There are angels amongst us. They go about clad in the same flesh us normal people are trapped in, and have the same fluid running in their veins. You can see them everywhere. They are at school with your kids, they are buying in the market and the market seller is handing over bills from them to you as change. Better believe that! That counts for contact, so keep that bill properly!
They are in the banking hall sandwiched between you and the fat lady who’s been chewing and smacking that bubble gum with so much vehemence she ought to do it in the next Olympics. But the angel in front of you who is taking all the impact from the smacking doesn’t seem to mind. No, not one little bit. But you, you are no angel. You are angry. She should stop all that smacking, this is a bank for screaming out loud!
Angels can come in different packages. Some are men. Others simply come complete with curves and bumps, fore and aft, and in biological terms referred to as —women. Yeah, you heard that right.
There are angels that come in smaller packages. They are called children. Small sized packets of a nuisance, adorable, witty and at abnormal times handy.
Angels are an amazing creation of nature. Normal people who aren’t angels are normal people created by nature. By now folks may wonder where all of this talk about angels is going. Well, it isn’t going anywhere far off. Let’s just say for future reference that angels are everywhere around us. Now that’s reiterating a well-emphasized fact. Yeah, seeing as those of us who aren’t angels forget things too quickly, such emphasis is well deserved and needed from time to time.
You find the first set of angels at ATM stands
So right there, on a queue that wound from the gallery inside of the fence to the back of the fence and there you are in the sun, on the curb, where anything wrong can happen to you. From being run over by a drunk driver who ought to be locked up, or being spat on by one of those Street pigeons who like to do flybys over people’s heads. A whole lot of things can happen to you right there on the curb, with traffic so nearby and what with all these northern boys riding bikes as if they want to ride off into tomorrow before everyone else. Ehn?
Now, this fellow walks up to the queue, he looks nondescript in a khaki shirt and shorts —that reminded you of one Nigerian labour activist who later became a governor – wearing a flip-flop that suggests that he doesn’t live very far off.
He asks you, “Are you the last person, Sir?”
“No.” you say. You point out a couple of people sitting about. There’s the young boy with his back to the wall under the shade cast by the roof of the gatehouse, his earphones around his neck and a bored and pained look to cap everything up. Another woman sits on the hot curb by a parked Corolla, her face hidden under her head covering, the sun scorching her exposed arms. And the others too.
“Chai!” he says. “…And I just want to check my balance o.”
You want to tell him: Well, dude, you are a liar and a fraud.
Because you have watched this movie a dozen times and the script always followed a pretty much predictable pattern. But you shut up your mouth. You look at the dude with his beard like a Sheik’s own. Black, well trimmed and fresh and your conscience further suggest to you that silence was a better option in the circumstances. But you keep watching the bearded guy.
He walks up the queue, towards the machine. The place is quiet and you hear that sweet whrrrrrrr sound of money being counted and piled in the machine and the final shuck when that opening in the machine vomits the bills. He puts a tentative leg on the pavement and watches people get on and off. By your estimate, you are probably the number 20something on the line. That makes Mr. Smart guy up there with his leg on the pavement like someone about to start a sprint number 20what? Maybe 30, who knows?
Then you see the next person in the queue to get up there and take their cash is an old man. So old he could be 200 years. White hair, bent back, worse knees, and the wrinkles, so you thought they could never be real. But they are real. What could possibly not be real is what is about to happen before your eyes.
The khaki wearing dude is assisting Methuselah up the pavement and your sixth sense is screaming at you, yelling in your eardrums that that dude is an angel, oh you should have known, Gad! How could you not have known? How?!
“My boy please help me do it.”
The old man hands his ATM card over. The guy joyfully snatches it. The old man gladly tells him his pin:1234. Seriously? 1234?
The guy punches the buttons.
“Is it a current account sir?”
“Ok.” He does more punching.
“How much do you want to collect sir?”
“Em. . . 10,000 naira.”
Wow. The guy punches the amount in. The woman who lives in the machine says he should wait while she processes the transaction. He waits. The old man is waiting too. The machine whines. Meanwhile, Van Damme is getting praises from people on the queue for being an exemplary citizen. Accolades. For helping an old man. It’s alright. You shake your head and watch what would follow.
The machine spits the money in 500s. The guy takes it and gives it to Papa.
Papa begins to pray for him. In fact, he takes out a 500 naira note and slips it into the dude’s hand for all his trouble. He takes it, oh he takes it. As this exchange is going on Van Damme other hand is slipping his ATM card in the slot. He quickly announces that he only wants to check how much he’s got in his account. The other people on the queue say, “haba, you are free abeg, withdraw sef.”
He smiles apologetically.
Your knees go weak. It is finished.
Seconds later the ATM machine is making that money sound, preparing to go sick in the guys hand as it vomits bills.
Ah. Can you see life?
Can everyone see life?
He thanks everyone and pockets his money. The old man is all but forgotten. The shuffling poor old man who had been taken advantage of. He was only a pun in the game. As the guy walked past you on his way off to wherever, you almost reach out to grab his neck, so that you can twist his head so far around that he would be able to watch himself when he shits. But you can’t because he is an angel.
People like this have a heart. They are brave, always in the minority and almost always there to help old men and women and the infirmed. And they get their reward, don’t they?
So you patiently wait your turn in the hot sun since there is no other Methuselah on the queue in need of helping.
Much later you find yourself still in the sun and you are further about to discover another angel in human form. All this time you were in the queue to get your money just like we queue to get everything in this country, there was another angel on the line.
She joins you on the curb by the main road. She is beautiful, you notice. Who wouldn’t notice a beautiful lady in a tee-shirt with the logo of a bearded guy sitting exquisitely in front of it? Is she a part of the beard gang? Is she bearded or maybe her man is?
Her tight blue denim that followed the beard gang round neck shirt will make someone momentarily lose consciousness of the events of the day before you quickly pinch yourself back to reality. What an angel?
Your hand goes up and flags a bike just seconds before hers. You know that bike is yours, you called it first, but because the other lady isn’t just a lady, but she most definitely is one of those people we are talking about —angels, the Hausa Okada rider stops right before her feet.
She tells the Okada guy where she’s headed – Bodija. Isn’t that where you going too? Oh yeah, but in your annoyance for being discriminated against by this Okada guy and the apparent indifference of the fine lady, you have forgotten that you are here, on planet earth, by the roadside. Well, she may not have realized what had happened, that your hands went up before hers but the Okada guys sin is inexcusable. He saw you. He saw it. He saw your hand first. Nonsense.
“How much?” she asks.
“Ok.” She hops on.
Okada guy asks you if you are going that way. You give him the evil eye. He returns it with a blank stare.
“Bodija.” You say.
He asks the lady to get down so you could get on first. You wait for her to get down from the bike. Because that’s the custom here in the country, no lady wants to sit sandwiched between two men. Do you know the implications? The implications are huge, my friend.
What if she’s seated there right in the middle and as the ride progresses the bike experiences the woes of the Nigerian roads, with every bump in the road her breasts are pressed against the back of the rider or when the bike hits a pothole and everyone is thrown up she lands on your lap, how can you prove in court that you didn’t rape her on the bike? How?
So in that split second when you receive the invitation to join the ride all this thoughts fleet through your mind.
“Can you come down so I can sit first?” You ask.
You begin to explain your predicament.
“Oh, I understand.” She says. “please get on, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, don’t worry. Get on.”
So you pull up your trousers, your balls strain against the crotch as you raise your leg, you hope to God that she didn’t see the irresponsible thing. Seated behind her you are tempted to ask her if she is really serious and if she really knows what the heck she’s doing. But you don’t.
The ride commences. The Okada guy starts throttling like a madman. You love speed actually. You love the rush of the wind as it screeches past your ears. You love the way the street wheezes past like slides. It gives you the feeling that you are in flight. If it were night you would have stretched your hands out like an eagle and sing in your head,
“I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky. . .”
But this afternoon, you are going to behave yourself since there’s a lady hemmed between you and the mad rider. There will be no outstretched hands nor singing of any R.Kelly songs. Meanwhile, her butt is pressing against your crotch with every bump in the road and you are quite sure the Okada guy too is enjoying himself with compressed contact with boobs.
“Aboki, take it easy. There’s a lady here O.” you say.
But she shocks you again by saying: “Ah, no problem oh, I’m in a hurry sef.”
Seriously? Wow. Isn’t that something? Here’s a lady who is not irritated by the bodies of two men, front, and back. Here’s a woman who is comfortable with speed, who would probably spread her hands too and sing that she believes she can fly, and touch the sky, and soar.
Are we not blessed to have such a being walking amongst us?
The ride comes to a standstill at the traffic jam at Bodija, just before your stop and hers. She keeps glancing at her wristwatch. A gold imitation watch, you could not quite catch the name. But you know it is an imitation. Her phone rings in her pocket and she brings it to her left ear. Correct girl.
“Hello.” She says.
She listens for a bit and says again, “Ok, let’s have 300 shirts for the party. We start with that.”
She hangs up.
So she is also a business woman? Nice. Neyo’s Miss Independent begins to play in your head. The traffic begins to move. You spot a policewoman at the intersection where the problem of the world started. She is wagging her finger at a driver in a small brown and yellow taxi. The drivers mouth is twisting over tobacco stained teeth, probably cussing too. The policewoman finally waves the vehicles on your lane off. The okada guy throttles again and he is flying towards the Access Bank junction where you will get off.
You are checking for small bills to pay when the lady’s phone started crying once again.
“Where are you?” she inquires. She turns around and some dark skinned guy erupts from the crowd at the ATM place in the bank. As he walks towards you, you notice his enormous beard. And something else.
You know this dude.
He sees you too. He knows you, guy. Why, this is Tola, your guy from F.U.T.A days. He screams your name, your nickname that is.
And you scream his, “Tola!”
You both embrace and do the coded type of handshake that you did back in the days, you know, the fist bump and knuckle bump and then you repeat a second time before busting an imaginary firework in each other’s face. The beautiful lady all but forgotten in the encounter. But later you both come back to earth. He looks at the lady and at you, you do the same.
“Where did you meet her?” He asks you.
She asks both of you, “Whats happening, how did you both know each other?”
The troublesome side of you wants to tell him she is your new girlfriend but since you had just met her and didn’t think it was an appropriate joke in the circumstances you behave yourself again. She quickly summarizes the encounter that brought the three of you together.
“So what are you doing in Ibadan?” you ask.
He tells you it is business. You ask what he is doing with so much facial hair, reminding him that he used to be a clean-shaven geek in the university. He smiles and tells you it is still business. He turns to the beautiful lady and says, “I have the cash, we are good.”
You want to ask, good for what, but is it your business? No. Should you mind your business? Yes. So you take your own advice. But you are a Nigerian whose ingenuity at extracting information is matchless. You can pretend you do not want to know something, but say something that would put the other person under a moral obligation to fill you in. So you say.
“Me too, I want to do business oh, this one that you are cashing money upandan now.”
Your friend laughs and the beautiful girl joins in. She even has a dimple that shows every time her cheeks creases. Hm, she’s cute. You refuse to look too long so your friend would not think you have not changed your philandering ways. But God knows you have stopped all those rubbish, ever since you met your babe, Pat.
“Let’s go somewhere and talk now, hafa.” He finally says.
“Oya, I know a place not very far from here.” In fact, you can see the place from here you say. You point at a small restaurant just opposite the market. The three of you start walking and catching up. You are itching to ask him about the girl, is she your babe, what is this suspense about? Or she is a business partner?
What are you people selling by the way? That was when you notice he is also wearing the same Tee-shirt as the babe. The only difference is his own is dark brown. The lady’s shirt is white.
There’s a large ideogram on it of a man’s face, the beard very obvious. You wonder if the business had something to do with the ideogram. It better not, you tell yourself, are they selling beards or what, what sort of business had anything to do with beards? You tell yourself that you surely were not going to have anything to do with it. It wasn’t a serious business if it involved beards.
Beard Gang Or Not?
But something happens at the restaurant that sent your mind backtracking on your decision about beard. When you stepped into the restaurant, the place was crowded. There were fat bellied commuter drivers everywhere, their huge stomachs pushing against everyone around them. Too much red meat, you figure. There were bankers too. You could tell them from the other people, their soft skin, skin that has been conditioned by constant exposure to the cool air in the banks; neatly shaped beards and crisp too.
They always wore expensive shoes and wristwatches. They were there with their plates standing in front of the woman who served the amala. The cooler was billowing steam in front of her. There was a queue again. You are tired of queuing, for Gods sakes.