Where do I keep this money? was Sam’s question. Should I take it home? No, he just left the place. They would know something was up, and come snooping around, and by the time he would be back from work, his house would have been overturned.
He would go back to his ‘office’ and see the guys.
Yeah, and then dem go wan collect their share. Na lie!
This thought popped in even as he was already going back to work.
I’ll go home first and then later I’ll go to the bank.
He turned smartly, and then
No, back to work!
He looked like a human yo-yo. People began to give him the funny eye.
SHUT UP! he commanded inwardly.
Breathing deeply, Sam said, “First, I’ll go back home, and then get to the bank, before I return. Any questions?”
Well, he wasn’t expecting any, was he?
Sam’s neighbourhood was a great big maze of streets going this way and that, strewn with enough rubbish to give the sanitation authorities a big bloody headache. And the streets were always damp; it was as if the earth in this particular place was constantly sweating. The streets were so confusing that even a rat would have difficulty finding its way home.
But Sam was no rat.
He knew all the streets like the back of his hand; he knew the ins and outs, the roads to follow and the places to avoid.
Which is why he was quite surprised when three guys accosted him on one of the narrow streets.
Live around these parts, and before long, it would not be hard to decipher the good, the bad and the really bad.
These were the really bad.
“Oh boy.” Sam tried to spit, but his mouth had already gone hopelessly dry.
The boys, slunk forward, looking like rabid dogs on a wet-ass day, jaws slack, eyes gleaming dully, like they were actually in some faraway place inside their heads. Probably were. It seemed they were high on cheap drugs. Slowly, they spread out, two on either side of the street, one coming down the middle. They were covering all bases. Sam wished to heaven he could just take off at that moment, but he had been in enough situations like this to know that running would be a very bad idea. His step faltered a bit, and he sincerely hoped that they had not seen it; these guys and their kind were like animals-give them a trace of fear, and they would pounce on you in a second.
Bottom-line; Sam was scared shitless.
Bad news; these guys saw it.
They closed in. Their stench preceded them like an invisible mascot, and their clothes–rough and dirty jeans and T-shirts with leather slip-ons—looked like the only liquid they had felt in a thousand light years was their sweat, and the drinks spilled a countless times down their shirt fronts. One of them had a bad case of pimples that made his face look like a black rock with miniature hills and craters.
“Hey,” the guy directly in front of him, obviously the leader, said, “bros, how far.”
“Nna, nothing much. I just dey.” Even he could hear the tremble in his voice, and he struggled to lose it.
“You get anything for us? Make we take hold body.”
“Chairman, nothing dey ground for now o, my brother.”
“You sure?” asked the one on his right. “Wetin be dis wey I dey see for your pocket?”
“E be like say this guy no wan co-operate,” the leader said, as he grinned, exposing yellowish-black teeth. “Show am small thing.”
Sam was totally unprepared for the slap!
Then the next one.
The punch, which made him close his eyes tight.
The leg sweep.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was looking at the sky, wondering how he had gotten down on the floor.
And then he remembered.
The beatings, the punches, slaps, kicks…
“God no!” he exclaimed, as he patted his pocket.
Now THAT was new.
The money was still there.
Sam breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God.” But when he tried to sit up, “Aaaarggh!”; the pain hit him like a fucking runaway train, and he slammed back on the floor, re-igniting the pain flares once again. Gingerly he sat back up, and after taking enough deep breathes to fill up a gas cylinder, he stood. His eyes suddenly spun, and he would have gone back down, if he had not stretched out his hand to support himself on the wall.
“Jesus Christ, wetin happen?” His body hurt like he’d been hit by a steamroller. Somehow, through it all, whatever ‘it’ had been, his beret had managed to stay on his head.
The fucks were nowhere to be seen. Well, they had done what they had, hadn’t they?
Moreover, his money was still in his pocket!
The money, not your money.
Sam shook his head as another wave of blackness swept over him, and then, he began the long trek home.
After a full two-and-a-half hours; an excruciating two-and-a-half hours, you could say, Sam was on his way to the bank. It had taken him all of twenty-some minutes to get home; something which wouldn’t take him up to ten minutes normally, shuffling his feet like drunken old man with a bad case of dysentery. But he made it home in one piece, although he felt like a bad combination of mismatched parts, weak joints and all.
Well, life could be more cruel.
He had taken his bath with water hot enough to kill a chicken, kneading the swollen parts of his anatomy-which seemed to be everywhere-, screaming his ass off but still doing it.
And through it all, the money had been there. Right in front of him on the window-sill, next to his soap-dish wrapped in a cellophane bag. It had been like an emotional balm (although at that moment, he needed a physical balm, and fast!) making it all worthwhile.
Inside his house, he applied balm all over his body, took two tablets of Paracetamol and with his body flaring from the effects of the balm, he locked the money in a drawer, took the key, and lay on the bed. Five seconds later, he was up and he struggled with the key and the drawer for about ten seconds in his bid to open up the drawer, scared that those guys, the guys who had worked on him, and every other money-lover out there had somehow penetrated his drawer and removed his money, his hard-earned money (it was hard-earned alright). But it was there, and after vowing not to let go of the money until he got to the bank and deposited it in his account, he clutched the money in both hands across his chest, and fell promptly to sleep.
By the time he woke up, the pains had retreated to a dull ache that coursed through his whole body. Nevertheless, it was an improvement, a fine one at that.
Sam got into a fresh uniform after soaking the ruined one in water and detergent, and here he was now, on his way to the bank. And God forbid that he should forget the money at home; of course, he took it along.
The neighbourhood market was quite busy at this time of the day; cars parked here and there, the sounds of different engines mingling with the groans and growls of generators, with the machine gun-like sounds of the bikes coupled with the train-like sounds of the grinders. And people, people everywhere.
Sam took no notice, not with fifty thousand naira in his pocket.