He got to the train station just in time before the last train ride out of town. It was the rush hour, but that didn’t matter to him. He didn’t know where it was headed and didn’t care; all he wanted was to leave the city and so he joined the ticketing queue. He overheard the lady in the ticketing office tell the elderly lady in front of her that it would take four hours before it arrive would her destination and the fare was Six Hundred Naira; so he dipped his trembling fingers into the left back pocket of his denim to fetch his snake-skin wallet and got out three Two Hundred Naira notes, which he stretched to the ticketing staff. She handed him the ticket which he didn’t even look at before he boarded the train.
It was when Collins Martins got on the economy coach of the train that he realized that he was in the company of hundreds of petty traders, artisans, and students. This was the regular means of transportation for workers and students who trade, work or school in Port Harcourt, but who find the cost of accommodation in the city relatively expensive. They hop into the low-cost train ride in the morning and then return by the same means in the evening. For a status conscious Collins, to ride with such people was a proof that something was fundamentally wrong with him that evening. And yes, he had just encountered a tale-like occurrence in his home. 35-year-old Collins is a Marine Engineer who worked with a major Italian oil exploration company – Pino Petroleum Incorporated, operating in Nigeria until that day when he was unceremoniously relieved of his appointment. He is in his third marriage, and his job schedules make him work two weeks offshore and two weeks onshore. So, his itinerary was easily predictable and clear to his family and friends.
On this particular Wednesday, Collins had been summoned by the Camp Boss, Freddy Mc Murray, a Briton, to his office by 8.00 am where he was handed a letter from the company’s Regional Head Office in Lagos, terminating his employment with immediate effect. This, the company said was the result of a painstaking investigation of insubordination. He was asked to leave the rig platform by the next available helicopter. Broken by that sudden and sad news, Collins returned to his cabin to pack his personal effects and prepare for the trip out of the camp. The Helicopter gets to the rig platform at 11.45 am every day and departs to Port Harcourt at 12.15pm. Back in his cabin, Collins could hardly articulate thoughts or coordinate his activities. He had only about three hours to do all he had to do.
Tearfully, he tried to put a call through to his wife, but the signal was poor and so communication was difficult. So, he decided to send a text message to his wife, intimating her of his unexpected return same day. At about 12.06 pm the charismatic spokesman of the over thirty-five African workers on that platform boarded the chartered chopper amidst lamentation and crying by his colleagues and friends who felt he was being victimized for his uncompromising stance on workers welfare issues. Injustice or not, he left the rig platform seven minutes after he boarded. Upon touchdown, at the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt, he joined other staff in the shuttle bus ride to their office, where he met with the Operations Manager, who confirmed his sack and advised him to return the following Monday, when it is expected that his severance package would have been calculated and ready for payment. It was from his former office that he boarded a taxi cab home that afternoon.
When he arrived at his residence, he noticed that the security (gate) man was not around, while the gate of his compound was unlocked. The practice was for those who can afford to hire a ‘gateman’ who opens and shuts their gates so that nobody enters the compound without the permission of the security official. Then, he noticed his friend, Akpos’ car parked close to his wife’s SUV. This observation got him thinking; “could it be that his wife had upon reading his text message invited his best friend out of his office to come join her receive him home?” “Was a sack supposed to attract such a reception?” “How did she guess what time he would arrive for her to organize a welcome party?” So, when Collins stepped into his living room, he expected to meet more than two persons there. He met his mother-in-law, who resides with them comforting his obviously agitated three-year-old daughter, Ejiro, who was still in her nursery school uniform.
His mother-in-law was visibly shaken by his sudden appearance and so couldn’t utter a word in response to his battery of questions. So, after a warm hug from his daughter, Collins opened the door leading into his bedroom, where he stood transfixed for a few seconds watching his very close friend and best man at his wedding four years ago having sex with his wife right on his matrimonial bed. In his confusion, he grabbed his naked friend and punched him repeatedly while his wife who was now embarrassed, coiled up in the bed sheet for a moment. After minutes of beating his friend with his bare hands, Collins made for the kitchen and returned with a big knife only to meet his wife and her mother assisting the friend to quickly gather his belongings as he rushed into his clothes. Raging with anger, Collins charged forward, but his brave mother-in-law skillfully disarmed him as his wife threw herself at him crying for mercy. It was difficult for Collins; the hurt was unbearable, as he rushed to the front door calling out to neighbors. At this time, Betty and her mom had successfully smuggled Akpos out of the house from the backyard exit.
Collins returned to his living room after inspecting the bedroom, he was a sorry sight to behold, he sobbed like a baby thrown out into the woods in a dark chilling night. His loving little daughter who could barely understand the occurrence wouldn’t comfort her dad but held his hand as she joined in the weeping. Both women speechlessly walked to and fro the gate, ensuring that no intruders gained access into the compound. Finally, the mother-in-law got close to Collins. She knelt down in front of him and put a hand on his left knee as she opened her mouth to speak but he ignored and gently took off her hand from his knee.
“My son, I am very ashamed of myself and my daughter, who is your wife. Betty and I cannot find the words, but you can’t continue like this.” Please, find a place in your heart to forgive us! Please, I am on my knees.” She sobbed and tried to cajole him. After about an hour, Collins found his voice and asked his mother-in-law, “Mama, how long has this been going on?” “How can you a mother, be present and condone this?” “You betray me, please take your wayward daughter and leave my house this minute.” That was when Betty fell on the floor and started pleading for mercy. The noise, and confusion was so much that Collins decided to leave for them instead. He got up abruptly and took the bag which he brought from the rig and stormed out of the house. He was unsure of anything. He just kept walking and intermittently shouting on the street. After about an hour of aimless movement, he found himself in the train station and got onboard the train from Port Harcourt to Enugu. That train travels from Port Harcourt at 6.00pm daily with stops at Aba, Umuahia before arriving Enugu.
Without a plan, contacts or money, Collins was relocating to a city he had never been to. On the train, he started reviewing his life and wondering if he was cursed or jinxed. He graduated from an Ivory League University in the United Kingdom at the enviable age of twenty-two, with a Second Class degree in Marine Engineering. The only child of Dr. and Mrs. Donald Martins, Collins was set to inherit the family business, a conglomerate of several blue chip companies, but tragedies and calamities of various kinds continuously befell his family immediately after he returned to the country after his graduation. Dr. Martins who was one of the biggest players in the Nigerian Stock Exchange, for some unexplainable reasons had been deceived into a huge investment scam. He sold his stakes in almost all his businesses and plunged into a fraudulent oil block procurement scam. When the dust settled, he had lost Fourteen Million Dollars; more than half of which were bank loans. It was not a loss he could manage, so he suffered a heart attack and died less than three weeks after his son returned home.
If that calamity was tragic, it was only the beginning as that financial loss led to the loss of all the family’s assets and honor. Collins and his mother were ejected from their palatial mansion in Victoria Island, Lagos. They were forced to move in with Mrs. Martins’ younger sister who lived with her husband and three children in a three bedroom flat in the Ketu area of the city. If moving from affluence to squalor was disheartening then, the treatment they received from their benefactors was like adding insult to injury. Daily psychological torments, verbal abuses, and outright high-handedness were their lots. Mrs. Martins never knew that her sister, whose education at the University she financed significantly, was bearing grudges against her. She realized so late in the day, that the respect and courtesy she and her family were enjoying from family and friends were not genuine. Those who celebrated them in their glorious days did so only to curry favor and sustain the benefits.
For the two months Mrs. Martins stayed with the family of Mr. and Mrs. Yemi Amuson, she wept every night. This only worsened her situation and jeopardized the chances of Collins in his job hunting expeditions. Their temporary abode was anything but a home, totally unsuitable for preparing for interviews. After several failed attempts at getting a job, Collins decided to leave the home of Mr. and Mrs. Amuson and indeed seek a better life outside Lagos. He knew that his mother wouldn’t support such an idea because she saw him as her only source of joy and would be greatly devastated if he left her. He pondered over everything for many days. By this period, hardship had started taking its toll on Collins; his clothes were fading fast, malnutrition was affecting his countenance and his self-confidence was fast eroding. He and his mother hadn’t any money to their names neither had they any visible source of raising cash no matter how meagre. So, Collins’ means of transportation was walking.
One day, he finally convinced himself that it was better he took a chance and possibly save himself and his mom, otherwise they may remain in that pitiable state till death meets them. He had thought about several possibilities, and then remembered some Nigerian friends with whom he schooled in the United Kingdom. He profiled them and convinced himself that Sadiq, a light skin lanky boy from Adamawa State was the one to run to for assistance. So, he checked through his old diary and found Sadiq’s family home address in Abuja but without any telephone number. Therefore, he wrote a letter requesting Sadiq’s permission to visit Abuja and put up with the family for two weeks. He managed to find money to put a postage stamp on it, by accepting to woo a girl in the neighborhood for another young man, who admired the girl but lacked the courage to speak up. He sent the letter to Sadiq’s family house hoping to re-establish contact with a guy whom he had assisted academically at different times back in England.
After about four weeks, Collins received a reply from Sadiq granting his request. The letter from Sadiq was like a breath of fresh air for Collins. He was so excited that he rushed to his mom and showed her the letter. However, the news gave his mother sleepless nights, as all her pleas for him to abandon his plan fell on deaf ears. It took him about one week to raise the funds for the trip. And so, he set his adventurous trip to Abuja for the following Friday. On Thursday night, he went to his mother and told her that he was leaving Lagos the following day, requesting her to pray for him and release blessings on him. Surprisingly, his mother blessed him and told him to go. She then suggested that he went into the living room to inform her sister and her husband who had accommodated them for months then.
Reluctantly, Collins went in to thank his aunt and her husband for their kindness and informed them that he had an invitation to Abuja from a friend of his. As he was yet to speak, Mr. Amuson got up from the sofa and said “good luck” as he made his way into his bedroom, but Mrs. Amuson sat back and ‘preached’ to him. However, Collins kept his resolve and thanked her before returning to his mother in the guest room where they slept every night.
The following morning, Collins packed his belongings and got ready for his trip as early as he could, but he couldn’t travel in the day; he chose to go by night bus since that was cheaper. Sadiq had asked him to call him in the morning to inform him of his flight schedule so he would pick him from the airport, but this was an offer Collins couldn’t enjoy. He knew that Sadiq’s picture of him had been altered and he could only imagine Sadiq’s reaction when they meet.
He took the time to reach his friends in around the neighborhood before he left for the bus station in the evening. Just as he got to the station, he received a call from his mom that she had been asked to move out of their home by the Amusons. Collins was confused as ticket sales would end in minutes, should he cancel his trip and return to assist his mom or go ahead as he couldn’t really do much in terms of relocating her, he thought. Then, he decided for the later, he called his mom and encouraged her and pleaded with her to go to their church, where he believes succor may come from. The travel to Abuja was a difficult one for Collins who had never traveled in a commercial vehicle, worse still at night; yet, his desire to revamp his life was very strong. All through the night, he thought of his mom’s condition, Sadiq’s anticipated reaction, his future and other issues.