On the Way
to the
Pensions
Office
by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe
Mr. Okafor wore the shoes he bought as a student in
the U.S. in the sixties.  They were sturdy, comfortable
enough to wear for the work he did—standing long hours
in the sun before the Pensions Office.  He said goodbye
to his wife, who responded weakly from the bed.  

He got into the 1980's model Mercedes. He would have
to take the bus tomorrow because he could no longer
afford petrol.  Black market prices had gone up and he
could not wait in the queue at the Texaco station, the
only one that sold at regular prices. The queue was as
long as the distance from Enugu to Ngwo and it began at
night.

He drove along the highway to Awka, his mind
wandering.  The governor had been on the news last
night, promising that pensioners would be paid.   He
needed the money, he thought, listening to the noises
his car made over the potholes.  His shock absorber was
bad, his wife’s hypertension pills had run out, food
prices were going up, the rent was due.  Something good
needed to happen today.

His mind filled with worries, he did not see other cars
turning back and driving on the wrong side of the road,
as if in panic.  When he noticed, it was too late.  An old
Peugeot filled with young men pulled alongside him, and
the driver hollered menacingly, a gun in his hand, “Stop!
Stop! Park your car!”  

Mr. Okafor did not think to disobey.  His heart in his
mouth, he pulled over.  Three young men dressed in
black approached, guns pointing at him.  They jumped
into his car.

“Oya, Papa drive,” they ordered.  “As fast as you can.”

“Please....” he muttered.  He was old, seventy, he wanted
to say, but he did not want to die.  His only son, who
bought him the Mercedes, died in an accident last
Christmas.  His wife was ill.  He had no money, not even
two thousand naira.  The government had not paid
pensions for two years. “Please, I don’t have any
money,” he begged, his eyes on the road.  Don’t look at
them, he told himself—they kill people who can describe
them to the police.

“Who wants your money?” the young man sitting beside
him sneered.  “Our car was running out of fuel.” That
explained why they stopped his old jalopy, Mr. Okafor
thought.  But it did not assuage his fear.

“Okey should have gone to buy fuel yesterday,” one of
the two in back complained.

“Shut up,” said the one in front, authority in his voice.  
He must be the leader, Mr. Okafor decided.  “We do not
kill private people,” he continued condescendingly to Mr.
Okafor.  “We are only looking for government money.”  
Like Robin Hood, a voice in Mr. Okafor’s head said.  Did
that mean he could trust them?

He drove, his heart thumping, his hands trembling on the
steering wheel.  
Kapu! Kapu!  Their young, sinewy hands
were out the window, shooting into the air fearlessly as
if death itself should fear them.

“Faster!” they shouted at him.  He drove faster.  He did
not say that his wife called him the slowest driver on
earth. He did not tell them, like he always told his wife,
that there was no hurry in life.  Not when they were
chasing after the black, bank van racing ahead of them,
shooting at it until a bullet entered its tire and forced it
to stop.

They ordered him to park, and they got out.  For a
moment he sat in the car, watching them approach the
van, still shooting.  Then he came to himself.  He ran out
of his car and into the bush.  There he watched from
behind a tree.  The van had caught fire, the money was
burning.  They circled the burning van, looking for a way
to retrieve the loot, crying:  “Our money! God please
save our money!  Please God, our money is burning!”  
Their desperate prayers went unanswered, the flames
rising to heaven.  

When he lay down beside his wife that night, listening to
her groaning, tossing, and turning, he thanked God for
answering his own prayer to live to work another day—
even if that work consisted only in waiting under the hot
sun for long overdue pension payments.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe is currently a
doctoral candidate in law at Dalhousie
University.  Her work has appeared in several
journals, including African Writing, Farafina,
and The Danforth Review.
Gemini Magazine
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