Bayo snatched a glance at his watch, while keeping an eye on the chaos on the expressway in front in case some crazy driver decided to cut in front of him.
11.45! He inwardly groaned with dismay. There was no way he was going to be able to make it to Mrs. Popoola’s office on time in this traffic. Best to give her a call, since she was so prickly about punctuality. He reached for his phone which was placed near his gear box, but to his dismay, he saw that the battery was almost drained of charge.
Not to worry, he thought. It’s a good thing I decided to get one of those in-car phone chargers.
Again, still watching out for possible acts of locomotive lunacy, he managed to literally single-handedly extract the charger from the glove box and insert it into the car’s power outlet. Then he plugged the phone into the charger and heaved a sigh of relief as he saw the ‘charging’ icon appear on the phone. But his relief was short-lived; on dialling Mrs. Popoola’s number, he heard a cool feminine voice informing him that he did not have enough credit to make a call.
Wonderful, he sighed. Now, in addition to watching out for locomotive lunacy, he also had to keep an eye open for a recharge card vendor. Fortunately for him, these were attracted to static traffic like bees to honey, and before long, he had sighted one of them jogging in and out of traffic, waving a plastic curtain of cards. He leaned out of his window and signalled for the attention of the vendor, who promptly sprinted over.
“Bring five hundred naira Glo card.”
“Oga, I only get one thousand five hundred o.”
Only one thousand five hundred naira cards my foot, Bayo seethed. He was sure that the vendor must have sensed his desperation and grabbed at the opportunity to take advantage of it. Oh well, that was Lagos for you. No point in getting worked up about it.
“Oya bring am,” he said, motioning to the vendor.
After a quick exchange of card and cash, Bayo managed another single-handed trick in scratching the card to reveal the pin and dialling in the number to recharge the phone. But it was third time unlucky, as the cool feminine voice disdainfully informed him that the number he was trying to call was unreachable.
“What is the matter with this woman, now? Why has she chosen this time of all times to switch her phone off when she knows we’re supposed to meet?” His temper now beginning to fray, Bayo tried her number again, but he was just as unsuccessful. Then he looked at his phone and saw that the ‘network’ icon was down to a single bar from a maximum of five.
Maybe God was trying to tell him something: don’t go to Mrs. Popoola’s office. Well, he was sure that God would understand. After all, if He was just starting up His PR company with an important business meeting to attend, He would likely free up the road ahead by sending angels to smite errant drivers blocking the way. Add to this the fact that the meeting with Flair Boutique could lead to an advertising contract of close to a million naira, and he was sure that God would also add fire and brimstone to clear away any remaining stubborn drivers.
But back to the present; he needed to make that call. Unfortunately, even though he had two items of the Holy Trinity of Communication – Credit and Charge – at his disposal, he didn’t have the most important one – Coverage. So his only option was to go and look for to a phone to use. He would probably be able to get one at any shop along the road; the shopkeeper would be happy of the extra hundred naira or so.
Amidst the blare of many angry car horns, he expertly manoeuvred his Honda towards the right most lane of the expressway and turned into a local road to begin his search. Soon, he saw a likely looking store; the owner seemed not to be doing much, as there didn’t seem to be anyone looking to purchase the provisions on display, so Bayo reckoned that he wouldn’t mind being interrupted. He parked in a nearby spot, stepped out of the car and made his way to the shop.
“Good afternoon,” he said as he entered.
The owner, a slight young man with a bushy head of hair, looked up from an old magazine he had been leafing through, and greeted him with a smile. “Good afternoon, oga. What I can get you?”
Another one who is trying to hide his desire to squeeze money from me, Bayo thought. “I’m looking for a phone to make a call.” He waved his useless phone at the owner. “This one uses Glo, and there’s no coverage in this area, it seems.”
The owner eyed the phone appreciatively. “That’s a very nice Samsung Galaxy S 2 model you have. I hear that you can easily access Facebook on it–”
Bayo curtly interrupted. “Do you have a phone that I can use to call?”
“Sorry oga, don’t mind me,” was the reply, accompanied with a sheepish grin. “Here, try this one – it’s MTN.”
Bayo grabbed the phone from the outstretched hand and rapidly began punching numbers in, but it soon became clear to him that phones using MTN’s network were also not able to make calls.
“What is the matter with these damned telecom companies?” he said in exasperation. “They charge us so much to make calls, yet their service is so terrible!”
“Sorry, o.” An commiserative shrug followed. “The network goes down like that sometimes, but it doesn’t remain like that for long. You can sit down and wait while it comes back.”
“I can’t wait. It’s very important that I make this call soon. Is there any way you can help?”
The owner frowned for a while as he pondered this question, then his face lit up with a smile. “You just need to get a message across to someone, hm?”
“Hm… yes, that’s right.”
“I know a friend who has a BlackBerry; maybe he can send a BB message to another friend who lives where there may be network service, and he can call this person you want to get in touch with and deliver your message.”
Bayo nodded appreciatively. “It sounds like a good idea. Please let’s get this done right away.”
Five minutes later, after a drive down to BlackBerry Friend’s house, followed by several frantic messages being sent back and forth between BlackBerry Friend and Good Network Service Subscriber, Bayo and the shop owner finally got confirmation from BlackBerry Friend that Good Network Service Subscriber had called Mrs. Popoola and relayed the message that Bayo would be delayed by about an hour, and that Mrs. Popoola was OK with that.
“Thank God that’s done,” said Bayo, as he stopped to drop off the shop owner. “So how much do I owe you?”
The shop owner hesitated, then smiled and shrugged. “Any amount you want to give is OK with me.”
Bayo, who up till this point had begun to warm to the owner, suddenly became cold with hostility. He knew it – all this help that the guy had been giving him was in expectation of a big payoff. He didn’t want to name a figure, because he thought that Bayo would be so grateful for his help that he would give him a large reward completely out of proportion to the help he had given. Well, he wasn’t going to fall for that old trick – he would show him.
“Any amount, eh?”
“Yes, oga. Any amount you like.”
Bayo made a big show of bringing out his wallet and carefully flicking through the notes inside before finally extracting a ten naira note and handing it over. If the owner was disappointed, he did not show it; instead he smiled and thanked Bayo.
“It’s all right, eh? After all, you said ‘any amount’.”
“If that is what your spirit is moving you to give me, that is fine with me.”
Bayo said goodbye and walked towards his car, but he didn’t feel as satisfied with dealing with the shop owner as he had thought he would be. Anyway, that was now in the past, and he could now focus on getting to his meeting. He hoped that the traffic had cleared; even though Mrs. Popoola had said she was OK with the delay, he was sure that her patience was not infinite. He eventually reached his car, got inside and switched on the ignition.
The car’s engine responded by making a brief whirring noise, and then it died.
Stupefied, Bayo stared at the dashboard. This cannot be happening, he thought.
He tried starting the car a few more times, but each time the engine died faster than before. Eventually, he gave up and stared straight ahead.
OK, God, you win. I’ll just forget about going for this meeting. But at least, please help me get home again.
As if on cue, he felt a shadow fall across his side window. He peered out and saw the shop owner.
“Ah, oga, it looks like you are having some problem,” he said.
What does this one want now? Does he want to dance over my grave or what? Bayo turned to him in irritation. “Yes, I am having a problem. My car won’t start. Are you happy?”
The owner started back, as though he had been stung. “Softly softly, o. I saw you walk out of my shop, and I thought that you would drive away soon. But when I saw your car was still parked, I was worried. Maybe you had fainted, or something.”
A flood of shame washed over Bayo, rendering him speechless.
“I know one mechanic not far from here,” the owner continued. He is very good with Japanese cars, like your Honda. I can call him to help him fix your car; it won’t take long.”
Fifteen minutes later, the car’s engine was once more humming with life; the mechanic had waved away any offer of money, saying that the shop owner was his ‘personal person’ so there was no need. Bayo was in the driver’s seat, getting ready to drive off, and the shop owner stood at the front his shop, waving him farewell.
“OK oga, nice meeting you,” he said, smiling at him. “I hope you won’t be too late for your meeting.”
Suddenly, Bayo switched off the ignition, got out of the car and walked up to the owner.
“I’m sorry for the way I treated you earlier,” he said. “I chose to think the worst of you when you were just being helpful. Please accept…” but as he brought out his wallet, the owner waved it away.
“Come on,” Bayo said. “I’m sure you’re not happy with the ten naira I gave you.”
The shop owner gave another of his smiles. “It’s not the money that matters so much to me when you give me money, it’s the spirit in you when you give. The more you appreciate the help I offer, the happier I am, and money is just another way of showing your appreciation. You know that I didn’t ask you for anything; you were the one who wanted to give me the money.”
“But still,” Bayo persisted, “why did you say ‘any amount’? Why couldn’t you have named an amount, or even just said ’no’”?
“I didn’t want to name an amount, because I don’t know how helpful I was to you. What if I was annoying you instead of helping you? It’s not fair if I then start demanding plenty of money from you.”
Bayo stood for a moment, lost in thought. Then he said, “You’ve helped me greatly today, not just on the outside but on the inside too. I’d like to do this one thing for you, and I think you will like this…”
Thirty minutes later, Bayo was nearing Mrs. Popoola’s office. Thankfully, the traffic hadn’t been that bad. He was sure that he would be on time; he certainly hoped that there wouldn’t be any congestion as he got nearer, since he now had no means of reaching her.
Bayo smiled as he thought of the shop owner. He hoped he was going to enjoy his new Samsung phone. Hopefully, the meeting at Flair Boutiques would go well, and he’d be able to buy another one for himself. He started to hum a tune, unbothered by the okada that had just swerved in front of him. Life was going to be good, he thought to himself.