The dull glow that emanated from the turnip-like security bulb of Flat-1 was nothing unusual to residents of Sabo Lane. It has been its tradition to produce lukewarm light that even a glowworm would pride itself of having an edge over when it comes to illuminating the rocky roads of the street which Flat-1 is situated. The strength of its glow can be compared to that of the shy glow of the timid evening sun. But the special or rather unfortunate part of its today’s regular show of shame is that it is in conformity with the mood that seems to have spread across the street just the way the poisonous venom of an adder quickly spread across the body of its victim. The news seems to have spread across every ear drum like wild fire.
Sabo Lane is a street where you can hardly see people standing in groups during the early hours of the morning, though the majority of its residence are Hausa and northern Muslims, you mostly see them in large groups on those period when they observe their five times daily prayer sessions when they all gather in their numbers at the veranda of Alhaji Tankho, the owner of the house which is just opposite Flat-1. Today’s story tells an exact opposite of the normal as the crowd was in front of flat one this time around.
From the point of view of the main road of which the lane is a lively branch, some group of young men took different standing position. Some were standing with their one or two hands akimbo; some with folded arms; some expertly rest their hands on their backside, with each holding the other to form a U-shape when viewed from the rear. It gives a picture of a big chain dangling from the neck. Some of them who find their heart too heavy for their chest to bear generously rested their back on the street light pole and the giant pillar of the sign board of Express Way Motors which is located at the left side of the road when entering the street.
A distant look at the crowd reminds one of those nights when European Champion League matches were aired at Floxy Hotel which was once a show house for football matches. You mostly find a large crowd of young boys standing outside during the half time interval, to receive fresh air and to argue with loud voices about the match in expression of their loyalty and support for their various teams. They see the half time as the buffer station to refuel and recharge themselves for the second half of the match. The jerseys most of the boys wore on today’s occasion would have made one believe they are in one of those half time sessions, except that European Champion League matches are not played in the morning and there was no argument amongst the boys. They were quiet. They only spoke in whispers at intervals.
A close look at the faces of the boys shows signs of sad, gory and melancholic tales. Their faces seem to be telling a story but it was incomprehensible since their mouths could not confirm it. Their standing positions couldn’t allow somebody standing at the opposite side of the main road to see what is happening in the street but one could at least find a little space amongst them to pass by. Going down a little further pass the Mai-shai Spot which is opposite Floxy Hotels, a well parked ambulance stood in front of a newly built kiosk. It has some Arabic inscription on the side of the car. Its doors and booth were widely flung open. A boy came out of a compound. He was wearing knickers and a twenty-five litres empty jerry can attached to his right hand. He seems to be unaware of what’s happening in the street. He strolled down; his destination, perhaps, being the public tap water in front of Alhaji Tankho’s compound. He saw people in groups: young boys, men and children. One peculiar feature amongst them is that they were all wearing gloomy faces. This, of course, surprised him. But he could not inquire from any of them as he was himself scared.
At the tap while he was waiting for his turn to fill his jerry can with water, he saw the most shocking event of his life. Emerging from Flat-1, were a group of about eight young men bearing a stretcher on their shoulders. The stretcher was made of tick bamboo stick constructed like a bath tub. Inside it was a figure fully clad by a white piece of clothe; the content being unclear to the boy. But from all indications it was something unpleasant and something they wouldn’t like people to see. The bearer carried it with ease due to their large numbers. Apart from the eight persons on whose shoulder the stretcher rested were other overzealous persons who placed their hands on the stretcher that was gliding on the air with ease. They too must not be left out of the show.
The boy placed his jerry can under the tap for it to be filled. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned back to notice Onuka.
‘What is going on here’, she asked looking very surprised.
‘I don’t know. I also cannot find anybody to offer explanation to me. Maybe you can ask this Mai-ruwa’, the boy replied with a grin.
That warranted an indignant look from the girl, as she already knew that the Mai-ruwa does not understand English language having just arrived two weeks ago from the north where he had lived all his life. She turned her attention to Yakub whose eyes were blood shot and moist. If not for the little tears in his left eye, one would have thought Yakub have returned to his habit of smoking cigarette after denouncing the act.
The stretcher was placed on a cemented floor and the Muslim faithfuls who were there surrounded it. Standing in front of it was a very tall man who wore a jibbah and bore a chaplet in his hand. On his forehead was a black spot which is an evidence of his prayerful life and long years of devotion to the faith. His jaw and chin where filled with heavily beard in imitation of their amiable leader and founder of the faith. He seems to be the highest ranking officer amongst them. He was counting his bead and mumbling some indistinct words. As his lips moved, others joined him eagerly in the same fashion, with each placing their hands on their chest.
Onuka who must have quickly gotten some information from another source later informed the boy that it was the remains of Umar, Jafar’s elder brother that was clad in the white cloth and supinely laid in the stretcher after having passed on to the great beyond just last night following a protracted illness. This explains the mourning which the street has been thrown into, considering how popular Umar was. This explains the redness of Yakub’s eyes. Yakub may not have gone back to smoking after all. Yakab is a close friend of Jafar. The boy verily believes that the death of Umar is not unconnected with his habit of smoking. Umar was a heavy smoker. He started smoking from his early teen age. He smoked all brands of cigarette and marijuana. Although, the boy had never witnessed it, but he heard other boys in the street saying that Umar was an ardent abuser of cheap drugs such as tramadol, codeine and other cough syrups. Umar was always on high frequency due to the intoxicating effect of the drugs, such that some people secretly nicknamed him ‘Most High’. Jafar had been known for emitting loud and persistent bouts of cough. Rumour has it that he was suffering from tuberculosis; while some persons speculated that he had HIV infection because the ailment made him excessively leaner than his natural slim Fulani frame. Whatever the case, the boy strongly believes that but for his habit of smoking and drug abuse, Umar would have lived longer. This conviction made it difficult for the boy to draw any iota of sympathy for Umar. Oh, another victim of the burning grass, he thought. He sincerely hoped that this would serve as deterrence to teenagers who are likely to fall prey to peer-pressure by giving in to smoking, abuse of drugs and other vices. Perhaps, this would strengthen the resolve of Yakub to stay away from smoking; this should inspire Jafar to follow the bold path taken by his friend. ‘May his soul find rest’, the boy muttered.
The stretcher was pulled up again and carried into the ambulance en route to the cemetery where he would be buried in accordance with Islam rites. Then the flicker from the electric bulb became fainter and went off.