Dada is always on the roads, you might have seen him before but you probably didn’t notice him.
In the morning when the roads are stock full with cars of ongoing workers heading to their various offices and at night when those same people are making their way home, Dada is there, on the roads. You might have seen him before, but you never did give him a second stare no doubt. He like all the other inconspicuous fellows we see on the roads hawking one item or the other are never noticed as individuals themselves. No. They only get stared at when someone fancies the items they are marketing. Not that they care about the people themselves. It’s the items they actually want catching your attention, anyways.
At the age of 15, Dada is already a vet in this line of business. At the age of 7, Dada began his career with the lowest, cheapest possible, item out there- pure water. From there on, he progresses through a vast variety of products sell-able on the traffic. He has canvassed various busy roads around you. Even now, Dada has no specific working area or product. He goes where the traffic is most compact with the product most in demand.
We won’t talk about Dada’s past or background, because… who cares? It’s only the product we care about right? That and the traffic.
Dada is a unique hawker though. He’s got a special talent when it comes to the trade. The skills every traffic hawker needs to be successful include the ability to be alert and notice when a potential customer has his/her attention on their product, but most importantly the speed and techniques to get to the customer before they change their mind, or before the traffic itself changes it’s mind and speeds the vehicle holding the customer away. This is the aspect in which Dada’s talents are most prominent. It’s like holdups are specially made for him. His speed far exceeds those required but his movements are the main catch. There’s no traffic too dense for Dada to weave his way through. He always leaves angry drivers madly blazing horns and curses at him in his wake due to the way he jumps pass moving vehicles. What they don’t know of course is that they couldn’t hit the boy even if they tried. It’s like that movie ‘The Maze Runner’, and this maze gat nothing on him. Hardly, very hardly, almost impossible, can a customer signal interest in a good Dada is selling and not get it, even if the traffic is moving fast.
One of the very rare occasions where he missed his intended customer had an especially spectacular twist. It was one of those evenings when for some inexplicable reason the road was congested far beyond usual levels. As usual, people propagated their theories… An accident, some said. Soldiers checkpoint, other suggested. Of course, like all such scenarios you’ve no doubt been in, the true reason is never deduced. Anyway, the traffic was so nightmarish that commercial buses refused to go that route. Due to the lack of buses and the lack of movement of those already going that way, a very large part of the home bound work force turned to their God given legs for mobility and started trekking home.
Of course, Dada was present, not one to miss out on a potential ‘trade fair’ of such magnitude. On that day, he was selling recharge cards. A customer signaled him from a taxi and in the blink of an eye, he was by her window. She wanted to buy N200 airtime, she collected it and did what we all do- showed Dada the N500 bill she intended using to pay, expecting him to get the change before she’ll give him the money- we all have those trust issues.
And then, just as Dada was shuffling out her balance ‘change’ to give her, for some weird reason, the traffic suddenly picked up an uncanny momentum, taking Dada’s customer and her still unpaid for purchase away. But it was Dada, the boy with magic feet. He calmly sorted out the required balance from his money stack, not caring about the ever increasing distance and cars between him and his unpaid good. When he had the money ready, he stared up and located the taxi. The traffic had once again ceased motion making his work all the more easier. His aim being to get there before the traffic moved again, Dada immediately darted into the maze of cars, his favorite track.
And then, it all happened so fast. He would later reflect that he had passed a barely remembered figure immediately after passing that bus window, the window that changed his evening. He had just passed a bus –the bus– on his way to catch the taxi when a woman shot her head out of one of the bus windows and cried out in a loud voice;
“THIEF! MY PHONE! THIEF!”
Naturally, Dada along with everyone turned to stare at her. However, Dada was still in motion, not wanting to lose the taxi. And then, every other eye left the woman and steadied on him. He realized, only too late that his run seemed so very guilty at that point.
“Thief!” Someone else echoed, this time directed to him and suddenly two people started running towards him. A wiser move would have been to stop moving, let them meet him and so doing, prove his undeniable innocence. But adrenaline- The ‘fight or flight’ hormone-took charge where brains would have achieved a much better outcome. Dada has been a street kid almost all his life. He has witnessed street justice first hand on numerous occasions. He knew what street mobs could do to one suspected as a thief. Dada panicked and chose the flight option, in so doing, in the eyes of onlookers, cementing his guilt.
Half of the angry- forced pedestrians on the roads joined in the chase and suddenly, instead of two people, Dada had a multitude chasing after him.
His greatest advantage was that this was his own accomplished race track- He increased speed immediately. His sleek movement between cars at such a tremendous speed left his pursuers in the dust.
His greatest disadvantage- The shouts of ‘thief thief’ kept recruiting the interests of pedestrians. More people were joining the chase, some even ahead of Dada. He still managed to meander pass most.
Dada tried to think. His heart was throbbing faster than even his feet. He had never been this scared in his life.
Where am I running to?
Where should I run to?
Crossing the road to the other side was not an option. It was a highway, there was no traffic for him to meander through, no buildings to run into. Just plain roads, even Usain Bolt would get caught eventually under such circumstances.
And then it clicked. There was a military checkpoint ahead. Perhaps if he could make it there, the soldiers could slow down the mob enough for him to plead his innocence. Perhaps. Maybe a few of the soldiers would recognize him as one of the hawkers. It was a long shot but Dada was ready to try anything that could make him escape the imminent jungle justice.
Yes. Dada decided, he just had to make it to the military checkpoint, just a few…
The door to a car he was passing was suddenly opened in his path violently slamming him backwards. He wheeled back trying not to fall, and then a punch from nowhere slammed him completely off his feet, knocking his breath out and in the process temporarily taking away his sight. While he was going to the ground someone with especially hard palms slapped him from the back of his head, and then another person (or the same person kicked him). As he rolled from the force of the kick, hands held him and forcefully carried him out, away from the middle of the road and the cars… away from his habitat… to his grave. At that point Dada started crying, not due to the pain from the multiple hits but due to his imminent demise.
He was dropped unceremoniously by the road side and the onslaught began. Slaps, kicks, punches, stones, woods. It was like every person around him had become possessed by some wild spirit as they utterly ignored Dada’s cries, pleas of innocence and for mercy. Possibly a few onlookers abhorred the barbaric lynching, but like most such people always do… Like we would most likely have done if we were in their shoes… They just kept their distance. Why go through stress to save an unknown stranger from mortal peril, right? A few managed to voice their opinions…
“Make una calm down.”
“Carry am to police,” Some tried to suggest.
“No kill am na.”
Opinions that were completely ignored. Of course, words are wind… perhaps some action might have helped the boy.
And then, amidst all the commotion, curses and lynching, Dada heard the one suggestion that scared him the most. A suggestion he had heard a couple of times, once on the internet video of those Uniport murders in Aluu, a few times on the streets. It always had the same outcome.
“Bring that tire!”
Death by burning… If only he had been faster. The army block couldn’t be more than a kilometer away. If only, and Dada starting throbbing bitterly.
“DROP THAT TIRE!”
Whoever said that had a loud and uniquely authoritative voice that compelled everyone’s attention. Even the extremely devastated Dada stared up… And then he started weeping profusely again.
This time it was tears of joy because standing near him were two men in the to Dada, angelic looking camouflage. Both were holding rifles and staring menacingly at the crowd.
Perhaps, I did get far enough.
The people who had almost just been murderers transformed to cowards, they halted in their steps, scared and confused and some quietly dispersed. The pause was all Dada had hoped for to prove his innocence.
It turned out that one of the hawkers had muzzled up the nerve and instead of watching idly, had covered the short distance to the checkpoint, and managed to beg two soldiers to come save his colleague
Of course, when questions were eventually asked, 40% of his persecutors didn’t even know what he was alleged of stealing, while the remaining had varying answers, all from hearsay.
He never got to locate the taxi woman who had his unpaid card, but at least, he got to live.
Dada is always on the roads, you must have seen him before but you probably didn’t notice him.