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DA TAXI DRIVER

Helen stood up slowly, gently easing out the stiffness in her body as she stretched. She had finally finished the report she had been working on for the past few days. As she lowered her arms, her eyes went to the watch on her left wrist and she gasped. It was already past 11:00pm. And she didn’t have her car with her tonight. It was still at the mechanic workshop.DA TAXI DRIVER
Quickly gathering up her things, she saved the report and switched off the computer. She opted to take the stairs instead of the lift. She wasn’t going to take the risk of getting stuck in the unreliable lift in the now empty building.
The gateman greeted Helen as she exited the premises. He shook his head at her retreating back. She was such a workaholic! As far as he was concerned, she needed a husband. A firm husband who would put a stop to her overzealousness in the office and keep her occupied at home with babies.
Helen crossed the almost empty road to the other side and just as she stopped, a green taxi pulled up in front of her.
She bent down to speak to the man.
“Good evening, o. Park Estate.”
“One thousand naira.” He replied.
“Haba!” She exclaimed. Park Estate was not far and in the daytime it was just three hundred naira. It was absurd to now be paying one thousand naira just because it was night. When the distance had not increased.
She shook her head, “Five hundred naira.”
“Eight hundred last” the taxi driver countered.
Helen was tired and hungry and was not in the mood for bargaining. All she wanted was a cold shower and bed. She stepped away from the taxi and walked forward to a blue Nissan car just pulling up.
“Come! Come!” The green taxi man yelled. “Come pay five hundred!” She ignored him. If he knew he was going to accept five hundred, why stress her in the first place?
“Park Estate.” She said to the driver of the blue Nissan.
“Good evening, ma” the man said. Hearing the familiar voice, Helen bent down to look in through the window and realised it was Aliyu, the taxi driver who worked for her neighbour.
“Aliyu, how you dey?” She smiled.
“Fine, ma. Make I carry you reach house. I dey go park the car for Oga house”
Helen opened the front passenger door and sat, sighing with relief. She closed her eyes and then opened them again as she heard a chuckle.
“The man dey follow us” Aliyu smiled, looking into the side mirror. Helen turned round in her seat and sure enough, the green taxi was right behind them. The bright street lights made that easy enough to see.
She frowned and sat back. “Wetin be him problem?”
“Na vex now, madam” He smiled, finding the whole thing funny. “He wan abuse me for carrying him passenger”
Aliyu slowed down and gestured with his left hand for the green taxi to go past. The taxi drew up beside him and the driver spoke in a low mean voice made even more menacing by the threat in it. “Drop that woman!”
“Crase dey worries you?” Aliyu retorted.
Helen leant forward in her seat to better hear the exchange and her eyes met with that of the man in the green taxi. Something in the eyes scared her badly.
“Let’s go. Let’s go.” She told Aliyu and at the same time, the man spoke again, his voice low and chilling in its flatness. “You took my passenger. Drop her now.”
“You don crase. Idiot man!” Aliyu shouted, splaying open all five fingers of his hand to the other man in insult and started to pull away.
The green taxi immediately swerved, hitting the Nissan forcefully and almost knocking them off the road.
Aliyu swung the steering wheel frantically, struggling to straighten the car. “You don mad?! Dem swear for you?!” He screamed at the man in the green taxi and made to park.
Just then a shot rang out and to Helen’s shock, she realised the man had pulled out a gun and was shooting at them. Luckily, the shot had gone wide and missed them.
Aliyu’s mouth dropped open for an instant and then in sudden awareness that this had gone beyond normal, he sprang into action and stepped on the accelerator, changing gears almost simultaneously.
The car responded immediately and lunged forward. Helen, in reflex, strapped on her seat belt, her heart pounding as she struggled to make sense out of what was happening.
The green taxi also increased speed and closed up on them, slamming into them from the rear. They were thrown forward but Aliyu held on to the car. He saw a side street and turned into it just as another shot rang out. It missed them again.
Aliyu switched off all the car lights and started swinging in and out of various dark smaller streets. Helen could only hang on to her seat, too scared to do anything else. This sort of thing only happened in films and only in American films for that matter, she thought in denial. Not in real life and definitely not in Nigeria. For the first time, she desperately prayed to come across policemen. But no such luck. They were always nowhere to be found in an emergency and never turn up when needed.
Finally, after many dizzying turns, Aliyu drove into a dark corner of a residential area and parked. They sat in silence for a long moment. The only sounds the heavy pounding of their hearts. After a while, Aliyu asked, “You know the man before, madam?”
“No” Helen croaked past a throat made dry by fear. “I just wan take drop and he talk money wey I no fit pay. That’s all.”
“Maybe na someone pay am to kill you” Aliyu commented.
Helen gasped and shrank back into her seat, her mind flying off in different directions. Who would want see her dead? She wondered fearfully. Was it one of her colleagues, angry she had been promoted over them? Or her ex-fiancé, whom she left after discovering he was cheating on her? Or a member of her forever bickering polygamous family, jealous of her success? Or a disgruntled client? Or anyone of her numerous acquaintances? The list was endless and yet she could not imagine any of these people wanting her dead.
Once again there was silence.
After about twenty minutes, Aliyu started the car and moved slowly, his lights still off. He drove through the street watchfully. “Make I carry you go house, madam. E be like say the man don go” he said.
Helen felt a rush of gratitude to him. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he had refused to carry her further. After all, the man was after her not him. She was the one someone wanted dead and not Aliyu, she thought and felt tears well up. Who could hate her so much? And what had she done to that person? She had always tried so hard to get along with everyone, going the extra mile. Even recommending quite a few of her colleagues for the promotion rather than herself. Was it her fault that management had chosen her instead? Maybe she should have rejected the promotion.
And her family. She always took care of her stepmothers. Paying their bills and taking their children’s financial responsibility on herself. Just goes to show you can never please human beings, she ruminated sorrowfully. If she ever got out of this alive she would resign and move away to a place where nobody knew her and break off all contact with her old life. After all, her father and mother had long passed on and she had no other sibling from her mother. She could do without her stepsisters and brothers. She would have a new start and new life, she decided. To avoid the risk of another attempt on her life.
They kept to the dark side roads, staying away from main roads and street lights. After what seemed like an eternity, they turned into the street leading to Park Estate. Sighting the Estate gates in front, Helen started breathing easier. She would soon be home. Safe.
They had almost reached the gates when the green taxi came hurtling out of the darkness and slammed straight into them from the left side. They were thrown off the road, the car almost turning over as it rocked on its wheels.
The driver got out of the car and came to the other side where Helen was. He pulled open the door and reached across her to Aliyu. Helen shook her head dazedly, still disoriented from the smash.
The man pulled a small, sharp dagger from his ankle and before her horrified eyes, pulled Aliyu’s head up from the steering wheel and calmly slit his throat from ear to ear.
A growing numbness crept from Helen’s head, flowing downwards to her feet. She stared in horror as blood spurted out of the severed neck and Aliyu’s body slumped forward on the wheel. The silent night suddenly flared with noise as his weight came down on the car’s horn.
The man ignored the noise and reached for her seatbelt. He unstrapped her and pulled her out with one hand, carrying her bag with the other hand.
Shock had finally overwhelmed the fear in her. She could do nothing but let herself be dragged along. Her feet moving woodenly in automatic response. He pushed her into the passenger seat of his green taxi and dumped the bag in her lap.
The two security men of the Estate came running out. They had heard the commotion outside and had come running, stopping only to grab their cutlasses.
Hardly pausing in his stride, the taxi man raised his gun and shot them both in quick succession. Two loud shots rending the night air. Joined almost immediately by the frenzied barking of numerous dogs.
The noise served to jar Helen out of her stupor and survival instincts kicking in, she made to get out of the car. The sight of the gun pointing straight at her head froze her in midmotion. He had entered the car and was holding the gun level to her face.
“Shut the door”, he said in the same flat emotionless voice he had used before. Something in those eyes had her hurrying to do as he said. He closed his own door also and drove into the Estate.
The dogs in the first compound were barking frantically and the horn of Aliyu’s car was still blaring but no one came out . Helen knew everybody in the estate was awake by now but nobody would risk coming out. Not after hearing gunshots. They would call for police but she was sure she would be dead before they arrived.
“Where is your house?” The man asked.
Her heart almost stopped beating. She couldn’t speak. He turned his head to her and the look in his eyes made her heart freeze.
“Where – is – your – house?” He repeated.
She still couldn’t speak but she was too scared of upsetting him not to respond so she raised her hand, surprised to discover she could still move and pointed out her house.
He drew up to the gate of her house and parked. “My money.” He said.
She gaped at him, unable to believe her ears.
“My five hundred naira” he said again.
She raised her bag but was unable to hold her hands steady enough to open it. The man took the bag from her and riffled through, coming up with a thousand naira note. He dipped his hand into his pockets and brought out a five hundred naira note which he put into her bag. He closed the bag and handed it back to her. She took it with shaky fingers, her brain trying to process what her eyes were seeing.
He reached across her and opened the door.
“Go” he said.
She got out on trembling legs and stood in the darkness. The din of the barking dogs and the sound of the still blaring horn now failing to penetrate her mind as she tried to understand what had just happened.
The taxi driver pulled the door shut, put the car in reverse and drove out of the Estate.


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