In this gripping final episode, Gregor comes to grips with a mug
Within seconds of our arrival, the shed door swung open, and a middle-aged man emerged. Clad in more military attire than a North Korean general, he sported so many medals on his chest that he had developed an alarming lean to the left. He was also armed to the teeth. I stopped counting the guns and knives he carried when the combined glint of the sunlight on his medals rendered my temporarily blind.
I lurched forward to introduce myself – but in the time it would take an ordinary mortal to utter the words “stolen valour”, I was intercepted and asked politely, but firmly, to kneel in the dirt and consent to what turned out to be quite an invasive search of my pockets, shirt, torso and genital region. No one, not even an African warlord’s henchman, wanted to touch my anus.
Convinced that I wasn’t carrying a harmful weapon, the leader of the group motioned for me to stand, and extended a hand in welcome.
“I am General Hunting,” the man said. “General Goodwill Hunting.”
The flash of warning that came from Godwin’s eyes suggested that now would not be a good moment to acknowledge what would otherwise have turned out to be the best pun of this entire story.
“I am informed that you are here to enquire about our coffee, yes?” he asked. “I am happy to provide you with coffee. Would you like one kilogram? Ten kilograms? However much you require, I am happy to do business and able to provide whatever quantity you need.”
It sounded like a reasonable business transaction – but Mr Hunting’s use of “air quotes” whenever he mentioned the word “coffee” was beginning to make me “suspicious” of his “good intentions”.
I asked to see the produce. He agreed – and I was led, at gunpoint, into the garden shed, where it turned out that the “air quotes” for “coffee” meant that the “coffee” was, in fact, “cocaine”.
Mr Hunting had established the plantation as a front, using this particular part of Nigeria – long established as a waypoint on trans-African trade routes since around the time that man invented the camel – as a storage facility for high-grade narcotics making their way from South America to various Middle Eastern countries, as well as Portugal.
My hatred of all things Portuguese was, it turns out, well-founded.
After agreeing on a price for one kilogram of “coffee”, I convinced Mr Hunting to let me retire to the vehicle to retrieve the cash, before finalising the transaction. Once free of the confines of the garden shed, I bolted to the car – only to find Godwin alone behind the wheel.
“We need to leave. NOW!” I calmly informed him at the top of my lungs. “We have about 60 seconds before they realize something’s gone really badly wrong and the shooting starts. Where is Ajagbe?”
“Ajagbe is gone,” came the cheerfully despondent reply. “He has joined Boko Haram. He was offered 72 virgins – and despite using my satellite phone to try to negotiate a better deal with our Human Resources department, it was an offer that they were unwilling and unable to match.”
“Dammit… Let’s get moving.”
“I would love to, sir – but I cannot,” Godwin said. “We are waiting on another passenger… a cousin of mine who is a Nigerian prince, requiring safe passage from this region, and help relocating USD$4.8 million in misappropriated foreign aid, stolen from his bank by militant accountants, to fund a coup. I promised his mother, who has been emailing me for months, that I would help at the first available opportunity.”
Part of me died.
I patiently requested information as to Godwin’s cousin’s whereabouts, and mid-answer there came a tap-tap-tap on the window. Peering out, and expecting to take a number of 7.62x39mm rounds of ammunition to the face, I was both amazed and distressed to see him; Dressed to the nines in traditional robes most often associated with horrible Hollywood stereotypes, stood Godwin’s cousin, Mubuku.
He was, understandably, upset by being dragged bodily into the vehicle via the window – but within moments, we were underway, headed for the relative safety of Lagos and my flight back to normality.
We had travelled less than 50km when, through entirely calm and rational discussion delivered at staggering volumes, it was decided that it was completely unsafe for us to be travelling by road with Mubuku, or anyone closely associated with him, in the car. With around 1550km left to drive, I made an executive decision.
They would travel in the boot. I would pretend to be the least offensive white person in the world (a Canadian) and break as many land-speed records as I could getting to the airport. When Godwin and Mukubu vehemently recorded their opposition to the idea, I was left with no choice.
Calmly, and gently, I put one hand on Godwin’s right cheek, and the other on Mukubu’s left cheek. I looked them both in the eye, and spent 45 difficult seconds pounding their heads together until neither of them moved.
Luckily for me, there was plenty of room in the trunk of this particular six-cylinder, luxuriously-appointed Mercedes sedan. Shuffling my luggage to one side, I was able to fit both of these fully grown African men in the trunk – safe in the knowledge that even if they did regain consciousness, the eight-speaker Bose sound system would help keep them entertained until we arrived at our destination.
The drive back to Lagos took a scant 27 hours, the final nine of which were spent in a traffic jam within sight of the airport. While waiting in traffic, I was amazed to discover that someone had managed to steal my shoes without me even realising that they had been able to break into in the car at all.
I happily ditched the Mercedes at the airport carpark, released Godwin and Mubuke from the trunk, placed my bags upon a luggage trolley and spent a good nine minutes swearing at Godwin, calling down the kinds of curses that would have made the authors of the Book of Revelation weep with embarrassment at how paltry their efforts had turned out to be.
Just as I ran out of breath, an explosion rocked the domestic terminal, less than a kilometre away.
“Happy Friday!”, Godwin sobbed.
It was the final straw. I turned on my heel, and strode purposefully away, pausing only momentarily in anguish when I realized that my return ticket was aboard an Air France flight, with three stopovers between here and home. In economy class.
I checked my bags, cleared immigration, and went to endure the unending horrors of a general public boarding lounge in central Africa. Fatigued beyond belief, I sought some form of stimulation… and then saw a sign.
“Café Neo”, it said. The only coffee chain in Africa, and destined to be the Starbucks of the developing world. I walked on what felt like broken limbs and shoes filled with molten glass, and ordered a café latte, one sugar.
The barista, noting my haggard face, worked like a Trojan to produce my coffee – the only coffee I had seen since I set foot in Nigeria, despite the entire reason for coming here in the first place.
He set it down on the counter. I grasped it with both hands, lest my shaking limbs spill even one drop of this precious elixir. I lifted it to my lips, inhaling the heady aromas, and sipped.
It was truly fucking awful.
The writer travelled as a guest of Emirates, and Air France, and lodgings were provided courtesy of the Lagos Oriental Hotel, and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation.