Every day I get inundàted by security alerts forwarded to me on Whatsapp, warning of the new ways robbers are devising to rob people. There are security alerts on kidnappings and even Boko Haram.
These alerts are forgetting to warn us about the con artists, the ones who don’t wield guns but can rob you to a shine. They are charm artists, these people. When you hear the word charm around this part of the world, your first reaction is immediate recoil. It sets off alarm bells that tell you danger is nigh. And so it should to the average Nigerian and African in general. Charms are believed to work well around here and there are many victims to boot.
We’ve all at some point in time heard tales of people who were charmed or to use a more oyinbo expression, hypnotised, and lost valuables to the con artists, we’ve heard stories of people who were hypnotised in buses and then driven to some unknown place for ritual.
Thankfully, a lot of us have heard enough stories to alert us to such people on the streets.
A few years back, my mother fell victim to these con artists. She was then a trader at the Apongbon market on Lagos Island and would always come home with the day’s sales, or half of it, depending on when her account officer was available, (the account officer came to her to pick up the day’s sales) many times though, mother would come home with piles of stinky naira notes that her customers used to pay for the bags of sugar she sold and she would make us count it whenever she got home, something we did grudgingly. Those notes were health hazards.
On this day, my mum had almost got home, in fact, she was just one bus stop away from home. Most times she chose to walk the last stretch since the distance was less than a mile from the bus stop. On this day, however, she was too tired for that walk and so stayed at the bus stop to wait for a bus.
I’ve often heard it said that con artists, maybe because of the charms they carry or through some psychological savvy, can tell who’s carrying bulk money around.
They say they can see a plume of smoke rising from the head of the carrier. I don’t agree, why, its pure psychology. When you have huge amounts of money on your person, you are more fidgety, you are more aware of your environment, you look at everyone suspiciously and anyone observing can tell. Simple.
Anyway, maybe there was smoke rising from my mother’s head on account of the bulk money she was carrying that day, I don’t know. I just know that she was suddenly accosted by three individuals, one woman and two men. They orchestrated a debate about the best bus route to get on to their destination and when it began to turn into an argument as to where best to go, they turned to my mum for assistance.
Mum had sensed something odd but she couldn’t put a finger to it so when she turned to the woman, whom she felt safe to deal with, the woman in that split second, pulled up her blouse to reveal bare breasts with inscriptions tattooed on her chest. That was all mother needed to fall under their charm and that was all she remembered afterwards for a long time.
In those days too, there was no GSM, so we couldn’t determine where mum was but two hours after she normally got home, we began to trace her to the bus stop, hoping to find her and escort her back home.
We found mum. Walking in a daze, barefooted, without her bag and earrings and gold chain she’d worn for years.
As soon as she saw us, she knew she had been robbed! She burst into tears, looking around for the thieves who had since melted into the crowd. Nothing she said to us made sense.
So, last week, I was walking down to my office when some idiots used the same old trick about bus stop or not, in fact, when I ignored their chatter, one called out to me, telling me in Yoruba that God sent them to me. I crossed to the other side of the road but not before I broke into a long tirade in pidgin. This confused them, because apparently, their god always sent them to a person who speaks Yoruba.
Tell me how you will explain the message God sent you to deliver if you can’t speak English or pidgin.
My mum’s story ended happily, too. After glimpsing the tattoo and falling under the spell, mum removed her earrings, shoes, rings and wristwatch and put all in her bag, with the money of course. She was about to hand over everything when, call it fate, I’ll call it God’s intervention, a neighbour who was also coming from work and had decided to walk the distance home stopped to greet her at the bus stop. She said mum just handed her the bag. Neighbour collected it and headed home to the utter amazement of mother’s ‘companions’.
They are out there again, these thieves, these robbers who don’t wield guns but can rob the shine off you. Beware!