“Oga, wetin I do?” I am asking the very very tall man standing in front of me, whose complexion is almost as dark as the uniform he is wearing.
“You dey ask me wetin you do?” He is not even looking at me as he speaks. “You still dey ask me wetin you do?” He calls out to another man in a black uniform similar to his but only a bit more faded and says, “Tega, abeg come carry this man okada join those ones.” I can see three motorcycles in their patrol van; their riders are begging another officer sitting in the van.
The day is still young. I cannot afford this or else business will be ruined for the entire day and Wasiu will not listen to stories. I quickly turn off the engine of my motorcycle, I put the keys in my pocket and as my hands come out of my pocket, there is a N200 note squeezed in it. I walk smartly towards the officer.
“Wetin be that? How much dey there?”
I open my hands slightly so he can see. He is not pleased.
“Tega, you still dey there? Come carry this thing!” The other officer finally attempts to cross the road to meet us. I must act quickly.
I deep my left hand into my left pocket and stretch it towards him. He smiles as he takes it in his hands.
I feel like asking him again what my offence was so I don’t repeat it next time, but I know there is no use. There will always be a next time because there was really no offence.
This Bajaj Motorcycle is all I have and I love it very much.
Well, it does not belong to me yet, until I finish working hard. I will tell you about that later.
It is not as if I want to be an okada man, it is conditions that made crayfish the way it is. I actually went to school, oh yes, and don’t ask me to tell you which one. But I still didn’t get a job two years after I graduated. But at that time, I could never touch a job like okada riding even with the longest pole. It was far beneath me.
I later got a job as a clerk at a postal agency, but after six months, I got tired. Despite my meagre pay, I had to take on other peculiar tasks like shining my boss’ shoes. My boss, a Lebanese man who looked more like an albino to me, was always saying, “I will flush you out of this place.” That seemed like the only threat he knew and he was bent on fulfilling it. He eventually flushed me out one Monday morning, when I least expected it. I should have resigned long before then but I was too scared to return to joblessness.
I began sitting idly, mostly outside the face-me-I-face-you house, watching all the girls that walked past from morning till evening. I could tell you which girls in the area have the biggest back sides and who had a concubine that came to make her bed creak when her husband was at work. It was the day my neighbour, Iya Bashira, suggested that I may have been the one who stole the landlord’s paints that I seriously began to consider Wasiu’s offer. Those were the insults that idleness could bring to you.
This Bajaj is what Wasiu bought with what he could salvage from what was left of the money he got from his father’s will, after lavishing the rest on different girls and drinking beer with his friends for several weeks. The first day I carried the bike to ride after he had spent a week teaching me how to ride it, I was very ashamed of myself. I covered my head with my helmet and covered my mouth with a piece of cloth as if I was trying to prevent dust from getting to me. It was just so that nobody would recognise me. But by 12 noon that day, I checked my pocket and it contained about two thousand naira. That’s when my eyes opened. Two thousand! Just like that? This was a significant portion of my monthly pay at the postal agency.
First things first, I parked my Bajaj in front of one correct mama-put and went in to put something substantial in my belly. I followed it up with a chilled bottle of beer and then continued my work. I will not tell you how much I had at the end of the day so that you too will not come and start this business.
We are already too much, that is why everybody now has eyes on okada. Police, LASTMA, Agbero, even Man-o-war too now arrest okada men. That’s the battle I was fighting with the men in black when you met me.
So sometimes, long distance journeys are the best, especially if it is from the mainland to the island or back; you can charge anyhow. If you meet a maga who happens to be in a hurry, then it’s your lucky day. You can make as much as three thousand from a return trip. But there are always many obstacles on the way and that is why you must have ‘mind’ if you want to do okada business.
I don’t smoke. One time, they said it was dangerous to health, now they say smokers will die young. I don’t want to die young so I only drink and it is just to have mind. You must have mind. If you don’t drink something, you can’t have mind and if you don’t have mind, you can’t ride okada. Paraga gives me mind.
Then the passengers; they are the wahala of this business but you can’t do without them. I don’t like carrying old women, they complain too much. “Don’t run o!”, “Small small o!”, “Eh oh, look oh”, teaching you your job. Men are better, but they are too stingy, they are the ones that will wait till you move in anger after they have mentioned a stupid price before calling you back. Young ladies are the best, they don’t know how to price. I particularly like carrying those ones with big breasts like Chioma’s own. First, they rest on your shoulder and lean on you to climb the bike and then hold on to you at the slightest sight of danger. If you hit a bump or gallop, be sure they’ll press their breast to your back, so you had better enter as many gallops as possible. The only problem with that is that you may find that your ‘something’ has risen by the time you drop them off, especially if the weather is cool.
That’s when I usually remember to send Chioma a text message. That way I am wetting the ground for the night. If she replies, then there is hope. If she does not, I’ll have to make plans to go and block her from the school where she teaches small children and take her to my house, then drop her off at hers one or two hot rounds later.
Did I say my house? Well, that too will soon become mine, but for now, take it that I’m squatting with Kingsley my childhood friend who came to Lagos before me. Just like the Bajaj will become mine fully once I finish paying Wasiu according to our agreement. The plan is that I will pay him a certain amount over time and the motorcycle would become mine. We are still on that mission. For now, I deliver two thousand naira to him every day. I make much more than that, especially when I decide to work at night, so it’s not a big deal.
Today, I will do some night runs after I drop Chioma at home. Something to replace whatever I decide to give her will not be a bad idea. It is already getting late, I should go and pick Chioma now because Kingsley can decide to come home early today and spoil my show.
Wait a minute; are those police men I see? Oh my God, who told me to follow one way? This is not good. Not again.
“Hey you! Park there!”
‘Seun Salami is a writer and editor. He is the author of ‘The Son of your Father’s Concubine’, a collection of Short stories. You can follow him on twitter @SeunWrites
This article was first published in Taruwa Magazine (Issue 5)
Taruwa Magazine is available at Debonair Bookshop, Yaba and Terra Kulture, Victoria Island. In Abuja, you can get it at C&C Collections inside Silverbird Galleria.
Hahahahaha! even man-o-war atops okada.
beautiful piece uncle Seun.
well not a bad story concept. keep it up
Very entertaining piece…..keep it coming
Ur mastery of the art of dialogue astounds me. I bow to you sir and of course thank you for the wonderful piece.
Very lovely piece! Got me laughing, and telling the reality of our time. Good one.
Seun! When I see you, you will lay your hands on my head and impart this gift o! Lovely story as usual, I totally enjoy first person narrative and nobody does it like you!
Seun Seun. You are different from a lot of writers I have read. The simplicity of your words, the ease with which you describe, the flow of events all point to one thing…. you are a gifted story-teller. I enjoy reading your works….especially this.