If that rascal had not palmed me the shandy, I would have removed the side-mirror of his bus. I examined the green note before lodging it with the other notes in one of the pockets of my combat trousers. In the past, some smart guys had palmed me a sweet wrapper instead of the mandatory twenty naira. I looked down the bridge at the Oshodi market below: a ragged sprawl of humanity engaged in a rat race that stretched to the horizon. They called me “tout”, “area boy,” but I preferred agbero. That was my essence. If I could get just one naira from each of them! I smacked my lips. I had to be content with what the bus drivers offered. Ironhand wanted it that way.
“Friday, Ajayi wants you,” Olumese, a fellow agbero, called out.
I hurried down the bridge to the bus park beneath.
“Friday, mind my bus while I go eat.”
He had barely finished the statement before he disappeared in the maze of shops around. I obliged him. His tips were good and, besides, I had already made enough money to make my day’s returns to the association. Settling in the seat, I didn’t know when I fell asleep.
“Friday, I’ve been looking for you. Ironhand wants you now.”
It was Olumese again, jolting me from sleep. Hissing, I got up and hurried towards the office of the agbero association. Ironhand was ensconced in a sofa in the middle of the office. We all revered him. It was said that he had replaced his two arm bones with an iron bar, hence his name. He always wore a menacing snarl on his face. There was a well-dressed pot-bellied man, seated on one of the stools next to him. Ironhand introduced him as the chairman of the campaign committee of the incumbent governor. His mission: he needed thugs for the forthcoming elections. Ironhand elected me to join his team. I felt honored that my exploits hadn’t gone unnoticed. It was a brief meeting. I would now work under a new master till after the election, I would be paid for my services and Ironhand would get his cut.
The next two months were a breeze. Instead of hustling it out in the hot sun for a shandy here and there, we always moved in a convoy, tearing down banners, disrupting opposition rallies and taking their thugs head-on. I lived like a king with an ample supply of weed and guns. With the state behind me, we even terrified the mobile police. I only lacked one thing. I told my new master about it the night before the election.
The election was a fait accompli. We commandeered many ballot boxes and I thumb-printed till my arms ached. I complained about it but my master said something about it being important for the election petition tribunal.
The day of the swearing-in, I got my request: a brand new coaster bus. I could now earn a living transporting people without fear of being harassed by agberos since they were all my friends.
Seating on the driver’s bench, I felt the dash board. This was mine!
“Friday, I told you to watch my car and you are here sleeping,” Ajayi barked.
I was sitting in his rickety bus, not my bus!
“Get up and go jo!” he added.
I slinked out of his car and with bowed head went back to my beat. So it had all been a dream. A convoy with sirens sped past and I smiled. After all, elections were close at hand.