By Bomi Ehimony
I was hungry; I had not eaten in days. My stomach kept on reminding me that I was soon going to die: making increasingly loud noises, like the type a grinding machine that needs some oil makes. I had no choice.
I set out to get something, anything that could at least hold my stomach for the meantime until a miracle happens. I tried begging, but trust Nigerians; they would not mind someone giving them some money, not to talk of giving something to a beggar. I received responses like ‘nothing is wrong with you.’ And ‘go and work.’ The truth is that I can work, in fact, I used to work, but there has not been work: ever since the government closed the normal route to the market. Now, people who came to shop, took the back road and therefore parked their cars near themselves. Our business of helping shoppers haul their goods into their cars with our barrows was now quite dead, so there’s no work.
I saw the woman, I monitored her, when her lover came she dropped her small bag that contained all her recharge cards and all the money she had made today, so far. Ah! I am sure it was a lot of money o, the way people usually rush her recharge card, I am sure she uses some kind of jazz, because she is not the only one that sells around, but people buy from her more than anybody else, maybe it is because of the way she looks, she’s very pretty and her back is something else. Anyway, as she dropped the bag on the bench, I thought: this is my chance, if I am smart enough, she will not see me and nobody will catch me. She was laughing with her lover, he must have been deceiving her, maybe he was telling her that he would marry her and she probably believed everything, stupid.
I was very close to the bag, I made sure I observed everywhere to make sure nobody was looking and when the coast was clear I snatched the bag from the bench where it was placed on as though the bench had power to resist, then I started walking away, walking normally, I did not run so that people would not suspect that I was a thief. I thought that I was home and dry; that I had escaped, and then I heard her voice.
‘Thief… Ole… he has stolen my money.’
That was when I began to run, I didn’t hear any footsteps behind me, I knew I heard her shout ‘thief’ but maybe she was not even looking in my direction when she shouted, maybe she was referring to someone else, because I was sure there was nobody behind me. Just as I turned to confirm that she was not referring to me, I felt a big stick strike my jaw violently and down I went, how could this happen? There was nobody running after me, or, so I thought, there were multitudes of people actually. Probably it was the hunger in my belly and the anticipation of food that dwarfed my ability to hear properly.
What is happening to me right now is not a joke. Several heavy sticks have been split on my head, my face is red from all the blood that has seeped into it through the injuries, I am barely conscious. This people want to kill me. I know I was wrong to steal, it’s only just dawning on me that I could have found some other, legal means of getting money instead of trying to steal. Still, is it enough to kill me? Is it enough to take my life? I am begging them, I am crying. I am trying to explain to them that I was very hungry, but they are not listening.
The girl’s lover has brought a tyre; they are planning to set me on fire. ‘Ah, please. Please I will never do it again. Forgive me, please now? Please I promise I will not steal again.’ I shout.
Somebody in the large crowd of vicious humans that has enveloped me says ‘I get kerosene, make we burn the idiot.’
Oh God, why me? What have I gotten myself into? Why did I have to take that bag? Is this how I will die; is this how my life will end? God, where are you? Help me now? They are pouring the kerosene over my body, I can’t even see again. The fuel is burning my eyes.
Hey you, are you in the crowd? Help me now, please, I promise to never steal again, Will you not help me? You are just going to stand there and watch me burn?