Sunday, December 14, 2014

Short Story - Ja-mis. One Hell Of A Driver

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By Onyinye Orabuike

I once worked with a driver whom we all know as Ja-mis. His name is spelt James but he pronounces it as Ja-mis, the funny aberration suited his overall make-up just fine and it stuck. As a marketer then, I had worked with different kinds of drivers, but this Ja-mis beat all the records.

Jamis was one hell of a driver. He had sworn to our transportation manager that interviewed him that he had five years experience as a driver in V/Island. This was in addition to two years experience as a mechanic. I had specifically requested for someone that knows V/I and Lagos Island roads very well, but it turned out James didn’t know anywhere on the island.

What it meant was that in addition to planning my marketing strategies and calls, I would have to be directing him and watching out for the numerous one ways in V/ Island. With my previous driver all I had to do was tell him where I wanted to go, “then go to sleep”. But the worst part of it was that Ja-mis didn’t even know how to drive.

Ja-mis broke all known and unknown traffic rules, then some more. It was sheer miracle that he didn’t drive me and my partner Clement to our deaths. I was much younger then and without any real responsibility or I wouldn’t have taken the risk we took, driving out every morning with Ja-mis on our rounds.  We soon became used to policemen and other drivers railing abuses after us.

The worst punishment you could give to Ja-mis was to ask him to reverse. After the first time he fell into a gutter and had to pay area boys to help push us out, I never asked him to reverse again. I realised Ja-mis haven’t been driving with side mirrors on the day he asked me to please the check behind for him to find out if there was a car behind us.

We also learnt to brace up for the impact, each time he wants to slow down or park so as to avoid being slammed against the front seat.

My driver was so daft that sometimes I was even afraid to call him to order. He was a clear case of ignorance gone on rampage. On one occasion he took a wrong turn and when other motorists tried to correct him he began to abuse them. Clement and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh.

The big question then was, if he was so bad why I didn’t just get him sacked? I couldn’t bring myself to do report him, seeing that he needed the money so desperately. Few weeks after he resumed work with us, he started asking for permission every afternoon to and go and collect his MTN card. I never realized he meant ATM until he lamented one afternoon that both his cheque book and MTN card is not ready, and he didn’t have any money on him.

The fact that he didn’t have money didn’t stop Ja-mis from planning to get married. Clement asked him if he had enough money to get married and he told him he didn’t need money to get a wife. All he needed to do was travel home for the Christmas and choose from the numerous girls that are desperate to hook-up. I pretended I wasn’t listening to the conversation. It appeared that the mere fact that he stayed in Lagos would be a significant plus to his CV.

A funny thing happened one day when our car got spoilt along Broad street, Lagos Island. It was a real good spot for area boys, and we wanted to get away quickly but James didn’t have inkling about what could be wrong with the car. This was the same person that swore to have two solid years experience as a mechanic. It was a passerby that was trying to help us to find why the car won’t start.

I was so frustrated at a point that I reminded him that having been a mechanic for two years; he should be able to at least do something.  Ja-mis hesitated, then opened the bonnet of the car and emptied a sachet of water he was drinking on the engine.  You never could tell, perhaps the engine was having slight headache and needed some cold water to cool down, , my partner suggested cynically  and I  had to agree with him.

It was quite clear we were left on our own so we were glad when another man came to help us start the car. He checked the battery terminals, fiddled with some wire and tried to start the car. He said it could be the battery, got in behind the wheel and asked us to push; we all joined hands and began to push. Then it struck me that a total stranger was alone behind the wheel and we were all pushing.

How silly, what if the car started and the man refused to stop. I could just imagine us chasing after him on foot and screaming on top of our voices. If the car started at that moment and the man zoomed off, it would have been a different story. Thankfully the engine failed to start.

We had to get a mechanic and after agreeing to some outrageous price with him we found there wasn’t anything wrong with the car. He patted a dislodged wire just beneath the kick and the engine started. I didn’t want to pay but I had to, we could get mobbed if I didn’t.

The nightmare named Ja-mis ended when he failed to show up at work one morning. I wanted to make sure he was ok and I called his line and a woman picked after several dials and told me in pidgin that he wasn’t feeling fine. “Head dey turn am and he no fit talk”, she told me. I called again the next day to know if he had gotten better, and the same woman picked,” belle dey turn am”, she informed me and hung up before I could respond.

That was the last we heard of him, until three months later when he returned in handcuffs, escorted by three policemen. The summary was this; by some fluke or chance, James had gotten a better paying driving job in another company and in the spirit of brotherhood had helped another driver in our office to get a job in his new firm and to make things fast, he signed as a guarantor for him.

Now his comrade, who turned out to be a smart thief made away with their new employer’s brand new Prado jeep and James who stood in for him couldn’t produce him because he didn’t know a single thing about him, aside that they once worked in our company. So he was brought back to us in handcuffs. The policemen came to collect his good friends’ information from his old file.

They left shortly after and I didn’t know what became of my crazy driver.

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