At 15, I already had a flourishing relationship consultancy business. *For my little mind o. Lol* Well, seriously, if consultancy means giving advice for money, then trust me, I was a consultant.
I had a lucrative love letter writing business. And remember this involves giving advice. I was writing all sorts of love letters: toasting letters, apology letters, get-well letters, break-up letters, etc. I got paid up to N5 for each letter; at times I got paid with free lunch and in other kinds. My clients provided me with security and connections. I knew who loved who and who was toasting who; who was breaking up with who and who was making up with whom. I had the secrets of my classmates and other junior members of Government Technical College, Abakpa Ogoja under my belt. Boy, I was influential.
I was raised in acute poverty but I panted for knowledge like a deer pants for water. I gobbled up any piece of information that came my way. I read every material I could lay my hands on. I read papers used to wrap suya and akara, I picked up papers on the streets to read, I spent hours reading papers posted on walls. I would read in the local library until the librarian would come to drive me out at the close of work. I would go into the toilet and read all the newspapers used to clean bum-bums. *Shaking my head* At a stage, my mum became convinced I had been bewitched by her enemies.
I became a helpless and hopeless book addict. With this little knowledge, I rose head and shoulders above my peers. And accidentally, I learnt to exchange my knowledge with their money. That was how my love letter writing business started. With time, I also discovered something else about myself. I wasn’t a physical kid at all. I never won a fair fight, even with girls. I couldn’t dig, lift, box, climb and swim like my friends. I detested everything physical and relished only mental activities.
Whenever my clique got into a brawl, be sure that I was the brains behind it but never the hands in it. But ironically, what I lacked in physical strength, I made up for in courage. I was a dare-devil. I never ran away from a battle even when I am being beaten black and blue. I knew no fear. At 13, I could come out at night around 2-3am and ease myself. This quality coupled with my mental gara-gara soon opened up another line of business for me: calling of babes for guys.
So while I was writing letters for my age mates and making some dough, I was also calling babes for the elder ones in the community and also making cool dough. They paid me up to 5-10 bucks for each errand. I could go to the valley of the shadow of death and call a babe for you. I didn’t care whether the girl’s father was Lucifer himself; I would call that babe out for that guy.
I did this with a natural and adept combination of raw courage and intelligence. I was a smooth talker and many things worked in my favour: I was 15 years old, a very popular kid, my clients were 20-25 years and the babes were also on this age bracket; then I employed a strategy of never hiding to call these girls. I would walk straight to their doors and knock, at times even at 8pm in the night. Their fathers or mothers might open the door. I would look them straight in the eye, with a charming smile plastered on my face and tell them I want to see their daughter. They’d be confused, mesmerized and charmed. This little boy cannot possibly be dating their daughter. But why is he here by this time? I would tell them a sweet story about wanting to ask their intelligent daughter something about school. They’d lead me to her and I’d pass my message codedly to her. At times arguing with her parents is the entire message she will even need.
Message delivered, I’d go back and get my 5 card; at times 10. Some very wealthy clients would even give me up to 20. No long thing, my reputation soared, business was good. If you want to see your babe or a girl you want to toast, send Isa. Even if it is in the Lion’s den, he will get it done. I was the 15-year old genius.
Then I met my waterloo.
I had heard about this man; an ex-military officer, with a reputation for strictness, cruelty, toughness, meanness and madness. It was rumoured that even his wife and children lived in fear of him. But the man made the mistake of having three very beautiful daughters. One day, a client offered me N30 to go deliver a letter to one of the girls. We all knew about that man’s reputation, but wetin? Me too, I have a reputation to maintain. And N30 is not the kind of money you see every day. I must go.
At a stage, I had the itinerary of most parents in Abakpa. I knew when they were home and when they were at work. I was not afraid to take risks, but I knew it was not a bad idea to avoid risks; getting the job done was the ultimate. So this afternoon, I knew this ex-soldier would not be at home. I stepped into his house at about 3pm to do business.
I delivered my client’s letter. The girl read it and wrote back. Immediately I pocketed the letter and was making a move to get out of that house, a car drove into the compound. The soldier, their father, was behind the steering. A giant clap of fear resounded around the building and echoed incessantly in the sitting room. Every damn thing in that house, living and non-living, were paralyzed with the fear of the arrival of the ex-colonel.
My God! How can people fear a father like this? Right there, I said a short prayer: may my children never fear me like this. I hurriedly sat down, make e no come be like say the man de come and na that time I de come run comot. The man stepped into the spacious sitting room, they all greeted him trembling. I wasn’t trembling. I wasn’t afraid. Wetin? I greeted him sweetly and flashed him my trademark disarming smile. The thing no even touch the guy o, he did not respond to my greeting.
He stared with bloodshot eyes directly into my eyes. He held the gaze for several minutes. The sweet smile on my face turned sour and started disappearing slowly like an economic recession. Somewhere-somewhere, the disappearing smile met an expression that was supposed to be a frown but it was so fraught with surprise that it lost the true quality of a frown. The amalgamation of these two expressions left me looking like a kindergarten practice drawing. I began to fear.
Unlike other fathers, the man didn’t ask me why I was there. He didn’t give me the opportunity to spin him a yarn. He turned to the daughter and asked her what I was doing in his house. I tried to answer. He roared at me to shut up, that he was not talking to me. If una see the way I shut up ehn, una go bow. Even dumb no de keep quiet like that. The daughter wasn’t answering fast enough for him. He issued her a thunderclap of a slap. Then the girl told the most vicious lie I had ever heard. She told the dad that I brought a letter from a boy to her. That she had just read the letter and discovered it was trash and was sending me away before he came in. He even showed the father the letter. I was dumbstruck. The man turned to me and asked if the story was true. I opened my mouth to speak but remembered I had a client to protect and a reputation to maintain. She wasn’t footing the bills, so I wouldn’t join issues with her.
I kept mute. The man roared at me to answer, I kept mute. As a teenager I loved to talk, but when really vexed, pissed or in defiant mood, I simply locked up. Nothing could make me talk. The man asked me to kneel and lift up my two hands. I obeyed. This gonna be a bad day for business. Is N30 worth it? We will find out.
He repeated the question, I didn’t answer. He asked me to pick pin. Calmly I stood up and stuck my right forefinger on the floor and lifted my left leg. The ordeal has begun. About 10-15 minutes in that position, water and tears were coming out from every damn hole in my body: my skin pores, my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears, my anus and my penis. Her letter was in my pocket. I kept mute.
The man ordered me to talk in his most dangerous voice. I kept mute. I couldn’t give up my client. I had read a book in the library about espionage. I admired the American and Russian spies. Those guys are as tough as nails, you can’t break them. Right at the moment, I was feeling like one of them. I won’t give up my client, no I won’t! I lifted up my head and I saw admiration in the eyes of the daughter, and I think I saw that too even in the man’s eyes. I won’t give up my client. I am a Russian spy; no, an American spy. We don’t break, we don’t talk, we die for our country and our beliefs.
What happened next took me and I think everyone by complete surprise. Maybe the man was just acting, but till this day, I don’t know. He rose from his seat with a shout, took off in a short run, burst into an inner room, slammed a door and presently came rushing back into the sitting room with the biggest gun I had ever seen in my 15 years on earth! He ran in, came to an abrupt stop, and pointed the gun at me. His daughters were screaming in soprano and he was ordering me in bass to tell him everything. He touched a few buttons on the gun and I heard a rattling somewhere in the weapon. He was shouting non-stop, his eyes were bloodshot and he was sweating like a ram. I didn’t know when I urinated in my trousers, but I knew I did. This man no de play o, e want kill me o.
Then I started talking. The sight of the gun and the sound of the higgledy-piggledy loosened my tongue. O, I started talking. I showed the man the letter the daughter just wrote before he came in. I gave the man the name of the boy who sent me. I mean his full names, including him papa name. I gave the man the boy’s address, his occupation and even the church he attends. O, I was talking. Damn the American spies, damn the Russian spies. I say damn espionage. Damn my clients, damn my reputation.
I was talking. I started telling the man about his other daughters: who was dating them, where I had met them… O I was talking. The first daughter signaled me to stop. I was shocked. Is this girl an idiot? How can someone stop talking in the presence of a gun; such a big gun?! I was talking… I started offering him help: help to take him to the guy’s place, help to show him all the houses of his daughters’ boyfriends… I was still talking when the man screamed at me to get out of his house.
I sprinted out of that sitting room faster than an apparition. The boy who sent me was standing on a bush path waiting for me, I ran past him without stopping, the guy didn’t wait for an explanation; he took off after me for his dear life.
I vowed never to get close to that house again.
My vow was just 3 months old when this guy came to me and sent me to call one of the colonel’s daughters. Make una see me winch o. “Please I really want to see this girl right now, how much will I give you?”
“N2, 250!” I don’t know where I got that figure from, but it was just my own way of saying: I’m not going there, over my dead body!
The guy was perplexed. “What does a boy like you want to do with such money?” he spat out angrily. “I don’t have such money and besides I heard you collect just N30 for such errands.” I didn’t answer him. He puffed and ranted about spoilt little brats who will end up as robbers because of their greed for money.
I didn’t answer him. I’m not going back to that compound, that’s all.
After him curse me finish go, na im one vex come hold me ehn. I come provoke. Na who this boy been de curse sef? Who the hell does he think he is? Does he know what I went through in that house that he wants me to go back to? Baggar! You come de curse me. Idiot! You de come form for us because you come from Lagos. You think you can intimidate me? You no fit, you hear! Agaba boys try am, them fail. Egugu boys try am, them fail. Who be you? You de come curse me. Nincompoop! I swear to God if I no break your head before Friday, my name no be Isa *looking for stone*. If I no see you before Friday to break your head, that your wowo smelling mouth brother wey de our class, I go break him head on your behalf. Nonsense fool like you. Useless Boki boy. God punish you. Sakwaswine, bloody fool…
O God where curse na make I curse this boy well-well… abeg my people, borrow me one curse there abeg make I curse this boy. When I curse am finish I go return the curse back to you abeg.
Written by First Baba Isa, Twitter handle: @firstbabaisa, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mrfirstbabaisa