When a trembling hand becomes a fist

When a trembling hand becomes a fist

Besides the festivity of sex, another very engaging content of that spectacular film, Spartacus, is dialogue. Whether couched in the vocabulary of sex, human exploitation or triumph, Spartacan dialogues exude humour and poetic elegance. One particular statement from that triumphant martyr of a character called Crixus, was the summation of the entire longish struggle that was the movie, an instructive message for both the oppressor and the oppressed: “We have shown that a trembling hand can become a fist.”

It is this statement that has found real expression from Egypt through Tunisia to Libya, as the Arab Spring. It is to be found in every struggle for identity and dignity within or between nations. It is that defining moment of self-recollection, when the individual suddenly locates his voice and strength and deploys them to challenge deprivation.

But a trembling hand can also become a fist in much smaller fates, like it happened on Falomo Bridge, Ikoyi, not too long ago. That bridge, notorious for traffic jams, carries the entire weight of an economy run by hawkers and motorists.

As a young entrepreneur cursed to seek out clientele in that part of Lagos, I have played my fair part in sustaining that economy, mainly through the purchase of gala sausages, bottle water, and sweets. On a certain day, a fragile young man about my age – a sweets hawker – stood by the car window and held up his wares neatly placed on a board. I gestured my disinterest but he yet stood there, smiling. The traffic was on a standstill, and the baggage of a very bad day made his intrusive presence very annoying. For close to a minute he was still there, a very silly smile still lounging on his face. Window-glass was wound down and I made my apathy more emphatic, and rolled up the glass again to shut out this commercial stalking. It didn’t work, he remained there. Somehow I found his resilience appealing, then I smiled, and he laughed! His name was Aloy. Transaction. Loyalty. Friendship.

Given that I often maintained my loyalty in any form of transaction unless trust is breached, Aloy became my only source of sweets and chewing gums. Sometimes on that bridge, I would take a different lane from the one he was familiar with, if I didn’t have enough money to spare. But he appeared to have developed a biological alert that gave my presence away. Just when I thought I had escaped him, the rascal would appear like a ghost, smiling up at me. I patronised him even when I had no need for his articles, mainly out of empathy. That empathy was lacking in many motorists, who would set a hawker on a risky race as traffic loosened up, to provide, often-times, insignificant change from transactions.

For most hawkers, it was such a drudgery running after motorists to provide change and collect payment for sold goods, given the encumbrance of wares strapped to the body. The better option was to relieve oneself of the goods and place them by the side of the road. It made the pursuit of fleeing motorists easier, but it had its own threat: the KAI brigade, unleashed by the state government to arrest hawkers. Members of the Kick Against Indiscipline brigade often walked into traffic by stealth, and simply confiscated goods left by the roadside, whose owner may have been caught up in the change race.

The KAI threat exacted endless attention from hawkers, who hurried transactions with glances cast 360 degrees around, to spot the uniformed menace.

My transaction with Alloy one fateful day had taken longer than usual. He had no change for my one-thousand-naira bill. The alternative was for him to accept a slightly mutilated two hundred naira note. But he was hesitant. “If you go bank, pay am to your account naaw. Ok, just take am free, next time I go buy,” I said. He let out a self-deriding laughter. “Na from this kain yeye market na im person go open account? I no get account, Oga. Moni never reach to chop sef. Everything wey I carry here no reach five thousand naira.”

That moment, it dawned on me that a fellow youth had no bank account, a thing most of us had taken for granted. I realised that I was not essentially different from him, that things could have been better for him if he had a different set of parents, or if he had been exposed to a different experience in socialisation. Empathy.

“So what else can you do for a living?”
“Anything sir.”
“I no be ‘sir’, my brother,” came my reply, as I munched over the idea of how I could be of help.

Then suddenly, “Alooooooooy!” A fellow hawker called him. Aloy turned, and saw them – the KAI people, two of them. It was already too late. He could not run fast enough given the burden of his goods. I felt so guilty and sad, knowing that his immersion in our chat weaned him from his usual alertness. They dragged him towards their huge van that must be somewhere under the bridge, to shut him within that mobile prison where ventilation took the form of small rectangular crevices. Through the side mirror I watched him plead for mercy, his feet dragging on reluctantly. His ware-board bearing small packs that separated one family of sweets from the other, was already in the custody of the other booted fellow, whose K-legs seemed like the legs were inserted wrongly in his waist, left for right. It felt sad watching the criminalisation of poverty, the punishing of a young man’s choice of industry over crime. I could not abandon my vehicle to intervene, especially as traffic inched forward. And suddenly, that moment came.

I saw it through the mirror. Aloy converted his plea to rage, and clenched that rage within a malicious fist. His captor seemed to have loosened hold on the poor boy’s waist, and Aloy seized the moment and dispatched a decisive blow, it seemed, onto his eye. That blow, a summary of defiant aggression and indifference to consequence, sent the booted captor sprawling on the ground, a triumphant Aloy alternating a bolting pair of feet, forfeiting his goods in exchange for freedom, choosing dignity over apology. A trembling hand had become a fist! I pulled over ahead when I found a convenient space, and came back to look for him, but he was gone. I was worried: how would he survive? If only we had exchanged contacts…

The fist from a trembling hand operates on a philosophy that despises consequences. In that swift moment, the individual calculates a desperate situation and offers his last shot at piquing the oppressor’s proud reign, no matter the likely cost of such bravery. That is the pride of humanity – the imperative to direct a righteous contempt at power. Aloy’s escape was no cowardice. If anything, it was a shaming epitaph on his humiliation, a reminder to his oppressor that he could successfully employ a defiant fist and get away with it.

The incident happened quite some months ago. Each time I get on that bridge, I look around to see if I could spot him. Aloy has disappeared for good, either into crime or into whatever life offers, perhaps. I grieve the loss of a friend. I grieve how we, members of society, sometimes, create the elements that haunt us. And more curiously, I grieve how the poor, like those KAI people, willingly accept, by elite fiat, to be predators against their own kind.

13 thoughts on “When a trembling hand becomes a fist” by immanueljames (@ImmanuelJames)

  1. Wow! Why am I the first to drop a comment when this deserves a lot more? Or am I the only one who finds it interesting? Hmmm.
    This article touches on our lives because it makes us question our selves – Have we been guilty? we ask ourselves. Then the last line leaves us with a thought to nibble on… Guess one has to be empathic to enjoy this.
    It is well written too. With your interspersed dialogues and skillful writing, it makes an enjoyable read… Your allusion to Spartacus is spot on(dialogues were amazing) and so is your title. Interesting Bio.

    This is among the interesting ‘articles’ I have read for the month, so I’ll do a @nicolebassey sort of summon… @chemokopi, @tolaO, @topazo, @elovepoetry…the list goes on.
    Well done, Imma. $ß.

  2. See this man. Our partner in crime headed by the big-headed man in glasses. I’ve often wondered why I’ve never read any piece from you when I’ve seen snippets of what you can do. Have read this on Telegraphng already but had to comment on seeing you here. The wind is nice to have blown you this corner. Great piece once again!!!

  3. This piece leaves us something to think about. I wonder what happened to Aloy.
    Thanks for a wonderful read,Immanuel.
    Keep writing…

  4. Great Read. Poignant too. Good to know you did engage the guy, over time and you became friends of sorts.Hope you will see him soon but under pleasant circumstances i hope. There are a lot of Aloys’ out there.God give us the will and the way to help our Aloy when we see them.

  5. A wonderful and incisive dissertation of an everyday issue we all choose to overlook.I especially liked the line’……. sometimes we create the elements that haunt us’.

    In hindsight, we must embrace the ideology that unless and until society adequately caters for the weakest( in this case poorest) amongst us, we might as well enjoy the piece of the restless.

    Well done Immanuel and keep the thoughts flowing! Cheers.

  6. @sibbylwhyte thanks for the summon. this was a very interesting piece and it brings a lot of issues to the fore. how we look down on our fellow man because we are in a better place than him, forgetting that time and chance happens to us all; the injustice of the policy makers, enacting laws that stifle the means of survival of the common man without providing an alternative……

    the one line that struck me was the fate of aloy, what he was on to next- crime or whatever life offered him. it would be sad to see an honest man forced into crime by the inhumanity of fellow man and turn into a terror to fellow man by his nefarious activities.

    wish him well and that fortune smile on him….

    well done imma

  7. @ImmanuelJames, I like the inviting allusion to Spartacus. You’ve just written some of my thoughts on this KAI issue. Haba! If you want to take them off the streets, give them options. I think they choose their traffic trade as a last resort, and it pricks my heart every time I see the hungry looking KAI people inflict pain on their own. Maybe our trembling hands can become fists too, with regard to this issue.

  8. It’s a wonder our nation remains the disaster it is considering the fact that such passionate and empathic individuals like the narrator exist. We gotta make our country better, we gotta stop devouring our young, we gotta make justice, equity and the dignity of labour ring through our land. We cannot afford another generation of Aloy’s pounding our roads for meager living, defying the draconian insensitivity of the government and think we will be alright. No! Something must give, things must change!

    Thank you @ImmanuelJames for this beauty of an article…Good to know there still are good men out there

  9. Nice one. well done.

  10. Nice one, very interesting. Well done

  11. Nice one, very interesting.

  12. Great write up. I’ll say this in response to your last line… Stop grieving, because it all boils down to the survival instinct inherent in man aka self preservation.

  13. You should be in the papers Immanuel. The world at large needs to read this. I’ve always thot that law makers in this country esp in Lagos, make laws without putting themselves in everyone ‘s shoes and asking all sides of the party (call it stakeholders if you wish.)

    You don’t want them on the street, but you don’t give them an option. You don’t want illegal parking, yet you don’t give us options, You don’t want petty traders putting their wares on the streets, then give them an option.

    Thank you for this piece.

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