used as collateral. Your uncle will disturb your life. He will harass your parents. Why do you want to go through all that? If you die, he won’t be able to disturb you or your wife or your parents. The Germans will not be able to disturb them. Without you, they cannot do anything. You see, the solution is to disappear. Save your family. End it all. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself.”
He did not know when he took his belt, made a loop, tied the end without the buckle on the metal railing of the staircase that led to the upstairs bedroom of the duplex in which he lived. He pulled up one of the dining room chairs close to the staircase, climbed on it and put the loop around his neck.
He said a short prayer and begged God to forgive him and receive his soul.
Then he kicked the chair out from underneath his feet and his weight dropped, making the loop tighten around his neck.
The suddenness shocked him. And without thinking, he had his hands grabbing for the tight belt around his neck. He tried to breathe. But with every draw of air, the belt squeezed tighter. His throat and his nostrils were on fire. There was a ringing in his ear which grew louder with every passing second. He felt his lungs catch fire and his windpipe begin to break. His vision began to blur as darkness rushed towards him.
But he didn’t see his life flash back as he had thought he would, based on the stories he had heard. Instead he felt an indescribable urge to survive, to fight for his life.
He tried to grab hold of the railing behind him so that he could pull himself up and his feet could find a footing on the staircase, but his hands couldn’t find anything as they flailed around in confusion and alarm.
It was then he felt the saliva pooling in his mouth. It was like a river. It was rushing. His strength was failing him. He could feel his mind telling his body to fight, but he could feel the power fade out of his body and his hands and feet sagging towards the ground.
And as the darkness rushed over him and he felt a terrible coldness seize him, the last conscious thought he had was that he had forgotten to write a note to his wife.
When he opened his eyes later that day, the first thing he saw was the white ceiling of the clinic and the first thing he felt was the sweat on his face. For a moment he was disoriented and couldn’t remember who he was, where he was or why he was there.
Then he heard voices, a lot of voices.
And in that din, he heard the voice of his wife, shrill with fear as she asked a question. “But how will you know if he has suffered any brain damage?”
The doctor responded, “He has to wake up first before we know.”
“God please o! You saved me from being a widow, don’t punish me now with a husband in coma. I beg you, my Father. King of mercy! Help your daughter in the name of your son Jesus!”
His wife’s voice had a sing-song quality to it when she prayed which usually made him laugh. It was as though she was singing while laughing and jumping up and down on the same spot.
“We are lucky the belt broke in time for him to start breathing on his own accord,” the doctor said. “If not, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. You would have found him hanging in rigor mortis. I mean, you found him lying there more than four hours after he fell. So madam, be optimistic.”
It was then he called out her name. And the hospital room exploded in joy.
The week that followed was tough. After her joy subsided, his wife was furious with him. She accused him of not loving her at all. How could he have wanted to kill himself and leave her like that? He didn’t even bother to leave a note? Was money more important than her? It was this and it was that all through the hours of the day as he tried to placate her while recovering his strength.
His parents and his younger sister journeyed down from the East and joined in the angry outburst. How could he do that? Did he want the church to blacklist them, the Umunna would ostracize them? No one would marry his sister. There would be no one to take care of them. He was very selfish to have thought only of himself. He didn’t even bother to leave behind a male child to carry on the family name.
All this rained down on him like a storm.
And all he could say was a remorseful sorry.
But it was the doctor who intervened and urged them to sheath their swords, before he told them that the real estate agent could be caught. He knew someone at Lion building in Lagos Island who had experience with matters like this and who was an expert in recovering stolen funds.
His parents insisted that the doctor give him time to heal before anyone went in search of the real estate agent, but when they heard the amount of money involved, they changed their tune.
So the contact was called. He offered to help but needed a mobilisation of N250, 000. It was his wife who offered to bring the money. Like her husband, she was a saver too.
The money was given to the contact, who then requested for the number of the real estate agent and the account number the money was paid into. The telecom provider was contacted by the contact and the call log of the number was procured. It had all the numbers that were called and the numbers that called it. The most frequently called numbers were extracted, their registration details got from their respective telecom companies. Each one was called and through subterfuge, a conversation was opened with them, with an offer from the telecom company to visit their office for a price won from an end-of-year surprise lottery done by the telecom company to reward loyal phone customers.
Out of the five people contacted, only two showed up – two ladies.
The contact and his team were waiting for them at the telecom company headquarters. They were promptly arrested.
Meanwhile the bank the money was paid into was contacted. It was ascertained that the money was still in the account. A police order for a hold on the money was forwarded to the bank. The bank complied.
The girls were interrogated. After a marathon questioning that included threats and hot slaps, one of the girls confessed that she was the girlfriend to the real estate agent and under duress, she agreed to take them to his house.
They arrived at his house at Magodo at 5.30 am. They burst through the doors and met him sleeping in bed with another girlfriend, both naked. The other rooms had other boys and girls in them, most of them naked – a network of thieves, fraudsters and the girls who date them.
They were all arrested and moved to the station. And by noon of the same day, the money was transferred back to the account of the Taxify driver. He gave the contact an extra N500, 000 in gratitude for Christmas and another N500, 000 which he had requested for his contacts at the banks and the telecom companies.
It had taken the contact four days to recover the funds.
And the Taxify driver had been discharged fifteen days after his admission when his lungs, throat and his right sprained ankle had sufficiently healed.
The Taxify driver looked over at me as I sat, quietly listening to his story.
“You never know the value of life until you nearly lose it, man. I would have sworn that I could never take my life no matter what happened, but in hours, there I was, already doing what I thought I could never do. Pray you never experience something that can break your spirit, because this your mind, you can never trust it. It can lie to you just like that and just like that it can save you. It can confuse you and it can make things so clear to you, you will be amazed. So you have to be careful when you choose to listen to it. You know, when it was telling me to kill myself, I was still hearing another voice telling me to call my wife, but the voice that was telling me to kill myself was telling me that my wife will blame me for being foolish. She would laugh at me. Another voice told me to pray. The voice that was urging me to kill myself was saying prayer will never get the money back and the only prayer I need to say is to tell God to accept my soul. I tell you it was like there were different people in my mind, men. Just pray that you never get to that point where you are at the mercy of your mind. Because what it can make you do, hmmm…”
And he fell silent.
We drove on.
After a while I asked him, “Are you still going to buy another land for the factory for the Solar project?”
He laughed for a while before he continued. “Solar what? Man, didn’t you hear me? I saw death, man. It cleared my mind, made me see everything in 3D. What do I need all that stress for? I have told my uncle to return the loan. I paid back the part I gave him as his cut, paid the interest that had already accumulated. I told the Germans ‘thank you very much but I am not interested anymore.’ I paid back the shipping charges and penalties for breaching the contract. I still have like a couple of millions in my account. I am waiting for my wife to get her papers and we are taking off back to Germany. We get there, she gets a job, I get a job. We make enough to raise a family, travel on holidays, live life. Man, all these wanting to build empires and acquire money you can’t spend because it’s too much doesn’t mean anything. If you experience the loneliness of death, you will understand what I am saying. Vanity upon vanity man, all is vanity. One life to live, that is all we have got and you don’t have to spend it chasing what doesn’t matter. Just be happy, show love, experience the world, earn just enough to make you comfortable, be contented and keep your mind in check.”
Then he laughed again.
“Man, I tell you. The devil is right there in you. He is your mind. If you are looking for salvation, then conquer your mind. You think Jesus didn’t know what he was saying when he said lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all evil?”
I was looking at him silently.
And he said, “He was talking about the mind!”
There was a transcendental peace on his face as he kept shaking his head and laughing with such pure happiness, it was evident that to him, he had found out the greatest secret in existence.
I couldn’t help but smile with him, infected as I was by his happiness.
Written by Jude Idada