THE STREET IS NOT SMILING!

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Side view portrait of a pensive serious black man looking away sitting on a park bench

Tayo Ogunbiyi

I have known Duke for over three decades. We met at the Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Bauchi. Ever since, our friendship has grown in leaps and bounds, rubbing off on our respective families. 

On a few occasions, I have traveled to his village in Delta State with my family to take part in one event or the other involving his family.  I can still vividly recollect my first visit to his village during his memorable traditional wedding.

One of the things that endeared me to Duke is his selflessness. He could go to any extent to support his family and friends. He is a true definition of a loyal friend. He prefers to give relentlessly without demanding anything in return.  He has never asked me for any favour. Not any that I can remember!  

In the wake of the pandemic, he was always calling to ask if there was any way he could be of help. Whenever I told him we were okay, he would ask if there was any way we could reach some of our old friends in case they might need help.

That is Duke for you. Ever willing to give; ever willing to sacrifice. Probably, that is why God has blessed him. He runs an architectural firm in Abuja, and he’s doing well for himself.

In addition to that, he has a lucrative block-making factory. He once jocularly lured me to manage the factory, saying he was ready to offer me a wage twice the amount my employer was paying. 

We both laughed it off!

You can now understand my bewilderment when he called a few days ago requesting financial support. Me? A public servant? How? What happened? I bombarded him with questions. Not really out of curiosity, but mostly out of utter disbelief.

“It’s not something we can talk about on the phone. I plan to be in Lagos in a few days. I will arrange for us to meet”, he said.

“Okay then”, I replied.

As he promised, he came to Lagos a few days after our conversation and truly arranged for us to meet.

After exchanging pleasantries, I asked if his flight from Abuja to Lagos was smooth and he gave me, perhaps, the most unexpected response.

“I know this is likely to burst your bubble”, he said with the kind of unease that almost got me frightened.

Then came the bombshell!

“I came by road via a night bus”, he said trying to avoid my gaze.

“Are you kidding me?”. I asked in utter disbelief.

Now, before you accuse me of an exaggerated response, let me state that in the last two decades, to the best of my knowledge, Duke has never traveled by road from Abuja to Lagos. On almost all the occasions that I had visited him in Abuja, he had made it a point of duty to pay for my flight ticket. He has done that religiously for over 20 years.

You can now understand my sense of puzzlement. 

“Dukzy, what’s up?”. I asked more out of deep concern than merely seeking information.

“It’s a long story”. He snapped with tears on his face. 

Tears? On Duke’s face?

Well, as I had noted earlier, I have known Duke for over three decades, and he is, probably, the most courageous man I have met in my entire life. Nothing seems to scare him. In fact, in our circle of friends, we fondly call him “Lionheart”. He is that daring.

So, what could make such a man of steel look so ruffled?

He, eventually, told me the sad tale, and I can tell you that it was not looking good at all. Business has been so bad in the last two years. He has been trying to patch things up, using every business sagacity he has acquired over the years. But now, things seem to be completely out of control and the Titanic appears to be heading for a colossal tumbling. 

The block industry has been shut down as a result of the high cost of cement and other variables.  His two children, schooling in the United Kingdom are stranded in a foreign land because he couldn’t muster enough funds to pay for their huge fees and other expenses that run into millions of naira.

Sadly, the wife cannot help in any way because she doesn’t work. Duke does not allow her to work. He argues that one of them must run the home. Well, you cannot fault him. Can you? He had what it takes to keep the woman happy at home.

He has two houses in Abuja. He sold one of them early last year to sort out immediate pressing needs.

“O boy, I need help urgently, the street is not smiling at all”. He mumbled.

How can I be of help? I thought. If I give him my life savings it cannot by any means meet ten percent of his needs.

Well, I might not have silver and gold, but I could still offer some invaluable advice. I told him that the situation was not as bad as it looked if only, he could cut down on his some of his expenses.

I told him that tough times don’t always last, stressing that he should face the situation with the boldness of the “Lionheart” that we have always known him to be.

I advised him to withdraw his children from school abroad since his present financial reality couldn’t support it. I jokingly reminded him that he was educated in Nigeria and that some of his friends, myself included, are very proud of what he has achieved.

So, there should be no qualms about bringing his children back home to complete their education. I even suggested a few African countries where the kids could still get a good education at a very minimal cost.

I also suggested he reconsider his stance on his wife’s work status. I told him that, if gainfully employed, his wife could support the family in her little way during this trying time. He nodded in agreement. 

As we were about to round off our meeting, my phone rang. It was my uncle from the village. A very jovial man and funny man. I always love it when he calls. He makes me laugh heartily!

 I couldn’t hear him properly, so I put him on speaker.

After exchanging banters, my uncle pleaded with me to consider increasing his monthly stipends.

“Why”? I asked.

He said: “Why are you asking why? Who does not know that the street is not smiling? You know how much I love eating pounded yam. I can barely eat it now once a week. If you want me to live long, you must do something about it fast. As a cigarette is to the white man, so is pounded yam to me”.

I gazed at Duke, our eyes met and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter!  Here we are, laughing hilariously even when the street is seemingly not smiling.  As they say, different strokes for different folks!

A month later, Duke called to inform me that his children are back in Nigeria, while his wife has gotten a job. He said the current situation has taught him very vital lessons that will help him never to fall again.  

He said: “My brother, the street will get its groove back sooner than expected, and I will laugh again!”.

Ogunbiyi wrote in from Alausa, Ikeja.

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