Writer, Poet, Social Commentator
The traffic was unusually light that Friday, on Oshodi Apapa Express Road and I was grateful. By my side in our only car sat my wife Shayo; we had an appointment with the doctor. It was one of those days. By one of those days, I meant we just had a mute war.
My Picanto surged forward trying its utmost to surprise me with its power; I was not impressed. How could I when even Okada riders left me in their wake? I could not even bear to imagine how people looked at my 6ft 8in frame hunched in this annoying round looking piece of metal on wheels. I felt like screaming! If only I could say SUV every time I mentioned the ‘make’ of my car. Please forgive my grouchiness, like I said it was one of those days.
I woke up at 7am and I wanted to be sick, faint or even die; any excuse to go back to sleep for a long time. The bulge from Shayo’s tummy was reason enough. She had developed a horrible sense of humour since she became pregnant and in recent times, our relationship had degenerated into a monosyllabic tragic-comedy. Our once picturesque marriage was now a thing of history. I glanced at her at the other end of our King-sized bed. I had won the battle for choice of bed; I could not afford another uncomfortable position at night, having nightmares of my Picanto. I was sure she knew I was awake. She was awake too but she did not move. We played this annoying game every morning; She would wake up first but not move. Then I would wake up but not say a thing. When I went to the bathroom, she went to the kitchen, when I was dressing up, she sat in the parlour and whilst I was having breakfast, she would be in the bathroom. When I go to the car, she would be busy getting dressed. Now we were both in the car, silent. How did it get this bad?
We took turns stealing looks at each other knowing we could see each other from the corner of the eyes. I laughed out scoffing, as she turned her head to the window, but nothing was funny. This was just so annoying. We had been together for only three years and we already had enough of each other. How did my parents do it for 45 years? How oh God? If I had a choice right then between marriage and the monastery, I would be in a cassock before you say ‘Jack Robinson’.
And it all began with a simple laugh…
The Maroko Sandfield Bus stop was a little crowded the night of Friday, the 13th day of August, 2010. I had made the bad judgment of coming this way, instead of taking a bus that was heading for Obalende, in the hope that I would get one of the BRTs straight to Ikorodu Road. ‘Today is Friday, everyone will be out having fun’, I muttered to myself, as I packed my Samsung Galaxy S II, Blackberry Bold 9700 and 13” Apple Macbook Pro. Yeah, I was the typical African, all the latest gadgets and no idea what I was doing with them. I was hoping to get home early, possible hangout with the gang and play some Fifa 10, before bed. How wrong I was. Three BRT buses and 30 minutes later, I was still unable to get into any of the busses. The sheer pandemonium that broke loose the moment a BRT bus was in sight was a marvel; you could literally see ties flying, high-heeled shoes sticking out from the centre of the rush and at one point, a wig even came off! It was then I heard the laughter, musical, harmonious, drowning out the royal rumble right before my eyes. I did not have to look back to know that its source was beautiful, gentle and petite. I waited for the laughter to die, then I turned around gently, hoping to steal a look. She was waiting for me.
‘Hi Shayo, how are you? Hello? Hello?’ No response.
This girl is such a clown, I thought, as I looked at the phone again to see if the call was still connected. Then I heard it; soft, gentle, it was my name ‘Kefas’ and I smiled as I shook my head. She always had this effect on me. I really liked my name, but oh, how I loved the way she called it. I would stand by the mirror sometimes and try to mimic it but I could never replicate the glint in her eyes and that mischievous smile, when she called my name. I could feel her smiling over the phone, enjoying her silent prank. She did it all the time; onetime she kept me on the phone for six minutes before she said a word!
‘Where are you from?’
Those were the first words she asked me that night. I got a little uneasy at the question. Women have a way of finding things deeply buried. They would randomly ask about something and hit a soft spot without even realizing they did. My mother said it was the Holy Spirit.
‘Are you there?’ I shook myself out of my reverie and turned to meet her glare.
‘ You better don’t go creepy on me o! I have already done as much bravery as I can afford tonight by taking this taxi with you Mr Stranger’ she said and raised her eyebrows, waiting.
‘I’m sorry’, I muttered. ‘I’m Kefas’
‘I’m Shayo and I hope it will be a pleasure to meet you Kefas’ she said as she extended her hand towards me. I grabbed it eagerly.
I inhaled the atmosphere that filled the back of the yellow painted cab we had boarded. This was our last resort. There were no more BRT buses, the crowd had only increased and it was getting late. I tried to hail a cab a couple of times and as expected the price had doubled, all the cabs were trying to milk the situation. I saw Shayo from the corner of my eyes also unable to reach a fair bargain with several cabs. With each failed attempt, we inched closer to each other until we were standing side by side. At the sight of the next available cab, we both chorused ‘Anthony!’ we looked at each other and laughed.
‘You first’ I said. She walked to the Volkswagen Golf painted in Lagos State’s taxi colours. I watched her talk with the driver and get in. Good luck, I thought to my self, but then I noticed that the cab was reversing to my side. She peeked out from the back seat.
‘You are going to Anthony too right?’
‘Where are you from?’ she asked again and this time I had an answer.
‘I’m from Jos. That’s Plateau State,’ I said. ‘I’m Berom. Do you know Berom People?’
She shook her head.
Of course, she would not. Berom people were as scarce as anything down in southern Nigeria. I had only come across one of us in my time in Lagos and only his name gave him away. We were traditionally farmers and bricklayers who loved hard work. Except for rare and interesting names like Miskom Puepet*, Chollom*, Pangwuilti, Fom Bot*, Vou Gyang Bot Dung*, Dazang, Davou etc. we were as hard to find, as we were hard to miss. There were three physical features common with most Berom people and most of us had at least one; Huge, very dark and handsome. I had all three.
I told her about the Hills of Jos, about the Kusa* Mines, about the local hockey game Baram* and many other wild tales of my childhood and my limited Military experience as ‘child soldier’ at the Nigerian Military School Zaria, Kaduna State. I talked about my experiences with guns and basic military formations. I noticed her become fascinated and begin to relax.
‘Shayo?’ She looked at me and she shook her head. I died.
Friday, the 13th day of May 2011, we were at the Four Points Hotel having an early dinner. I watched her walk away; navigate her way through the tables and out of the door. I was unsure whether to follow her. A little relieved I had decided to make it a private affair, I ordered my wobbly legs to stand and chase after her, doing my utmost to look dignified. Why would she say no? Everything had been perfect the past nine months. I had even prayed about it and everything felt right. She made me laugh and I made her laugh and cry – She said that was a good sign. So why run away? Did she go to the ladies’? Where was she?
‘Excuse me Sir’ the steward at the hotel came across to me. I guessed he wanted his money. I reached for my wallet but he restrained me.
‘Your friend has settled the bill sir, but she asked me to tell you that she wants to do it from the beginning.’
The beginning? What is wrong with this girl, I thought, perplexed. Did I just waste nine months of my life? Kai! These Yoruba girls get wahala* ehn! I was fuming.
Wait. I tried to call her but she kept rejecting my call. Where was she? Except… Ah! The beginning! I ran as fast as my big frame would allow, past the intersection leading to The Palms or Shoprite as most people called it, my feet slamming heavily into the paved road. I noticed the watchful eyes of the officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) as I dashed up the Maroko Sandfield pedestrian bridge, wary pedestrians already clearing a path for me to pass through. As I descended the bridge, I saw her, holding her shoes in her hands, smiling, the setting sun a perfect backdrop behind her, its reflection calm in the river. The beginning.
The Picanto picked up pace as it climbed the 3rd Mainland Bridge, on a hot friday the 13th day of July 2012, still trying to impress me.
‘Can you wind the windows down a little? Shayo asked from beside me.
The buttons are on your side of the door too you know, I thought to myself but then I obeyed. I knew an olive branch when I saw one.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked.
‘I will survive, the baby is going to be big I can tell.’
‘Is that a good thing or bad thing?’
‘it’s good when he is out but bad when he is coming out.’
‘Oh now I get your point. Any name suggestions yet?’ I asked her, wary of putting mine out there first.
‘I have written two down and I am praying about it’
Shayo, the prayer warrior. A smile began to form on my lips. She looked at me and shook her head. She knew what was gong through my mind at all times. She was my wife and even if I had hoped she would die sometimes, or wished I could just run away or wake up and find out it was all a bad dream, I loved her.
The explosion was loud and compelling. Two cars in front of us somersaulted and exploded as everyone slammed on their breaks. I could hear the sound of metal crashing into metal as several cars collided behind us. The commotion was intense but thankfully, my Picanto was safe. The silence was heavy. No one knew what had happened. Then we heard the gunshots. Glass shattered all around us and there were screams from the children in the Black Escalade beside us. I watched in horror as their driver’s body ripped open and splashed blood all around the windscreen. I quickly opened my door and jumped out, I made a sign at Shayo to do the same whilst keeping her head low. For the first time I was so grateful to God I drove a Picanto, the bigger SUVs around it had protected it. Shayo and I met at the back of the car and we sat down. She was breathing heavily. I could see many people lying on the ground, some running backwards. There was Blood everywhere. This could not be happening on 3rd Mainland Bridge! Where was the police? Was it a robbery? I was about to signal at Shayo that we had to move backwards and away from the gunshots when I saw it roll past me.
I counted instinctively, as I covered Shayo with my frame; one, two, three, four and explosion. I heard screams further away from us; more blood. The danger was getting closer and they were targeting the cars behind us. I had no clue what to do but I couldn’t panic, not now; I had to do something for my wife and my unborn child. The children in the car beside us where still inside crying and shouting. I crawled towards them and opened the door. Luckily, it was open.
‘Come’ I said to them quietly. Two of them came out. Twin girls.
They followed me to where Shayo was. I looked around and counted eight people huddled up beside their cars unsure what to do. I made a sign at everyone that we had to move quickly and quietly away from the mayhem in front. I looked at the twin girls.
‘What are your names?’
“Vou and Hannah’ one of them responded. They were still sobbing. I shook my head in disbelief. What a place to meet my kinsmen.
I told them to follow Shayo and they all began to inch their way past the cars, quietly away from the gunshots. I turned and gently stood up to peer over my Picanto, above the other cars and my heart stopped.
There were eight of them standing in front of the two white busses they had parked right in the middle of the 3rd Mainland Bridge leading to the island; eight men, causing all these chaos! They wore masks and their language was definite. I had heard it before and I knew who they were. They were so close it was a miracle they had not seen us. I looked behind me. Shayo and the rest were not in sight. Good. I turned to look at the men again, strutting around with AK47s. I could see hand grenades dangling from their belt pouches and one of them had an RPG strapped across is chest. This was not a robbery, I thought, this was war.
I almost let out a scream as I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see the reassuring camouflage of the Nigerian Army. The man who touched me was a Colonel. I could see the infantry insignia on his left breast and his name-tag read ‘L. Kachallah’. Another kinsman, I sighed.
‘Oga, you shouldn’t be here’ he said. ‘Go to the back and find a way out of here. The place is blocked at the back there. There is really no way to get out except you climb and jump across to the other side of the bridge.’
My God, Shayo. I thought.
‘What are you going to do?’ I asked him.
‘We cannot allow these people to ruin our country’ he said. ‘My security detail have two SMGs and I have a pistol. We will do what we can before the police get here.’
There were three of them. The Colonel, a Corporal and a Lance Corporal.
I turned to go and felt blood on my neck before the Colonel knocked me to the ground. The terrorists had noticed us and opened fire. The Colonel and his crew returned fire and a battle ensued. I kept my head down and prayed with my eyes closed, wishing the whole thing away. What was I supposed to do?
There was silence again.
The Colonel had been hit on the shoulder. The Corporal was fine and attending to the Colonel. The Lance Corporal was dead beside me. It was his blood that had splashed on my neck. The Colonel looked at me, winked and gave me a thumb up as he leaned on my Picanto. I was stunned. He had been shot for heaven’s sake and he was winking at me? I shook my head as I dusted my clothes and sat on the ground. I looked up and straight at the barrel of a gun aimed at the Colonel’s head. In one swift motion, I grabbed the Lance Corporal’s gun beside me and squeezed the trigger. The Colonel reacted immediately, rolling to the side, as he shot off two rounds at another terrorist sneaking in beside my Picanto. The Corporal seized a hand grenade from the pouch of the terrorist I had shot and let it fly towards the bus were the remaining terrorists were huddled. One, two, three, four, explosion then silence.
The Colonel looked at me again and raised his eyebrows. I nodded that I was fine. He mouthed ‘thank you’. Then he waved at the corporal who crawled forward towards the terrorists. I moved forward towards the colonel and together we crawled gently by the other side of my Picanto. Silence still. We could see the Corporal. He was standing by the mangled bodied of five terrorists. He shot them again then waved at the Colonel.
‘It’s clear Sir!’ he said.
The Colonel and I walked towards him as the door of one of the busses burst open and another terrorist jumped out shooting. He killed the Corporal. The Colonel shot the terrorist and ran to the Corporal. There was nothing he could do.
The Colonel inspected the first bus; driver side, nothing, no one. We opened the back and we stopped dead in our tracks. The bus was rigged with explosives. Even to an untrained eye, I knew it was serious. The Colonel muttered ‘Jesus Christ’ and dashed to the other bus. It was the same thing. Both busses had synchronized timers: 1 minute 50 seconds.
He looked at me and said.
‘Do you know about bombs?’
I shook my head.
‘We can’t leave these busses here’ he said. ‘If we do, the bridge will collapse and everyone and thing on it is gone. People are still trapped at the back there.’
‘So what do we do?’ I asked, apprehensive.
‘We have to get the busses over the guardrails and into the water. That is the only way. We can quickly swim to safety afterwards. However, I can’t drive two buses.’
The realization hit me! Is he expecting me to drive one of the busses into the water? Never. I have a pregnant wife to take care of and she needs me.
I could see the colonel smashing the driver’s side glass of a Toyota Rav4 down the road. He came running back holding a mobile phone, wincing under the pain of his wounded shoulder.
‘Quick,’ he said ‘do you have your phone with you?’
I shook my head.
‘Okay we will both use this then. I am sending an SMS to my wife. To let her know just in case something goes wrong. Are you married?’
‘I’m sorry, but you have to give me your name, your wife’s name and her number’
‘Kefas Dazang’ I replied solemnly
The Colonel looked up at me and smiled
‘Sho’ he said in native greeting
‘Kaja’ I responded.
He quickly finished the message and dispatched it. Then ran towards the Bus in front.
‘Come on!’ he shouted.
I didn’t move. He walked back to me, put his hands on my shoulder and led me to the second bus . As I closed the back door, I looked at the timer: 60 seconds.
I got into the driver’s seat and started the engine. I was numb.
The Colonel reversed the bus in front to my side. We waited side-by-side, our vehicles facing the guardrails protecting 3rd mainland bridge. He rolled down his window and shouted at me
‘Kefas, No Greater Love… no greater love!’ he smiled. That wink again.
I had heard those words before, but I couldn’t remember where. The colonel revved his engine and I revved mine and together we sped towards the guardrails of the bridge. 30 seconds.
We smashed into it, the front of the vehicles capitulated and then the vehicles in synchronized motion catapulted over the railings and into the water below.
I thought about my Shayo, my wife. She should have gotten the message by now. I am doing this for her and the child, the child for whom I must live by example.
Greater love… Ah, now I remember those words; spoken by the man I gave my life to: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his brethren.
The Colonel wasn’t planning to swim away; he must have thought I didn’t notice that his left hand was now useless. What he didn’t also know was that I couldn’t swim. Greater love?
As the vehicles hit the water, I was not afraid; I had no needs, no worries, nothing. I knew where I was going.
This is how light wins darkness, I thought with my eyes closed.
Four, three, two, one.
*Miskom Puepet*, Chollom*, Pangwuilti, Fom Bot*, Vou Gyang Bot Dung*, Dazang, Davou – all names of prominent Berom People.
*Kusa – is the local mining of Tin and Columbite
*Baram – is a local hockey game played with curved sticks and a round rubber ball
*Wahala – colloquial for palava, stubborn, heady
* Sho, Kaja – are part of native berom greeting