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18

The Devil is a Chauffeur

Tuesday 16th of June 2015 02:46:58 PM  |  Africa Book Club

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Nelson hated driving, especially driving to and from work through the Lagos rush-hour. So, he always engaged chauffeurs even though they came with a lot of baggage.

Years before, he had employed a driver who coughed persistently in the car. When Nelson asked why, the driver claimed he was allergic to the blast of chilled air from the car air conditioner. But even when the air conditioner was off, Nelson noticed the driver still coughed. So, Nelson had insisted on a medical test. It turned out that the driver had tuberculosis. And to think that the man had driven Nelson, his wife, and his daughter who was barely three years old, for over a year. They had spent hours with him in the enclosed space of the car with the air conditioner running. After he had dismissed the driver, Nelson took his entire family for check-up to ascertain they’d not been infected. It turned out they were lucky. But he’d learned his lesson.

From then on, Nelson ensured any driver or domestic aide went through thorough medical tests, which included checks for TB and HIV, before employment. And then his wife insisted on subjecting them to an exorcism session with a pastor to rule out “witchcraft and spiritual manipulation,” whatever that meant.

Another thing that Nelson had learned was that you couldn’t trust chauffeurs, even when they claimed to be born again. He had had born again drivers who swindled him when he sent them to fuel the car. Instead of buying a full tank, they’d buy a quarter less and pocket the difference.

In his dealings with drivers, Nelson made sure he never put himself in a position that allowed a driver to hold his balls. Never! Because sooner or later, they would crush those balls. He’d heard of many occasions, where drivers exposed their bosses’ misdeeds. He knew a driver who, when he was fired, reported his boss to the management of his company – that he ran a business on the side that conflicted with the interests of the organisation. The boss was sacked. Or the chauffeur, who in revenge for dismissal, revealed graphic details of his boss’s sexual escapades to the wife. The rule was, never let your driver be privy to anything you didn’t want broadcast on prime-time TV.

***

Nelson’s current driver, Okhai, though a Secondary School Certificate holder, was smart, neat and well-dressed.

Now, Okhai was in trouble and there was no way he was getting out of this unscathed.

The receptionist had rung Nelson that he had a visitor, One Miss Folayemi Adeojo, who said Nelson had asked her to see him in the office. Though he couldn’t remember anyone by that name, he allowed her to be ushered into his office. A few minutes later, two ladies walked in.

“Good day, sir,” they greeted.

“How may I help you? Which of you is Miss Adeojo?”

“I am,” the one in tight fitting black pants and a red top replied. She had smoky eyes and lush eyebrows. “Sorry, sir, but it’s not you I want to see. I requested to see Mr Nelson Dokpesi, the Director, Corporate Banking.”

Nelson sensed a drama was about to unfurl.

“Do you know Mr Nelson Dokpesi? Have you met him before?”

“Yes, sir. I met him last month at the NYSC orientation camp. He asked me to see him here once we’re discharged from camp. I’ve been calling his phone. He’s not answering. I guess he’s been busy.”

“Well, young lady, there’s only one Mr Nelson Dokpesi here, and by the grace of God I am the person.”

The ladies cringed. The look on their faces was that of confusion.

“And there’s only one Director, Corporate Banking here. By the grace of God I am that person.”

Folayemi smiled – a nervous and dry smile. She looked polished and her accent sounded British. Nelson guessed she may have schooled in England.

“Are you kidding me, sir?”

Nelson was losing his patience.

“Do I look like a clown? I’ll have to ask you to leave my office, ladies.”

The other lady spoke, “We’re sorry, sir. There’s a mix up somewhere. We met Nelson Dokpesi at the NYSC welcome party sponsored by your bank. He said he was the Director, Corporate Banking and he gave Folayemi his business card.”

Nelson had represented the Managing Director at the party true. But he was sure he hadn’t met either of the ladies.

“Really?” Nelson was puzzled wondering if the ladies were fraudsters. “Yes, I was at the party. But I don’t remember meeting you, giving you my card and asking you to come see me.”

The ladies before him didn’t look like scammers or hustlers. Nelson turned to Folayemi,“Where is the card the Mr Dokpesi gave you?”

She fumbled through her bag and brought out a card. Nelson scrutinized the card. It was his, but with his phone number crossed off and another one scribbled below it in blue ink.

“This is my card quite all right. But this is not my number and this is not my handwriting.”

“Mr Dokpesi crossed out the printed number and wrote the other one, saying his number has changed,” Folayemi said.

“Stop saying Mr Dokpesi. It should be obvious to you by now that the man you met and introduced me to is not Mr Dokpesi,” her colleague said in a gloating tone.

Someone who was present at that party had impersonated Nelson. This was dangerous, Nelson thought. He wanted to call the police to get to the root of the matter. But then, he decided to call the number that was scribbled on the card first. When he dialed the number on his phone, a name showed up on the screen. It was a saved number on his phone. It was someone he knew. He cut the call swiftly, reclined on his seat and laughed. The ladies looked on not knowing what to make of the whole scene.

“This is Okhai’s number. My driver,” Nelson said.

The ladies exclaimed, “What?”

Folayemi’s friend said, “A driver?” She turned to Folayemi, “You slept with a common driver? And for nothing? I warned you, Folayemi.” She switched to Pidgin English, “Na we wey we go school for Nigeria here know wetin dey. You never tear eye like us. See how common driver smooch you, knack your arse for ground for inside Prado for camp. He tell you say him be director and you just believed like that.”

Folayemi, looking dazed, choked back tears.

Folayemi’s colleague said to Nelson, “All these girls who think they know everything because they schooled in England. Well, they may know all the books but they are not as streetwise as those of us who schooled here.” She hissed, and rolled her eyes.

Folayemi stood there with clasped hands to her face, weeping.

Her friend continued, “Sir, your driver is crafty and wicked. He promised my friend that after the orientation program, he would get her assigned to do her one-year service in this bank. It was based on his promise that she let him have sex with her in the backseat of the black Prado Jeep that he drove that night. Really, this could be considered a rape, technically.”

Nelson smiled. While he felt pity for Folayemi, he wondered when a mutually consented to sexual act, though contrived by falsehood, had become a rape.

Nelson said, “I’m sorry, lady. It’s a pity this happened to you. That Prado is mine. Okhai drove me to that party in it. He must have committed this atrocity while I was engaged in official functions at the party. Don’t worry, I’ll deal with him.”

He called through the intercom and asked the receptionist to fetch Okhai from the drivers’ room.

When Okhai sauntered in, Folayemi lowered her gaze, ashamed of herself. She shook her head and burst into tears afresh. Okhai, surprised to see the ladies, cringed, and then puckered his face.

“Okhai, if you’re the Director, Corporate Banking, what does that make me? Your driver, I guess?”

“Oga, I’m sorry, sir. The devil made me do it.”

“Shut up! I will deal with your matter after I’m done with these ladies.”

***

Okhai wasn’t just Nelson’s chauffeur; he was also a cousin to Nelson’s wife. After the incident, Nelson decided to fire Okhai, but he was forced to recall him due to pressure from his wife and his in-laws. He was angry with himself for breaking his own rule – never hire a relative. Never engage a hire you couldn’t readily fire.

In the months that followed, Okhai seemed to have learned his lesson and had behaved himself until the time he drove Nelson to Benin.

Nelson, his wife and children, were in Benin to attend his niece’s wedding. Their host, his brother, made a reservation of two rooms for them to stay at a hotel at the GRA. Nelson and his wife stayed in one room, while the children stayed in the other. There was no provision made for his driver. Nelson felt it wasn’t right to make a driver pass the night in the car, like most people he knew did.  So, as he had always done for his chauffeurs when they traveled out of town, he paid for a room for Okhai.

Not long after they had all retired to bed, Nelson was roused from sleep by a knock on the door. He checked the time on his phone. It was 2:17am. The knock resumed, this time intense.  Whoever was at the other end was desperate to get someone to answer the door. His wife had also woken up. They were both alarmed fearing that robbers had invaded the hotel. He had heard stories of how robbers invaded hotel rooms, looting, raping and killing. His wife whispered to him that they should hide in the bathroom, as if that would make a difference. They muffled prayers under their breath. What about the children in the room next door? Where they safe? Nelson worried.

Nelson summoned courage and asked, “Who’s there?”

No answer.

He asked again and a voice replied, “Oga, na the receptionist o. I’ve been calling your intercom, you didn’t pick.”

Nelson was not convinced. He imagined the robbers wanted to trick him to open the door.

“What’s the problem? Why are you pounding at my door? What do you want at this time of the night?”

“Oga, na your driver o. He dey fight woman for downstairs.”

Okay. If he said his driver was making trouble downstairs, it was likely to be true. He knew his driver.

“Abeg, make you come settle the matter o.”

“All right, I’ll come down straight away,” Nelson said.

Nelson slipped into his pyjamas, crept to the door, opened and peeped into the passage. Not seeing any sign of danger, he called his wife to check on the children while he dashed downstairs.

***

The night before, Okhai had retired into his room after dinner.  The opulence of the room dazzled him. The twin bed had clean white sheets overlaid with a cream duvet. He kneaded his fist gently into the mattress again and again. The feel was like kneading into a curvy woman’s navel. The floor was marbled in light brown. The room smelled of lavender. He picked the two remote controls on the mahogany nightstand and flicked on the TV and the air conditioner. The air conditioner purred into life. He went into the bathroom – it was clean and sparkling – ran the tap and flushed the toilet, confirming they worked. He shuffled back into the room and flopped on the bed. He heaved himself up and down the mattress to savor the softness. This was Okhai’s first time out of town with his boss, and his first time in a hotel room. Envy seeped through his mind against rich men for their access to such luxury. He glanced through the hotel directory, called the bar, ordered for stout, flipped channels and settled to watch a soccer match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. An avid supporter of Chelsea, Okhai was angry when his team were trashed by three goals to five.

Despite having downed five cans of stout while watching the match, he tossed on the bed unable to sleep. He imagined what his boss was doing with Madam right now. Lucky rascals! Okhai imagined his own wife and four children back in Lagos huddled together inside the dingy bedroom of their room-and-parlor apartment ravaged by mosquitoes and the scorching heat. It occurred to him he needed to share this treat he’d been offered with someone. The splendor he was surrounded with seemed, like an aphrodisiac, to have fueled his passion. He didn’t want to sleep, in this air-conditioned room, on this fluffy bed, all alone. Wasn’t it a twin bed by the way? Bed for two. This opportunity must not go to waste, he told himself.

Okhai scrambled to his feet, slipped on his sneakers, picked the car key and stumbled to the reception. He inquired which part of town he could pick up girls. The receptionist without hesitation told him he could head to Uniben campus, but the girls there were expensive. Or he could get more affordable girls within the GRA, by the junction. It was obvious the receptionist was used to giving this kind of advice to lodgers.

The time was about 11:45pm. Okhai drove his boss’s car into the night. Just after making the first turn down the road, he sighted three girls standing by the roadside. From their skimpy outfits he knew they were hustlers. He slowed down and parked a little distance after them. The girls scrambled to his side jostling to outdo each other. He wound down the glass, letting out a gust of cool air from the air conditioner. Soft music blared from the sound system. Peering at the girls, he beckoned to tallest one. She was light complexioned. He reasoned since his wife was short and dark, he would try something different. The other girls, dejected, retreated into the cold night to try their luck elsewhere. The lucky girl hopped into the car and Okhai zoomed off.

“How much?” Okhai asked.

“Na all night you wan do?”

“Yes.”

“Three thousand naira.”

“Ahan! Na so woman dear for Benin? Let me pay two-five.”

“Two-eight last. I am not a street girl o. I’m an undergraduate at Uniben.”

“Okay.” That was fair enough for an undergraduate, Okhai thought.

“What’s your name?”

“Kate.”

“Kate, fine girl. My name is Nelson. I’m the Director of Corporate Banking for Regent Bank.”

He flipped out one of his boss’s business cards from a compartment and gave to Kate.

She peered at the card. “Na big man you be and you dey price woman like beans.”

“That’s a good sum for a night, Kate.”

“You be nice man o. Customers no dey gree give us their complimentary card like this o.”

“Wetin I dey do with them. I get them plenty,” Okhai said as he revved the car.

When they got to the room, Kate insisted on “payment before service.” But Okhai’s assurances made her waive her – in her own words – “standard operating procedure.”

“No wahala. I know you will pay. A director like you will not risk his reputation for a paltry two thousand eight hundred naira.”

When Okhai had had his fill, he thought it was wise to dismiss Kate rather than keep her till morning. Now clear-headed, he groped through his pockets. He found only a five-hundred-naira note. What had happened to the rest of his money? He tried to recollect – he had spent it on drinks. He was in a fix.

“I’m sorry. I can’t find my money,” he said.

Kate raised her voice, “Is this a joke or something? Please, give me my money, let me go.”

“Don’t shout here. People are sleeping.”

Okhai was angry with himself. He couldn’t even recollect the details of their act together, he’d been drunk. And now he had no money to pay the bitch. He regretted the whole thing.

“If you don’t want me to shout, pay me my money. Bank director,” Kate sneered at him.  “You don’t have money on you, you go carry woman. What kind of bank director are you? I will disgrace you today. I be proper Benin asawo, I no be Lagos asawo. I go deal with you today.”

She held Okhai by his waistband and slapped him. Then a scuffle ensued. When Kate was able to snatch herself from his grip, she flung the door open and ran to the reception screaming, “Yeye bank director wan kill me o! He do finish, he no wan pay.”

“Don’t shout here, please. This is a hotel. People are sleeping,” the receptionist cautioned.

Kate wailed, “Then tell the yeye bank director to pay me my money. Tell him to pay me my money o.”

The receptionist followed her to Okhai’s room, where Okhai sat on the bed, downcast.

“Bros, how far?”

Okhai didn’t reply.

The receptionist said to Kate, “My sister, you for collect money before show. This man na driver. Him oga na the bank director.”

Not bothered by the information, she replied, “Whether him be director or driver o, I no care. Make him pay me my money.”

Okhai said he’d thought he had money on him. He begged the receptionist to lend him money which he would refund at daybreak, after he had borrowed money from his boss. The receptionist glared at him, a look that suggested he thought Okhai was a fool.

“It’s either I report to your boss or call the police. We cannot allow the two of you to disturb the peace of our lodgers,” the receptionist said.

Okhai pleaded, to no avail, that he would lose his job if his boss was called into the matter.

***

When Nelson got downstairs, he met Okhai slouched with his arms clasped across his chest, somber. The girl held on to his waistband. She looked twenty, twenty-one. Her miniskirt was way high above her knees. Her skimpy blouse clung to her slim frame and exposed her midriff. The neckline plunged, exposing her red bra and cleavage. There was no iota of shame on her face or in her demeanor. She was all business-like.

“Oga, your driver no get money, he carry woman. See me, see trouble o.”   Kate’s small breasts jiggled as she spoke and heaved her frame up and down.  She fluttered her false eyelashes.

Nelson would not dignify this little tart. Exchanging words with her would mean just that.  What was Okhai thinking going to pick a prostitute when he didn’t have money on him? he wondered. Why would the comfort of a hotel room incite a man’s testosterone to shut down his brain, letting his groin take over his thinking? It baffled Nelson. He asked Okhai how much he had agreed to pay the woman.

“Two thousand eight hundred naira, sir,”

“Na lie. Na three thousand naira,” the girl said.

When Okhai made to answer back, Nelson shushed him with a glare and a finger to the lips.

The receptionist said to Okhai, to Nelson’s hearing, “It’s yours boss’s fault. Why would he put you in a room? When he could have left you, like other drivers, to sleep in the car or on the couch by the reception. Your oga is too nice; giving a room of twenty five thousand naira a night to an ordinary driver.”

Nelson ignored the comment. He went back upstairs to pick some cash. He paid the girl five thousand naira. She hissed and cursed as she left. Nelson retrieved his car key from Okhai, and gave him five thousand naira to transport himself to Lagos by daybreak. Okhai would not chauffeur him any more.

Okhai, grovelling, begged, “Sorry, sir. The devil made me do it. It will not happen again, sir.”

“The devil indeed,” Nelson said shaking his head.

The engagement of Okhai as his driver was over. That he was sure of. There would be no family considerations this time.

                   


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