Babeji reached back and flicked his wrist in a bid to hit Kenechi. Kenechi leaned backwards in time to avoid the swipe.
“Give me that thing!” Babeji ordered.
“I told you not to sing that dirty song in my car. No dirty business while you’re around me, you hear?”
“It’s not gangster rap, Uncle. It’s conscious rap.”
“I don’t care what kind it is, Kenechi. It’s dirty music. I told you not to play it or sing it. Abi? Didn’t I? Give it to me, msceeech!” Babeji’s eyes whipped between Kenechi and the bumpy, sand-and-gravel road ahead.
Kenechi depressed the record button on the iPod as his eyes narrowed. “What’re you gonna do with it?”
“That’s my business.”
“But it’s my iPod.”
Kenechi slammed the iPod onto Babeji’s outstretched hand. “This sucks, man. Can’t wait for summer to be over. I want to get out of here!”
“Not before you learn some manners, s’ogbo?”
“Mama never yelled at me. She never hit me either!”
“That’s why you’re here, Kenechi. My sister was soft on you, as you say in America. You’re here to learn some manners.”
“I’m telling Mama.”
Babeji’s eyes focused on the rear-view mirror. “While you’re at it tell President Obama too! S’ogbo?”
“E wo ibi t’enlo, watch where you’re going!” the orange seller yelled out as she jumped out of the way of the careening Datsun sedan.
The car bounced off a rocky bump, and then dove into a mud pond, spewing dirt-brown water all over the orange seller and her spilled wares.
“Iwakuwa wo ni eleyi, now, what sort of a bad driving is this?” a newspaper boy asked as he slammed a fist against the left passenger window.
“Gb’enu, jare!” Babeji shot back. He twisted the ignition key roughly in a bid to restart the car, but the engine coughed back in protest, and then shut off. Babeji rolled up his window as the orange seller waved wildly and rained down curses at him.
“You made her drop her oranges, Uncle,” Kenechi opined.
Babeji glowered at kenechi through the rear-view mirror. “I apologized to her.”
“I didn’t hear it.”
“I said it in Yoruba.”
“I understand some Yoruba.”
“Not the one I speak. ”
“A few of her oranges fell in the gutter.”
“What are you, her lawyer?”
“She deserves to be compensated.”
“Okay. You compensate her!” Babeji exited the car, slamming the door hard behind him. He popped the hood open, and then walked around to the back of the car, all the while fending off unwanted attention from the orange seller by waving dismissively at her.
Kenechi kicked the passenger door open. The foul smell of the open sewer hit him in the face. He kicked the door close behind him. He pulled out a fifty dollar bill from an envelope and gave it to the orange seller, distracting her from Babeji. “This is about five thousand naira. Take it and sorry for everything.”
The orange seller gasped. Her hands whipped between her head and sides as she jumped up and down, this time for joy. “Ese, thank you,” she said, flashing chipped and discolored teeth.
“Where did you get the money?” Babeji asked as he moved back towards the front of the car, a wrench in his grip.
“Thank you, sah,” the orange seller repeated to Kenechi. “You kind very much.”
“Sorry about the oranges,” Kenechi said as he shoved the rest of the money into his back pocket.
“Msceeech“ the orange seller hissed loudly as she navigated around Babeji to pick up her empty tray. “Agbaya!”
“Gb’enu s’aun, jare,” Bababeji shot back. He turned to Kenechi and said, “You should not have done that.” He leaned towards the engine of the car. “You gave her one of those play dollars you brought from America, abi?”
“That was the real one.”
Babeji hit his head against the hood as he straightened up to take in the information. “Real ke? Where did you get real dollar bills?”
Babeji waved the wrench, and then shook his head as he chuckled sadly. “See? That is why you’re spoiled. How can she do something like that without telling me, eh?”
Because you give all our fucking monies to the fucking police, Kenechi thought.
As Babeji went back to tinkering with the car’s engine, Kenechi leaned against the car, kicked at a rock on the ground, and bit his lower lip to show frustration.
A mother hen clucked repeatedly as she zigged and zagged about, picking up grains hidden in the sand. Her chicks tweeted as they stayed close to her.
Distracted, Kenechi walked up to the hen and shooed her away from on-coming traffic. If he ever stayed here, he would ask Uncle to keep some live stock.
His gaze wandered. Hawkers of all stripes hurried about, announcing their wares. Another newspaper boy tooted his hand-held horn to announce his presence.
A danfo bus crawled to a stop a few yards away to let off and pick up passengers, the conductor calling out the words, “Lasamaja. E wole!”
Kenechi inhaled. This is what he loved about Nigeria – the smells, the colors, and the activities. They were at once frantic and languid, sweet and rotten.
He studied Babeji. He had a feeling that Babeji hated foreigners. He never had any good thing to say about them. He’d even said he’d prefer Mama to return to Nigeria. He had the feeling that Babeji looked at him sometimes as a foreigner. On a few occasions, he’d called Kenechi “oyinbo,” which meant foreigner. Sometimes Kenechi wondered if Babeji’s distaste for outsiders extended to the Ibo side of Kenechi’s family. What with the “Not the one I speak” comment minutes ago.
Mama had told Kenechi once that a woman whom Babeji planned to marry ended up marrying her supervisor at work, and the supervisor was a British citizen. She ended up returning to England with him.
Was that the source of Babeji’s ill-will feelings towards foreigners? Kenechi wondered.
Mama said that Kenechi needed a male figure to “straighten” him out, but Babeji, in Kenechi’s opinion, was too strict – always lecturing him as if he were a nuisance. He got in trouble a lot in the States, but he’d been good since arriving here.
Kenechi walked up to Babeji and said, “This looks like the same road we took last time, Uncle. I think that we should take another one.”
Babeji waited a few seconds, and then said, “Do you know another one?”
“Yes. Oluwole Road.”
Babeji straightened up to look at him. “You arrived in Lagos two weeks ago, and suddenly you know Lagos more than me who has lived here longer than you’ve lived in this world?”
“There’s something called the internet.”
“The internet told you that there’s another road that will take us from the house to your teacher’s place in ten minutes?”
“The internet is a liar.”
“Nurudeen confirmed it.”
“Listen, Kenechi. I don’t care what Nurudeen or anybody else says. I know this place like the back of my hand. You will be making a better use of your time if you use that internet to learn some manners.”
“I’m tired of you giving all the money Mama sends you to the police.”
“That is the way it is here. Get used to it. You have to pay to play.”
“We don’t have to play.”
“Listen, my boy. You either play or you die.”
“Then what the fuck are we doing here?”
“Watch your language!”
“My language does not steal our money!”
“Your language steals! Your language is alien. Your language is corrupt, Kenechi! All that foreign rubbish. Where do you think all this stealing and bribery in Nigeria came from, eh? From over there! Nigerians didn’t use to be like this. Until they started going overseas, picking up all that foreign culture of stealing, lying, and deceit. Our leaders learned well, Kenechi. They learned very, very, well.”
“That soldier who always stops us does not speak with a foreign accent, Uncle.”
“His oga does, Kenechi. He’s just doing what his ogas do. That’s all.”
“We can do something about it.”
Babeji laughed. “Oh, I’m doing something about it. Starting with my nephew. Just because you were born in America does not mean that you have to think like them.”
“Let’s take another road.”
“That will be my call, Kenechi. May be next time we can play explorers.” Babeji studied his wrist watch. “For now, you’re late for your lessons.” Babeji slammed the hood shut and got in the car. “Get in.”
Kenechi entered the car and slammed the passenger door shut. The car coughed into life and then slowly rolled forward and away.
The soldier hoisted his Kalishnikov off the ground and then lazily approached Babeji’s Datsun sedan. As he zeroed in on the car, the soldier’s reddened eyes whipped around in their sockets like two repositioning searchlights.
A chill coursed down Kenechi’s spine as his eyes locked in with the soldier’s. Kenechi looked away. In the rear-view mirror, the soldier slowed to a trudge as he neared the car.
“Don’t give him nothing, Uncle.”
“That’s my lessons money.”
“I say shut up.”
The soldier leaned into the front passenger side of the car and threw sweeping glances. Kenechi and the soldier locked eyes again. Again, Kenechi blinked.
“Your papers,” the soldiers said to Babeji.
“Yes, Chief,” Babeji said, handing the soldier his papers.
The soldier flicked through them, even as his gaze wandered.
Kenechi frowned as his eyes met Babeji’s nervous gaze in the rear-view.
“Open your boot,” the soldier ordered.
“Chief, all my papers dey there, now.”
“Open the boot.”
“He says that all his papers are there, cop!”
“Shut up!” Babeji swung at Kenechi behind him and missed. “Close your mouth, Kenechi.” Babeji looked pleadingly at the soldier. “Sorry, Chief. I’m coming.”
As Babeji exited the car, Kenechi kicked at the passenger seat in front of him, and then slapped the headrest.
Kenechi leaned back on his seat as his thoughts flailed. He reached between the driver’s seat to retrieve the envelope containing the money for his teacher. It wasn’t there. He searched the glove compartment. Nothing.
Kenechi exited the car and noticed that the soldier and Babeji huddled together a few yards away from the car, and were engaged in a calm discussion.
Did Babeji have something illegal in the car’s trunk? Kenechi wondered.
“Gala, gala. You want gala?” a hawker called out as he hovered close to the car.
“No!” Kenechi answered.
“No be fight now.” The hawker walked away and engaged a motorist a few yards away.
Kenechi walked up to the trunk of the car and looked. There was nothing unusual in it except his iPod, which still had its record light on. He reached down and grabbed it and then shoved it into his pocket.
“Hey,” the soldier called out at Kenechi. “Get back inside the car.”
“Uncle, don’t give him the money,” Kenechi pleaded with Babeji.
The soldier moved towards Kenechi, his gun raised and pointed at Kenechi. Kenechi walked back to the car and got in.
“Wetin you say?” the soldier asked.
Babeji moved quickly to insert himself between the soldier and Kenechi. “Nothing, Chief. No mind am, abeg.”
“Sit down and don’t move!” the soldier barked at Kenechi.
“Yes, sir,” Babeji coached. “Say yes, sir!”
“Abeg, don’t mind am. Na small pikin.”
“You need to teach am manners.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
The soldier handed Babeji his papers and then waved him off. Babeji rushed back into the car and drove off.
“You gave him the money, right.” Kenechi accused.
Babeji’s bitter frown met Kenechi’s gaze in the rear-view.
“How much of the money did you give him?”
“If you don’t shut up right now, I will stop this car and flog you in public.”
“Do it! Goddamnit, you gave my tuition money away. Again.”
Instead of stopping the car, Babeji drove on. He turned on the car’s tape player. Vintage Ebenezer Obey played.
Kenechi took out his iPod and turned it on. He took out the earphones and wore them.
I dare you to tell me to put it away, Kenechi thought.
Babeji ignored Kenechi, and instead bobbed his head to the Obey song.
Kenechi hoped that his iPod taped Babeji yelling at him in the car. He planned to play it to Mama tonight when he called her.
He pressed the play button to listen to what the iPod had recorded. A slight smile registered on his face when he heard the iPod repeat Babeji’s angry words to him just before the car stalled.
But the smile slowly faded when he heard the next wave of recording.
Babeji’s conversation with the soldier was also taped.
Kenechi replayed the recording and then leaned back on the seat in shock. “Stop the car.”
Babeji kept driving, bobbing his head to Obey’s song.
“Stop the car!”
Babeji turned to look. “What is it?”
“Stop the car, Uncle.”
“Are you all right, Kenechi?”
“Stop the fucking car!”
Babeji slammed on the brakes, pulling the car to the side of the road. He killed the engine, got out, removed his belt, and then came after Kenechi. “I told you not to use those dirty words in my car, abi?”
Kenechi flashed the iPod in his face, freezing him momentarily.
“You’re the one that’s dirty, Uncle.” Kenechi depressed the play button.
Babeji: “Tell Mallam to give me better exchange rate this time. At least one-sixty.
Soldier: “Make I bring the naira to your office?”
Babeji: “No. Are you crazy? Put it in my account as usual.”
Soldier: “Okay, sir.”
“That’s why you insisted that Mama send you the money,” Kenechi said. “Mama wanted to wire my tuition fees to the teacher, but you insisted that she send it to you.”
Babeji stood up straight and glowered at Kenechi. “Turn that thing off!”
Kenechi turned off the iPod, but kept his angry gaze on Babeji.
Babeji grabbed the iPod from Kenechi and threw it to the ground. “Another thing, you are not allowed to record me. Any time.”
Kenechi got out of the car and picked up the iPod. “I’m going to find my way from here, Uncle.”
“Get in the car, Kenechi.”
Kenechi waved down an okada. He fingered the envelope in his pocket that contained the real dollar bills. This time around, Mr. Demola, his private art teacher, was going to get his money.
“Kenechi, come back. Right now!”
Kenechi kept on walking.