Badalla had been stuck in the traffic for close to two hours. All the window glasses were rolled down in the yellow and black striped Peugeot 504 saloon taxi. The temperature was sky high and the extreme humidity made matters worse. It was downtown Balogun market area. There were no alternative routes to get out of the area. The only route was via Apongbon Street to connect Eko Bridge and get back to mainland. It was bumper to bumper traffic. What caused the traffic wasn’t too clear. The driver, Bolade had turned off the engine of the car for the sixth time. He would wait patiently for the next 10 to 15 minutes when the traffic would inch about ten metres forward before it stopped again. Bolade rummaged through the glove compartment of his taxi looking frantically for some item. He did not seem to find what he was searching for. His search became more desperate. He looked under the front passenger seat of the vehicle and could not find it. He brought his voluminous body out of the car and stood on the main road and crouched to looked under his driver’s seat. This was so dangerous. Did he realise how dangerous this was? To pop out of a vehicle on a main road even though the vehicles were stationary. What if a motorbike or bicycle crept up on him? What if there was sudden movement? Badalla did not say anything. Bolade, pulled out a face towel from under the driver’s seat and struggled to bring his large frame out of his vehicle and re-squeeze himself back into his vehicle. The space between his cab and the car beside his car was so small. He snuggled himself back to his car and continued to wipe the perspiration from his face using the large configuration of his palm. Then like out of a trance, he remembered that he now had the blue flannel. He wiped the perspiration from his face and neck and chest. He had unbuttoned the first three buttons of his short sleeved shirt to invite in any sort of air.
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Badalla’s white handkerchief had turned brown by now. He had been wiping the perspiration from his sweaty body. He popped his head out of the window and wrung the handkerchief and water poured forth from the white material. A faded yellow coloured transportation bus popularly known as Molue ignited its engine and the exhaust pipe was pointing directly at Badalla’s window which was rolled down. The entire carbon emission from that death box spewed at the Badalla’s taxi and other vehicles close by. There was a sudden scamper. People scurried back into their cars and started the engines. The traffic was about to move and there was this scurry and honking of horns as vehicles tried to make the best of this opportunity. There was no chance for people who wanted to switch lanes. It stalled the traffic further as people cursed and swore. Badalla was coughing badly now. The whole air stenched of smoke and pure black soot. The pollution in the air was severe. How did people survive under such conditions?
For a moment, Badalla’s mind flashed into statistics. “It would be interesting to find out the data for respiratory related illnesses. It would be interesting to find out how many people died as a result of air pollution related ailments?”
The cars all died a sudden death. All engines were switched off and it was just pure humidity mixed with the lingering smell of smoke, soot and fake hydrocarbon elements.
“Buy pure water, buy pure water” a shrill voice of a young girl cried. “Gala Gala, yogurt” a young masculine boy yelled. “Buy groundnut, buy groundnut” an elderly voice whelped. All the street hawkers were busy selling their wares.
“Pure water” Bolade yelled. About five pure water hawkers arrived at the same time.
“Na me first come, oga, buy from me”
“Na lie o, na me first come.”
“Egbon mi, no mind them. No be me you call?”
“Oga take, I get change, my own na the original and e still dey very cold”
Bolade snatched two satchets from the young girl. “Give me change hundred naira.”
The young girl counted out 90 naira change to Bolade and Bolade handed over the hundred naira note.
“Why did you buy from the young girl?” Badalla asked Bolade.
“Ah oga, this one resemble my little girl, so I take pity on am.”
“Interesting how far empathy can lead us in life.”
“Oga wetin be pathy, wetin be that word again?”
“It’s called empathy. It means the ability to have and share the feelings of others.”
“Ah oga, I feel for the small girl o, no be small.”
A cross section of sturdy men and women with different wares squeezed past the tiny aisle between Badalla’s cab and the other vehicle on Badalla’s side.
A young sprinter arrived. And in a jiffy Badalla’s side of the window was swarmed with different ware sellers. Badalla was almost suffocating. He needed some air which was already stifled. Another cluster had formed on the opposite window, just to attract his attention. Badalla brought out a hundred naira note from his wallet. “Oga collect change first o before you give money. These children too smart” as Bolade belched into a laughter.
As Badalla was drinking the yogurt from the pack and eating his gala, four rough looking young men came by the car. Their eyes were blood shot. Two hung by his back window and another two hung by the opposite back window.
“Oga mi, find something for your boys now. Your boys dey loyal.”
Badalla maintained a straight face.
“Oga mi answer us now. Your boys dey loyal, make you find something for your boys.”
Their voices were croaked like a frog’s and it was cracked as well. The car began to inch forward. Badalla was happy that some movement at least and perhaps soon they would drop off.
He did not respond to them. He kept munching at his gala, sipping at his yogurt and maintained a straight face. His heart was beating faster.
He couldn’t roll up the glass because it would be suffocating in the car.
“Oga mi answer your boys now, you just dey blank us, dey chop your gala, dey drink your yogurt.”
Their breath stank of weed and tobacco. The situation was not looking too good.
The driver Bolade pretended he did not hear or know what was going on.
“Oga mi e be like say you want make we use this blade design this your fine body” they chorused.
Badalla turned around and looked, slipped in between their fingers were brand new Nacet razor blades.
“We just dey talk with you softly softly before you just dey blank us like say we no dey here.”
Badalla could not imagine the thought of those blades running across his body. A gun might be better. A shot or two and you are done compared to four blades running across your body.
Badalla dipped his hand inside the right front pocket of his trousers and dug out his wallet. He opened it and brought out a ten naira note for them.
“Wetin be this?”
“So you sabi talk. We think say you be deaf and dumb before. Now empty your wallet.”
“I need some money to pay the driver please.”
“Wetin be please, before we dey beg you make you find something for your boys and you just dey do yanga*, now you dey beg us. Empty your wallet.”
Badalla emptied his wallet. He had heard stories of horror about these Area Boys and he knew that they don’t mess about. They meant business and they had a back up crew somewhere within reach. Nobody dared to mess with them. Even the police struggled containing them.
Badalla didn’t want to end up as a stat.
“Empty your other pockets” the one with deep tribal marks on his cheeks on the left hand side of the window barked.
Badalla did as he was instructed.
People walked past, hawking, buying, selling as if somebody’s life was not under threat. Even more depressing was the fact the driver did not utter a word.
After his whole pockets were emptied, the traffic began to move. It seemed as if the logjam conspired with the Area Boys to rob Badalla.
*yanga – pidgin English word meaning –swagger – conducting oneself in an arrogant or pompous manner.