The interior of the car was blessedly cool, and it was much more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. So much more.
Man, Sam thought, money is good.
“What is the meaning of all this, my friend?” the driver asked. “I’m trying to go to work and I’m already late. You’re delaying me further.”
Sam looked at him. The driver was dressed in a deep blue T-shirt with a bank’s insignia on it; Sam could not tell which; they were all the same to him. The driver also wore black trousers, but his shoes were out of sight. However, Sam could bet they were damn good. And expensive too.
Boy, this guy was living large.
All these went through Sam’s head in a space of five seconds.
“What kind of driving was that? Eh? Well, I told you, we are going to the office.”
Now this is where you beg. You tell me let’s settle this amicably, nobody needs to know, you know, hold this small change, blah blah blah, and the bargaining begins.
The driver just stared at Sam through those eyes, eyes that were hard and unforgiving, like the eyes of a life-like statue.
After a while, the driver said “Mister,” and Sam thought ‘Yes!’ “I need to get to work now. I didn’t do anything wrong. If I did, if I broke any rule back there, if I tried to jump lanes, or I hit somebody, or somebody hit me, or I threw something out the window, anything, just anything at all, let me know now, or I suggest you go do your work and you let me do mine.”
The tension in the car was palpable. Behind the glasses, Sam’s eyes grew wider, and wider, and if it had gotten any wider, the driver would’ve been able to see white half-moons on all sides of the lens. With a Herculean effort, Sam kept his mouth shut. His lips trembled though.
Just a wee bit.
Maybe he’s bluffing, the guy no serious. Okay. E don be.
“Oga,” Sam said, keeping his voice steady, “I said we are going to the office right now. Please don’t argue with me.”
Beg, you idiot.
Something dark flashed across the man’s features, and he stared at Sam for a while. The driver just sat and stared while around them, vehicles moved, horns blared, people cursed; but all that was in another planet.
After what seemed like an eternity, the driver shrugged, started the car, and drove, while Sam gave him directions.
The driver smiled, and Sam felt someone, or something… trail an icy finger down his spine.
Wetin. What is this?
Quickly, he quelled the doubt.
Inside THE CAR, the silence was oppressive. With the windows up and the air conditioner on, the sounds of the outside world were almost entirely banished. The driver just kept quiet all along, face impassive, neither smiling nor talking-except for that scary first time, simply following orders (turn left, here, no no no no, here…), with Sam occasionally stealing a glance or two, and they drove… until the driver pulled over and killed the engine.
A minute passed, and then two. The driver stared out the windshield as if he was trying to make up his mind about something, and it was all Sam could do not to turn and ask what he was doing.
Abruptly, the driver turned and looked at Sam. “What do you want?”
Sam smiled inwardly. Outwardly, he faced the driver with a poker face and told him, “I thought I said we were going to our office, sir.”
“Cut the crap, boy, and tell me what it is I did. Or what you want. Or both. And do it fast.”
Sam was shocked. What’s this guy doing? Is he threatening me?
“Are you threatening me, sir?”
The driver’s face broke into a smile that did not go past his moustache. “Does it sound like it?”
All of a sudden, Sam did not want to stay in THE CAR any longer. But he had come too far to let go.
“Okay,” Sam said, “Oga, you want to reach the office?”
“You’ve forgotten that I told you I’m late. No, I do not want to go your office.”
“Then let’s settle here.”
“Is that so?”
“Look…what’s your name?”
Sam turned, looked at him. “What do you need my name for?”
“I SAID, what is your name.”
Sam shuddered inwardly. For a moment; it must have been a trick of the light, an optical illusion, but for a moment, he was sure that the driver’s eyes had flashed black. Black and shiny, like the eyes of a crow.
“Sa… Sam. Sam is my name.”
The driver looked at him for a while, and then, “Okay, Sam, I’ve got an offer. Let me go on to my office, and you will be okay. Take my money… and you will look for me to return it. Those are your choices. Pick one.”
Just like that.
Sam was dumbfounded. Who did this prick think he was?
“Be quick boy. I’ve got other fish to fry.”
Sam’s brain was throwing back-flips. Was this worth it?
“In fact, Oga, forget abou-“
“Fifty thousand,” the driver cut in.
“Huh?” Sam said, stupidly.
“I said fifty thousand naira. Is that not what I’m supposed to pay?”
Sam’s mouth suddenly went dry, as the implications of what he had just heard zapped through his brain, faster than the speed of light.
Fifty thousand. Why, that was ten times what he’d been expecting; ten times the fine. Oh boy, was this real? The things he would do with this money, the things he would achieve, damn, he could-
Take my money… and you will look for me to return it.
This snippet of the man’s speech, his choices, stopped Sam’s thoughts cold.
THAT’S A LIE! , Sam’s mind raged. What does he mean? How will I return it?”
There and then, Sam decided to forgo the whole thing, just get out of the car and leave, get back to his ‘office’ and, as the driver said, look for other fish to fry. Fifty thousand… No, it was a big risk, and he wasn’t willing to take that risk. Probably he was bluffing; c’mon, fifty thousand was a whole load of money and there was no way, NO BLOODY WAY in the world that he was going to look for this driver and return the money. Can you imagine that? You are given fifty thousand naira and you look for the person who gave it to you, so you can return the money? Come On!
However, he wouldn’t take it. No, he would leave the driver in his fancy car and his fancy money and head back to Steve, James, Ikenna, and work.
But in the end,
“Bring the money”
Greed always wins in situations like this.
The driver’s smile grew even wider; for an absurd moment, Sam thought his lips would split all the way to the back of his head, and the top would just roll back, exposing the upper palate and pinkish red gums and the underside of his teeth.
And somehow, the worst part of it all would be that there would be no blood.
None at all.
But none of that happened, and the driver reached past him, opened the pigeon hole of the car and lifted a bundle of five hundred naira notes from the many bundles there. He passed this on to Sam who was too shocked to take it, and he just dropped it on Sam’s lap.
Sam didn’t bother to count it.
The driver slammed the pigeonhole and sat back in his chair.
“You’ll regret this,” he said.
It echoed in Sam’s head. You’ll regret this. He turned and looked at the driver.
“Get out of my car”.
Sam wordlessly did, although he felt an almost insane urge to bash the fucker’s teeth in, just fold his knuckles and imprint them on his fucking teeth, let’s see YOU regret that, Sir.
But it came again.
You’ll regret this.
Sam wordlessly opened the door, stepped out into the sun…..
….. and completely forgot everything that had transpired in the last thirty minutes.
A red car-a Honda Accord 2006 model was revving in front of him. He watched as the car sped off in a spray of dust and gravel.
He had a vague recollection of a certain monetary issue, and felt a peculiar weight in his right hand. He looked down, and saw a sweet bundle of five hundred naira notes; about fifty thousand. Must’ve gotten if from the person in the Honda, probably a debt or something.
Sam pocketed the money, and caressed the now bulging front of his pocket lovingly, and as he did so, a voice, as familiar as an old lover, whispered in his ear.
You’ll regret this.
Puzzled, Sam shook his head as he looked back at the way he knew he must have come.
What was there to regret about fifty thousand naira?
Sam found out soon enough.