They say that life is cruel. Well… this was more than true for Sam Ajayi. The third child from a more-than-poor family of seven, he had seen the hard part of life, lived it, and he was still living it. Hell, he and his family had not been able to afford his University education so he had not even bothered sitting for the JOINT ADMISSIONS and MATRICULATUION BOARD (JAMB) exams. Life was not a bed of roses; more like a couch of thorns-, you could never quite sit down completely, let alone relax. Relax and life would pierce you in a million different places, spill your blood and let it flow in tiny rivulets, so that you lost your grip on life, slowly.
Nowadays, Sam had a paying job; if you called a salary that barely covered the rent, welfare and savings, pay. Well, rent was one thing he did not have to worry about. A friend of his had let him have a room- one with a small kitchenette, communal bathroom and toilet, in a seedy and rough neighbourhood, but it was something- for free. Still, the pay was meagre, for a government job.
Sam worked as a traffic warden.
Well, something’s gotta give, huh? A man had to hustle to make ends meet.
On the morning of the day that changed his life, Sam Ajayi woke up at his accustomed time; 6.00 am. He brushed his teeth, stood in line to use the toilet, and stood in an even longer queue to use the bathroom. He showered, dressed in his uniform- a pair of black trousers, a sky blue shirt and a black beret, and he was off. On his way, he stopped at a local restaurant and grabbed breakfast; a plate of rice and tomato stew, with a large helping of fried plantains. By the time he got to his place of work, he was twenty minutes late.
His partners were already there; Ikenna, a lanky Igbo boy from Anambra State. Not much in the height department; probably five feet seven or eight, but a bright boy all the same.
Steve was from Kogi State, a ruffian. He was one of the muscles in the group; he didn’t really have a body-builder’s muscles, but he was big. Tall and big.
James, another muscle, was from Rivers State, a Port Harcourt boy, to be precise. He believed himself to be a ‘runs-man’, a dealer. He dealt in anything worth dealing.
So… that left Sam Ajayi, a Yoruba boy from Ogun State.
What a combination.
Anyways, Sam got to his ‘office’- a little shade for the traffic wardens, donated by a company called Jubaili Bros, which was constructed in the centre of the crossroads- and shook hands all around, except for Ikenna, who was conducting traffic.
“Hey!” Sam called, “Ikenna, you no fit greet your uncle good morning?”
“Heeey,” Ikenna answered without turning, his face beaming with a smile, directing traffic with his gloved hands, “monkey nyash”-monkey’s ass- “you wake today?”
James and Steve snorted out laughter, Sam laughed aloud, shaking his head. Ikenna went on directing traffic.
“So guys, how far now?” Sam asked. “Wetin dey happen?”
Steve shrugged. James said “No meat.”
“Idiot, don’t you know what time it is? It’s still early.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Sam said, eyes on the road. He turned and took a seat beside Steve and James on the pavement that ran the inner circumference of the shade, jutting out from the wall.
Steve poked his head forward and looked to his left, past James, taking in Sam’s thoughtful face. “You well at all?”
Sam looked at them all. All around them, car horns blared their different tunes; engines revved, some growling like lions, some purring like cats, while some made little or no noise at all. Motorbike riders, ‘okada’ to the country, carried passengers, breaking every road rule ever made, as they switched lanes, back-tracked in the traffic, rode on the sidewalks, scratched a few cars, gave a few curses, earned more than a few. Cars, buses, bikes and people struggled for right-of-way on the road; it was a typical Port Harcourt road cacophony.
“Okay. Any road defaulter now, the first one I see, is going to be mine and mine alone.”
James turned and gave Steve a ‘what’s with this guy’ look.
Steve shook his head.
“Una gree? Eh? Do you agree?”
James shook his head, Steve flapped his hand and said, “Anyhow.” He turned away, face wrinkled in disgust, and Sam stood up.
And then, he saw the car.
The sun had increased in intensity sometime while Sam and the guys had been talking, and now it shone as if it had a score to settle with the city of Port Harcourt. The sunlight reflected off the shiny surfaces of the cars; off their bonnets, windshields, booths, roofs etc. Yet this car stood out clear as day- to Sam it was like it was bouncing up and down and wiggling this way and that, yelling ‘HEY! LOOK AT ME, WILL YOU? JUST LOOK! I’M YOUR JACKPOT FOR THE DAY, HELL, FOR THE WEEK! LOOK AT ME AND PICK ME!!’
Sam did pick it.
Putting up his sunglasses, he stood up and waited, like a hunter waiting for its prey, which was what it was, in a way; the jungle was different though. The cars flowed forward; okay, more like crawled forward, and the car inched forward every minute. Sam kept his face impassive, but inside he was a pinball machine.
Fuck up, he silently begged, Just fuck up.
A car trying to join the lane coming towards Sam tried to manoeuvre its way in front of the car, from the lane on his right, and THE CAR drove around it.
Sam was out in an instant, finger stabbing the air, pointing at the car, yelling “YOU! STOP! STOP THERE! NOW!” He motioned the other cars to drive past, and then he strode to the driver’s side of THE CAR. It was a deep red 2006 model of a Honda Accord. He could make out the driver with a puzzled expression on his face. Sam knocked on the window, and after a beat, the driver lowered it.
The driver looked like THE CAR, so clean, so new, so fresh. Sam bet that his pocket was going to be better than fresh. He put on his angry look, as the driver spoke, “Yes?” an expression of mild disgust creeping on his face.
“WETIN YOU DEY DRIVE?” The driver’s face went stony and he looked at Sam through eyes that had become slits. “YOU NO DEY SEE? EH? IN FACT, WE DEY GO OFFICE NOW. OPEN YOUR DOOR!” Without waiting for an answer, Sam strode around to the passenger side and tried the handle. Locked. He knocked on the window, and the driver wordlessly leaned over and opened the door. Before he slipped inside, Sam looked up and saw James, Steve and Ikenna staring at him, astonishment on their faces.
That was the last time they ever saw him wink or smile again.