(PG-13) By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
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The Road Farer (PG-13)
By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
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Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
It was approaching 7pm. Still the central motor park in Onitsha was a cacophony of sounds, with hawkers ululating at the top of their tested voices as they called attention to their sun-bleached wares; and conductors locked in fierce, unending battle for passengers, hollering, ‘Ochanja’, ‘Main market’, ‘Central hospital’, ‘Police line’, ‘Water side’, and the names of other commercial and residential areas in guttural, marijuana tampered voices.
However, it was the simultaneous loud honking and blaring of the numerous Gwongworo horns that brought Okon slowly awake. He had been asleep for nearly six hours! Okon was a popular Gwongworo driver. Anyone who swore he hadn’t set eyes on him before must definitely have seen his 12-wheeled, heavy duty, ‘Man Diesel’ lorry. His philosophy, ‘No paddy for jungle,’ which was also his nickname was splashed with red and yellow paint all over the wooden body of his Gwongworo. It was done in such calligraphy that you would be blind not to notice it.
Remembering the circumstances surrounding his lengthy sleep, Okon allowed a gentle smile to play across his wrinkled face, dry as a lizard’s back. Ha! All his life road faring, he had never experienced anything like it. He felt as if his whole body had been panel-beated. Or put through a wringer! The ‘Omoge’ was simply incredible, he thought. Why, she had done such nice things to him, and taken him to such heights he believed existed only in fairy tales. Funny, because she didn’t look like a pleasure worker. And the more he thought about it, the more he disagreed with himself that she was one.
“Anyway,”he surmised, aching his eyebrows and furiously scraping his left collar bone with long nails, heavily laden underneath with dirt, “wit all de poverty for town, and de longthroat of woman of nowadays, no person can able to separate de chaff from de grains.”
The truth of the matter was that Okon didn’t really care which she was: chaff or grain. What in fact mattered to him was his fun. He never joked with it.
Cash was no barrier.
Okon was indeed proud of himself. It was by obeying his sixth sense that he had won the woman in question, whom he now regarded as his ‘jackpot’. Earlier in the day, on his way from Abakaliki, she had flagged him down by Ogbor hills, shouting:
“Onitsha …Onitsha …Onitsha …sir, you dey go Onitsha?”
Having jogged all the way, she was a little breathless by the time she met him where he had screeched to a stop, barely off the highway. She was tall. Darker than any human being he had seen before, Okon knew, even without first feeling it, that her skin was smoother than a babe’s. And time would prove him right! As he watched, the charcoal black skin glittered, and bounced off sunrays, separating them neatly into the colours of the rainbow! Okon knew it was the handiwork of oil extracted from snakeskin. Only it could have such mesmerizing effect when rubbed on the body.
Okon could hardly believe his luck, and sighed longingly as he surveyed her geography, drinking the elements of her gargantuan feature. Her chest, which rose and fell rhythmically, was filled to the brim and overflowing, he noticed. And her backside? Okon simply had no description for that, a wonder, because by his nature, there was nothing that he could not nail an appropriate description to. One thing was sure though: given the chance, he could rest his large head on the gaping cleavage of that chest or the mound of that backside for eternity.
She was a handful, just the way he like his women, Okon told himself. Why, he wasn’t in that league of men who messed about with skinny folks who soon got lost in a large divan. But then, that was Okon for you! This very Okon had in the past been known to make a solid, solid case for the so-called ‘skinny folks’. Truth was that he wasn’t particularly certain which he preferred: skinny folks or handfuls! It all depended on what fate dished in his plate …like this accidental encounter.
As he sat contemplating the mass, dressed in sparkling white ‘buba and wrapper,’ with a matching headgear, who now gazed up at him, Okon swore:
“Even if I no dey go Onitsha, for dis fine Omoge, I go face dat direction right now.”
As if reading his mind about heading to Onitsha even if that were not his original destination, she smiled. Okon’s heart tumbled severally, thrashing wildly as he took in the beautiful gap in the middle of her upper denture. His throat ran instantly dry and every time he opened his mouth, words eluded him, like the answer to the Devil’s puzzle. All he could do was lean across and hold the passenger’s door open and, nodding his head repeatedly, bade her to step aboard.
“Bassey, make space for de lady,”he managed to croak at his conductor, seated beside him at last. “Go stay for back small,” he continued. “As gentleman, you know say na ladies first.”
Okon was smiling broadly now. Bassey was not impressed with his master’s sudden etiquette. He knew the man well. Why, Okon respected neither king nor clergy.
And Bassey protested.
“But Oga, space plenty here for me and de lady.”
Okon’s smile faded instantly and his eyes flashed fire. But checking his anger, he replied calmly: “Stupid fool. Do as I tell you quick, quick.” He did not want to upset his fair fare.
Bassey needed no further urging. Giving his master a knowing wink (for this was not the first time), he jumped down deftly and made for the back of the lorry.
The rest had been routine job for Okon. After all these years of road faring, he was adept at it now. He could, if given enough time talk his way into even Jezebel’s cold heart.
And he had had enough time. Onitsha was a good three hours drive away.
Recalling his ‘jackpot’s’ great body, Okon emitted a long groan of desire. He then groped for her in the now darkened room. His wandering hands encountered empty space. He was surprised that she was not in the bed with him, and he got up with a start. Then he heard water running softly in the bathroom.
“Ahhh, she dey freshen up,”he thought gaily, “...and no better place to wack dis sweet honey pot again than for bathroom?”
An interesting copulating position crossed his mind and his heart danced to an imaginary rub-a-dub.
“Na from back I go do am dis time,”he assured himself, smiling mischievously. “She go know say she jam strong man today.”
Even at fifty-five years, Okon was still as strong as a bull. The ripples of muscle on his flanks and biceps attested to this. You couldn’t be a driver who steered a powerful lorry day after day without being well endowed muscularly. Picking his way gingerly with the aid of the dying rays of the setting sun, which streamed in through cracks in the window, he staggered to the bathroom, naked. His potbelly preceded him. Opening the bathroom door excitedly, his rising erection went limp.
His fair lady was not there either.
He rushed to the door. It was locked, with the only key firmly latched in the keyhole! The realization that she was gone hit him with all the force of a falling wave. His heart fluttered and spluttered and puffed, like an old locomotive as alarm overtook him.
“Chei, I don die!”he cried out loud. “She do carry my money disappear. Oh Jehovah God, my own don finish!”
Searching frantically, with his potbelly obstructing him most of the time, he found his Berec torchlight. He soon discovered that his wallet, which contained his earnings for the past week, was safe. He had hidden it expertly between some cracks in the wall, where not even a money detector could have sniffed it out. Okon praised his ingenuity, thinking:
“Wit ladies of nowadays, person get to careful well, well.”
Looking around with the aid of the torchlight, he located a candle stand containing a partially used candle and a matchbox. In a moment, the dingy motel room came alive. Scattered everywhere were articles of their clothing.
“Or she go away naked?”he wondered aloud in bewilderment.
Recalling the small holdall she was carrying, Okon concluded that she must have changed into something new before departing.
“But why she left her clothes dem behind? Dis one is queer,”he surmised, and the leathery skin of his dry face squeezed in vain glory. It was not often such exotic words as ‘queer’ stole into his slim vocabulary. “And she no even ask for money. Or she be Mother Christmas?”
Maybe she will come back, Okon thought. Too bad she wouldn’t meet him then, but then tomorrow was another day, he consoled. After all, she now knew where to find him.
Rummaging through the rubble, he reached for his white Hinge’s underwear. It was not there. Neither were hers own underwear. It appeared both were the only items she had taken along with her.
To make assurance doubly sure, he searched under the bed, in the cupboards, in the bathroom.
“Na wetin be de meaning of all dis?”he asked no one in particular. “Why she go disappear wit my pant. Maybe she wear de thing join her own by mistake,” he tried to explain to himself, but soon discarded the implausible hypothesis.
“Or she wan take am do juju?”he wondered, but soon discarded this line of thinking too. Okon considered himself a good Christian, and did not believe in jujus. So, why would she go away with his underpants? Not finding a suitable answer, he headed back to the bathroom to clear his body of her grim. Several minutes later, he stepped out refreshed. A peek at his weather worn wristwatch lying on the bedside table revealed that soon, it would be 8 o’clock. Any moment from now, Chief Agbaka would arrive with his entourage. The irritable chief had hired Okon for a round trip to Abakaliki to haul 300 bags of rice. Okon was determined not to be the cause of any delays, for, apart from the fact that Abakaliki was a whole night’s journey, Chief Agbaka had, from the day he hired the lorry indicated his desire to depart early.
Quickly, he got dressed.
“Well, na small world be dis,”Okon philosophised, as he threw on the last of his clothes. “Somehow, we go meet again if God talk so.”
And with this thought of their meeting again if providence so decreed, Okon instantly forgot everything about the mysterious lady. It never crossed his mind to wonder how she had unlocked the room, stepped out and then relocked it, with the key still latched on the keyhole within! Neither did the whereabouts of his white Hinge’s under wear worry him any further, especially considering the fact that it was torn on one side and he had been meaning to discard it anyway.
One tiny inconvenience led to another, and another led to another. At last, ‘African time’ prevailed and to Chief Agbaka’s irritation, they began the journey much, much later than planned. Now, it was about 3 o’clock in the morning and they had been travelling for nearly four hours. The moon was shining brightly. From a distance, Okon glimpsed the silhouette of Ogbor hills. In the darkness of his driver’s cabin, he allowed himself a faint smile. The towering hills reminded him of his morning’s conquest.
In that brief moment it took Okon to cast his mind back to his escapades of the morning before, he lost control of his Gwongworo. The lorry veered off dangerously into the forest. Okon struggled to rein it in, barely succeeding. Suddenly, a loud explosion shattered the silence of the night, bringing the lorry to an abrupt halt. All occupants of the lorry woke up with violent starts, each fearing for his live.
For the ill-tempered Chief Agbaka, already aggravated by the late take off, the issue of his safety was the least of his concern. On hearing the explosion, he clutched the polyethylene bag he held to his chest tighter, his bony fingers aching. The bag contained his entire retirement benefit. Chief Agbaka who had only just retired from the government service was venturing into business for the first time. With heart quaking, he waited for the command from the armed robbers and was ready to die rather than watch them cart away his insurance for old age. When the command did not come, he asked with a quivering voice:
No answer was forthcoming. His confidence grew.
“I say what is happening?”He repeated.
“The lorry enter forest by mistake, Chief. Na just the tire burst,”Bassey the conductor replied.
The relief the old Chief felt on discovering that his money was safe after all was too immense, but this was soon overshadowed as irate anger overtook him. He released several hard questions into the air, without waiting for a single answer.
“How manage? …I say where is Okon? …My man Mr. Gwongworo driver, were you sleeping and dreaming useless dreams? Or drunk? I thought you were an experienced driver …Look, if I am late getting to Abakaliki, it would be better a boa constrictor or a python swallowed you whole.”
Everybody laughed heartily, except Chief Agbaka.
“Chief take am easy,”Okon consoled, laughing as he clasped Chief Agbaka on the shoulder. “It is not a heavy problem. I have very, very sound spare, and we go soon be on our way again. Bassey, fix dat tire fast and good, you hear me?”
“But you trust me, Oga-”
“Forget about whether I trust you or not. Just fix de tire, dat is what I want.”
Bassey set to work changing the punctured tire.
After a short while, Okon yawned loudly and announced:
“Let me step inside the forest for a while and relieve myself.”
“No problem Oga.”
Amid the snapping protest of dry twigs and leaves as he laid his over one hundred kilos squarely on them, Okon’s snaked his way into the nearby forest. He had overfed himself at dinnertime with pounded yam and a delicious mix of three-part bitter-leaf soup and one-part egusi soup, all in an attempt to regain the vast energy he had expended on his ‘jackpot’.
He had first felt nature’s call at the motor park, but had suppressed it because Chief Agbaka was screaming blue murder about how late they were, and heaping all the blame squarely on him, even though he had no part in making them late. And all the while he drove, he still had that urge and had been looking for a good enough reason to stop. Thanks to the sudden explosion of the lorry tire. He could now take all the time in the world while his conductor fixed the ‘friendly’ tire.
Okon shone his touch here and there as he weaved his way among tree stumps and twigs and shrubs. The light was a fading yellow. He made a mental note to change the batteries when he arrived Abakaliki.
His ears soon caught faint chanting from the direction of the highway, a confirmation that Bassey was hard at work. Bassey always chanted whenever he was changing a punctured tire or assisting the mechanics drop the old lorry’s engine. He liked Bassey. Powerfully built, the young man was a workhorse. At eighteen, he could single-handedly change all the wheels of any lorry in no time. Okon knew that the glowing moon up in the heavens would make the work seem like child’s play to Bassey. He knew he must hurry. After moving several meters, he decided he had gone far enough. Finally selecting a nice spot, he set about emptying his congested bowels, after shining his dying Berec torch here and there to make sure he was not in a lion’s den. The dying rays from the torch fell on a piece of white clothing near by, but Okon was too pressed to take any notice. Finally discharging a gigantic load of faecal matter, he felt better. Contentedly now, he resumed his little detective work with his torch. Then the yellowish rays fell on the piece of white clothing again.
This time, Okon took notice.
Forty-five minutes later, Bassey hitched up his three quarter jean trousers held in place by a synthetic twine, and emerged from under the lorry.
“Chief,”he called out, “I don fix de tire.”
Chief Agbaka was a man who was used to sound night sleep. As soon as he got reassured that he was not under attack by armed robbers and that his retirement benefit was safe, he went back inside the lorry to await the fixing of the blown tire. He had instantly fallen asleep, his black polyethylene bag clutched tenaciously to his chest.
“Chief,”Bassey called, shaking him gently awake, “ I don fix de tire.”
The old man woke with a violent start, clutching his polyethylene bag even tighter, and gasping breathlessly:
“Ego mu O …my money O.”
Bassey smiled to himself, thinking how easy it would be to knock off the old man and disappear with all that money meant for 300 bags of the stony Abakaliki rice.
“I say de tire don okay now,” he announced again.
“Then let us proceed, what are we waiting for?” a relieved Chief Agbaka cried.
“What is wrong with your master?”
“He never come back from the forest.”
“He go obey nature.”
“Then go and fetch him, and be quick about it!”
“I no know which way he go,”Bassey lied.
“He go dat way,”Chief Agbaka’s three handymen chorused, pointing in the dark.
The trio had suddenly materialized from the shadows where they had been lazing away while Bassey, alone, laboured under the lorry. Bassey eyed them, thinking to give them a piece of his mind, but decided to wait for a more appropriate time.
“I say go and look for him, Mr Conductor,” Chief Agbaka barked, his voice carrying into the distance.
“He go soon come back, so let’s wait. Meanwhile, everybody make sure you no left anything behind,”Bassey commanded.
And they began to wait.
Thirty minutes came and went.
An hour came and went.
And still, Okon the Gwongworo driver was nowhere to be seen. He had been away for over two hours!
Everyone was visibly worried now.
“Maybe he dey born pikin inside forest”,one of Chief Agbaka’s boys joked but no one laughed at this silly joke of Okon being in labour inside the forest.
“Maybe he really was slumbering. That explains why the lorry went off the road. Has he by chance fallen asleep in the forest while defecating?” Chief Agbaka queried.
Somewhere in the distance, a cock crowed.
“Or has he missed his way and wandered off in another direction?” Chief Agbaka moaned after a while, and then began to rant:
“Unbelievable! ...Unbelievable! How can a full-grown man like Okon not find his back from this godforsaken forest, eh? How?”
“Let us go into the forest and search for him,”Bassey suggested.
Since the fact that his boss might be missing was becoming a reality, he had been the least vocal, being thoroughly embarrassed by the big man’s behaviour. He wondered what magic could be keeping him enthralled in the forest. When no one bothered to respond to his suggestion of, ‘Let us go into the forest and search for him’, Bassey repeated it.
“Your suggestion is well noted, but you go and search for him alone, after all, he is your lord and master,” came the sharp retort from Chief Agbaka. “As for me and these young men here, we are not stepping an inch into this thick forest. Never.”
Bassey shrugged his heavy shoulders in resignation. Soon it would be morning anyway. If by then his master had still not materialised, then the villagers residing around Ogbor hills could be enlisted to help search for him.
Three hours later, the events of the night as they occurred was narrated to villagers on their way to their farms, and to the weekly market in the neighbouring village. Not one of them agreed to set foot into the forest of Ogbor hills without first being able to tell a palm frond from a coconut frond. As more and more of them arrived to the scene, each wanted to know what had happened, and the story was retold, every new attempt more flavoured than the last, and told with a perfect melodrama.
“He just go yonder to clear his throat,”Bassey would begin. “Den he go down small to piss.”
“Eeehe,”would come the unanimous reply as the villagers urged him on.
“De nex thing he tell us is that…”
“He was not telling us. How many times will I correct you this useless conductor?” And Chief Agbaka would take up the story line. “Gentlemen, I was dozing inside the front seat when I heard him telling his conductor here, ‘not us’ as the useless boy now claims that he was going to relieve himself inside the forest.”
“And by what time was this?” one of the first villagers to arrive would ask again for the benefit of the new comers.
“It was well after three O’ clock.”
“Three O’clock?” would come the consternated chorus.
“Yes, three O’ clock,” Bassey would confirm, shamefaced.
“But this man, what did you people say is his name again?”
“Okon, Joshua Okon-”
“Okay, Joshua Okon. Couldn’t this Joshua Okon have relieved himself around here? I mean is there a lady amongst you?”
“Even if there was a woman, or women amongst us,” barked Chief Agbaka. “What is Okon carrying between his legs that a woman has not set eyes on before? Ibi, eh? …Hernia?”
“Didn’t this Okon know that Ogbor hills is a very dangerous place to venture into in the cover of darkness?” one villager, just arriving asked. “You can find all kinds and manner of creatures within, including wild animals like lion and tiger; mmo …evil spirits; and even rebels!”
At the mention of ‘rebels’, everyone smiled despite the seriousness of the matter. Even Chief Agbaka. No matter how he tried, he could not kill the smile that sprouted on his robust cheeks.
And the questions continued raining, like enemy bullets.
“Is he new on this road, this Joshua Okon?” someone wanted to know.
Poor Bassey. He was close to tears now, but he knew the onus was on him to defend his master’s integrity, which the no-nonsense Chief Agbaka was intent on defaming. “No,” he replied. “My Oga don dey ply dis route since de last millennium. Before den, him na conductor for nearly ten years, before den…”
“Enough of his godforsaken life history,” Chief Agbaka roared. “Let’s just pray we find him alive. I will then teach him a lesson not to mess around with me, Chief Remigus Agbaka.”
Everyone stared at Chief Agbaka’s whiskers as it twitched this way and that and his prominent Adam’s apple, stone-like on an elongated neck, wobbled up and down. The old man, even in his wildest imagination could not have contemplated such as terribly botched business trip. Like a leaf under the influence of an angry wind, he shook violently with anger.
“Gentlemen, we all know that this ifo …this story telling, enthralling as it is will do us no good,” one of the villagers, an austere man with sharp, penetrating eyes finally advised. “Instead we must concentrate our minds and energies on locating this lorry driver.”
Everyone agreed he had spoken well.
“Which way did you people say he went?” the man asked.
“Dat way,”Bassey answered pointing, at the same time blowing his nose and increasing the pressure on the synthetic twine that served as his belt.
After a tense minute of heated deliberation, the villagers decided it was light enough to go searching for the missing lorry driver. Not only could they tell a palm from a coconut frond now, they would, if the case arose, see exactly what direction to disappear to, and save themselves untimely death. From nondescript parts of their bags, out came cutlasses of various shapes and sizes. For weaponry, Bassey the conductor, Chief Agbaka and his entourage made do with tree branches and stones lying by the roadside.
“We will have to divide ourselves into two search groups,” the austere man commanded. From the way he talked, it was clear he was a man used to giving orders and being obeyed. Nobody argued with him.
“Mr Conductor, you, you, you, you, you, you and you” he said, pointing at each man one after the other, you will go this way, he said pointing to the north. “You, Chief, Chief… you, you, you, you, you, Mazi Ijene, Uncle Iloje, you, you and myself,” we will take up the search from this area, he said pointing to the point where it was supposed that Okon entered the forest. “If any group should see anything suspicious, whistle, and we will all converge at that point and then take the lead from there. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes,” came the chorus.
“Any questions?” There were no questions, and the groups broke up and made to go their separate ways, when the austere man halted them.
“Mr Conductor, you will lead the first group and Chief… Chief… here will lead our group.”
“I will rather not,” Chief Agbaka protested with a vehement shake of his head and a furious wagging of one finger. His reason? He wanted to give the younger generation a chance! A chance for what, no one knew. But none ventured to ask for clarification for fear of being spat at, what with the way Chief Agbaka had his mouth pouted, like a cobra, eager to spit venom. Even the austere man maintained a sealed lip.
They had not been in the forest longer than a few minutes when Bassey’s group stumbled upon a most bizarre scene and raised an ear splitting alarm. Moments later, the other group, like a bunch of drunkards came tearing and stumbling through the undergrowth. With hearts pounding, muscles tensing and neck veins pulsating dangerously, every one gaped open mouthed at the macabre scene.
Remember that Okon had been playing Sherlock Holmes with his torchlight? Well, the sight that had caught his eyes was that of a squeezed underwear carelessly thrown aside. He smiled to himself as the possible circumstances surrounding the abandoning of this underwear, right in the middle of the forest crossed his mind. He imagined a desperate passenger scampering off, forgetting it as the vehicle in which he was travelling threatened to leave him behind. He could not help but giggle now. He himself had, uncountable times in the past played this expensive joke on unsuspecting passengers.
With a dry twig, he dragged the piece of underclothing nearer, enjoying his mock play at detective. Spreading it, he proceeded to examine it further with the dull light from his torch, like a forensic pathologist. It was a Hinge brand, he noticed. Something about it was vaguely familiar …the little tear on the side … and then he froze as recognition hit him. Lo and behold, it was his Hinge underwear! The very one on which account he had turned the dingy motel room upside down and not found. His mind whirled around in turmoil as a cold prickle stabbed his stomach.
“But how? How it take reach here?”he shouted, unaware he was doing so. His hands shook miserably and sweat broke out all over his body, despite the cool atmosphere of the forest at this time of the day. A gentle wind suddenly began to blow, deepening his deja vu. His heart thundered within his ribs, the sound echoing in his ears. Panicked, he jumped away from his excrement, not wishing to step on it, but finding his right leg sinking into it nonetheless. Not caring, he began buttoning up his trousers speedily. And then, giant goose pimples over ran his entire body.
He had company!
“Na who be dat?”he asked, exercising his arrogance. But it was only a whisper. Taking a deep breath, he cleared his throat as best as he could, and asked again:
“I say na who be dat?”
It was then he felt the slithering mass surround him as leaves and twigs rattled and rustled. What ever it was, Okon knew it was huge, what with the way the ground shook. As he opened his mouth to scream, a force of several horsepower struck him at the nape, stunning him. He fell like a log, kicking and struggling and agonisingly flinging his shoes and cap and Berec torchlight hither thither.
It was this paraphernalia of personal effects, and a mess of excrement, already commandeered by buzzing, giant green forest flies that the search party now gazed upon. Bassey was quick to identify the personal effects as belongings to his master.
“Are you sure they are his?” Chief Agbaka asked, clearly distressed.
“Yes Chief, I sure, na my Oga get all dis things wey scatter here so,”Bassey answered.
“But where is the Okon then?” Chief Agbaka cried.
“I think he ran off when something attacked him,” one of the villagers volunteered.
“What can it be that attacked and frightened off a full grown man like Okon?” Chief Agbaka asked. You could hear the tremor in his voice.
“How can anyone be certain without further investigations?” the austere man answered.
“Folks, do you people seriously think it is safe to continue this further investigation?” Chief Agbaka whined, exhibiting that his feminine character for which his wife had always chided him.
“He may be hiding somewhere, needing help or he may be seriously wounded and any intervention now could be what is needed to save him,” another villagers hypothesized.
“Couldn’t some of us go back to the lorry in case he turns up there? He may need help if he does. I volunteer to do that.” As he spoke, his voice and hands and legs shook, and the polyethylene bag, clutched tightly against his chest vibrated. His eyes, crystal clear, darted this way and that like a rat’s, cornered at last by a notorious alley cat.
“Thank you very, very much for volunteering, Chief, but if my master no show up last night, he no go show up now,”Bassey said emphatically as he realised that Chief Agbaka was in the final stages of persuading the villagers to abandon the search for his master. “As one party, I suggest say make we all proceed with dis search.”
Though the majority of the villagers would have loved to toe Chief Agbaka’s line, no one said so, not wanting to look womanly before their contemporaries and the brave, young conductor, especially at this crucial time when they were required to prove their valour as men, something they boasted about to their children and wives virtually every passing day.
Nerves were taut now, nearing snapping point. But then, were they not men? Some of them even had two chieftaincy titles. And so as one body, they advanced determinedly in search of the lorry driver. They followed the clear trail left behind by whatever had aggressed the good lorry driver, forcing him to kick off his shoes and leave his cap and torchlight (his fateful companion) behind.
For twenty minutes they followed cautiously, examining a broken twig here; a red paste resembling blood there; a footprint here; a brown matter smelling like excrement there. The trail led tortuously to one of the caves stowed safely away in the foot of Ogbor hills. Chief Agbaka, short and stout and still determined to give the younger generation a chance clearly preferred to lead the rear, letting Bassey and others take the front.
The search team was not to be disappointed. Just at the entrance of the cave was the object of their search. Its multicolour, which would make the rainbow jealous, glistered and reflected wondrously in the early morning sun. Everyone noticed its midsection:
It was clearly distended!
As to the content of this midsection, no one was in doubt!
The reptile was in the final process of manoeuvring into the bowels of the cave when the approaching men suddenly startled it. Seeing them on raising its head, with bifurcated tongues flickering this way and that, it heaved its massive body in one final movement to disappear into the cave.
Thinking it was gunning for them, the search party scattered in all directions, every man for himself.
One never saw such a stampede before.
Machetes, sticks, stones and other weaponry were flung far and wide as the men scampered, manly valour dashed through the window. As Chief Agbaka fled, with polyethylene bag clutched tightly against his chest and muffled wails escaping his parched throat, he regretted not heeding his dear wife’s advice of leaving this Abakaliki rice business for the younger men, and finding something less risky in Onitsha to invest his retirement benefit on.
Later when the police arrived from the divisional headquarters in Awka, armed to the teeth, and intent on recovering the remains of Okon the lorry driver, no sign of the creature was to be seen anywhere. Not even after tear-gassing the cave and sending a special squad to probe its dark interior. All they could do was add a white Hinge underwear, with a little tear at the side to the assortment of personal belongings found at the site where the lorry driver was thought to have been licked and swallowed. These they took for Mrs. Njide Okon, wife of the lorry driver to identify.
As to the identity of the huge reptile, the search party failed to reach a consensus. While Chief Agbaka thought it was a female African Rock Python, Bassey the conductor was convinced, it was a male Boa Constrictor, even though he had never, in his entire life set eyes on a Boa Constrictor, either male or female. To prove his conviction, Bassey, un-coaxed, swore by his grandmother’s grave.