Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Smuggle Na Bad Biznes O!

(It's near closing time in the Junction and most of the patrons have departed, but Max, Nat and Zack are still around discussing issues over chilled glasses of kunu. Suddenly a figure dashes into the bar and heads straight for their table.)

Nat: Joe! Long time no see. How are things?

(But Joe is clearly too agitated for pleasantries, and he hushes him quickly)

Look, you guys - if any policemen come in here asking after someone of my description, you haven't seen me, OK?

(And before the stunned trio can say anything else, Joe makes a mad sprint for the far end of the bar and dives out through one of the open windows to hide in the backyard.)

Zack: What was that all about?

(But before anyone can respond, three policemen come marching into the bar with menacing looks.)

Policeman 1 (in a loud voice): Where is the proprietor of this place?

Max: Philo? He's in the back room counting the day's takings. Can I help?

Policeman 2 (in a louder voice): Shut up! Who asked you to talk?

Max (apologetically): Ah, sorry o, Oga Constable. I was only trying to be a good citizen and "help the police to help us". OK, I will shut up.

Policeman 1 (to Max): Shut up! Who asked you to shut up?

(Max mimes the act of being confused and looks from one policeman to the other.)

Policeman 3 (intervening and addressing Max): Mister Man, we are looking for a thin man with an unkempt goatee. He was wearing a faded shirt, tattered jeans and battered shoes. We believe he must have come this way and entered this place.

(Zack gestures as though he is about to speak, but Max makes an imperceptible sign to hush him.)

Max: Ah, sorry o Oga Constable, but we haven't seen anyone all evening. We've just been sitting here discussing how our wonderful police are busy catching criminals up and down the country.

(Policeman 1 is suspicious. He turns on Max, loudly)

Are you sure? Because if we find out that you are hiding this man, we will make life very difficult for all of you! We will throw you into a police cell, and you will smell pepper before you can come out!

(Nat and Zack show signs of agitation, but again Max hushes them with a hidden gesture.)

Oga Constable, why should I lie? I just don't want to waste your time. (Shrugging) If you like, you can spend your valuable time searching this place - but by that time, your criminal will be getting farther and farther away from you. It's up to you, sha.

(The policemen confer amongst themselves.)

Policeman 3: OK, we will go and look elsewhere. But if you see the man come in here again, ring us on 0803 192 7460.

Max: Can we have an alternate number in case there is network congestion?

(The policemen stare at Max. Then they grumble amongst themselves.)

Policeman 2: OK, you can try 0802 779 6621 if you cannot reach us on that number.

Max: OK... but I just realised that I am low on credit. Can I have a recharge card in case I run out credit while calling you?

Policeman 1 (in a threatening voice): Look, Mister Man, whether you have credit or not is none of our concern! Just call us if you see him, OK? (And with that final pronouncement, they storm out of the bar.)

(The trio allow a sufficiently safe period to pass, then Zack gets up, goes to the window, and roars out in anger.)

Come out of there, you criminal coward!

Joe (poking his head up from his hiding place and whispering): Is - is it safe?

Nat (yelling out): Yes, it's safe. Come and tell us why you almost landed all of us in jail tonight.

(Joe emerges fully from his hiding place, dusts himself down and joins the others at the table.)

Ah, Max, you are a genius - facing down those thugs in uniform like that. I owe you big time o...

Max (curtly): Yes, you definitely owe me - you'll be buying us all a round of kunu tonight.

Zack (to Max): Please do not ever pull that kind of stunt with the police again. Those guys are like wild dogs - you never know what kind of reaction you will get if you try to be cheeky with them.

Max (waving Zack away): You're just not as used to dealing with them as I am. (Turning to Joe): OK, Mr. CEO - tell us why you have disturbed our quite evening with your wahala.

(Joe asks Philo who has now emerged from his back room to serve a round of kunu for everyone, including himself. Then he takes a deep gulp from his glass, inhales, and starts talking.)

Well, I had just been to see a supplier of a new product which I was going to be selling in Nigeria. It's called the Soundcaster, and what it does is to allow you to record any sound you like, and when you play it back, it will sound as if the sound is coming from somewhere else.

Nat (puzzled): Apart from pranksters like Max, who will it appeal to?

Joe (impatiently): Don't you read the news? Haven't you heard of the upsurge of robberies in town lately?

Nat (still puzzled): I'm sorry, but I still don't get you.

Zack: I think I see where he is going. Let me guess - if you are accosted by men of the night, then if you have recorded the sound of a siren on the device and you play it back, it will sound as though the police are coming and they will disappear, right?

Joe (beaming): Exactly, Zack!

Nat: Hmm... interesting idea. So what problem did the police have with it?

Joe: Well, I was walking back home with some samples, and these policemen stopped me. They started asking me all kinds of awkward questions, like did I have a receipt, and what was I doing out at this time of the night. I answered all their questions scrupulously, and it looked like they were going to let me go.

Then one of them decided that my goods had been smuggled into the country, and declared that he was not only going to impound them, but impound me as well. Of course, there was no way I was going to let three stupid policemen get in the way of me and my millions, so I pleaded with them to let us settle the matter like civilised gentlemen. While they were trying to decide how the matter should be settled, I took to my heels. I had the element of surprise - I'm sure they weren't expecting me to take off - so I was able to find a place to hide before they could catch me.

(Zack peers at Joe suspiciously.)

Were these... soundblasters... really smuggled?

Joe (shrugging): Maybe - who cares? The important thing is that the Nigerian who is worried about crime will get protection.

Nat (frowning): You don't seem to care about whether the goods were smuggled or not.

Joe: Why should I? After all, if they were brought into the country through customs, they would either get seized, or I would have to pay a fortune in both official and unofficial levies.

Zack (annoyed): And to think that we nearly put our lives on the line for a criminal like you. Can't you see that smuggling is bad? It deprives the government of revenue, and it allows foreigners to dump cheap goods in Nigeria and drive hardworking businessmen out of business.

Max: Wow - this is a first. Zack, you are actually supporting the government here. This is the same government that you spend day and night condemning.

Zack: You're missing the point. It's a matter of principle - just because the government is mismanaging people's money doesn't make it right for people to avoid discharging their obligation to pay their taxes. That's like saying that two wrongs make a right.

Nat: And besides, once people get used to the idea of not paying one tax because they believe the government isn't performing, then they start using that argument to justify not paying any tax - even when the government changes and starts performing. They become used to getting things for free without paying the full value for them.

Max (waving his hand dismissively): OK, fine - let the government raise its money. But let it look for some other way - like levying taxes based on the size of your house or the make of your car. It should just leave trade alone. Can you imagine how prices would skyrocket if the government were to clamp down fully on smuggling and tax everything that entered the country?

Joe (enthusiastically): Abi o! Show me a Nigerian that condemns smuggling, and I will show you a hypocrite of the the deepest dye.

Nat: Just because the majority of Nigerians enjoy its benefits doesn't mean still doesn't mean it is good. Think of all those substandard goods and fake drugs that are smuggled into the country without being checked. Are you honestly saying that you would praise smuggling if your brother's child died from taking smuggled fake drugs?

Max (shaking his head disapprovingly): Nat, that is a low, shameless tactic. Don't you know the first rule of discussions in the Junction is never to invoke the death of a child in an argument?

Joe: In other words, that is a blow beneath the belt, aimed squarely at the groin! A cheap shot!

Zack (grinning): In other words, you admit he's right.

Max: Not necessarily. Our customs officials may also allow fake drugs goods to slip through the border.

Zack: That may be true, but ultimately, every country has its goal to improve its customs organisations so that they check to ensure that what is being imported is fit for consumption. On the other hand, a smuggler will always think of how much money he can make from trading, whether it kills little babies or not.

Max (wincing): Haba! Do you have to bring children up again? Haven't you guys made your point already?

Joe: Anyway, I still think that right now that smuggling is the lesser of two evils. You may get fake drugs - but at least you get cheap fake drugs. If everything was to be routed through customs, with the state of corruption, you would get expensive fake drugs after the officials had taken their cut. And worse still, you might not even get any drugs at all if some crazy official decided tomorrow that drugs were the work of the devil, and that we should pray and fast to cure our sicknesses.

Max: That's true. Government import policy is so arbitrary that you never know what to expect tomorrow.

Zack: Then work to change government policy, instead of trying to circumvent it by smuggling. There's no getting round it - as Jimmy Johnson used to say in those ads years ago, "Smuggle na bad biznes o!"

(All of a sudden, there is the sound of loud voices coming from outside.)

Nat: What's that?

Zack: Shh... let's listen.

(The sounds are becoming more distinct.)

Voice 1: ... told you they were lying ...

Voice 2: ... sure he is in that bar ... let's check again ...

Voice 3: ... if I catch him there, I will make sure that all of them are put in that cell ... you know, the one that that madman, 'Rambo Slaughter' is in ...

(Joe, Max, Nat and Zack stare at each other in horror for a few moments. Then they scramble madly to their feet and frantically dash for the nearest hiding places out at the back.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dreams and Prophecies

Dear Reader,

If you are still visting this blog (and I can't blame you if you aren't :) ), then you'll see that the Junction is active once again, so sit back and enjoy as our trio ponder one of life's ponderables.


(Max and Zack are discussing animatedly in the Junction, while Nat looks on, struggling to keep awake. At intervals, he leans forward as he nods off, but he is jerked awake when his leaning body makes contact with the table. After a while, Max notices this and breaks off his conversation with Zack.)

Zack: So you agree that there's no way we can allow landlords a free hand to terrorise tenants with arbitrary rent rises, then?

(Max motions to Zack to be silent. Then he gets up and with much effort, keeping Nat stable so that he does not lean to one side, he slowly and gently moves Nat in his chair so that he is all by himself a few metres away from the table. Then he skips back to his chair in glee and waits expectantly. He is not disappointed - after a few moments, Nat leans forward again, but as there is no table to warn him of the impending disaster, he leans and leans until -)

Nat (sprawling on the floor in confusion): Aaaaaargh! Wha- whe- who - why am I here? (He looks at Max cracking up with laughter, and a look of annoyance comes over his face.) Sometimes, I think I agree with Zack - you can be very childish.

Max (still laughing): Come on, you're just saying that because you are on the receiving end of my little joke. I'm sure that you would have been killing yourself with laughter if Zack had been the one to fall like that.

Zack (scornfully): I should let you know that if I am disturbed while dozing off, I react instinctively and violently - so I cannot be held responsible for the broken teeth or cracked skull that you suffer if you are foolish enough to try that prank on me.

Max: You? Please don't make me laugh. At least Nat had the presence of mind to wake up once he fell off the chair. If it were you, you would still be snoring away on the floor. (Turns to Nat) Anyway, what are you doing sleeping during an interesting discussion on housing?

Nat (dragging his chair back to the table while yawning): Oh, I've been having problems sleeping at night.

Max: Problems? Is the bank thinking of another round of redundancies?

Nat: No, nothing like that. It's just that... well, I've ben having these strange dreams. In them, I'm holding a box and I'm walking through a forest.

Zack: Hmm... interesting.

Max: What do you mean, 'interesting'? Have you now started dabbling into prophecy like

Zack (rounding on him): Please do not under any circumstance compare me to that fraud!

Nat (raising a hand): Guys - can I carry on?

Max: Sorry, Nat - you were saying?

Nat: OK, so I'm walking through this forest. Then the path begins to slope downhill, and I find the undergrowth getting denser and denser with the canopy of tree branches getting thicker and thicker. It gets so dense that it becomes hard for me to pick my way through it... and the trees are almost completely blocking out the light.

Anyway, finally, when I can hardly see anything, I come across a hut. The door is locked, as I find when I try to open it, but when I knock on the door, it opens very slowly. I peer in, but all is dark. So I advance slowly, and when I am in the middle of the hut, I hear a noise behind me.

Max and Zack (expectantly): And...?

Nat: And I turn around and wake up.

(Max and Zack groan in dismay.)

Max: What kind of stupid dream is that? How can you go and wake up at the climax?

Nat (indignantly): Hey! Don't blame me. I don't have any control over the dream.

Zack (with his expression turning thoughtful): And... how long have you been having these dreams for, now?

Nat: Well, I've been having them on and off for the last couple of weeks. Why do you ask? Do you see any significance?

Zack: Well, from what I know of dreams, I would say that it means that you are about to go through a tough period in your life.

Max (mimicking Zack): "You are about to go through a tough period in your life". (Mockingly) Is that really the best you can do? That just sounds like those horoscope predictions that are vague to the point of being meaningless - the ones that say things like "your day will be filled with good fortune, unless it is filled with bad fortune, in which case it will not be filled with good fortune".

Zack (defensively): Well, why else would it feature darkness? A dark environment in a dream usually means danger.

Max: Danger my right buttock! How do you know the dream isn't simply telling Nat that there will be prolonged power outages where he lives? You're just making it up - if you're honest, you'll admit that the only thing dreams are good for is entertainment!

Zack: You're talking out of ignorance. I'll admit that I'm not an expert at interpreting them, but dreams definitely have deep meaning for those who can understand them. They may be a way of God communicating his message to you.

Max: More nonsense! If God wants to communicate his message, why can't he doing while I'm wide awake and paying attention? And why can't the message be direct - why does it always need a middleman to interpret it? I'll tell you - the only reason people give dreams the time of day is because they are so strange. If your dream made complete sense and you could relate it to what you did on a day to day basis, then you wouldn't take it any more seriously than you take blinking or breathing.

Nat: Actually Zack, I agree with Max that not all dreams are about sending messages, but I also agree with you that dreams aren't completely meaningless either. I think that what's going on is that when we sleep, the mind does some housekeeping. In the process, it shakes up many memories and thoughts that we've accumulated over our life - some recently, some many years ago - and those show up as dreams. That's why we usually have dreams that involve experiences that we have had - after all, when was the last time you had a dream about Outer Turkmenistan?

Zack: Well, I actually did have a dream that came true once.

Nat: Really?

Zack: Oh yes. On that night, I dreamt that a coffin was being lowered into a grave, and I saw my aunt weeping. I woke up feeling very disturbed, but I thought it was just a dream. Then a few days later, I received the news that my uncle - my aunt's husband - had died after a short illness.

Nat: Well, perhaps you had already received information that your uncle was ill, and perhaps you had been thinking that he might die, so these thoughts of death that were in your mind at the time must have given rise to the dream.

Zack (shaking his head vehemently): Not at all. I hadn't heard from this uncle for a long time - so it was definitely nothing to do with that.

Max (sceptically): I'm sure it's just coincidence. How come you don't have these dreams everytime someone wants to die? And more to the point, what is the point in someone passing you a message that your uncle is about to die? (mockingly) It would have made more sense if the dream was from one of his creditors, and there was a message saying that you should quickly contact your uncle before he expires and there is no chance of this creditor getting his money back.

Zack (shrugging): How should I know? It's not everything that we experience that we need to understand right away.

Max: Anyway, I don't take dreams seriously at all. Some of the dreams I have had are so bizarre as to be completely meaningless.

Nat (amused): Really? Let's hear them - perhaps Zack the Prophet can interpret them.

Max (scornfully): If his interpretation of your dream is anything to go by, I don't have much faith in his abilities.

Nat: Oh, go on. Zack, please don't mind him.

Max: All right. In the dream, there was this passenger bus that was waiting at a bus stop, and many people were boarding it. The strange thing about the bus was that people just kept on entering without it getting full. Then the driver sounded the horn, and instead of moving the bus began to give birth to little buses.

Nat (glancing at Zack): I think this dream may be beyond your prophetic abilities o!

Max: Each of the little buses was the size of a human being, and it had two legs. After emerging from the bus, each little bus jumped up in the air, and landed on a motorcycle that had appeared out of nowhere. Then the bus revved the motorcycle and took off. So there was this huge sea of buses which were riding motorcycles on the road.

Eventually, the buses got to a junction with traffic lights. The strange thing about these lights was that there were four lights. The red light showed a picture of Obasanjo; the yellow light showed a picture of Atiku; the green light showed a picture of Yar'Adua... and there was a fourth blue light which showed a picture of Abiola. The lights kept on flashing on and off at random, but if a bus tried to pass when all four lights were on at the same time, it would disappear, and in its place there would be a motorcycle with two legs riding a bicycle...

Zack (clapping his hands over his ears): Enough! Are you sure you weren't under the influence of controlled substances when having this dream?

Max (sweetly): What? Are you telling me you can't interpret it?

Zack: I'm dubious about whether you really had this dream. For all I know, you might have made it up.

Max (in mock indignation): How can you say such a thing? Were you inside my head when I was dreaming this dream?

Nat (chuckling): But that your dream, e get as e be. Anyway, I wouldn't even want to know what my dream meant if it was a message about the future. I would rather experience the future directly, whatever it holds.

Max: Abi o! You don't know whether by running away from the danger that your dream is 'predicting', you might end up running into a bigger danger that your dream didn't foresee.

Zack: You're just being hypocritical, Max. I'm sure that if I could offer you a cast iron prediction of share prices over the next month, you wouldn't care whether you were running into a trailer load of trouble by listening to my prophecy.

Max: But that's just hypothetical - because you're yet to demonstrate your prophetic skills. Oh, all right - let me give you one more chance. I'll tell you about this other dream that I had. In this dream, the three of us were all in the Junction, and we were consumed by this raging thirst. Then you volunteered to get up and buy round after round after round of kunu for all of us. The strange thing was that as you bought each round, your wallet became fatter and fatter. (Gazes upward stroking his chin, as though deeply puzzled) Now I wonder what the interpretation of that dream could be?

Zack (laughing): It means that I should steer clear of con artists who are too miserly to buy their own drinks!