Mama Kokwe said the blood that flowed in Agbero’s blood was a potpourri of cannabis, tramadol and tobacco and the scent that emanates from his armpits was worse than the stench of a cesspool. Agbero was not a bad guy but he was unfortunate to have met me. Perchance, Agbero would have been some “Jamal”, “Richard” or even “Bankioluwa”, if his quick-to-impress mother had not abandoned her sales of ‘Bebe-okwu’, “Skirt’’, “Opa Eyin” and the other liquor she sold, to become Beske’s fourth Baby-Mama. Beske, a notorious lout was infamous for everything thuggery until his rugged life was cut short by an Army raid at Ojuwoye market. He died by the merciless rifles of a military troop who came to calm the unrest in the area. The meagre asset he left behind would sustain his large family of 15 people, living in a single-bedroom apartment for a month or two. Hard-ass Agbero learnt to survive amidst his large family and the ghetto area of his birth.
“Your mixture is ready.” Iya Dongoyaro called out to Agbero as she extended her overly bleached right hand towards the towering street urchin with a pot belly.
“How many shots of Jedi dey there?” Agbero’s distorted lips were raised in doubtful interrogation. Iya Dongoyaro had the habit of selling less than she was asked to, in a bid to make more money.
“I no fit lie for you. Wallahi, it’s two shots!” She placed the tip of her index finger on her tongue and raised it to the sky, an act common among the locals to show that one is not lying.
“Na so you go dey call God name dey lie. I no dey pay for this one!” Agbero retorted and in a flash, he gulped the hot liquid down his throat.
“Ehn, kojo!” Iya Dongoyaro grabbed Agbero’s faded T-shirt in defiance as she demanded for her pay. His belly popped up and down as she waggled him and rained abuses on his ancestors. The spirit of his ancestors must have shrieked at her high croaky voice. Agbero’s friends and a few by-standers made an attempt to loosen Iya Dongoyaro’s grip on him but she was adamant. The sun smiled wickedly at the fighters as it was past noon. Agbero’s gold-tinted hair was dripping sweat and Iya Dongoyaro cared less that the stinking drops fell on her blushed skin.
“Wham!” The resounding slap that landed on her face afterwards knocked Iya Dongoyaro out.
There was pandemonium! Igboro, the driver of the bus that Agbero was its conductor, rushed to a close by vulcanizer and scooped a bowl of contaminated water to sprinkle on the older woman’s face. Iya Dongoyaro spent days at the public health centre; days that preceded the news that she had breast cancer. To her well-wishers, Agbero was the cause of her ailment and Agbero has taken up her after care since then.
I grew up eating from the same bowl of flies with Agbero. When our mothers dropped our enormous bowls of Garri with sugar and countable groundnuts on the burial ground of Alhaja Kubura, they never minded that we crunched a few houseflies with the local cereal. All they needed to see was our protruded belly and then comes the question, “se o ti yo?”; their own way of ascertaining if we were filled. But who will argue that we were not when our protruded belly was saying otherwise? After having our fill, Agbero and I would run to Mummy Chidera’s compound where her daughters were breaking ekuro, and we will join them in the tedious task as we throw some of the hard nuts in our mouths. I was not cut out for the ghetto life as I always ended up with a cough after chewing the nuts but Agbero never felt sick. No one ever saw him cry. Mama Kokwe had once told my mum when she came to have her nails painted that Agbero did not cry when his mother birthed him. It was said that when he refused to make a sound, his father landed a slap on his flappy buttocks and exclaimed in Yoruba to his mother, “Did you birth an Agbero?” In such a manner, his father named him even before his Sunna. The Islamic Cleric named him Suleiman but to avoid being called Sule, ( a name that had become an insult), he adopted Agbero and that was what everyone called him.
The Junior Secondary Certificate Examination was a few days before we got the news that Beske had been shot to death. Agbero did not blink an eye when he heard of his father’s death and even when he was the smartest boy in class, his father’s death ended his formal education. My mother wanted me to leave ghetto life behind so, anytime she attached artificial nails for her rich customers, she would put my career forward, in a bid to find a sponsor. That way my education was secure and I even got admitted into a polytechnic to study Secretarial Studies. Luckily I was able to get a job at the State Secretariat in Alausa. Agbero on the other hand, completed his apprenticeship as a mechanic but ended up as a bus conductor. I came back to the slum as a politician and I had only one mission; to pick Agbero from the gutters and to introduce him to the elite world.
“Omokomo! Ehn, is this you?” Agbero greeted me cheerfully, throwing his greased stained body over my white flowing agbada. One of my bodyguards moved to shove him aside and Agbero started displaying his punches, prancing like a gazelle and eulogizing himself. I smiled as I recalled our childhood. He was the audacious one and would take up a difficult task or face a serious punishment while we were wetting our panties in fear. I recall Mr. Keshinro, the Introductory Science teacher in JS three. He always gave challenging and demanding projects that required creativity and spending quite some money but Agbero always topped the projects with his creativity. Once, he told us to create a make-believe grinding mill and many of us had to buy most of the materials to complete the task. Those who could not afford to buy any material came back to school to be punished but Agbero was not to be punished. He completed the project without buying anything. He used mostly cartons and for the belt to connect the engines, he used his mother’s bra strap. No one would have noticed it if Agbero himself had not mentioned it in front of the whole class in defence of those who did not do their project. He argued that not everyone was opportune to have access to their school needs and this singular act earned him respect among his peers.
“Agbero, Omo Iya Onisepe!” I teased my friend till he shone his eclectic-coloured teeth. Tobacco has not done his teeth much good. His once dark smooth face has been replaced with premature wrinkles which resulted more from distorting his face during street fights. On the right of his cheek was a long scar, engraved in his flesh like the writings on a plaque and one could easily guess it was a tear from a bottle street fight.
“Omo Iya, It’s your time to shine!” I told Agbero with a beam of hope.
“Ah, Omo Iya mi, bless me!” He kept on prancing like a fencer and it was difficult to have a serious conversation with him.
“I’m a politician now and I want you to work in my ward.”
“Ah, what do you want me to do for you?”
I could sense his eagerness to work for me and it was not because I was rich but this unfortunate lad could give his life for a friend. I began to doubt my intentions towards Agbero. When I joined the Retro-Progressive Party, Honorable Fijabi had particularly told me that I needed a security system that would protect my interest. This system was different from the police force or the military or even an organized security group. It had to be an unstructured group that would not follow the rules. I always loved to surround myself with trusted allies and only one person came to my mind to head the unstructured security personnel– Agbero, hence why I came back to the slum.
“Ha, I didn’t finish school o but I will not disappoint you.” Agbero stood at attention and made a saluting pose as would a subordinate to his boss.
“Bole n be, Omo iya!” I cautioned Agbero for he was inciting in me a feeling of embarrassment or perhaps, guilt!
The drive to Akomoleru was a short one but the journey seemed so long. I tried to explain to Agbero the kind of job he was expected to do but words failed me. I kept asking after every member of his family while he waited for me to explain the duties expected of him. I could not bring myself to betray someone who called me Omo Iya, the son of his own mother. So, I lied! I lied that he was my personal assistant for special duties and the joy that brightened Agbero’s face shredded my heart to pieces.
“Baloo!” Agbero called me my childhood nickname, a name which stemmed from my surname, Balogun. “Thanks so much! I’ll never forget your act of kindness.”
When I showed Agbero his two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Surulere, he stood still for minutes thinking of his fortune. Then I told him his office was his home too and the confusion on his face was expected.
“What am I supposed to do? “He asked for the umpteenth time. He was already getting suspicious of my sudden kindness but his faith in me displaced his fears.
The elections were drawing near. We kept on having various meetings and Agbero would accompany me to most of them. I started noticing the change in him the day we went to see the Chairman of Olomoyoyo Local Government. Vying for the position of a member of the House of Assembly, I needed to be assured of my victory in certain local governments. Honorable Ninalowo, the chairman asked for a private chat and I asked Agbero to wait at the reception for me, a decision I regret now. Agbero met Grace and the pretty young secretary transformed him in a few days. She did not accept his advances but my friend was smitten by her appearance. He started wearing his shirts with tie and converted his dyed dreads to a low cut. The day came that I was to inform him that he would join a cult that would teach him the skill of thuggery. Then, he would become a gang leader of my Mafia group.
“Baloo, you don make me fall in love.” He sang a popular song we used to listen to in the shanties as he swung his arms in a rapping form. I did not smile at his joy and he noticed.
“What’s the matter?” Agbero asked innocently.
“The real work starts today. There is no time for love till after the elections.” I could read from his sullen looks that he was in no mood for work.
“We need to meet the security operatives you would be heading today!” My tone was final and Agbero followed me innocently.
Agbero was initiated into the Axe cult without his consent. He lost his front tooth in the process of initiation and was in pain for days. His face had lost the colours I used to see in the past few days before the initiation. Now, he was just a bulldog that have to follow orders. For the first time during the initiation, Agbero killed a man and I liked it. My men made him do it. This is the only way to toughen him to do the job he was prepared to do. Grace had begun to like him and was always looking out for him each time she saw me at the Chairman’s office but Agbero had lost every humanity in him and he avoided Grace.
On the day of the Election, Agbero’s assignment was simple. He and his gang of thugs were to machete anyone who came to vote for the opposition party. Devoid of emotions, Agbero kept at his job meticulously until he came to the polling unit where Grace had come to vote. Shocked at seeing Grace again and how she made him feel special, he tried to conceal his agenda and the boys working with him got confused. One of them called me to inform me of Agbero’s sudden passiveness and I drove to the unit to admonish him myself. When I arrived there, a gory sight awaited me. One of the boys had attempted to cause mayhem when the people who had heard the notorious reports about this gang attacked them with sticks and different kinds of objects. Agbero tried to calm them feigning to be a security operative when someone pointed out that he was the head of the gang.
Agbero was breathing his last, his head on Grace’s laps. I looked into Agbero’s eyes and he struggled to mutter these words to me in Yoruba.
“OMO IYA, I AM JUST A GHETTO BOY. NOT A THUG!”