- Kamil Ahmed came out of the dingy tools room. On his right hand was a heavy metal tool box. He walked with slow dejected steps towards the shade where a number of faulty vehicles were lined up for repair. His duty that morning was the faulty carburetor of an old Peugeot 505 saloon car.
Seven years ago, when he was twenty three years old, his father had forced him to learn a trade at his friend’s workshop, dashing all his hope of having a higher education. He spent three years as an apprentice and he has spent another four years as an employed mechanic, totaling seven years. He hated every second of those seven years and he was desperate for a change but because he had no other choice, he has had to endure.
The heavy tool box and the burden on his miserable mind made his movement even slower. Clearly, he had no inclination to work on that carburetor that morning or any other time again. He was suddenly fed-up. He was now very aware much that he must do something about his situation otherwise the same fated clutches of poverty that held his father captive would do same to him. God forbid, he told himself silently, wriggling his left hand over his head in a circular movement. The thought seemed to ginger him as he covered the rest distance with quick long strides. He dropped the heavy tool box on the ground in front of the car, ridding himself some of his burden. And with very little enthusiasm, he opened the bonnet, determined to push himself up to the task ahead of him. But almost immediately too, an odd feeling seized him suddenly, killing any zeal he had left to work that morning. He took a few steps away, towards the tool box and sat on it and began a systematic analysis of his situation.
He has been fed up for a long time but he has never had the guts to do anything about it. He has always been content to blame his predicament on his poor father. But just yesterday, he received the final nudge that shook him out of his many years of slumber. He knew it was time he did something.
He had returned to the single room he shared with his parents and three siblings the previous evening and met them in a happy and celebratory mood. After a hectic day at the workshop, all he wanted was a cold shower, some food and a peaceful rest. But he was always aware that this was only a pipe dream, for he knew exactly what awaited him at home. It was always a crowded room, no food to eat most of the time and a long wait in the queue for his turn to use the general bathroom. He could not remember ever coming home to meet a different scenario. And he hated all of these. So he was reasonably surprised. He watched them as they sang and danced, tempted to join in the euphoria but he didn’t. Instead, he secretly wished he could have the rest his aching body craved. He has long decided that nothing good would come from his lazy father and because he has had one disappointment too many, he held himself back. When he finally got the chance, he enquired what good fortune has come upon the family, brazing himself for yet another disappointment.
His father joyfully told him he has been made the caretaker of the entire house by the landlord.
“So?” Kamil demanded crossly. He didn’t see how such news could change their situation.
“It means I will no longer pay my house rent.” The old man announced happily. “I have decided to take another room so that we will no longer be crowded in this single room,” he added quickly sensing his son’s disappointment.
Kamil watched his father for a long moment without speaking. He should be happy. At least, they wouldn’t be crowded in the single room anymore. Perhaps, he would at least get a peaceful rest whenever he wanted one. But he didn’t feel happy. Rather, he felt disappointed. And in his utter disappointment, he stormed out of the room. He was very angry and he knew that if he remained there another moment he would do something he’d regret later. There were times he was tempted to damn tradition and tell his father some unpleasant truths. He has been itching to shred to pieces the veil that has blind folded his father for so many years. He was yet to find the courage to do so.
He walked away to the heap of gravel in front of the compound facing the busy road. It was his favorite spot; the only place where his troubled mind never failed to find succor whenever he needed succor. He would sit on the gravel for several hours and watch the sleek cars drive past. He would allow himself to dream of owning one of them and cruising in it. Even though he knew they were wistful dreams, he would spend hours visualizing himself cruising in one of the cars with a beautiful babe by his side. It gave him hope as well as pacified his anger. It kept him sane.
But he was too angry that evening to find solace. He was mad with the world. The cruising cars filled him with jealousy. They made him angrier. He began to wish them evil. He silently wished they were blown to hell in a blast. He cursed every posh car that drove past. And later, when he realized his secret wish wouldn’t come to pass, he directed his thoughts back to his problems.
How could a man, his wife and three children be so happy just because another man has given them a room free of charge in such a dilapidated building? He asked himself a thousand times and still, he could not understand it. It beat his every imagination.
Kamil hated favors. He believed strongly in the give and take principle. He had a strong hatred for people who only desire to be on the receiving side and quite unfortunately, his own father was one of such. He has known his father to derive so much from free gifts that he now depended on them, making him so lazy and so poor. He has never done anything to change his situation and but to wait for handouts. Kamil knew that this was exactly what has kept them in a straitened condition for so long. How could the old man be so blind not to realize that this was a ground conspiracy to keep them rooted in poverty forever? He asked himself sadly.
He was still in the gloomy mood when a car pulled up in front of him thirty minutes later. He was too preoccupied with his thoughts to realize the driver was tooting his horn to get his attention.
“Hey, excuse me!” the driver called out at last.
“Get out of my sight before I break your head with these stones!” He retorted angrily, thinking the driver needed directions. But he kept tooting his horn which provoked Kamil to grab a hand full of gravel and as he made to howl them at the car, the driver said.
“Hey, Kamil my man, take it easy. What’s biting you this cool evening?”
“Alex?” he screamed as he recognized the unmistakable voice of his old friend. He jumped on his feet and approached the car, smiling in excitement.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Alex replied.
“Well, I am still alive man, I envy you. Better to be a driver to a rich dude than to work my ass dry every day in that god forsaken workshop. See, at least you can cruise in a car when you get the chance.” he said, leaning against the front passenger door.
“What are you talking about?” Alex asked.
“I mean this car. You are very lucky. Is your boss out of town?”
“The car is mine. I bought it with my own money!”
“What? How? When? Where?” He asked in surprise.
“Please calm down and one question at a time.” Alex said, laughing lightly.
“No, I can’t calm down. You mean you own this ride?” he asked in shock.
“Come right in. I want to see my mum and after that, I will tell you all you want to know.”
“Okay, okay.” Kamil said and hurriedly took his seat beside him.
“How are you?” Alex asked, driving away.
“Huh, Alex, what happened? Even your English has changed. I want to know please.”
“Seat belts please.” Alex said laughing mildly.
“Huh!” Kamil said as he fastened his seat belt. He ran his eyes over Alex and he was pleased with what he saw. “Am I glad to see you?” He added happily.
“I watched you for a long while, you were so carried away. I hope there is no problem?
“There are series of problems.” He lamented.
“It is well my brother.” Alex said lightly. “I recognized you in this shirt. Don’t tell me you love this shirt so much that you have to get another exact type.” He added.
“It is the same shirt you know. Nothing has changed in my life since you left. I still wear the same boxers too and we are still crowded in that one room. The worst is, I still have to go to that damned workshop every morning and have that old man rant all over me for ten hours of each day. It is the same routine for me year in and year out and I have had it.”
“I understand how you feel Kamil.”
“So what’s been happening to you? You look like you’ve escaped the tangle. You really look good.”
“Yeah, I have. It is by the Grace of God. This ride is mine and I have my own apartment too. I have a little investment also.” Alex announced happily.
“How did you make it so big within the space of a year?” Kamil asked in a mischievous tone.
“I met a rich woman and she introduced me to her husband who gave me a job in his company as the head driver.”
“Alex, you are wicked, you didn’t even remember me all this while. It is not fair.”
“Oh no, Kamil, don’t take it that way. You know how these things are and besides, I know you would have discouraged me.”
“Me? Discourage you? How? ”
“It was a big risk I took then. I am lucky it paid off. Leaving my job just like that without being sure of where I was going. You know what I mean.”
“Job? What job are you talking about? Are you referring to that lousy trap that keeps a soul in perpetual hibernation? You need to appear at the workshop one of these days. The boys will all refuse to turn up for work the very next day just like I won’t show up there tomorrow.”
“Hey, wait a minute. It is not all that rosy out there you know. Every endeavor has its own challenges.”
“I will go through any challenge as long as I have something to show for it. I will do anything to be out of this environment, especially that workshop. Man, let me in on your secret. I don’t believe you got all these within a year from your salary. Come on.”
Alex smiled as he brought the car to a halt in front of his mother’s house.
“You know what Kamil? I have always known that you are smart and intelligent. Yes, there are other things that I do. Dirty things you may not like to hear. Very risky stuff and it is better you don’t know” he said and made to get out of the car but Kamil held him back.
“You know nothing about this Kamil staring at you right now. I will do anything; I will take any risk, any dirt and any shit so long there’s money in it for me. Please tell me what I have to do.” He pleaded desperately.
Alex sat back and watched his old friend for a long moment. He saw the desperation on his face and the zeal in his eyes but they weren’t what persuaded him to tell him what he wanted to know. He was persuaded by the unavoidable smell common to all road side mechanics. It was the stale smell of the combination of fuel and engine oil emitting from his body. It reminded him of himself when he had to carry that same smell with him everywhere he went. And he decided instantly to get his friend out of the lot.
“I will tell you my secret, but first, let me see my mother.” Alex said.
“I will be right here”. Kamil replied and breathed a sigh of relief.
Thirty minutes later, he watched Alex come out of his mother’s house.
“Let’s go somewhere and have a drink and I will give you the load down.”
Kamil gave no reply. They drove in silence until he pulled the car to a halt in front of a drinking parlor. It was well after they had taken their first gulps that Alex began his story.
“Kamil, you are like a brother to me. I see no reason why I shouldn’t tell you my secret but it must remain between us.”
“Cut that shit and blow. You are talking to Kamil. You must know that this will remain between us. Or has your new found wealth sowed a seed of distrust in your mind? If it has, don’t worry about me, okay?”
“Yeah, you are Kamil my main man. I am sorry I said that.”
“Apology accepted. Shoot, I am listening. Did you kill someone?”
“God forbid! How could you say a thing like that?” Alex said in both disgust and shock. He stared at his friend in disbelief.
“Then why are you being so dramatic and secretive about the matter? I know you couldn’t kill anyone to get wealth. That was why I boldly told you I’d do anything. Go ahead, tell me what you did.”
“I have to sleep with the woman I told you about from time to time.” He said coyly.
“Is that all?” Kamil asked in surprise.
“Are you crazy? I said I have to sleep with another man’s wife to get money and you react as though it is nothing? I am a male prostitute, a gigolo for Christ’s sake or don’t you know what that means?”
“Hey, hey!” Kamil cut him quickly. “I know what it means. People do it all the time. I know a lot of guys that do that stuff but I have never seen it as a money spinning machine. You mean you get so much money just sleeping with her?”
“It’s not just her. There are two or three other rich ladies I sleep with for money. They are married but their husbands are too busy to satisfy their sexual needs. I do it for them for a fee.”
“Alex my guy! You are a genius.” Kamil exclaimed and gave a raucous laugh. “I never knew it was such a profitable venture. I get a nudge and a wink that suggests a sexual desire from rich ladies from time to time but I always waved it away thinking I couldn’t afford such an affair. I never knew they pay for it. My god, I have been a fool.”
“Well, these ladies set you up in a cozy apartment, clean you up to their taste, buy you a ride and give you a substantial amount of money every now and then. You could even travel abroad with them. All you need to do is give them good sex in return.”
“Oh Alex, Alex my man, I am very much interested in this set up. You must give me an introduction to one of these ladies. Just one and I will take it from there.”
“That’s no problem at all. One of them is organizing a birthday bash for her daughter. I will be there as her business associate. You can accompany me there.”
“That will be great. Thanks man, I know you are my pal. When is this birthday party?”
“At the end of the month.”
“Ah, that’s about two weeks from now. It’s too long.” Kamil said in disappointment.
“You must relax, two weeks will be gone before you even know it. Don’t be so much in a hurry.”
Two weeks, Kamil thought miserably as he sat idle on the tool box. He had a sleepless night that night. Two weeks suddenly seemed like two years to him. Another two weeks of slavery before he could finally get a break. He had no idea how he’d go through those two long and dreary weeks but he had no doubt it was going to be the longest two weeks of his life. He tried to console himself with the thoughts of the things he would do with the money when it starts to roll in. The thought brought him great relief. It brought a smile to his face.
He was still busy building castles in the air when his boss, Mr. Ade came to the workshop two hours later and met him sitting idle, his morning assignment undone.
Kamil was unaware of his presence as he walked angrily towards him, neither did he hear him call out to him. He was carried away in his day-dream. He was already living in the dream life of a millionaire.
“Have you become deaf?” Mr. Ade yelled as he reached him, startling him. He jolted back to reality quick enough to save himself from falling on the ground. Very angry that he was so rudely cut out of his reverie, he got on his feet reluctantly. He wobbled towards the car without remorse.
He didn’t like being cut out of his silent day dreams. It was exactly what has kept his body and soul together. Both would have long gone their separate ways, and he never allowed anyone or thing to rob him of that exercise. But he managed to control his anger. He had just two weeks to put up with this, he told himself. He got to the car and opened the bonnet, garnering the zeal to work on it.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t worked on that car, you lazy bones.” Mr. Ade said from behind him. “The owner of that car will be here to collect it soon and you have spent the whole morning sitting and doing nothing.”
Still Kamil ignored him. Even though he felt his adrenaline rising, he told himself he had just two more weeks to put up with the old man. He could as well tolerate him. The thought brought a fixed sneer on his face as he began to work on the car.
“I don’t blame you!” Mr. Ade blurted in anger, provoked by the sneer. “Laziness runs in your family, like father like son.” He added, desperate to provoke him too.
That was certainly more than what Kamil could take under a normal circumstance and because he had just two weeks before he changed his life for good, he didn’t think twice. He pulled down the bonnet with all his might, sending a crashing sound that shook the big workshop. He dropped his spanner on the floor and walked with slow deliberate steps to the common room where they kept their clean clothes. Slowly, he rid himself of his work clothes and wore his clean clothes. He was finally done.
Mr. Ade stood by the door and watched him in shock. He had chased after him to continue his lambast and probably hit him like he was wont to but Kamil’s actions made him hold back. He was too stunned to utter another word and too paralyzed to hit him. Kamil’s sudden audacity cautioned him not to be quick in his reaction, so he watched him from a safe distance.
“I am leaving, quitting that is. Don’t worry about paying me for the two weeks I have worked this month. Keep the money.” he declared confidently as he felt the twenty thousand naira in his pocket which Alex gave him the previous night. It was for his shopping for the party. He would go straight to the boutique and get himself new clothes. He must begin at once to live like a big boy.
“Tell your father not to come begging because this time, I will not allow you back here.” Mr. Ade said when he was sure there was a safe distance between them.
“I will but if he shows up here, drive him away so he wouldn’t keep on bothering you.” Kamil shouted.
His coworkers and apprentices took a break from their engagements and watched him in surprise, they were all convinced he had suddenly gone mad. No one dares to treat Mr. Ade that way, not even the customers and to hear him give away his half salary was further proof that something was definitely wrong with him that morning. He could sense their thought and this made him determine to make the workshop his first point of call when the money starts rolling in. The thought made him smile and walking with the gait of a man already swimming in wealth, and glad that he was finally able to break the spell that has kept him captive for seven long years. He went through the gate, down the busy road, humming Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
He covered the distance to the boutique on foot. The scorching sun meant nothing to him, for the first time he was at peace with himself so he strolled leisurely in spite of the heat. He watched a car pull to a screeching halt in front of him. He would have cursed but he felt too cool to be bothered. As he walked past, he heard Alex’s voice call out to him. He smiled and went round to the front passenger seat. He let himself into the car and the cool breeze from the Air conditioner calmed his nerves. He thought how cool it felt to be rich.
“Don’t tell me you own this machine too.” He said breathlessly as he took in the suave appearance of his friend.
“Oh no, it belongs to one of the ladies.”
“Wow, I can’t wait to be like you.”
“Oh boy, what happened? Mr. Ade thinks you have been smoking a lot of Indian hemp lately.” Alex said.
“Don’t mind that old man. I quit. You don’t know how long I have longed to find the guts to do so. Anyway, how are you? What’s up, why are you here?”
“Boy, I have good news for you!”
Kamil jolted in his seat. Good news from Alex right now can only mean he has found a lady for him and he won’t have to wait two weeks.
“Tell me quickly.” He cried in excitement.
“I met my lady’s friend last night and she wants me to get her a guy to take care of her. Now here I am.”
“Take care of her? I thought they took care of us?” Kamil cut in.
“Yes of course. You take care of them in kind and they take care of you in cash, that’s the way it is.”
“Okay, okay, when do we meet her?”
“Today. Good thing you’ve quitted that job. She is very loaded and I am sure she will take very good care of you. But there is a snag.” He said
“What is it?” Kamil asked, a frown appeared on his face.
“You will live in the staff quarters behind the main house like every other staff. That is her condition. It is weird though.”
“Ah, won’t her husband suspect us?” Kamil asked in fear.
“That is the very reason I said it was weird. But my friend told me it’s her mode of operation. She likes to keep her guys very close by. You will have to be very discreet about it. Or do we hold on until the party:”
“Oh no, no problem at all, I will be very careful.” He said quickly.
“I trust my guy. This is just a start point, you will move on later when you meet other chics, probably at that party. Ok?”
“Ok, thanks man.”
“Have you bought the clothes?”
“Not yet, I was on my way to get them.”
“Let’s get you well kitted first then you will do something about your finger nails and toes. You require a manicure and pedicure, plus a haircut too. You must look suave”
“I get the drift. Let’s go there!”
Two hours later, Alex dropped him off at home with a promise to pick him later at six for the appointment. He watched him drive away before he began a slow and deliberate walk towards the dilapidated building that has been his home since he was born. For the first time, he saw the true miserable state of the house and he felt a repulsive feeling knowing his father had been so happy to have a free room in it. The thought made him angry and because he was very angry, he did not bother to knock on the door. He pushed it open and stepped into the room. He was surprised to see his father at home, busy packing.
“Good afternoon sir,” he greeted without interest, Clinging unto the shopping bag that contained his new clothes.
“Good afternoon son, why are you home so early?” The old man replied, pausing in his occupation.
“I quit.” Kamil announced plainly.
“You what? His father asked, very surprised, forgetting his occupation for the moment.
“I no longer work there. I got fed up so I quit.” Kamil said obstinately
“Why? It is just the middle of the month, you should have waited until the end of the month to get your full salary. I was hoping we’d use part of it to get a new mattress for the new room.”
“He left me no choice so I told him to go to hell.” He said confidently.
“You did what?” The old man screamed in anger and shock. “Have you gone mad? Do you know what I go through to have him keep you employed?”
“I can only imagine it sir.” He replied dryly.
The old man watched him a moment, realizing he needn’t argue, he asked. “Did he pay you your half salary then?”
“No, I told him to keep it.” Kamil replied gaily without a care. He was enjoying himself.
“You must be mad!” His father blurted, infuriated by his son’s audacity. “Don’t you know what that money can do for our family? I must go there myself and collect that money. You don’t throw away money just like that!” he breathed.
“He said to tell you not to show your face there. He threatens to throw you out.”
“Then he must be the one that has suddenly gone mad but I must collect the money.” He said boldly.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, he was pretty convincing.”
“What exactly do you plan to do now?” The old man asked, ignoring him. He’d already made up his mind that Mr. Ade was no threat to him.
“Don’t worry about me.”
“I will. I have to know what you intend to do. I am sure you know that there is no room for idlers here”.
“I will get another job.” Kamil said coldly.
“I have an interview later today for a driver.”
“A driver? What about your hard work?”
“I will save up money to start my own workshop. I am done working for people.”
“That’s okay. We certainly need money now we are expanding. I must see Ade tomorrow and collect what he owes you.” He said, dismissing him.
“Please don’t go there. He’ll embarrass you.”
“Or you mean I will embarrass him. Leave him to me?”
“Suit yourself. Well, if I get the job, I will be moving out. The offer comes with an accommodation.”
“You’ll get the job alright but don’t forget your folks. You must continue to give us an allowance each month.”
Kamil walked away in anger without a reply. So typical of his father to milk him dry, he thought as he went. He began to regret letting him into his secret when he should have just disappeared. He would give them nothing, he decided as he walked to the backyard but when he saw his mother trying unsuccessfully to make a fire, he realized he could never abandon them. He could never turn his back on his dear and hardworking mother, or his two lovely sisters or his only brother. He was only mad at his father; he could never really turn his back on him too. He would strive to make enough money that he would be able to share with his family. He must liberate his family from the shackles of poverty. They were his responsibility.
He walked to his mother and told her about his plans. His previous anger was assuaged by her earnest prayers. He left her to her chores and headed to the nearby barbing saloon for a haircut. When he returned home, he decided his fingers and toes were next. He got a bowl of warm water and emptied into it the 50 grams sachet detergent he bought on his way sack. He soused both hands into the solution, deciding his feet would follow later. Looking at his fingers and toes and feet, he realized a professional manicure, pedicure would have been more adequate but he couldn’t afford it. All his poverty would end soon, he assured himself with a smile.
Two hours later, when he was sure he’d done all he could about his fingers toes and feet, he decided the rest of his body needed a similar touch too. He wished he could souse his entire body too. He spent another hours in the bathroom, scrubbing every trace of dirt on his skin, determined to rid himself of that smell which seemed to have become a part of him. When he finally emerged from the bathroom, he secretly agreed to himself that he has never been so clean in his entire life. He spent another hour dressing. When he came out to the frontage to await Alex’s arrival, he found his father and his best friend, a no-do-gooder too, sitting on the long bench he had intended to sit while he waited. He was immediately consumed by a surge of anger within him.
“Are you applying for the position of a president? Why did you take so long to prepare?” His father asked him mockingly.
Kamil paid him no attention; neither did he give him any response. He walked past them instead, with a stony expression on his face which he hoped would adequately convey his disgust. He was clearly in no mood to talk to them.
This is exactly why they have both remained so poor and miserable and useless, he thought. He walked to the heap of gravel but he did not sit as usual. He was too prim and proper to sit on the dirty gravel. He consulted his wrist watch and discovered it was five minutes to six. Give or take, Alex will be along in twenty minutes. He would wait on his feet. He hoped it won’t be longer than that. But as he reached the conclusion, he saw him pull up in front of him. He got into the car without wasting any more time.
“Let me say hello to your folks, it’s been so long.” Alex said as he opened the door.
“Don’t bother, no one is at home.” He said plainly, eager to be out of there.
“Some other time then.” He said starting the car as he ran his eyes through his friend.
“You look really good. I am sure she’ll not only fall for you, she will melt too.”
“Are you sure? I really need her to.”
“Well, you look good enough but you must exhibit poise and maturity. Tell her you are thirty five years or above and definitely, don’t give the appearance of a novice. And if you get holed up with her in a room, you must exude a sense of great experience. You must be in charge always. Do you understand me so far?”
“Oh yeah.” Kamil replied without much enthusiasm. He saw at once that there was going to be a problem and he wished Alex had given him the lesson yesterday. He would have had time to do a crash program in one of the brothels around. He barely had any experience with women. He has had sex twice and it had been a quickie with a girl named Risikat who hawked groundnut at the workshop. Both occasions had been done in quite a hurry, without any preambles and it was done behind the workshop building. They had both been preoccupied by the task of being on the lookout in case someone approached. It wasn’t much of an experience and after two encounters, he had decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Ever since, sex has never really appealed to him but now that he knew he was going to get paid for it, he wished he had enough experience. The thought saddened him. He wondered why he didn’t give it a thought before now. He was so sad he couldn’t pay any more attention to Alex’s further lectures as he realized each second took them closer to their destination. He was almost at the verge of voicing out his secret worries when what he believed was a miracle occurred. Suddenly, he remembered one of his colleagues once told him alcohol can enhance a good sexual performance! He was so happy he decided he’d load himself with the stuff. This was his lucky break and he must do everything to make her happy. He must give a good and memorable performance that would impress her and make her fall for him. But he had no idea that this could also be detrimental to his performance!