“Not the kind of welcome I expected, but you don’t have to scream at me.” Chioma quipped with that undying nonchalance that always tore at my guts. I was ablaze with anger.
Instincts overwhelmed reason, impulse drowned sanity, and every dam of restraint in me broke loose. I don’t recollect raising my hand but I noticed a fist whizz past my face, descending in a haze.
Chioma dodged the descending whack, saving me the guilt that would have followed the rash act. She scurried to a corner of the bed and gawked at me, unsure if she had made the right choice by returning. I glared at her quivering form, biting my tongue to contain my rage. So many expletives dashed through my livid thoughts, but none came out. What was the point? What explanation would I tender? That I had beat up a babe because she cleaned up my room?
It took me several minutes to clear my thoughts and engage a new strategy – Civility.
“Which aboki did you give my alarm clock to?” My calm voice masked the fear that encroached every crevice in my thoughts. Fear that I would never find a portal to meet with my future again. My family in the future. My affluence in the future. Fear that I would never escape the doldrums that enveloped my present life.
“Does anyone know any aboki’s name?” Chioma responded with sarcasm, and I flipped again.
“Chioma, do not play games with me!” I screamed. “My life is dependent on that alarm clock–“
“– How can your life be dependent on an alarm clock?” Chioma matched the pitch of my rage. “If you have another girlfriend, just say it and stop throwing tantrums over a stupid alarm clock.”
Chioma, the paranoid one. How could I explain to her that the alarm clock was a door into the future I could only imagine? If I whispered a word of what I had experienced through that timepiece to Chioma, she would ask what brand of weed I had taken for lunch. Yet I had to convince her that the time piece held more value than what was obvious.
You can do this, the salesman in me whispered. I got down on one knee.
“What is this? You want to propose to me during a fight?” Chioma quipped again but I ignored the disdain.
“Chioma, please that alarm clock was a gift from my grandfather–”
“–And it has served it’s time,” Chioma interrupted again. “Before I gave it to the aboki, I checked to be sure it was still working, it wasn’t.”
“That’s not true,” I responded. “It was working perfectly fine when I left for work this morning.”
“Are you saying I’m a liar now?”
“No Chin Chin,” the name always switched on a smile on her face, and smile she did. “The clock misbehaves sometimes. But it is functional. Very functional.”
“Why is this clock so important to you?” She bit my bait.
“Because in two years, that clock will be a hundred years old and it will be worth at least one hundred thousand dollars if sold to the right collector.” I paused to let that sink in.
Her eyes popped. If there was a language that disarmed Chioma, it was money. I didn’t feel a pang of guilt from the lie. Every salesman, well, ninety percent at least, lied for a living. Besides, I only did what was needed to find my way back to the future I could only dream about.
“I don’t know anything about the aboki, but we can start by asking questions at the mosque down the street.” She was already on her feet.
Was she joking? How were we supposed to locate an aboki that doubles as baaro in Agege? But her willingness to help counted for something. And she had already proffered a brilliant idea – the mosque.
I stood up, picked up my phone on the mottled reading desk and checked what time it was – 7:30 pm. Fifteen minutes before the evening’s Salat al’isha. That might leave us with just enough time to quiz the men washing up for prayers.
“Walahi, me I no know any baaro por this area fa.” The first aboki that agreed to speak with us broke the reins that tethered us to hope. “But you pit go talk to Alhaji Mantu. Him sabi ebrebodi por dis area.”
The aboki was just concluding his ablutions a few meters away from the mosque. To one end of the mosque, several okadas were parked under the glow of a halogen bulb. Dusk had given way to the night. The bulb hung from a wooden pole that conveyed insulated electric cables. Several other abokis hurried to finish their ablutions and make way for their arriving brothers. The aboki pointed to a huge man in a flowing brown brocade and twine-woven cap – Alhaji Mantu. Alhaji Mantu was on the phone. His speech was animated.
“Ke ngani kwo?” The huge aboki said into the small Techno phone pressed to his ear. “I’nsha Allah…toh… Sai gobe.”
He got off the phone.
“Good evening Alhaji,” I said
“Good evening, young man, how can I help you?” His English was impeccable with a tinge of the Hausa accent.
“Please we are looking for an aboki that does baaro, I mean those waste cart pushers?” I blurted while trying to articulate my thoughts.
“First of, the word aboki means friend, it’s not a classification or a nomenclature for a tribe in Nigeria.” He didn’t sound like he was offended, just a man tired of being classified with the wrong word. “Does this aboki have a name?”
“We don’t know his name, sir,” Chioma responded. “We were hoping we could find any cart pusher around.”
“I don’t know of anyone who deals in small scale waste disposal business, and prays here.” Alhaji Mantu flawed our use of vernacular again without sounding condescending. “However, you can find a waste disposal company behind the Mangoro main bus-stop.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said as I bowed, still not sure if an aboki had just conversed in sterling English with me. I pulled Chioma by the hand as we hurried off. It was already 7:40 pm and I had doubts that I would find the alarm clock. If the baaro made daily returns to a recycling plant or a dump site, then the alarm clock had already been crushed or buried beyond reach.
However, I hoped against hope that somehow, by a stroke of luck, or fate, or favor, that the tides would wash my hopes ashore. I had to find that alarm clock. My life depended on it, at least the life I dreamed of.
The Madus Waste Disposal administrative building stood above us in silence. The compound looked too neat to be a waste disposal outfit, but the sign out front said it was. Floodlights illuminated the two vehicles left on the perimeter. We had explained our predicament to the guard and he had told us that there were a few baaro guys at the disposal plant behind the administrative building.
Chioma and I dashed along the side of the admin building towards the sound of the hum. When we turned the corner, a concrete patio separated the admin building and what appeared to be a roofed-parking lot for disposal trucks. Beyond the parking lot, we saw a fleet of waste carts manned by several baaro guys at the sorting bay. Under the floodlights, they sorted out the thrash they had brought in into different categories. On another day, I could have been a little observant of the various processes here, but my thoughts were myopic, and it was about the search of my timepiece.
My pulse surged in anticipation as we increased our pace; almost jogging the rest of the way to the sorting bay.
“I can see him.” Chioma said in excitement.
“Thank God.” We said in unison. It was almost like I didn’t believe this was even possible. Times like this when the tethers of hope were given life; times when hopelessness lost its residence in my heart; times when fear was replaced with faith – even though I had no idea what true faith was – I couldn’t deny the providence of God.
There were about twenty baaro guys sorting through their trash. A man in blue factory overalls and safety boots supervised them. As soon as he noticed us, he paused from his duty and walked towards us.
“Good evening.” The man had a thick Yoruba accent. The baaro guys busied at their tasks. “Can I help you?”
“Please we want to talk to that guy,” Chioma said, pointing to an aboki in grime soaked t-shirts and worn jeans.
“Garuba? Why?” The supervisor asked. At the mention of his name, Garuba looked up from his trash trolley. Recognition grazed his face when he saw Chioma.
“Ah-Ah, madam,” Garuba said, his accent unarguably northern. “Weting you pine come hia na?
“Abeg,” Chioma said, “those things wey I give you for morning, where dem dey?”
There was an eternal silence as confusion crept up Garuba’s face
“Weting hafen na? I no go fit return ya money oh.” He finally found his voice. By now the other baaro guys had stopped their tasks and were enjoying the ensuing drama.
“Garuba,” I cut in, now desperate for the suspense to end. My heart had raced in the last one minute faster than I had ever thought possible. “Garuba, we no wan collect money, we just want an alarm clock that was in the Garbage.” I switched back and forth between English and its most common aberration.
“I’m sorry,” the supervisor said. “But once items have been delivered by our vendors, they are no longer responsible for them–”
“–But he hasn’t handed over his stock, has he?” I cut in.
“Ah, Oga, that stock na apternoon stock na, that one don go recycle.” Garuba said.
“What do you mean by recycle?” I said, losing my cool. “Is this not the stock I am looking at?”
“What Garuba means,” the supervisor responded. “Is that he turned in two stocks, one in the afternoon and this one. Your garbage was part of the afternoon stock and the afternoon stock has been taken to the recycling plant in Ikorodu.”
I swooned, as my pulsed hit an all-time high. This wasn’t happening.
“And I can guarantee you,” the supervisor responded, “that whatever it is you want to retrieve has been recycled by now.”
How was that supposed to help me? A dizzy spell hit me and I dropped on my knees. I felt the world spin about me as I lost balance. I saw Chioma rushing towards me; her lips parted in a scream I couldn’t hear. Everyone standing before me stared in shock just before they warped in a dream-like state. I was losing consciousness.