THEY CALL ME A-ZED
EPISODE 8: THE BEST LAID PLANS
Anger is a terrible emotion.
When the foreman fired me, Audu and Poko from the last job, I had been blinded with rage. Thoughts of violence passed through my head, and it was only because I didn’t want to get in trouble in public that I didn’t attack him with the metals tools in my hand or my fists. A few hours later, I was only slightly less angry, but I was proud of myself. In spite of how I angry I felt, I had managed to maintain my composure and not get into trouble. I couldn’t afford that. I needed to be free and able to move around, if only for mother. She still needed me.
I was even more determined that he would not get away with it.
Word spreads fast in the vast underground network that is the pool of menial, manual labour. I didn’t know it then, but news of a sack was the equivalent of a bad reference in more white-collar jobs- no one was going to hire a labourer kicked out from his last job. My taxi was still parked at the mechanic’s and there was no other job in sight for me, so together with Poko and Audu, I walked around Lagos every morning for a week with my work clothes in a small bag on my back and rapidly-diminishing optimism in my heart. At every site we turned up to, the answer was ‘no’. Sometimes it was couched as a firm, polite rejection, other times it was an aggressive dismissal from the work site, but each and every time, the answer remained the same.
One day, 2 weeks after the firing, the old anger returned. It had never gone away, to be honest, but that evening I found myself viciously reflective. I had exhausted my small savings, and even worse, I had started to eat into the money I was saving for mother’s treatment, and that evening, I was in a vile mood. My anger built as I thought about how, for much of my life, I had been everyone’s footmat. I had been cheated, been taken advantage of, been used, and kept on the sidelines. I wondered if I was cursed, as somehow, I always backed the losing horse, or ended up on the fringes. I was tired of being cheated or being a tool for others. The sack was the last but one straw, and this inability to get a job broke the camel’s back.
I decided I was going to actively pursue my revenge. I already had nothing to lose. That foreman was going to pay.
The road to vengeance is a tricky one. It is slippery and sloping, and when, like in my case, revenge is motivated by anger, it can be difficult to retain control of one’s actions. Anger, like fire, is a good servant but a bad master. I needed to pass a message and give him his comeuppance, but I did not want excessive violence. If a few slaps would make him give me what he owed me with accrued interest and damages, I wouldn’t hesitate to deliver them, but I didn’t want the violence to escalate and get out of hand.
I also had to strike fear into him. He needed to learn that he couldn’t get away with cheating and withholding wages, simply because he could. I would have succeeded if I could prevent what had happened to me from happening to someone else.
To do all these, I needed to have a plan. Planning criminal activity was not my strongest suit, but thankfully, I didn’t have to do this alone. I already had someone who could help me with it. I picked up the phone and called Akeem.
I met Akeem in a shadowy bar somewhere in one of the many dark, refuse-lined side streets that abounded in Obalende. Over bowls of steaming hot peppersoup and frothing bottles of cold beer, I told him how I felt. For a while after I had finished talking, the only thing he did was to dip his spoon into his soup bowl and lift it to his mouth. When his bowl was empty he dropped his spoon and looked at me.
“I don hear wetin you talk, but you still never talk wetin you want make I do or why you call me.”
“I for like make you help me.”
“Help you as how?”
“Make you give me idea or help me anyhow sha.”
“Which one be ‘anyhow’?”
‘I no sabi. You fit help me plan as I go take enter him house or give me gun make I ginger am or sha tell me how I go take…”
Akeem’s voice cut in. “Wait first. Wetin you just talk?”
“I say make you help me plan.”
“No be that one. Wey you talk say make I give you gun.”
He threw back his head and burst out laughing, loud guffaws that had him choking and focused the attention of the entire restaurant on us. I lowered my face into my soup bowl to hide my embarrassment. When he had regained control and taken huge gulps from the bottle at his side, he turned to me, his eyes still twinkling.
“This man you be funny man. See as you ask me for gun like say na biro wey I go fit just give you make you use and you go return am when you use am finish. So if I give you now and police nab you wetin you go talk?”
I lowered my head deeper into my bowl. I was dying of embarrassment. Akeem leaned closer to me.
“E get one way wey I go fit help you. In fact I go give you gun sef. But you gats cooperate.”
My ears perked up. Slowly I raised up my head till I was staring into the Akeem’s eyes, which were looking at me unblinking.
“You see wetin happen with Yellow. I go need extra one man make e enter for am make we balance. I sabi say you be part of us one kain one kain, but I go like make you be part of us complete. You go join?”
Sitting in that crowded bar with cigarette smoke swirling in the air and the taste of pepper on my tongue, I knew my answer was going to be the most important thing I had done in my life up until that point. There were no angels or solemn music, but it seemed a very grave occasion. In that same moment, I knew, subconsciously, that I had taken a decision a long time ago, and was affirming it with every contact I had with Akeem, and so I didn’t try to beat around the bush. Very slowly, I nodded my head, and looking Akeem in the eye asked him:
“Wetin you go need make I do?”
I turned off the car engine and killed the lights as I turned into the street, jamming my leg onto the clutch as the car coasted down the street silently like a panther on the hunt. My heart was thumping in my chest like a generator gone crazy, and in spite of the cold of the night there were drops of sweat on my face. I pulled up in front of the house at the end of the close and stepped on the brake, bringing the car to a halt. Not for the first time, I asked myself if I was doing the right thing. I had been sure earlier, but as I sat in the car in front of the house, I could feel my convictions wavering.
I shook my head, gritted my teeth and banished the doubts from my head. This was my idea. I couldn’t afford to pull out now, especially not after what Akeem had put me through.
The scene was still fresh in my memory: a hut in deep forest, blindfold round my eyes, pungent smell of ground herbs, the blindfold being removed, my shirt coming unbuttoned on its own accord and floating in the air, the head of the live chicken being wringed off by the old witchdoctor, and warm fowl blood being poured on my seated body, accompanied by liberal application of the peppery paste onto my face and chest and the recitation of incantations. When I had chewed some of the kolanut and alligator pepper the old man passed to me, he pronounced the rituals complete and Akeem smiled and told me I had just become a full member of the gang.
I did not know then if I was relieved or disappointed to be a full part of the gang, and even now, I wasn’t sure what I felt. But there was a gun bulging in my pocket and three companions counting on me to make the first move, so I snapped my mind out of the past and into the present. In the seat beside me, Poko could barely conceal his excitement. He had accepted when I first suggested us breaking into the foreman’s house, his dark, beefy face breaking out in a smile as he processed the thoughts of paying him in kind. Now, parked in front of his house waiting to begin, he was almost childishly ecstatic. A small alarm went off in my mind. If there was anything I had learnt from working with Akeem, it was to maintain calmness and not let emotions take over.
Audu in the back was silent, almost brooding. You could see the concentration on his face. His face showed neither excitement nor panic nor fear. It was the face of a man totally unafraid and entirely focused on what was to come. Akeem had a look of amusement on his face. He looked like he was resisting the urge to say something. He had agreed to leave the planning and execution to me, and so far, he was keeping his side of the bargain.
I left the keys in the ignition and stepped out of the car and into the night. My companions did the same, taking care to shut the doors softly behind them. Our dark clothes blended with the darkness, and although light poured from the building we were headed towards, we easily blended into the darkness as we made our approach. Our target lived on the third floor of the building, his apartment to the left of the main staircase. I wasn’t too worried about him discovering us, as he was almost certainly drunk at this time of the night. I knew this because I had tailed him home every day for the past week, and I had studied his schedules and movements. I knew when he left work, I knew in which bars he liked to stop and drink, and I knew that he was unmarried but brought home girls almost every evening.
Audu pushed on the gate, inch by slow inch to prevent it squeaking. It took almost a minute, but it swung open at last. We jogged across the open space and into the stairwell, as silent as water running down a wall. At the top of the stairs, just before we turned into his apartment, I tapped Audu on the shoulder and gave him the gun. It was purely on instinct. I don’t know why I did it, but it felt right. Akeem raised his eyebrows but said nothing. I looked at Poko and nodded, the signal for him to hurl himself against the door. It fell open with a crash, surprising the man sitting on the couch with his hand up the blouse of the half-naked woman sitting on his laps facing away from the door.
The look on his face changed from surprise at the intrusion to anger when he recognized Poko in an untidy heap on the floor. Moving almost faster than the eye could follow, he picked up a knife on the table beside him with his free hand and hurled it across the room. It came to rest in Poko, its sharp point lodged just beneath his Adam’s apple. It was the luckiest of lucky shots. Poko gave a gurgle that sounded like an empty bottle sinking into a bowl of water and grabbed his throat, his eyes widening as blood pooled in his throat and mouth.
Audu reacted quickest. He cocked the gun and aimed, freezing the foreman in his tracks. Akeem was not far behind.
“Commot your hand lift am up. Slow slow. I go fire you if you do any nonsense.”
He did as ordered, extracting his hand from beneath the blouse and lifting it to his head. On the ground Poko gasped and trashed, trying to delay the inevitable.
“You, stand up. Lift your own hand put am for your head.”
The woman did as ordered, her hands trembling as she obeyed. Audu and Akeem marched them into the bedroom as I bent to look at Poko, tears streaming down my cheeks. I hadn’t cried in years, but I couldn’t control the floodgates.
“I’m sorry,” I said over and over as I knelt over his dying form.
I pulled the knife out of his throat, releasing a fountain of blood and mucus. My tears mixed with his fluids and he raised his eyes to mine, pleading with me to do something, anything. He gasped for breath and tried to form incoherent words, and although he couldn’t speak, the message he was passing was clear enough.
We both knew he was losing the battle, and he gave a sudden cough and trash and then lay still, his eyes unseeing.
I closed his eyes and wiped the tears that were still streaming down my face. When I stood up, I lifted the door to cover the doorway and walked towards the bedroom, anger pawing at my brain. Someone was going to pay for what happened to Poko.
I walked into the bedroom and came face to face with my past.
THEY CALL ME A-ZED
Written by @ToluBablo
Based on MY NAME IS A-ZED by @thetoolsman
NEXT WEEK: EPISODE 9: GBEGE!
READ ALL OF A-ZED’s ADVENTURES BY CLICKING HERE
THEY CALL ME A-ZED Continues next week Thursday at 10:00 am