She first saw him in Bodija, a lone slight figure in a rippped red t-shirt and cutoffs, leaning on a shovel in the middle of the road. There was a small heap of sand beside his beat-up shoes and he was begging for alms. She had looked away then, repulsed. Why couldn’t some people get a job, or a life? Did he have to beg? And act like he was doing the community a favour with his shovel and his sand heap and his sad mournful air? She had forgotten about him before they turned the corner at Sunbeam school.
He was a constant fixture for a while and she soon got used to seeing him around Salami estate, in front of Ikoloba estate, and walking along Bodija. He was rarely without his shovel but the mournful, slightly stupid look was always there. He had obviously been taken in by the myth that Bodija dwellers were the cream of the society and had a lot of money.
There seemed to be nothing wrong with him, physically. His mental state was another matter, though. He never begged actively like the Hausas at Roundabout who pushed their maimed fingers in your face until you just gave them something, anything. He just stood there, saying without words “I am working to make your roads better so you can give me whatever token you have.”
Over time, she lost her animosity towards him and started feeling grudging admiration. This man couldn’t work in any establishment but he didn’t want to beg. He was almost like the windscreen washers in town, except that he actually did some good unlike those ones who were apt to leave your car dirtier than before.
Three weeks later…
He hadn’t been anywhere near his usual spots lately and she had wondered idly if he had travelled or his family had finally wisened up to his antics and whisked him away to further obscurity. She was late for work and had to take a bike. The bike had just passed a popular eatery when she saw him. The ripped t- shirt, torn cutoffs and battered shovel barely made an impact on her shocked mind. How had he gotten to Jericho from Bodija? Surely, he hadn’t walked? How could any sane person walk from Bodija to Jericho covering potholes with a beat-up shovel and collecting meagre tokens for his labour? Her thoughts were so scrambled she barely heard the bike-man asking for his fare. Entering her office, she sat at her desk in a daze and brought up the topic at the earliest opportunity.
“Oh that man? A colleague queried. “Surely you’re not just seeing him for the first time? He goes everywhere shovelling sand on pot holes. Lazy idiot. The governor should just chase all the idiots, beggars and madmen from the state so we can have some peace.”
Voices rose up, some condemning the comment while others agreed. She was heartily sorry she brought it up and made up her mind to try and be nicer to him.
The next weekend…
She saw him in church on Sunday. What kind of cruel joke was this? What was he doing in a church? People like him should…not be around civilized people? He’s good enough to shovel dirt from your roads but not good enough to sit beside you and praise his creator?
The voice in her mind made her squirm. She didn’t fancy herself a snob so she struggled throughout service to think charitable thoughts. Afterwards, she was talking to some friends when he came up to her. Everyone had seen him when he stood up for the new comer’s welcome, so her friends were quite curious when he smiled at her and said slowly “You always give me money. Thank you.” His speech was slow and hesitant like an unused gong, but the words were clear and grammatically correct. Not sure what to say to that she smiled and was about to move away when he continued “I had to see where you came from, what made you so nice. I came in because I saw you entering here. Thank you for your care.” He turned and walked away, soon disappearing in the crowd.
He had two children and a wife who loathed him. Sometimes, he wondered why she had married him if he was so detestable to her. As she had taken her children away to her father’s house, the question was moot. His neighbours said she was dating an okada rider now. He found that he didn’t really care. He had found another love.
His new love was always cold to the touch but gave warm kisses. She had a body like a bottle with curves that fit his palm. She was never tired of him, never complained, never hurled insults, and always agreed with him, saying; more, more, more. Of course, she had her faults. All women do. She never cleaned, didn’t do laundry, and couldn’t cook to save her life. Of course, she got him so drunk with love he didn’t need food. More disturbing, she made him sullen. He had always had a temper but with her, it became hair-trigger, all- consuming. Where most women could soothe their man, she made him angrier. He loved it.
His friends however, did not. Soon they dwindled from ten to four and finally to none. The last two called him a mean drunk. He didn’t mind. As long as he had brandy, his life was on point.
Seven years later…
His doctors said his liver was gone. Too much booze. His eldest child was a medical student in the university and concurred with her superiors. They gave him six months to live. He rented a room downtown and moved in with his apparently toxic wife of seven years.