A dizzying, searing pain in his head reminded Tunde Gbadebo he was alive. He felt like his world had been shifted off its axis and spun twice as fast. As the black curtains were lifted from his vision, he found himself in a small room dimly lit by a kerosene lamp that was dying out. He sat upright and looked around, one hand rubbing his forehead furiously. He found that he could remember nothing at all. “I could be hungover”, he thought, but something within him knew that wasn’t true. “Calm down,” he thought to himself, “Deep breaths.” He tried to breathe evenly and slowly but his heart hammered against his chest like typewriter keys on paper. What if he had been kidnapped? His parents had lived in fear of that for the first 8 years of his life, until his sister had been conceived and his father was transferred to New York. He looked down at his hands, and knew that no kidnapper would leave his victim unbound. So what had happened? So he decided to start with simple facts and work outwards.
“Who am I?”
“I am Tunde Gbadebo, 24 year old, postgraduate student of the University of Lagos.” Easy enough.
“Where am I?”
He studied his surroundings closely. The floor was concrete and appeared to have been swept very recently. The table beside him had nothing on it, except the kerosene lamp and an empty bowl. When was the last time he had seen a kerosene lamp? Probably in the old Nigerian movies his parents made him watch growing up. If there was one here, it could mean he was in a rural environment, where the LED lamp had not made its debut. Rural. Finally he had the answer to his question.
“I am in the town of Omu, Ogun state. I am here on a geological expedition for a project.”
The pain in his head ebbed like the tide, but his thoughts were clearer now. Just where had this headache come from? And more importantly,
“What happened last night?”
He remembered arriving here at sunset with other members of his group after a whole day’s journey on foot. They had been tired and sweaty, but standing on the crest of the undulating road that descended into the town, Tunde had felt relief. They had passed 5 villages before they had arrived here, just as the old man who told them this town had special glittery rocks that they’d be interested in said they would. After spending 3 days on a reconnaissance tour for a geological map of Ogun state and turning up with nothing but different variants of granite and the odd pegmatite rock, any rock that wasn’t dull brown or black was a welcome change. So down they had gone into the town. The inhabitants saw them coming and most of them had turned away and shut their doors, for some strange reason. But one man saw them coming and came out to greet them.
“Ekaabo”, he greeted them, smiling through yellow teeth. “Ki le fe?”
“Ekaale sir” we had responded, prostrating to show respect.
Jamiu, who was a native of Ogun state and the one who did most of the talking for the group replied him in fluent Yoruba. Tunde who had never learnt Yoruba properly, could only pick out bits and pieces, but the man seemed to be talking about seeing a “Baale”. When they were done, Jamiu faced them and told them they’d have to visit the Baale (the ruler of the town) and ask for permission to see whatever they wanted. The man had offered to take them, and so he did. It was a short journey to the palace, and when they arrived, the man went in. After a short while, he came out followed by a tall dark man and an old man, doubled over and leaning on a stick. The tall man addressed them in English.
“Good evening. I was told by Abiodun here that you are students, and are carrying out a study here. I am a surveyor myself, so I know what you are doing. However, we cannot let you stay here. Sorry.”
He had begun to turn away, but Jamiu replied in Yoruba, and the old man who had been silent through the surveyor’s speech spoke. Jamiu then began to talk directly to him, and he replied in a breathy voice. The old man then began to address the surveyor, and he didn’t seem to be pleased with him. The surveyor said nothing, and stormed off. The old man began to enter the palace, and Jamiu beckoned them to follow him, with a complacent smile on his face. The five of them waited in the foyer and Chioma began to gab away with Christie, as they had done consistently for the past 3 days. Tunde asked Jamiu what had happened outside and Jamiu told him that the surveyor had wanted them to leave, but the old man who was the Baale’s right hand man, had been cross with him for trying to turn them away. He had promised them an audience with the Baale, who would be glad to see them.
After a while, a young muscular man in shorts ushered them in. Tunde had imagined the Baale as a wizened old man but to his surprise, he was tall and looked very healthy. They hailed him and prostrated, and he greeted them in return. He then spoke in Yoruba, and Tunde deduced he was thanking them for visiting and was delighted by their visit. He offered them dinner, which Tunde knew it was rude to refuse, and a place to stay the night. Tunde, an unrepentant cynic, found it suspicious. Jamiu then turned to them and asked if they wanted to accept the offer. Tunde reminded him that they had lecturers waiting for them back at the lodge, and Chioma protested, saying that the lodge was a long way off and she’d be damned if she was going to walk through unknown rural territory at night. The rest agreed, and Bode offered to call a lecturer to inform them. Jamiu continued speaking to the Baale in rapid-fire Yoruba, and Tunde lost track of the conversation.
Not long after, they were shown into another room with plates and food spread out on the table. Tunde sighed when he saw it was pounded yam and efo riro. He had developed an intense hatred for vegetables, when a food poisoning accident many years back had left him sick, and he had almost died. He wanted to turn it down, but courtesy would not let him, so he scarfed down the meat, and picked at the food. The Baale was conversing with his second in command who was whispering into his ear. The Baale’s forehead furrowed and then he spoke to one of the guards who left immediately. After dinner, the Baale had the guards show them to rooms which had been prepared for them.
Tunde remembered how unusually sleep fell on him, like a blanket had been thrown over him. And then there was the headache. Was it possible that he had been drugged? It seemed highly improbable, but the grogginess he was feeling was a sign that something unusual had happened. His limbs felt like reinforced steel rods jammed onto his body. He thought of calling Jamiu, but his phone was missing from his pockets. Someone had emptied them in his sleep.
“What the heck is going on?”
As if in response, the door burst open, and two guards walked in. They seemed surprised to see him for some reason. They looked at each other for a split second before one approached Tunde.
“Something’s happened. I don’t feel too well, and someone’s taken my stuff”. His accent sounded funny even to him.
“Mi o gbo yin” the guard said. “Je ka lo ba Segi. O ma so oyinbo.”
Tunde understood, and rose to his feet. If he could meet this Segi fellow, perhaps he could get some answers. It was the last thing he thought before he felt a sickening blow to the back of his head, and the black curtains closed for the second time that night.
2012 9JEducation.org work study