Read Part One HERE
On December 15, 2005, I was scheduled to travel to Naija on vacation.
At exactly 4:00 a.m. that morning my telephone rang.
It was a call from Naija and the voice on the other end was urgent and frantic: please send money right away, uncle Faster is in serious trouble. He was arrested yesterday. I hung up the phone while the caller was still talking and cursed the evil spirit that made me answer that call. It had to be a hoax, I thought. Besides, I did not recognize the voice.
At 6:20 a.m., the phone rang again. This time it was uncle Faster’s wife. Alarmed, my blood pressure went up. Why would my uncle, the richest man in our village, indeed the wealthiest man in all the surrounding towns, ask me for money? What type of trouble is he in? His wife would not tell me. All she would say was that he needed about Five Hundred Thousand Naira to bail himself out of jail or…? Or what? Or he would have to marry the pregnant girl.
“Which pregnant girl?” I asked impatiently as I paced the floor.
She hung up.
I sat at the edge of my bed, my head lowered between my hands. My mind raced back home as I thought about Faster, my uncle on my mother’s side. A man of reputedly large wealth, Faster, at an early age, had left my mother’s hometown, half a day’s journey from Lagos, to settle down in my village Okike. An extremely flashy man, he was well known in all parts of our village and beyond, where his primary occupation was philanthropy. He pledged money here and there, to this and that group, and to this and that cause. Whether he actually redeemed the pledges, was a topic of frequent gossip and considerable dispute. Rumour had it that he seldom honored his promise; and when he did, it was for a fraction of the pledge. A pledge, the gossips said, was his way of securing free publicity for himself. But publicity for what? Nobody knows.
I kept wondering what type of trouble he could be in.
Faster is a man of fifty or fifty-nine depending on the age group in which he found himself. He gave himself the generic title of businessman, a dubious title at best, because no one seemed to know exactly what he did for a living; and the name Faster, as you may already have guessed, was not his real name. He came about the name in a most unusual way, as a teenager. Due to his large size, in height and weight, tax collectors harassed him constantly, refusing to believe that he was only a teenager. He was frequently on his heels, running from the taxmen. Having paid no taxes, he had no tax papers to present on demand, as required by law. He was easily tired as a consequence of his large size, which seriously hindered his escape. The tax collectors caught him each and every time. Often he was jailed and released, and then caught by a different taxman, sometimes the very same day.
Then one day, after several years of the abuse in the hands of the taxman, he decided he would run no more. What was the point of repeating the same futile process daily, a continuous and fruitless process. The solution was to pay the taxes, right or wrong, for, in his own words, “no one can run faster than his own legs”. When he announced that brilliant piece of truism to his peers, the name stuck – no one can run faster than his own legs – or Faster, in abbreviation.
At exactly 8:30 a.m. my telephone rang again. This time I let ring about twenty times, while I considered whether to pick up the receiver. It was my mother on the phone. She was frantic: my son, don’t be angry about what I want to tell you. Go ahead, I said very quickly, because the suspense was killing me. Go ahead, mother. Mother said: “it’s about my brother, your uncle. He is the man who impregnated the wife of your brother who lives in New York. Remember that the girl had been living with me while your brother lived in America… I tried to keep it a secret to save the family from shame… but the girl went to the police…”
“Uncle Faster is the person who impregnated Oyaw’s wife?” I shouted.
“Mother”, I said, with a note of finality, “let him marry the girl. She is not Oyaw’s wife anyway. She was just his fiancée. Let uncle Faster marry her”.
“But”, my mother said, her voice breaking with emotion, “but … your uncle already has a wife…”
“Let him die in jail then”. I hung up.
My stomach turned inside out and sweat ran down my brow, not because of my uncle, but because I had hung up on my dear mother. I imagined her crying across the Atlantic.
I caught my pre-scheduled flight to Naija that same day.