THEY CALL ME A-ZED

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A1

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PART 2: IN WHICH AZED CONFRONTS FATE AND FINDS HONOR AMONG THIEVES

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EPISODE 6: AWON BAD GUYZ

“No off the engine o. We go soon come back, and if we need run quick, we fit no get time for you make you dey on car. So just leave am on when you park. 2 minutes max, we go commot.”

I swallowed and nodded, placing my hands on the steering wheel to mask their shaking. Akeem’s words were not harsh or threatening, on the contrary, his tone was soft, to the great surprise of everyone who heard him talk to me. It sounded like he was coddling me, trying to put me at ease, and this show of emotion was at variance to his reputation as a tough, ruthless man. He patted me on the shoulder and opened the front door and stepped out of the car, joining the others on the sidewalk. He manhandled his ever-present black knapsack onto his back, and his black-shirted form melted into the night as he walked away with the other members of the gang.

I drove down the road and parked at the rendezvous point, taking care to take Akeem’s advice and attract as little attention as possible. I put the gear in neutral and pulled up the handbrake, then wound up the windows, turned on the air-conditioner and unlocked the doors. To anyone outside, I seemed like one of the countless other cars waiting in front of the club, the wound-up, slightly tinted windows indicating I was in the car with one of the numerous girls that thronged the club in whose car park I was. The sleek, dark-coloured Toyota with its halogen headlamps and chrome wheels was just flashy enough to blend in with the other cars in the lot, but subtle enough not to attract attention. Just what Akeem was aiming for.

Inside the car, I was a nervous wreck. My eyes flashed between the rearview and sideview mirrors, and my legs shook as I sat in the driver’s seat waiting. The airconditioner blasted frigid air into the interior of the car, but I knew that wasn’t the reason for my shaky hands. I removed them from the steering and crossed them into my laps. I needed my wits around me and this was neither the time nor the place to be nervous or terrified.

Gunshots sounded somewhere behind me and I sat up straight in my seat, my mind alert. I stepped on the brake and removed the handbrake, simultaneously shifting the gear into drive. I had barely finished when footsteps thundered behind me and the doors were wrenched open, with Akeem and his crew throwing bags in and piling into the car.

“Go go go!”

I didn’t need to be told again. Instinct and skills developed in Lagos traffic took over and I swung the car in a wide arc and peeled away from the chasing guards, leaving a wide streak of rubber on the pavement of the parking lot. The guards at the entrance to the car park were just starting to lower the entrance barrier when I streaked past them, the roof of the car barely clearing the falling bar. I mentally applauded Akeem for his insistence that I parked the car in that particular spot in the park. Sirens were sounding behind me, and I flattened the accelerator pedal and sped up, barely slowing as I took turns and climbed over bumps on the road. I glanced at Akeem. He was struggling to put on his seatbelt and was holding on to the dashboard for support as I careened round bends, but the smile on his face was one of a grim satisfaction.

The sirens grew faint behind me as the speedometer crept up to the 180km/hr mark. I cut into traffic on the ring road, thankful for the wide, multi-lane highway roads in Ibadan. When I was sure we weren’t in danger of being caught by the police, I breathed out and slightly lifted my foot off the accelerator. When the needle was at the 140km/hr mark, I held it there and weaved in and out of traffic, hurtling for the toll gate and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.  In less than a minute, I was out of Ibadan and on the way to Lagos. I slowed to a more normal speed. Akeem breathed out a large sigh of relief, and only then did he find his voice.

“Guy, you dey drive fire. Na you save us there. Those people for finish us. Na God say make you gree for us today.”

Assenting grunts came from the back seat.

“Wetin una think? If A-zed don dey with us since, shebi we for don dey do pass all this one wey we dey do? See as he drive today.”

Akeem chimed up, his smile and vigourous nod signaling his agreement. “No mind am. Since wey we don dey beg am make he come he dey use us play. See better driver. That our former driver useless. Una no see how he commot that gate when dem wan lock am? I don fear finish say e don lock but he show them say he be bad guy.”

“A-zed, say something now. why you just quiet like this? We know say na your first time and you dey fear, but still, you make sense wella. You be correct guy.”

I slowed down slightly. We had just gone past the Guru Maharaji camp ground, and we were approaching the exit to Ago-Iwoye.

“I was afraid at first when I was waiting. When you came out, afterwards, everyting just went by itself. I didn’t stop to think.”

Akeem threw back his head and laughed. “This one dey blow grammar. Na you sabi. You do well today. Well done.”

I nodded in appreciation. Within me, however, a whirlpool of emotion was frothing. For the second time that evening, Akeem was showing emotion. It was a little unnerving and awkward, receiving compliments from Mushin’s most notorious student-turned-cultist. Surprisingly, I rather understood where he was coming from. From as far back as my time with Princess and her merry band, he had been inviting me to help out as a driver. I had rejected him out of principle- I knew who he was and what he did, and didn’t want to be a part of it. But he persisted, insisting he only needed a driver, and promising that I would not be involved in the “main action”, as he called it. He promised no harm would come to me, and that I could leave any time I wanted. All he wanted was my driving skill.

Mother falling sick put me in a quandary, and I found myself in the very disagreeable situation of working for Akeem. So far, he had kept his promises. It seemed there really might be honour among thieves after all.

Following Akeem’s pointed directions, I pulled off the road and parked down a path. Akeem and his crew piled out of the car, lugging the bags behind them.

“You don try. We go continue from here by ourself. Leave the car for here make police no find am. We go find as we go reach house.”

He unzipped one of the bags he carried. In the moonlight, I caught a glimpse of neatly stacked N500 notes. He retrieved one bundle and handed it to me.

“Na your money for today be this. Manage am.”

It was all I could do not to bow down in appreciation. Akeem was still speaking.

”Next time we need you, we go call you. For now, just waka go back the road. Na just 8 o’clock. You go still see motor wey go fit take you go Ibadan or Lagos, any one wey you want.”

Akeem and his gang disappeared into the bushes as I began the walk back to the road, my thoughts pre-occupied with how best to stretch the N25,000 he had given me. Most of it would go into paying for Mother’s hospital bills, but it was only a drop in the ocean. I needed much more.

It was almost certain that I would have to work with Akeem again. I didn’t like it. I was digging a deeper hole for myself with each operation I helped out with, snaring myself into progressively stronger traps. But there was no way around it. I owed it to mother. I would not let her die, no matter what it took.

*****

Let me tell you something you may not know: contrary to what you may believe, a gunshot, fired towards you at close range, does not sound like a firecracker. It sounds more like a giant balloon being burst.

You wonder how I know this. I will tell you.

A bullion van is essentially a safe on wheels. It is totally bulletproof, and is designed to resist extremes of heat and cold as well as explosives. To most people, bullion vans are impenetrable, and even fewer would take the idea of hijacking one seriously.

For all their protective measures, bullion cans have one big limitation: they are constructed on a basic truck chassis. If the type of chassis is known, its weak points can be targeted and exploited.

It is certainly a lot easier when, like Akeem, one knows the mechanic who services the vans, and the schedule of their movements to and from the bank.

It was supposed to be his biggest heist, and for a while, it all went according to plan, almost too good to be true. I watched from the seat of the vehicle I was driving as the van ground to a halt on a straight stretch of road, and watched the attached police escort circle round in confusion, unsure what to do. They barely moved when Akeem and his gang approached from the bushes and disarmed them, making them lie on the hot tar of the road before taking the keys of their vehicles and tossing them into the bushes. A towing vehicle with an attached crane appeared and began loading the van onto the flat bed of a trailer loader, while gang members prepared the tarpaulin to cover it as soon as it was loaded.

This was where it began to go wrong.

The cable of the crane snapped, and its severed end flailed around in the air, catching Yellow on the back of the thigh just above the knee and almost separating his leg from his body. Yellow screamed and clutched his leg as blood sprayed into the air in a fine mist from his severed femoral artery. His brother Shady dropped his gun and ran to aid him at the same time as the windows on both side of the van slid open and muzzles poked through and chattered into the air, spraying bullets. One bullet caught the crane operator, and he dropped from his cab and fell dead onto the road, smashing his head on the winch and crane hook on the way. The bullets from the other side of the van converged onto a screaming Yellow, and his body twitched like a limp marionette as they struck home, his screams dying in his throat and echoed by a horrified Shady.

Already, I was moving.

The gang scattered for cover and opened fire on the van, but their bullets ricocheted off its armored body and harmlessly into the bushes. I gunned the accelerator of the SUV down as I sped down the road towards the bullion van, thankful for how straight and smooth the road was. The doors had been left open, and I stopped to let the gang pile in, moving again seconds later. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the muzzles aimed towards me, and my life flashed before my eyes as it coughed its stream of lead in my direction.

The bullets smashed through the windscreen and passed so close to my ear I could feel their warmth before coming to rest in the back seat, barely missing a head there. I gunned down the road as the policemen retrieved their guns and opened fire on me, and glass splinters filled the air as the back windshield exploded and bullets thumped against the metal of the car. It was only when I went around a corner and out of view of the policemen that I realized how close we all had come to dying a fiery death. The fuel tank was leaking, leaving a trail for any pursuers to follow, and already, the vehicle was sputtering. Luckily, the plan called for us to switch vehicles, and I drove towards the backup car just as the skies darkened and clouds began to gather, the harbinger of a storm.

***

Dark clouds were in the sky, their heavy swirling forms drifting across the sky and blotting out the light of early twilight. Twigs and leaves broke off from trees, swirling and racing across the road in the fierce wind that was blowing, and fat drops of rain fell on my windshield, tracing streaks through the dust on the glass. The storm was pouring in all of its violent splendor.

I kept my eyes peeled as I sped down the road, alert for jaywalking pedestrians and rickety, slow-moving vehicles. Visibility was low in the heavy downpour, and an accident was the last thing I wanted.

A more poetic man would see the weather as metaphor, perfectly reflecting the raging storm in my mind, and he would not be wrong. I was no poet, but I couldn’t ignore any longer the unease I felt. I knew I would have to face up to my fears and make a decision soon, but I was between a rock and a hard place.

My fingers grasped the steering wheel so tightly that the knuckles strained against the skin and looked like they would break free any minute. The other occupants of the car were similarly tensed: Akeem was gnawing on a fingernail, and his eyes, blank sockets in a sweat-streaked, resigned face, were intensely picking out the specks of dust on the dashboard. He had not said a word since he made the phone call to confirm the workshop was still open. Behind me, there was pindrop silence, broken only by heavy sighs and tired yawning and the creaks of weary bones and joints.

The storm was tailing off as I pulled into the workshop and turned off the engine. The gang trooped out of the van and onto the concrete floor, the tension easing slightly from their faces as the huge door closed behind us.  Only Shady remained in the car, and his wails soon turned our relief to sadness.

His wailing also cleared my head. I had arrived at a decision. How to inform Akeem of my decision was the next challenge.

“A-zed, come.”

I lifted myself off the floor and walked to where Akeem was sitting smoking a cigarette and absent-mindedly sharpening his knife on a file. He had been in a state of detachment since the bullet had burst Yellow’s head open like an overripe fruit, not even trying to console Shady, his other cousin, and I approached carefully. I had seen Akeem use that knife, and I had no desire to have it plunged into my stomach. Akeem did not like sudden movements.

His right hand flicked, and something came flying through the air towards me. I caught it just before it impacted. I looked at Akeem, a question on my face.

“Na you save us today. I say make I give you small something extra.”

I had watched Akeem stab a man. I had seen him fire bullets at police officers from the window of my speeding car. I had been with Akeem for three months, and I was always caught out by his impromptu acts of generosity.

“Thanks”, I managed to mutter. He nodded and turned his attention back to his cigarette, taking a few puffs before turning back to me.

“You see as today take be. You see as Yellow die. I no like that kind of thing. I tell you say na only drive you go dey drive, but today e remain small them for kill all of us plus you self. I no like am. When I talk something, I like make e dey happen as I talk am.”

I swallowed. Could this be my chance? Was Akeem providing a way out?

“I no be lie lie man. If I tell you say I go protect you, I mean am. Dem police go soon start dey find us. Dem see my face today. But you, dem never see your face. Dem no sabi you. You no sabi anything about this matter. Do commot here quick. We go find as we go survive. When this matter don end, if I need you, I go send you message.”

He flicked his hand in dismissal. I didn’t need any further persuasion. Mother still needed me. There was another round of surgery and rehabilitation coming up for her, and although Akeem was a quick way to raise the money, I needed to be alive and free for the money to be of any use to mother. In addition, I was weary of the adrenaline and flying bullets. I dropped the car key on the table beside him and headed for the exit, looking forward to living a normal life devoid of criminals and dead bodies.

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THEY CALL ME A-ZED

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Written by  @ToluBablo

Based on MY NAME IS A-ZED by @thetoolsman

NEXT WEEK: EPISODE 7: HONEST LABOUR

READ ALL OF A-ZED’s ADVENTURES BY CLICKING HERE

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THEY CALL ME A-ZED  Continues next week Thursday at 10:00 am

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