Things would have stayed that way if a foreign diplomat hadn't made a scanty comment. It was the beginning of problems for NDLEA and the police.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)|
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Fools in Uniform
By Jibrin Idris
Partridge AfricaCopyright © 2015 Jibrin Idris
All rights reserved.
Danladi Beki looked at her youthful face and grimaced; she had grown tall, beautiful and bold. She smiled pleadingly at him, begging him with her eyes, the way women do, to understand her feelings and leave her alone. She didn't love him anymore and had been trying to tell him so without being standoffish. It wasn't her fault; since coming out of prison no one wanted to associate with him, not even his parents. She could see he was grieved with her decision. Joy Alade and his sister, Abeku, had meant everything to him after his mother's death and now it seemed he had lost Joy. While in prison his father had disinherited and cursed him, always too angry to listen to him and his only sister, Abeku. 'It has been a very long time since you went away,' Joy said, trying to meet his eyes. 'I was lonely and distracted. If you were around, things wouldn't have been like that. Out of sight is out of mind, did you remember the saying?' She teased, still looking at him with pleading eyes to understand her. 'You would have probably got a degree and working by now if you hadn't gone to jail.'
She was right; if he hadn't been to jail he would have probably graduated two years ago and working, but that shouldn't have arisen if she loved him. He thought of her throughout his four-year imprisonment.
He glared at Joy and wondered about her feeble excuses. He had not forgotten her while in prison. 'If you love me, you wouldn't forget me in four years and you wouldn't be talking about degree and work,' he said callously, knowing full well that degree wasn't a guarantee to get work or love in the country.
That was a fact and Joy knew it, but she had made up her mind to let him go. He picked up the newspaper lying on the centre table and flipped through, his mind busy.
There was a long silence in the room. Danladi was thinking of what to do next and Joy was waiting.
Outside the compound, Joy's neighbours were talking in low voices and Joy presumed that they were talking about her ex-jail boyfriend. This bothered her and she wanted him out of her life before her current boyfriend returned. They were alone in her bedsitter along Bukuru road, Jos.
Danladi brought out a crumpled packet of cigarettes from his chest pocket, shook out a stick, and held it between his lips, a habit he had learnt from his association with Red Wings.
'I don't know you smoke?' Joy asked trickily. 'And you don't smoke here either.' She added firmly, staring at him, a situation that would have earned her a slap in the past.
'I don't blame you,' Danladi said, staring hard at her, the side of his mouth twitching with anger. 'It's because I brought myself here.'
Joy said, waving her hands, 'I just wanted to keep a respectable distance from you. You just came out of prison. People are still talking about you, and please understand me.'
'Do you think I care what people say?' Danladi said, releasing now the stigma attached to an ex-convict.
'I do, and please, don't talk that way to me, Danladi. You sound bitter.'
'Why shouldn't I be bitter? Look at the way you shunned me like a leper. You only came once to see me and that is all. I should have known better. Look, I will go away. You aren't the only one who talks to me that way. My father hates my sight, and friends cross the road to the opposite direction when they see me coming. All right, I don't blame you. I blame the government that locked me up without a fair trial.' He shook his head and smiled a little bitter smile.
Joy felt touched but she knew she had to send him away. Without a degree or decent trade, he would be a clog in her life. Love without money is like tea without sugar, she had reasoned. She stood up, went round the centre table, and stood beside him, her eyes going over his haggard frame, threadbare dirty shirt, and shabby shoes. Evidences of his prison suffering were all over him like a mark. After they had sent him to jail for attempted arson, she had visited him once in prison and then lost interest going there. Now, he was out and back to her but she was well ahead of him and not willing to look back.
'Let me cook you something to eat before you go. You are hungry and dirty,' she said, just for old times' sake.
Danladi shook his head. There was no point waiting; he had now made up his mind to leave town. 'The train to Lagos leaves by noon. I better hurry.'
'Is that where you are going? Have you considered where to stay?' Joy said, a bit concerned but Danladi wasn't impressed.
'That shouldn't bother you. People live under bridges and incomplete buildings in Lagos.'
'Is that where you are planning to stay, under the bridges and incomplete buildings?' Joy asked him quietly. 'You don't have to be in a hurry. Let me cook you something to eat before you go.'
'Thanks for your consideration,' Danladi said. 'Can you spare me T-fare instead?'
'If that is what you want, all right,' Joy said gladly and hurried into her bedroom. She returned with her handbag, opened it, and brought out some money. 'This is all I have now,' she offered. 'It will not pamper you, but it is something.'
Danladi took the money and thanked her. 'I must go now, Joy,' he said and folded the money into his hip pocket. 'I'll keep in touch.'
'Well, you have made up your mind to go but be careful how you mix up while there. I hear that Lagos is hot. If you don't check your steps some guys will use you as a drug pusher.'
'Do you think I'm a fool?' Danladi said and started towards the exit, a little angry. 'At my age I should know what is good for me.'
Joy watched him go, a little joyful smile on her face.
When Danladi got to Jos terminus, the time was 11.30 a.m. He had half an hour before the train left to Lagos.
He was awakened by bites and the noise of mosquitoes. It was a chilled and quiet night at the railway station. Danladi had arrived at Lagos by the previous evening train, sneaked into one of the abandoned coaches like a thief and decided to pass the night there. The coach stood 500 metres away from the station platform among other disused coaches and lubricant oil tanks. He had run out of money after paying for his train fare and could not afford a hotel charge. He clapped his hands over his head and more mosquitoes dispersed noisily into the chilled night in protest. He needed a stick of cigarette but the fear of the night guards seeing the light or smelling his smoke restrained his urge to light one. With nothing to do and the cold weather, the urge to smoke overwhelmed his resistance. He sat up on the threadbare train seat, found his crumpled packet of cigarettes in his chest pocket, and put one between his lips. Cupping his hand over the lighter to hide the flame from being seen by the station guards, he lit his cigarette and then stretched out on the train seat.
Lying quietly, he wondered what would happen to him at dawn. The distant noise of thunder and the noise of bus conductors from downtown Lagos, calling on passengers to board their buses disturbed him. Lagosians hardly slept; always on the move like ants, building and storing food for the rainy days which never came.
He cupped his hand over the cigarette and pulled very hard. The cigarette glowed and he was able to look at his cheap wristwatch.
The time now was quarter to eight and the clouds were pregnant with rain. Overhead, small clouds were racing across the moonlight sky, joining up with each other rapidly.
He smoked slowly, thinking of how to sneak out of the station to buy some snacks and then sneaking back to his new abode without being seen.
According to the train schedule he saw at the notice board, the next train would arrive at the station around eight o'clock, and there would be some commotion caused by passengers struggling to get out of the station and hawkers hustling to sell their goods to arriving passengers. That was when he planned to sneak out, buy some snacks to eat, and then sneak back. If he had known, he wouldn't have left Jos.
Twice in the evening, one of the station guards had nearly caught him when he was checking round the station. He was lucky to have seen the guard first and had lain very low on the dusty, choking board of the train until he heard the guard walk away.
Lying in the dilapidated coach he remembered his father telling him that education is the key to success and he was poor because he had got no formal education. His father had put him in school to become somebody but now, he was nobody and he couldn't go back to school because he had been rusticated by the education board. He had been stupid to join the Red Wings, the most dangerous and violent cult in the campus that specialised in burning down schools. But there were several paying trade he could have learnt in Jos but his mind was fixed on Lagos to avoid being stigmatised. Without education or decent trade his future looked bleak at the moment. He thought about his late mother, his only sister, Abeku and her future. She was finishing secondary school when he went to jail, and now at eighteen, she hadn't been able to make her papers. His mother had been the bread winner and the power house of the family. She had died of heart attack when she heard that he had been arrested and his father had blamed him for her death.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the coach floor and closed his eyes, but he couldn't sleep. Mosquitoes flew over his head, singing their blood-seeking music, waiting for him to sleep off.
The lightning was now frequent. It leapt about the dark sky, lighting the station and the surrounding buildings.
Then he felt vibration under him and he knew a train was approaching the station. He got up and peered through the broken train window. The approaching train's huge headlight, round like the full moon almost blinded his eyes. The train blasted its horn to announce its arrival as it slowed down and snaked gently into the station with it passengers, some hanging between the coaches and others sitting on top of the train roof. He could hear shouts of hawkers and porters as they rushed towards the arrival platform from their adjoining stalls with their wares, their loud voices renting the air, calling on passengers to buy their wares.
In the middle of the melee, Danladi quickly scampered out of the disused train and went towards the crowded concrete platform. Everybody was talking to be heard over the sound of the loud train engine before it finally jerked forward and stopped with the scratching and whining of its wheels. Crowd of hawkers rounded it up, trying to sell their wares.
Suddenly, the railway station came alive with more noises from passengers disembarking from the train. Hawkers and porters fussed about the long coaches of train, trying to earn a living and the passengers were trying to find their way out of the station. It was a confused and interesting sight. Every passenger was acting as if the train was about to leave the platform with them whereas it had at least a quarter of an hour before crawling to the shed.
A police constable, standing beside the exit, watched the excitement from a safe distance with bored attention. A large woman with a baby strapped on her back pushed and shoved her way out of the train and plodded into the crowd, cursing in Yoruba language.
'Oga! You don tear my bag!' a passenger shouted in pidgin English at another passenger as he stepped on to the concrete platform, dragging the passenger's leather bag.
'You dey crazy!' the man howled back in pidgin English.
'Oleh! oleh! ... Thief! Thief! Barawo!' another shouted.
'Vita bread! Vita bread!' a hawker hollered.
'Brother, buy water!'
After one day at the station, Danladi knew his way about the station and was now familiar with the train schedules. He knew that in fifteen minutes' time the train would leave the arrival platform to the maintenance shed and by then every passenger would be gone. Then the station would be silent again. He had to find something to eat quickly now that the station was rowdy and returned to his hiding place to avoid being arrested, he told himself as he sneaked through the moving crowds like a naked man in search of shelter. There were many policemen around the railway station and Danladi, knowing exactly where they were, was careful how he moved.
As he climbed the short staircase to the heavily lighted platform, the sight of two beautiful girls, dragging a huge dirty sack out of the train attracted his attention. He paused and stared curiously at the girls. They were too beautiful to be dragging such a dirty sack. Just the kind of girls he would like to take out if he had money, but what would they be doing in the railway station? he asked himself, not that there was anything wrong with the railways, but he would have expected girls like that to be at the airport, after what the country's rail system had become in recent times. One of the girls was dark, slightly overweight yet very attractive, while the other was taller with a very fair complexion. The shorter girl wore a red silk blouse which showed her heavy breasts and a waist-less jeans skirt. Her hair was done in long braids and cascaded over her shoulders and part of her heart-shaped face. But in spite of her beauty, she had the habit of spitting around as if she had been living hard or pregnant. When she noticed that Danladi was watching them, she suddenly frowned, and her thin lips stiffened. She straightened up, adjusted her heavy breasts, and spoke quietly to the taller girl. The taller girl looked wildly around as Danladi went by them, and he seeing how tired she looked decided to offer help.
'Hello, do you need a helping hand?' he asked smiling.
The girls regarded the thin tall man with a beard staring at them and smiling.
The taller girl suddenly became tensed. She knew the railway station was filled with pickpockets, vagabonds, and tricksters. Many passengers had lost valuables to criminals who wondered into the station and thinking that Danladi was one of them from the way he was dressed, raised her voice and said. 'We are not looking for porters.'
'I'm not a porter,' Danladi replied with a raised voice. 'I just wanted to help you.'
'You look no different to me,' the shorter girl said and spat on the ground, her eyes going over him suspiciously. 'Go away,' she said rudely, waving him away.
Danladi suddenly wanted to say something nasty to the shorter girl who was looking very hostile but the reality of her voice restrained him. He was obviously looking like a porter, no doubt about that. He looked at her and then at himself. He was unshaven, smelt of unwashed body, and hadn't changed his clothes for several days. The girls looked fresh, well dressed, and beautiful. The shorter girl's frontage alone was something to behold; it seemed as if she had gone under the knife for 32 DD silicone implants.
'Don't talk like that to a stranger, Betty,' the taller girl cautioned and moved away from the sack, equally staring at Danladi. She was probably nineteen or twenty, no more. But in spite of her immature face and beauty, anyone could see that she was in control of herself. She had big eyes and a pointed slim nose with a silver ring through it. She had a love symbol tattooed on her left cheek and wore a white sweater and acid-washed jeans trousers.
'If you don't go away, I will call the police,' the shorter girl called Betty threatened in a voice that told Danladi that she meant it.
Danladi stiffened. 'Police?' he asked, surprised at her unruly behaviour. 'I only wanted to help when I saw you struggling with the sack.'
'Wait until you are asked to help,' the shorter girl went on querulously. 'It's your type that steals passengers' luggage ... thief ... ole,' she shouted, clapped her hands, and struck her hip with her right palm, the way young girls do when they are excited. The sound of her palm against her hip and her querulous voice attracted attention; passengers turned to look and the police constable who stood at the gate noticed the commotion and suddenly became watchful. And before they knew what was happening the shorter girl was waving at the constable to come over.
'Are you out of your mind, Betty?' The taller girl suddenly said exasperated when she realised what Betty had done and moved further away from the sack. 'You shouldn't have called the police. The porter is trying to help us.'
'He looked like a thief to me,' Betty said and turning to look at Danladi said, 'Go away.'
Embarrassed, Danladi turned and started walking away, mumbling incoherently, but a sharp voice stopped him before he went far. He turned and stared at the police constable with the sharp voice, his heart beating fast. He regretted offering to help and the girls saw his sad and scared face.
Excerpted from Fools in Uniform by Jibrin Idris. Copyright © 2015 Jibrin Idris. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
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