‘Mother,look!, Akande exclaimed, seeing a grasscutter scampering to hide in a hole. He and his grandmother were walking slowly through the bush path to their farm on a bright sunny morning. The sun seems to have risen a bit earlier than usual, waking up plants and beasts from their slumber.
Akande was born in Ilugbinrin, a border community with one of the neighbouring countries. He grew up under the care of his grandmother, he had lost both parents early in life. Surviving in the village is hard as there is little government presence. The village can only boast of a public primary and secondary school built by missionaries, now run by the state but in a decrepit condition, needing repairs and infrastructures. Also in the village is the only public health centre that looks more like a kiosk with a single bed and two health workers to attend to the sick in the entire village. Though richly endowed with arable lands, mineral deposits and an ambience of beautiful sceneries in pristine condition, the only activity that thrives there is smuggling which is unchecked by some corrupt custom officers. Various item of merchandize are brought into the country strapped on motorcycles through dusty bush paths, routes that people take to their farms and other villages, in reverse, thousands of Litres of petroleum products are siphoned out of the country daily through the porous border.
Most of the people in Ilugbinrin are peasant farmers who engage in subsistence farming using crude implements and living in houses built out of mud and thatched roofs. A large portion of their harvest goes into feeding their families while a small percentage is brought to the local market where they are bought by traders who transport them to the big city.
There are also a few number of people who are artisans in various vocations and people in small businesses dealing mostly in consumables.
‘I will never join these smugglers’, Akande said to his grandmother as they have to leave the way quickly when they heard the droning of motorcycles approaching them from behind.
Soon they were engulfed by the deafening cacophony of myriads of engines revved up by an army of youths riding on top gear as if they have made a death wish. They zoomed passed them, leaving behind their vehicles, trailing clouds of dusts which enveloped the air.
Akande and his grandmother were forced to wait by the side for sometime, covering their faces with their palms. When everything had died down, they continued walking to the farm.
‘Why did you say that?’ Grandmother asked Akande, who is just seven years old.
Akande gazed at his grandmother and replied with a grim look on his face, ‘I hear that the people who do it are killed if they are caught’, he said.
His grandmother was not at all surprised to hear his candid remarks as the whole village is awashed with stories of those who unfo lost their lives either caught by stray bullets fired by raiding officers or got involved in a ghastly road accident that leave them dead or seriously maimed.
There are quite a number of young widows left behind to cater for two or more children and with the hard choice of either to find another husband or remain a widow.
Akande’s statement pricked his grandmother’s conscience and kept her bewildered as they approached the farm, ‘has anyone told him how his father died?, she said quietly in her thoughts.
On the farm, they gathered pieces of firewood needed for cooking and some corn cobs. Then grandmother turned and asked, ‘my son,what do you really want to become when you grow up?’
Akande lifted his eyes towards her with a broad smile that lighted his face, he said,’I want to become a mechanical engineer when I grow up.’
‘Then you will have to study hard in school and pass your exams with good grades to be a good one’, grandmother said to him.
‘I want to be able to make real cars, motorcycles and buses’, he said with a burst of enthusiasm.
His dream of wanting to become a mechanical engineer is fuelled by his natura ability and creative imaginations which he puts into the making of toy cars from scraps of metal and wood that he and his friends play with.
On market days, Akande and his grandmother would take some of the grains that they have and sell it.
It is usually a frenzy atmosphere during market days as buyers and sellers engage in fierce bargaining for crops and livestock.
Akande is always fascinated by the scene of goods being loaded onto lorries to be transported to the big city.
‘One day I will go the big city’, Akande said, imagining how life will be like over there.
During festive seasons, when families in the city visit the village to spend time with their loved ones, Akande gets a rare chance to mingle with children who come with their parents.
He listens to stories about the big city told by these children with rapt attention. He is able to learn new and exciting things that he has never heard before.
The sharp contrast between his quiescent village and the busy city excites him a lot.
Though some city dwellers hold the perception of villagers as noble Savages who live in conformity with nature; the interactions that they share reveal how people have been able to adapt to their environment with some level of intelligence in using resources available for daily life.
Visitors are enchanted by the lush green scenery, calm atmosphere and warm reception that they get from people.
The air is clean, fresh from vegetation and so is the food. Visitors are able to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city in a relaxed mood.
Grandmother was able to get Akande through his primary education from the little she gets from the sale of grains on the farm. Akande would help with some tasks mostly during holidays and weekends when there is no school.
After his primary education, Akande could not continue to go to school because his grandmother is unable to afford sending him for his secondary school education.
No one wanted to take up the responsibility of funding and he felt deserted.
‘You will have to go and learn a vocation’, grandmother said,’and I think you should decide what you want to learn’.
Akande hung his head in despair, sighed and took a deep thought about what he wants to learn. He then decided that he will learn how to repair motorcycles.
Later, he joined six other teens under a shed by the road side made from bamboo sticks and with palm fronds as roof.
Their master, Mr Ajadi is very generous and allowed Akande to start learning even though his grandmother was unable to pay for his fees to begin his apprenticeship.
That was how his dream of wanting to become a mechanical engineer turned into a motorcycle mechanic.
Poverty now hangs like a bulging dark cloud blocking the rays of a bright future from Akande.
Mr Ajadi grew fond of him and is always especially pleased because of his promptness, obedience, honesty and diligence at work. He became his master’s favourite apprentice and always gets good appraisal from him and his clients.
From the road side, Akande watched custom officers on patrol in their vans armed with rifles and moving as if prowling the village for their prey—-the smugglers.
It is a cat and mouse game, as these smugglers keep an eagle-eye for officers, they operate like syndicates with a complicated networks of informants sending out signals for any possible threat.
One day as Akande is busy with his knees touching the ground and head bowed over the engine he is working on, Banji, a close friend and a co-apprentice, jabbed his fingers into him to get his attention and said,’ look, I hear these smugglers are paid a lot and they make more money than people who do regular jobs’.
Akande lifts his head to see a long line of squad motorcycles with goods fastened on their seats, moving like a rushing wind in a bid to evade custom officers and deliver on time.
‘I quite agree,’ he said,’ but they are doing a dangerous job that can end their lives.’
‘Oh, come on!, Banji replied,’ these guys make quick money and some of them are even successful at it, building houses and buying cars’.
‘Well,’ Akande said shrugging his shoulders,’ I am content with what I am doing and I know that I will be successful too’.
‘How can we be successful when all we hear on master’s radio are empty promises made by government to make our lives better?’ Banji complained.
After spending seven years with Mr Ajadi, it is now time for Akande to graduate and be independent.
The cost his graduation and settling up of his own mechanic workshop troubled him.
He walked in, into the house which he shares with his grandmother looking dejected.
‘What is the matter?’ asked grandmother as she noticed a haunted look his face.
‘I don’t have enough money for my graduation and to buy the tools needed to set up my own workshop’, he said.
‘So what are you going to do about it’?’she asked him.
‘I think I will ask my master for permission to postpone till later while I go looking for ways to get more money’, he said.
Akande pushed aside the thought of making quick money and was rather determined to work to help himself.
He got a motorcycle through one of his master’s client and used it for commercial transport. At the end of the he would deliver a percentage of his earnings to the owner.
Akande also worked as a freelance mechanic, repairing motorcycles for people on demand. With this he was able to raise enough money for his graduation and also to get himself setup.
Now he is on his own and business is good. Akande had many clients who patronised him because of the good reputation he had built for himself.
‘My son, I think it is time for you to settle down and have your own family’, grandmother said.
Akande had grown into a matured man now in his late twenties.
He soon met the love of his life Wuraola, an attractive and elegant lady. They both fell in love and decided to get married.
Their wedding was a simple one, gift were presented to the bride’s parents and a simple introduction was done. She moved in with Akande and they started a new life.
Some months later Wuraola’s belly was already protruded with tirheir first child coming on the way.
The time came for her to give birth and she was taken to the health centre. After hours of labour, the child could not come forth.
The nurses tried all they could do and when it became obvious that time was running out, they called on Akande.
‘You will have to take her to the teaching hospital where a caesarean section will be performed on her’, one of the nurses told him.
The teaching hospital is located far in the city and the cost of moving her and medical bills tormented him.
‘You just have to act fast and do whatever you can do now!’ the nurse bawled at him, seeing the precarious situation.
Akande quickly rushed to meet his friend, Banji in the early hours of the morning if he could get some money to lend him.
‘I am very sorry’, Banji said in a very depressed mood ,’I just bought a piece of land to use for farming ,do you know anyone else that can lend you the money?’
‘ I know you hate to hear this but the smugglers are moving goods now, I can help you to get a motorcycle and you will be back in less than thirty minutes’ Banji advised Akande.
The exigency of the situation forced Akande to take a u-turn on his earlier stance. He quickly got a motorcycle, rode to the location where the other riders were busy piling bags of contraband goods on their seats.
A potpourri of confusing thoughts ran through his mind and he was unable to think or act clearly.
‘Have you done this before?’ The leader of the gang asked Akande noticing how trembling he is.
‘Yes I have ,’ Akande lied as he managed to stack a few bags onto his seat.
He mounted his motorcycle ,his hands barely clutch the handle bars, his feet shaking. He and the other riders waited in anticipation of the signal to start moving.
‘Take these and your nerves will become steel,’ Akande turned to see who it was, a guy stretching out his hands to him, holding a small part of the marijuana he was smoking and a small bottle of locally distilled gin.
Akande ignored him and managed to keep his focus.
Earlier, the comptroller of customs had removed some officers found wanting and replaced them with new ones. They were given strict directives from the presidency to stamp out smuggling and to use force where necessary.
‘Get moving!’ the gang leader shouted. Immediately engines were revved up, the noise filled the air as they started moving, the atmosphere became mixed with fumes, dust and the stench of sweat.
And off they go!, every man for himself, through the bush path on top speed.
Akande hands quivered as he gripped the handlebars with sweat dripping all over his palms and pushed down the kick-starter with his trembling foot.
He did not move on time and so was part of those at the rear.
Grandmother soon learned of the condition Wuraola was in and quickly made her way to the health centre. On getting there the nurses did not allow her in and she had to stay outside.
She went down on her knees and started praying for Wuraola to deliver safely.
Soon the first group of riders zoomed passed a small forest that they have to go through on their way to deliver.
The Chief inspector got winds of the smugglers movement and was not slow to lead a squad of officers to intercept them. They got to the small forest and laid ambush for the remaining riders coming behind.
On sighting them, the officers jumped out of their hiding places and ordered the riders to stop.
Immediately there was pandemonium in the woods. Some of the riders made a sudden stop, took to their heels and abandoned their motorcycles. Others made frantic efforts for a u-turn and returned to the village.
There were those who felt undeterred by the presence of the officers and had the temerity to confront them.
They continued riding, pushing forward toward the officers. On seeing this, the Chief inspector ordered his men to, ‘open fire!’ Shots could be heard from surrounding villages.
Akande scuttled through the woods , as he made a dashing move for safety. Just as he was about to hide behind a small hill, Akande was yanked to the ground by a force. He was hit in the left shoulder, the bullet bore through his flesh and bone and stayed close to his heart.
Akande laid on the ground, in a pool of his own blood unable to move and gasping for breath. His entire life flashed before him and in the midst of his final memories, he saw his first child in the arms of Wuraola.
At that very moment, when his last breath left his body, journeying into the deep, long sleep of the cold, dark region of the other side; Wuraola pushed their first child out of the dark world it has been, crossing over into the bright lights of this world.