Up until that fateful day, the Dean never resumed at work later than 9am.
Not only did he come into the office –always already full of students and visitors alike seeking his attention– at three minutes past his usual time, he came trudging in behind his chauffeur, Kazeem, an order of arrival that had never happened before. It was later discovered that the Dean had uncharacteristically dropped in to say hi to the HOD of International Jurisprudence, three offices from his.
When he did enter the reception, the whole of his appearance again was odd. His 6ft 1in bulky frame was seemingly squeezed into an elegant brown suit with a dazzling white silk shirt. He wore no tie. Anyone who knew the Dean would be willing to place a bet on him never going tieless. In fact, the joke amongst the students of the faculty was that the ‘Big Prof’ –his nickname, called behind him, of course– wore his tie to bed!
If anyone felt something was odd in the Big Prof’s lateness to work, the tieless appearance convinced everyone that indeed, everything was out of place.
It took approximately fifteen minutes for everyone to know.
“Good morning Professor,” the whole reception echoed as the bulky man found his way through, all the time mumbling some barely audible “morning” in response. His secretary, Cynthia, a most admirable prototype of a beautiful woman: tall, frontally endowed with a most shapely behind, stood curtly and greeted her boss.
“Morning Cynthia,” he answered and quickly added.
“I will have my mails in five minutes along with my coffee.”
“Alright sir,” the secretary cum receptionist replied and immediately went about getting everything ready.
The professor’s office was as expansive as its owner. With a massive dimension of 18ft by 18ft fitted with an 8ft long table upon which were neatly arranged filing trays, a computer and some stationery at the middle. Strategically placed on the table was a gold-plated name plate which read:
G. A. AKINOLA (Prof.)
At one end of the office was a five-seat office-type sitting room complete with a fridge, a 20” flat screen TV connected to the satellite and a DVD player. Two filing cabinets of four compartments each stood at the opposite end. Adorning the walls of the sitting room area were plaques of different shapes and sizes while a life size painting of Gani Fawehinmi, the fearless lawyer and activist completed the setting.
The Big Prof sat on his leather office chair, said some few words of prayer and pulled closer the pile of dailies on his desk. He picked one and began flipping through.
He wasn’t past the tenth page when Cynthia walked in, tray in hand. She set the tray down on the table, removed the mails from it, deposited them in the ‘IN’ tray on the table and stood aside. Sensing she was awaiting further instructions, the professor took his eyes away from the newspaper, closed and dropped it entirely, and spoke to her.
“How many guests do I have?”
“Just three sir.” She answered. There were actually seven people waiting to see the dean, but Cynthia had learnt that whenever the Prof asked the number of guests, he was referring to non–students. To him, students were not guests; they simply were, well, students.
The professor nodded casually as his eyes strode to the “IN” tray.
He picked up the mails and began sifting through them.
“Tell them I’ll start seeing them in another ten minutes.”
He dismissed her with a wave of the hand as one of the mail packages, about the size of two VHS tapes put on top of each other, caught his attention. He dropped the others and concentrated on the package just as Cynthia shut the door behind her. It was addressed to him alright but the envelope indicated it was from a freight company in the United States.
“A freight company?” He asked himself.
Without further ado, he tore the flap.
And that was the last activity he carried out on Mother Earth.
The package suddenly took on a life of its own when it exploded with a sweet melody of contrasting sounds. Glasses within and around the office joined the orchestra while the Prof’s bulky frame was lifted, chair and all, and thrown against the wall.
By the time the melody of shattered glasses ended, the Big Prof was without both palms and very dead.
Few years earlier
Like many of the nation’s public institutions of higher learning, the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, had no open days as obtained in institutions abroad. Rather, the polytechnic ran a simple semester-to-semester kind of rolling session with only a known resumption date and never a decided holiday. Most of it’s student populace lived off–campus while the remaining lived in the cheaper school halls of residence. For Atinuke, or Tinuke for short, living on campus was not an option to consider. Not because she came from a wealthy home, but because she was a very private individual who could be a pain-in-the-ass if not left to savour her freedom. So when she got admission to the school and told her parents of her decision to stay off–campus, none of them complained – it was expected. Once in a month, her parents and her kid brother drove in the family SUV to visit her in school bringing with them a reimbursement of provisions, as well as spend some time with her.
At the end of one of such visits, Tinuke saw her parents off, hoping to see them after her exams which were some two weeks from then.
“Do read hard my princess,” her dad said as she gave him a hug.
“I will dad.”
She kissed him on the cheek and turned to her mum.
“ummhm, Daddy’s pet.” Her mum grunted as she hugged her back.
“I love you Mum.”
“Love you too my princess.”
“Do have a safe trip mum.”
“Thank you daughter.”
She hugged her kid brother and kissed him on the forehead.
“Tinuke, please come home soon; will you?” her kid brother asked in a typical teenager’s plea.
“Don’t worry Junior, I’ll be home sooner than you know.”
The family got into the Armada SUV and soon were on the way to Sagamu where they domiciled.
The glittering silver Toyota Avensis 2008 model glided along the slippery surface of the Sagamu–Ore Expressway like a bride walking down the aisle. Its driver and sole occupant was in a hurry to get to Lagos well before the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway got clogged up by the throng of worshippers to the Redemption Camp, a Christian retreat centre situated along the busy express. Time and time again, he checked his bvlgari watch.
4.27pm. 4.33pm. 4.36pm. He knew he could not possibly make the dreaded expressway before 5pm, the dreaded hour motorists generally believed the traffic would be at a standstill on the road. He sighed and resigned himself to fate. He told himself he’d have to use the deserted Papa–Ofada shortcut, a road he detested so much. Sighing again, he pressed harder on the throttle, plunging the car forward and settled for the inevitable.
The engine stalled.
He started it again and tried revving it by pressing the accelerator but it won’t rev. Instead, it stalled again. More attempts to start it were unsuccessful. Frustrated, he banged his fist against the Volkswagen logo at the centre of the steering wheel. The horn let out a shrilling sound as he complemented it with an anguished yell of his own.
“Now I won’t get to Ikeja before 5pm” He said to himself.
Cursing his bad luck, he alighted from the Volkswagen Bora with no clue as to what to do next; alone on the deserted Papa–Ofada bypass.
“We should be in Sagamu in some forty five minutes,” Tinuke’s dad said to himself as the SUV galloped along the expressway. His wife, seated beside him was fast asleep while his son busied himself with a Sony psp at the back seat.
Few metres ahead of them was a 32–tyre cargo trailer loaded to the brim with bags of cement. The trailer’s speed, expectedly, wasn’t at par with the SUV’s and before long; the SUV was at its tail hovering for a chance to overtake it.
Soon the chance came when they got to a stretch of the road straight enough for him to see well ahead. Smoothly, he pulled into the other lane and increased speed while honking the horn so the driver of the trailer could know his intention. With a ‘come-on’ wave, the driver of the trailer urged him ahead. The SUV pressed ahead and was midway into the trailer’s length when it happened.
The Volkswagen driver waited for almost ten minutes seated on the hood of his car, for any other vehicle to come by.
He thought of finding some nearby village to see if he would get help. The expansive vegetation to both sides of the road, dotted at intervals with different signboards of ‘proposed estates’ discouraged him.
“These are acquired lands, there can’t be any village here,” he thought to himself. “Surely a car must pass here within the next hour, surely.” He spoke the words out, half – believing and half wanting–to–believe the reverse is not possible.
He got down from the hood, made for the booth to get the C – Caution sign so he could place it by the road. That way, he’d easily catch oncoming drivers’ attention. But just as he was about opening the booth, he looked and saw the most pleasing sight of the past quarter of an hour: A cargo trailer being overtaken by a SUV.
Quickly, he ran back to the front of the car and began waving frantically.
Suddenly, he heard a loud explosion –the unmistakable bang of a burst tyre– coming from the direction of the trailer and SUV. He watched in horror as the trailer swerved to its left crashing the overtaking SUV like an office secretary crumples waste paper. In the process, the trailer lost some balance and it tilted a little, dropping the bags of cement along its trail as the driver fought for control. Soon, the load carrier of the trailer under the shifting weight of the cement was spread out right across the road as the trailer fell in another loud bang accompanied with a scraping metallic sound. The SUV, now barely decipherable, was thrown into the adjoining cassava farm like an unused piece of clothing.
Everything happened in a minute.
The Avensis’ speedometer read 240km/hr when it turned the bend. The car passed the Bora in a flash, headed right for the less-than-two-minutes–old accident. The driver saw the accident just in time to apply the brakes. The car did stop, but its unbelted occupant was thrown against the windscreen by some 240km/hr inertia. A muffled thud, a crack in the windscreen and an awkwardly positioned driver was all that remained when everything quieted down.
Standing shell–shocked by his Bora, he did not hear the approach of the Avensis. But when it sped past him, he was almost sure there would be a head–on collision. With jaws dropped and eyes almost popping out of their sockets, he watched as the Avensis screeched to a stop, less than 52 metres from the trailer. He heaved a sigh of relief and reflexively ran towards the car. He wanted to know how the driver was; he was sure no one could survive the initial accident.
“Hello mister, are you alright?” he asked breathlessly when he got to the car.
“Hello? Hello?” Still, no answer. It was then he noticed the driver was not properly seated in his seat and that there was a crack in the windscreen above where the driver’s head rested on the wheel.
“Oh my God!” he exclaimed.
Hurriedly, he opened the door and sat the driver up in his chair. He saw the point of impact, the border line of his front hair oozed a fresh fountain of blood. The Bora man felt the bile rise in his mouth. He turned away from the car and pondered what to do.
“Does this country even have any emergency numbers?” he asked himself. None came to his mind.
“What do I do now, on this crazy deserted road?”
He asked no one in particular.
“This man must have some sort of identification or something. Maybe I could call his people.”
The thought pleased him and he started searching the accident victim’s pockets. As he searched the trouser pockets, his eyes caught a polythene nylon bag half concealed under the bottom of the front passenger seat. Against his better judgement, he stopped the search, leant forward and pulled out the nylon. What he saw changed the course of his life.
TO BE CONTINUED…