We had the car parked by the side of the road. Turned off to save the small amount of fuel we had left. No fuel, no food, no money and in the middle of nowhere. This was not what I pictured when I imagined my best friend’s wedding.
The only thing more disturbing than our present situation was MY present situation. Alex hadn’t said a word to me since we found out Pastor Pilferer had robbed us. Well, yes, it was slightly my fault; but how was I to know we were giving a ride to a smooth criminal, an incredibly smooth one o. As in, I was stealing glances at this guy the entire time he was in the car and I never saw any indication that he was doing any funny business back there. Anyway, we were stranded and Alex wasn’t speaking to me. We stood at opposite sides of the car. He was probably thinking about what to do next, while I was busying myself with how much I could make if I sold the events of the trip as a movie script. At that point, I really felt like I was on the trip from hell!
I decided to act some drama to get Alex’s attention and maybe even sympathy. So the forming began. I started to groan. First lightly, then more frequently, and even louder. And of course, he noticed and asked half-heartedly, “Are you ok?”
“Please open the door, I need to sit.”
More forming. Now I had his attention.
“Ok, Aisha, but please you can’t get sick on me. That’s about the only thing that hasn’t happened today.”
And in true Naija girl fashion I turned it on him. “So, now you’re talking to me?”
He heaved a sigh and said, “I just needed to think for a bit.”
I was beginning to sound too cheesy for my own liking so I just dropped the act. “Look, I’m sorry for making you pick him up. I guess being wicked is good a times.”
He looked up from the keys he’d been playing with. “Come on, Aisha. You know I’m not wicked. You don’t even believe that.”
I didn’t, but I couldn’t reply because at that moment my phone rang. I didn’t know which was more puzzling, that my phone hadn’t been stolen or that there was enough network to receive calls.
“Aisha, where are you people? I’m about to go mad! Are you still far off?”
At this point, we were at least seven hours away and without fuel, but Nena didn’t need to know that.
“We are a few hours off, but we’ll be there soon. What’s bothering you?”
“It’s Ola! Imagine, she came down here and she hadn’t done her hair. She hadn’t even fitted her dress. When I complained yesterday, she said she hadn’t had the time in Lagos and that she would sort it out…”
Now usually, I’m all for listening to Nena’s complaints. I actually envy her ability to totally pour out her heart to someone. I’ve always been more self-reliant. I guess, growing up with boys does that to you. But at the moment, I was tired, even a bit sleepy, and I wasn’t even sure of the next time I would see civilization. So I kept zoning in and out of the conversation.
“… Aisha, are you still there?”
“Uh, yeah… I couldn’t hear for a second there.”
“Wait, where exactly are you? Because it doesn’t sound like you’re on the road and Alex’s phone is off.”
Alex had put off his phone to save his battery, in case we couldn’t figure out a way to get back on the road and needed to call for help. However, I still couldn’t tell her what was going on. She could actually have a panic attack. She was ‘ajebutter-ish’ like that.
“We just stopped for a bit.”
“Probably for the best, it’ll be dark soon and I don’t think it’s smart to drive then. By the way, you sound well, so obviously Alex hasn’t slipped into any insane delusions yet.”
I laughed out loud. Alex turned to look at me. If he didn’t hear what she said, he was about to know we were talking about him. “He’s been good so far, but don’t get excited until you see me sha.”
“I told you! Wait, mumsie is calling. Hopefully, Ola is ready to get her hair done now. Please, you guys should drive fast o. You have to be here before the wedding starts. You know daddy’s eleven is eleven. Be safe o. Please say hi to Alex for me. Tell him I said to be careful ‘cos he’s carrying fragile goods.”
“Do you mean me or the shoes?”
She laughed her mischievous laugh. “You know what I mean.” The yeye girl was worrying about her shoes while I was stuck in the middle of nowhere.
“Why didn’t you tell her?”
I’d forgotten for a moment that Alex was in the car as I was mentally communicating with my future husband and plotting how to pay Nena back. There had to be some shade in there somewhere. “No,” I replied. “She has enough to worry about already. We’ll find a way to get there before eleven.”
“Eleven? Is that when the wedding starts? I hope we make it in time.”
“Well, we won’t if we keep sitting here. It looks like there’s a small town ahead. Let’s lock up and see if we can, by some miracle, get some fuel there.”
We walked for about forty-five minutes, and soon, it was almost eight o’clock. The ‘let’s walk into the village’ idea didn’t seem like such a good one now. This was becoming a trend, bad idea after bad idea. The people we had tried to explain our dilemma to hadn’t even listened to us, maybe because Alex was bringing grammar into the matter.
“Please madam, we were robbed and ran out of gas. Please could you lend us some of yours and the good Lord would bless you for your deed.” Or it was “Excuse me young man, do you by any chance have a jerry can of fuel to spare. Please, from one citizen to another.”
And don’t forget the accent o. I mean these people were villagers in the middle of nowhere. There was not even a school in the vicinity.
“Alex, abeg your Harvard English isn’t helping us. Let me do the talking from now on.” After my remark, I thought I might have been a bit harsh, but he didn’t take it too badly, so I didn’t bother with an apology. In the end, my molue-certified Yoruba didn’t get us any help either. For those who don’t know the molue-certified Yoruba, it is the Yoruba dialect which is acquired during commute in Lagos buses.
However, one lady was kind enough to inform us that some men were gambling nearby and perhaps, Alex could win us some money. Or maybe she said some men were gambling nearby and Alex could sell me off. I chose to believe it was the former though. We found the place that was supposed to be a casino; it looked more like an abandoned kiosk though. For a second, it looked like there was hope until Alex confessed he had never gambled a day in his life.
“Were you really expecting me to say I was known in a bar somewhere for my gambling skills?”
“I don’t know joor. How can’t you know how to though? I mean my brothers gambled all the time. Yusuf always cheated and won, and I was always his accomplice.”
“Wait, if you cheated with your brother, then you must know how to play?”
“Well, no, not really. I mean, I cheated with Yusuf and I knew the basics, but they never really let me play. Something about girls not gambling and nonsense like that.”
“Aisha, you’ll have to be a guy tonight o. We need to leave here by morning and we need fuel. And you need to win. Let them not catch you cheating o. Those men look vicious.” It was remarkable how fast the accent and grammar had disappeared.
I turned to look at the vicious-looking men. He hadn’t exaggerated.
“You have to be there o. You can’t leave me in this place… And you have to be ready to run when I’ve gotten enough money.” So it was agreed. Worst idea yet.
My molue-acquired Yoruba was really put to the test that night. The men didn’t want to let me play. They were all grumbling and swearing and I could only understand bits and pieces of what they were saying. It literally took divine intervention for them to share cards to me. The old woman, who suggested the casino to Alex and I, walked in and whispered something to one of the men sitting at the table. He was probably her husband. I just figured she had pleaded with him, because the moment she was done whispering to him, he looked me over with an appreciative glance, smiled and whispered something to some guy standing a few feet away. This other guy looked at me funny and then brought me a seat.
I let one haggard looking old guy have the first win. I had put in N200 out of the last N500 we had to our names. I used the first game to study the players. This was no game. It was either we won or start our lives as hunters in the bush where the car was parked. The second game came; I won that. We had N2500 in the bag, and N7500 to go.
The thing about gambling was no one wanted to look weak, so more money began to appear as the night went on. I had just barely won the third game, by applying some of Yusuf’s ‘skills’. Soon however, the men at the table started to get suspicious. Who wouldn’t? I had walked in and managed to amass fourteen thousand. Alex was signaling me to get up and leave, but I was enjoying myself too much. About five minutes into the game, the man beside me started complaining about something in his Yoruba dialect that I couldn’t make sense of. I knew there was trouble when they started looking at me in turn. I looked up at Alex; he had taken it as his cue and was already stylishly making his way out the door. I really wanted to finish that game, but then the glances turned into stares and my Lagosian spirit started to make a fuss.
With my heart pounding palm kernels in my chest, I used my molue Yoruba to say I needed to excuse myself. They suspected I was going out to change cards and all but forced me to drop my cards. Dropping it would have given me away, so I opted to show the guy next to me two of my four cards. He looked at me with pity and joy in even proportions after seeing them, probably thinking, “Lai-lai, this one can’t get you anywhere.”
I headed out, hoping no one would figure out my plan to vanish. I got out the door and suddenly felt a grip on my arm. Someone dragged me to the side sharply and covered my mouth tightly so I couldn’t scream. And then, he pulled me around to stare up at him. It was a tall, muscular, scary-looking man. I looked at him carefully and realised I had seen him earlier. He’d been standing beside that old woman’s husband; he was the one the man instructed to get me a seat.
“Are you insane?” I snapped. “Why are you trying to suffocate me?”
With the most unrepentant expression, he said flatly, “Iyawo Oga mi ko le salo.”
Even with my half-baked Yoruba, I knew what he’d said, the words echoing incredulously in my head: “My master’s wife cannot escape.”
Written by Nky Otike-Odibi, tweets @Nky_Otk and blogs at legalwatchmen.blogspot.com