It was meant to be another uneventful ride to work. The sky was bright, the sun was out in full blast and I remember pulling down the car sun visor just so I could reduce the amount of sun rays beaming at me and causing some slight discomfort around my eyelids. I thought to myself, ‘At least I will be out of this uncomfortable situation 15 minutes tops.’
About 5 minutes into the drive, my driver slowed down as we arrived at a traffic light that was just turning red. There were about 6 cars ahead of us and I could see cars coming to a halt and forming a queue behind us. Out of nowhere, I noticed a dishevelled lady at the rear of the car, running and at the same time trying to make small talk with some of the passengers in the cars behind us. She seemed perturbed and had her bag underneath her arm. One could tell the contents in the semi-worn leather bag were obviously heavy. It was a no-brainer that the dangling leather bag straps were likely to give way sooner than later thereby justifying the way she carried the bag.
She kept pacing her steps while attempting to start a conversation with the drivers of the cars behind mine; yet no one seemed to be interested in what she was saying. She must have gone past 5 cars behind us before she finally got close to my car. It was then I caught what her discussion had been about all along:
‘Please sir can you give me a lift? I’m going to Florence Primary School. It is just after the next traffic light Sir,’ she muttered with a hint of desperation in her voice.
Initially, my driver pretended he did not understand the words coming out of her mouth.
But then she repeated herself again and this time she added:
‘My supervisor is already waiting for me in the school and I am very late sir. Can you please help to the next traffic light?’
This time around, my driver was already looking at me and the expression on my face was that of:
‘Why the heck are you still staring at me? Give the poor lady a ride, will you?
I must have said this out loud because in that instance, I saw him unlock the back door so the lady could push her bag and weight into the back seat. While all this was going on, my driver seemed to be giving me his ‘caution stare’ and gesture which normally implied:
‘I hope you sha know what you are doing.’ He started to shake his head from side to side in a half-weary, half ‘I-don’t-care’ manner.
It was not until the car door closed just as the traffic light was turning green and other cars were honking their horns in unity to signify we were causing a delay in movement that it suddenly dawned on me the gravity of my actions.
‘What have I done letting a complete stranded female Nigerian into my car?’ A hired car for that matter.
With the back of my eye, I see her rummaging through her purse looking for God knows what. Suddenly, images of security headlines flooded my mind. You would think I was sitting in the cinemas watching in 3D documentaries of other Nigerians who have been robbed, kidnapped, car-jacked or involved in car explosions by similar unlikely suspects – that is, young women and girls being used as a conduit for terrorism.
‘I should know better,’ I thought to myself.
I am a humanitarian worker and I get to hear about these sort of stories every week. Just last week, ‘2 attempts by female suicide bombers were prevented in Borno and security is being strengthened in Abuja too because things are generally hard for the masses,’ reported one of the Security Mangers in my organisation.
‘All staff need to be more security conscious wherever they are so as not to fall victim to these unlikely suspects.’ His words seemed to echo in my head as if that would make me go back in time to undo my actions.
I started to imagine what my mother would say, if our passenger turned out to be one of those ‘unlikely suspects’ capable of pulling any of the listed scenarios above. I can imagine my dearest mama saying:
‘Is Lola a small girl … does she not know how unsafe the country has become in recent times that she allowed a total stranger into her car?‘’
My mind wandered back to the Security Manager at the office using me as a case study during the next Monday Morning meeting… and in his usually sarcastic tone recounting all that happened while adding his own extra juicy details just so that staff will pay more attention to the sound of his voice and the security information he was trying to convey.
It was the longest 5-minute lift I ever gave to a complete stranger. When she eventually opened the door to leave the car, while pouring some serious blessing down on my driver and myself, I heaved a sigh of relief that my worst nightmare did not come to pass.
But shortly after, as I continued the ride to work having regained my false sense of safety, I began to ponder on this short experience of mine. Reflecting on it, I was filled with a great sense of sadness when I realised how the current state of the nation is taking its toll on my psyche. Or better still, I wondered what my dear country was turning us all into.
We live in a country where citizens walk with fear and trepidation often concealed in our sub-conscious, waiting to be triggered by the slightest occurrence within our environment. A country where one is afraid to do a good deed due to the fear that one might fall into the wrong hands. A country where a simple, desperate looking or not so desperate looking man, woman, boy or girl could have an explosive underneath their garment waiting to be detonated. A country where you need to consciously evoke your six senses before attempting to throw caution to the wind and help another fellow human being due to the fear of being harmed, scammed, robbed, kidnapped or even killed.
How did we get here? Are these security fears of mine valid or am I suffering from a serious case of watching or reading too many horror stories/series? This is what my curious mind would like to find out because surely, I fear losing my humanity just for the sake of keeping myself safe.
If you think I am just being silly, please smack this fear and silliness out of me. I would gladly oblige. But should you find yourself in my shoes, what would you choose: Goods Deeds or Personal Safety?