I stood and watched in awe as Gbenga easily climbed the fence and rolled over to other side without stress. I never knew that Gbenga my friend and secondary school mate was an expert in scaling fences and breaking into other people’s compounds. I had been wondering for a long time how Gbenga whom I knew had no job got money to go into the “Christmas fowl business”.
On the 16th of December, he had unusually his house very late in the night, a neighbor who had seen him leave testified. She said it was obvious he was planning to sneak out as he was visibly startled when she ran into him. He then told her he was going for a vigil when she asked him. Of course, she didn’t believe him. She had heard ‘testimonies’ of how Gbenga sleeps like a log of wood throughout Sunday morning services whenever he was dragged to church, so she knew he was not fit for a vigil.
The next afternoon, Gbenga returned from his “vigil” all smiles. I was waiting for him at the balcony of the house as both of us had an appointment with Baba Daleko, the bricklayer, that evening. Baba Daleko was supposed to pay us the debt he owed since November when we worked with him at a construction site.
“Where you con go since morning na?” I had approached Gbenga as he stepped into the balcony. Gbenga did not reply, instead he flashed a mischievous look at me and began to whistle as he walked into the corridor of the house with a nylon bag whose contents were unknown to me. I followed after him, calling his name but he continued whistling until he got to his door. He opened the door and walked in, I followed.
“Gbenga, wetin dey do you? You no wan collect your money from Baba Daleko ni?” I said to him.
“Guy, leave me alone na. You no see say I no get your time?” He finally replied me and afterwards began to take out the contents of the nylon bag. He brought out two new pairs of Jean trousers and a new shirt.
“Heeey!” I screamed with my hands on my head. “You don go collect the money for my back abi?”
“You don high?” He asked, twitching his lips and tapping the side of his head gently with the tip of his index finger to emphasize his point. “No be only three thousand naira Baba Daleko wan give us? Shey that money fit but these things for this recession?”
“Oh boy!” I exclaimed, picking up one of the trousers to admire it. “You see another site work, you no con tell me abi?”
“Which site work?” He said as he snatched the trouser from me and returned everything into the nylon bag. “I don tell you say I no wan do site work this Christmas time.”
“Okay na, how you con take get the money na?” I urged him.
“You no go fit do the kind work wey I go do,” he replied and sank into his bed after hiding the bag somewhere behind a table.
I stood there puzzled for a couple of seconds, wondering what kind of work he was talking about. “Which kain work you dey talk sef?” I asked with a confused look on my face.
“I say you no go fit do am, you too dey fear,” He insisted. “Abeg make I follow you go meet Baba Daleko jare,” he said and rose from the bed, zipping up his trouser.
“Wait!” I stopped him and pulled him back. I knew he wasn’t interested in meeting Baba Daleko but in getting rid of me. “Tell me the work first.”
“Guy, you no fit do am.” He insisted.
“Tell me first,” I remained adamant.
He sighed and stared at my face, shaking his head hopelessly. He knew I wasn’t going to stop till he gives me the answer I was requesting for.
“Okay, na Christmas fowl business I dey do.” He finally replied.
“Christmas fowl business?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes, I dey sell Christmas fowl.” He explained.
“Ehen…” I said thoughtfully. “Na hin you con make gain to buy cloth today today wey you just start?”
“Yes na,” he replied enthusiastically.
I didn’t believe him at first. “If na fowl business, why you con talk say I go dey fear?”
“You no dey fear fowl? You think say I no see you run from that hen wey newly hatch?” He said mockingly and returned to his bed. He took off his shirt, revealing his loss of interest in going to Baba Daleko’s house.
There was silence for a couple of minutes as I tried to think and decide what to do. I finally cleared my throat and spoke, “Introduce me to this business na.”
“Ehn?” Gbenga frowned his face like someone who had just swallowed a bitter pill. “Na why I no wan tell you be that. Okon wey introduce me to the business say hin no want crowd.”
I remained quiet at his last statement, I decided to stop pushing at that point. Okon wasn’t someone I liked as a person nor was he someone I thought was worth been associated with. Okon was also a secondary school mate and was very naughty and mischievous.
Fast forward to 24th of December,. I had to run to Gbenga when it was a day to Christmas and I had no money nor a cup of garri in my house. I pleaded with Gbenga to lend me some money but he refused, he said that I need to join him in his work for the next day. I was surprised because he didn’t want me to join before but he explained that his partner and boss, Okon, had travelled to the village for Christmas and he needed someone to work with for that day’s job. That was how I followed Gbenga for that day’s trip to the “poultry”. It was until we got there that I realized that the fowls they sold were gotten through stealing.
Their operation was simple; they surveyed a place quite far from home during the day and wait till dusk when the fowls were returning to their sleeping places. Then they leave and return when it’s dark. They always had a foam to cover the mouth of the fowl and it is killed immediately to avoid noise. So that’s why they specialized in selling alreadyfrozen ones and not live ones.
“Hey!” I was still lost in bewilderment when I saw Gbenga beckoning unto me from the fence. “Shey you don see as I do am na?” He asked. I was supposed to be watching him and learning.
I shook my head in response. I don’t know if it was in negative or positive but I knew he handed me a knife and the other instruments.
‘See behind that banana tree, pick that one. After that one, e don do for today. Oya do fast before them come from their Christmas Eve Service,” he said and patted me on the back.
I climbed the fence with struggles and landed with noise unlike Gbenga did. I was afraid as I marched on but like someone under a spell, I continued marching towards the banana tree.
When I got to the tree, I had completely forgotten the steps Gbenga had earlier taught me to follow. So I decided to grab the fowl anywhere and I did. That was my first mistake.
It let out a loud noise, alerting other birds as it escaped my grip. And then my second mistake was pursuing after it. Indeed, I must have been under a spell because I pursued it all around the compound, scattering everywhere and forgetting that I actually came to steal.
Soon I heard Gbenga calling my name from behind the fence, “You dey mad? Why you dey pursue the fowl?” He said angrily and pointed in his torchlight to me as he poked his head above the fence, he must have stood on a block.
My senses came back to me but it was too late. There was a sound at the main gate and then someone shouted, “Thief!”
Gbenga jumped down and took to his heels while I stood still for some seconds, still trying to decide what to do as hot urine rolled down my trouser. Before I knew it, I was running towards the side of the fence I jumped in from. Jumping out was easier, I guess the rate of flow of adrenaline was higher this time. But unluckily for me, I landed into the hands of three hefty men, they were actually pursuing after Gbenga but stopped and returned back when they saw me jump out.
I was still feeling pains on the right leg which I landed with when a blow sent me crashing to the floor. For the next few seconds, my eyes refused to open and someone rushed kept rushing blows into my belly. I could also hear chants of “Ole! Thief!” I knew it was the end of my life. I couldn’t open my eyes, things harder than someone’s fists were now touching my body and I knew they were wooden planks.
“Where tyre?” I heard someone ask as a liquid substance I guessed to be petrol was poured on my body. The pourer seemed to be focusing more on my face.
I finally opened my eyes to find myself laying on floor of the balcony and my wife pouring cold water on my face. Poor woman, she must have tried to carry me in without success.
“I’ve warned you severally to stop drinking, you won’t hear…” She was saying as she sprinkled the water on my face. I could see clearer now, from her dressing I knew she was just returning from Christmas Eve service.
Disappointed in myself for giving myself to drunkenness again, I struggled to rise. I finally knelt before my wife, she had stopped sprinkling the water. “I’m sorry honey, I promise it won’t happen again.” I was extremely sad but still relieved that the dream was not real.
“Don’t promise me, promise Jesus, it’s his birthday today.” She said as she stormed into the house.