Have you ever been in a situation that appears familiar, a sort of déjà vu? Not déjà vu in its strict sense, but a re-enactment of a description in a book, a scene in a movie or a vivid dream. Yes? No? I had one of those last month.
The sun is the highlight of the afternoon as we walk down Awolowo road. Four of us—three guys and a lady—are eating groundnuts, talking, smiling and laughing at inside jokes. The sun is like a punishment.
No matter what we do, we’re either going to be the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan
We all stop talking and focus on a body curled on the floor a few metres from us. Black T-shirt, black jeans, low-cut albino hair. We walk closer and notice his phone in his hands—a white Tecno phone, his palm-slippers placed neatly beside him, and his black backpack in the gutter just by his head. We walk past him. I remember the answer Jesus gave to the man who asked “Who then is my neighbour”: a story about a man who was waylaid by robbers. I turn back and my friends do the same. Maybe they remember the story too. It is impossible for us to walk past him with knowledge of the characters in Jesus’ story lodged in our consciousness. No matter what we do, we’re either going to be the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan.
We see a man selling recharge cards across the street, sitting under a large Airtel umbrella.
“What is wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. He just got down from an Okada and slumped on the floor like that.”
We turn to the guy on the floor. “What is wrong with you?”
He touches his tummy and mumbles something about his stomach.
“Is there anyone we can call to pick you up?”
He lifts up his phone and mentions the name of a friend. We call the friend and ask where he is. He’s in Sango which is less than five minutes from where we are.
“I’m coming” (He will repeat this statement over the period of an hour).
One of us runs to buy water for him. We carry and place him beside the driveway of the shopping complex where he collapsed. We wait for the friend. A security guard comes out to see what we are doing. She says she thought he is a drunken man who sleeps in front of the fence. Now that she sees he’s not drunk she still wants us to take him away from the front of their shopping complex. She gets agitated. One of us is angry that she is not sensitive to the plight of the young man. We’ve placed him in a place where he wouldn’t obstruct vehicles entering and leaving the shopping complex. What is she afraid of? That he’ll die on her watch? She asks us, his friends, to take him somewhere else. We’re not even his friends; just four young people trying to be his neighbour.
I know how the emergency systems of other countries work from books, movies and documentaries. When someone is in danger, his neighbour calls a number: 911 or 119. Which one applies in Nigeria? We don’t know. In many countries, the government prevents you from the crisis of conscience that the Priest, Levite and the Samaritan had when they saw the wounded man. Just call the Policemen, firemen or paramedics. They are his state-assigned neighbours. In Nigeria one is not excused from moral choices. A car crashes on the road and it looks like there might be survivors; do you help or not? A woman stands on the road, her car has a flat tire and the bonnet is up; does she have men in the bush waiting to pounce on you? We’ve all heard these fables: someone tries to help a stranger and loses something vital: money, manhood, life.
Fourty five minutes after we saw him and the friend has not returned. Another man joins us and suggests we put him in a cab, pay and ask him to direct the driver to his house. We flag down a cab, but the boy can barely sit. He’ll possibly sleep off in the cab. We apologise to the cab driver and place him on the ground again. His friend is no more picking our calls.
I remember a time when text messages were going round, asking people to save a few numbers on their phones as ICE (In case of emergency). I never did. I usually ignore those text messages. I think I’m one of those Nigerians who will never write a will because they believe they’ll always be okay. Many Nigerians are like me. What will I put in my will? My phone, my laptop, my tablet and a literary executor for the abandoned essays in my journal. My account balance is as fertile as a mule so, that won’t be a problem. Maybe I’m always optimistic like a typical Nigerian. And this is something else about typical Nigerians: when they say they are coming, assume they are not.
The security woman suggests that we take him to a hospital.
“And what do we explain to them”. I try not to be sarcastic.
The friend picks the call and he’s obviously lost. We describe the place to him again and wait. He arrives, thanks us and squashes the friend between him and the Okadaman.
I’ve not called him since that day. I have his friend’s phone number but I’m not that much of a Good Samaritan. In a country where I’m supposed to pick up the slack for the government in everything—water, electricity, schooling, security—how much of a Good Samaritan can I be?
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