If Amaziah had been asked to pick a compound for him to rescue his cock from, the very last compound he would have chosen would have been Chief Olowoparija’s. Simply put, he was the most obnoxious and arrogant person that he had ever come across. He was the kind of person who you should pray never to find having power over you, because he would never let you forget it. And unfortunately, because of his wealth – acquired, according to him, through the sweat of his brow – he did have a lot people needing favours from him quite often. When such people approached him, he would alternately tantalize and terrorise them while he made up his mind whether to grant their request or not* – and he did refuse people quite often.
Amaziah had been fortunate enough never to have to deal with the Chief, but he had heard enough tales of woe from various people in neighbourhood to know what kind of person he would be dealing with. In fact, it was said that one of reason he lived in the lower-middle class neighbourhood instead of relocating to a more prosperous area was because he loved the idea of being surrounded by poorer people who were more likely to come to his house to beg for some favour or other. Indeed, so notorious in the neighbourhood was he that many of Amaziah’s erstwhile helpers began to drift away once they realised whose compound the cock had escaped into.
So Amaziah half-heartedly contemplated abandoning the prospect of getting his cock back. But then, those visions of golden brown chicken appeared once more before him, stiffening his spine and strengthening his resolve. He walked up to the gate, said a silent prayer and pressed the doorbell.
“Who be dat?” a voice asked from within.
Amaziah figured that this was probably the gateman; perhaps it would be easier to deal with him instead, rather than the chief. “Please, open the gate; it’s one small matter I want to talk about with you.”
The doors of the gate moved, and the gateman peered suspiciously through the gap. “Wetin you want?”
“Please, my cock escaped from my house and flew in your oga’s compound. I don’t want to trouble your oga, so if you can let me in to get the cock, I will be very grateful.”
The gateman regarded him for a moment, then his face contorted in a sneer. “You tink say I be fool, as I go believe dat kin’ tory and allow you enter? Who you be, self? Look your shirt, as button don’ comot from am! You fit be part of amu-roba gang wey wan look my oga place before you rob am.”
Amaziah looked at his shirt in embarrassment; it was true that he was not at his sartorial best, and indeed not only were buttons missing from his shirt, but there was a gaping hole in one of the armpits. But this was strictly a wear-in-the-house shirt, and he had not thought that he would need to leave the house in such a hurry today.
“I no be amu-roba, now,” he pleaded. “Look, I can bring people who will tell you that I was chasing the cock.”
“Dem fit be your gang members,” the gateman countered. “No, I no fit agree.”
“Taju, who is at the gate?” a full, rich voice boomed out from the first floor of the mansion within.
Amaziah’s heart sank. So the chief was in after all.
“Na one man who say im cock don enter your compound, sah.”
“Tell him to wait… I’m coming down now.”
A few minutes passed as Amaziah waited for the chief. And to think that he had thought that the gateman would be sympathetic. If this was what he was like when he was a mere gateman, heaven help humankind should he ever happen to be as powerful as his master.
Then the gate swung open, and he found himself facing Chief Olowoparija – a large, middle-aged man who was dressed in lace buba and sokoto and was wearing leather slippers.
“Ehem… young man, what is your problem?”
Amaziah cringed inwardly at the patronising tone. “Excuse me sir, but my cock escaped into your compound, and I was asking your gateman for help in getting it out.”
The chief stared at him contemptuously, then said “So you have a problem concerning my compound, and it is my gateman that you are seeing? So my gateman has now been appointed lord and master of my compound, and I am just an ordinary servant, eh?”
“N-no… it’s just that I wasn’t sure whether you were in, and I also didn’t want to disturb you…”
“Did you ask whether I was around? How do I even know that you are telling the truth – you might be a scout for an armed robbery gang.”
“Na so I talk, sah,” the gateman chimed in maliciously.
“In fact, I doubt that there is any cock in this compound. I think that you are just making up-” and here, the chief paused for effect – “a cock and bull story!” He laughed uproariously at his own joke, with the gateman sycophantically joining in.
Amaziah’s heart sank, as he realised the chances of him getting his cock back were vanishing by the minute. But just then, there was a loud crowing from the rear of the compound, and he seized the moment.
“You hear that crowing? That’s my cock – the one I was just telling you about.”
The chief’s mood suddenly changed, and he became defensive. “What are you talking about? I didn’t hear anything.”
As though to shame him, the cock crowed again, even more loudly this time.
The chief changed his tack and turned to his gateman. “Oh yes, that reminds me. Taju, didn’t Alhaja bring two cocks here the other day as a thank you gift for my help with that matter she was having with her son?”
“Yes, sah,” replied the gateman, nodding his head vigorously.
Turning back to face Amaziah, he smiled smugly and said “So that must be the cock crowing at the back. Young man, your time is up here. Please go and peddle your lies elsewhere.” Turning back to his gateman, he shouted out at him to catch the cock and take it to the kitchen.
But the cock seemed to have sensed that by escaping to Chief Olowoparija’s compound, it had quite literally jumped from Amaziah’s frying pan to the chief’s fire. So when the gateman tried to catch it, it dodged round him and ran past.
The chief saw what was happening and cursed out loud. Then he ran towards the cock, keeping his arms and legs spread out in order to block its escape. Unfortunately for him, it ran directly through his legs. Before he could recover, he had collided head on with the gateman who was rushing after the cock from the other direction, and they were both sent sprawling on the floor.
Amaziah watched with huge satisfaction the spectacle of the chief struggling to his feet, while raining invectives on the gateman who was offering profuse apologies. He would have liked to keep on watching, but he had just seen the cock escape through the compound gates, and he followed in swift pursuit. So he did not see Chief Olowoparija finally manage to get to his feet, only to slip on a ‘calling card’ that the cock had left on its way past and come crashing down on the floor once more.
The cock dashed down the road, weaving in and out of legs of pedestrians, with Amaziah doing his best to keep up. It turned right at the next junction, flew across the next, and turned left at the third, onto a road that Amaziah recognised as leading to a very busy arterial road. He put on an extra spurt of speed, and he began to close the gap between him and the cock. Then it made the mistake of trying to double back again, but this time he was ready, and his hands began to close around the cock, when…
Amaziah was flat his back, having collided with a man running from the other direction, but he was up on his feet in a flash. He resumed his chase, pausing only briefly to note that a crowd of people also seemed to be coming from the same direction as the man. Maybe they too were in pursuit of their own fowl, he thought. Then he spied the cock up ahead, and realised to his dismay that the stupid thing was going to attempt to cross the arterial road.
“Stop! STOP!” he cried out, in the futile hope that somehow, the cock might understand.
But it was not to be. The cock’s luck finally ran out, and it was crushed by a trailer while attempting to cross the arterial road. When Amaziah arrived at the scene, all that was left was a twitching bloody mess surrounded by feathers. He held his head in his hands in weary despair for a long moment. All that stress – all that effort – for nothing.
As he turned round to trudge home, a sweating man ran up to him, beaming from ear to ear.
“My friend, I just want to thank you very much for what you did back there.”
Amaziah stared at the man, uncomprehending.
“You see, I was attending to one of my customers, when this thief entered my stall and took my entire takings for the day. I alerted my fellow traders and other bystanders, but the man was very fast. There is no way we could have caught him if you had not blocked him and pushed him to the floor.”
A glimmer of understanding began to dawn on Amaziah. “Yes… yes, I saw that he was was obviously a thief, and of course, I had to stop him. I’m sorry I could not wait, because I too was on my own chase. I was trying to catch my cock which had escaped, but unfortunately…” he gestured sadly to the remains on the road.
The man looked at the mess pensively, and said, “Come with me…”
It was a weekend later, and Amaziah was once more relaxing in the living room of his flat. He leaned back in the same well-worn armchair, cradled his hands behind his head and smiled a smile of deep contentment as he thought about the events of the past week.
The man had turned out to be a butcher, and he had rewarded Amaziah with four huge slabs of meat. Dead, inert meat which could not escape, lead him on a merry chase, jump into compounds or get killed by trailers.
When he had brought the slabs home, Efosa had hovered around, casting longing looks at them. But he had bluntly told him that somewhere out there on a busy road, there was a dead cock that was waiting to be collected by him. However, in the end, Efosa had looked so pathetically miserable that he had relented, agreeing to give him a small portion of the meat as long as he did all the preparation and cooking.
Then he had enjoyed the meat throughout the whole week, and PHCN permitting, it looked like it would last for at least a week more.
Life was good, indeed.
* Recounted in the first half of ‘Co-operate!’