ERRANT COURSE – a juvenile crime series
It started to rain. There had been no such warnings- dark clouds, turbulence in the air or whatsoever, but it seemed not unusual for it was the time of the year. The neighbourhood was clear and the wet was all over, covering the buildings and vehicles left out in the air. This is Lagos- south western Nigeria.
Grey had been quite lucky to get an opportunity after several attempts and plots to meet Dainty, the new girl in school whom he deeply admired. He had gone to pick up the spare key to his locker when he bumped into her in the corridor on his way back. She had a good smile hanging on her face. For once he had felt it perfect to introduce himself to her. ‘Hi,’ he had said, returning to her a better smile than she bore. ‘That was a good presentation you and your group gave.’ ‘Oh!’ she had replied, blushing. ‘Thanks.’ He had wasted no more time. ‘Coker Grey’s my name; Senior School two.’
She had never seen him in the few months she had spent here in Wilson College but thought it would be good to be humble. ‘It’s a pleasure meeting you,’ she had replied. ‘I’m Pedro Dainty; Senior School one.’
Grey had fixed his gaze on her, discerning her beauty raunchily. But the girl had barely noticed him. ‘What about walking down home together after school?’
‘Ok,’ she had replied, almost pacing away, ‘but I got to hurry now for my class. Find me after school hours. Bye!’
They had both walked down home. He had offered to take her out for the evening. She had agreed to his offer if it wasn’t too late by the time.
Now it was mid-afternoon and still raining. Grey was occupied mentally, shuffling sloppily through series of plans for his fixed evening with Dainty. He virtually ran a list of things he would need to take care of to make sure the evening didn’t flop- “money”, “a car”, “sneak out of home” and “keep to time”. He stood by the window sill, peering out from his room in one of the buildings. Outside, a few cars were parked randomly by the bank of the road. The neighbourhood remained clear as it was raining. There usually wouldn’t be traffic on this road, it ran along alone. In the warmth of his cosy room, Grey rebelled against his growing restlessness. He moved away from the casement, glanced at the clock hanging over his study table. It was 3:05pm. Time was on the move while he remained yet undecided. He calmed himself with the rhythm of music streaming from the sound system at one corner of his room. Although he was also burdened by upsetting his dear mum, choosing to sneak out of home seemed inevitable. He had apparently made a choice. His mum, widowed over five years, had single-handedly looked after him, his little brother and sister. He knew well how she had struggled to keep the family following the demise of his father. Certainly, managing her time between home and working at the public library as a librarian was demanding. Even yet the tight schedule helped her overcome the past. Only the present and near future was to be dealt with. Relieving himself from the burden of the thoughts of having to upset his mum, Grey swung into action. He got dressed in a simple T-shirt and denim trousers. In the mirror fixed to the door of his wardrobe he assessed his looks. In discontent, he added on a hooded top that rightly matched his combo. This is cool, he signified with an easeful sigh. He paused as if deliberating on his next line of action and then reached for his wallet there in the wardrobe. He browsed through its contents. It held just a little cash, not enough to make the evening for one; his identity card, stuck behind a sort of transparent plastic screen; and two condoms, stashed in a particular compartment. He pulled out the bills, looked at all he had then placed them all back. He folded the wallet to close and slid it into the denim trouser pocket. He shut the wardrobe as he turned away. Another glance at the clock, it was 3:24pm. Outside the rain was subsiding, now it only drizzled. He could manage to leave home. He turned off the music, put on his shoes and went out of his room. In the sitting room, Dan, Sandra and Debby sat immersed in the cartoon animation screening on TV with their toys laid aside. They barely noticed Grey’s presence. Grey wondered where their mum was. The kitchen, he guessed but needed to be sure of her location before moving on. Stealthily, he moved across the sitting room to the kitchen. The kitchen door was half-opened, he peeped in. His mum was there preparing the evening meal for the family. He made sure not to awaken her awareness as he crept away and made for her bedroom. Grey squeezed the door knob gently and pushed the door away. The coolness of the still room hit his face as he stepped into the bedroom. The room stood in place before him, well kept and organised. He had cleaned it earlier himself and his sense of its layout was yet lucid, knowing where to search for whatever he sought. The bed, at the right end of the room resting against the wall; a dressing table adjacent to this; a shoe rack at the left end of the room with several pairs of shoes resting there. On the bedside locker, a black leather handbag sat. He moved swiftly towards it, dropped on his knees just before the locker and grabbed the handbag. He sifted through it until he found some money. Feeling lucky, he made out with some amount of it. Although his mum might find out this, he had hoped not. His plans seemed to be falling into place before his virtual eye. And what’s next? It was a clean sneak-out-of-home, raising no alarm and absolutely evading his mum.
Out on the street, the atmosphere was moist and cool. The rain was gone but the wet was left behind- it’s only clue. He covered his head with the hood to keep warm, tucked his hands in his pockets for more warmth, and paced timidly. A different kind of warmth flowed from out of his pockets, from his buoyant wallet: a splendid sensation, giving him this on-top-of-the-world kind of feeling too.
Street intelligence was necessary to survive the unforgiving streets of Lagos. Life out here was apparently a survival of the fittest thing, where not only the strong survives but the swift and crafty. The city being a honey pot, brimming with all sorts of people with different motives; from various regions; various ethnicities; races and tongues, was faced firsthand with the threat of an increasing moral and social degradation. There was crime, prostitution, and corruption on the rise, and all other sorts of social and moral vices. And with its far-reaching effects all on the loose, that it was only a matter of time if nothing was done to effectively combat it for it to assume dominance and successfully take a niche for itself. Yet, not only the strong, but the swift and crafty….
Grey was now well off his home street- Palmer. He had negotiated through a few streets, taking alternative routes to hit Pepple Street. He was sure to find Mike and the other guys here. It was a bit rowdy. Pedestrians and motorists moved to and fro, heading their own destinations. A certain sports car drove past him, music blaring out from all sides. This one, he decided- some young bloods disturbing the peace cruising their own way. Admiringly he fixed his gaze upon it until it disappeared. He pictured himself in a sort like that. In a few seconds, the imagination had sublimed and the rigidness of reality gripped him again. Now, he was going to find the guys.
Mensah Michael, often called Mad Mike by his guys, sat on a raised concrete platform of an inactive stall’s corridor flanked, on the left, by Rahman “El-Rah” Rahman, and on the right by Dennis “De Menace” Obi. The trio enjoyed the calmness and isolation they found here. Minding little about the littered floor, they relaxed and shared the time; this time cracking jokes and another wrangling over less important issues. And so on.
El-rah’s view caught Grey walking up from afar. In a bit of doubt, he gently tapped Mad Mike on the shoulder. ‘Looks like Black G,’ he said, pointing out in Grey’s direction.
Mad Mike absent-mindedly turned in the direction with his ears glued to De Menace’s gist of one of his flings. He said nothing then turned to De Menace again, like he saw nothing.
El-rah relented. And patiently waiting for the figure to draw close enough to satisfy his fit of doubt, he retired back into the atmosphere of the other guys. Indifferent about their talks, he settled away in thoughts, his past before him: my childhood, growing up…. It’s unbelievable; it’s amazing really, how times have changed. Now dad is gone, he is no more. You mean it? Yes! Oh, yes! He is really no more and never, ever, will he be back here. And mum? What about her? Where, on earth could she be? Why did she leave? At least she should have waited for me. On the other hand, was it all too much? Was it? No! No! No!
‘No?’ Grey quizzed.
Lost in thoughts, El-rah had uttered his exclamation that Grey noted. A deep feeling of vulnerability stirred-up in him.
‘Hi Black,’ he retorted, attempting to raise his defences. ‘What’s happening?’
They shook hands and jammed shoulders gently.
‘There’s nothing much, ‘Rah,’ Grey replied warmly, smile dancing on his face, ‘just a date, tonight.’ Grey turned to the other guys. ‘Hi guys!’
‘Hey, Black,’ they replied, shaking hands and jamming shoulders gently.
El-rah stood behind Grey and remarked, ‘Oh! Bro, I envy you.’
‘Thanks,’ Grey chuckled then added, ‘but you can do away with the flattery.’
They all burst out, laughing. ‘Ok!’ Grey ordered. ‘I’ll need a car, and how’s that going to be possible in less than sixty minutes?’
There was silence. All heads turned, looking at De menace. A crooked smile crept into his fat round face and the feeling he was a resort. He thought the possibility in that time space.
Talking about a credible street urchin, it was De menace. Riding the streets for over ten years, he flexes an invaluable street wisdom and with the guts that flow in his veins, he dares the impossible without flinching. He was a fence. He could supply any kind of stuff. This was strictly his business, the kind he loves the most.
‘Well, I’ll see what I can do,’ he finally answered, ‘but there’ll be no room for personal specs, Ok?’
‘Good,’ Grey replied. ‘I have a date fixed and I wouldn’t want to miss this.’
‘Come on, don’t get wild on this,’ Mad Mike snapped.
Grey pursed his lips, looking at Mad Mike with distaste in his eyes.De Menace saw it too.
‘Easy guys,’ De Menace pacified. ‘Mad Mike, look, it’s natural for him to get anxious over this date of his. You know, feminine effect, it’s like that.’
It was always the thing with Mad Mike, too volatile. This earned him the nickname- “Mad Mike”. Yet he was a good company, for his unusual hospitality.
‘Alright, let’s drag on some green then I’ll set out to get the merchandise,’ De Menace said.
In silence, they all consented. ‘I have less than sixty minutes,’ De Menace nagged.
El-rah pulled out a parcel of brown paper tucked away in his socks. He unwrapped the parcel, brought it close to his nostrils, and sniffed the air. He loved it. This was the seducing smell of ecstasy. It tickled his soul tenderly. The others gazed at him dispersed in their own anxiety. He laid it carefully on the platform and dipped a hand in one of his trouser pockets, brought out a pack of fine wrapping papers- “Rizzla”. They all fetched some of the weed from the brown parcel, placed it on the wrapping paper, moulded it and rolled it into shape. Grey’s stick did not stand well enough so Mad Mike took it from him, perfected it then lit the thicker end and handed it back. All others lit theirs. They were all dragging and puffing furiously.
Grey blew out a thick cloud of smoke. He looked the other guys from one to the other. It seemed it was a different world before him. No, it must be a mere delusion. He looked at the stick stuck between his index and middle finger. He thought: No, it is this; tapping the butt of the stick with his thumb and then another impetuous drag followed. Now the thought of Dainty poured in. He twisted his other wrist to read his timepiece.‘Three-fifty p.m.?’ he lamented.
De Menace got on his feet, took one long drag on his stick then stubbed it on the earth. ‘So, I go now,’ De Menace said. ‘You guys should wait for me at that roadside café. I’ll pull up outside there then on my signal, Grey; you come and get the car. It’s all yours-deal?’
Grey got on his feet too. ‘Yea, deal,’ he accorded. He pulled out some cash and handed it to De Menace. ‘Take care, Bro,’ he bade him and they jammed shoulders gently
‘Take care, ‘Menace’ Mad Mike and El-rah chorused, returning to their dragging, and puffing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Anxiety deluged Grey’s mentality. His concerns were for the nearest future: would De Menace succeed in twoccing the car? Would he make it a clean deal? Would he keep to time? God! I so much hope he does. Don’t let me down, ‘Menace. Show up real soon, guy. Show up…. His attention was barely fixed in the midst of the other guys or in the café. There were few people only in the café. The air here was calm and tinged with the aroma of different foods and snacks. Over at the counter, a male cashier dressed in uniform stood behind. The other two in uniform were females moving around getting orders and giving service in a friendly manner. A total of seven tables were set for service but just three was being occupied at the moment. The door was manned by a uniformed guard as well. The wall to the entrance was of thick transparent glass with an aluminium frame and the rest was concrete. From their table, Grey pinned is gaze outside, seeing through the glass wall. At intervals, he sipped his drink as he watched out for any sign of De Menace. El-rah and Mad Mike interacted ecstatically, discussing about their adventures in the past. Obviously, they were enjoying themselves. They would tease him once a while and he would just smile back at them, sip his drink, and then keep at his watch.
At about four-forty four p.m., the sun was gradually setting, a black Benz car pulled up outside the café. It was obviously not another customer. Who knows? The gleam of the alloy wheels caught Grey’s eyes. He stared dumbly in deep appreciation. The car door opened and it seemed De Menace’s head poked out. Grey’s eyes widened. Yes it’s him.
He whispered to the other guys. ‘He is here guys.’
They looked out. ‘That’s cool,’ Mad Mike said. ‘Now, your date is fixed.’
El-rah chuckled. De Menace shut the door and walked towards the trunk of the car. He leaned against the side of the chassis then stretched both hands into the air and made a kind of waving signal.
All was good by the signal. Grey understood likewise. He got up from his seat. ‘Guys, I have to go get her,’ he said, looking out to Mad Mike and El-rah. ‘Tomorrow we’ll hook up at Rowe Park.’
‘Alright, take care of yourself,’ Mad Mike replied.
‘Be careful out there,’ El-rah added. ‘Tomorrow you’ll give us the low down.’ Grey was walking away and had reached the door before El-rah completed his statement.