For Love or Adventure?

16 mins read

It doesn’t matter where you’re going, it’s who you have beside you

I f I never write any other story, I should write about this one. Just this one.

For many weeks I contemplated whether there really is anything to learn from this story or it should only be written for its entertainment and intriguing value. But somewhere in this story is pregnant with lots of lessons. I am convinced one way or the other, you will find something worth learning.

But I will have to trust your comments and thoughts after you are done reading it.

I had just graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University and had been home a couple of months awaiting the NYSC call-up letter. There was a chance that my graduating class could be scheduled to commence the service year in 2005, one year after graduation and this was not quite a desirable option for any young graduate.

So with bated breath and in anxious expectation, the graduating class of 2004, prayed fervently for the call-up to serve that same year.

There I was, home and bored, waking up to the television or the convenience of my phone. In 2004, there was really not much fun in “smart” phones. Aside the snake game with the worst graphic interface you can imagine, I was content with just reading old newspapers that had been condemned to life on the shelves.

My Dad had retired a few years before I graduated from the university and he spends a good chunk of his time at his fish farm 2hours away from home. But this particular morning, we were home alone.

Typically conversations with him starts very casually and builds momentum into real serious talk and advice. If he caught you sauntering around the house and managed to engage you for a moment, you could be on your feet talking for the next 2hours at the least.

There was no place to hide on the day and I was literally at his mercy. Once we started the conversation, I simply just resigned to the comfort of the couch in the living room.

“I may as well enjoy the conversation” I muttered to myself as I settled into the couch.

Our discussion spanned politics, life experience and sometimes sports, but mostly one-sided, while I listened intently in awe at the depth and torrent of wisdom coming my way.

Our conversation was decimated with a hard raspy knock on the gate, totally irritating but a welcome distraction. I sprang to my feet lazily to find an old family friend at the gate.

I let him in with a welcoming smile and wondered why he was paying a visit this early in the day.

After all the niceties and the exchange of pleasantries with my dad, we settled in for a gist within my dad’s ear shot.

He had come to ask if I would be free to drive his folks to Ile-Ife the next day! What followed was a barrage of questions from me.

What is the function? Why did anyone choose that I drive? Are we back the same day? Am I getting paid or what?

He calmly responded to each question saying that his younger sister was resuming in school for the first time at the university and his dad was also visiting the teaching hospital to attend to his health. His mum will accompany them both and we would return the next day!

Okay, this looks like an adventure I thought. What more can a bored stiff young man do! Travelling back to my Alma Mata is always an exciting prospect. And staying the night on campus meant that I get the chance to see some of my school “daughters”. The allure was far too strong to resist.

I gave him an answer that very moment. I didn’t want to overthink the decision. Yes I would!

Relief was written all over his face as he made for the exit gate. That was when I asked what car we would be driving in, especially since they didn’t have a functional family car I was aware of.

He mentioned that another family friend had volunteered his car for the trip, a Mercedes Benz saloon car (1987–1993) popularly called “V-boot”.

Now lest I complicate things; there are three families. Mine and two others – all families in the neighbourhood. Respectably close with kids about the same age. 

One family will provide the driver – that’s me, another, the car – that’s the Benz, and the last one the passengers. 

I knew the car very well, it looked pristine and well taken care of. I was already dreaming of how cool I would look driving the car through the campus road in the evening under the guise of going to buy fuel. A sly smile snuck up on my face!

I enquired further about the person who requested that I drive the car, he explained that the choice of who to drive the car was made by the owner of the car. He gave sterling accolades about my driving skills citing an instance when he journeyed with my folks, while I was behind the wheel.

I thought that was very reassuring!

When I locked the gate after my friend had left, I returned to the conversation with my dad with ease, announcing to him that I was going to be running an errand tomorrow with his friend (Our family friend).

He looked genuinely worried. He asked if I had ever driven beyond Abeokuta and Ijebu Ode on the outskirts of Lagos, where I had made frequent trips in the past. I reminded him that I hadn’t gone anywhere outside Lagos without enjoying the guidance and company of himself or my mother in the car.

But like a bold, young, ambitious young man, I mentioned that there wasn’t any difference in the trips except that this one would be a tad longer in travel time.

He agreed and warned that I reconsider and think this through carefully. His concern was now centered on the car.

“That Mercedes Benz?” I asked rhetorically, “it’s the best thing since slice bread”

I went on about how cool the car was and how it had great and better features than his Peugeot 505 wagon!

He dismissed my exuberance stating that the car didn’t look like it could survive the grueling drive to Ile-Ife and back to Lagos.

“Dad, it’s only a 3-hour journey either way, I will be back before you know it”

That said, I started rummaging through my wardrobe that was already strewn with unkempt shirts and dirty jeans looking for one piece that would rock the journey on both days.

Soon I received a call from both families thanking me for accepting to drive them and for sacrificing my time and energy for this interesting journey.

 

***************

The next morning, I was up pretty early, driven in part by excitement and discipline, with just one goal in mind – to enjoy myself as much as I could, while I safely navigated the road as it stretched outward, twisting and turning through the Lagos road until it arrived at Ile-Ife.

The Mercedes Benz was parked outside the house when I arrived. Looking just as good as I remembered, with the glimmering alloy rims and the clean, glittering and shining body works sparkling at dawn.

I ran my fingers through the tailgate, drawing a faint trail as my fingertips cleaned off faint dust from the car. I couldn’t wait to get the keys. I approached the house in easy strides with my backpack swinging from my hand as I pulled open the gate into the house.

I could hear the indistinct chatter inside the house as I approached to pick up the car keys. The whole family was ready and they looked to be in high spirit. I said my hellos and joined the others as we walked towards the car.

On this journey, I am accompanied by three persons;

The Parents of the freshman, Mr. & Mrs. Jones (Not real names of course) and the young and pretty faced Janet (not real name), who was about to commence the journey into higher institution.

I made myself comfortable as I pulled the seatbelt across my chest, adjusting the seat, side mirrors and arm rest. I fiddled with the radio knobs in search of the right radio station. When none appealed to my mood, I promptly inserted the CD I had come with, solely to keep me company and to fill our ears with the latest popular tunes. This was going to be an enjoyable ride I told myself.

Prayers said and the journey started in earnest. The car was indeed a delight to drive, it hugged the turns on the road like the wheels where glued down and when I pressed the accelerator I felt all the flesh on my face tugged backward by the g-force. Amazing!

Soon enough my attention switched briefly to the changing scenery as the buildings, fueling stations and bus stops were replaced with green shrubs and trees and then thick forest in the heat of the scorching sun.

The road sign with “Goodbye to Lagos” stood tall as the car raced through the kara bridge and powered through the building traffic of cars and busses into the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

We had barely driven 20mins when a loud bang literally tore through the car. The loud bang culminated into an intermittent clunking noise, so pronounced, getting louder as the car moved on. The car swayed and rocked as I managed to maneuver the car into the road shoulder. Still in shock, I alighted quickly amidst the dust and walked towards the rear of the car to discover that the rear tire, though not flattened and still in place, appeared displaced and wonky.

The apprehension on my face was palpable. I couldn’t understand how this could happen. Mr. Jones took a quick look and agrees we need to get the car to a mechanic. The time was only just 7.30am.

Thankfully the car could still move, although at the slowest speed ever -20km/hr, dancing and wobbling like a tortoise with an oversized shell. We drove another 15mins before we found a settlement where there were a couple of trucks and mechanics to the rescue. We had barely gotten to the Sagamu interchange.

The mechanic, a friendly chap, appeared to be getting set for the day’s work when the car crawled into his makeshift garage. He was certainly glad that God brought his first customer his way with little effort.

Everyone alighted from the vehicle to assess the damage, while the mechanic takes a long confused look at the rear wheel. He then gets under the car to examine it further. After 10mins, he announces that the ball joints were irreparably damaged and must be replaced for the journey to continue. He mentioned something about it was a catastrophic failure that could have resulted in the loss of control of the car if I was on top speed when it failed.

Alarmed, we asked if he could quickly find replacement as we had a really long journey ahead. He says,

“Not a problem sir, we will go back to the mechanic Village in Ladipo market to buy new ball joints”

This was getting a bit worrisome. His return trip to Lagos meant that we will have to wait for up to 3hours before the actual repair/replacement will commence at the garage.

“Crap” I certainly didn’t know when the word escaped my lips. I stared forlorn into the expressway as cars zoomed by with reckless abandon in quick succession.

“We should be racing past like those cars” I thought.

If this wasn’t enough to worry about, when the mechanic mentioned that he would need at least eighteen thousand naira to replace the ball joint, the apprehension appeared on all our faces, from Mr. & Mrs. Jones to Janet. Worry quickly turned into alarm when after pooling all the cash from the three passengers they were short of three thousand naira. The exact amount I had carefully stashed away for the trip.

I was left with no choice but to offer my little token to get us out of the quagmire. Mr. Jones promises to reimburse me as soon as we arrived Ile-Ife. That was enough assurance to hand the cash over to the mechanic.

At 11.30am, after the long wait, that saw us grab a late breakfast while enjoying the fragrance of earth and watching the leaves – red, green, brown, in various shades floating gracefully on the soft breeze, the mechanic announced that we could test drive the car.

Promptly, I drove the car in twist and turns around the small clearing within the garage, listening keenly to hear the clunking sound or feel the wobble. Convinced that all was fine and good, I gave the car a clean bill of health.

“We are good to go” I announced eagerly.

Life returned to our faces as we settled into the car to continue the journey.

It was 12noon at this time!

I was advised to maintain a steady speed as Mr. Jones cautioned against over speeding. The road was a long twisting black ribbon that could be seen miles ahead, allowing the wheels of the car to float effortlessly along, yet I couldn’t push the engine to its functional best. Nonetheless, the car was a delight to  drive.

Content at a speed of 80km/hr, the car came alive with everyone in an animated conversation about the mechanic and his gallant effort.

Just when we thought the worst was over, a loud deafening sound suddenly reverberated through the car in an ear-piercing noise as we approached the Ogere toll gate. And the car started the familiar wobble accompanied with the clunking and annoying noise.

Dreadful! You cannot imagine the horror on everyone’s face when it dawned on us that the same ball joints just gave way again!

Now we were somewhere between confused and angry. We had driven 35mins away from the mechanic and we hadn’t even gotten half way to Ile-Ife.

Again, I rolled the car into the side road as impatient motorist honked and swore, pouring invectives in all sorts of languages. I barely heard a word as I killed the engine.

I got out of the car, already sure of what to see as I looked at the rear tires again. It was easy to admit there and then, that the mechanic was an incompetent fool. What did we expect of a bloody road side mechanic? No wonder he was friendly for no reason.

At this time, we were out of cash and stuck with two ladies, who were so scared and worried you would think they saw a ghost, and a car full of luggage.

It was now clear, we had to drive the car all the way to Ife just the way it was. No cash, we couldn’t turn back, we had no other choice.

I jumped into the car dejected and restarted the longest journey I would ever embark on in my entire 24years on earth. Moving at a snail speed of 20-40km/hr, it felt like we were on a ride to nowhere.

Cars sped by with the drivers and other passengers looking at our vehicle in disgust, wondering why we were still pushing and punishing the car in spite of the noise and the obvious wobble.

But we drove, calmly, wobbly and through the afternoon, until we arrived at Ile-Ife.

We arrived at the campus at exactly 11.45pm that night.

When I got off the steering wheel, I couldn’t walk straight for a moment, as I could still feel the wobble of the car, having been in the car for over 8hours. My back felt sore and I was irritable.

It was the most excruciating journey I ever had.

Our phones were buzzing the whole of the journey as our families back in Lagos kept tab on our every move. Not that I had no one to call, but I didn’t want my dad to get the satisfaction of “I told you so”.

We had hoped that once we arrived at our host’s residence on campus, we would not just get some well-deserved rest for our travel-beaten bodies, but we would get some respite from their mechanic who would probably be of better expertise than the road side mechanic that banjaxed the car.

Our host was a Professor and he was married to a medical doctor. They both looked genuinely worried when we sauntered into their well-furnished home. They offered us clean towel and asked that we get refreshed so we can get some late dinner.

We ate quietly, everyone listening to voices in their heads, wondering what laid ahead. We were barely able to speak as we just wished that the ordeal was over already.

After dinner, the family asked us to join them for the night prayers.

It was led by the Professor himself and it went like this;

Oh Lord, merciful Father, we thank you for granting our guests a safe journey from Lagos in spite of all the difficulties they encountered with their car on the highway. We bless you for keeping them safe. We trust that you will keep them safe as they journey back tomorrow. Amen”

No alarms

Then he continues;

Lord, you know that if I had money, I would have offered them some, so they can fix the car before they proceed back to Lagos. But lord, you know my heart and know that I do not have any money to give our guest. God guide them home safely” Amen

When I opened my eyes, I saw Mrs. Jones face dissolve into a rage as she shook her head repeatedly, perplexed by the weird prayer offered by the Professor.

Clearly, he had communicated his intention and we were going to be on our own by the next morning.

I could barely sleep that night. It felt like the bed had a life of its own, wobbly and moving rhythmically. I woke up many times holding the bed hoping it won’t fall apart. My body had been set into resonance with the movement of the car the whole journey and it didn’t seem to understand that we were no longer in the car.

All of my dreams of visiting the female hostel to see my old friends died with that messed up ball joint of the car.

We had agreed that the return journey would commence early the next morning so we could gain some ground before the day broke.

4.30am the next morning, myself and Mrs. Jones started the return journey. It would be the longest journey ever. We talked about everything and nothing. She told stories of how she met her husband and the interesting stories about her career and her children –my friends. I could write a book on her family history from that conversation alone. We had all the time in the world. We went from one story to the next. It was unending. It felt like she was trying to keep me awake as the car moved on gingerly through the asphalt finished road into Ibadan by 1pm.

The car trudge on at a snail speed, fear of making the situation even worse won’t let me go faster than 20km/hr. With the hazard lights turned on, we were in a world of our own.

Other drivers stared at us like we were aliens from another planet crawling in a Mercedes benz. We no longer paid attention to them. All we cared about was to get home and safely too.

I just wanted my bed!

The journey was practically eventless, until we suddenly saw cars reversing in a frenzy, while others hurriedly made U-turns into the opposite direction as though being chased.

Confused, I asked one driver what was going on.

“Armed Robbers! Armed robbers!!” he screamed from his car. Spittle dribbling down his mouth as he spoke.

How bad can this get?

We panicked. First, the Mercedes Benz was in no position to pull any stunt, so I rolled the car into the road shoulder, while Mrs. Jones and I ran straight into the thick bush as fast as our legs could carry us. The car, now abandoned, was properly locked, while we looked on from behind the shrubs waiting for any sort of signal that the road was open and safe.

The road was suddenly empty. Not one car passed. You could hear gunshots from a distance and right in the bush we still felt unsafe. It was then I noticed that the hazard lights were still on. Blinking away, annoyingly, like a lost sheep.

When we heard the whooshing of cars 1hour later, we emerged from the bushes and continued our journey barely speaking to one another. This day must end!

We arrived Lagos at 8.15pm. To a barrage of empathy from the family, who were relieved that we arrived safely. One family was glad that their car arrived in one piece, while the other couldn’t hide their joy that their mum – the breadwinner arrived safely, though visibly shaken.

How I managed that feat, I don’t even know!

I didn’t have much to say, all I cared for was the comfort of my bed. I thanked them and hurried home.

When my dad opened the gate for me that night, I couldn’t look him in the eye. I muttered a few incoherent words and went straight for that cozy bed I had dreamt about all through the journey.

Never again will I…………….what?

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