I was already at Barracks bus stop by 6pm.that day.
Barracks is the second to the last bus stop to my home. I closed my shop early at 4pm by the way my is shop at Apongbon on Lagos Island. I sell bags of rice and sugar; right under the Agpongbon bridge. That day, I had N250,000.00 cash in my bag and in my waist pouch.
You will say I was foolish, right?
But listen, normally I would often have deposited sales for the day at the bank close to the market but sometimes, like that day, some customers come very late sometimes after I had draped a tarpaulin over my bags of rice and secured it with ropes.
Yes, that’s how we store our wares especially when the shop is full already; the spillover bags of rice or sugar as the case may be, will be loaded on top of wooden pallets and draped with tarpaulin and secured with ropes. We pay for security at the market, so our wares are mostly safe.
That day, two customers came after I had locked up and of course I couldn’t turn them away. There were several other women who hadn’t locked up that day and they could easily have taken my customers, so I sold off from the wares on the pallets and put the money they paid in my bag, the rest I stuffed in the waist pouch I usually wear under my Iro and Buba.
I headed home early because I wanted to avoid traffic and I also wanted to get home before dark, especially as I was carrying such a large amount of money.
Everything went well, I boarded a danfo, no traffic. I got to barracks bus stop, my stop and came down. I would cross the busy road to board another danfo that would take me to Yaba where my home is.
I was there and it was getting dark at this time. I was waiting for a bus along with several people who were headed my way.
My mind was on a number of things, my kids, five of them; my eldest should have begun to prepare the evening meal; I would get the rest to count the money properly and arrange in neat bundles so I can take it to the bank closest to the house the following day…
Then I overheard two people talking loudly, two men and a woman talking among themselves to my right. I averted my gaze and shifted away from them but still heard them clearly:
First man: ‘Which is the nearest bus stop to Onike? I was told we should stop here and get a bus going to Yaba, then…
Second man: I am not sure we are at the right bus stop, I think we should have dropped at the next bus stop and crossed to the other side…
Woman among them: Why don’t we ask people around to direct us, let’s ask…
They all turned to me. Like I said, I turned my face away from them when I overheard them, something didnt seem right, so I avoided their gaze.
When they turned to me, I still refused to look at them. I nodded, without looking at them, I told them the next bus will drop us all at Yaba and they could make their enquiries from there.
They noticed I avoided looking at them. This is Lagos, you look into the eyes of people who claim to have lost their way and you become hypnotized and they rob you clean! It was always the same pattern. I wasn’t going to fall for this.
They conversed for a few seconds among them and suddenly, the woman called out;
‘Is it here?’
I looked up!
My gaze fell on the woman.
She seized the moment.
She lifted her buba, underneath, she wore no bra; her breasts were shriveled. I was surprised because my mind said, she is young but that moment passed quickly because my eyes were fixed on the inscriptions, tattoos of different markings, on her bare skin. There was the drawing of an eye just below her breasts in the middle.
In a flash, she whipped down her buba and I knew nothing more.
I became like a zombie obeying their instructions.
Hand over your bag! I heard this command from afar. Yet I was dimly aware of cars and pedestrians passing, okada riders zipping but but they seemed far removed from me.
Something instructed me to remove my jewelry as well. I always wore gold-earrings, chain; simple, nothing extravagant. I removed them and put everything in my bag as I was being instructed and ‘what of your pouch?’, I heard the voice demand, I removed the money I stuffed there into my bag and I handed over the bag.
To date, I have no recollection of what happened next.
I walked home barefoot
My kids, they were disturbed; they kept asking me questions, you know kids.
‘Where is your bag, Maami?
‘Maami, what happened to your shoes?’
Their questions snapped me my out of my hypnosis. it hit me: I had been duped!
My world came to a stop; N250,000,00 back then was a fortune, still is. It would take me time to recover this loss. I was in tears as I narrated my ordeal to my children when we heard my neighbor knocking and calling out to my kids to open the door.
One of my children went to the door and the rest of us heard her scream.
Let me cut the story short. It turned out that at that time I was about to hand over my bag to those evil people, my neighbor happened to be passing by. She had decided to trek the distance between Barracks and Yaba, something I would have done on a normal day but didn’t because I was carrying cash.
My neighbor had seen me talking to these people, not knowing who they were had stopped to greet me and to tell me that she wouldn’t be waiting for any bus, she would trek.
But she said instead of responding to her greetings, I handed my bag over to her and turned away. She, confused had taken the bag and brought it home to drop off at my flat. Sighting the bag, my daughter screamed.
I have no idea how those evil three disappeared. I have no idea how I got home or what happened to my sandals, I even had no idea, why or when I gave my bag to my neighbor. All I know.is I came thisclose to losing money that would have broken me.
I just thank God for it all!
(series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)