It was a sultry afternoon in mid April; a year when the weather had been fair and the plantations had flourished abundantly. I had sneaked out of school with a couple of friends of mine to a village nearby; a village called ‘Tunga-shanu’. We were in our muftis and as growing kids, we were excited that for the very first time in our many days of having been in a school located in the heart of northern Nigeria, we were breaking the gravest of the school rules and regulations. Oh! We acted and reacted with all joy and excitement.
His eyes were dark and red and he had a cursed set of facial marks on his cheeks. He had a lit cigarette in his left hand and the puff from his mouth and nose was mentholated. He carefully leaned on his crutch and his cap was as dirty as his caftan. I developed goose pimples when I noticed that he had completely lost his right leg. Though his kiosk had many goods and sundries, the structure’s height was relatively small just as he was in stature.
My good friend who led our march out of the school through many undulating bushy paths was of Fulani descent. As he starred straight into the devil’s eyes, he whispered into my ears simultaneously. How can I forget his soft spoken words that sent a shiver down to my cold feet? He leaned towards me and stretched his neck as he said wittily to me, ‘Gongo-biri’. These words still beat hard against my ear drums today, as they did on that cursively blessed day I broke a cardinal rule as a teenager.
Many days did pass after that day and we definitely spent many more hours within the walls of learning and the bricks of classrooms than we did at ‘Tunga-shanu’. Each time we returned to Federal Government Academy, Suleja after the holidays, we all knew another opportunity would always present itself for us to sneak out of school. And during our numerous visits to ‘Tunga-shanu’, many things kept to change in my childish eyes and perception. A guest house, a lorry park, more kiosks, more people and more patronage as a matter of fact, in my own opinion, ‘Tunga-shanu’ metamorphosed from a little village located in an isolated area where our school was meticulously sited into a town of many attractions. However, one thing remained unchanged and two pictures were obstinately fixed in my heart; ‘Gongo-biri’ and his small kiosk.
At the risk of repetition, ‘Gongo-biri’ sold many things in his little kiosk. He had alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, toiletries, handkerchiefs, towels and other miscellaneous items which I can’t recollect at this point in time. But of seeming interest was the blue plastic basket that sat on a wooden stool at a dead-end corner in his little kiosk. Inside the basket were different brands and packs of cigarettes and clueless cans of tobacco and snuff. Amidst the items in the basket was a strange commodity; an unknown substance wrapped in a white translucent material; they appeared like sticks from afar in their fashioned array. I observed that ‘Gongo-biri’ sold the white sticks to both young and old indiscriminately. As I guessed and assumed, it was business as usual all the time.
I had finished my secondary school education and I had advanced into the University without any delay. It was during my days in the University that I met another like ‘Gongo-biri’ in the heart of Ilorin, Kwara, Nigeria. He had a kiosk too and he sold many items just like ‘Gongo-biri’ of ‘Tunga-shanu’. However, he was not handicapped. Shockingly, this new found man sold the same item that aroused my curiosity during my secondary school days when I saw and knew ‘Gongo-biri’. Now as an adult, I asked questions to satisfy my curiosity and I carried out an intensive investigation to affirm the answers I found. To my bafflement and astonishment, I uncovered that the nameless substance was cannabis.
How could ‘Gongo-biri’ be so callous to have sold cannabis openly and indiscriminately? I asked myself but I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t state categorically whether or not ‘Gongo-biri’ was a good man but one thing I understood untowardly was that he was a drug pusher who traded his goods without pretense.
I returned to my alma mater after about a decade to collect my certificates and transcripts. I decided to lodge in the guest house that was built during my days in secondary school. At leisure, I deliberately decided to go take a glance at ‘Gongo-biri’ and his small kiosk. To my utmost surprise, the kiosk was still at the same spot; close to the culvert that paved the way to the lorry park. I noticed the blue plastic basket was no more but inside a red bowl on a stool at a dark corner in his kiosk I found what I knew to be cannabis. And there he was, old, dirty, tattered and unkempt just like I knew him to be, almost a decade ago.