When Olami-Uche left his home on that fateful Thursday morning, his wallet had exactly one thousand, seven hundred and twenty naira in it. It was everything he had in the whole house. He didn’t even bother to count the money as was his normal leaving-home routine. He didn’t need to count; he already knew how much was in his tattered wallet. Only God knows how many times he’d counted it before dawn, wondering how it would get him through until pay day, which was supposed to be that same day. But when it comes to his boss and paydays, nothing was certain…
A brisk seven minute walk took him to the junction to his house. It was exactly twelve minutes past seven. He flagged an okada man who told him his destination would cost him twenty naira more than what he paid the day before. He cussed the man off and flagged another, then another and another…all of them wanted his extra twenty bucks.
“Oga, fuel don add money,” was the response to his scream of incredulity when the sixth okada rider asked for eighty naira, a whole 10 naira more.
By the time he flagged the ninth okada, it was already twenty-eight minutes to eight. He was running late. He had no option but to get on the bike and make a mental calculation of what the loss of twenty naira would mean to his already mean budget.
At quarter to eight, he got to the motor park where he would take a taxi to his workplace. He boarded to first taxi that was going his way. He was lucky, it was a front seat. Just as they were about to leave, the driver dropped the bombshell.
“BANEX na two hundred and fifty naira o! If you no fit pay, come down now.” The man held his right earlobe for emphasis, turning the edges of his moustache strangled lips to the bargain.
At first Olami-Uche wanted to alight. The normal fare was a hundred and fifty naira on bad days and a hundred naira on good days. He changed his mind after taking a look at his wristwatch. It was only nine minutes to eight. His boss would be waiting with a sermon on the mount. Besides, a front seat could not be let go so easy. He sank into his seat and hugged his back pack. A hundred and seventy naira lost already and the day was still a toddler.
Olami-Uche jogged all 400 meters from the park to his workplace. He prepared himself for a dressing down from his boss. He was lucky. He met the office locked. His boss was away but there was a note waiting for him on the reception desk.
“I had to go to Kaduna this morning. I will be back on Monday. Take care of everything.”
His spirit sank further. The letter killed the spirit left inside, more for what it did not say than what it actually said. With his boss away until Monday, it meant payday had taken a leap into the uncertain future.
The rest of the day crawled by like a boring scene in a low-budget movie played back in slow motion. At five pm he shut the office and hurried to the bus stop. He wanted to get there early so as to meet the closing hour rush. More vehicles would translate to cheaper fares. He was wrong.
As far as cars were concerned, the bus stop was a ghost town compared to its normal self. In contrast, there was a crowd of commuters. They mobbed any vehicle that stopped. Somehow, he managed to wrestle his way into one of the cars, a battered VW Golf. He had to squeeze in alongside three other people in the backseat.
Three minutes into the journey, the driver named his price. He wanted two hundred naira, instead of the normal hundred, for ANY bus stop. He said the ‘any’ with emphasis. To make it worse, his last bus stop was one stop before Olami-Uche’s.
Some of the passengers grumbled. But they only got a ‘fuel done increase’ response from the driver who slowed down on the shoulder of the road as if to say ‘you can get down if you don’t want to pay.’ No one alighted.
Traffic was unusually heavy that evening because of the colony of cars trying to buy fuel at the NNPC fuel station along the road. They blocked the high-traffic, 4 lane expressway, leaving only one lane open. Forty-five, Olami-Uche alighted at the park.
He didn’t bother flagging any okada. He couldn’t afford to spend another seventy naira. So he trekked. Almost thirty minutes later, he was home. There was no power. He rushed to his fridge to check the bowl of egusi soup he’d cooked the night before. It had almost gone bad but still looked redeemable. He needed power, quickly. He dropped his backpack and lugged out his 5.5KVA generator, a gift from his uncle who lived in Gwarimpa. The tank was empty.
Olami-Uche rummaged through his pockets and wallet and came up with one thousand naira, one hundred and ninety naira. He made a mental calculation and concluded he could spend five hundred naira on fuel and still have enough money to get to work the next day.
He picked his five liter jerry can and sprinted out of his compound. There was a TOTAL fuel station that sold fuel until late around his area. When he got there, he met a large crowd waiting to buy fuel. He joined the queue and patiently shifted his container every now and then until it was his turn.
The attendant told him it was one hundred and forty-five naira a litre, plus fifty naira ‘service’ charge for selling fuel in a container, a prohibited act. In the end, Olami-Uche left with three and half liters of petrol for his five hundred naira.
As he made his way back home, he rained curses on every politician he could think about. His eyes burned and his head ached as anger raged inside him. At that moment, he could kill. Little did he know that life was not done with him yet. No, it wasn’t.
At the junction that led directly to his house, the same spot where he’d boarded an okada that morning, a police van screeched to a halt just in front of him and two armed policemen jumped down. They asked him what he was doing with a jerrycan of fuel.
“So na una dey sell black market abi?” The question came with a slap that took away his ability to respond. He staggered into the path of another slap. Minutes later, he was in the back of the van, taking slaps from left, right, and center.
After what seemed like two eternities rolled into one, the van stopped. One of the policemen rummaged through his pocket and found his wallet. The six hundred and ninety naira inside was soon in the breast pocket of a faded police uniform, rumpled alongside other tortured naira notes.
Then, without explanation, they pushed him out of the van and sped off. It was only then that Olami-Uche realized that they had taken him far from home. But he wasn’t lost. He knew his way home. He started trekking home.
When Olami-Uche got home, it was almost eleven pm. Wild hunger tore through his body. His limbs were weak. He went straight to the kitchen, lighted his kerosene stove, and put water to boil. Then he went the fridge and brought out the bowl of egusi soup.
A strong odor hit his nose as he opened the bowl. It had gone bad, totally. Olami-Uche’s knees weakened, tears welled up in his eyes. His hands began to shake. He shut his eyes.
Just then power was restored and the hum of the open fridge coming on invaded his silence. He opened his eyes. A huge, flying roach landed in the bowl. It moved around, as if it was taunting him, daring him, mocking him.
Olami-Uche got up and went into the kitchen. He ignored the water boiling on the stove as he picked up the bottle of Sniper above the sink. He went back to the open bowl of egusi and opened the bottle.
He was about to spill the deadly industrial pesticide on the roach when the light went out again. It was the final nail in the coffin of his sanity.
Olami-Uche put the bottle to his lips, emptied its contents into his gullets and quietly lay on the cold concrete floor.
By the time the light came back on, twenty minutes later, he was gone. The bowl of soup was upturned, the fridge was open, and a fat roach swam on the sea of sour egusi…