The growling lyrics of ancient generators grew louder as my feet dragged on the black gravel along Douglas Avenue. The evening wasn’t promising, the damp sky hid the moon and the stars were barely seen. I blanketed my soul in a cold smile, and then a painful frown. Somehow, I was glad I could hide the shame I bore under the nightly shadows. Tomorrow again, I would force on a smile like an enchanted toy and greet the neighbors in synthetic glee.
I knew and it hurt, that my dear nation had nothing of worth to offer me. A young muscular man who three years ago wore the mortarboard hat and had raised his fist in victory over the educational system, but would still live obscurely without a job. I knew and it hurt, it was bound to happen, my nation couldn’t care less because my origin in no way connected to the white agbada-wearing chiefs that are driven around in black SUVs.
As I walked, screams from the generators jarred in my ears. Occasionally, the nearby ones spewed fumes into my eyes, nose, and mouth. I often felt for the poor generating sets that were saddled every night to offer what the leadership couldn’t. You’d hear one squeal and squeak above the incoherent rhythm of others because it had been a while a repairer greeted it. The shops and families that had them are nevertheless considered lucky, you had to make substantial income to manage the loud money-sucking beasts.
Soon enough, I arrived at the tarred road and made my way up the road leading to Elvington Stores. The big supermarket often offered me the dinner that suited my peasant budget — buns and a can of coke.
“Ah, thank God!”, I gasped after clinching the two hundred naira that I for a moment thought had fallen off.
Aside from the twitching street lights and fortunate households along the road, everywhere else was pitch dark. Approaching the store, I noticed a pacing figure two poles away. I felt my adrenaline pump but calmed again as the figure appeared feminine. I guessed she sighted me because she waved frantically at me. I hesitated and then walked towards her.
“Good evening sir”, she greeted.
Momentarily, I was struck by her tiny voice and as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I saw her finely cut face.
“Good evening”, I replied. “What could she be doing outside by this time in the evening?”, I asked myself.
“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Ellie. The car I came here with broke down and I can’t call my dad because he’d be mad at me for staying out late. I can’t leave the car here too and I need to get home as soon as possible. If you know any vehicle repairer around, you can help me call him please…” She blurted out these words so fast that I wondered if she had them memorized.
Despite initial reservations, my hands found their way to my old automobile revival skill. In less than an hour, her feet throbbed on the accelerator and it responded in a lively roar. She entangled me in a joyful embrace and poured her thanks. I saw that she was young, too young to be outside by this time.
Looking up to the store, my dinner paradise, I saw that it was locked already and I howled in dismay.
“What is the problem sir”, she queried.
“Nothing much, I had wanted to buy something over there but they’re locked now”.
She gasped and offered that I ride with her up the road to another shop that has a reputation for late nights. She promised to ride me back and I obliged, but that night was designed by fate. We rode beyond the store and her house, and back. She was slightly tipsy and wanted to feel more of the air. I rode with her, the jovial jokes she told hastened the evaporation of my troubles for a while. I resisted taking the money she offered as I dropped her off in front of an imposing iron gate, I took her number instead.
Weeks later, we had spent some time together and our fondness for each other surmounted. I found her pretty, brilliant, and comely and she found me handsome, humble, and funny. Little wonder we bounded and went on a date, entirely sponsored by her. She was connected to a white agbada-wearing chief and never wanted me to worry about money.
Well, not until she wore the diamond matinee necklace to a dinner we had one time. When she walked in that evening, wearing an attractively red cocktail gown and adorning the breathtaking halo-shaped diamond necklace, I lost my natural ability to breathe.
“It was a gift my dad gave my mom when he engaged her. My mother gave it to me and she says it’d help me find love. Can you believe that?”, she said giggling when I complemented the beauty of her jewelry.
Why yes I did. The glittering jewelry made me fall in love with her at that moment. I could not take my eyes off her, and she blushed repeatedly as she thought I was admiring her. After a fun evening, we took memorable photos together and I went home content — with the pictures.
That night, under the surveillance of a red candle I and my roommate Edward scrutinized the jewelry as we watched the photos. We saw no lady, took no notice of the gown but we saw an object that could makes us millionaires in hours.
“She comes from a rich home and they won’t feel the loss of a couple of millions” Edward countered when I raised objections. That night, under the surveillance of a red candle, we drew the map to our millions hanging on the neck of a rich man’s daughter.
A week later, during the rainy nights of August, we hatched our master plan. Ellie and I left a renowned bar laughing, the time was 11:24 pm. She wore the jewelry as I begged her to.
“Baby, I want to pee,” she said, tapping my shoulder as we walked to the car.
I suggested that we went back inside but she declined and opted for a nearby enclosure, much to my delight. As she squatted for her business, the masked men charged at her and she yelled for help. I strode towards the scene and blindly took on the attackers. In less than a minute I curled on the ground in pain, my lips were split and my left eye was temporarily shut. Ellie bent over me in tears and I smiled in joyous pain, her neck was bare.
Within the weekend, Ellie and I celebrated our survival while Edward and I celebrated our win. Edward told me he had discovered a buyer that would buy the jewelry for over eight million naira. We split the expected proceeds as four million to me, three million to Edward, and a million for the boys. We scheduled the sale for the next weekend.
Unfortunately for us, our dark conquest did not last. The buyer that Edward discovered was a friend to Ellie’s father. He instantly recognized the piece and when Edward couldn’t defend its origin, we were captured and locked up.
Ellie came again, this time to my cell and she cried. I looked up at her, recollecting the image of what I’ve become, I smiled in pain, my future was bleak.
Mbam Chukwuemeka can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org