Don’t go out tonight

Don’t go out tonight

You have to realize that I was bored out of my mind and at the same time there was a lot on my mind I would rather not think about. I am impulsive. I am a loner. Maybe that’s why I gravitate towards two extremes – either I over think issues and fail to act at the appropriate time, or I act impulsively. In either case, the outcome is not always pleasant for any of the parties involved. I guess people with friends can bounce ideas off them before doing something that may turn out foolish. Me, I just worry at it forever or not at all before acting.

I had had my car for just over a year when it happened. I didn’t realize the freedom I was missing until I got the car. I could head out at any hour of the day or night without thinking of how I was going to get back to the house. I was mobile. I was free. But outside of work there was always the question of what to do with that freedom. That night I had a lot on my mind I would rather not think about. I got my keys and jumped in the car. It was already past 11PM at night. I had no idea where I was going except a vague idea of crossing the third mainland bridge. I had the Garmin, so I wasn’t too bothered about where I ended up. All I needed to do at any point was ask it to take me home.

I still can’t remember where I ended up or how I got there. But suddenly I was in an area of Lagos that looked like one of those high-crime slum areas I had seen on TV. I was a little apprehensive, but though the streets were cluttered with refuse and broken-down cars, and some of the people hanging out by the roadside and in the doorways of some of the houses looked decidedly unfriendly, there were no attempts to stop me. So I drove on slowly.

The street I was driving on was long and winding, but I could vaguely see it open onto another street at the end. But suddenly there was a whoosh and almost immediately, I felt the car list to one side and the sound of my flapping flat tyre. I debated whether to stop or drive on at the danger of destroying the wheel, but decided to stop since the area was reasonably lighted. I pulled over a little to the side, switched off the engine and got out to examine the flat tyre. The tyre was completely flat, and there was something sticking out from it which I tried to dislodge with my foot. No luck. I bent down and put on the camera light on my mobile phone to get a closer look. I almost immediately realized that the small contraption was not some random wood and nail piece I had run over: it was purposefully made to damage a car’s tyre. I straightened up and had just got into the car when out of nowhere eight burly youths had my car surrounded. The ones I could see properly looked mean and had an assorted array of weapons in their hands. I was tempted to try and make a run for it, but there was at least a couple of pistols in the mix.

My goal at that point was to get out of there unarmed. I didn’t care too much about losing the car. It was covered by insurance. And I was Ok with losing my wristwatch and the small amount of cash I had in my pockets which I was desperately hoping would satisfy them. I smiled a little and called out a greeting. They weren’t having any of it. Probably the biggest fellow in the group with bloodshot eyes, just calmly asked me to step out of the car. I was hesitant to do so because the group didn’t look like they were particularly interested in just dispossessing me of my belongings. I suspect it was the way the cutlasses and axes were held that made me suspicious.

But there was no alternative to getting out of the car. The windows were almost completely up, and for some futile reason, I had locked the car immediately I made it into the driver’s seat. I was about to unlock the door and get down when there was a scream from behind the car. I couldn’t quite make out the source but the commotion was definitely coming from right behind the car. A gun went off and there was a flash of light in the darkness. Several more screams and suddenly it appeared I was the only one in the vicinity. I was confused.

But there were obviously at least two people at the back of the car.

“Pick up the knife.”
“Please sir.”
“Pick up the knife or you die anyway.”

There was some hesitation.

“Good.”

Then a brief scuffle. A small scream and all was quiet again.

There was a streak on the passenger side window which looked like blood. I was contemplating it when there was a knock on the driver’s side window. I nearly jumped out of my skin. There was a face at the window. Younger than I was, and from his looks definitely in the wrong place same as I was. I looked around again and he was obviously the only one around so I wound down the glass.

“Today’s work is done. Can you give me a lift out of here.”

“OK.”

I couldn’t help myself. I unlocked the car, and as he made his way round to the passenger’s seat, I opened my door and looked towards the back of the car. I could see two bodies, and also a pair of feet poking out from behind the car. No movement. I assume they were dead.

I quietly closed the door again and looked at my companion.

“We should go.”

Good idea. I started the car and moved off with the flat wheel making a continuous grinding noise. He seemed to know the area because after a few instructions from him to make certain turns, we were soon out of the built-up area and approaching some sort of expressway. It was obvious the tyre needed to be changed if I was to drive at any reasonable speed. I asked if it was OK to pull over and replace the wheel. He agreed.

I changed the tyre as quickly as possible and we were soon back on the move. Since he didn’t say anything more, I punched “home” on the Garmin and I was soon back across the bridge in familiar territory. I asked where he was going and he said Lekki. We went through the Lekki tollgate at about 2AM and I soon drove past the Lekki phase I entrance. At some point after phase II on a more or less empty stretch of road, he asked me to drop him off. I pulled over and he got out. That was when he apologized for the blood on my seat which I hadn’t noticed until then. He appeared to disappear into the darkness.

I drove off and found the next roundabout and made a U-turn and headed back towards the Island. I looked out into the darkness as I passed the spot where I dropped him off but there was no sign of life. I made it back home. Despite being bone-tired, I still found the strength to clean the passenger seat. He must have been bleeding quite heavily because of the sheer amount of blood on the seat and the foot-carpet. I got most of it out. And emptied a few buckets of water over the body of the car.

After that I crawled into bed and slept like the dead. I woke up around 12 noon in the afternoon. For a couple of minutes, I wasn’t sure where I was. Then recollection came but it all felt like a dream. I got up slowly and went to look out the window at the car. Sure enough, I could see the telltale brownish (oxidized) stains were still visible on the car. It still felt quite unreal and I suddenly became so tired I crawled back into bed. I gravitated between sleep and awareness for the next couple of hours. Finally, I got up and went out to the car. I went slowly round it and then checked the passenger side. I had done a reasonable job of cleaning the blood but looking closely enough showed I missed some spots especially along  the threads.

I didn’t give him my number or my name.

I got a call from an unknown number the following day. Immediately he spoke, I knew it was him. 

“Hello.”
“Hello. Who is this?” I had to ask.
“We met early in the morning yesterday.” That was putting it lightly.
“I am calling to thank you. I hope you were able to get the stain out of the seat. Apologies.”

I did get all the stains out. But not the vision of those dead bodies on the ground. Yes, they might have killed me, but that fact didn’t make it any easier. Those young men were dead.

“Thank you. I did.”
“Good to know.”

End of phone call.

But not the last I would hear of him. If anything, that was the beginning.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * *  

If you had asked, I would say we were friends, though it was a strange friendship to say the least.

Generally because of the support nature of my previous job, I am accustomed to coming awake fully at the first ring of the phone, and not be grumpy at the person on the other end of the line. The fact that he calls randomly out of the blues is how I learnt most of what I know about him. He may call and launch midway into some topic as if we had been discussing it before.

“Hi.”
“Hello.”
“Hope you don’t mind my calling.”
“No.”
“I was thinking about my wife.”
“Ok”. He needed no prompting when he wanted to talk.
“She died painfully you know.”
“Hmmn.”
“Can you believe until then, I had never even killed a single person despite the many years I spent in the military.”

I know from past snippets that he was in the military in the US. Then the patriotism bug had bitten him. He had resigned his commission, taken his foreigner wife and returned “home.”

“She bled to death while begging me to help her.”
“Hmmn.”

I had pieced together a story slightly similar to mine. It appears they had gone on a midnight jaunt in the wrong part of town and had been attacked. He was able to fend off the attackers, but then found they had already stabbed his wife several times.

“And there was nothing I could do.”
“Hmmn.”

Silence from both ends for about 3 minutes.

“Thanks.”
“No problem.”
“Good night.”
“Good night.”

And that was that.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * 

I was of course concerned about him, so during another call, I asked.

“Have you thought of settling down again.” (even my own questions have started to sound like comments)
“A few times.”
“But not yet.”
“You know I have done that once. That was completely spontaneous. I met a woman. I fell for her. Chased her. She fell for me. Got married. Settled down. And yet here I am.”
“Let me throw the question back at you.” Time for some answers from me.
“I am something of a loner. The reason is of course complicated.”
“I can talk up a storm with almost any lady. Even if we have only just met. That is, as long as I am not attracted to her.”
“If there is even the slightest attraction, I get tongue-tied. Everything I intend to say, I start replaying it in my head instead of saying it.”
“And that is bad. Not talking. I just basically clamp up.”
“How do I expect a lady to know I am interested if I talk about everything else but the real thing?”
“Just hanging around and hoping something happens. Pathetic I know.”
“And it gets worse. Because attempts to keep in contact or then do something positive becomes to all intent and purposes like stalking.”

Looks like I have got some sort of shrink. Maybe I am the same to him.

“You need to sort this out.”
“True. I just don’t know how.” Implicit question: does he?
“I don’t know either. But you need to sort it out.”
“True.”
“And what do you feel about marriage?”
“I am not in any hurry. Certain people in the family are of course apprehensive. But for me, if it happens, great. If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t. I have long ago dropped the idea of a deadline. I have been around all sorts of couples. Yeah. They are hopefully happy. I feel for the women though. It seems men who don’t cheat – and continuously for that matter – are the exception and not the rule. This is not the itch. This is just the “I can do it and get away with it” attitude. Young guys with reasonably beautiful wives. I guess what makes the women fall for them in the first place, and not for guys such as myself – even though we try too hard – is what makes the same guys carry on as if they are still single – the wives are hopefully content and happy in their ignorance of what is really going on. Of course, I am probably a little jealous of these guys. But only to the extent that I want only one beautiful girl to fall for me – and I can’t seem to manage that one single thing.”

“I guess it comes easy to you.”
“I never really thought about it along those lines. I am a one-woman man myself. But I guess most men who play the field say that to the women – since that’s what they want to hear. But I should say yes, it’s kinda  easy for me when I was interested.”
“Anyone in mind in particular”. I was hoping he wouldn’t ask.
“Nope. There was one. But it was one-sided as usual. Since I played dumb, there was no way she would have known. And while I fell heads over heels, as I kept a straight face and didn’t say anything, there was of course no chance of reciprocity until I had crossed the bridge where suspicion turns to discomfort.”
“And she was perfect. Almost literally. Which made it harder to let go.”
“Sorry.”
“The strange thing is that was the first good thing to happen to me in donkey years”
“And you messed it up.” I must have repeated that to him a dozen times now so he knew to finish it for me.

“Yeah. I messed it up.”
“Have you prayed about it.” I don’t find it strange any longer that he sometimes asks these questions. He is actually religious despite what he does regularly.
“Yes. I have.”
“So continue to do so, if it’s right, it will happen.”
“I am. It’s just that it is the only thing on my mind day and night. And if I hadn’t done anything negative, I would have easily accepted the fact that if it’s right it will happen.” 

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * *

I took to putting my itinerary on my blog. For some reason, I knew he was a regular visitor. Probably from some of the almost undetectable references he sometimes makes when we talk. I didn’t know when he would call and ask me to come and get him, so when I was going to be particularly busy or out of Lagos, I would craft some entry on my blog and work that into the narrative, and sure enough, I have never received his call on any of those days.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * 

“Where are you?” Strange. Usually, his first line is completely different.
“At Bubbles.”
“Where is that?”
“Challenge in Ibadan.”
“It’s a club.”
“Just chilling.” That was a question.
“Yes. Actually someone suggested it may be a cure for what ails me.”
“Which is.”
“I have been thinking about the lady continuously for over 2 months. It’s not getting any easier.”
“Some smart ass suggested what I needed was a visual overload of women. So here I am.” 
“There you are. Is it helping.”
“Unfortunately no. Plenty of ladies in various state of undress. The only thing that strikes me is that they are not the lady. I was about to leave.”
“Ok.”

And so I left.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * 

“The day’s work is done.”
“Can you come and get me.”
“Where are you.”
“Yaba.”
At least I know Yaba.

“Which area.”
“Just pull over once you get off the bridge. I will find you.”
Sure enough, there was a tap on the window about 5 minutes after I got there. I had taken to putting a plastic cover on the seat whenever I am going for him. The blood is easier to get rid of that way. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * *

I became a sort of sidekick. From time to time I would get the call. “Today’s job is finished. Can you come and get me.” That only meant one thing – he was injured. I have to accept that I was living precariously through him. I was of course concerned that he may get seriously wounded or get killed, but there was the thrill I experienced whenever I had to venture out sometime in the early hours to go get him from some out-of-the-way, back-of-nowhere place. I also learnt never to ask questions: I really didn’t want to know about the body count. I already felt like an accomplice in some gory unholy play.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * 

He is on the line.
“I work for the government.”
“Which one.”
“The state government.”
“Doing what you do.”
“Doing what I do.”
“OK.”
“The government is determined to clean up the state, you know.”
“How long have we known each other – 4, 5 months.”
“Yes.”
“How many of those incidents have you seen in the papers.” So I am sure he knew I have taken to buying papers looking for reports with possible links to his nightly outings. I thought I had just been missing the reports, but it now struck me that it was strange that hardly any of those nights made the papers. The few times there were references to some of the happenings, it usually sounded confused –  usually from people such as myself who appear to have been miraculously delivered from dangerous situations. Could he be telling the truth?

“I do free-lance. It is not because of the money.”
“Yes.” They say payback is a bitch. I guess he is on a revenge mission because of his dead wife.
“It was indeed for revenge when I started.” He caught me.
“But not anymore. Now it is something that needs to be done and I am doing it.” 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * *

The last call I got from him came like any of the others.
“I am going back.”
“U.S.”
“Yes. There is a woman. I am going with her.”
“Good.”
“Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” I will surely miss those random night trips. But good for him. If he is going back to the US with a wife (I found he was a stick in the mud prude such as myself so I am sure he has either married the lady or is going to) then he will put all the dangerous stuff behind him and settle down once again. I am still on my own.

And just before he signed off, “I have a friend.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * * * ** * * * * 

I had about settled into my new routine without his calls, when about 6 months later I got a post-card from a city in the US. For some reason, I didn’t even think of him as I opened the letter. I don’t think I have ever received a postcard before. The message on the card was simple, but it was obvious who it came from.

“There is a lot to do here. Pray.” The message was clear, he was back in action. And the “pray” was for me and my “issue.”

That same day, the phone ringing woke me up in the middle of the night. I turned on the bedside lamp, and took the call.

“Hello.”
“Today’s work is done. Can you come and get me.”

It wasn’t him.
I got my car keys.

19/08/2012

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4 Responses to Don’t go out tonight

  1. Titi says:

    Wonderful writing as always,I almost missed my train reading this this morning, thot it wud be just a few lines,but even when I realised it was mini book,knowing I might be late, I still continued reading. Ran all the 6 mins walk to the station, make- up bag in hand , face bare.( Did my makeup on the train.. ).
    A page turner in d making 🙂

  2. Yetty Fash says:

    Soooo, there’s a new ‘hunter’ in Lagos! you sure know how to keep someone on the edge of her seat. waow. clap clap clap

  3. aitayemi says:

    Thanks guys for leaving comments. It helps to show people actually read this stuff 🙂
    @Titi: glad I could help you get some exercise 🙂

  4. babafemi says:

    Can we have the before and after picture of the kitchen. Lol.

    Its always fun and relaxing reading your piece.

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