The car pulled up just outside the bank, and Iphey stepped out, anxiously glancing at her watch again.
The window on her side slid down, and Chinedu peered through it. "Are you sure you'll be OK? I hope your boss won't eat you alive for this," he asked.
"I will be a few minutes late, but I should be fine; I'll find an excuse that will work. At least, as far as I know, there's no meeting that I need to be present at."
Iphey still wondered whether Funmi had a nasty shock waiting for her when she got back, but that was something she could worry about later. Right now, she felt so happy at the prospect at starting something really solid with Chinedu that everything else paled in comparison.
"OK. Oh - before I forget - can I get your number? You can be sure that I have no intention of deleting it this time - but I'll make up a song with the numbers in it, just in case I lose the phone," he joked.
Iphey laughed as she gave it to him. "Please call me, and let's set something up."
Chinedu smiled back. "Yes, let's see if we can start afresh. Actually, I just remembered that you don't have your own transport to get back. How about we kill two birds with one stone? I can pick you up this evening, we can go somewhere nice and then I can drop you off at home."
"That sounds like a great idea."
"Yes, I thought so too. OK, I'll see you later." He waved at her, and watched admiringly as she walked towards the bank entrance. Then the window slid back up, the engine revved and the car took off towards his office.
As he drove, Chinedu was lost in thought. He really wanted to make things work with Iphey, and he was glad that he had this chance... but he recalled her unease about his history as an armed robber.
“Sometimes, I wonder why I had to go and say that. Perhaps things would have been better if I had kept this close to my chest,” he mused.
The more he thought about it, the more he felt it would be better to make a clean breast of things and tell her what had happened in his earlier years...
Chinedu and his four younger siblings were had grown up in Ajegunle, where their father worked as a clerk in an office and their mum sold provisions in a small store. But it was not a happy marriage; the money both their parents brought in was rarely ever enough to feed them all, so there were always rows over why the children did not have school uniforms and books, or when the rent was going to be paid so that the landlord would stop harassing them.
Chinedu remembered those rows with a shudder; they were violent, searing affairs that left him with ugly memories. He also remembered his father often saying to him and his siblings in a bitter voice: “See the suffering that being poor can bring. If you know what is good for you, make sure you study well so that you can get a good job and live in a big house, not this..” gesturing around their cramped one-bedroom apartment. So he coped in his own way by immersing himself in his studies; perhaps he could spirit them away from this miserable existence if he became a doctor, or an engineer. Fortunately for him, his ability matched his desire, and he excelled at school, so it looked like his hopes might become reality.
Unfortunately, at the end of his second to last year in secondary school, his parents separated. His father was tired of being belittled by his wife and left to stay with another woman he had been having an affair with; his mother was only too glad to see him go, as it would mean an end to the endless beatings and abuse. But that meant that the burden of looking after the five of them weighed even more heavily on her, and in the end, this meant that Chinedu had to help to augment the family income by acting as an Alabaru, a load porter at the local market. Needless to say, this meant an end to his studies.
Chinedu recalled his time at the market with mixed feelings. He missed going to school; in addition, the work was hard and competition for customers was fierce. However, he soon realised that the place was alive in a way that he had never experienced as an ordinary market-goer. There was always something going on; in addition, there was a whole underside to life in the area that he had never realised existed until he started hearing stories from the sellers and other regulars who frequented the place.
He soon made two friends, Polycarp and Gbenro. Polycarp was a friendly, rather quiet boy who had also been working at the market as a porter for two years. But Chinedu was more more drawn to Gbenro, a much livelier person who always seemed to have a ready jest on his lips. One of the area boys, Gbenro was his nickname, no one seemed to know his real names. Chinedu also noticed that although Gbenro was not much older than him and did not always do any specific job with the area boys, he always seemed to have a good deal to spend. His curiosity pestered him to find out more; he still longed to return to school, but the meagre tips he got from his work meant that this would be a long time coming.
“So Gbenro, how you come get all dis money wey you dey spend yanfu-yanfu for here, now? No be only this area boy work you dey do here?” he asked one day, after his curiosity would give him peace no longer.
“Ah, bro... dat one na special ting...” Gbenro looked shifty all of a sudden. “I fit tell you, but...”
“But wetin?” Impatience joined curiosity in prodding him.
Chinedu gave a deep sigh. This was the moment he often replayed in his head; the moment his life took a dramatic turn, as a sequence of events began to unfold. It turned out that Gbenro, who ran errands for a gang of armed robbers in the area, had actually been waiting for an opportunity to recruit him to be a part of the gang. So Chinedu started out as an errand boy, passing along information; due to his popularity and having grown up in the area, he knew almost everyone. With time, he graduated to being a participant in the actual robberies, either as a lookout or driver. It had all been part of the excitement of being a teenager, he played cops and robbers and saved some money for his GCE exam. He assuaged any lingering doubts by thinking that no one was being hurt. Until the day everything had gone horribly wrong.
That's it folks. This is a two-part chapter so there'll be no votes today. Check back on Tuesday for the next installment.
Our Contributor is Atala Wala Wala aka Tola Odejayi. For those that asked, the name AWW comes from a childhood song and has no particular meaning, or none that he can remember. I myself think it is poetic with all the alliteration and assonance going on but don't let him hear that. Atala prefers writing prose and editing, he was my editor for A Heart to Mend.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend people.