See Chapter 1 HERE
President Jonathan was not helping himself. Barely a month from the Presidential elections and the entire nation was in uproar; terrorists still slaying, prices shooting higher, and fuel was nowhere to be found. The opposition party was having a party, dancing on the crumbling face of the President’s second tenure ambition. And as if things weren’t bad enough, his wife was on a roll to ruin. Her latest gaffe was at a gathering of elders, elite and commoners. “After everything my husband has done for you people,” she had bellowed, “the court is now in your balls.”
Just then in the studio of Wazobia 99.1FM, two presenters replayed the clip and guffawed all over again. Their guest could be heard laughing in the background too. But seated in his car on Eko bridge, Philip was not amused.
Hissing, he flicked the radio switch a couple of times and then turned it off. The amber light on his dashboard drew his eyes again; if he did not find some fuel soon, chances were he wouldn’t be returning to the mainland tonight in his car. Already he had put off the AC to save fuel, the two front windows were wound halfway down to let some of the late afternoon breeze in. Having just left his client’s, he was not expected back at the office today so he was ready to queue for however long it would take to buy fuel. But where?
Every station along Ahmadu Bello road was closed. Philip circled around, then made his way to Adeola Odeku through Sanusi Fafunwa; still no fuel. On a whim, he swung into Obalende and all of a sudden, right before him was a filling station, selling fuel. It had just opened, so the queue was only about half a dozen cars long. Philip wheeled himself into position at the end of the short line and waited; he half-expected it to be a fluke. After a few minutes, the driver at the pumps exchanged some money with the pump attendant, got in his car and drove off, and the next car pulled in. There was fuel after all. Philip started to relax.
He sat back, turned off his ignition and looked around. School children in uniforms soiled from a day’s wear trekked home in small groups; a girl with a tray-load of Agege bread slowly passed by, her street-smart eyes lingered on the line of queuing motorists, hoping to make a sale; a few yards down the road, two men in full lawyer garb exited the High court gates, got into a waiting car and zoomed off. The memories of his experience at the High court two weeks earlier came to Philip; how he had been directed to the law firm next door only to be faced with that sniveling intern bent on extorting him; how the tall, slim lawyer lady had saved the day. He would never have admitted it at the time, but she had done just that – saved the day. Philip thought of her thin legs and how elegant they had looked crossed over each other as she sat with him in the lobby. He thought of her long neck and the way her tousled hair curtained it from behind when she looked up at him with serious questions. He thought of the playful glint that bounced in and out of her eyes, and how her sharp chin had angled up at him with the question, “not even a thank you, sir?”
A hoot from the vehicle behind jolted Philip out of his daydreaming. Waving his left hand through the open window in apology, he started the ignition and crawled over the space created by the moving queue ahead of him. He was now third in line; with a frown, Philip noted a film of dust on his dashboard courtesy of the open-windowed ride all the way from Iponri. Removing his car-rag from the pigeon hole, he started dusting the dashboard.
He heard it before he saw it. The rich baritone drone of a well-oiled engine filled the interior of his car; it reverberated all around him, making the Honda’s dashboard quiver lightly. The motorbike streaked past him in a flash of black and white and screeched to a halt beside the Lexus Jeep in front of Philip. While the rider conversed with the Lexus driver, Philip observed that the motorbike was the 2014 US ADV Suzuki Sports model. It was a smaller and lighter model than the ones used commercially as okada, yet the engine revved like a power-bike. Whoever the rider was, Philip was impressed by him – he knew how to care for an engine.
The rider alighted and rolled the bike forward to stand just in front of the fuel pump. Not until he unscrewed the lid of his fuel tank did Philip realize what was happening: the Lexus just let the rider jump the queue. Oh no, you don’t!
Philip slammed his car door so loud that the helmet-clad head of the rider spun around to face him as he approached. His anger must have been evident in his gait because the rider moved, putting the bike between himself and the approaching man. Philip ignored him and addressed the man behind the wheel of the Lexus.
“Excuse me?” He pointed with his thumb, at the motorbike, “what are you doing?”
The man in the car was elderly. The sprinkles of grey on his head and chin put his years between fifty and sixty, but the well-trimmed side-burns, beard and dyed hair spoke of valiant attempts to appear younger. He turned shaded eyes to Philip and smiled slowly. “What?” he drawled through his nose.
“You just let him into the queue from nowhere. What do you take the rest of us lined up here for?”
The man turned his neck slowly for a look, as if he needed to see to confirm that there were indeed cars lined up behind him. “My boy,” he addressed Philip, “relax. It is just a motorcycle and she will soon be done. Sho’ti gbo?”
Boy? She? What she? A cough from the general direction of the fuel pump behind him drew Philip’s attention, and a strangely familiar feminine voice spoke. “Um, excuse me?”
Philip spun around, and for one second, he forgot the rebuke he had been about to spit out. It was a she alright, the rider had taken off her helmet and it was a she. Not just any she; the same she from the law firm two weeks earlier – the lawyer lady with her thin legs, tousled hair and playful eyes was standing behind the motorbike, looking out of sorts and at home at the same time in her rider’s leather apparel. She seemed to have recognized him too because her mouth formed a surprised ‘O’ and that glint flashed in her eyes again. Philip gathered himself quickly. “Yes?” he arched an eyebrow.
“Oh, you know … never mind. I’ll ummm … wait.” She craned her neck to address the man in the Lexus, “don’t worry, sir –“
“No no no,” the man interrupted, each ‘no’ punctuated with a swing of his head. “You will fetch your fuel.” He heaved himself out of the jeep in a flurry of white lace agbada. “Hello,” he addressed the pump attendant, “fuel this fine girl’s motorcycle. Now.” And he turned to Philip with his disaffected nasal accent. “What is your problem, young man?”
“What? My problem?” Philip felt his neck grow hot and fought the urge to loosen his collar button. “People are lined up here patiently waiting their turn, you let her in ahead of all of us, and you’re asking what my problem is?”
“Enhen? Yes, that was – is – was my question. What is your problem?” He said the last sentence in a singsong manner, bobbing his head from side to side with every intoned word. The man was as tall as the breast pocket on Philip’s suit yet in a manner Philip hadn’t known was physically possible, he was thumping his nose at him.
Philip threw up his hands. “Unbelievable. As a matter of –“
“My friend, keep quiet.” He wagged a stubby ringed finger under Philip’s nose. “The problem is that you young men have no respect anymore. And you don’t know how to treat ladies. Will it kill you if she fetches ordinary ten litres inside her okada?”
Philip regarded the man incredulously. “You. Have. To. Be. Kidding!”
“Sir, please – “ the lawyer lady tried again but Baba Rich-and-Famous wouldn’t hear of it. He waved her protests away with his right hand, and with the other gathered the swaying material of his agbada onto his left shoulder. He perambulated all over the tiny space between the fuel pump and his Jeep, firing off curses and reprimands in English-sprinkled Yoruba.
For a moment, Philip thought he looked like a fat toddler hiding from someone by burying itself beneath layers of cloth, but even the mental image could not rouse any laughter from him. His anger had sizzled into incredulity and now as the remnants of it ebbed like dying waves, all he felt was exhaustion. Philip looked from the man to the lady who studiously avoided his eyes – her bike by now had already been filled by the attendant – and back to the man. “Suit yourself,” he muttered and retreated to his vehicle. He was next in line anyway.
By the time Philip pulled his car up alongside the fuel pump, he was relatively calm. He hadn’t even seen in which directions the Lexus man and lawyer lady had gone, he figured they were well-suited for each other. After filling the tank and the reserve jerry can in his trunk, he put his four hundred and fifty naira change into his wallet and made for the station exit. He was nearly at the road when from nowhere, a motorcycle screeched to a stop in front of his car.
Philip stomped on his brakes. “What the –“ he halted mid-swear when he recognized the motorcycle. And the long thin limbs of the rider. The lawyer lady removed her helmet and dropped it on the bike seat. She sidled up to his side of the car, bent over and tapped on his window. The guts!
“Do you want to die?”
Philip’s voice was intentionally calm and his words measured as he asked the question. She smiled, and that playful glint flashed annoyingly in her eyes.
“No. I just wanted to apologize to you.”
Philip stared into her eyes and repeated through gritted teeth, “I asked, do you want to die?”
She did not smile this time. “Listen,” she placed a gloved hand on the blunt rim of his car window and quickly removed it when he stared pointedly at it, “I’m sorry. I was just in a bit of a hurry and figured I could try my luck with the man. But he was way out of line the way he spoke to you.”
“Was he?” Philip’s words dripped with molten sarcasm. “But why? Isn’t that how you operate? Cutting corners, extorting clients and skipping queues?”
He couldn’t be sure but a flash of something hurtful streaked across her face. Philip clenched his jaws tight, biting down on the apology that almost came out.
“I remember you from the other day and I cannot imagine why both meetings we’ve ever had were under such“ – she struggled for the right word and after a while decided on – “angry circumstances. Let me make it up to you, please.”
The whiff of whatever it was she was wearing seeped through the window and settled under Philip’s nose. He hated how good it smelled. He hated how he liked it. “Young lady, I can’t imagine why you would feel so obliged. But I am not interested and as a matter of principle, I do not feel the least bit inclined to let you do anything for me right now. Kindly remove your motorcycle and let me pass.”
She craned her neck the other way, as if observing a recent addition to his facial features. Philip kept his disaffected stare steady, pretending not to notice how her unruly hair swayed with the movement. “Mr. Ejezie,” she finally said – and when he jerked back in surprise, she laughed, “what? You are surprised I remembered your name?”
Philip said nothing. So she asked, “Really, why are you always so angry?”
“Excuse me?” he sneered.
“You heard me. Why are you angry every time? Who beat you?”
Philip lifted one corner of his mouth in a wry smile and shook his head. “You have some nerve, lady,” he muttered more to himself than her. Then he looked up at her, “I am not angry. Now – “
“Prove to me that you are not angry by having linner with me.”
“Linner? What in heaven’s name is linner and why would I want to have it with you?”
She rolled her eyes and weirdly, the gesture did not in any way make her appear juvenile. She straightened from her crouch over his car window and folded her arms over the leather jacket. Even with the distance now between them, Philip could still smell her.
“Linner,” she drawled in the manner of one bored with tutoring a three-year old, “is the meal you have when it’s too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Just like you have brunch between breakfast and lunch, there is linner between lunch and dinner. Get it?”
The expression on his face must have mirrored what he thought of her sanity because she immediately bent towards him and continued talking, her hands entreating. “And you want to have it with me because I am a young lady who is remorseful for the perceived wrong she has done you and wants a chance to apologize. It is only gentlemanly that you oblige me” – as an after-thought she added – “as a matter of principle.”
Philip couldn’t help another smile that tugged at his mouth. He tasted the sourness of the crumbling arguments in his mouth, in the wake of his resolve. For face’ sake, he attempted one more shot. “Perceived wrong?”
“Well,” she grinned – the playful glint was back in her eyes now, “innocent until proven guilty.”
Philip sighed. “Aaalllll-right, lead the way.”
Her grin widened. She straightened with a subdued “Yaaaayyyy!” and skipped over to her bike. She revved her engine, whipped a playful military-like salute at him through the windshield, and zoomed off.
Philip caught himself in time before he rolled his eyes. He wearily put the gear in Drive and followed the girl on the Suzuki motorcycle whose name he couldn’t even remember.
To be continued tomorrow at www.mymindsnaps.com.
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