One More For the Road

After Carrot had worked long into the night on one of the difficult Peugeot cars in the workshop he discovered where Fatai kept his purse and laughed. The worm’s hideout was now open to the chicken and this chicken was ready to feast.

As the boss, Fatai’s role was to stand by and watch while the boys slaved away over the cars, inhaling soot, engine oil and petrol, bruising their fingers as they worked through replacing gaskets, fixing new shock absorbers, lining brake pads and stiffening handbrakes.

There were different categories of boys working under Fatai. Those less than two years into their apprenticeship were merely errand boys he sent to go buy amala whenever he was hungry. At other times they were emissaries of fufu for patching tires. He would scream a random name and when the unfortunate boy appeared Fatai would crack him on the head, scream “Oga na master!” and then he would send the boy off to the amala woman. After the boys had served errands for two years, they would graduate to the level where they could stand close to watch as more experienced boys worked on cars. The boys would go on observing the older ones this way for a year and then it would be their turn to begin changing oil filters, until they progressed to taking on more complex tasks. Only the most experienced boys tackled the toughest of tasks under Fatai’s not-so-keen supervision. He never paid any of the boys—it was reckoned that the opportunity to learn under him at all was already enough payment.

Carrot was one of the older boys—he had in fact been an apprentice for six years—and was the most experienced. He had become so good with Peugeots that one time, he singlehandedly resurrected a 406 whose engine had been declared dead by Fatai himself. One of the boys had walked up to Carrot and whispered, “If you open shop as Oga I go leave Fatai follow you.” Carrot had laughed it off and derided Fatai as a mediocre mechanic who was only lucky to have an unusually high number of customers.

Everything with fixing cars is loathsome, but what Carrot hated most was changing a car’s timing belt. It usually required removing one of the front tires—the one on the left—because otherwise it was impossible to get to the roller that held the belt. Then afterwards, he would have to stick his head into the engine area from under the empty tire slot, just after the axle.

Most of his scars came from replacing timing belts. But he didn’t mind so long as he got the job done. They were impossible to avoid anyway. He was, in fact, proud of his because they reminded him of cars he had conquered. One night he had bragged to his girlfriend, Suliat, about a great scar that ran across his left arm. “It was one rich Alhaji. He was stuck on Third Mainland Bridge around 2am. Where was the bastard returning from at that time anyway? These rich men and their impure ways. Anyway, I got a call from Fatai in the middle of the night. I was already asleep, dreaming of you, my dear Suliat. Fatai’s voice almost tore my ears through the phone. Some mad Alhaji was offering a hundred thousand naira to anyone who could fix his wayward car and get him off the bridge. I grabbed Yekini’s okada, bribed the gateman that closes the gates to that shortcut to Yaba, and sped onto the bridge. The Alhaji was sitting, vomit all over his agbada, half-drunk. You should have seen the bonnet when I opened it. The steam almost cooked my face! When I got under the car something fell from the engine and tore my arm. Blood poured. But Suliat, a man is a man. In less than twenty minutes I was victorious and the Alhaji was on his way home.” Suliat wasn’t impressed, a man who owned cars was better than a man who fixed them. Instead she asked, “How much did Fatai give you from the money?” Carrot had simply rolled down his sleeves in response, looking forward to another scar the next day.

The 607 had been towed into the shop in the morning, raggedy, like the stuff of dumpsters. The owner was a real G though. He had dropped ninety thousand naira into Fatai’s lap and promised another ninety if the car was ready the next morning. Fatai had ordered Carrot off another car—a Peugeot 206—and tasked him with the 607. When Carrot protested that his job on the 206 was incomplete Fatai had cracked him in the head. A boy could still be put in his place no matter how long he had spent in service.

The owner of the 607 was deeply irresponsible. His clutch was bad, his brakes were bad, his timing belt was out, his fan belt was out, his handbrake was softer than water, his alternator wasn’t charging the battery and the bastard wanted to travel to Ilorin the next day. He had even had the nerve to demand a change of the whole AC components.

The last thing Carrot fixed was the pedal. The thing had become like plastic and would have shredded to bits completely with further use. It was when he replaced the four tires and started the car that he discovered the broken wipers. God!

He locked the 607 and walked past the store, down the street, until he got to the compound where Fatai kept his stash of car parts. He was about entering the compound when he noticed a flash of light. Someone was in there. Who could it be? It was too late into the night. Everyone had left him at the main shop and gone home. Was it a thief? What thief would be bold enough to steal from car mechanics in Ladipo? He crouched and peeked into the compound. There was a man walking and his gait was one he would recognize anywhere.

He had seen that gait every day for six years and had grown to hate the arrogance it exuded. It was Fatai, and he was holding a purse. Fatai looked around twice until he was certain no one was watching. Then he started digging. He dug and dug and dug. Carrot continued to crouch, continued to watch. When Fatai was satisfied he stood akimbo for a while, heaving, trying to catch his breath. Then he hugged the purse, kissed it and dropped it in the hole. He covered the purse with sand and pushed one of the boxes of car parts over it. Then Fatai did the strangest thing: he climbed over the wall of the compound onto the other side instead of coming out through the gate. Carrot waited for a while until he was sure Fatai was gone. He pushed the box backwards, uncovered the fresh sand and removed the purse. He looked into the purse, saw three bundles of notes, stood for a while and laughed. It wasn’t a sin if one stole from a stingy person, and it was probably saintly if one stole from a stingy boss.

He returned to the 607, fixed the damaged wipers and dialed Suliat’s number. Her voice was sleepy on the other end of the phone.

“Carrot. Hope nothing?”

“Hear me first. Come my house for morning. I will take you to Domino.”

“Dominos? Eh Carrot? That big restaurant?”

“Just come tomorrow. Believe me o. A man is a man.”

“Hmm. I have heard. Mr. Man.”

“Ehn ehn.”

            He heard her mutter something he couldn’t quite make out, and then the phone went off.

            Morning came too slowly. He was already up by 5, trying to decide what pair of jeans to wear. He decided on one with holes around the knees. There was a certain swag required to wear such jeans: one had to be okay with being seen through. He had a bath, washed his fingers, brushed his hair and polished his sandals. Then he thought to count how much was in the purse. When he emptied the purse onto his bed what poured out were three human fingers.

A Long House is a host of houses without walls. Think of citizens of a complex network of intuitions, hyper present, fearless in imagination, delivering revelations as questions.