09 Feb 2018 Bonnie and Clyde
They drove slowly, windows down, the fresh air flooding inside the car and flushing out the stale cigarette smoke that filled their car. The sun was just crawling up the horizon, staining the clouds with a bright yellow light, some of which poured into the vehicle painting the dashboard with happiness.The dull rumble of the car engine strained the delicate silence. Nothing else could be heard. No birds fluttering in the tall trees that stood on both sides of the road and no other cars plying this route to Ibadan. Seun held the wheel with one hand, the other lazily dangling outside the car. He was sated with his life. And so was his girlfriend, Faith. The 6-year-old Toyota Camry they had stolen was now their home, the storage unit for their love and all the money they had pilfered.
Their love was a strange kind, the kind that exists between people who were equally unhappy with their lives. Seun was born to be the glue in a family that was destined to fall apart. His mother had assumed that his existence would mean his father would not walk out, but he did anyway. So Seun grew up watching his mother cry, his entire life reduced to nothing more than a failed project, a reminder that people leave. His mother remarrying did not help too. His stepfather was wealthy, obnoxious and oblivious to anyone’s plight except his. But alas, money makes excellent makeup. It’s easy to act like you have no problems in a new house with new clothes. So, while his mother became a brilliant actor, he refused to act. He refused to appear surprised at birthday parties he never asked for and did not open his mouth in astonishment whenever he got expensive presents from uncles and aunties he did not want. He was cared for, but not loved and everyone in his household knew this. And on the night of his 18th birthday, right after another unwanted birthday party, he stole half a million naira and a car from his stepfather and ran away.
Lagos, the California of Nigeria, might be geographically small, but with twenty-two million people, getting lost is straightforward. So, it was while he was trying to get lost later that night that he stumbled upon a dying party in Ikoyi. It was a house party with pulsing music and several guests flooding in all holding gifts and bottles of wine. Someone born on the same day as he was. It was curious enough for Seun to pull over and take a look.
“You don’t want to go in there.” A smooth voice rang out from behind him. He turned to see a slim shadow tucked away into the darkness of the night. He took a few steps towards the voice and spoke.
“Why?” A slim figure stepped out from the shadow into the light of an overhead street light. It was a girl, tall and slender with a shocking afro carefully balanced atop her head. She was holding a cigarette daintily, almost like the way an artist would hold a paintbrush. Seun faced the girl.
“Aren’t you a bit young to be driving a car like that around?” She gestured to the BMW he had stolen from his father.
Seun shrugged. “It’s not mine.”
Faith nodded and put out her cigarette. She sized him up then spoke, her voice playful and flirty now. “You shouldn’t go in there because it’s a really boring party with really fake people.” Then she started walking towards his car. “Let’s get out of here.”
Seun would always remember how he felt that night. Confused and lost in her absolute confidence. The way she talked so directly about her self, always punctuating sentences with ‘I felt’ and ‘I know’. She made him dizzy, the way she could explain her life without fear of being judged, rushing her sentences as though she was finally set free and could not wait to let it all out. She introduced herself as Faith and said the party had in fact been hers. Her twentieth. Like Seun, she had been unhappy with her life. She hated her parents’ thirst for money, often branding them as hypocrites. And she hated the “friends” she had. That’s why she had left her birthday. It had been a surprise party that she had not wanted and refused to participate in.
And so, united in their thirst to be loved and understood, they drove away together jumping from hotel to hotel, living off the money Seun had stolen. But eventually, the first week began to near its end, and Seun had to tell Faith his own story. To his surprise, Faith calmly suggested they sold the BMW on the black market and then steal another car from a car park. “After all, your father is going to come searching for his car either way. We might as well profit from it while we have it.” She had said with a shrug. “Except you want to return.” He shook his head violently and said he’d sell the car. His decision to run away suddenly became real. Consequences were now clear, yet he did it because it was Faith who told him to. And it was with that one action, that proverbial point of no return, that they crossed from citizens to fugitives and from acquaintances to lovers.
They stole cars from parks, money from people at ATMs and lived lavishly. They did as they wished and were happy. Their love grew and flourished because when you’ve been alone all your life, there’s nothing more relieving than sharing your pain with someone who understands. They were criminals, but they were criminals together and that was what mattered. When they went to big stores and clubs, they would mistake Faith to be his wife and Seun would laugh and say they had just gotten married. And then he’d grip her hand because in a sense he wasn’t wrong. He knew that their love was forever.
As their final crime, as an act of poetic justice, Faith suggested they work with a gang to steal from both their parents. They would provide the necessary information to the gangs, she said. They did not even have to be at the robbery. They would just be ready at the crack of dawn with a newly stolen car, a set of falsified documents and new number plates. And then they would take the money and flee to Ibadan. Quiet Ibadan with its quaint ways of life and gentle proceedings. They would fit in perfectly, living the rest of their lives in perfect contentment. It was a beautiful plan. There was no way they could know that one of the gang members had plans to double cross them and steal their share of the money. They could not have known that a little way up the road, several gang members were hidden in the forest ready with automatic weapons. All Seun did know, was he had something he wanted to get off his chest. He turned to look at Faith. “Faith.” She looked at him, her eyes droopy and her mouth pulled loosely into a lazy smile. She looked content. He smiled and continued. “Faith, I love …” He was interrupted by the sound of several bullets tearing through the car, glass shattering and blood splattering. And then there was silence, the ghastly kind, followed by the bone-crunching sound of the car crashing into the forest by the road. And then the silence like death descended on the car and Seun’s last words.
Perhaps now, their love was forever.