The bus had taken twelve and half hours to get to Awka, his home town. It had had to manoeuvre through failed portions of the road, an accident causing a long delay, police check points narrowing the `expressway’ with logs of wood into a single lane and finally the usual traffic gridlock to the Niger bridge. Coupled with last night’s outing in Lagos with Biodun, his former class mate, Jason was so tired that he just had the strength to get off the bus, drag his red, black and white box from the booth, stop a taxi for the drive home which was thankfully close by. He stumbled up the dark uneven stairs to the apartment, dumped the box and collapsed on the bed and was asleep almost immediately.

Jason was a graduate of Banking and Finance and for the last three years had been job seeking. These had been difficult times for him but the saving grace was that he had a senior brother Godfrey, who cared deeply and since their father passed on had taken over the role of guardian and seen him through the final year of university. On completing his national youth service he moved in with Godfrey. His best friend in university had secured a job with a bank in Lagos. It was on his prompting that he had travelled to Lagos for an interview.

The sound of the generator on the corridor woke him up. It had to be Godfrey who almost immediately let himself into the flat. Jason looked at his watch as he got up, came into the sitting room and welcomed him. It was past eleven. Godfrey had the usual bright smile on his handsome face as they shook hands. He and Jason could have been mistaken for twins but he looked older.

He said, `Jason, welcome back,’ as he, arms akimbo, stood and regarded Jason. `You look so tired. You could not even remove your clothes?’

`Brother, the trip was a waste of time. That so-called international company proved to be one of those who come here to exploit us. They wanted me to join their team to market what they called IT Solutions on a salary just above minimum wage. Naturally I rejected their offer. Brother, the road was bad and so many hours in the bus are enough to knock somebody out.’

`I dare say.’

`Í hurried back because of Jerry’s wedding tomorrow. Otherwise Biodun wanted me to stay another week to check out other possible employers.’

`Not to worry. I’m sure you will soon get a job. Just keep praying.’

`How is Jerry preparing for the wedding?’

`Tomorrow is the day. I just came from the bachelor’s eve. My girlfriend, Winnie, wasn’t feeling well so I took her home and came to see if you are back.’

`Hope nothing serious?’ replied Jason.

`She has probably caught a cold,’ Godfrey replied. He had not sat down. He said, `I should let you sleep. I am going back to the party. We’ll talk in the morning.’


Elias had alighted from the same bus at Amawbia about ten minutes before Jason. He was tired. He reached into the booth of the bus and pulled out his box, a red, black and white box, hailed a bike and went to his abode, a bungalow in town. Mabel, alias Bottom Power, welcomed him. Her job was to minister unto their members and she took her job seriously. Even though Elias was tired, there was nothing some hot drink and weeds could not deal with. They dragged themselves into the bedroom and had a rollicking time until Elias slept off. Joe, the boss, had entrusted Elias with the red black and white box now in one corner of the room with an instruction not to open it. Joe was to board the next bus as they did not consider it wise to travel in the same bus.

It was past six on Saturday morning when Joe let himself into the bungalow. He was thickset, with craggy features and mean eyes. He scowled at Elias and Mabel who had come out of the bedroom, ignored their greetings and sat in one imitation leather upholstered chair and began unlacing his canvass shoes. Then he said sourly, `Ah really suffer. God have mercy on my soul! Dat bus break down up to ten times. Na him ah come join trailer way carry different kind of oil drums. For my life ah never suffer so much.’

`Ah, sorry!’ Elias and Mabel chorused.

`Where de box dey?’ Joe asked. Elias went into the room, brought the box and placed it in front of Joe and sat down. When Joe’s eyes focussed on the box he nodded in satisfaction. He said, `Well, dat one go fit helep me forget de suffer wey ah suffer. Put am for dat corner.’ Then he asked, `Una get any bread. Hungry done kill me.’

Mabel went into the kitchen and soon came out with a flat metal plate, a loaf of bread, a tin of sardines and a sachet of water and set them on a stool before Joe. Joe opened the sardine and emptied it into the plate, tore off some bread and began stuffing it into his mouth. When he had finished he drank the water, belched loudly, stood up and stretched himself, some bones crackling into place. Then he walked to the corner of the room and dragged the box to the chair and sat down again. He fiddled with the combination lock. Then he scowled nastily and looked up at Elias. He asked, `Elias, abi you done tamper wit dis box? Why ah no fit open am?’

`No!’ Elias answered immediately, standing up. `Ah no touch am. Ah swear to God ah no open am.’ 

`So, why ah no fit open am?’ Joe stood up frowning at the box. Then he went out and came back with a piece of cement block and without hesitation smashed the lock open. Then he stood staring at the contents mouth open. There were just clothes, two pairs of trousers, shirts, other personal odds and ends. Then he snarled at Elias. `Where is de money?’ Elias stared at the box too, alarmed, apprehensive, mouth open in disbelief. `Where is my money?’ Joe yelled and grabbed Elias by the throat, throttling him. `Where de money dey. Where you hide am? If you don tif am ah go kill you.’ He was shaking Elias violently, a murderous look on his face.

Mabel came and tried to pry his hands off Elias’s throat but one swat of Joe’s left hand had her sprawling to one corner of the room.

She yelled, `Joe, if you kill am you no go know where de money dey. Ah beg, make you leave am, Joe. Leave am make him tell you where de money dey.’

That seemed to get through to Joe. His fingers relaxed their hold on Elias who reeled backwards into a chair clutching his throat, making horrible noises as he gasped for air. Joe stood there glaring from Elias to the box. Then he sat down and pulled the box towards himself and went through the contents roughly, a grim look on his face. Then he sat back looking at some papers. Yes, it was dawning on him that the idiot, Elias, had the wrong box. So somebody, somewhere, had their box. He kept flipping through the papers until he nodded several times perhaps satisfied that he had what he was looking for.


The ringing of the phone woke Jason up. It was already morning and sunlight from the one window lit the room. Jason reached the phone on the sixth ring. He said, `Hello!’

The gravelly voice on the other end said, `You tif!’ `What?’ `Ah say you be tif. Where is my box?’ 

`Your box? Who are you? Why are you asking me about your box?’

`Ah say you steal my box and my money.’

`Good heavens! I stole your money? How? When?’

`Shut up. If you no return my box within one hour ah go kill you. No be only you ah go kill. Ah go kill ya mama and ya papa and ya whole family. You hear? You be dead man!’

Jason turned and looked at the red, black and white box in alarm.

`Now listen. You go take my box go Amawbia Junction. Ah sure say you sabi Amawbia Junction. Ah hope say you never open dat box. If dat ten million no complete, even if na only one naira miss make you know say na die be dat. You dey hear me?’

`Ten million!’

`Shut up and listen. You go pass de place wey de people wey dey go Onitsha dey wait for bus small. Na there you go wait for me. I gif you thirty minutes. If ah get there and ah no see you make you know say you done die. You hear? Na die be dat! No tell anybody. No tell de police. Dem no fit helep you. Nobody fit helep you. If you run ah go find you. And you go regret say ya mama born you. You hear?’

Jason stood staring at the phone, his mind in a whirl, his heart pounding in his chest. Then he roused himself, went and pulled the box nearer the window. His mind was working hard, questions swirling. Ten million! In this box? Yes, it was certainly not his box. It was older and scarred. He definitely had the wrong box. He had been so tired that all he had wanted was just to get home and sleep and pulled out the only red, black and white box in the booth. With shaky hands he began dressing up.

Then he literally jumped as a key rasped in the outer door lock. Godfrey said, `Jason, I came back to make sure you are all right. What? You are dressing up. What is happening? Where are you going to so early? You don’t even seem to have had a bath.’

`Brother, there is fire on the mountain, a snake in the refuse heap!’ Jason replied putting on his shoes. `I am dead.’

`Jason, talk to me. What rubbish are you talking?’

`The caller said I must not tell anybody. It is not safe for me. He said he will kill me and anybody connected with me. It is not safe for you either. I have to go. Brother, just pray for me. I am sorry but I have to do as I am told.’

 Godfrey blocked the way. He said, `Jason, don’t be silly. Who called? You are not going anywhere until you tell me what happened. I am your brother, remember.’

`The box is not mine,’ Jason blurted out.

`What? Which box?’

`I collected the wrong box from the bus. Somebody else has mine.’

`So? Did the caller not tell you where to find him so that you can exchange boxes?’

`You don’t understand. He sounded like a really wicked man.’


`I have to return it now.’

`Talk to me, Jason!’

Jason paused to stare at him. Then he sat down and talked.

`Ten million naira in this box?’ Godfrey exclaimed as Jason took the box and walked out leaving him in the room.


`The caller said I must not tell anybody.’ That was what Jason said. Godfrey stood on the corridor looking down at Jason as he boarded a taxi, thinking. What was he to do? He had no illusions. The person who called Jason was obviously a robber or even a kidnapper. Otherwise which self-respecting person would have ten million naira in a box in a bus? Where did he get it? And from what he had heard these people were usually ruthless. The recent case of Chief Maganda was still fresh in his mind. Maganda had been kidnapped but the kidnappers had no compunction in collecting the ransom money before killing the person bringing the money and the Chief himself. Jason was in deep trouble. And he must do something.


They came in two vehicles, both four-wheel drive utility vehicles with tinted glasses, the sort favoured by criminals. They drove from the minor road round the roundabout into the expressway and turned left towards the bus stop. Not far behind them two unmarked cars also turned into the expressway into the roundabout but drove straight into the grassed area behind the bus stop and several armed men dived out from the cars onto the ground. They opened fire as the two four-wheel vehicles slowed by Jason and the red, black and white box. Several armed men jumped out of the four wheel drives and went to ground having the vehicles between them and the people from the cars and returned fire.

Jason instinctively ran a few feet away and laid flat behind a thick shrub as all around him was commotion and the deafening noise of the firing. The people at the bus stop ran helter-skelter away from the gun duel as bullets whined and thudded into the utility vehicles and the median grass and the tarred road. Vehicles were making U-turns and heading back the way they had come. From the minor road a police van screeched to a halt raising a cloud of dust and several armed black-uniformed policemen scrambled out of it, went to ground guns at the ready. Godfrey lay by the sergeant in charge. The sergeant asked `Is that the box?’ `Yes’, replied Godfrey.

The shooting went on for a few minutes until somebody, probably all the while cowering in the front utility vehicle the engine of which had been running, moved the car to the box. From the passenger side somebody darted out and reached for the box but he was mowed down by bullets. The driver then gunned the engine, turned the steering too hard and the vehicle somersaulted several times and came to a stop in the middle of the expressway, its wheels spinning in the air, two wheel covers rolling with a metallic sound on the coal tar before coming to a stop. Suddenly there was dead silence as there was no longer any return fire from the hoodlums from the utility vehicles.

Then the people who had come out of the two unmarked cars stood up, guns ready, and advanced warily towards the box.

The sergeant got up. He said, `Let’s go, men. Those people cannot be hoodlums or they would be firing at us.’ So he led his team across the expressway quickly with their guns at the ready. They stopped by the utility vehicle. The sergeant shouted, `Stop, police!’

One of the gunmen in plain clothes held up a badge and shouted, `Special Anti Robbery Squad!’ The policemen lowered their guns.

The sergeant quickly reached the box but before he could get his hand on it the man who had shown his badge said, `I want that box.’

The sergeant said, `No, this is within my jurisdiction.’ The officer said,

`No. We will take it as an exhibit. It contains part of the ransom paid for a kidnapping. You don’t want to get involved. We’ve been on this case for weeks. Back off.’ He ordered one of his men to take the box. Then he turned to Jason who had emerged from his hiding place dishevelled and unsteady. He said, `you are under arrest for kidnapping.’

Godfrey stepped forward. He said, `That is my brother. He is not with them. I called the police.’

The officer turned to him. `You too are under arrest for kidnapping.’

Godfrey was shocked. He pleaded with the sergeant. `Officer, tell him.’

The leader of the Squad ordered his subordinate, `handcuff them and read them their rights.’ He said to Godfrey, `you will have plenty of time to say your bit.’ They were both bundled into one of the unmarked cars and driven away.

Well, as they say, all is well that ends well, not for the thugs of course. On the spot four gang members had been killed and the two who were still alive but badly wounded were taken into custody by the security agents who then raided the hoodlums’ two hideouts in Amawbia over which they had been keeping watch for the past two weeks and arrested Mabel and another gang member. The security agency had done a commendable job breaking up this particular kidnap ring in an operation that took weeks and exposed a network spanning some of the major towns in southern Nigeria. The cell in Amawbia had got ten million naira for identifying the victim, an Onitsha based transport magnate. The Onitsha and Asaba cells had the job of trailing him and ensuring he was snatched at a wedding reception in Lagos. He paid a total ransom of fifty million naira. He was found at a lonely spot in Ogun State where the kidnappers left him. The kidnappers were later rounded up from a hideout in Ota and most of the ransom recovered. Jason was able to prove his movements and his innocence. His box was returned to him. The police corroborated Godfrey’s story and he was set free. Naturally, Jason missed the wedding for which he had hurried back from Lagos. But he was relieved to be alive to tell the story of the day he just missed death. And he was still job searching, wearing down Godfrey’s computer following up links.

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