This is my first attempt at a short story on this blog… hope you enjoy reading this. Please leave your comments
The waves poured in sea water in to the sandy shore in quick successions. The clouds were darkening as they moved across the sky. The wind raised sand, paper, and everything on the floor in to the air. I watched women struggle to get their children in to the house and fishermen retreat to the shore for safety- the whole village was in a frenzy. I looked at my fishing net and decided that today was another failed attempt to make some money and I grudgingly returned home.
Fishing has suddenly become a daunting experience in Ekpe, and it has nothing to do with the weather. It is difficult finding fish in commercial quantity; the available fish are either polluted from oil spillage or dead. Many of the men in Ekpe who were fishermen have decided to leave Ekpe in search of another employment. My wife, Ufoma has pressured me to do the same but it is not that easy. I think the most pressure came when my best friend recently got a job which earns him a lot of money. I discovered yesterday that his wife now has her own shop and his children attend a private school in the city.
When the thunderstorm was over I went to Eduvie’s house. I have been deliberately avoiding my best friend for over a month. The truth is I was ashamed to admit that I needed a job. I really was prepared to settle for any job I was offered at this point.
“So you have finally decided to visit us.” Eduvie said leading me into his house. I noticed the freshly painted walls and the new furniture.
“It is not like that, I guess I have been busy…”
“If you say so. What can I offer you?”
“Eduvie listen. I am broke and Ufoma is going to kill me if I don’t get a job. You know we are expecting a baby. I am not here to beg you for money, I just want to work in your new place.”
“But, Philip I told you to come with me. The problem with you is that you are too stubborn.” He rubbed his tangled afro; a mannerism I observed he did when he was deep in thoughts. “Look, my new job is not so conventional. I am a dealer in oil exports. I-I think it will be a good idea to come and see for yourself.”
“Okay. Where is your office?”
“Philip, this new job is an all-night thing. We don’t have an office.”
At this point I got confused. What sort of job takes place at night? I could only count a few legitimate jobs that could. I had a funny feeling this was not part. I was just so desperate and eager to make money that I did not have the patience to wait.
“Okay then. I am in. Are you working today?
“Oh yes we are. Meet us tonight at Park Avenue by 12am. Don’t be late.”
What was I doing? I couldn’t believe I had just said yes to a job I knew nothing about. As I left home that night at about past 11pm, Ufoma was very upset that I was going out at the dead of night. I had to come up with some flimsy excuse about assisting a friend who was in trouble. Once I left the house all the thoughts imaginable, came to my mind. I became sure that I had made a bad decision and I started second guessing myself. When I was on the point of chickening out after walking about a kilometre by now, Eduvie appeared from the darkness.
‘’Why are you just coming? What took you so long?” Eduvie barked. I looked at my watch and discovered I was late.
“You know how Ufoma is, you have to explain everything to her…” my voice was suddenly lost in the sound of the truck that lightened the dark street.
“You are so fortunate you came in time, we would have left you. Come on hop on.” Eduvie motioned for me to climb on top of the pick up where three other men stood. As I climbed on board, I soon realised why they were standing. There were lots of buckets and huge containers littered on the back of the pickup. One would have thought we were going to fetch water for the village.
Eduvie chatted away with the others after he introduced me to Austin, OFegor and Kevbe. I had no idea what they were talking about, I just enjoyed the beautiful midnight breeze that cooled down my perspiration from the walk of a few minutes ago. The sky looked blank with just a few stars in sight, it was a new moon so it did not help that the sky was not starry today.
‘So Frank, is this your first time today’ Kevbe suddenly asked disrupting my thoughts.
“Yes, it is. I hope tonight will be great” I blurted out, trying to play along.
The drive was about an hour long, there were flash lights everywhere as if we were approaching some sort of night market. The driver suddenly stopped the engine and all five of us disembarked and took the implements from the back of the truck. Eduvie handed me a flash light and asked me to come with him. I held two huge cans, he had a hose and a pale and another object.
‘Philip, do you know where we are?’ Eduvie suddenly broke the silence as we walked towards the swamp.
“I have no idea Bro, will you at least tell me where we are going?’
“I love seeing you confused, it just makes me laugh.” Eduvie chuckled uncontrollably
“We are going to take what is ours my Brother, something our fore fathers never did.”
“What exactly is all of this about” I cut in, trying to curtail my anger.
“You see, Philip there is a pipeline down the swamp we just excavated. Each of those cans you hold can fetch us N100,00!”
“Are you saying my friendd, that you engage in oil bunkering? You know very well that this is a crime. It is just too dangerous…”
“This is precisely why I refused to tell you earlier. I knew you will judge me! There is nothing wrong with what we are about to do. The oil is ours! It is for our people. We cannot let these foreigners extort our land and leave us with nothing. I am tired of waiting for royalties. Its either u bend down and fetch or you return back to the truck and wait for us.”
All through this discussion, I was so upset that I did not realise how far long we had come in to the swamp. I even failed to realise how large an oil pipeline was. It was huge, and it ran deep along the surface of the forest. It was when I stopped arguing I realised the pungent odour emanating from the oil. There were so many men and women there. It was like a market place. As some where leaving with huge barrels others were coming with larger barrels. There were some young men who we had to pay to obtain the oil. I found this pretty confusing because this was public property.
‘Are you in or out?’ Eduvie asked me, as he brought out some money from his pocket.
“I’m in; I just need to tell Ufoma where I really am”
“You cannot make phone calls here, you wan kill us!” Eduvie suddenly yelled.
Then one of the young men who was waiting for us to pay walked toward me ready to smash my phone as I brought it out of my pocket.
“Go back to the truck to wait for us, we no want any wahala” Austin retorted audibly as he walked closer to the pipeline.
“Ok then I will just wait in the truck guys, I am sorry for all of this” I said raising my hands as a sign of peace.
I could not believe Eduvie was getting his money from oil bunkering. It was totally unacceptable! What did he mean by taking what is ours! I have to be drunk to get myself in this trash. Ufoma will be so unhappy. It took me over an hour to get to the truck. I imagined I was walking too slowly.
I brought out my phone to call my wife. I felt so ashamed of myself. After several minutes I punched her numbers into my cell, a custom I was used to than just dialling her contact name.
After just one ring she picked, “Philip where are you? I can’t sleep”
Listening to the fear in her voice I could not speak, my throat grew dry and I suddenly lost my voice.
“Hello” she yelled through the receiver.
Just as I was about to answer I heard the first bang. I thought it was the local kids playing with fire crackers. Few seconds after I heard it again, this time it was much louder. I looked into the truck the driver was fast asleep. I suddenly saw people running from the direction of the bunker.
“Philip, what was that” Ufoma yelled more afraid now.
“I don’t know honey, I… I….” the ground shook uncontrollably as if a volcano was about to erupt. The driver suddenly woke up and came out of the truck and looked at me bewildered. “Run idiot, the pipeline has exploded”.
I just stared blankly at him, I felt my heart had stopped beating. He suddenly dragged me by the hand and we ran away from the scene to join a stampede of people who were now on the mainstream. I turned back and cried because I knew my friend had died taking what was not his.
Dedicated to all those who have lost their lives from oil bunkering. It is a punishable offense and the temporary profit is not just worth it. #thinksmart