Dudu was famished that evening. He had not eaten all day. He looked gaunt, eyes and cheeks sunken. His boots were torn. His trousers sagged, his collar looked frayed. He cut the picture of a homeless man. Holding a small bag tightly to his chest, he walked into the supermarket with a faint smile on his face, leaving you to wonder what a man like him could be happy about.
He found a trolley. He pushed it with an effort, picking items off the shelves. Gradually, the trolley filled up. The supermarket attendants glared at him with hostility, the same question on their minds: ‘How is he going to pay for all the groceries?’ One or two of them followed him around for a while, but the smell emanating from him drove them back. So they monitored him from a distance.
Dudu was not aware of the interest he was generating. He was minding his own business, the small bag he had clutched to his chest earlier now firmly strapped to his waist. He fingered the bag again and again. It contained all that he would ever need. This thought broadened the smile on his face.
He pulled up with surprise when someone called his name questioningly: ‘Dudu?’
He turned round and was confronted by a well-dressed young man in his early twenties.
‘Dudu?’ the young man repeated in awe.
Dudu smiled in response.
‘My name is Jimmy. I’m a software developer like you,’ the young man said. ‘I met you at a couple of workshops a few years ago and I have been following your progress since.’ There was excitement in his voice. ‘Congratulations for your recent success! I read about it just yesterday. I hope to be like you one day.’ He extended his hand with a smile.
Dudu smiled back. He looked round furtively to make sure no one could hear their conversation. He preferred to remain anonymous. ‘Thank you,’ he replied, taking Jimmy’s hand firmly. ‘I wish you every success.’
As Dudu pushed his trolley away, Jimmy watched in admiration, shaking his head, knowing all that the man had been through.
Dudu could not believe that anyone would recognize him. He was a shadow of his former self. Years of hardship while he had tried to sell the computer software he developed had taken a heavy toll on him. And then his fortune had changed unbelievably in the last few days. In the bag around his waist was the contract, plus some of the cash advance he had received earlier that day to clean himself up. Thankful that he would not be sleeping on the street that night or ever again, he looked forward to soaking himself in a warm bath when he returned to the apartment he had rented a couple of hours ago.
He picked a few more things then headed for the front of the store. There were several check-out lines. On one of the lines was a ‘big man’, with an aide tending to his trolley. He had a potbelly, smelled of freshly minted money and he kept turning round and round, smiling amicably at the world, very pleased with himself. Thinking that that line was probably the fastest, Dudu stayed behind the big man.
The big man made a face and turned away, irritated by the odour that suddenly suffused him. Dudu did not notice the man’s reaction. He was more concerned with the bag strapped to his waist, planning his future, all the things he would do. He was vaguely aware of the big man issuing loud instructions to his aide to go and fetch something from the car. He was not aware that a number of attendants were watching him like hawks from a distance.
Moments later, the big man reached into a large purse he was carrying, then froze. He searched inside the purse frantically. And then he pointed a trembling finger at Dudu. ‘He has stolen my two hundred thousand naira!’ he screamed.
The supermarket attendants promptly swarmed around Dudu, who could only stammer a few inaudible words of protest. They grabbed him and yanked the bag from his waist while he struggled helplessly, weakened by hunger.
‘He stole my two hundred thousand naira!’ the big man kept screaming over and over, spreading out his hands in disbelief, turning round and round for everyone to see how shocked he was.
Some attendants gathered around the bag on the floor, others held Dudu by his trousers to prevent him from escaping. They opened the bag and found a thick role of naira notes. The money was counted. It amounted to two hundred thousand naira exactly.
‘Here is the two hundred thousand naira he stole,’ one of the attendants announced triumphantly, straightening up and raising the money above his ahead to show everyone before handing it over to the big man.
Dudu wore a perplexed look. He tried to say something but several fists landed on him. And he was soon under a barrage of vicious attack. His cries were hopeless. They struck him with all manner of objects, anything they could find. ‘Thief!’ they yelled. The entire supermarket turned into a riotous scene. Suddenly, an infernal cry emanated from Dudu’s throat, startling his attackers and causing them to step back for a moment. Lying helplessly on his back, he looked up at the wild faces in dazed agony, wondering why something that was meant to be a blessing would turn into a fatal curse. He was bleeding from the nose, mouth, ear, eyes. All over.
Jimmy arrived at the scene then and saw him on the floor. He dropped his shopping basket, his heart racing with anxiety. ‘He is not a thief,’ he screamed, rushing forward, trying to break through the ring of people that had surrounded Dudu. He could not make it. The mob charged at their victim with renewed energy. ‘Thief!’ they screamed louder than before as they struck him. And then they began to drag him on the floor.
‘He is not a thief,’ Jimmy kept mumbling and crying, like a child, completely powerless to rescue the man.
Dudu was almost naked by now, except for his trousers which hung around his knees in tatters. And then someone jumped up and stamped on his head. Blood, flesh and bone splattered everywhere. And then an eerie silence fell.
Just then the big man’s aide came running, panting, relieved to see that his boss was okay amidst the confusion that had engulfed the supermarket. ‘Oga, oga, I have been looking for you,’ his voice boomed as if through a megaphone. ‘What happened?’
The big man pointed at the dying man on the floor. ‘He stole my two hundred thousand naira,’ he replied, still unable to hide his shock.
‘How could he have stolen your two hundred thousand naira, Oga?’ the aide asked, wearing a look of utter dismay. ‘You handed it to me earlier as we entered the supermarket.’ He put his hand into his pocket and brought out a roll of money. ‘Here it is!’
Jimmy began to weep uncontrollably. Holding his hands to his face, his back against the side of a shelf, he slid slowly to the floor.
Everyone began to hurry away. Dudu lay there like a bloodied rag doll, breathing very faintly, until he could no longer make a sound, until a whimper could no longer be heard from the world.