Friday, April 08, 2011

A Dance With Death II: The Human Side to A Nigerian Policeman

On my way home today, I came across two men of the Nigerian Mobile Police.
They looked haggard, dressed in loosely fitting police uniforms. One glance, and you could tell those uniforms had not been washed in quite some time. It was plain that they were tired, both their guns hanging at awkward angles – seeming more a burden than an instrument of their occupation.
It was a hot afternoon, and the mass of humanity that thronged the Gbagi market did not serve to help matters. Rivulets of sweat seemed to rise from their foreheads, crisscrossing their faces and running down into their already discoloured shirts – giving them an overall appearance of discomfort.
Other ‘street users’ seemed to pay them no attention. A toddler reached out to touch one of their guns, a hawker bumped into the taller of the two men - yet neither of them made any attempts to resist the ‘invasion’ of their ‘world’. Evidently, they were too tired, and as I later found out – hungry, to care.
One of them stopped at a stall to buy some raw meat – and the seller promptly disappeared. He shrugged indifferently, and moved to the next stall. From my vantage position in the traffic jam, I could observe the meat sellers signalling themselves – and ‘disappearing’ from their stalls in rapid succession. He ground his teeth so hard; I swear I could hear it. He turned from the stalls with downcast eyes, and I could literally see the pain etched into his face. Surely, it must hurt to be treated so.
It was a particularly nasty traffic jam. A truck carrying crates of Coca Cola, Fanta and the likes had broken down at a major junction, and all traffic headed towards the airport had come to a standstill. It was impossible to move forward – or backwards. So, I turned my attention back to the policemen.
In the interval that I had taken my mind off them and back onto the road, the fellow who wanted meat had given up trying. They had moved away from the meat stalls and closer to the road, and were trying to flag down commercial bikes. Again, I found that no bikes would stop. In fact, one biker ‘miraculously’ discovered a fault in his wheel spokes right about the time the policemen stretched forth their hands to wave him down.
The frustration was evident in their faces by now. The taller fellow staggered backwards, and leaned on a parked vehicle. His colleague stared hard at the road, seeming to will a car to appear out of the black tar and convey them to their destination. After some time, he shuffled towards his companion and they exchanged a few words. While they spoke, a female meat hawker on her regular beat approached. The man who wanted the meat promptly leaned forward, obstructing her motion – giving her no choice but to sell him meat.
The transaction completed, they prepared to move. The taller one removed his beret, seemed to debate whether to stuff it in his front pocket, and then put it back on. He handed over his gun to the shorter fellow, and adjusted his belt. He then collected both guns, and the shorter fellow adjusted his own khaki trousers. I noticed immediately that their trousers were baggy, evidently not their exact sizes. They would have to stop every once in a while to adjust the belts in order to keep the trousers from becoming uncomfortable.
It was evident that they were preparing to trek the distance to wherever they were going. After all, no bike men could deny them the use of their own legs.
That was when I made my decision.
The car right in front of me moved forward, and I made use of the available space to swing out of that lane and onto the other. As there was no oncoming traffic, I completed the tight turn – braking just abreast of the policemen.
As I rolled down the passenger window next to me, I asked “which way are you going, sirs?”
(To be continued...)

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