I woke up startled by a scraping, sharp and niggling sound. It was that kind of sound that pierced and annoyed your eardrums. It’s persistence had managed to penetrate my sleep cocooned brain and I was forced to crank my eyes open, lying in the dark to listen.
No, it was not a pesky mosquito – the can of fleet that I bought had taken care of them. I spent a fraction of my meager monthly income for the purchase of cans of fleets which I rationed consciously in order to get good mileage for my money.
Neither was it a furry friend scouting for something to nibble. My apartment was so pauperized that I am sure even the rats knew I was poor.
The night was balmy and as was the tradition, there was no power supply whatsoever. I was practically spending a small fortune on those mosquito coils and fleets because I hated mosquito nets – they made me feel claustrophobic.
I had to diligently keep the single window of my one room shut in order to keep out the buzzing nuisance and in the evenings when I got back from work, I took a double insurance of spraying my room, just in case one recalcitrant mosquito had managed to sneak in. Those things could make a life miserable at nights you know; I’d rather they bit me, than buzz in my ears.
Well, I was glad that my situation would take a turn for the better in a couple of days. With my pay check, I planned to buy a small “I better pass my neighbor” TIGER generator. At least that would power my ceiling fan to keep me cool on steamy nights such as this, as well as disorientate the propellers of the mosquitoes. I had been saving for quite some time and the thought of progress was exciting.
What is that infernal noise? I wondered to myself. The niggling noise had gone up by several notches and was now accompanied by husky whispers of unknown voices.
My curiosity was piqued. In my state of semi-nudity, I tip-toed to my iron barred window to take a peek out of my window which faced the dirt road of our street. It was those neighborhood hooligans. Those bad boys spent their nights awake and robbing people of their hard-earned meager properties.
This time around the object of their attraction was my neighbor’s newly acquired old Golf GTI. It was not even qualified to be called a ”Tokunbo” and Bob was probably the 22nd owner of that vehicle. It looked as if it had survived some shifty and dodgy Colombian drug runs before making its way to my neck of the woods in Mushin, Lagos.
I knew how proud Bob was of his new possession. We had ”washed it’‘ with some goat meat pepper soup and swirls of beer at Iya Bose’s beer parlour, whilst listening to Bob regale us with tales of his escapades with the small, small girls in the vicinity. He could hardly wait to wow them with his ride.
In all fairness to him, he had tried to tush the ride up a bit. He had put in a fairly used car stereo which he purchased at a mechanic’s workshop, blasting music to the high heavens to announce his pompous entrance. The reams of the cars misaligned tires were covered by shiny wheel covers; I presumed that he bought them from the man under the junction bridge who sold a bit of every piece of nuts and bolts imaginable – I always wondered how he obtained such a stash. Rumors had it that if your car parts were missing, you simply had to go to him and buy them back bit by bit.
Bob said he was going to spray paint his car pretty soon and it will turn into a new car. By no means was I jealous of his success. I also had my own plans. After buying my generator, I planned to buy a small television, then a table top refrigerator before looking for my own four wheels.
By my projections, if I eliminated too many visits to the local bukka’s around and prepared my own meals on my kerosene stove, maybe, I would save faster. My savings coupled with my winnings from Baba Ijebu – by the way, I was so close to winning handsomely last week – would see better things flowing my way.
After observing the hoodlums for a bit, I decided to be neighborly about things. After all, I just couldn’t lie down cowardly and watch those crooked boys strip Bob’s car down to its bare bones. I decided to raise some alarm, using the hard end of my umbrella, which was the only weapon that I had, to rap against the iron bars and at least let them know that they were being observed, hoping that would deter them.
They were simply unfazed and they carried on with their business. I crept out of my room to Bob’s room which was just two doors away from mine, in the face me, I face you housing block that we occupied. I rapped urgently on his door, whispering “Bob, Bob, na thief o!” ”They wan comot your motor o”. I repeated this severally and eventually, after much shuffling and groaned complaints, he asked me to go away that I was disturbing his sleep.
Mouth agape, I went back to my room but I couldn’t sleep again. At the very break of dawn, I got up to fetch water from the shared tap to take my shower at the common washroom in order to avoid the morning rush and squabbles of neighbors who would want to use the facility all at the same time.
I had just passed Bob’s door and was almost at the end of the lengthy corridor, when I heard the squeaky creak of a door opening. Out of reflex, I turned to see who it was, and it was the live-in partner or wife –
I never seemed to know who was what; at the rate girlfriends, wives and baby-mama’s came and went in the neighborhood – of Rasheed, sneaking out of Bob’s room.
Rasheed was one of the neighborhoods baddest boy. He was known for his famous thievery, but everyone seemed afraid of him. A popular belief was that he was in cahoots with some bad apples amongst the police, who were willing to lend their firearms for nefarious activities for handsome rewards from the stolen booty.
It was a confusing moment for me, because I was so sure that I heard his raspy smoke cracked voice amongst those decapitating Bob’s car last night. So it did seem that when he goes moonlighting, his partner/girlfriend/wife got engaged in her own private forays.
Half an hour later or so, Bob’s bellow was heard down the corridors. The enlightenment of his reversed status had just dawned on him. They had stripped his car down, taking everything including the brain box.
I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for him or not, but I listened patiently to his repeated curses and complaints for several days non-stop.
It was pay day. I happily purchased my generator. I couldn’t wait to hear the umm’s and aah’s that would float my way. I finally had something to gloat about. For days, I felt like a champion. My ceiling fan worked. My single light bulb glowed in the perennial darkness of the area. I had a new spring in my steps, sure that the young chicks I saw putting heads together and whispering when I passed were talking about me. About how eligible I was becoming. I puffed up some more – if I was a rooster, I would have crowed in delight.
My friend Bob was back to trekking and cursing. He needed a lot of money to rebuild his ride. After a lot of yabs and prodding from him, I agreed to give him a treat at our popular neighborhood hangout, in order ‘‘to wash” my generator.
We boozed into the night and eventually, half tipsily made our way back to our rooms to crash. My door was ajar. That surprised me. I blinked a couple of times to clear my vision, but my door still stood ajar.
In trepidation, I stepped into my humble abode, only to find that my beloved generator and all the wires had been kidnapped – it was small enough to fit into an big overnight bag. Unbelievable, I thought. It was all gone. I raised a hue and cry, searching for my possession in nooks and crannies but no one knew what had happened.
I gazed into the darkness which had only a few bulbs dotting the night shaking my head in sorrow and dismay. I knew that I would have to save for many more months to buy it back from the man under the bridge.
Maybe? I am not sure.
It’s a jungle our here!
© Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha
P.S.: To aid understanding, please check below for meanings of words which have been written in pidgin English.
Glossary of words.
Pidgin: This is an English-based pidgin and creole language commonly spoken across Nigeria.
Mushin: A suburb located in Lagos State, Nigeria. It is a largely congested residential area with inadequate sanitation and low-quality housing.
I better pass my neighbor, generator: Refers to the small generator (tiger) that is below 2kva.
Tokunbo: This has multiple meanings, but the predominant meaning here refers to used cars.
Wash it: To celebrate something good, like a house warming for a new home, a new job etc
Goat meat pepper soup: Goat meat made in a hot and spicy broth
Iya Bose: Bose is a shortened Yoruba name, and Iya Bose means Bose’s mother
Beer parlour: A tavern where beer is served
Bukka: Local food canteens
Baba Ijebu: Indigenous Lotto
Face me, I face you: A term used to describe a type of residential building in Nigeria, where a group of one or two room apartments have their doors facing each other along a walkway that leads to the main entrance of the building which consists the apartments.
Na thief: It is a criminal
Comot your motor: Remove your vehicle