Raising his left arm to align with his eyes, he took a quick look at the old time piece fastened around his wrist with two strips of faded leather and a buckle and then he laments “This is bad, we have spent 5 hours on the road for a 3-hour journey and it's so shameful that the government remains insensitive to our sufferings on this road, despite various media reports”. That was the voice of my father.
The roads were terribly bad, so bad that we occasionally alighted for the driver to maneuver through some rough terrains with the engine revved up, while we walked over to join the vehicle.
For me, it was my first visit to Lokoja, the capital city and also the first time I would leave the village. On arrival, we quickly boarded a taxi to the school scheduled to be the examination centre, where about three hundred of us would be seating for an entrance examination that will qualify us into two competitive Unity Schools in Kogi State.
As the taxi made its way to the school, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the city. Lokoja, though quite a beauty when compared to Dekina, the town where we live and journeyed down from; had one noticeable thing missing. It had lots of beautiful houses, decent buildings, electricity, good roads, and lots more. It had everything except farmlands and that explains why my parents always brought our farm produce to the city for sales.
We arrived at the examination centre in no distant time and the place was filled with parents and pupils, teachers and examiners, desperate hawkers and newspaper vendors, and lots of beautiful and exotic cars. It seemed like my dad and I were the only ones who came in a taxi.
About 30 minutes later, one of the examiners who stood not too far from two others began to call names and registration numbers from a computerized sheet, and immediately, we clustered around him with elves’ ears.
One person at a time he called, and then listened for an acknowledgement, while the two other examiners who sat by the hall's entrance checked and searched each pupil before allowing them passage into the examination hall.
I was about the 20th person that was called and because of the embarrassment I received, oftentimes, I wish I was either the last or was never there at all.
Having heard my name, in humble steps, I walked towards the examination hall but slowly came to a halt when a voice authoritatively shouted “Stop there.” It was that of an examiner. “Are you here for the exams?” He questioned. Yes Sir, I replied. “Then why are you dressed in these poor looking clothes and funny sandals?”, he further questioned, with his eyes and that of every other person present scanning through my entire body from head to toe.
Immediately, loud and resounding laughter filled the air, and to further ridicule me, one of the examiners asked if I were the son of Dolly Parton - The American singer/song writer who sang Coat of Many Colours. Dolly was unknown to me at the time.
Honestly, I was speechless, his question took me unawares because my dressing wasn’t in any way one of my worries, neither was it something that my parents and close acquaintances had ever worried about.
My clothes were really tattered with two or more patches by the sides but they were the best I had. My sandals on the other hand wasn’t in good shape either as the pair which had no more buckles also had some cuts.
Not granting me entrance, I was ordered to step aside, and with a hand gesture, I was confined to a corner, feeling humiliated and pity for myself, and just after the last name on the list was called, I was told to quickly fetch my guardian.
I dashed off to the parents waiting section to call my father, briefing him of what transpired as we walked down in quick steps.
Sighting my dad, I could see the expression on the examiners face; sort of like father like son, and if I read his lips correctly from the distance, his inaudible utterance was “They must be poor farmers.”
Being careful with his words, he then advised my father to always try to get me something smart and official for events like this, after which he granted me entrance.
In about an hour and twenty minutes, the examination was over and we all returned to our parents.
My father was waiting under a tree shed with two other parents whose kids equally came for the examination. On sighting me he begged to take his leave as we had quite a distance to journey on roads terribly ridden with pot holes.
One of the parents insisted and promised to take us to the park. On arrival, he showed us more kindness by paying our fare back to Dekina before handing my father his complementary card. He is a lecturer at the Department of Hydrology, Federal University, Lokoja, he is addressed as Professor Oyibo.
“I hope you arrive home safely” he said, waving his left hand as the bus departed.
My dad was engulfed with happiness and it seemed like he wore a smiling face mask, and as the bus motioned, at some points, I could hear him speak out loud in appreciation and with a view to engaging him in a conversation, I asked him if Prof. was an old friend.
He looked at me, that happy smile still beaming on his face, and said “No my son, I just met the angel for the first time”.
I was still trying to comprehend his words when the screeching tires of the bus interrupted my thoughts and abruptly the vehicle stopped.
“Driver what is it?” asked some passengers, with everyone now peering through the windscreen to see for themselves. “Una no dey see say road block dey front and those men wey carry gun be like armed robbers”, responded the driver in pidgin parlance.
In fear, people exclaimed and prayed in different tongues; and while the driver was contemplating on what to do, four other armed men came out from the bush and shot the rear tires.
The sounds of the gun shots caused a panic, making most people to scream at the top of their voices. I sat motionless and speechless, watching without comprehending a thing and all of a sudden, a voice that even a deaf man would hear thundered, “get out of the vehicle and lie flat on the floor”. “Dachi” (lie down in Igala dialect), one of them yelled at an elderly woman who had been excitedly telling everyone about her fourth grandson and her baby-sitting experience.
Except for my father, everyone got out and laid on the floor, and not until one of the robbers angrily marched into the vehicle to drag him down did they realize that he had been shot and unconscious. He was sitting just by one of the rear tires that was shot and a bullet from the robber’s gun had penetrated the body of the vehicle, piercing through his side, into his stomach.
Alighting from the vehicle he said in Pidgin English, “oga that one go soon reach yonder”.
Then they got into their business of the day, searching everyone and carting away valuables. That notwithstanding, they still appeared worried and nervous, and from their conversations, it seemed they were looking for one Musa who was conveying a large sum of money to Dekina for a political function as the Local Government Elections were just around the corner.
“Check the ID of that man in the bus” their leader instructed. About 40 seconds later one of the robbers responded in Pidgin English “Oga, na ghost oh”. “How e no go get ID card?” Their leader questioned in Pidgin English, and then he asked; “who knows that man?”
I raised my right hand and immediately, he called me “Smally”, then he questioned. “Who is he?” “He is my father”, I responded, and again he questioned. “What is his name?” “Mr. Umoru Abdullahi,” I replied, and one last time he questioned. “Where were you coming from?” “My entrance examination centre in Lokoja, Sir.” I replied.
“Whoops” he exclaimed, “water don pass garri” he further added in Pidgin English.
“We are done here. Let’s go boys” he ordered and in commando style, they jumped into a sports utility vehicle without a plate number and drove off, shooting sporadically into the air as they drove. Ratta-Tatta.
Authoured by me and prevously published here.