Bade looked around the office as they sat down.
The office space was just big enough to swing your arms around in, but only just. He could not wrap his head around the contradictions. The reception area was respectable, same with the waiting area, but the office looked like that of a poor struggling professional. There was a battered file cabinet behind the man to his left, a plastic plant on his right side, and a family portrait behind him. The rest of the office was austere. The heat came off the tiles in waves, the ceiling fan and the single open window not being enough to compensate for the hot afternoon sun.
James spoke on their behalf. ‘You come highly recommended sir and we are hoping you would be able to help us. My friend has been posted to Kano for youth service, and for obvious reasons, we believe it won’t be healthy for him to be there at such a time. We are hoping you can help us get him reposted to a more suitable place. Preferably in the south.’
The man nodded when James concluded. ‘I can help you, but it will cost you quite a bit.’
‘How much?’ James asked, wearing a poker face.
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand naira, to a bank account of my choice. Half now, half when the job is done.’
‘What?’ Bade exclaimed.
James silenced him with a look. ‘I’m afraid we can’t go that high. How much are you willing to accept from us?’
‘This is not open to negotiation.’ The man replied.
‘Come on man,’ Bade said, ‘please you have to help us, you are my only hope.’
The man stayed resolute.
‘Okay, how about I pay you in instalments, say ten thousand per month over the next two years.’ Bade tried again.
This was met with long laughter and when his mirth had subsided, the man shook his head. ‘This isn’t a car you are buying. It’s a one-time payment.
I’m sorry, but your particular circumstances are no different from that of the other people that come in here asking me for favours, and why I would like to help you, it would be bad for my business. You know my price. The question you should ask yourself is what matters to you more. Money or your life.’
‘Just what exactly is your business?’ Bade butted in again.
‘That’s my business.’ The man replied with a patronising smile. ‘If you know you don’t have the money, please leave. I have other appointments.’
Bade got to his feet angrily leaning over the table and speaking directly into the man’s face. ‘Who the hell do you think you are? You are nothing but a petty crook, and what you are doing here is extortion. You are just taking advantage of people.’
The man also rose to his feet, but since he was shorter than Bade, it had a lesser effect. ‘You came to me, not the other way around, you cheap man. Now, get out of my office.’ He shouted back with venom in his voice.
Bade opened his mouth to reply, thought better of it and walked out of the office, James behind him. They were silent until they got to the street, and then Bade turned to his friend.
‘I’m sorry for losing my cool in there. But the man made me so angry. The price was too outrageous.’
James nodded. And it probably didn’t help when you mentioned that he was your only hope. That only convinced him that we have no choices and he could stick to his guns.’ James said. Bade rubbed his head in frustration. ‘Jesus, so that’s it? We are out of options? There’s nothing else I can do to save myself?’
‘We could find someone to borrow the money from. Or we could rob a bank.’ James said with a smile.
Bade smiled back as they started walking down the street, though they had no destination in mind. ‘I had really put my hopes in that man, that he would be able to get me out of it. Now it seems I have to resign myself to somehow finding a way to survive in Kano for a year.’
‘It might not be as bad as you think,’ James said consolingly, ‘You might end up enjoying yourself there, maybe find a nice Hausa wife. I hear their girls are usually quite pretty.’
Bade nodded, but he didn’t look convinced. An ambulance sped past them, its siren wailing and it turned into the nearby hospital. The two young men had paused as the ambulance passed, and then Bade resumed walking. He had taken a couple of steps before he realised that James wasn’t with him. He turned back and saw his friend looking at the spot where the ambulance had turned into the hospital, a calculating look in his eyes.
‘What is it?’ Bade asked, walking back to him.
James focused on him. ‘I just remembered something. In fact, I should be kicking myself that I didn’t remember earlier. Have faith my friend, we are not out of options yet.’