Being a Good Samaritan can be an exhausting, thankless task, and yet, sometimes, be something that you wouldn’t be comfortable not doing.
It’s especially more exasperating when the person Fate has thrust on you to babysit is a pampered JJC transitioning from Abuja to Lagos.
I was on my way out of the airport, after a particularly hectic working day. It was 7pm, and sunset had settled over the skies, bringing with it an accompaniment of twinkling city lights and the sedate frenzy of commuters anxious to get home. I was tired, but it wasn’t the drop-in-bed-and-its-lights-out kind of tiredness. I was simply looking forward to getting home, making myself a cup of hot chocolate milk-and-milo, and burrowing under the bed covers to watch a movie on my laptop.
“Excuse me, please… Hello…”
That plaintive voice was to be the beginning of the ruin of the evening I’d planned.
I turned around, even as I walked on the tarmacadam, headed for the bus stop outside the airport premises. My brows were lifted enquiringly as my gaze settled on the young man hurrying up to me. He was tall, as tall as I am, and skinny, head barbered very low, and clad in a shirt untucked over a pair of skinny jeans. A pair of boots on his feet and a pair of sunglasses tucked over the hem of his side jeans pocket finished his attire, and as he swaggered toward me, one hand pulled at a valise behind him, while the other held onto an iPhone.
I knew, even before he started talking, that this guy hadn’t just flown in from Sokoto.
“Excuse me, please, can you tell me how to get to Ketu?”
“Sure,” I said, and then pointing to the bus stop that was a few yards away from us, I continued, “You just enter a bus there going to Naco, stop at the last bus stop, enter a bus going to Oshodi, and then from Oshodi, enter another bus going to Ojota. The conductor will be calling Ketu-Ojota, because they’ll get to Ketu after Ojota…”
The guy was heaving a heavy sigh before I was done. “So, I’ll have to enter like three buses to get there?” The sorrow marinating his words was almost comical.
I know, brother, I thought amusedly. I know that feeling. The prospect of that many buses just to get to one place depresses even the hardcore Lagosian.
“So there’s no other way?” he asked, looking hopefully at me, as though I was a magician trusted to whip out a better alternative from my long, black hat.
“You could always charter a taxi,” I suggested.
“Yes, but those ones inside the airport are expensive,” he complained.
“How much were they charging?”
“Like 5 grand,” he replied curtly.
I winced inwardly. That was pretty steep. But I wasn’t very surprised. It was nighttime. These airport taxi men would bank on the late hour and the anxiety of passengers with no private means of transportation to make money.
“Well,” I said, “that’s not very surprising. It’s late after all –”
“It’s just seven o’clock,” the boy interrupted indignantly, flicking up his wrist to reveal an expensive-looking watch with a brand name that’s probably something exotic. “See? Just a few minutes past seven, and they are charging five thousand. For what!”
I shrugged. “Well, you can always charter out here. But I must warn you, if they’re going below five grand, I’m not sure it will get any lower than two grand.”
“This is rubbish!” he exploded. “Two grand to take me to Ketu that’s just here!” he finished with a wild gesticulation of his hand in the air.
Ketu that’s just here – where do you know Ketu is? I wanted to retort. Instead, I said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s because it’s nighttime. Normally, in the daytime, it shouldn’t be more than one-five.”
“Even one-five is too much sef!” he fumed.
Oh really? “Where did you come in from sef?” I asked.
“Abuja.” He said that with a certain pomposity, the airs of one who thinks he’s doing Lagos a certain favour by deigning to visit.
That didn’t rankle me. It amused me. I swept a cursory glance over him, and noted that his valise was left standing on its own a few metres away from him, while he tapped on the keypad of his iPhone. “Where is this guy’s number?” he kept muttering before fishing out a BB10 phone from his pocket to continue looking for ‘this guy’s number’ in it.
Two smartphones, with their LED lights brightly glowing in the night, and his overnight case standing unmonitored by his side… This guy is a street-side robber’s dream, I thought, before saying, “Hello?”
He looked up.
I pointed at the valise. “You really shouldn’t leave your suitcase that far away from you.”
He quickly pulled the case to him and held on to its handle.
“And your phones, do you really need to be flashing both of them around?”
He promptly slid the iPhone into his pocket. He caught my brows arched over a meaningful gaze I was directing at the other pocket where the sunglasses were overhanging. I didn’t need to say anything. He untucked the shades, unzipped the side section of the valise, and the glasses vanished inside.
Someone’s learning fast.
“So about the taxi…” I began.
“Well, uh, about the bus ride,” he said, “how did you say I’ll go again?”
I repeated the directions. He must have been hoping he hadn’t heard me correctly the first time, because he looked more crestfallen when I finished.
“And you say to get a taxi is how much?”
Really? I’m just going to keep repeating myself? “Why don’t we flag one down and find out,” I said.
I gestured an unmarked taxi to a stop by the road beside us, and I moved closer to negotiate with the driver. Expectedly, his last price was 2500 naira. He wouldn’t budge below that. I stepped back and waved him away. Two other cab drivers after him stuck to 2000. Even the third driver stepped out of the cab to come stand beside us, and coo to us about the advantages of letting him carry the fare.
But my dear coming-from-America-Abuja ward would have none of it.
“What about the person you came to see?” I finally asked, voicing my incomprehension over how he, obviously a stranger to Lagos, had been left to find his way to his destination. “Isn’t he or she supposed to come pick you up?”
“It’s my friend, and the guy said there’s major traffic on the way. So he drove back home, and told me to hustle my way to his house.”
The thoughtlessness of some friendships, I thought caustically. Just imagine! “Can you at least call him to let him know you’re here and might be having a hard time coming on your own?”
“I’ve already called him to let him know I’ve arrived.”
The expression on my face seemed to ask: And?
He chose to ignore the silent question. Instead he said, “What if we go to Oshodi and charter a taxi from there… surely it will be cheaper if we charter from there.”
Whoa, whoa, mister! Where’s this ‘we’ stuff coming from?! “I’m not going with you to Oshodi,” I said.
“You’re not?” His expression betrayed how much I’d just broken his heart with what I said.
It’s not you, it’s me, I thought. “I’m headed home, in a different direction,” I replied.
He sighed heavily again, before blustering, “But this is bullshit. In Abuja, taxis don’t cost this much nau. Haba!”
I tried to remember the last time I visited Abuja in November, and the cab fare I paid when I was conveyed from Galadima to Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport. I’m pretty sure the price hadn’t been peanuts. What was this one now talking about?!
He went on fuming, “I’ve heard that things in this city are so damn expensive, and this proves it!”
I tried not to let my jaw drop open in outrage. This coming from someone who lives in Abuja?! Oh, this is rich! I heaved a sigh of my own just then, cutting into his rant. This guy needed to make up his mind already. I really had to be going. I’d already witnessed several buses stopping at the bus stop, filling up and joining the maelstrom of traffic on the main road. I should already be at home now, in bed, sipping on that cup of hot chocolate milk-and-milo and chuckling to the brilliant antics of Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife.
“So what option are you going to take?” I finally asked.
He paused, heaved another sigh, leaned on his right leg, changed position to lean on his left leg, placed a hand on his waist, heaved another sigh, stared morosely at his BB10 phone, shook his head, heaved another sigh –
OH, COME ON! Make up your mind already! I was this close to tearing my hair out in frustration. You look like a rich kid. Pay the taxi fare of 2000 and be on your merry way already! This and many more I wanted to scream at him, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I was the very soul of civility, with a smile holding my lips up and an indulgent expression etched on my face. That was me at my best Nollywood acting moment.
We stood there, held in limbo for about ten more minutes, watching the flow of traffic and negotiating with two more cab drivers who simply couldn’t fathom picking up a fare all the way to Ketu for anything less than 2000 naira.
Eventually, one of them returned on foot from the other side of the road. He had a proposition. He had picked up another fare, a female, who wanted to drop at Alausa. And so, if my coming-from-America-Abuja ward didn’t mind sharing the cab and enduring a detour, then he would accept the fare of 1, 500 naira. The guy looked enquiringly at me, as though waiting for me to sanction the taxi man’s offer.
I nodded my acquiescence. “Yes, that’s fair,” I said to him.
“Okay then,” he said to the driver.
“Oya, make we dey go,” the driver said, before turning to lurch back across the road. “My motor and the girl dey that side.”
The guy started after him, and then turned back to me to gush his appreciation. “Thank you so very much. It was really nice of you to endure with me all this while. My name is Ade by the way, what’s your own name?”
“Thank you once again, Walter. What do you do, do you work here?” He jerked his head in the direction of the airport.
Oh, so now, we are getting to know each other? I thought, before saying, “Yes, I do.”
“Okay. Please, may I have your number so I can call you in case of anything…”
This Good Samaritan job never really ends, does it? I called out my digits to him and he keyed them in on his phone. And then, we shook hands before he darted after the taxi driver across the road.
Watching him go, a wave of paranoia instantly surged through me. The taxi driver… A female passenger… A detour… This had all the makings of a set-up. I had to stifle the impulse to follow after them to check out that the driver at least had a vehicle and another passenger waiting to share the cab with Ade. Alicia Florrick was calling to me biko.
And so, I said a short prayer for Ade, and turned to be on my way.
The next morning, he called. “Hey, Walter, sorry I didn’t call you back yesterday night. I got to my friend’s place okay. Thanks again for your patience yesterday.”
And with a smile, I answered, “You’re welcome.”
I am @Walt_Shakes on twitter
Photo credit: @candidlagos on Instagram