“Sebi I tell you say this job go change our lives forever?” Virus said and let out a nefarious cackle as he paused from taking a huge bite at what remained of the roasted chicken thigh in his rake-like grip.
I couldn’t help but wondered how he was able to manipulate such quantity of food at once inside his mouth. But all the same, I nodded my head in wordless agreement to what he just said. Fifty thousand naira snoring peacefully within the safety of my jean’s pocket – my share of the initial payment from what Alhaji Maikudi had promised at the end of our deal. I felt like a newly crowned king. In fact, from time to time I pinched myself in case it all turned out just a wishful dream. By this time yesterday, I was a broke-assed dude. But here I was today basking in the euphoria of being fifty thousand naira richer for good!
To celebrate our new statures, Virus had maintained we go round town and catch some fun; paint everywhere red and establish we were the new guys with the freshly baked bread. So here we were at a busy drinking joint to kill some time and strategize. He cornered one of the waitresses and talked her into arranging two plastic chairs for us where we could easily keep our eyes on the goings-on around. He then ordered for drinks and a bowl of chicken, roasted and dipped in alligator pepper. Now he talked and behaved with the authority of one who was certain he had more than enough to settle any debt.
While I busied myself with tackling my first bottle, Virus was on his fifth and seemed so much at ease. He drank as if he was made for beer or vice versa.
“Make dem bring another one for you na?” he suggested to me, his blood-shot eyes searching my countenance in a cunning sort of way.
I concurred to the request. Not that I was particularly enjoying the evening binge, but he had contended I throw myself in and have a little fun to psyche my inner self for the task ahead of us.
“For this type job wey we wan do so, you must charge your brain well and act like say you don become evil spirit”, he said with a wild gesture and laughed at his own senseless sermon. “You know say evil spirit no get regard for man or anything”.
Act as if I’ve become an evil spirit? I mulled over his words which made no sense –hard as I tried. How on earth would a sane person even entertain such fiendish thought? But as it was, Virus was a bad chap – and that of course I knew. But man must survive, which was why I had no choice.
As if reading my thoughts, he took a wild swig from his bottle of Star lager and wiped his mouth with the back of his palm. “I know say you no understand the thing wey I mean. Me I don tey for this business, so I know wetin I dey talk”.
“Of a truth, I don’t think I want to understand”, I said conscientiously, “I only agreed to this dirty job to give me some financial leverage with which to start my life”.
He looked away briefly, an incomplete grin plastered to the edge of his ugly face. In that interval, a lanky Hausa lad walked close by, his tray of wares perched on his bushy head. He stopped by our table to peddle his merchandise: “Oga buy ya cigarette, ya tomtom, chokulatee even buran tashi and gida ko mota I get am”.
“Abeg give me Rothmans and stop that nonsense noise wey you dey make for my ears joor!” Virus growled over his shoulder in a beer-induced husky tone.
“Yes I get am for Rothumans. Even Benson and Santi Moris e dey for here”, the Hausa lad managed through the faulty grammar, exposing uneven set of discolored teeth.
“Oya, bring one packet and two bitter kola quick”.
“No froblem, Oga”, the hawker responded as he was already rummaging quickly through his wares. He found what he sought and transferred same to my friend’s huge palm.
“How much for the cigarette and kola nuts?”
“Eberything together na one hundred and sebenty naira, Oga”, our Hausa lad bleated out.
I watched with a level of listlessness as Virus pulled a five hundred naira note from his breast pocket and pushed same into the seller’s eager grasp.
“Give me change quick”, he barked, tore the silvery foil and reach into the sticks in the packet. He selected one long stick and stuck it between his teeth. “Lighter”, he hissed grumpily at the hawker.
The hawker produced a half-filled lighter and then searched his front and back pocket for the requested change. But he brought out his hand with no positive response. So he raise his bushy head and said to my chap: “Oga, I no get am for change, fa”.
“Your fada!” Virus ranted as he struck the flint to produce a bluish flame, “Na me go go look for change for you? Abi ori oda ni?” He cursed in Yoruba and puffed smoke deliberately into the seller’s face.
“But you sef ma I for first ask me if I get am for change before you open my cigarette mana!” the seller challenged Virus in his cut-and-join English, gesticulating furiously to press home his displeasure.
“Why you no ask me how much I carry before you sell? Na craze dey worry your head!” Virus replied and exhaled more smoke into the naked evening air.
This got the hawker provoked. He pointed at Virus and said in a vexed voice: “Na you ma I dey craze. Bayerebe barawon banza kowe!”
“If you open that your smelling mouth call me ‘barawo’ again I swear I go break bottle for your head now now!” Virus threatened, “E be like say you no know who I be, abi?”
“Who you I be?” the lad challenged, “Me I no fear am for you or for anybody. If you I break bottle me ma I go chook you knife for your belle, walahi!” So saying, he dropped his tray of wares and with a deft move flashed a penknife menacingly from his pocket.
Virus kicked his chair aside and struggled to his feet. Few heads turned in our direction. I froze in my chair; a loud warning bell sounded in my head – a gathering storm of trouble on my very first day in paradise.
Virus threw his cigarette down and crushed the butt with the heel of his weather-beaten shoe. He unbuckled his belt and wiped it from his waist. He wound the metal head tight round his thick knuckles.
“Virus, please take it easy. This young guy has got a knife”, I found myself stammering for fear of what I was about to witness.
“Me sef I see the knife”, he breathed at me through clenched teeth, “But I wan show the idiot say him and him knife no be my match for this kind of fight”.
The Hausa hawker made a false move and lurch forward at my chap, weapon raised above his head. Virus beat a hasty retreat – or so I thought at first. But midstride he merely sidestepped and twisted his body, his outstretched arm making a one hundred and eighty degree arc that propelled the belt to lash out with murderous precision. It connected hard with a punishing ‘TWERK’ and the next I knew, the penknife was airborne from the hawker’s loosened grip. Virus’s other hand shot out and took the shocked lad below the jawbone with a crunching thud. The impact flung the victim backward. In the blink of an eye, he was sprawled on the soft grass, unable to even shout. Virus ended the fight before it was even begun with a near fatal kick to the back of the lad’s head, sending imaginary crickets chirruping very close to both his ears.
The badly shaken hawker laid on the grass in total submission, moaning like a cow deep in the spasm of its very first labor. “Wayo na mutu”, he groaned quietly when at last he found his voice.
Everything had happened so fast that by the time I hoisted myself out of my chair in disbelief, it was already over. I fluttered my eyelids once or twice to make doubly sure the scene wasn’t a make believe. “Christ! Guy, that was reckless”, I stuttered in admiration when I eventually could speak.
People began to gather, most expressing their awe at Virus’s uncanny skillfulness. The injured attacker picked himself gingerly to his feet, coughing blood and spittle from his terribly broken mouth.
“You go give me my change or not?” Virus growled threateningly with his fist still clenched, ready to deliver more of the painful blows.
“Make I go look for your change, Oga”, the hawker whimpered without any fight left in him, “Me I no know say you na soldier man, walahi”. He sneezed out more blood then picked his way through the jeering crowd, to go search for change so as to avoid any more trouble with a character as wild as Virus.