By: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
You have made begging an art, a trade, an excuse.
You walk up to me at the bus stop all dressed up. Shirt, tie and all. I listen to you because you look serious. Even sound important. Your English is clean. Your cologne, inviting. Few seconds in and it is clear you are a damn good storyteller. Your themes are like the stars above at night. A wallet got lost in the bus. You took the wrong bus and ended up in this strange place. You have not had anything to eat all day. You will appreciate a little token.
Mister corporate beggar, what if you are stranded at the same place, every day?
Your stories like the weather keep changing. The next day, you will narrowly miss the person you came all the way to see on the Island and you will need just some little change to get back home. The day after, your car will develop a slight fault down the road and you had left your ATM card at home…
What if the stories are not so convincing, so capable of milking out mercy from even the meanest of minds? What if they were not fiction, pure fiction, steeped in undiluted hilarity?
What if instead, you found yourself a real job, like erm erm selling these stories to Nollywood?
What if you wrote them into short stories and published them as vignettes and hawked them in the Lagos traffic? What if you tried out stand-up comedy instead or became a salesman convincing people to buy insurance policies they cannot understand?
How much longer would you stay exploiting the goodwill of good Samaritans?
What if not every Samaritan is good?
What if I told you I am looking at how to grab the much you have, off you sef? That beneath the façade of this dry-cleaned shirt I have on is a mountain of needs of my own. Bills unpaid. Rent that is late. Loans overdue. Dreams now so deferred they look like nightmares.
I met your kind, your clones at the airport the other day.
One of them whispered as he frisked me on the tarmac. An onlooker would have thought that he was wishing me a safe flight. Oga you know sey na weekend, anything for di boys? That was what he whispered in my ear. The meaning was not lost on me. The nauseating feeling made me sigh as my mind did a double back flip to the other fellow in like uniform who just seconds ago at the security check-in, asked me the very same question in an attempt at some kind of quid pro quo.
Frozen tomato paste is not allowed on a local flight, he had said with a note of finality regarding the well wrapped packaged in my checked in bag. But he was going to allow my luggage pass anyway. Such a good guy you would think. He smiled a knowing smile, like he had just absolved me of all my sins. Still reeling from shock, I smiled back in gratitude. His next statement sent me back into shock. It was more of a demand than a question, Oga anything for di boys?
What if there is nothing for di boys?
What if you just did your job the way you ought to and not expect anything in return?
In a different setting, another such fellow is flipping through my passport. His hands are moving but his eyes are not reading the pages. It is his lips that are at work instead, complimenting my shirt, asking what I came back with, reminding me what day of the week it was. He was begging, cajoling me to part with some dollars, subtly threatening me with unjustified delays if I did not play ball.
What if my papers were forged? What if I was entering the country illegally? What if my cargo was arms or hard drugs, or fake medicines? So, you will turn a blind eye once, something drops for di boys?
What if…? Never mind.
I am looking at you as you tell your dog-eared story about being stranded, your hand running through your well-kept hair and scratching at nothing. Your my brother help me in the name of God makes me wonder if God has a sense of humor, if He is amused as I am by your trickery, by your subsidized cleverness in His name. I make like I did not hear you nor see the look of entitlement on your face as I walk along. Yes, I know it is weekend but No, I made no plans whatsoever for di boys.