I sat up and looked out the window and saw Alex walking toward me. At that point, my heart was racing so fast it would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. Alex was a couple of steps away and the Lagosian in me kicked in: “Aisha! What are you waiting for? Come on, lock the doors!” This was no American movie, I wasn’t about to stare at what I was afraid of till it came and caught me. My eyes were still fixed on Alex walking toward the car as I reached across the driver’s seat and locked all the doors . I felt some form of security when I leaned back in my seat.
He got to my side of the car and tapped the window, wanting to talk to me. I didn’t even look his way. He made to open the door but it wouldn’t budge. “Aisha, good. You’re finally awake,” I heard him say. “Open the door.”
“Alex, where are we and what are we doing here?”
He looked at me like he suspected I was sleep-talking “What do you mean? Weren’t you the one complaining about hunger? I couldn’t find a restaurant anywhere but I saw this bush-meat stall and managed to convince the man to roast some so you won’t die in my car.”
It was at that point I looked around. We were parked by the roadside and the bushes were on just one side. The animal I had seen was just one of the few others arranged in front of the shack to attract people to buy, and the red cloth and cutlass were probably from the last hunt. It was then it dawned on me that my sleep and hunger combined were even more delusory than the alcohol I was always so proud to admit I didn’t take.
Alex was still by the window, waiting for me to come out of the car. I opened the door and came out to him staring at me, probably wondering if I was the one manifesting. I was too embarrassed to say anything and I definitely was not about to say, “Oh, I thought you had brought me to a ritualist.” So I kept mum and followed him towards the stall that had nothing but firewood and a shaky looking stool. When we got there, the man roasting the meat grudgingly offered me a seat. There was just one so Alex stood.
The man looked at me, still frowning, and muttered, “See, I no dey roast meat for people for hia o. This firewood suppose to be for me to roast for only me this night. But this your friend no gree me rest if I no roast for una. So una go pay for my firewood.”
After hearing Brother Bush-meat’s (I never found out his real name, so Brother Bush-meat will have to do) complaints, I felt really bad. I had been lambasting Alex in my head even before I got into the car and he had been nothing but a gentle man since the beginning of the journey. He had even convinced Brother Bush-meat to roast meat at his inconvenience, just so I could have something to eat. I looked up at him to see him studiously watching the roasting of the meat. Suddenly, I felt pleased I was taking the journey with him.
When the meat was finally ready, Alex in his chivalrous manner paid Brother Bush-meat who grinned from ear to ear. He didn’t seem very upset about his firewood once the crisp naira notes were in his hands. We went back to the car to continue our journey. We still had about ten hours to go. It was nearing 5:00 pm when we got back on the road. It was obvious from the lack of taste in the meat that Brother Bush-meat was no master chef. There was no flavor within miles of the food, but I was too hungry to be picky. After I’d eaten a bit and my body had returned to its normal state, I realized I hadn’t said a word to Alex since we got back into the car.
I decided to break the silence. “Thanks for convincing the man to roast the meat. Hunger and I aren’t very good friends.”
He smiled and looked away from the road long enough to say, “How does it taste?”
I didn’t want to complain so I said, “Oh, it’s nice.” Which wasn’t such a stretch from the truth; I mean, at least it wasn’t raw.
However, Alex knew better. He said with a grin, “Ah, Aisha, so you still tell these your nice-nice lies?”
I burst out laughing, because a memory had just crept into my head. Back in secondary school, it was on one of those days when the teachers had gone on a rampage and were forcing everyone to find another person to cut their hair. Yewande, one of those shakara girls, had found her hair at the mercy of some JSS3 boy who had never handled a clipper in his life. When he was done with his first and hopefully last haircut, her head had more slopes than the hills at Udi. I had gotten that ‘nice-nice’ nickname after Yewande had come to ask me how her hair looked, and so as not to hurt her feelings, I shrouded my answer in grammar, saying, “It’s in a class of its own, Yewande. You know your things are always special.” Somehow, that made her feel better sha. Alex and everyone else who heard me say it called me a liar and accused me of forming ‘nice-nice’. The moniker stuck.
Presently, Alex and I laughed and gossiped about Yewande and all the shakara girls in our class back then, and the journey was going quite well until we drove past a pastor who was stranded and trying to stop anyone willing to use their ‘church mind’ and pick him up. We could only tell he was a pastor because he wore his clerical collar.
Once again, my nice-nice gland started to produce whatever it was it produced that made me overly compassionate. “Alex, stop let’s pick the pastor now.”
He looked at me like he thought he didn’t hear me correctly. ”Wait, are you serious? And you say I act like I’m not Nigerian?”
He went on to talk about how he couldn’t pick a random stranger from the road, and how we were already behind schedule, and some other things that went in one ear and came out the other. For some reason, I really wanted to give this ‘pastor’ a ride, so I went full on five-time debate champion on him. “Turn back and pick the man now… See how desperate he looks… Support something that will actually make a difference instead of old buildings… Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?” Just to shut me up, I suppose, he made a violent U-turn and drove back, and gave the man who wore the clerical collar a lift. Once again, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
This pastor made us go about twenty minutes off our route, as if it wasn’t bad enough that Alex was hoping against hope that Sheila, or whatever it was he named his GPS in his car, was not directing us to Congo. I could tell he didn’t find it funny that we were carrying a stranger or going off the route, but I was in full Matthew 10: 41 mode, whispering to him that he was doing a good thing, and that he would get his prophet’s reward. The only reason I only got the stink eye from him was probably because he didn’t want the pastor to hear him go off on me. We finally dropped the elderly man off at a market, off some dusty un-tarred road and found our way back to the main road.
The moment the pastor alighted and we were on our way, I started, “You see? Doesn’t it feel good to have done something nice, eh? Wouldn’t you be happy if someone did that to you?”
He muttered back in grudging acknowledgement, “Yeah, yeah. This one time you were right.”
We had driven for over an hour, gisting and laughing, and I’d just about forgotten about my fear of Alex’s insanity, when my eyes wandered to the fuel indicator light. “Alex, the tank is about to be empty o.”
He glanced at the dashboard and noticed the sign showing the tank was nearing empty. There was a fuel station in the distance. He asked me to reach into the pouch behind my seat and pull out seven thousand naira from the envelope. I dipped my hand into the pouch and felt around for an envelope.
“There’s nothing there,” I said.
He looked at me and asked me to check the pouch behind the driver’s seat. Still nothing. At that moment, I remembered my bag was on the floor behind Alex’s seat. I frantically searched it for my purse. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. The pastor had cleaned us out!
Written by Nky Otike-Odibi, tweets @Nky_Otk