Kamil finally allowed his eyes to yield to sleep. His heart could finally relax and feel free from fear and now very sure of his second chance, he closed his eyes to sleep as the kilometers that separated him from Lagos state increased.
He has had the past two months to reminisce the past events and he was now very convinced that it was by sheer miracle that he was still alive. He still could not tell how Jaiye had arrived at the scene that would have been the end of his life. Neither could he explain the miracle of the battle between Johnbull and one of the assassins which gave him the chance to escape. He couldn’t tell either where he got the strength to run the way he did but he was glad he did.
He ran for hours without stopping. For four days and three nights, Kamil dwelled in the forest. Not once did he encounter a soul, either human or animal. Although, he was terrified by his environment and surrounding, the zeal to survive kept him going. He just kept on, convinced he’d come across a community or a settlement soon. But he could have been moving in circles for soon became days.
After four fear-filled days and three horrifying nights, he was sure he has finally reached his end. Famished and completely exhausted, he knew he was right at the point of his death and there was nothing else he could do but to resign to his fate. He lost all his zeal to fight to keep alive, there was no hope for him and no point in prolonging his pain. So he located a big tree and laid his body on the trunk. He would allow himself to fall asleep and hopefully drift away peacefully into the great beyond. He has fought a good fight and there was nothing else he could do now than to surrender willingly. He wondered what would happen to his body. Perhaps he’d become the lunch of some wild animals. Or the vultures would give him an unbefitting burial. He didn’t care anymore as a pang of regret hit him. If only he had listened to Alex, he wouldn’t be at the point of death now. He should have listened to his friend. He should never have moved into the same compound with Jaiye, he would have been able to play his cards well. Perhaps by now, he would have had an array of women at his beck and call. Women who would have fixed him up just like Alex. If only he had kept far away from Yemi, that was the point where he fucked up. Everything was alright before her arrival. But she was hot and he was glad he had a share of her body. It was a memory he’d carry to his grave. He allowed the thoughts of her to linger in his soul, deciding not to spend his last hour on regrets. The thoughts of her and their many encounters brought him some comfort. At least, he’d die happy, he consoled himself.
The only regret he permitted in his heart was the bag of money he kept under his bed. He wished his father could get to it but he knew it was all a wistful wish. Waving it aside, he allowed his mind to dwell on Yemi’s body, determined to drift away without any sorrows.
But that was not the day of Kamil’s fated untimely death. By a stroke of yet another miracle, his path and that of a wary hunter crossed at that same hour, causing his death to be averted one more time!
That afternoon, the hunter spotted what he thought was a big animal resting under the big tree. He had an unlucky night and determined not to return home empty-handed, he decided to search deeper into the forest. As he approached, gun in hand and ready to shoot, he realized the animal must have dozed off. It must have eaten some of the marula fruits he came across moments ago, the hunter thought happily. Concluding it was his lucky day afterall, he decided he’d break the village record by killing the big animal with his bare hands and knife rather than mar its body with bullets. It will be his day of glory, to kill such a big animal was a thing he knew would make him very famous, not only in his immediate village but throughout the neighboring villages too. And very determined to achieve this feat, he took silent, cautious steps towards it, his knife in his left hand and his gun in his right, ready to shoot should the animal suddenly make an unexpected run. He wished so much that he wouldn’t have to shoot. If he could only reach it and cut off its neck without a single bullet wound in its body, he will be acclaimed the greatest hunter of his time. And his disrespectful wife, as well as the entire village, will all begin to accord him great respect. He was already imagining the village youths bearing him on their shoulder and dancing with him around the village when he discovered it wasn’t an animal but a human being lying under the tree. And very disappointed and angry, his first impulse was to leave the half-dead man to his fate. He walked away, past him and continued on his quest but after a few meters, he returned back grudgingly when he could no longer fight with his conscience.
It was Kamil’s lucky fortune because the hunter did not only spare his life, he saved it. He took him home and nursed him back to life and good health. It was days later that he realized he was now in the Republic of Benin!
Weeks later, when he was fully recovered and fit to leave, Kamil was still trapped in the remote village. He had no means of leaving. Not only did he or the hunter not have the money for his fare, but there were also no vehicles in the village to fare him. The only available vehicle came once in a fortnight to a less remote village several miles away. The fare was so high there was no way he could raise the money. Trade within the village, to Kamil’s astonishment, was mainly by barter. It was a shock to him to discover such things still existed anywhere in the world in this millennium but he was the only one shocked. The villagers went about their businesses happily. They seemed contented to live in the past, exchanging what they have for what they need. Cash was valueless to them and very few people had it. He realized if he decides to raid the entire village, he still wouldn’t raise enough money to pay his fare to the nearest town.
Kamil felt stuck. The language barrier was another huge problem. No one spoke a single word in the English language, so no one understood him or his predicament. The only language of the villagers was similar to French and Kamil couldn’t understand a single word in French either.
For weeks he regretted that the hunter had found and saved him. He would have been long dead and over his problems. Anywhere else was better than being in the godforsaken village and villagers. Not even one of the village girls could tickle his fancy, none was good enough to appeal to him. It would have been so nice to have some distractions but he was doomed to his sealed fate. He felt like an alien!
Then on one fateful morning, when he was sure he has had enough, he waited for his host and his family to head for the farm before he headed in the opposite direction. He helped himself to as much food supply he could carry, he was sure the hunter would understand why he had to steal from him. He was tired of regret and was now inclined to do something about his situation. He didn’t care anymore whether he died in the process but he was determined to find civilization.
He walked the whole day and rested only at night. It was three days later he came across a car track. He was so glad to find a trace of civilization that he continued on the track, half running and half walking along the track. He continued until nightfall and when it became too dark to see, he decided to rest and continue the next morning. Hours later, he was awoken by the sound of approaching cars. He watched in disbelief as two cars sped past him despite the rough terrain and bad road. He jumped on his feet as he heard the sound of another approaching car. For the next hours, he watched more cars speed past him but he was unable to stop any. The way they drove on the bad road and dangerously maintained a convoy told him clearly that he was on the same road through which cars where smuggled. He could not thank his stars enough that he had taken the initiative to leave the village.
By morning he was still unable to stop any car and they stopped coming. He realized with regret that he would have to wait till nightfall to get another chance. He had managed to avoid being knocked down when he attempted to step on the road to force a car to stop. He had decided he won’t make another attempt but now he wished he had tried harder.
When it was bright enough, he decided to keep walking. Luck came his way three hours later when he spotted a parked car ahead of him. He ran towards it but there was no one around. Knowing the driver will be around somewhere, he leaned on the car and waited. Moments later, he watched a man approach from the nearby bush. He was glad to see from his clothes that he was not from around.
“What are you doing near my car?” the man demanded curtly.
“Thank God you speak English!” Kamil exclaimed. He went ahead and narrated his ordeal.
“My car has broken down and I am stuck here too until I find someone to bring me a mechanic.” The man explained.
“What is the problem? I am a mechanic, I may be able to fix it.”
“Are you serious?” the man said happily, it was his turn to be glad to see a stranger in the forest.
Two hours later, Kamil was able to fix the car and in exchange, the driver agreed to take him to Abuja, where he was headed.
Kamil could not believe his ears. He was so glad to be out of the environment that he didn’t care where they were headed, so long as it wasn’t Lagos state. Chief Ani’s warning was a constant ringing bell in his ears. He would avoid him like a plaque, he promised himself as he took his seat beside the driver. And as they sped away, he was glad he got another chance.
Had Kamil been religious, he would have dedicated his life completely to his creator and shunned sin. He would have realized he has had his fair share of miracles and remain grateful for them. But Kamil’s gratitude for the many miracles of his life was nothing compared to his desire for worldly things. And now that he has had the good, the bad and the hard life, he felt inclined to make a choice. He chose the good life, assuring himself that he had more lives than a cat, having escaped death more than he cared to count.
He was glad he was going to the Federal Capital City. He has heard stories and if all he has heard is anything to go by, then he was a lucky man to be headed there. He’d start afresh, he’d bounce back. He didn’t need Jaiye or Yemi anymore. He was sure he’d find better women over there. He has learned his lessons and they were going to guide him now. He has been told that the Capital City has so many lonely women, he was sure he could have a handful without having to be entangled. The thought gave him great hope and he allowed himself to fall asleep.
Kamil made his plans without considering his basic needs. He has been told that Abuja is a bed of roses, no one told him some of the beds have no roof over them. Especially for a penniless and jobless guy like him. He’d reckoned without his dire need for accommodation or start-up cash. He was so sure he was heading to a land flowing with milk and honey and all he has to do is grab his share. And as the driver finally brought the car to a halt at the popular Berger Roundabout, jolting him rudely out of sleep, he was very unprepared for what followed.
The driver announced that he has reached the end of their journey together and he has to get down. Kamil’s heart did a triple summersault as he suddenly realized he had nowhere to go. He told the driver his problem but unfortunately, too, he was also a stranger in town. His duty was to deliver the car to the owner and head back to his base and he could not be of help. In the end, he grudgingly parted with two thousand naira which he hoped would be of help to him. He then advised him to locate a Police station or an uncompleted building where he could spend the night since he had no money for a hotel room.
Kamil decided an uncompleted building sounded better to him. Even though the Police Force was explicit in its slogan that they were friends, he did not allow the lie to deceive him. He has had too many encounters while at the workshop to know how untrue those claims were. Deciding he wouldn’t be deceived even though this was the Capital City, he crossed the road and headed towards the Zone 6 area of Wuse District, in search of an uncompleted building.
The bright street lights influenced his decision to head in that direction but before he covered two poles, he spotted a police patrol van in front of him. He ducked behind a tree for cover. It was already late in the night and it wouldn’t do to get on the wrong side of the law within his very first hour in town. He knew the charges well, he was not in Abuja to wander and no cops were going to arrest him for wandering. He allowed the van to get out of sight before he continued. Some meters ahead, he spotted a police checkpoint and without a second thought, he made a U-turn and retraced his steps back. He was certainly on the wrong side of town, he told himself wryly. He crossed the Berger Roundabout again and this time, he headed in the opposite direction towards the Utako area, on the lookout for the first available uncompleted building. As he went he encountered more patrol vans but he was too tired to retrace his steps and head in another direction. He was now sure he’d find them in every direction he took. He prepared his mind to duck for cover whenever he spotted one. He was very careful to avoid the street lights, keeping to the shadows of tall buildings, he walked on. He was relieved to spot a construction site ahead of him at last. He walked fast towards it but he was chased away by stern and unfriendly guards that didn’t care about his predicament. After three such encounters, he began to experience fear but he waved it away determinedly. He assured himself he has come a long way and gone through too much to quit now. He assured himself once again that it was better to die young in the quest to get honor and wealth than to live a long, poverty-stricken inglorious life and still die in obscurity. And with that assurance, he kept on. He’d do everything to make money in this land, plenty of it for that matter. There was no room for fear, for he now knew death will come only when it will come. He has had more than enough close shaves with death to know this.
After thirty minutes of a fast walk, he realized he could walk all night and be continuously chased away by wicked guards. So he decided to abandon the major roads and search the byways instead. He took the first turn he found on his right but a few minutes later, he discovered it was a cul-de-sac and there were no uncompleted buildings. He stood in frustration and gazed ahead of him. He could see faint lights down a steep slope not far from him. He could make out the outlay too and he was glad to see they were different types of houses. They were not in the same order too. He might get a place to spend the night there, he told himself. Realizing too that he could not go through the thick bush in front of him, he made his way back to the major road he had just abandoned. He continued down the road discretely and after a few poles, he came to another untarred road. He knew at once that it led to the houses he’d spotted. He took the turn, glad that it was dark and lonely and quiet. After few meters, he became sure no police van would bother to come down that way. From the look of it, he could tell the area ahead of him was densely populated by the poor people of Abuja. He felt an air of welcome as he covered the long stretch of empty land. After another thirty minutes of walking and now completely exhausted, he finally came across the first uncompleted building on the road. And without wasting time, he jumped through the bushes and entered the roofless building, glad that it was empty. He didn’t care that it was dirty and stinky, neither did he fear reptiles or insects, he was too tired to care or fear. He only hoped he could find a better place in the morning and he won’t have to spend another night there. He did a quick survey of building before he finally picked a spot he was sure was good enough. He laid his tired body on the bare hard floor. The floor welcomed his aching body without a grudge.
Even though the building sat alone in the midst of thick grasses and dirt, he was glad no one chased him away. And although it was highly unhabitable and obviously abandoned by the owner, it had beckoned and welcomed him. He made up his mind to clean it up the next day and make it a bit more habitable should he need to spend more nights there. He slept off almost immediately.
He was startled out of his sleep hours later. He suddenly felt an awareness that he was being watched even though he had been deeply asleep. The heat from the scorching sun, the hardness of the hard floor and the events of the previous weeks converged at a point in his brain, causing him to jump up in fear. He made a quick search of his pocket and discovered with joy that his money was still intact. It was only after the confirmation he allowed his nose to function. The pungent smell of weed hit his nostrils and he made a 360 degrees turn in search of its source. He came to a halt as his gaze fell on a young man sitting on the window frame some feet away. The man watched Kamil as he puffed on his weed. As Kamil faced him, he released a mouth full of smoke into the air and peered at him through the haze. He remained quiet.
Kamil ignored him. He took a quick look around the environment and realized he had spent the night in someone’s, or some people’s, toilet. The thought gave him nausea. His stomach heaved and he coughed but nothing came out of his empty bowels. The realization that he has not had any real food for the past week made him suddenly very hungry. He picked up his shoes and began to slowly wear them.
The man on the window frame continued to watch him without a word. Kamil walked past him quietly as he made his way out of what he was now sure was another fellow’s future living room.
“Do you care for some?” the man asked, offering him his marijuana.
Kamil nodded his head, rejecting the offer. On his way, he could see a number of people, squatting in the bush, answering nature’s call. He could not help but wonder if this was the same Abuja he has heard so much about. He walked past them, careful not to step on shit. Again, he waved his thoughts of disappointment aside, he was too determined to be discouraged.
He walked towards the busy area, in search of food. This must be the worst slum there is and he wasn’t meant to be here, he assured himself as he went. The walk seemed endless and just when he was about to retrace his steps back, he spotted a woman sitting by a lighted fire by the roadside, frying beancakes. Kamil felt he has just received another miracle at the sight of her. He quickened his pace and hurried towards her. He was lucky to find an empty seat. He sat down and placed his order of beancakes and pap. He ate with gusto, not caring that he was attracting everyone’s attention.
At the end, his purchases reduced his finances by two hundred naira but he didn’t worry. Moments later, feeling very rejuvenated and strong, he decided to take a more conscious walk around his environment. He wasn’t impressed by what he saw. He decided to head back to the Berger roundabout again but first, he must locate a public convenience facility and freshen up.
On his way in search of a facility, he ran into the only person he could recognize among the multitude. It was a relief to meet the same person a second time even though they barely knew each other.
“Excuse me.” He said and hurried to meet him
“Oh, it’s you again, what can I do for you.”
“Well, I am new around here and I want some directions. You know, the way around here.” He said.
“I see. Did you spend the night in that uncompleted building?” The man asked and Kamil nodded that he did.
“I thought so.” He said and laughed. “That area is the general toilet. That is where we smoke weed too. Half the people here use that area to get high. You will find better accommodations on the other side.” The man teased and pointed.
“How was I to know that?” Kamil half retorted. “Like I said, I am new in town.” He added angrily.
“I am almost new too. I have spent just six months in Abuja.”
“And you are happy to live in a dump such as this?” Kamil asked sarcastically, desperate to annoy him too.
“This is paradise, compared to other places I know.” He replied without the slightest sign of anger. “Wait and see.”
Kamil’s heart reeled, so there were worse places? He asked himself. “Are there public convenience facilities around here? I need to freshen up.” He asked, pushing his fear aside. He was now in Abuja and he knew there were definitely better places than this. He would find them.
Rather than give him an answer, the man began to laugh again. It got on Kamil’s nerves but he controlled his anger. He needed help so, he watched him in silence and waited for him to have his fill of laughter.
“Oh, I am sorry but I couldn’t help but laugh.” The man apologized but he maintained a funny look on his face. Kamil said nothing. He didn’t find the question funny.
“You are not only new in this vicinity, I guess you are also new in Abuja, and you probably must have heard stories. Like every other big city, Abuja has a suburb and you are in one of them. Unfortunately, there are no such government amenities here.” the man narrated. “I have accommodation, although it is an uncompleted building too but it is a lot better than the one you slept in last night. You can hang out with me until you find your own place.” He added quickly when he saw the frustration in Kamil’s face.
“Really? Thanks a million. I was beginning to hate this place. This is more or less a slum. I was actually contemplating hitting the main city.”
“This is not a slum compared to some other areas. This place is one of the many Gwari villages.”
“Gwari village? You mean there are villages’ in Abuja?” Kamil asked in surprise.
“Yes, the Gwari people are the original owners of the large expanse of land known as the Federal Capital Territory.”
“And they are happy to live in slums such as this one while non-indigenes live in the opulent areas?” Kamil asked in disgust.
“Well, from what I am told, the Gwari people shy away from civilization. They see civilization but they refuse to be part of it. Well, this place you call a slum is actually a city to them. If you see other Gwari settlements and villages, you will have a change of opinion.”
Kamil thought about it and decided he didn’t want to see. The image of the village where he spent the past weeks was still very fresh in his mind and he was in no hurry to see another one.
“We are happy to live here.” The man continued. “They are very warm and homely people and we all live in harmony. Besides, this is one of the closest to the heart of Abuja. You will love it here”
“Oh no, definitely not! I have no intention of ending my journey to Abuja here. I intend to hit the town soon.” Kamil replied boldly.
“Do you have plenty of cash?”
“No.” He fessed-up. “But I came to make money, big money.”
“Then you must forget about such daydreams.” He said plainly.
“I won’t. I have great plans.” He replied in confidence.
“How do you plan to survive out there?”
“There must be a way. I came into town very late last night, otherwise I would have headed straight to the main town.”
“Hmm, I like your spirits but unfortunately, it is not what makes things happen in this city. The only language understood here is called money, plenty of it for that matter!”
“I am sure there are uncompleted buildings there too. I intend to go in search of one.” Kamil said, ignoring the warning.
“This is Abuja and it is a different place altogether from where you came from. Where exactly are you from anyway?”
“I come from Lagos state, the Center of Excellence. We Lagosians naturally want the best and because I have spent all my days in Lagos, I know how to get by. By the way, my name is Kamil, what’s yours?”
“My name is Kingsley, KC for short and I come from Edo state, the Heartbeat of the Nation.”
“Wow!” Kamil exclaimed and they shook hands. “You sound like you are a happening guy to me. What are you doing in a slum as this one when the real deal is just within your grasp?”
“It is not as simple as you have just put it. It is not so easy out there my friend, believe me. A lot of people come to Abuja with big dreams. And I am one of them. Every one of us soon discovered the painful fact that there is a lot between dreams and realities, just like you’ll soon discover too.”
“What do you mean? Don’t tell me every house in this town is occupied. There must be uncompleted buildings there too in the heart of town. I intend to start with that.” Kamil asked.
“There are many of them but it is not as simple as the arrangement here. Most of the houses have guards and you know, the police do a random raid of such houses. If you are caught and you are unlucky, you could spend the whole of five years in prison awaiting trial for wandering!”
“You don’t mean it.” Kamil gasped, thankful that he had avoided the city and had junked his way down here instead. He remembered the number of police vehicles he had seen last night. The remembrance put paid to his dream of heading to town in search of an uncompleted building.
“Believe me bro, this is Abuja, the center of inequality, the slogan should have read.” KC said sadly, “Abuja city is for the very rich only. Poor people like us dwell in the slums like this one.” He added even more sadly.
“Well, not for long bro, I know what to do. I have heard stories and if what I have heard is anything to go by, Abuja is the best city under the Nigerian sun. I came loaded with ideas and expectations. And I am not easily discouraged.” Kamil said confidently, pushing aside his fears.
“Like I said earlier, I like your spirit man and I honestly wish it was a criterion.”
“Trust me, it is. You need a positive spirit man, it helps. What do you do for a living?”
“I am a graduate of Economics, I did my youth service two years ago but I am still a job seeker. You?”
“I am a graduate too, mechanical engineering. I have searched for a government job for three years but I have been unlucky. I worked with a private company before I decided to come to Abuja. I was done with the peanuts I was earning over there. I am here for the real deal.”
“I don’t mean to discourage you but you should have made do with what you had. I survive here by doing menial jobs. I work at construction sites as a daily laborer and it is tough.”
“I can’t do that! I can’t even imagine myself doing that. I mean, I am damned too suave to do such a job.” Kamil declared.
“We will see.” KC replied tartly. “Let’s go to my house, I guess I will take the day off duty and get you acquainted with the way things work around here.” he added.
“Yeah, that will be a great idea.” Kamil replied in excitement.
“I hope you have enough money to feed both of us for the day because I am completely low in cash?” KC asked.
“Let’s go, we’ll get by.” Kamil said happily. “I need a shower and a good sleep, can you fix that?” He asked with the confidence of a man of wealth whereas he had less than two thousand naira in his pocket. He was desperate to give his new friend an exaggerated impression of his status.
“Of course, you are my guest and my employer for the day as long as you have the dough.” KC beamed even though he was not fooled by Kamil. He was happy he won’t have to carry concrete until the next day.
“Don’t worry, you will be glad we met, I’ll teach you one or two skills.”
“I am already having that feeling.” He replied and smiled. “You see these people?” KC asked as they walked away. He waved his hand to his right to indicate the people he was talking about. “We gather here every morning and wait for people in need of our services to come and hire us. We do this from Mondays through Saturdays, we only rested on Sundays, after giving thanks and tithe to God. This is the labor market; this is where we make a living!” He concluded sadly.
“It won’t be for me.” Kamil replied bluntly. “I know what I want and I am going to get it. You will see.” he added matter-of-factly.
KC decided not to argue with him, he preferred to wait and see for himself.