Hope you didn’t miss The Previous Episode
The sun was at its furious best. Even the expressway in Ikirun was deserted safe for a few people foolish enough to be about. Micah was travelling to Lagos to attend a cousin’s wedding but such was the ill will of the sun that I began to question the existence of Lagos and the sensibility of marriage.
But Micah, already hidden behind his Will Smith dark glasses and under NYSC cap, with his rugsack hung behind him like an adopted hunchback was barely affected by the terrorist sun. The way he stood, I was sure he wouldn’t burge until he was carried to his wedding. No one with common sense would touch wedding with a long rake, except carried. Phew, the power of an angry sun.
‘Ehen, I have been thinking,’ Micah said.
‘Even a mad man should think now and then,’ I said.
Micah hissed. ‘Be serious jor.’
‘You must love this your cousin o, because this weather is Lucifer incorporated. What has Einstein been thinking?’
He sighed. ‘Guy, we will pass out in three months’ time. Now what skill can we say we have acquired during our service year?’
‘The skill of survival; it requires skills to survive in Cemetery Lodge.’
Micah’s face crowded with annoyance. ‘Why are you like this na?’
‘Ibadan?’ a driver in a slowed down station wagon shouted at us. Micah shook his head. The man stepped on the metal. ‘What did you learn for Saed in the orientation camp?’
Saed was Skills Acquisition Entrepreneur Development I think or something equally abbreviated from folly. In the camp, the soldiers had a tough time forcing the like of me to go out for Saed in the midmorning all through to noon.
‘I attended make-up class on the first day, then German class, then agro-allied, then I settled for auto mechanic.’ I didn’t tell Micah I settled for auto mechanic because its canopy was close to my hostel which meant I could slip in and out when I heard soldiers coming and un-coming.
Micah shook his head with something that looked like pity. ‘So why didn’t you do off-camp training?’
Micah was sounding like Uncle Dayo which irritated me. ‘This weather is evil.’
‘Forget the weather, we just have to learn something before we pass out,’ he said. ‘Just look around. Every one in Cemetery Lodge has one or two skills except us.’
‘It’s a lie.’
‘Of course not. Look at Edwin, he is a good barber. Fisayo and Fatima are learning shoe and bag making. Agatha is a fashion designer, Mercy is learning that. And Tina is a professional hairdresser. Just me and you, nothing nothing.’
‘I am a writer,’ I said and regretted it instantly. Micah laughed. ‘Yes, you run a blog that you force us to read. How much will take keep you off the street. Just look at your laptop for instance…’
I began to walk away but Micah blocked me. The sound of his laughter and the heat of the sun bruised my sanity. ‘Man, don’t be emotional about this. Come on!’
‘You brought me to Ikirun to assault me abi?’
‘No assault intended.’ He laughed. ‘I sing and write songs myself but I don’t count it for now. Nigeria is so not conducive for you to bury all your eggs in your talent basket….’
‘What about Uncle Dayo, Agu and IBK? Is it only me and you you see?’
‘Agu is already set for the Jamaican embassy. Uncle will work in the Lord’s vineyard. As for IBK, never mind.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Her father is bastardly rich. Then she’s an experienced tourist. See, if you are in love with that girl for real you should be worried that Mr and Mrs have no single skill.’
This touched me deeply. I began to see that it wasn’t all that bad to learn something, no matter what. But what? Most of the programmes I wished to learn were only run in Oshogbo. Or Ile-ife, or Ilesa. ‘Nothing to do around here.’
‘What about mechanic?’
‘Not for me.’
Micah sighed. ‘What do you want?’
‘I don’t know.’
A sienna came to a stop before us. ‘Lagos?’
Micah said yes. I asked how much.
Micah turned to me. ‘Man, think about the Saed stuff. I trust you. I will learn anything you decide. Please, give it a long thought.’ He hugged me. Micah had never hugged me before. A small sadness pricked my chest as he slapped my back.
‘When are you coming back?’ my voice was husky with concern.
‘Sunday. I really should stay longer but you know NYSC rules.’
He was CLO which made the NYSC rule of not traveling at all (except for a grave reason with written approval) hold water for him. So he had to sneak away on Friday and sneak back on Sunday. Poor boy. ‘Take care of yourself,’ he opened the car door.
I nodded. Micah was acting strange, telling me things he never said to me, sounding so much like a responsible brother. I turned to the driver. ‘Be careful. You have a very important corper in your car. Nothing dares happen to him.’
The driver said something but his voice was drowned by the ignition he had started. Micah began waving. I nodded and stood watching until the car disappeared. It felt like Micah was gone from Osun forever.
Whenever I felt unhappy or hit by early pangs of depression, I go to IBK and get a refill of happiness. So my first call when I returned to the Cemetery Lodge was her room. I found her stirring a pot of stew.
‘Boo, you back?’ I nodded. I waited for her to look at my face and say something softening but she was more interested in the stew, she had placed stew above me! Without turning her face from her pot she said, ‘Get knife please and help me slice these onions.’ Like my immediate elder sister, IBK would never cook anything without turning everyone around to her handmaid.
‘I have headache,’ I began to leave the door.
‘Get panadol and the onions. Please slice them round round.’
‘I need to lie down. I will slice you a thousand onions when I get better.’
She searched my face with beautiful eyes, I managed to keep a sick straight face. She shook her head. ‘Okay o, go and lie down. Just help me put four cups of rice on fire on your stove.’ She blew me a kiss which weakened my resolve to argue; in fact, it healed my ‘headache’. I suddenly discovered she was wearing singlet over bum shorts and took a step forward. She said nothing, just continued stirring the pot, more forcefully. If she had said ‘no, don’t come near me’ then I was safe. But she said nothing, and she had a hot spoon in her hand. I decided to go and boil rice.
I had just gotten the pot on fire when I got the phone call. Micah’s number. He had arrived Lagos, so soon? ‘How far?’
It wasn’t Micah who replied me. In fact the person spoke Yoruba. I ended the call, Micah had lost his phone and I wouldn’t give the thief the honour of mocking me. The phone rang again. Yoruba. I took the phone to IBK. ‘Someone rapping Yoruba to me.’ I returned to my rice.
IBK shouted. I dropped the pot cover. I crashed into IBK on her door. ‘What happened?’
My heart took a sharp brake that shook my entire being. IBK sat on the floor, her head on her hands, whimpering. I forced myself and took charge. We wouldn’t get anywhere if everyone lost their heads.
‘Where is Micah now?’
Edwin, Agu and Agatha had joined us.
‘I don’t know. They said the driver died on the spot.’
‘But Micah isn’t the driver! Where did they take him to, what hospital?’
‘Take it easy,’ Edwin said. IBK said she couldn’t remember. I went into the room and picked up my phone on the floor where she had dropped it. The screen was shattered. I dialled Micah’s number. I gave IBK the phone.
‘Leave her alone,’ Agatha said.
‘We can’t help Micah by leaving people alone. IBK alone speaks Yoruba here! Ask them what hospital he is admitted in.’
We succeeded in getting the hospital name somewhere in Ibadan. I called Uncle Dayo and we began making arrangements for a car. In less than three quarters of an hour after we heard the news, myself, Uncle Dayo, IBK, Edwin and Mercy were in a chartered car to Ibadan.
In the car, I made passionate deals with God. God, if you save my friend’s life I would take to the streets and win souls for You. I will not abuse anyone for ten years. I will give April allowance to NCCF….
Behind me, Mercy was praying, Edwin mouthing the beads of his rosary, IBK trying not to cry aloud… Lord Jesus, please, mercies.
The car brought us to the hospital gate after an hour of trial and error calls. It was now dark. As the others rushed into the one-storey building I stayed behind to give the driver half of his exorbitant fee as he said he wanted to buy fuel. He complained about not being given the whole money, I ignored him and entered the hospital.
In the waiting room, I saw my colleagues coming down the stairs. Edwin had his face covered with a handkerchief, Dayo was leading Mercy down, all shedding tears.
‘Don’t tell me anything!’ I said as Dayo made to address me. I ran past them with absent legs up the stairs. The stairs ended on a long passageway. IBK sat by the door on the opposite end like a statue. I ran into the ward just as the nurse was covering Micah’s body.
‘Why cover his face?’ I screamed. The woman turned and blocked my way. She was small but possessed the energy of a horse. I managed to grab the sheet as she began to shove me out. It wasn’t just her energy, there was a painful reluctance in my bones against confirming the worst. The sheet in my hand had pulled from Micah’s body when we reached the door; and just before been pushed into the passage, I summoned all my will and looked at Micah’s face. Even in death, he was cool, charming and handsome.