THEY CALL ME A-ZED
Lagos na wah.
Today is a surprisingly good day. It’s almost 8 pm and I have already made ten thousand naira today. Perhaps I never should have stopped driving a taxi. Perhaps it’s what I was meant to do with my life. One more fare is all I need to take me out of Badore, past Ajah and in the direction back home and then I can buy Temi the baby stroller that she says she needs for Remi. Thankfully, I’ve just received a notification that a rider has just requested a pickup using their Uber app and I’m not too far from where he is. Hopefully, he is going in my direction and I don’t need to break up my homeward journey. It’s not easy driving people around this insane city, and I know I can be doing much better jobs but I think I am content to drive this commercial car now, all things considered. It is much better now when I do not need to wander aimlessly around and can conserve my fuel and time and link up with fares easily. Sometimes, I shake my head and wonder why I ever stopped my taxi driving. It was for the best, though. If I hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t be here now. Besides, everything has happened before and everything will happen again. There is nothing new under the sun. I have already left this life once and it did not turn out well for me. No point trying again when I already…
My phone vibrates. That would be my client. He said he would be waiting under the bus shelter. I meander my way out of the traffic and park by the road where a man in an over-sized suit and a carrying a leather bag is beckoning. I can’t see his face clearly but he looks familiar.
“Yes sir, good evening.” I call to him. “Were you the one who requested a ride with the Uber app?”
“Yes, I was. I’m going to Gbagada.” He says, efficiently.
“Phase 1 or 2 sir?”
“Phase 1” He says.
That’s not far off my route home. Perfect final fare to end the day.
“That’s fine sir. We will spend almost three hours on the road in this traffic and the journey is quite far. I hope you understand sir.”
“Okay. That’s no problem.” He replies and slides into the back seat.
“Thank you sir.” I call out, catching his face’s reflection in my rear view mirror. All of a sudden, I begin to sweat.
I know him. I know the man sitting in my car, behind me but luckily, he does not know me. I mean, he knows who I am but he has never seen my face before. Thank God! I try to keep my head low and not speak, but he wants to talk.
“You are very polite and you speak very good English for a driver. I mean, I know you guys using this app aren’t like regular taxis but you sound so refined. What’s your name?”
“They call me Azed, Sir.” I tell him carefully.
“Azed? Short for Azeez?”
“Yes sir. Exactly.”
“My name is Raymond,” He offers. “Nice to meet you, Azed.”
“You too sir.”
“So Mr. Azed, talking to you I really don’t understand…” He says.
“Understand what sir?” I ask carefully. I know he will never connect the dots or understand just how connected we are but deep down, I am still worried.
“How come you are driving people in this Lagos? You sound like you have some university education. Can you tell me, if you don’t mind… why?”
“The money is good. And… well… circumstances sir. Sometimes life just tells you what you are meant to do.” I say, tersely.
“Circumstances? What circumstances? How?” He clearly wants to know about me. I don’t think I can shake off his interest but I try anyway.
“It’s a long story sir.” I say, trying to discourage him.
“Shebi you said we have three hours to reach Gbagada? I want to hear this your long story. My battery is dead anyway. So I have nothing else to do. Please.”
I sigh, resigning myself to this. Perhaps I need to tell someone this story anyway. Get it out of my system. And if fate has put this man in my cab despite all we have been through, keeping him unknowing, then maybe he is the one to listen to me. But…
“I’m not sure where to begin telling you from sir.” I say.
“Azed, start from the beginning. The very beginning.”
And so I do.
THEY CALL ME A-ZED
PART 1: IN WHICH A-ZED FIRST DISCOVERS THAT LIFE REALLY IS A POT OF BEANS.
EPISODE 1: POT OF BEANS.
Life in Lagale village where I lived was quiet and unhurried. Rolling hills rose from the fertile plains on the west side of the village. The plains themselves were crisscrossed with mounds of tilled and cultivated soil, and they produced tubers, grains and vegetables, providing food and trade for the village. On the gentle slopes and peaks of the hills was a dense forest. The forest was filled with squirrels and rabbits and antelopes and birds, and the villagers worshipped before the round, white rocks on the banks of the river that passed through the forest. People said it was a beautiful place, but I never liked it. I never noticed its alleged beauty or the way the villagers said that the rising sun framed the hills and village like the work of a good artist. Even until the end, I kept trying to see what they saw, and I couldn’t. I did not care. I knew why I couldn’t see the beauty they spoke of. I was too unhappy.
I missed Ibadan, where I grew up. I missed the sound of traffic moving past my window in the mornings. I missed the hot, stuffy classroom and the dusty field on which we played football and ran. I missed my house, my bed, the iron, the television. I missed Bola and Waheed and Segun and Chuka and Sani and all my friends.
I missed my parents desperately. Even my father, whom I never even liked.
I missed father’s jokes and stories, how he threw back his head and how his huge stomach jiggled up and down when he laughed. He may have left us and gone to his other wives and families, but when I thought of him then, I missed him. He may have been a cad, a boor and the person who broke my mother’s heart, but when I thought of how he helped me do my assignments or patch my football, I wanted to cry.
I missed mother. I was always hungry, and the little pieces of fish and meat she used to give me when she was cooking were a distant memory in that village. I missed mother’s hugs and affection. I wished I could see her and spend time with her but even then I knew that it was the faintest of faint wishes.
I heard footsteps coming into the compound, and I picked the broom I dropped and leapt to my feet. Idleness was not encouraged there. My growling stomach reminded me that I had already lost breakfast, and the large pile of leaves and huge bundle of clothes in the corner was telling me that I was in danger of losing lunch. Oga’s wife had been very explicit: my lunch depended on my washing and hanging up the clothes before lunch time. The fact that I also had to cook lunch and fetch water from the stream to wash the clothes was of no importance to her. It wasn’t just hunger that was driving me, though. I had learnt, in my time here that it was in my own interests not to set any member of the family against me. It was a battle I couldn’t win, and one I frequently came out from with injuries.
I lived with my oga, his wife, his daughter Yemi and their animals in a large compound near the middle of the village. I called him oga, but in reality, he was a distant relative: the son of the cousin of my grandfather. To the outside world, my oga was a successful, rich cocoa farmer, a leading light in community and to the family, but to me he was a fearsome person given to frequent, terrible bouts of anger, which were often directed at me. To me, oga was a monster.
I can still remember the first time he hit me, just two days after I had come to stay with them. I had left the back door of the house ajar after sweeping it, and a goat had walked into the house. Oga had walked to the back of the house where I was bringing in water from the stream, and slapped me so hard that it was 3 days before the ringing in my ears stopped, and a further week before the pain left. I threw the basin of water at his feet and screamed as the pain bounced around the inside of my head. He looked at his wet trousers as I lay on the floor screaming in pain, and lifted me off the floor and slammed me into a wall, his scream of anger matching my own scream of pain. His rage sated, he kicked me twice in the chest and walked away, my bloodied lip and bruised chest testament to his rage.
I think the seed of hatred and fear was sown that day.
A shadow fell over me, interrupting my thoughts. I looked up to see madam towering over me, her face creased into a frown with sweat pooling between the fleshy folds and pouring down her face. She was breathing like a comedian’s poor imitation of a marathon runner, but the look on her face was anything but hilarious. I dropped the broom and ran up to her.
The words had barely left my mouth when I was knocked to the floor. The handbag was making another arc towards my face when I shot my arm out and blocked it off in midair.
Madam was furious. “You no go kill me for my husband’s house. My own pikin never kill me. My daughter never kill me. No be you go kill me. I go kill you before you kill me”
‘Abeg ma. Abeg. I’m sorry.’ Her bag was in my hands in a death grip, and I was pulling her towards me from my prone position on the floor. “Abeg ma. No vex”.
Her voice went up an octave.
‘Make una come see this boy wey wan kill me today o. you dey follow me drag force for my own house. See this useless pikin wey he mama no fit take care of. You no sabi do anything. Na just to dey chop my food, dey give me wahala. Now you wan dey follow me fight for my own house. Na me and you go die today.”
In a corner of the compound almost directly opposite the door through which she came was the kitchen shed. It was constructed from stout logs of bamboo with palm fronds for roofs and as walls. In a corner of this shed, close enough to the wall to avoid draughts but not so close enough to burn it down was a stove constructed from a tripod and firewood. I was too busy begging and protecting myself from madam’s anger that I forgot I had started making lunch.
“Mama leave am move back.”
Madam was looking over my shoulder, and she let go of the bag she was holding and jumped back when she heard her daughter’s voice. I started turning around to find out what she saw. I wasn’t fast enough.
Something wet poured over my neck, back and shoulders naked shoulders, and then rolled down my torso like an avalanche. I felt the wetness first, and then the roughness. Less than a blink of an eye later, I felt the heat rolling over me like a vortex and swamping me in its fury.
I let go of the bag and screamed.
Clouds of moist steam rose from my chest and arms into the air like a worshipper’s prayers. My skin blistered, the hot water-and-rice-and beans mixture transforming it into a patchwork quilt of colour and texture. I screamed again and jumped off the floor as the hot grains ate into my skin like acid. Most fell off but a few had found their way into my shirt and down my trousers, and I jumped up and down, blistering my feet in the hot pile of rice and beans on the ground. A movement caught my eye and I ducked and weaved just as the glowing brand of wood Yemi had swung at me whistled past my head and struck my bare shoulder, dying with a sizzle.
My scream was bloodcurdling, louder than the first time.
Yemi’s mother was aiming a slap at me as I screamed. It connected with a solid twack, knocking me to the floor. Yemi was advancing with a pot in one hand and a stick of firewood in the other, and I shot to my feet before she could hit me with any of them. My blistered feet protested my sudden movement, but I paid them no attention, because Yemi’s mother had grabbed at me and was pulling me towards her.
There was a drum of water beside the kitchen shed, just under the eaves where there was a shade. It was about half-full, as I had not been able to fill it up that day. Yemi’s mother was pulling me towards her and Yemi was pulling her hand back to slap me when I yanked myself from her grip, ignoring the sharp, sudden pain that came when the skin chafed and peeled off and sped towards the kitchen, indifferent to the curses and threats coming from the women behind me. The drum was open, and I jumped into it, sighs of relief mixing with my tears of pain as the cool water touched my burning skin.
“Yemi leave am. No follow am. He go don learn say next time when I give am work do, make e do am fast fast.”
The footsteps that were coming towards the drum stopped and turned, becoming fainter as they walked away.
“You, when you commot there, throway that water, wash that drum well, fill am again. And wash those cloth wey I send you. I no go tell you again.”
Somewhere in the direction of the house, a door slammed.
The tears were still streaming down my face in the drum where I crouched. I wiggled around in the tight space and lowered myself further till the water covered my shoulders and neck. My heart thudded in my chest, and fear coursed through my veins. There was only one thing I could do. It had crossed my mind before, but I really hadn’t given it much thought. As I lay wounded and bleeding in that drum, I knew what I had to do. I was going to run away.
THEY CALL ME A-ZED
Written by @ToluBablo
Based on MY NAME IS A-ZED by @thetoolsman
THEY CALL ME A-ZED Continues next week Thursday at 10:00 am