Previously on TWO LIVES AND A SOUL…
“I didn’t expect you to jump for joy at my presence, but you don’t have to scream at me,” Chioma snapped as she rose from the bed, her tone a nasal whine that grated on my naked nerves.
I was ablaze with anger. Instincts overwhelmed reason, impulse drowned sanity, and every dam of restraint in me broke loose. I had no recollection of raising my hand, but I noticed a fist whiz past my face, descending like a rocket toward the woman’s face.
Chioma took a moment to register the oncoming missile that was my fist with eyes widening with alarm, before she dodged the strike by weaving backward, a feinting motion that had her staggering back on her feet. Her quick reflexes saved me from the guilt that would have surely followed my rash reaction. She regained her balance quickly and scurried to a corner of the bed from where she gawked at me, a shift of emotions that included fear and incredulity edging their way past her face.
I glared at her quivering form, biting my tongue to contain my rage. So many expletives dashed through my mind, but none came out. What was the point? What explanation would I tender – that I had been about to beat up a woman because she cleaned up my room?
It took me several minutes to clear my thoughts and mine my insides for civility.
“Which aboki did you give my alarm clock to?” My calm voice masked the fear that was invading every crevice of my mind. Fear that I would never find a portal to meet with my future again. My family in the future. My affluence in the future. Fear that I would never escape the doldrums that enveloped my present.
“Does anyone know any aboki’s name?” Chioma answered sarcastically.
The insolent tone caused me to flip again. “Chioma, do not play games with me!” I screamed. “My life is dependent on that alarm clock –”
“How can your life be dependent on an alarm clock?” She matched the pitch of my rage. “If you have another girlfriend, just say it and stop throwing tantrums over a stupid alarm clock.”
I stared at her in exasperation and rage. How could I explain to her that the alarm clock was a door into the future I could only imagine? If I whispered a word of what I had experienced through that timepiece to her, I was certain she’d ask what brand of weed I had taken for lunch. Yet I had to convince her that the timepiece held more value than what was obvious.
You can do this, the salesman in me whispered. I promptly got down on one knee.
“What is this? You want to propose to me during a fight?” She widened her eyes in an expression that suggested that she was having strong doubts about the state of my mind.
I ignored her tone with effort and said in a low beseeching tone, “Chioma, please that alarm clock was a gift from my grandfather –”
“And it has served its time,” she interrupted again. “Before I gave it to the aboki, I checked to be sure it was still working. It wasn’t.”
“That’s not true. It was working perfectly fine when I left for work this morning.”
“Are you saying I’m a liar now?”
“No, I’m not saying that, Chin-Chin.” The nickname I had for her had always had the ability of bringing out the good humour in her. And it didn’t fail now. She smiled. “The clock misbehaves sometimes,” I said, “but it is functional. Very functional.”
“Why is this clock so important to you?”
“Because in two years, that clock will be a hundred years old and it will be worth at least one hundred thousand dollars if sold to the right collector.”
I paused to let that sink in.
Her eyes bugged. “Two hundred thousand…” Her voice gusted away under the weight of her astonishment. If there was a language that disarmed Chioma, it was that of money.
I stared at her, at the self recrimination that was stark on her face, and I felt no guilt at my lie. Every salesman worth his salt was practiced in the art of economizing the truth. Besides, I only did what was needed to find my way back to the future I could only dream about.
“I don’t know anything about the aboki, but we can start by asking questions at the mosque down the street.” She was already making for the door.
Was she joking? How were we supposed to locate an aboki who doubles as baaro in Agege? Her willingness to help counted for something though. And she had already proffered a brilliant idea – the mosque.
I straightened, picked up my phone from the reading desk to check what time it was: 7:30 pm. Fifteen minutes before the evening’s Salat al’isha. That might leave us with just enough time to quiz the men washing up for prayers.
“Walahi, me I no know any baaro por this area fa.” The first aboki that agreed to speak with us broke the reins that tethered us to hope. “But you pit go talk to Alhaji Mantu. Him sabi ebrebodi por dis area.”
The aboki was just concluding his ablutions a few meters away from the mosque. To one end of the mosque, several okadas were parked under the glow of a halogen bulb. Dusk had given way to the night. The bulb hung from a wooden pole that conveyed insulated electric cables. Several other abokis hurried to finish their ablutions and make way for their arriving brothers. The man we were talking to pointed to a heavily-built man in a flowing brown kaftan with a twine-woven cap on his squat head. Alhaji Mantu was on the phone. His speech was animated.
“Ke ngani kwo?” the man was saying into the small Techno phone pressed to his ear. “I’nsha Allah…toh… Sai gobe!”
He got off the phone as we approached him.
“Good evening, Alhaji,” I said.
“Good evening, young man. How can I help you?” His English was impeccable with a tinge of the Hausa accent.
“Please, we are looking for an aboki that does baaro – I mean, those waste cart pushers.”
“First of all, the word aboki means friend. It’s not a classification or a nomenclature for a tribe in Nigeria.” He didn’t sound like he was offended, just a man tired of being classified with the wrong word. “Does this aboki have a name?”
“We don’t know his name, sir,” Chioma replied. “We were hoping we could find any cart pusher around.”
“I don’t know of anyone who deals in small scale waste disposal business, and prays here.” Alhaji Mantu blemished our use of vernacular again without sounding condescending. “However, you can find a waste disposal company behind the Mangoro main bus stop.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said as I bowed, still startled by the Northerner’s impeccably utterance of English.
I pulled Chioma by the hand as we hurried off. It was already 7:40 pm and I was starting to increasingly fend off the doubts haunting my mind over the possibility of finding the alarm clock. If the baaro made daily returns to a recycling plant or a dump site, then the alarm clock had already been crushed or buried beyond reach.
However, I hoped fervently that somehow, by some stroke of luck, or fate, or favor, that the tides would wash my hopes ashore. I had to find that alarm clock. My life depended on it – at least the life I dreamed of.
The Madus Waste Disposal administrative building loomed before us in silence. The compound looked too neat to be a waste disposal outfit, but the sign out front said it was. Floodlights illuminated the two vehicles left on the perimeter. We had explained our predicament to the guard and he had told us that there were a few baaro guys at the disposal plant behind the administrative building.
Chioma and I hurried along the side of the admin building towards the sound of the hum. When we turned the corner, a concrete patio separated the building from what appeared to be a roofed-parking lot for disposal trucks. Beyond the parking lot, we saw a fleet of waste carts manned by several baaro guys at the sorting bay. Under the floodlights, they sorted out the thrash they had brought in into different categories. On another day, I could have been a little observant of the various processes here, but my thoughts were myopic, and it was about the search of my timepiece.
My pulse surged in anticipation as we increased our pace; almost jogging the rest of the way to the sorting bay.
“I can see him,” Chioma said in excitement.
“Thank God,” we said in unison.
I almost didn’t believe the eventuality of finding my clock was possible. Times like this when the tethers of hope were given life; times when hopelessness lost its residence in my heart; times when fear was replaced with faith – even though I had no idea what true faith was – I couldn’t deny the providence of God.
There were about twenty baaro guys sorting through their trash. A man in blue factory overalls and safety boots supervised them. As soon as he noticed us, he paused from his duty and walked towards us.
“Good evening.” He had a thick Yoruba accent. The baaro guys busied at their tasks. “Can I help you?”
“Please we want to talk to that guy,” Chioma said, pointing to one of the men clad in a grime-soaked T-shirts and worn jeans.
“Garuba? Why?” the man who seemed to be the supervisor asked.
At the mention of his name, Garuba looked up from his trash trolley. Recognition grazed his face when he saw Chioma.
“Ah-ah, madam,” he said, his accent unarguably Northern. “Wetin you pine come hia na?”
“Abeg,” Chioma said, “those things wey I give you for morning, where dem dey?”
There was an eternal silence as confusion crept up Garuba’s face.
“Wetin hafen na? I no go fit return ya money oh,” he finally said as a frown starting furrowing his brow.
At this point, the other baaro guys had stopped their tasks and straightened to observe our exchange.
“Garuba,” I cut in, now desperate for the suspense to end. My heart had raced in the last one minute faster than I had ever thought possible. “Garuba, we no wan collect money. We just want an alarm clock that was in the garbage.” I switched back and forth between English and its most common aberration.
“I’m sorry,” the supervisor spoke up then, “but once items have been delivered by our vendors, they are no longer responsible for them –”
“But he hasn’t handed over his stock, has he?” I interrupted.
“Ah, oga, that stock na aptanoon stock na,” Garuba said. “That one don go recycle.”
“What do you mean by recycle?” I said, losing my cool. “Is this not the stock I am looking at?” I gestured at the thrash piled haphazardly in front of him.
“What Garuba means,” the supervisor interjected, “is that he turned in two stocks, one in the afternoon and this one. Your garbage was part of the afternoon stock and the afternoon stock has been taken to the recycling plant in Ikorodu.”
I staggered back from the man’s words, feeling the punch of his response like the swinging right hook of a world wrestling champion. This wasn’t happening.
“And I can guarantee you that,” the supervisor continued, oblivious to my distress, “whatever it is you want to retrieve has been recycled by now.”
How was that supposed to help me? A dizzy spell hit me and I dropped on my knees. I felt the world spin about me as I lost balance. I saw Chioma rushing towards me; her lips were parted in a scream I couldn’t hear. Everyone standing before me stared in shock just before they warped in a dream-like state.
And then I pitched forward into blackness.
Written by Ojay Aito, tweets @1ojay