Can't Waitby Tanure Ojaide
The motorcycle was always the culprit. For the inordinate greed that led to speeding on a narrow rugged road. It was guilty of robbery; it was equally guilty of violence. Whatever dastardly act done, the motorcycle always came out condemned. The verdict had always been the same: Guilty! It farted along the way. It coughed without stop and did not cover its mouth exhaling stale breath. It smoked furiously. Its fumes did not bother the riders. People used to smoking cigarettes and inhaling fumes of Bell Oil Company’s gas flares beside their farms and homes took the acrid smoke as another flavor in their now acquired voluntary and involuntary smoking habits.
The motorcycle, a neglected assistant, was not adequately maintained. Beauty has to be maintained to remain beautiful, the saying goes. The rider stretched the motorcycle’s patience hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and month to month. It was a rare feat for one to live beyond a year with all the hazards that it had to go through. The indefatigable rider believed the iron mule would always trot along when whipped with a starter. Once there was fuel in the stomach, it would move. It was a living miracle that would continue to run with or without rest as long as it was filled with fuel.
“Tomorrow, when I make three thousand naira, I’ll take it to the mechanic.”
The following day, like one that could be exploited without protest, its driver broke the promise without qualms.
“Machine no be man! E fit work every day without rest. Not me dey ride am? If I no tire, how e go tire?”
That day the rider made four thousand naira, and that made him daydream about buying another motorbike to give out for rent. Good business is a soap that foams and foams when used in washing. The motorbike business was a good one. Of course, if the motorcycle increased his earnings that day, it could go on for one more day or a few more days before the weekend.
“Man dey wait for weeks and months to get what e want, why can’t okada wait a few days before mechanic fix am well well?” the rider asked.
It was not clear whether he was asking himself or the okada, who must have fallen deaf for all the revving that went on in the name of speed. Of course, the motorcycle had to wait till the iron mule driver was ready to part with a fraction of the money it made for him. Exploitation has always been there for the helpless, and the okada bore its aches but still cranked on when started. It did not have the voice to say “God dey!” as humans in its position would have done. It did not have the capacity for peaceful or non-violent protests until it broke down.
The motorcycle was found guilty of impatience that led to the death of a pedestrian at a boldly marked zebra crossing. Really it was manslaughter. Only the motorcycle was found guilty. Neither the rider who sped along as if pursued nor the passenger standing where he should not was culpable. It spent time in the police station until the rider paid for its release. Twenty minutes before another accident, a passenger had coaxed the driver on to the disaster.
“I am already late. I want to be there in no time.”
“Don’t worry,” the driver had assured, as the passenger placed the crispy one hundred naira note on his right palm.
He had started the engine with a flourish. Even a stunt man would not have done better. With one leg stretched backwards, his behind in the air, his right hand revved the engine with a stuttering staccato that belched out smoke that heralded the mad race to his destination.
The motorcycle, not the driver, flew through the snail-paced snaking traffic. It veered north, east, between cars, almost knocking down whatever was on its path.
And then gbaaam! Bystanders and passersby gasped at the extent of the devastation. So much speed through a walking zone. The motorcycle had claimed another victim. It knocked down a pedestrian, who hemorrhaged to death before any assistance could come. It would take one hour to reach the hospital for an ambulance and there would be no fuel to drive it. Of course, the person knocked down bled and bled before onlookers, and gave up life. Even a cat of seven lives would not have escaped the impact of the flying heavy metal of a motorcycle upon the man walking. The police had arrived soon to start the investigation that would lead to prosecution. Things usually went one way—the culprit rider would bribe the police with his year’s salary and the case would go nowhere. “After all, the deceased was closing his eyes and stood on the road where cars and motorcycles pass,” the barely readable police report concluded. Case closed! The motorcycle rider breathed a sigh of relief and the following day, the rider got his motorbike back from police custody and gave it a bath that rid it of human blood stains. Immediately the bath was over, the rider put his clean iron mule to service again.
Another day there was another memorable but unpleasant experience. The motorcycle was rude, crude, and obscene.
“You dey craze,” the rider shouted.
“Na your mama dey craze,” was the swift response.
“You be ashewo!”
“Na your wife be ashewo!”
At the destination, another harangue began.
“No be hundred naira we talk?”
“I no go take only one hundred naira. The distance pass this money. Bring another thirty naira.”
“Na only the hundred naira I don give you I get.”
“You go pay me today or you no dey go anywhere.”
“Make I see how you go hold me for here.”
The scuffle that ensued went on till both realized the wasted effort and went their separate ways. It was the motorcycle that caused the argument and not the attitudes of the driver and the passenger.
One regular day as the driver scrambled on the busy street, the motorcycle screeched to a noisy halt. It howled a dying groan before it fell silent. The driver tried to re-start the engine but it would not start. Checking the engine, there was no oil. The motorcycle’s heart had failed. The rider did not weep for the okada; he wept for the loss of naira he should have made the rest of that day and the following days. He needed the iron mule to come back to life to complete his own life. Tomorrow it would go to the mechanic and stay in the workshop for a week. There the mechanic would perform his miracle. The mechanic performed surgery on the failed heart of iron that would make the okada be on its feet and racing again. Wonder of wonders! Only the motorcycle died and resurrected in the land. The mechanic was the miracle worker whose touch and attention would bring the dead back to life.
Only an okada man would lose his leg and not know and still go on as if nothing had happened to him. The leg tore off his body after the collision with a car, but the motorcyclist rode on. Onlookers, who had screamed in shock at the ghastly accident, stared at him as he rode away. They wondered how one could go on that way—legless and still riding a motorcycle, without any indication of the torn-off ligaments and leg and the bleeding that followed. Fortunately, there was no passenger. The okada rider was racing to pick a teacher from Ekpan Elementary School, a few kilometers away. He wanted to get that done as soon as possible so as to go to his favorite street to make more money that afternoon. The car owner had, on his part, sustained severe injuries too and came down to inspect his car and stretch his neck. He had jerked forward to knock his head against the dashboard; he was not wearing his seat belt.
At Jakpa Junction, the crowd of cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, and hawkers of articles brought movement to a halt. There was no way the stunt rider would fly over them because he would still land on people! Then Tefe was compelled to slow down and, as he mentally used his leg to press the gear, he physically felt the wound and bleeding. He had no right foot to press down the lever of the gear. The pain stung him instantly and he fell clumsily from the roaring but disabled machine.
Fellow motorcyclists noticed the emergency at hand. They belonged to an association and took each other as a brother. In fact, others saw them as if they were members of a cult or a fraternity in the way they took the other’s problem as theirs and communicated with secret signs. Those who saw the extent of the wound were aghast at the savagery of the crude amputation. They took him up and set him on another motorcycle’s passenger seat and took off for the nearest clinic around. Tefe sat behind the motorcyclist, while somebody else sat behind him so as to steady him on the seat.
The rider revved the engine, which exhaled thick dark fumes and acrid breath. Belonging to the same secret society, the riders had mastered the same craft. In a matter of seconds, this rescue iron mule was meandering swiftly through heavy traffic as the amputee wailed sharply from intensifying pain and bleeding. It was as if he had been sleeping before now or the leg had been numbed and the alleviating medicine had worn out. The pain was sharp and biting—needles were piercing the raw flesh with vengeance.
Miraculously, another motorcyclist arrived at the same time at Castle Clinic with the severed leg. He must have come by air through the crammed streets. Ovie Palace Road, where the clinic stood, was swarmed with onlookers amazed at what they were seeing. In Effurun, people gathered where there was a free spectacle, and this severed leg was one such treat. Children, women, and men swarmed to the gate of the clinic to see what was happening. Many would not see anything but hear bits of news that they would embellish and relay to others who could not see things firsthand.
Tefe did not see his other leg that had been cut off before the doctor and his team of nurses knocked him out with anesthesia. He did not know how for hours his leg was sewed back to his hip. Yes, sewed back to his hip, as if he had lost nothing. His first response to what had happened after he regained consciousness and the pain kept at bay with strong morpheme injection was asking the nurse, “My okada well?” like one asking of a darling partner after an accident. And that was despite treating it like a slave before now, the same way a patriarchal man treated his hardworking wife until she was not around.
“You go ask your brothers who brought you here.”
“Make them no thief my machine-o!”
“You bring am here?” the nurse asked.
“No be him bring me here?” he asked.
The nurse could only shake her head. Now she realized what she had heard was true—the motorcycle and its rider had the same personality. In addition to the morpheme, the doctor prescribed Codeine to ease the pain.
After staying in the clinic for three weeks, Tefe was discharged to return home. He would stay at home for a year, longer than the average lifespan of an okada, and spend all the money he had gained in five years of killing different okadas in paying his medical bills. At least one iron mule had taken its revenge. As Tefe recovered, he did not want anything to do with the motorcycle again. He preferred to walk with a limp than take okada to anywhere. And he would not ride any!