He emerges from the shadows on a bright sunny day. I did not see him approach. I slightly bow my head and by the time it is up again he is peering into my window, asking me to get him to Ikeja. I thank my stars. So far, the day has been slow and he looks rich. He reminds me of what could have been. After fifteen years of working as a clerk, I’ve been retrenched because the bank is ‘consolidating’.
“Two thousand naira”, I call out without qualms.
He shrugs his shoulders and hops in. His type rarely haggles over fares.
We are cruising the Third Mainland Bridge when he picks a call. After the call, he tells me to take him back to Victoria Island.
“But we are on our way to Ikeja.”
“Sorry, I forgot something.”
“You’ll have to pay me extra,” I warn.
We negotiate: 500 naira extra.
He wastes so much time in his office that I am seething when he comes out.
“Oga, I should have left you.”
“I am very sorry,” he apologizes. I scowl.
Back on the bridge, there is a serious traffic jam now going to Ikeja. What luck!
“Why don’t we take Carter Bridge? It may be freer than this,” he suggests.
“It can’t be better than this,” I advise.
“Please let us try it or I’ll be late.” He starts punching a text message.
Fuming, I negotiate a deft U-turn.
“Hey you, stop there!” We are surrounded by traffic officials for the illegal turn. I come down to beg but my passenger stays put, fuddling with his handset.
I can see their towing van at the ready. Surprisingly, the traffic starts to flow but I am stuck with the officials. After much haggling, I part with 1,500 naira and get back to my car.
“Look at what you caused!” I shout at him.
“But you made the U-turn”, he replies.
“I told you it wouldn’t work!”
“And you just left me with them,” I wail.
“Please, now that the traffic is clear, can we get to Ikeja?”
If I didn’t need the money, I’d surely have dropped him.
“Can you turn on the radio?” he asks after a while.
“It is not working,” I lie, disgusted.
As we approach Ikeja, there is some commotion up ahead so we take a diversion. We finally get to our destination. It is four hours since he hired me for a one-hour trip. He hands me 2,500 naira. I insist that he up it.
“But that was what we agreed on,” he reminds me.
Now this is truly ‘bad market’.
“But you saw me giving the police 1,500 naira plus the fuel I wasted in the traffic jam. It is not fair.”
“Look, I have no more money and I am late for a meeting.”
He drops the money on my seat and steps down. I jump out, ready for a fight but he has disappeared - as mysteriously as he had appeared at my car window. I run up and down the street, but can’t find a trace of him. Boiling I return to my car and turn on the radio.
… shoot-out between the police and some armed robbers on the road leading to Ikeja about two hours ago. Several persons were caught in the crossfire; we will keep you posted…
Turning off the radio, I think of what could have been if not for his troubles and wonder if it was God or the devil that sent him. I start my car and drive back home.