Akpan alighted at the bus stop and trekked to the less busy road of Mewe; the idea was to bypass the heavy congestion around Biki street, one of the most bustling streets in the town of Liga. A street which is the only way home. It was drizzling then and the night approached fast.
In Mewe he waited for a taxi going to end of a Biki. He did not see any. He decided to trek upwards of Biki with the hope of seeing a cab. It was raining fit to drown a duck, and he did not have an umbrella. He was desperate; car owners cruised by, their windows all wound up, safe from the downpour. He needed to buy a car, but he could not afford one. All he could had was his Legedes according to his girlfriend, Allena; her good-humoured way of referring to people with no personal vehicle, gotten from a mashup of leg and Mercedes. As he contemplated his fate, a big white bus slowly drove by. He signalled for a ride, half-expecting the driver to ignore him as countless other drivers had done, but the bus driver stopped. It was a Ford bus with all the chairs removed except for the driver and a passenger.
The driver was smoking and apologised if he felt uncomfortable with it.
Even though Akpan hated inhaling cigarette smoke, he was grateful for the ride and waved off the man's apology. It turned out that the driver had gone to deliver wood to a lady in another part of the town who only paid him 3500 after he used 2900 for gas, a miserly deal in which he ended up wasting the whole day. Akpan sympathised with him. After a couple of junctions at snails speed, the traffic came to a standstill. It was now 7 pm and the day was officially gone. One by one each car's headlamp came on.
After staying in the vehicle for around 30 minutes and seeing a lot of people briskly passing by in the rain, he realised that was the end of his journey by that bus. It was time to make a decision, he profusely thanked his benefactor, hunched his shoulders and walked into the rain.
As he got to the Biki bus stop, he saw a well-dressed man in a suit with a big umbrella. He struck up a conversation with him and took cover from the rain by walking beside him. The man in suit worked in one of the new generation banks. He left his car in the branch due to the congested nature of the road. He lived at Malig, the same direction as Akpan's home. Good news. At least he was going his way.
On getting to the next junction, they saw the traffic was even worse than they anticipated. The traffic laws were openly being flaunted by impatient motorists. Most of them were running one way against the traffic in their bid to beat the traffic. More people were doing that than those in the right lane. The traffic cops had retired for the day, and it was every man for himself. Who could blame them? The roads were death-traps, and if one looked closely, they would find that the lane being avoided had holes in them that promised to grind to a halt any vehicle lower than an SUV.
Akpan and the bank employee started trekking out of Liga. The more they walked, the more they saw people trooping in from the opposite direction.
"Who are they?" he inquired from his companion.
"Oh, those are traders from the Kanga market. There is no way to get out from the market to Liga. They decided to do the smart thing by walking home just like us." He chuckled.
This time, the motorcyclists were having a field day doing a brisk business in the rain; weaving in and out of traffic recklessly while carrying two passengers who desperately clung on to dear lives in order not to lose their balance.
After about five minutes of quick walking, they saw some people jumping into a slow-moving truck. They asked the hitchhikers where the drivers were heading to. They did not know, neither did they care. They just wanted to leave the immediate vicinity, and head towards home.
The two men tried to follow suit but discovered the truck was already full. They plodded on. Later, they saw an almost empty pickup van. By nearly empty, it had about five people at the back. Akpan knocked on the half-open window and asked the driver which way he was headed. He shouted back a reply, "I'm only trying to get home. And no, you can't join me as I have a bad tire and the vehicle can't handle the extra load." They looked back and saw more people jumping into the van. The traffic is just as bad as it was. It is better to at least move than be stuck in the back of an open van of an unhappy driver while being hammered by the rain.
Akpan continued walking, he looked at the bank employee beside him and saw his once carefully ironed white shirt had turned to a rumpled mess soiled with sweat and rain - a result of fighting his way through the surging crowd of tired people all with one wish - to go home to a hot bath and rest.
They decided to push on. A few meters ahead they saw two men armed with AK 47 rifles. At first, the new friends thought they were robbers. Then they saw the flashing red and blue lights. Oh, they were armed escorts. In the usual method of the above-the-law power-drunk politicians, they were driving against the traffic.
Their boss, happily insulated from the rain-soaked masses sat in the big SUV with the windows up and air conditioning running. His minions, sorry his security, was out there trying to scare the road users into giving them the right of way.
The duo continued trekking, a taxi swiftly u-turned in front of them, ahead of the taxi the traffic had thinned out. As if on cue, Akpan and the banking officer took off in a sprint. Before you could spell Jack Robinson other people around who saw the taxi also joined in the run, it was a race of the first to get to the taxi. As the duo and others scrambled for a seat into the taxi, the taxi driver announced that the fare which was triple the typical fare. Everyone sat where they were, too tired to step down into the rain and seeing the futility to negotiate the cost as the other would-be passengers stood impatiently in the rain waiting for someone to get off so that they can take their place.
Some moments later, Akpan reached the Kega bus stop and bid his buddy with the umbrella goodnight. But he was not yet home. He would still need to find more rides to get to where he called home. When he saw the crowd at that Kega junction, a junction that was about 40km to his house, he almost gave up hope.
There was no taxi in sight. The motorcyclists taking advantage of the situation were charging an arm and a leg.
It was dangerous to enter one in the rain given the bad roads and the fact they were taking two passengers. But people were scrambling for the few that stopped. Akpan walked some meters away from the crowd and waited. In a moment a rickety tricyclist pulled up. He was only going a third of the way. He eagerly jumped in. Surprisingly, his charges were standard, no hike like his motorcyclist counterpart.
After the bumpy tricycle ride, he noticed another heavy congestion along the way. The cause, the rain and the poorly maintained failing road. Well, let us say more of the latter. He started trekking again to cross the horrible part.
When Akpan walked across that horrible patch, he was now in the mood to enter the daredevil motorcyclist. Just as he made up his mind to do that, he saw a taxi and shouted, "Along." The word people usually said while travelling in the same direction as the cabbie. The taxi driver replied, "Along where?" He repeated tiredly, "Along anywhere."
The taxi braked and splashed some dirty water on him in the process. He did not care. He boarded. He was now just a few kilometres to home. A kilometre is not something you worry about that much, but when the "road" you are plying is not fit to be called a road, every 100 meters suddenly seemed like 2 kilometres.
By the time he departed from the taxi, he was just one more ride away from home. It was dark, and the road was almost devoid of human activities. However, it seemed to him that his suffering of finding a means of transport had ended because right at the bus stop, there was a taxi with the engine running. In the taxi, he could see a couple of passengers and a driver. He hoped he could pool with them since they were going the same direction. As he approached the vehicle, he was able to make out the features of the people in it. There was the driver, a lanky man that looked like he could use some feeding. There was a lady in the back seat and a slightly overweight man on the passenger seat. Akpan thought that there was something not right about the three, but he could not quite put his finger on it until after he had sat down and they were on their way, then it hit him: none of them was wet! So, where did they appear from, he wondered.
He did not have to wonder for long because the next moment, the slightly overweight man pulled out his bible and announced a little too loudly that he was a Man of God. Oh, yeah? Then I am a man of the devil, Akpan thought. The Man of God went on to tell his captive audience about how he has a record of helping people get rich beyond their dreams and how Akpan and the others were very lucky to have had the good fortune to share a cab with him. The lady that sat beside Akpan at the back seemed to have mastered the art of saying, "Amen". She knew exactly when to say it, and her enthusiasm and tone matched that of the speaker. Akpan realised that he had finally boarded the famous One-chance taxi, but he could not be bothered. He was so tired that he would not mind being taken anywhere that was dry.
One-chance were a group of fraudsters that were reputed to have many different means of ripping people off. They are usually three or four people that pose as passengers in a public transport vehicle. Some said they had charms that could help them get money from their victims. Some stories had it that some of their victims would go under a hypnotic trance that often lasted long enough for their victims to go to the ATM and clear their bank accounts and bring to the fraudsters. Akpan never believed any of those stories, but as he came face-to-face with them, he looked forward to finding out how they intended to sway him from getting home to rid himself of his wet clothes.
The Man of God continued to speak of how people who gave him money in the past tripled their income within a week. He brought out a white handkerchief and waved it in Akpan's face. Akpan wondered what that was supposed to do for him but said nothing. Soon, the man changed from preaching to commanding Akpan to bring all his savings so that "God would bless you." Judging from the authority with which the man spoke, Akpan suspected that he felt that his hypnotism was complete. Akpan felt like laughing, but he held himself together. He realised that the driver and the lady were part of the fraud and it hit him like a punch that those three would do anything to get the money they so desperately wanted from him. When they arrived at the junction where he was supposed to get down from the vehicle, Akpan figured that they might as well drop him close to his home if they want him to bring his money. So he told them that he had no bank account and all his money was at home. If they could take him there, he could bring it.
He directed the driver to the street adjacent to his home. When he stepped down from the car, the driver kept the engine running and waited for him to go in, bring the money and return. Akpan walked into the side street between two houses and appeared on his street on the other side. He walked a block to the right, and he was home. He would have liked to see the faces of those guys when they realised that they just dropped him off free of charge, but he loved the comfort of being home better.
"Awww, sorry. It appears you got caught in the rain. I hope it was not difficult getting transport back." She smiled. Looking at the smile, he forgot how difficult it was to get back home as he smiled back and said, "Hey babe, it was as smooth as a breeze coming back." She looked back at him and knew that was a lie, and they both laughed.
Authored by: @greenrun
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