The Alhaji speaks
I hated being called Sammy. As far as I was concerned, making my name more Americana was one of the other things wrong with Nigeria and I intended to fix things one at a time. I glanced at the now unconscious Modinat and seethed. She was another problem that needed fixing. Why she chose to make things so difficult baffled me. This wasn’t the plan. She must have known I hadn’t been joking when I swore that I would be president one day and Modinat would be my first lady. I couldn’t help smiling as I remembered the first time she served me eba and efo at her mother’s mama put. She wasn’t like the others. Her air of superiority went beyond the fact that her mother owned the joint. Afterall the joint wasn’t much to speak of. There was a wooden bench and one table that creaked constantly. They had been made by Baba Risikat and they constituted the entire furnishings of the open, road-side canteen her mother operated. Her mum or Alhaja as she was fondly called, had never been to Mecca but swore to be the most devout Muslim in Mushin and to prove this, she often interrupted her cooking to pray by the side of the road and often times choked her customers with the acrid smoke emitting from her kerosene stove as she insisted on cooking on the only table in the canteen in plain sight so that no one would accuse her of using ‘shan-idi’, a form of ritual performed by women who owned food joints whereby they attracted customers by washing their privates into the pot of soup along with some incantations. Her customers- ten or so, who constituted the local mechanics, agberos and traders swore by her delicious meals and ignored the cracks in customer service and the lung cancer prone atmosphere.
I was one of those customers and Modinat’s shakara was one of the things I loved the most about her. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the neighborhood, Sikirat was but since every man had had his feel of Siki’s secret places, there wasnt any thrill to be sought pursuing the worldly wise beauty. Modinat on the other hand was protected by her mother and it was rumored that no one had seen her pant or even felt her ripe melons. That thought made me wild with desire but she hadn’t given me the time of day. She had laughed at me, scorned me, thrown dirty water at me, called me her mumu, even spent my money indiscriminately but I had loved her even more. When I approached Alhaja for her permission, she had told me without mincing words that her Alfa had seen in a vision that Modi would be married to a rich and influential Alhaji. Well not all of the vision was wrong, the dude must have seen Modi in a man’s bed and interpreted it as a legal union. Thank God her mother wasn’t alive to see her only child become not just an Alhaji’s favourite plaything but a Christian too. I felt a bitter taste in my throat as I said the word Christian out loud. She wasn’t a real Christian jare, she just had a penchant for the more fashionable paths in life. I couldn’t help sighing. I had sold my father’s house after his death much to the chagrin of my younger siblings and ageing mother but I had always been headstrong and I needed to become an Alhaji. I had solemnly promised them to buy them a bigger, better house when I returned from Mecca only leaving them with enough money to sustain them till my return. My trip to Mecca was bittersweet. I had spent my family’s inheritance but was certain that it was a small price to pay to have Modi at my side. Together we would be untouchable. I learnt 3 hard facts in Mecca. 1) The streets of Mecca were not paved with gold and becoming an Alhaji was not the end of poverty. 2) Allah expected me to be a man of honour and honour could be defined in different ways. I learnt more about honor when a nice Muslim brother also on pilgrimage introduced me to the Al Waheel. A secret group of politically-inclined zealots. I bought into their beliefs and was offered many rewards if I prepared a band of devout Muslims and kept them on standby for the day of Allah. 3) Life continues after the pilgrimage. I returned to Mushin as a more pensive man. Working in Baba Sikirat’s shed was no longer enough. Modi was still unattainable and even more distant. Worst of all, I hated the stench of poverty and the constant look of disappointment my family had in their eyes. They tried hard to mask it but it was there in the barely audible midnight sobs coming from mama’s room. I saw it every time my little sister and brother took their bowls out to beg. As good Muslims we were entitled to alms but I wanted so much more. I grew bitter as the young boys who hailed me with admiration when I first returned from pilgrimage began to have a mocking tone in their voices when they called me Alhaji. I grew so bitter. God seemed so far away. Biting poverty was my reality and when finally Modinat started giving her attention to a big man who had moved to our area despite the rumors that he was a Christian and married with kids, I finally lost hope.
During this time Modinat’s mother passed away after a brief illness and I rushed to give her succor but my plenty words, loud sobs and fifty naira contribution paled in comparison to the efforts of her love interest who bore all the burial expenses. Even though no bride price had been paid, Modinat moved into his house and a few months after they moved to an undisclosed part of town. That was the last I saw of her for the next 5 years. I contemplated suicide many times. My family saw my grief and tried to be strong for me. My mother even tried to get me a wife but bride-prices were too steep. I didn’t have eyes for any woman anyway. What little money I had, I spent on paraga and ciga and it was on one of those days spent drowning myself in alcohol in a bid to embrace the calming sea of forgetfulness that I met Chukwudi. Everybody knows a Chukwudi, one of those men who never seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere, have no visible means of income but yet too much money to throw around. He was good looking and he was ready to listen and after buying me another bottle, I was ready to talk. Hours later, I had made my first true friend. Chukwudi or Chuks said 3 very important things to me that day. 1)Forget Modinat 2)It is your responsibility to provide for you and your family no matter what it takes 3) No one will think any good about you till you start thinking good things about yourself. I loved Chuks. That day he changed my life and saved me from the path of destruction. He also got me a job in a barber’s shop. The pay was far more than I had ever made and strangely enough my duties were to count money and divide it into 6 parts equally and oh boy, I counted more money in a day at that barber’s shop in Mushin than a bank tellar counts in a week. It took a while for me to realise it didn’t add up. We had 2-3 customers a day and each paid 100 naira for a hair cut but everyday at 5pm I’d be asked to count wads of money and divide them under Ganiyu’s piercing gaze and as I finished, I’d be asked to go home. I usually met Chuks right outside the shop, we would exchange pleasantries and then he and 4 others would enter the shop as I exited. Ganiyu seemed to be the boss at least I knew he owned the barber’s shop and paid my wages. I just assumed he had other businesses. I led a simple life, had attended school at the mosque and learnt to read the Koran and count earlier in life and hence I was an asset to them. I had also learned to barb hair though Ganiyu had never asked me to assist. He wasn’t very friendly but I was content with my solitude.
My life changed the day police men raided Ganiyu’s shop. I had walked a distance from the shop when they drove past me in a frenzy. One of them jumped off the van and arrested me. I was so shocked and even more shocked when in a few minutes they had rounded up everybody and were calling us armed robbery suspects. I tried to explain to them that I was a decent, honest man and could vouch for my friends too but the others were strangely silent. I resigned myself to fate as I chanted prayer after prayer under my breath. Two hours later, we were released and asked to enter 2 jeeps and driven to a house somewhere in Ikeja. That was the day I met Sergeant Deefak. That wasn’t his real name of course but it was what we would be calling him. He said he had heard about the incidence and hated to see the police waste the lives of 6 young men and so he had bailed us out. He offered us expensive wine and I refused but when two men came in with steaming hot pounded yam and egusi soup with the pieces of meat forming stiff peaks in the soup, my stomach growled and I gave in. We were recruited to the Save Nigeria group that day. Our monthly pay was more than I had ever heard someone pronounce as salary and the fact that we would be trained for free and have flexible working hours and sometimes travel out of the country made me burst into song in praise of Allah. We were given 50 thousand naira each and told that we would be summoned in a week’s time. On our way back to Mushin, Chuks and I chatted nonstop. We were so excited. Chuks admitted to me that they really had been armed robbers before, though not by choice. They had done it only to survive and it seemed like God had decided to be merciful towards us. Even Ganiyu seemed more relaxed. My family couldn’t understand my sudden good fortune but were too relieved to ask too many questions. Training started in earnest a week after. We were separated and tutored based on our natural strengths. I was made to study the Koran and the Bible in-depth and taught Arabic and Proper English. I was given advanced classes in mathematics and then taught the ancient arts of war. After 8 months of vigorous training, I was given the code name the Alhaji and could conceal a dagger anywhere on my person without detection, I could also end a man’s life in a second and could turn any sharp object even a simple pen into the most deadly weapon. I had been trained by 3 Syrians, a Filipino and 2 masked men whose accents were decidedly middle Eastern. On the day of my freedom as it was called, I met up with my other brothers and 14 other people. We were 20 in all, 8 females were part of the group. We were made to take a pledge and as we stood at attention, I made a mental note to follow the pledge to the letter afterall this group had saved my life.
“I, Samsudeen Taiwo today becomes one of the life forces of the Save Nigeria Group.
I solemnly swear to use my skill and the opportunities given to me to rid Nigeria of all that is polluted and corrupt and dirty in the land.
I promise to eradicate without mercy any one who stands in the way of progress and protect with my life those who are the future of this great nation.
I will live as a warrior of the SNG and die as a hero of my beloved country.
I will serve, obey, protect and annihilate.
So help me God”
We were discharged and given a package. Each package contained a cheque book with already signed cheques that we were to cash in at intervals. New passports and an I.D card that showed we worked for the Lagos state government. We were also given brand new cars and instructed that unmarked cars would be provided for any operation we would undertake. With the money, I relocated my family to Surulere, put my younger ones in school and got my ailing mother some much needed medical attention. I practised every day and every night in the privacy of my room. I could throw a dagger across the room and kill a cockroach with it. I waited and waited for my first assignment. One afternoon, a beggar walked up to my door and began to beg for alms with the usual song as he held out his bowl. I was about to shut the door after giving him ten naira when he started a soft stream of Arabic. I listened and my eyes grew wide like saucers. It was my mission. I listened intently, nodding intermittently. Then he pointed at his bowl and I noticed for the first time that there was an object in the bowl. I picked it up and identified it as a car key and then the beggar was gone. Ten minutes later Chuks was at my place. We had been paired up for this mission. The car for our use was parked across my house as expected and in it was a brown envelope that had names and pictures. One picture in particular gave me mixed feelings. I couldn’t believe I was looking at Modinat. She had grown really beautiful but she looked older than her age and had a very sophisticated look about her. She was listed as my target’s mistress. I hoped my target was the wretched man that had stolen her from me years ago but alas it was another. A man who looked to be in his sixties. He looked vaguely familiar and I remembered I had seen him briefly on television before changing the channel. The man had been talking about corruption in the society but from what I could see in the brown envelope this man was the embodiment of corruption. I felt a deep hatred for this man. One of his many heinous crimes was misappropriating funds the government had set aside to help empower the masses. This fool fed himself fat on the suffering of Nigeria and the Alhaji was going to fix this but first of all I had to fix her. I brought out my daggers and laid them out on the table from the longest to the shortest. I had asked Chuks to give me a minute. I would need even less. As I picked up a short dagger with a beautifully carved handle, I heard a soft cry and the last thing I saw were the cracked grey walls swimming before my eyes…
…………..To be continued………………