Ode Amadi carried with him a queer smile while he leaned lukewarm on the left side door hinge. I had not seen his face for several years, since he went away on a long journey to the city of Onitsha to learn, from an uncle, a trade. His name was Chime Amadi, and if you have walked through the earth of my village in Umuahia, you would take notice he indeed is wealthy as any wine merchant in the country’s east. Eloquent Chime was, amongst his peers, within the women’s club, in our eyes he seemed our King Midas. He was very successful and this had prompted Odes’s burdensome father to reason sending the boy away to his elder brother. I undid the green blanket covering me, gradually with all my effort peeled myself down the mattress, thinking to myself as to why I was so astonished at Ode’s unusual visit. He appeared so polished from top to bottom as my eyes had never seen before.
My countenance could not be submerged to its former as I glanced at him with an unknown curious face. Ode had changed! He had become a star. His watch glowed. His hair shone.
“My friend,” I hailed, rushing to him.
He let out series of pompous laughter. He once had a freckled face which was no more. His lips panicked with excitement. A little scar on the right side of his face had visibly vanished. He never cared for expensive shoes, but now, on both feet, there remained expensive pair of shoes; an Italian piece, I guessed. He entered and gave me his hands, I took it.
“Sylvester!” he called, “how long has it been?”
I chuckled, went back a little as if in a frantic pose, admiring him dramatically. Really I felt intimidated. I felt I had been cheated by the society and by the government and now, even by dreaded nature. There were so many things which frisked my thoughts at the moment, an entire collection of nostalgic memories fitting right through the voids of my tinted mind, and the bunch of them were thoughts of escapades which occurred before he scurried away from here to a city in the eastern greens of Nigeria.
The yellow sun had not hidden in the clouds that evening at his father’s place which sat at a little hill away from the little settlement. It was his sitting room that I sat in when Ode came to greet me. The interior decoration was not poor and it didn’t seem exquisite, but there were some decorations that caught my attention. One was an enlarged photograph of the man in army veteran attire and others which in them he seemed well known amongst the high class. There, on the table was a Technics gramophone, rotating away a reggae record as the vinyl spun and spun. He sat down. It was there, he divulged to me his father’s plans for him. He had said thus, smiling a queer smile that his father was sending him to learn a trade which would present money in a few years.
“Come along”, he told me that very evening as the ceiling fan dispersed the heat in the room. I had not yielded. I told him too that my plans were not to learn a trade. There was the sugar industry of my father, there was higher institution and then, there were more things to learn about life which I still wanted more.
“Your head is yours,” Ode said spitefully.
“I know……I know.”
“You do not,’ said Ode, ‘Time will not wait for anyone…”
I grabbed a shirt lying on the arms of a chair. I and Ode stepped out that house. The morning sun battering my face as he and I went down the mucky road towards a red bar across the street. As we went, he told me of certain girls he had met, of certain places I had never been, of certain people he had encountered and I, feeling bewildered nodded my heavy head, carrying it with my arms as the sun’s heat intensified. Ode, as much as I, didn’t feel the warmness of the sun. He seemed relaxed. As we strode on, the bar got larger. Finally, we arrived.
“There is business,” he said.
“Business of what sort?” I asked.
“The easy kind, you remember my uncle Chime?” I replied in the affirmative.
“He smuggles wines, beer, all contrabands, from the east to Kaduna. He is the best in the business. Since I left, Sylvester, I have gathered money to begin mine. I have become a free man, and with my money and my will, I want to begin this business”. I asked him what he intended smuggling and he had exclaimed wines and beers too and some illegal substances. When I asked him why, he said: ‘Alcohol is the one thing those men in the north need. They should drink and have their fill of our supplies. Besides, the gain I will make will be enormous. When I sell one bottle of just a wine, I have so much gain.’
As a feeling pulsated in my mind, one in my plight must feel the same. This business interested me so much that I downed the Guiness larger which had been staying on the table, half filled. Ode drank along. We drank in silence. Thoughts of my life filled my mind. I thought of my mother, my siblings, my old father and I thought of my life again. If only Ode would take me along on this journey, if only I could learn from him too to make such quick money, it will be a thing of desire for me, I thought while the bitter taste of the lager stayed in my mouth.
The bar was half shielded by crimson red colored batons which were in copulation with one another to form shoulder high wooden bollards about the bar. So it was secluded from prying eyes. He carried it out, a bottle of Yogo wine from a bag which I hadn’t paid so much attention to. To an untrained eye, it seemed ostensibly mundane. This was not allowed in the market said Ode to me. I nodded my head in askew to the lifted bottle which he brought upon to the air. Staring at it, taking careful notes of it, I saw the fine markings decorating the black bottle and I soon got interested. Money is a beautiful thing, owning every note was also a thing of beauty, a need, a thing of deep desire. Staying here, basking in the contours of this village had made me lean, in fact, as I sipped the beer once more, I wanted to run away, to evade this village, so I could get to see the things he had seen. Then he asked me if I wanted in. I pretended to think about it. Unconsciously, I pulled my underfed beards. I stroked hard on my chin, somewhat staring deep into the offer. I have got nothing to lose. Just a trip and some money would be mine. Well, it is only a foolish man that’ll see an opportunity to escape poverty and remain therein. Poverty had perused me. As kinky as my life was, I had felt knackered about all my bones from menial jobs I ran at a very popular construction management since I returned from Enugu months ago. The blisters decorating my palms were a proof to that.
‘’Yes…..I’ll follow you to Kaduna,’’ I said.
He smiled, approving my decision. He continued blabbing, describing detailed information to me and comprehending them, perplexed at them, at such wisdom, I nodded.
‘’We leave by train,’’ said Ode.
‘’Are the roads bad?’’I asked. He laughed at my naivety, he laughed long and when he gathered himself, still choking minutely, to dismantle the veil shielding my senses, ‘’Trains are safer’’, he said still breaking into his funny laugh, like a mocking hyena. “You see, on a train, there are less checkpoints and there are less misfortunes especially the kind that accompanies road transportation, which will undoubtedly find us out.
The stuff I gathered for the trip were not heavy- they included two shirts; one slightly faded and the other undersize, and also, along with me, came too, a few things which I deemed important for a travel such as this.
We left for Aba, a busy city in Abia state. That sudden moment, at Aba train station, between early hours of 7 am, the hard earth began to tremble, vibrations dispersed about and our feet shook. People, all diverse stood too, waiting for what caused the trembling ground. It came towards us, in all heftiness, it ran to the station and slowly, with grand style, it ceased, puffing smoke above it. It was a yellow locomotive, once speeding towards the lurking eyes, in major expectancy of its long awaited arrival, to leave this place further away to the north. So when it slowed, steel clashed against steel, firmed to the ground. I glanced admiringly at the steam engine which had come to a stop after series of kinetic fusion. Indeed, the white man is wise. The white man knows technology, I thought at it conspicuously. It was apt to demonstrate a sense of attachment, a conveyance body to adventurous places through the eastern region and northern regions of the vast country.
Standing close by, Ode told me how I’ll eventually get to love this journey. I shuddered. The metallic door of the train flung open. People hobbled off. We heaved the cartons of Yogo wine; twelve of them fully stacked and joined the line trooping in. Ode led the way, inching away to column eleven near the staff maintenance partition which he knew astoundingly well, a few train workers. He let me sit near the window, where, eventually I would study the landscapes, the horizons, and the vegetation, the settlement which in a little while would spring, sprawl and grace my yearning starved-up spirit for adventure. He went and sat adjacently on a seat, straddling the cartons under his seat. Soon, we were all seated. The train began to move. Steels and pistons clanged in friction, coal disintegrated, faces of workmen stirred sweat, exhaust of fuel went up the nozzle, clouding the station. Gradual mechanical progressive chatter engulfed, making our ears ring and our bodies danced randomly to the music of the jerking locomotive. The train picked up momentum and I noticed a few passengers greet Ode from time to time. He explained to me later, that he was well known along this route.
We had begun making for Kaduna as the train propelled noisily away. Ode threw a glance at me, smirking his face, he accessed the faces of passengers occupying our couch and finding nothing apprehensive, he glanced at me some more, winking his eyes. It was time. I checked my pocket, readying my money. He stood up and in a long voice, he bellowed, ‘’my people! I don come again oh. The man wey de make una jolly jolly don show again o. Swiftly, as the steady winds, he stole the attention of the silent passengers with these lines. He continued, preaching a joke, ‘’Monkey wey no de chop banana, na original monkey be that?’’ A few people laughed and faced him. Evading loss of further time, he collected a bottle of Yogo wine. He brought it upon the air, unveiling its red and green look. The product seemed exquisite, even before my eyes. Ode went on, outlining the rudiments of the wine. The bottle was a large one, bellying the liquor and on its body went the letters in initials, ‘YOGO WINE’ and underneath these lines, proudly, images of two men wielding glasses, obviously filled with the wine. I felt the fuzziness of the entire scene. The train cut through the wind, intensifying in acceleration and my feet trampled the floor. Probably, I think, it was because such thing as this, my experience hadn’t a clue about.
When Ode had eloquently praised the bottle with soothing names, it was time for my part of the drama. Elated, I rose and demanded for two bottles. It passed hands and finally when it reached me, I brought out my money which had been neatly tucked in my pocket. I had it caressed in my hands, staring at it with all seriousness. I was a born actor. To convince them, I even opened one and drank it down. At this, another passenger- an elderly man, greyed white, demanded for a bottle. As he waved his money, Ode went to him with a bottle and returned with some Naira. Hands began to wave in the air, wielding Nairas. Women dug deep into their wrappers, from places you wouldn’t dream of cash, they unwrapped ugly monies, and paid for one, some for two and on and on went bottles about the train until a few of our illegal goods remained.
Before the town of Zaria saw us, our goods were down to just four cartons. My friend’s pockets were stashed with both folded and neat Naira, bulging out the folds of his pockets, depicting for us, to be solemnly auspicious. But on our way to Zaria, the very unexpected had transpired. The train was a very long one, divided into five couches: the staff maintenance couch, the cargo couch which carried foodstuff of market women, the second class, the first class and the conductor’s cabin.
“Pass a bottle!”
It was the deep-throated voice of a melancholic man with uneven the hair on his head was, and a black cap covering his face, combined with dark sunshades. So his eyes could not be read by smart at the very inception. Apprehensively, Ode did thus. Then as his eyes perused the bottle, he motioned it to be contraband. He said it to the hearing of all the passengers. I trembled under my feet wondering what a mess I had been entwined with. My throat went thick, sour, and with every gaze I planted on the man’s face, my heart skipped beats, it pounded, wanting so vigorously to dash out of my chest. But being me, I controlled myself and stared in anguish at the man, and also at Ode, passively. He removed his shades, pocketing it into his breast pocket.
“How can you say that!” barked Ode. Beads of sweat grew on his nose and because he wanted no further words of discouragement from this man, he warned him to mind his business.
“So you want to kill people with this fake thing. You want these people to die….eh”
“What do you mean?”
“I said so you want to poison these people with this drink”, repeated Corporal John. It was when he turned that Ode saw his badge. This meant trouble. He thought quickly. “Where are the rest?”
“Officer calm down”
“Please… Please don’t waste my time. Where are the rest?”
Faces contorted into confusion. Silence gaped at them, letting them settle their quarrel. No one spoke a word, unless for hungry eyes holding unanswered questions. As their voices escalated, I knew their raging anger couldn’t resolve unless a victor emanated from this, from this bawl. My cover was still intact, and this was the reason why I shouldn’t on account of Ode’s warning interfere when qualms such as this erupted. I sat my peace and Ode stood his ground, towering above the police man. There was something about my friend and that was his temper. Once, in my village, he had beaten a boy to stupor because he spoke rudely to his elder sister. And now, seeing them get entangled in this argument, I wasn’t surprised when Ode shoved him aside and collected his Bottle. What could a single hungry looking police man do anyway, especially in a train bound for Kaduana, where, probably, he is the only force on it? How could he alone control this situation, when he Ode, still has breath in his lungs? From the impact Ode launched at him, the police man stumbled back, crossing a kid under the arms of his mother and falling on top a fat market woman.
“Go away!” she jeered.
He regained his balance, steadily gripping the ground with his feet; he cursed Ode and dashed for the door, pulled on the emergency swing. The train came to a stop abruptly. The door opened mechanically. The police man jumped down and ran away…..
We laughed. Market women and their children laughed along with us. We laughed until the conductor came to check what occurred. When we told him a bit of the story, he laughed until his throat hurt. He sighed and cursed the police man.
Slowly once more, the train picked up speed as it led us to our destination, where the rest of our goods were delivered.