The accident: A short story
— Or the roots of evil are not too far away once you spot the fruits of evil
It was an accident.
Hasan Rago, a young expert on the Boko Haram insurgency and independent security consultant, is returning to Kaduna in his 2012 Lexus ES 350. The calmness of the road and the lush linen of forestry seem to encourage some daydreaming. So that is exactly what he does while absentmindedly tapping the steering wheel to cheer 9ice who sings ‘No Be Mistake’ in the background.
It’s me dey celebrate
Join me and jubilate
No be mistake o, eehhh
No be mistake o, eehhh
And what is there not to celebrate? Everyone who knew Hasan five years back would never have pictured him in the driver’s seat of any car, let alone a 2012 Lexus ES 350 — except perhaps as a chauffeur and even that was a long stretch. He was broke and broken in every way imaginable. It was 2009. He had just been expelled from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for beating up a senior lecturer. He was in his penultimate year and Mr Rago, who had just been diagnosed of prostrate cancer, would rather spend money on chemotherapy than buy a new JAMB application form for the 23-year-old.
His drug addiction worsened. And, tired of being compared to his father’s 12 other children and the children of every of his father’s siblings and those of every neighbour within a 10-mile radius, Hasan took off one morning, hoping to find solace in the streets. His life became a shapeshifter, except he had no say in the transformation. He was like a dog on a leash taking a joyless walk in the park with Master Destiny. One moment, he was working at a construction site in Kafanchan, the next, he had become a commercial motorcyclist in Zaria lifting everyone but himself to their desired destinations.
His big turnaround happened three years ago. The federal government led by Muhammed Balarabe, who is rumoured to have been a major gang leader himself during his youth, started an amnesty programme for bandits in the region. Luckily, Hasan was one of them. Thanks to his level of education, he was nominated among those to be flown to Germany for a one-year professional course in Security Governance and Conflict Resolution.
As though reading his mind, 9ice cries out from the speaker in his signature hoarse but soothing voice:
I don’t know why God choose me
I don’t know why history supports me
Maybe because I am one of them
Maybe because I am proud of them
Because maybe as it goes I run
Because maybe you might hear me fall
I share their pain, I know their gain
It’s my time to reign
Becoming somewhat of a celebrity after a couple of feature stories on CNN, DW, Washington Post, and some other international media platforms whose names he can’t remember, he returned to Nigeria in 2012 ready to conquer. Not only is he on the payroll of the Ministry of Defence, he also consults for various non-governmental organisations. And now, he returns from Abuja where he has just signed a two-year helluva-juicy deal with the UK-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting. It is indeed Hasan’s time to reign.
He tries to remember Mr Rago and thinks of how enjoyable it would have been if he were alive to see his son do so well for himself. Why did he have to die so prematurely and peacefully? He should be alive to see his spanking new ride and pricey private home in the high-est-brow area of Kaduna and to whimper in deep-seated regret at how harshly he treated him.
‘Respect is reciprocal; ori o j’ori,’ bursts 9ice, who must be reading his thoughts again. Hassan raises his finger and is about to tap the steering wheel in agreement with the lyrical legend, but he finds himself instead hugging it like a man shaking his prodigal son who has just returned home after stealing and spending his life savings. There is a loud bang. Or there was. He is not sure which happened first. There is certainly screeching. But with the windows wound up and AC on full swing, it seems distant, almost inaudible. As it wobbles impulsively, the Lexus feels like it has become possessed, perhaps by a masquerade whose only dance move involves continuous somersault. Hasan is no longer in control. He is no longer on top of the world. He no longer thinks of his father or remembers he had one. What happens next, the panic, the blurred vision, the brakes, the tumbling, the final landing … seems to happen both super-fast and in slow motion at the same time. Damn! The seat belt. ‘Today of all days.’
Respect is reciprocal
Ori o j’ori, gbafun muri ni gba fun gbada
When he wakes up, Hasan is already on his feet. Strange, he would think much later when he casts his mind back to this moment. He is standing but his soles do not press against any visible object. It must be a bad dream, but how come he feels like he has a splitting headache. Do heads still ache in the dreamworld? Do hearts beat also or… Before he has had time to study his environment, he hears his name: Hasan, son of Rago! ‘Is … is that God?’ ‘Am I in Heaven?’ He never gave much thought to how God would sound if he were able to hear him but he’d expected it to be much more baritone and full of authority. What he hears sounds like Davido with a little bit of autotune. Or maybe the Almighty just manifests himself through the voice of the listener’s favourite artiste.
‘No,’ the unseen finally responds. ‘This is not Heaven. And I am not God.’
‘We have brought you here for a quick test and will return you to your world as soon as you provide answers.’
‘Answers?’ asks a bewildered Hassan. ‘I only consult on matters relating to insecurity. Or is there a conflict in Heaven that God is not able to resolve himself?’
A loud, slow laughter echoes endlessly in the horizon-less space. It would have been terrifying, except he still could not but imagine Davido behind a microphone playing a prank on him — or something.
‘You have dedicated the past few years to supporting organisations to bring an end to the loss of lives and property in Nigeria. Banditry and the insurgency have left thousands dead already and caused millions of others to be displaced. We have decided it is high time we brought an end to this reign of terror and restore peace to the people of Northern Nigeria. But we need a human to sign off on this plan and we have chosen you. Every year, we give similar opportunities to different people who are engaged in fights against such evils as robbery, sexual violence, cancer, poor language skills...’
‘Are you … Are you asking if I want to bring an end to insecurity in Nigeria? Of course.’
‘No. We are asking for green-light to bring an abrupt end to it. Once you agree, the killings will stop and all terrorists and bandits will surrender arms for recovery and themselves for prosecution.’
‘You don’t have to worry,’ the unseen says, reading Hasan’s unspoken thoughts like his nice musician-friend. ‘Whatever happens here will not be used against you on Judgement Day. Tickets to Heaven or Hell are only distributed in the earthly world.’
‘Ohh.’ ‘Oh, well, alright then.’
‘You think I can have some time to think about it?’ Hasan finally asks. ‘I cannot decide immediately. Too many things to consider. Too much pressure. You have to understand…’
‘How much time do you need,’ the voice cuts in.
‘Well, two years should be enough,’ he says, hoping the unseen cannot hear him thinking about his juicy Abuja deal and his plans to surprise his girlfriend, Linda, with an SUV for her birthday in November.
‘OK,’ the unseen replies, surprisingly making no attempt to question his decision. ‘You shall have your two years.’
When he opens his eyes, a strange man stares back at him. The floor is hard and full of warm, tiny pebbles. He had expected a bed, the leather feel of the hospital bed, and the familiar scent of drugs. He had thought he would wake up to see a man dressed in white, with a stethoscope hung across his neck, a folder in hand, and a broad smile. He had imagined, maybe from watching movies, that this man would say something like, ‘Hey, Mr Rago. We thought we almost lost you there.’
Instead, what he sees is a lanky yet terrifying man, clad in an odd combination of clothes that could definitely do with some ironing, a turban big enough to hide a five-year old, and holding one of the shiniest AK-47 rifles he has ever seen at close range.
‘Kai! E don move. I no tell you se dis one never die?’ the strange man announces to someone standing across the darkly lit room. A smirk leaps across his face as he rubs his sweaty palms slowly against his rumpled clothes.
It wasn’t an accident.