The Opportunist

by Dike Okoro

      At first the crowd looked on at the spectacle as he lay on the asphalt, his oval face coated in blood. Nobody was sure of what to do because of the traffic congestion of the morning. Thus, the longer the young man remained unattended, the more it looked like he wasn't going to survive the accident. Fear beamed on the faces circling him.    

     "Let us take him off the road," suggested an old man who was dressed in a security uniform. The simple suggestion seemed to have had a spiraling effect on the crowd. At once, hands came from every corner. They carried the young man shoulder high until they left him lying on the patch of grass in front of a kiosk facing the road. By this time a group of men and women trekking toward a church under the bridge had stopped by the scene. Moved by the bruises they noted on the young man they quickly volunteered to help. This would not only make their pastor proud when told as a testimony but would also fulfill a role they believed every practicing Christian was required to play. So they volunteered to carry him to a local chemist, but when they noticed he was unresponsive, they offered to pray for him instead.

      "Father Lord," they began, a number of them placing their hands on the young man's forehead.Among the crowd was a man who had come out of a shop facing the crowd.

     "See them, yeye church people. Instead una go carry dead body go mortuary una dey pray," he said .A woman whose shop door overlooked the man who had been standing outside encouraging the church group to do something instead of watching, was the first to respond to the man. 

     She came to the front of his store and said: “So it is true, eh, Renegade! You are the devil itself and I believe it since today you have come out of your shell like a tortoise."  

     The crowd murmured. The woman carried on, dropping salvos at the man who had been critical of the church group. By this time the sky was getting dark and threatening to rain. Lightning flashed, going past the sky like a rocket headed on a mission. 

     "Bros, me I don go be that," said a Good Samaritan who had helped earlier in carrying the young man off the main road.

     Soon a policeman arrived and demanded to know if anyone saw the vehicle that hit the young man. The police officer wore glasses that rested over his nose so that as he spoke it seemed he was looking at his nose. People were silent. 

    A woman in the crowd sighed and said: "Officer this accident happened almost thirty minutes ago and I saw you buying bread under the bridge. It is now you are joining us and acting like you care." 

     The officer traded stares with the woman but did not feel obliged to take any action against her. Besides, a human life could be at stake, which required more immediate attention.A taxi driver of a Peugeot 307 soon pulled to the front of the store and volunteered to drive the victim to the hospital. The officer opened the front door and hopped in. 

     "This is how every human being ought to act when others are in need, because nobody knows; tomorrow might be your turn to be in this young man's position," said a bystander.

     The car soon beat the traffic jam and entered a short cut leading to a major highway. Inside the car the young man's eyes kept opening and closing. The officer turned, retaining a bewildered look, wondering if the young man was well and if a voice only he heard might be telling him he was dead and that everything the police officer was looking at was a facade.Not long after they exited the highway they entered the parking lot of a clinic.

      "Nurse, nurse, somebody help!" yelled the officer. A nurse on duty came out, looked at the young man and turned around to leave for the main entrance. 

     "Excuse me," said the policeman. 

     The nurse turned around, staring at the officer. She had heard him speak but was only keeping to what was considered normal practice. After all, the policeman, if asked to make a deposit payment before the young man was treated, would back off such an idea. Further she grappled with the possibility that he might be a criminal and as such did not want to bear the burden of explaining to the head physician that she had not asked questions properly to ascertain his identity and what happened to him. Soon two security men came out of the hospital and assisted in taking the young man in. They placed him on a wheeler and wheeled him through the front door. By this time the policeman had taken his incident notes and had left on a motorbike. So too had the taxi driver. 

     "Ah, this one na fine boy," a lady nurse had said, upon seeing the young man and noticing he was a very handsome man. And, because she knew what women could do to get a man they so desired, she acted fast. She arranged for a room for him and contacted the physician to stop by for his check up on the patient.

     "Ah, ah-yee!" yelled the young man."Sorry o," replied the nurse. "The doctor is on his way, ok?"

When the physician came he was very pleased that the patient was awake.

      “Mhnn,” he exclaimed, with the tip of his index finger rested against his sealed lips. He studied the young and was immediately impressed with the Gucci men’s watch and shoes. Must be a rich one, he concluded. 

     The young man lay still in bed but thought  to himself, without opening his mouth, If only the physician would understand the pair of shoes and watch are not mine but possessions of a rich neighbor’s son on the same street where I wash cars for people to maintain my upkeep. 

     “Get me some ice and towel,” said the physician. The nurse left the room. The physician drew close and placed his hand on the young man’s face, stretching open his eyes and observing what seemed to be blood spittle on the side of his mouth. Picking up his clipboard, he scribbled down a few words and rested the board on the foot of the bed.

     "Ah, ah-yee, my head," cried the young man. "Call my father, senator, senator," he whispered as though holding on to his last breath. “And I’m hungry.  Get me something to eat.”

     The physician looked at the nurse who had just entered the room and then at the young man on the bed. For the first time a thought raced through him hinting he had been lax in his duty. So this guy is a senator's son, eh, he mused. Then my conclusion earlier must be right, he thought. He debated whether to continue with his examination or grant the young man’s request for food.  Based on his instincts developed from years of practice, he concluded that further examination could wait.  

     "Nurse, quick, get him orange juice and food to eat. When he is done eating arrange to have his father's phone number so we can contact the family, Ok?" 

     The nurse nodded. The physician picked up his clipboard and stethoscope and left the room.

     "Look at their faces, I got you guys this time," said the young man. He stretched his body, lifted his head and observed his face on the desk mirror. The spots of blood were still visible on his cheek and head. 

     "Good," he said to himself. It was now turning out in his favor, the whole game he had planned with his friend who pushed him down the moving bus and ran away after watching him put up a show of falling face first on the asphalt and then fainting. The blood on the face and the head were applications of fake liquid that appeared real from a close range. Both friends had been doing the same thing for over a span of six months, but at different locations in the city, to get sympathy, eat free food and then split. He looked at his watch and quickly returned to his position, lying still as the pretty nurse entered the room with a tray of rice and stew, and a glass of orange juice. She was single and had been unlucky like most of her friends in finding a good man to date. But the prospects of dating a senator's son loomed and she had made up her mind she was not going to let the opportunity slip off her hands.She watched the young man whose name she did not know adjust himself in bed and start eating. He ate as though he had not eaten all day. Of course, that was the plan. Not being able to find a job since he moved to Lagos from a village in the southern part of the country had taught him a hard lesson. The son of humble farmers, he had opted to engage in a life of deceit instead of outright robbery.

      "So, here is a pen and paper. Write down your parents’ home phone or mobile number so we can tell them you in the hospital, eh. But take your time to eat; don't be in a hurry. I will be back to check your vital signs and blood pressure, eh," said the nurse.

      As she strode to the door for the first time that afternoon her light skin complexion and charming face caught his attention. 

     "Haba," he said to himself. "I have to get out of here fast." 

     Shoving the last spoon of rice in his mouth and then drinking up the orange juice, he felt a bit of trepidation as he heard male voices outside his door.  Are they coming to get the information the nurse had reminded him to provide? he mussed, his set of eyebrows almost meeting each other.Quickly he picked up the pen and scribbled down a few words. The main struggle was over. He had eaten a full meal, which he had not being able to afford for days. Staring at the doorknob to make sure it wasn’t being twisted, he tiptoed to the door and strutted out briskly. When the nurse returned to the empty room and read the note laying on the tray, she sat down, shaking her head while lost in complete bewilderment. How he could pull through such a cunning situation was completely beyond her comprehension. The physician came smiling, whistling, hoping to get the senator's number and have a chat with the young man when he noticed the bemused expression on the nurse's face. Picking up the note from the tray, he only needed one close read before screaming, "security, security!" as he ran out of the room, rushing downstairs via the stairway, with the back of his heels barely touching the ground.

Author Dike Okoro is a Chicago-based poet and short story writer. His creative works has appeared in journals, magazines, and anthologies in the US and elsewhere. His published books include Dance of the Heart, and Letter to Aisha and Other Stories. In 2016, Okoro was shortlisted for the Cecile De Jongh prize for poetry.