(By Daphne Duruoha) – Was it just me, or did everybody experience the rush of events that took place during the year. I sat back at home, watching all my friends make the best of their year’s end. It didn’t occur to me that I had been home all year till Nnamdi, Prisca and Ugo met at the mall to plan a trip for all four of us. They claim I was the major reason. My decision to sit back at home made them fear-an idle mind is the devil’s workshop huh? I wasn’t as sad or idle as they feared I was. I had chores and movies and chores. I obliged however, Nnamdi would pay for almost everything-his father’s new promotion included allowances for trips and other unnecessary events-parties, spar treatments, name it-we only had to pay for our feeding because people like Prisca would finish the money in a governor’s bank account on food.
This was my first Christmas away from home. I felt like an alien; my stomach rejecting the company of the creative dishes Aunty Shola served us. Every other person was excited to spend the end of the year in Lagos and of course to yank on all my food-in fact they wished me no well, When Aunty Shola tried to convince me on how delicious the food was, they would counter her and insist that I do not force anything on my system, especially food. And when I would finally adhere to their conspiracy, they would each have a bite of my chicken and at least two spoons of my rice or soup. They acted like a pack of hyenas, laughing with every bite and hailing themselves for a co-operation well-done. This is the type of friends I get, the closer, the more mischievous.
For the first time, we had everything well planned out. We would live with Aunty Shola, a middle aged woman Ugo always spent her time with in Lagos. A night after our arrival, we would also go shopping for clothes-in the market, not supermarket or spar if you know what I mean. And following a good accommodation and good clothes, we would go on to migrate from place to place with our beautiful camera, taking pictures and making videos under the hot Lagos sun. We would also visit weird places and play our violin on a quiet street our hat out for tokens-of-appreciation.
Day one was excellent. The people we met in the market were funny; they would only agree to smile at your camera if your money smiles into their pocket. They bluntly refused us pictures if we weren’t going to buy from them. So we bought even more than we had hoped for, although at prices even less than we had also hoped for. We had all our clothes on our bed, as we talked on and on about how lucky we had been with the prices. Laziness set in as usual. We had convinced ourselves that the day had been too rigorous so we all lay in bed dismissing hunger and the need to at least say goodnight to Aunty Shola.
As the days went by, I was winning. My body had adjusted to the food and I was able to eat as much, unfortunately, every other person had fast become tired of the unnamed dishes-hence I was the one yanking on all their chicken wings and tie-welcome o the world of Karma!
Aunty Shola was observant and caring. She soon employed Jide-our 18 year old chef (Not to bother, we contributed to pay him). Jide was quite muscular, although he had enviable facial futures. I called him stout, Prisca called him wide but in the end, he still had everyone on the street hail him as Fine boy. He would smile in such a calm way that made us suspect he was shy. But we could really care less, all we wanted was good meals and he lived up to it. In fact he lived more than up to it, he gradually became our all round domestic staff and Lagos map. Taking us to all the places we never knew existed under the bridges and beyond the small quirky streets. He eventually became a small part of us, following us upstairs after our long journeys and joining in on the meals he had prepared for us.
It was Ugo’s day of reckoning on Christmas Eve. We had agreed to stay home for some days, in the spirit of Christmas. So boredom made us turn to Ugo for her unending tales of her experiences. She talked about Aunty Shola, and how she met her through her 10year old son. He had picked her wallet from her pocket-what we call picking pocket-but she was lucky to have been alerted by her taxi driver who helped pursue him; Ugo hadn’t paid for the drop and so it became the taxi driver’s battle too. Aunty Shola, pleaded on behalf of her son and offered Ugo and the driver hot pepper soup from her joint. I for once wondered if she offered pepper soup to everyone her that caught her son stealing from them. Aunty Shola picked interest in Ugo and offered her and her taxi driver a room to sleep that night, instead of running back into the strenuous Lagos road after a long day of chasing after her son. A night at her place turned into four days as Ugo was only visiting Lagos for the first time and couldn’t afford a hotel-cheap or expensive. Plus Aunty Shola was welcoming and quickly formed a strong bond with Ugo from telling her how much stress her son brought to her as a result of his stealing and never returning home lifestyle. Everything happens for a reason we all concluded as Aunty Shola had now also become a mother and friend to us too.
After Ugo told us her story, we got her gifts for Christmas, threw a small indoors Christmas party and spent time with her more often. Maybe we didn’t want her to feel like she didn’t have anyone or maybe we just started to see her as a challenged person; someone who needed to be loved to forget her bad experiences.
Few days after our small Christmas party, Prisca turned into something else. Her money had gotten missing alongside some of her expensive jewelry. But Prisca is careless so after searching for about a day or two, we all gave up. This made her sad and even more dependent on Nnamdi. More than anyone else, I understood how she felt and believe me; I would also withdraw emotionally if I had to look up to someone for everything.
I was next! My hand bag suddenly disappeared from the room and to think that I moved all my money and important pieces to my handbag to prevent falling into Prisca’s predicament made it even more uneasy for me. Being careful and watchful only to have what you fear befall you in the end-ah! My mum will call this ‘meticulous man nntoh’-I quickly made it a burden for all. If I didn’t ignore the call of sleep to charge my phone that night, I would have lost it alongside. After days of searching, we talked about asking Aunty Shola if her son had come to visit. But what a bitter insult that would be, insinuating that anything that got missing must have been stolen by her son. We coined a better way to present it and soon, Aunty Shola was up and about looking for the thief or more importantly the stolen goods. Jide soon joined in the search, as a master of local popularity; he called three of his friends to join in the search. We gave each of them a hundred Naira and they promised to help search their friends and follow up anyone who they found with properties similar to what we described.
Aunty Shola was so embarrassed and we were so scared. Everyone slept with whatever they valued. Nnamdi our new breadwinner slept in the middle. We wanted to secure his properties especially his money, now our money. Ugo supported financially until the night we decided to go back to work. She was robbed, we were robbed. Her camera was nowhere to be found. We had just returned, we went downstairs, picked our plates of rice from the kitchen and by the time we returned our room was practically empty. But we cared less about the mattress and shoes that had gotten missing alongside the camera. We could all sleep on the floor but we couldn’t take extraordinary pictures with anything else. And like Ugo said, they could do whatever with the camera and just return the pictures we had toiled for-day and night.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘the last straw that broke the Camel’s back?’ Indeed!
Stealing from Nnamdi was the height of it. It was striking our pipe with a sharp chisel-our pipe, our only channel for water-taking food out of our mouth and rendering us unable to at least return home if that was the last thing we could do.
Aunty Shola promised to help us recover our things and even offered to pay half of everything we lost. But as compassionate youths, we refused the compensation. Our stay in her house was enough inconvenience and she didn’t force us to come to Lagos anyway. We all left for church on the 31st night to participate in the cross-over service when Aunty Shola suddenly felt a headache and decided to go back home to take her dogoyaro. About an hour later, we were back. The church service was slowly turning into a vigil and so we decided to return home and pray to God with ourselves, by ourselves.
I’m sure you already think we met Aunty Shola counting our money and selling off our camera at a shameful price. Well, that would have been better than seeing the nook and crannies of Jide’s unshaved private parts. He was beaten to a point were all he could do was sit in the comfort of the dark kitchen, hiding and coughing.
Jide and his friends had planned to sell off everything they managed to steal from us when Jide insisted on keeping the memory card from the camera. We had taken a picture of him on one of our journeys and everybody that talked to Jide on the day that picture was taking would have known that Jide had never seen a picture of himself. Especially so beautifully taken; showing off details of his muscular arm, pointing in the direction of the Squirky Street. He looked like a leader and for the first time, something gave him a reason to want more, more than being an opinion less member of his gang of robbers.
According to him, once he saw the picture, it dawned on him that he didn’t have to be a thief for the rest of his life. He decided he would start a new life with the New Year. He decided he would start a new life with the New Year and we would do what?
Nnamdi gave him clothes and before 12am they were back with our camera, our jewelries and the police’s promise to make them refund our money. I still can’t tell why Aunty Shola tried to hide Jide in the kitchen. But I know one thing for sure; in Ajegule, the mother of a ten year old pocket-picker that is kind enough to serve you pepper soup and help you employ a cook does not have a house where you can lay your head. Carry your pocket on your head and shine your eye!
Daphne Duruoha is an emerging writer based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.