The drive back to Lekki was surreal. A lot of thoughts kept popping in and out of my mind. It all seemed to make sense now but it was just so sad. I’d read about this and I’d even seen commercials on TV but I have never known anyone infected with the disease but now it seems I’m working for one. Its was just so sad for me to take in at once, Princess seemed too good a person to be the one; why her and not someone else. It just goes to show how unfair the world can be atimes. I joined all the lose ends together even as I drove. But if this was why she was doing this, it wasn’t just right. I was going to talk to her and try to get her to stop but maybe not just tonight. I felt so bad thinking about the things I had said to her when I dropped her off. She was right, I really didn’t know anything about her. This alone changes so much – it changes everything.
I made it back to Lekki long before 11pm. She wasn’t going to be expecting me so I had to wait. I parked the car, took a stroll around, got credit and a drink and then went back to the car. I tried to think through the past weeks and just how much drama I seemed to have gotten myself into. So much seemed to have changed since that day I picked up Kassy and Debola. Hmmm.. Debola. My thoughts briefly swayed to Uncle Mufu, I still had the keys to the new taxi he gave me. Few hours ago, I had more or less made up my mind to take him up in his offer but with this new development, maybe this was my own way of helping Princess; I couldn’t possible leave her to herself after this. And if I hoped to convince her to change, I needed to stay close enough to her. I needed to see Uncle Mufu. His level of generosity was still strange to me but I needed to try to make him understand why I can’t accept his offer. It was obvious I couldn’t head back to Ibadan for Christmas. With Mama in the hospital, I really had no business there. I had to check on Mama with the Doctor later on. I decided to stay back in school and catch up on my courses all through the holiday. However, I decided to visit Uncle Mufu sometime during the coming week so we could talk.
I looked at the time just then, it was a few minutes to 11. I got out of the car and walked to the gate. I pressed the little button by the pedestrian gate and that familiar voice answered asking who I was and what I wanted. I simply answered, “A-Zed here to pick Miss Princess”. With that, I stepped back, keeping a good distance between the gate and I. I had made up my mind not to go inside – no matter what. I wasn’t ready for surprises. While I stood there reminiscing the terrible events of the night Princess and I were captured, the gate opened and Princess walked out with Zino closely following behind. I felt some relief when I saw Zino, I didn’t get to thank him for helping us escape the other time but as I looked at him I knew this wasn’t the place or time. The look on his face was blank and expressionless. With no questions asked, Princess looked at me and said:
We walked to the car even as Zino stood by the gate watching us. I started the car and drove off half thanking God nothing dramatic happened. As I drove, I tried looking for some sort of expression on Princesses’ face but there was nothing. She sat in the back seat again and every time I thought I saw her smiling when I looked through the rearview mirror, I realized I was wrong. All my attempts at making little conversation failed. I then decided to let it go. I made it back to High Rise before midnight and even as I parked I knew I couldn’t just end the night like that. I had to ease the tension somehow. But before I could think of what next to say, she spoke..
I’ll be moving out of school for the holiday tomorrow. Are you going to be in Lagos for Christmas?
I turned a bit to look at her and then answered – Yes. I will be in Lagos…. but ( I knew I needed to study … how would I explain this to her?) …
What is it?
I’ll be around Princess.
Fine, then you can keep the car with you. I’ll call ahead whenever I need you. Don’t bother about coming for me tomorrow.
She then reached into her purse and brought out a little piece of paper, which she handed to me. I took it from her and noticed it was a cheque. It had no name written on it but the amount was written in – hundred thousand naira.
What is this?
Your Salary. I didn’t know what name to write in. You do have something to identify yourself with do you?
I sat there quiet … One hundred thousand Naira. Me. Salary.
I came back to reality and answered ….Yes. Still shocked, I didn’t immediately notice Princess getting out of the car, not until she was almost at the door. I called out to her then…
Princess…. she turned to look at me..
I am … I am very sorry and Thank you.
Without a word, she turned around and walked away.
I held the cheque for a long time thinking to myself. One hundred thousand Naira. Azeez. Never in my life. I’ve only heard of these kinds of figures – even when I was much younger and my father was still with us, I never came across this kind of money in cash or cheque. I must have sat there for about half an hour… thinking…just thinking about how I’d gotten to that spot, what I’d done to earn this much. I just didn’t seem to be able to justify it and the only way I could accept it was if I believed it was a miracle from God, for Mama. I was still a long way off what was needed for her surgery but it was a significant start. I still had more than enough saved away from my trips with Kassy and the other girls so I was more than comfortable. I folded the cheque neatly into my pocket, took out all I needed from the car and left for my room. It was definitely too late to get a cab so I took the long walk through access road to my hostel.
I got to my room and I met Dare packing his things. The room looked pretty empty. I knew most, if not all my other roommates would have left school. I was surprised to see Dare packing though. I could have bet he was going to stick around in school till Christmas eve.
Shebi that’s your new name. Big boy A-Zed.
I ignored Dare and walked to my locker.
E ki wa now (Greet us now). Abi because we don’t drive Corollas like you, we can no longer talk to you?
I turned around in surprise – what corolla.
You think I don’t know? Correction, we don’t know?
Know what Dare? What do you know.
Hmm… Azeez ( He stopped packing and walked towards me). So this is what you’ve been up to all this while. This is what has been keeping you away from lectures, from school, from your friends…… I am still your friend am I?
I stood there not knowing what to say…
It has gotten that bad. I don’t even think I know you anymore. If not for all the gossip around here, I probably wouldn’t have known anything was going on. But has it really gotten this bad Azeez… Ko i ti baje to yen now (it hasn’t gotten this bad). ….. Everyone in school knows…
Knows what! Knows what exactly Dare… What do you all know… ( I said, half-yelling and Dare flinched)
We all know that… that spoilt and snobbish daughter of Chief Adetokunbo George has cast some sort of spell on you. She literarily has you driving her up and down campus, running errands for her and God knows what else…..
I stood there not knowing how to react…..
You leave her house at odd hours and…. is that where you’re even coming from?
I looked away from Dare, I wanted to ignore him. I was angry. No – irritated. Even if every other person in the world was quick to jump into conclusions, I expected more from him. Not after knowing me almost all my life. Least he could have done was come to ask me. I was irritated because he had ruined the pleasant thoughts I had about saving up the hundred thousand for Mama’s surgery. I wished I hadn’t come to the room. I was so irritated I missed the fact that he had just told me Princess was the daughter of Chief Tokunbo George, the renounced political godfather of most politicians in this part of the country.
So you’re not going to answer me. Azeez. Azeez oo ni dami loun. (Azeez you wont answer me)
And so what. So what , if its you Dare. You’ve completely disappointed me. How could you just conclude like that. No single benefit of doubt…
No. None. Azeez. You’ve left me no choice. Do you even remember the last time we had a serious conversation. All we do when we meet nowadays is say hi and bye… I come back to the room and see new clothes in your locker.. and then I hear all these stories.. ki lo fe kin ro (what do you expect me to think)
He was right. Dare could pass as my exact opposite in that we had almost completely different lifestyles but he was the one person I was so comfortable talking to. He always seemed to help set me right but lately I’d been so far away from him. I just felt he would never be able to understand any of the things that had been happening let alone be able to advice on what or what not to do. And I knew I was too harsh with my response. This was Dares way of asking; this was him giving me benefit of doubt.
Hmm… ( I sighed heavily) Dare. Oro po. Oro po gaaan. (Dare, there’s a lot to say. A lot)
Dare, walked to my bunk and sat … Mo ‘n gbo e (I’m listening to you)…
I sat on the lower bunk opposite mine and thought about where to begin. Picking up Kassy and Debby that faithful day or meeting Princess.. Getting thrown into the crazy world of high class prostitutes… Almost getting killed….losing my taxi …
Dare and I spoke till almost 4am. He felt like he was watching a movie. The expressions on his face as I told him some of my experiences were classic. I wish I had a camera to capture them. He did surprise me though. For a geek, he seemed to know a lot about YNot and the seemingly symbiotic relationship between taxi drivers and prostitutes. Dare disliked Kassy instantly. He begged me to try as much as I could to stay away from her as she had trouble written all over her. He was very drawn to Princess – very sad when I told him about the test result I found. He also felt I had to help her realize she was better than what she was doing. Dare advised me to continue working for Princess as long as it would help raise the Money Mama needed faster but he also said I should try not to get drawn into “their world”.
It was definitely fun talking to Dare again. I felt so much relief when I finally went to bed. He woke me early in the morning. He had taken his bath and was dressed. He was heading home to his family in Dugbe, Ibadan for the holiday. He reminded me to make sure I saw Uncle Mufu before the end of the holiday and then he left.
I went back to bed and slept so pleasantly. I think I even dreamt about Fadeke. I must have because I woke up thinking about her. It was almost as if she was haunting me in my sleep about going to church. I hadn’t been to church in a while and I had alot to be thankful for and also alot of repenting to do. It was just about 10am, I was almost late for service. I jumped off my bed, took a quick bath, got dressed and ran out of my room to church.
The service was interesting. The sermon was about divine surprises. It made me feel as if I was living in the future as I was already experiencing a testimony from the sermon. I left church before noon and on my way back to my room I got a call from Fadeke.
So, is it a yes or a no.
Are you proposing to me?
Who? What? Please don’t flatter yourself. Did you go to church or not.
This is a tough question seeing as you marrying me is hinged on my answer.
(she laughed) Who is marrying you?
I’m just heading back to my room. I went to church.
Ehn hen, we thank God.
We chatted for a while about how she still had nothing planned for her birthday. She was so unexcited about it; it got me thinking. Maybe the right gift would do the trick. Maybe. I had never given a girl a birthday gift. I didn’t have a clue. I got off the phone and went to get food. I returned to my room and began sorting out my notes. Dare had filled me in on all I’d missed and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t so much.
I went out later in the evening. I needed to move the car somewhere closer just to be safe. I parked outside my hostel and drew a few comments from people who knew me. I got enough food to last me through the night and the next morning. I didn’t plan on going out till I was done with all my reading. At about 11pm, I had covered quite a lot and I decided to get some rest. I hadn’t gotten a call from Princess all day and it seemed strange. I’d call her in the morning just to check on her. I was still concerned about her and that test result I saw, I just didn’t know how exactly to go about bringing up the topic. As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, my phone rang. This late? I wondered who it was… I checked my phone and Kassy’s name flashed on the screen. I wondered just what she could want at this time of the night on a Sunday.
A-Zed (she was whispering).. can you hear me
… Yes I can
Please I need you to come and get me. Please
I’m stranded, it’s an emergency please.. I’m in Obalende.. I will text you the address now. Please hurry .. thank you..
I couldn’t understand how she managed to do it to me over and over again but as I got into my car and drove out of school, I promised myself it would be the last time especially since Dare had begged me to stay away. I received Kassy’s text. She was in a hotel somewhere in Obalende. Her directions seemed straight forward enough. I wondered why she was whispering though. I just wanted to get done with her and get back to studying.
I was parked outside the hotel in about 20 minutes. I tried to call Kassy but she kept cutting my call. She finally sent me a text message begging me to come up to help her carry some of her luggage. I couldn’t believe her. Even though I was working for my money, it was going to be the last time. I went into the hotel. It was more like a motel. It looked shabby and nothing remotely comparable to the guesthouse we went to in Ogun State. The man or boy at the counter was half asleep and it took him three attempts before he could finally point me in the right direction to the room Kassy was. I made my way up and as I was about knocking on the door, Kassy opened it and pulled me in. She put her hand across my mouth and asked me to speak in hushed tones. It felt wrong as if something was wrong but I wasn’t in the mood to ask questions. Kassy pointed to a ghana-must-go bag in the corner of the room and asked that I help her carry it down.
The bag was medium sized and looked very heavy but surprisingly, it wasn’t as heavy as I thought it was. It seemed like it was stuffed with paper. I carried the bag and went down ahead of Kassy, she soon joined me in the car, in the front passenger seat after she asked me to put the bag in the boot and as I drove away she said we were going to a place called Obawole somewhere close to Akute. That was far and totally in the opposite direction of where she stayed in Badore. It was hard but I put my frustration aside and I didn’t complain. I drove as far as I knew and then Kassy described the rest of the journey.
For some strange reason, we met just one police checkpoint on the way – even on the mainland. At that stop, the policemen simply looked into the car and then asked us to go on. We made it to our destination before 1am. The street was quiet and remote, the house was also a bungalow, unpainted just like Kassy’s house in Badore but much smaller. I parked outside and I had to help her carry the bag inside. I hesitated initially but this was unlike the last time, she had a genuine reason for me to go inside with her. She opened the gate and then the door even as I carried the bag behind her. We walked into the house and I noticed it was poorly furnished. Two chairs were arranged in the living room. There was no television or any other form of electronic. I dropped the bag and waited for her to pay me before leaving. I had already made up my mind to leave if she asked me to go get it from a room or anywhere else. Kassy sat on one of the chairs and pulled the bag towards her. She had a smile on her face and kept staring at me even as she opened the bag. Curious about the content, I watched as she unzipped it and I couldn’t help but gasp in surprise.
The bag was full of money. Fresh bundles of 500 Naira notes. Kassy laughed, as she must have seen the expression on my face.
A-Zed A-Zed… she said as she stood and walked towards me….
In that bag, I have 9 million Naira. Yes, 9 million. A gift from one of my customers and that gift can be for you and I. You see, I like you. Yes, I like you a lot (she said as she touched my face) and I want you to be my man. Legally.
I stood there speechless.
I plan on leaving this your damned country and going back home. Me I be Cameroonian. Yes. With this money, we will live like king and Queen in Yaoundé. We can leave first thing in the morning through Calabar if you want. So what do you say?
I stood there still speechless thinking, wondering how she’d really come about all this money and how she trusted me enough to think I couldn’t steal the money from her.
A-Zed. Look at me. We don’t have time. Look me in the eye and give me an answer.