Short Story

MY CHILDHOOD MISCHANCES By Johnson Amusan

Written by Editor

There was this young boy who was working as an operator of Agency Banking. It happened that he was stealing his boss’ money in batches to play Bet-Naija, the Nigerian version of the Lotto franchise, without winning anything at all. The money was running into 500,000 Naira. Eventually, he was arrested and remanded, upon which it was discovered that his parents were people of limited means, very poor. In fact, at that period, his mother was even ill and on admission at a hospital. The challenge for his mother then was that there was really no money to treat her.

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Scamming has probably been around for as long as man has been in existence. I had my first experience not as an active participant or a victim, but by way of being privy to the story of members of our Agbo-ile(our compound) in my hometown.

I was then in primary four. It happened that a man came visiting an elderly member of our compound who wasa herbalist. And within a short while, he became friendly with other elders in the compound. The man could crack jokes and talk in gusto. He was an expert at narrating stories that would leave the listeners enthralled. With this, he was able to capture the mind of the entire inhabitants of our compound. Everyone trusted him and believed whatever story he told them. They tried to outdo one another every day in preparing different dishes for him. Having gained their complete trust, he started borrowing money from them – and felt they could lend – with a promise to repay after he had received the money owed to him by some unknown clients.

It is difficult for me now to recollect whatever profession he mentioned he engaged in but I remember there was this particular woman, a family member, who was brewing local gin at the backside of our house. The woman gave the man some kegs of the local gin on the promise that he would pay for them later. So, every evening, at the front of our house, there would be some sort of festival. The man would order many kegs of the local gin, on credit of course, for people to drink and entertain them with stories.

 

And then one day, without warning, the man disappeared into thin air and was never seen again. The elderly member of our compound who was the man’s friend searched all his trails he knew but all efforts led in vain. Whatever happened to him became a mystery. It was then the members of our compound realized they had been scammed.

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The above story is one among some that I recollect very vividly from my childhood, yet I have two of such funny and dramatic stories to tell, in which I was a victim. I would like to refer to both stories as ‘Try-your-luck’ and ‘Stonewatch’.

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Both my primary and secondary schools days were such as I would describe as ‘best friends’ days. For me, those were days of innocence and sincerity, such that only ‘best friendship’, if there is such a phrase, could afford. There were no barriers, no secrets, no grudges or bitterness, just friendship. In that time, third parties could never have power over best friends; and I used to have them in different categories.

 

I have a clique ofbest friends in those days; they were Kayode Solomon, GboyegaAdeniji and Christopher Adaka, to mention a few. We were so closed then that the Yoruba adage, ‘Ore kiya ore, akobanikiyaara won’ (which literally translates to, jolly friends don’t separate, even when they get each other into trouble) was a very apt description of us.

 

Gboyega Adeniji was a friend whom I met since our St. Agnes Primary School days before he left and later rejoined us in Form 2 at Immaculate Heart Comprehensive High School, both in the same premise at Mende, Maryland, Lagos State. His place at Seven Day Adventist Headquarters at Onigbongbo area in Maryland then was like a second home. His parents were loving and accommodating. We shared and chatted on many topics, even though our friendship did not go beyond school and our houses. He was a very talented person. He could sing and play musical instruments like keyboard and guitar effortlessly. And he was the one who first exposed me to the sign language that the deaf and dumb use for communication. He learnt it from one of the Encyclopedias, among the vast array of books on different subjects, which sat in a well positioned shelf that graced their sitting room. It was not really a popular means of communication at the time, but he learnt how to use it so effectively. And he taught some of us, his friends, especially the female ones. It was a good means of covert communication in the class in those days, though I was not very good at it. I have even forgotten all about it today.

 

Christopher on the other hand was a friend I met at Secondary school. We lived together on the same street, Ajose Street, in the same Mende, Maryland. We were so close that his place was also like a second home. But he was more of a reading partner. I remember us reading and sharing novels, especially Macmillan Pacesetters series, a thing that was like competition between us. Adaka could read anything he laid his hands upon and became a great influence on me. We prepared for our WAEC with this competitive attitude.

 

Kayode Solomon is my nephew and we lived together with his parents and other family members at the time. That he made the list of one of my best friends, should tell you the extent of our closeness.Now, the two stories I would like to share is aboutKayode, Christopher and I.

 

In our days growing up, leather wallet was a very good way of fashion and a class of its own. And it was my dream to buy one. So, I saved for it. In our house, culture of saving was one we were taught by our parents and greatly imbibed. Our small bank or vault in those days was called kolo. Kolo could come in form of a small square wooden box or a round small clay pot; either way, it would just have an opening top, so tiny that it prevented one from removing money without breaking the box or pot but allowed one in forcing naira notes or coins through it. So, while I was waiting for the WAEC result to be released then, I decided I was going to buy the wallet and some shirts. Hence, I broke my clay Kolo and picked my little savings from it. Then I informed Kayode about it. He also showed interest and we both left for Yaba market together on one fateful morning, totally oblivious to what was in store for us that day. Yaba market was a very rowdy and clumsy market then. We had not gotten to where we wanted to buy the wallet when we ran into the ‘Try-your-luck’ vendors whose prompt invitation to play the gamble we heeded.

 

I know the meaning of “Try-your-luck” is not lost on people of the late 80s and early 90s. Just like Baba Ijebu and Bet Naija gambling of today, one found them everywhere in those days. They were sellers of gambling. They usually had their wares of gifts or awards in wheelbarrows they wheeled all about. And these gifts went from electronics to ordinary soaps – they were actually assorted sort of.

 

We were really not interested in playing the game. We had the premonition it could be a fraud. But somehow, they persuaded us. They sweet-talked us to a point we could not say no. We then decided to take the chance. It is like this Baba Ijebu that some people are playing now. They drew out a long card that resembled a bank teller. I was the first person to play it. And I was asked to select some three numbers on the card. They scratched the surface for the numbers, there were the items won. The first two numbers contained nothing while the last number had Canoe Soap in it. Canoe Soap! For all the money I paid to play it. It was then I realized I had been defrauded. Then I started crying. My experience did not warn Kayode against playing it. And I did make efforts to discourage him. The irony of it was that he probably thought he could win a better prize than what I won. But the experience turned out the same. We were both netted.

 

In our state of helplessness, we rushed to a manwho was standing close by, fully kitted in the Nigerian army uniform, to lodge our complaint of fraud to him. He listened to us with calculated attention. And as beads of tears rolled down our cheeks, we narrated in turns all that had transpired between us and the try-your-luck fraudsters. When we finished talking, thinking we had convinced him, the army man gave us a sympathetic look and simply asked;

 

“Do you still have any money with you that can take you home?”

 

“Yes,” we answered him.

 

“Go home!” that was his last statement to us.

 

The insensitivity of that advice drew out a deluge of tears from my eyes. And to add insult to our injuries, many sympathizers around there too encouraged us to go back home.

 

We had however not left there when we realized that the man in army uniform was positioned there apparently in collusion with the fraudsters and he was probably a fake soldier. I can no longer remember the amount of money collected from us. That fraud frustrated our aims that day.

 

We got back home and kept it to ourselves.

 

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As I noted earlier, Christopher Adaka was also a very good friend of mine. He came along with me to Oshodi market one day. It was also in those chaotic and brawling days of Oshodi. I was the one who had a business to carry out in Oshodi. And this had to do with one pair of canvas shoes I wanted to put up for sale. A friend gave them to me. I loved the shoes. They were imported. But when I became tired of bouncing in them, I decided to sell them to get some money. Hence, I asked Christopher to come along with me.

 

When we arrived there, we went to various sections of the market where we thought the shoes would be bought from us. The price they put on them was really ridiculous and demeaning that it would be better to just dash them out. Thus, I made up my mind not to sell them again. It was at the point we thought of going back home that one tattered looking man came around and flashed a black wristwatch at us to buy at any price. I ignored him but it seemed my friend wanted a wristwatch as he gave the man his attention. He actually confessed to me later that he had prepared for buying a wristwatch. After haggling with the wristwatch seller, he felt the money offered by my friend was too little and asked him to add an article to it. Unknown to us, his target was the canvass I was carrying with me. He actually suggested that the shoes could be added to the money. Then my friend approached me to release the shoes to him and that he was going to pay me for them when we got back home. I did as my friend suggested.

 

The wristwatch seller then took us to a corner not far from the road that led from expressway, as if you were coming from Anthony Village side, to OshodiIsale, a bit away from the under the overhead bridge. That was where he collected a small brown envelope from some of his colleagues and put the wristwatch in it, at least, that was our thought. My friend collected the enveloped wristwatch and released money and my shoes to him.

 

Because we had known that those fellows could be dangerous and corner us to take back the wristwatch from us without releasing money and shoes, we decided to walk back to Anthony Village by the expressway to board a bus instead of waiting for one in Oshodi, where we could easily be a target of an attack.  At a point, we started running when we saw a man wave at us to stop. We had thought it was a strategy to trap us for an ambush. We jumped over the expressway median to the other side of the road. We continued running until we got far away into a place we thought a comfortable zone and stopped to have some rest. Then we suddenly realized we had not checked the envelope given to us to know whether the wristwatch was the right quality. My friend therefore gently brought it out from the recess of his inner top he had tucked it. On opening the envelope, the content turned to two pieces of stone. How could a wristwatch turn to stone? It was as if a bolt of magic hit us. Raw fears ran through our spines and words became paralyzed in our mouths. Instead of waiting to ask questions or embark on enquiry, we quickly removed our shoes and ran as faster as our legs could carry us. If it were a race of competition, we would win that day.

 

Apart from Kayode, there was nobody else to share the story with. Although Christopher told me he shared the experience with his parents later, he just offered consolatory words for the disappearance of my canvas shoes. And for friendship sake, I understood. But the lesson was never lost on us.

 

About the author

Editor

Bada Yusuf Amoo holds B.A in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, he is the publisher of thespeakingheart.com. He started the website in 2015, he has published both his works and other budding writers and poets on the website. He is a public commentators and his articles are on different websites.