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The Hotel Malogo


ISSUE:  Spring 2007

The sun was setting when I got off the bus and entered the empty hotel bar. Most of the space in the dim rectangular room was taken up by iron chairs arranged round iron tables, the white paint peeling off to reveal the rust, brown and streaky, underneath. The wooden windows were closed and a single light bulb in the ceiling illuminated the room faintly. A long counter with whiskey bottles on shelves along the wall behind it covered one side of the room. A door behind the counter stood ajar.

“Hello,” I called, dropping my bag on the rough concrete floor. “Is anyone here?”

A man in a dirty yellow singlet came out wiping his hands on a towel. “Yes?”

“I want a room.”

He looked me up and down with his sickly yellow eyes, and I could tell he was trying to determine my age.

“You get money?”

“Yes.”

“A room na fifty naira for one night. You fit pay?”

I had four hundred naira in my pocket. He reached into a drawer and brought out an old register. On the tattered cover was handwritten in blue ink: Hotel Malogo. He opened a page and lifted his pen.

“Wetin be your name?”

I hesitated. “Diaz.”

His pen hovered. “Diaz? Which kind name be dat?”

His anaemic eyes betrayed his confusion. “How you spell dat?”

I spelled it for him.

“How long you wan stay?”

“Three days.” I’d get a job and move to a more permanent accommodation as soon as possible.

“You pay now, plus fifty naira deposit.”

“But . . .”

He closed his register with a bang. I paid and followed him down a corridor and up a flight of concrete steps to the first floor. My room was the second to the last in a long row of rooms on one side of a dark, uncarpeted hallway whose walls gave off a musty, airless smell. He flicked the light switch on and off a couple of times to prove that the light was working, then he turned to the fan. We stood in the center of the room, looking up, waiting for the blades to start turning, when they did he looked at me and smiled.

“This one na correct room.”

I threw my bag on the bed and sat in the only chair. Before he left he had said the bathroom was outside, and I had to share with the other occupants of the first floor, but I should be happy because at the moment there was only one other guest on the floor.

But even that did not diminish my optimism. I had come to Lagos to get a job, a new life. That was why I had chosen a new name. Diaz. I took the name from a popular Mexican soap opera my mother and sisters never missed. My mother once said a second name is like a charm, it protects one from evil, like a back door, a fire exit.

Night came suddenly: one moment I was unpacking my bag in the lazy twilight coming in through the window, and the next moment I was in darkness. I went outside and bought akara and bread from the roadside vendors. I sat before my window over a narrow backstreet and ate—below me, the cars and buses, the daredevil bikers who weaved between them at speeds almost too fast for the blinking eye, the hawkers who shoved their wares into the car windows while calling out prices. Eventually sleep overcame me, and I rolled into bed.

*  *  *  *  

I woke up early. When I came downstairs the barman was cleaning the floor with a long-handled mop, reaching under tables and chairs to push out pieces of broken glass and bottle caps and cigarette stubs. Most of the floor was covered in camouflage patterns of spilled beer from last night. The room stank of it, and of stale smoke. He was still wearing his yellow singlet; around his waist was a print wrapper that reached all the way down to his ankles. Every once in a while he’d stop to take the chewing stick out of his mouth and spit the bits into the water bucket before resuming. He walked with a bowlegged gait that I hadn’t noticed yesterday.

“Good morning.”

He turned with a scowl on his face. His hairline began almost at his eyebrows. The stubble on his chin had formed ugly bumps, and some of them were oozing blood and pus.

“Yes?” he growled.

“Where can I have breakfast?”

“Outside,” he said with a wave of his hand, impatient, as if I were some passerby whose frivolous gossip was keeping him from his cleaning. I was uncertain what to do next. I wanted to set out early to Victoria Island, where most of the newspapers had their offices, to start inquiring about job openings, but I had to eat first in case it turned out to be a long day.

“I can show you a good place to eat, if you want.”

The voice came from a dark corner of the room, from which an old man emerged, an apologetic, ingratiating smile on his face. The barman paused and threw the man a contemptuous look before resuming his mopping. “Come, please,” said the old man, already at the door.

The street was alive with hawkers and beggars, though it was just 7 a.m. The yellow danfo buses inched down the narrow road, stopping to pick up or drop off passengers. The sun was bright and steadily rising. The old man was ahead of me, weaving from one side of the narrow road to the other, occasionally turning to flash me a smile, one hand permanently pointing forward as if to shrink up the distance. His faded khaki trousers were too big for his waist and he kept pulling them up with his other hand. I could tell he was hungover. I had an uncle like that. His mind would most likely be scheming on how he might wheedle a drink off me.

We passed through warrenlike alleyways where families sat on verandas, eating their breakfasts of beans and bread sold door-to-door by women carrying huge basins on their heads; where garbage overflowed from roadside dump sites into open gutters and into the roads; where naked children ran in and out of doorways, young girls passed us returning from community taps with buckets of water on their heads, and fathers stood in groups chatting, occasionally pausing to take out their bamboo chewing sticks and spit long streams of saliva.

“It is not far, is it?” I called, my misgiving showing in my voice. He was quicksilver, moving faster whenever I tried to catch up with him, so that I remained the same distance behind. Then he turned a corner behind a house and when I followed I saw that he had stopped, the hand pointing to a tiny doorway, the smile lustrous on his face.

“Here it is. Not far at all.”

A woman was standing in a narrow veranda, inclined over a huge pot of goat stew on a stone hearth, the heavy aluminum lid in her hand, the other hand stirring with a ladle.

“Munirat,” the old man said to her eagerly, pointing at me, “I bring you customer. Na my friend, we stay for the same hotel.”

The woman turned and looked at me briefly, disinterestedly, before turning back to her pot. I could see the old man was not highly regarded by her.

“Come inside.” He led me to a window table. Used plates and cutleries littered the peeling Formica surface.

“Munirat, come and clean this table,” he called, but without much conviction. He picked up the plates himself and took them outside, telling me as he went to sit. A few customers sat in the dim room, hunched over their plates of rice and beans.

“You stay at the hotel?” I asked when the elusive old man finally sat down opposite me.

“I stay there long, long time. In fact, na me be the oldest guest there.”

“My name is . . .”

“Diaz,” he said. “I know. Clement told me.”

“Are there a lot of guests in the hotel?”

He shrugged. “People come and go.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. “Mostly na married men with their girlfriends, that’s all. Even now some of them will be coming with their secretaries from office, just for one hour,” he ended the sentence with a wink. My face must have expressed my shock because he laughed and patted my hand, “You be young man, that’s why you are surprised. But it is true. Every day I see them. How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” I said, adding a year to my age.

“Ah,” he said.

Munirat came in then and asked me what I’d have. She was a heavily built woman with powerful shoulders and a fat behind; her sweaty face echoed a distant, neglected beauty.

“I’ll have rice,” I said. She turned to go. I called after her, “But what of him?”

She looked the old man up and down and hissed. “No way. I no sell to am unless he pay me my hundred naira first.”

The old man squirmed, and for an instant, before his ingratiating smile returned, he looked sad, embarrassed. “I will pay, as soon as I get my gratuity. This week. I promise.”

“That’s what you been de say for the past one year.”

“True,” he protested, “government go pay us this week. I swear.”

“It is okay. I will pay for his meal.”

“Give me eba and egusi,” he said, a triumphant look on his lined face. “In fact,” he advised me, growing ebullient, “you should eat eba, not rice. Munirat’s eba is the best in this whole Lagos, and her soup, hey, I no fit describe that one.”

“You this man,” she said, pleased, shaking her head, injecting a slight sashay into her gait as she left. As we ate I noticed that beneath his rough exterior there was some refinement in his manners: in the way he listened without interrupting, and the way he thoroughly scrubbed his hands before eating. I could see how a woman such as Munirat might find his words flattering. He asked me what I came to do in Lagos; I told him I wanted to become a journalist. He listened with his encouraging smile, and then he told me he was sure I would get something, that Lagos was full of opportunities.

His words gave me courage as I set out for the island.

*  *  *  *  

When I returned to the Hotel Malogo I found the old man waiting for me. His door, two doors down from mine, was ajar and he came out as soon as I stood before my door to take out my key.

“Diaz, my friend, you are back,” he said. The job market had been fiercer than I had anticipated. I had spent most of the day not in editors’ offices but at the gates explaining to guards why I wanted to see the editor even though I had no appointment; once I made it past the guards to the secretary’s office, but not once had I had the chance to show my writing samples, which I carried in a waterproof folder under my arm.

“I am back,” I said.

“This is my room. Come in and see my room. Please, please.”

I was exhausted, I needed rest, but I was scared and I wanted reassurance that tomorrow things might be better. The room was exactly like mine: the bed by the window that overlooked a nondescript backstreet with hawkers hawking and beggars begging; the only difference was that his room showed evidence of longer occupation. There was an old radio on the table and a pile of old newspapers on the floor by the bed, and I could see under his bed the side of a wooden portmanteau. On the window ledge were his toilet tools: a comb, an economy-size bottle of Vaseline, a toothbrush, a half-empty tube of Close-Up, and a mirror—or rather, a broken piece from a larger mirror. He asked me if I wanted a cup of water, and I said yes. He brought out a big can from behind a chair and poured a cupful.

“This is good clean water. I boil it myself.” He looked proud as if he had made the water, then the pride disappeared and he grew fidgety, moving too quickly whenever he had to pick up something, speaking too fast. At last he blurted out what he really wanted, and when he did he spoke in perfect English, “I wonder if I could borrow some money from you? I will pay, later, tomorrow, when I get my gratuity.”

I told him I didn’t have money, that I had to get a job soon, otherwise I would be out on the streets. I lowered my face to my water glass.

“I will pay, I swear. My gratuity will soon be here. I swear. See, see, let me show you.” He jumped off the bed and picked up a newspaper from the table. It was already open at the page he wanted to show me, a piece about the happy resolution of the long impasse between the union of retired railway workers and the government, with the government finally agreeing to pay each retiree a sum of 100,000 naira. He brought out further documents from his portmanteau; one was a copy of his retirement letter.

“They will pay us, soon, tomorrow, this week. I swear. I just need fifty naira, or thirty.”

I imagined how many people he must have shown these documents, including the barman, Clement, and the food woman, Munirat, and how convincing he must have sounded when he spoke in his good English. I was too tired to argue. I gave him thirty naira. A tear dropped out of one eye when he held the money in his hand.

“Come, let’s go to the bar. I must buy you a drink,” he said as he wiped away the tear.

“But I thought you wanted the money to eat.”

“It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow I will get my gratuity. I will be rich. Today, we will celebrate. Come, let’s go to the bar. Leave your papers here. Let’s go, now.”

His name was Papa John. His story went like something out of a Bollywood tearjerker, unremitting tragedy after unremitting tragedy. His parents had died in 1967, just before the Nigerian civil war; and when the war broke out, his uncle, who was his guardian, encouraged him to enlist just so the uncle could be rid of him. After the war he married a woman he met in a war refugee camp, and she bore him a son, John. After ten years of marriage, his wife deserted him when he lost his job with the railway, and because of a burgeoning drinking habit. He didn’t go to see his boy, John, till almost ten years after the divorce, and the son publicly denied him, calling him a useless old man and forbidding him from ever contacting him again.

Papa John was crying over his third bottle of beer as he narrated his story. I had bought him the third bottle because the thirty naira I loaned him was already gone. I drank a Fanta, which was warm because all day there had been a power outage. Our table was in the center of the barroom, which was crowded with drinkers; it was the end of month and pockets were bulging, hands were itching, camaraderie flowered, watered by alcohol, and once in a while someone would stand up and drag his rather reluctant girlfriend to the narrow space in front of the bar to dance to the tinny hi-life music issuing from a hidden speaker. From behind the counter I could feel Clement the barman’s suspicious eyes on me; he followed the old man’s every move. Once, when Papa John went to the bathroom Clement came over and whispered into my ear: “Dem don pay him the gratuity?” His breath stank of fish and onion. I said no, I was the one buying the beer. He looked at me as if he didn’t believe me, then he said, “You de waste your money for this useless man.”

When I told the old man, he said, “I owe him five thousand, that’s why. But what is five thousand? Common five thousand, when my money comes I will pay him, like this,” he clicked his fingers. He looked around before whispering, “Listen, don’t ever trust that Clement. He is a crook. He has dangerous friends who come at night. I’ve seen them. Be careful with your money. Always lock your door.”

When I told him my name was not really Diaz, he smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter. It is a good name. I know someone with a name like that once. He was our controller at the railway. A white man, with red hair. Once, when the workers were protesting because of the late payment of their salaries, and the police came and were about to shoot, he stood up in front of the people and said, ‘Shoot me first before you shoot anyone of these honest workers.’ Ah, Diaz, Diaz. A good man. A good name.”

I listened attentively even though I sensed that he was making up the story. I wondered if he had ever worked for the railway, if the documents were genuine, if I would ever see my thirty naira again. But it didn’t matter. For a moment he made me forget the harsh world waiting to crush me as soon as I set out again tomorrow.

I went to bed with hope.

*  *  *  *  

I bought him breakfast in the morning, and after breakfast I lent him twenty naira for the bus because, he said, he was being paid his gratuity today. I left him in front of the hotel and I took a bus to the island, thinking I had to say no to him at some point soon, and the sooner the better because after tomorrow I wouldn’t be able to afford a meal.

I came back around 4 p.m. and to my relief Papa John wasn’t waiting for me. I lay down in bed trying to read, but it was too hot in the room to concentrate; there was a power cut and the static fan hung over me like the sword of Damocles. I kept drifting into a slumber and waking up again. Around 7 p.m. I jerked awake. Someone was hammering on my door.

“Diaz, my friend, are you in there?” It was Papa John. I didn’t reply. He knocked again till finally the door retreated under the weight of his persistent pummeling, and I heard his steps coming in. How obnoxious, I thought, and just then the lights came back. We stared at each other and immediately I realized that something had changed. He stood taller. His stubble was gone, he was wearing a new dashiki with a matching hat, and even before he said it I knew. He had been paid.

“Come, come to my room. Tonight we will celebrate. Come, you are my only friend in this Lagos. Come and enjoy with me.”

The food seller, Munirat, was with him. She was dressed up in aso oke with a tall scarf on her head, a tiny bag in her lap; the heavy makeup on her face almost disguised her features, making me look twice before I recognized her.

“Diaz, welcome,” she said. She didn’t look overly happy to see me. Today she wanted the old man all to herself. A bottle of Aromatic Schnapps stood on a side table, and next to the bottle were two plastic cups. The radio on the table played a soft juju tune and the old man twirled around to the beat, a big grin on his sweaty face. I stood by the door and watched him dance.

“I will leave you two now,” I said, but he shook his head and danced toward me and took my hand and led me to the bed. “Sit. Have a drink.”

“I don’t drink,” I said.

“Leave the boy alone, Papa John. He too small to be drinking,” Munirat said, batting her eyes at the old man. He waltzed toward her and threw his arms round her clumsily, resting his head on her mountainous bosom; she pushed him away coquettishly, laughing.

“You this old man, you no get shame o.”

When the song ended Papa John switched off the radio and said to Munirat, “Let’s go to the bar. You go first. I have something to tell my friend Diaz before we join you.”

He walked her to the door and stood there to make sure she had gone, and then he came back. He bent down and pulled out the heavy portmanteau from under the bed. He opened it and took out a medium-size red bag, and then he stood up and dramatically poured out its contents onto the bed. It was a lot of money, bundles and bundles of it in fifty naira notes.

“They paid me today, Diaz. Cash.” He spoke in hushed tones, his eyes on my face, a sheen of sweat on his forehead under the hat. I could see that he was slightly drunk and I felt worried for him.

“You really shouldn’t have so much cash lying around.”

He raised his hand, stopping me. “You are right. Tomorrow I will take it to the bank. But first, here’s your money.” He took out fifty naira and handed it to me, then he began to return the rest into the red bag, but halfway he stopped suddenly and sat down; his shoulders began to shake. He was crying.

“I waited eight years for this money. Eight years. I suffered so much. Tomorrow I am getting out of here. I will get a nice room somewhere in Ikeja. Maybe Munirat will come with me. She is a nice woman.”

“What of your son, John? Won’t you get in touch with him?”

His shoulders suddenly stiffened. He turned back to the bed and resumed placing the money into the bag. “I have no son,” he said gruffly. “I don’t care. I have my money now. I don’t need anyone.”

When he finished putting the money into the bag he handed it to me. “I want you to keep this for me in your room. Now everyone knows I have been paid, my room is not safe. Keep it for me. I will get it back tomorrow.”

“But,” I began, “you don’t even know me.”

He patted me on the head. “But I do. When you get to my age you will know people. You are a good boy and one day you will be a great man. Go.”

He started dancing the moment we entered the bar. People came over to our table to shake his hand and to congratulate him, and he handed out bottles of beer like a monarch handing out favors.

“Clement, give this my friend a bottle of beer. Don’t worry, I will pay,” he would say to the barman. Munirat kept pulling at his hand under the table, whispering, “You this man, you go finish all your money tonight.” But the old man only laughed and told her, “Don’t worry. Money no be problem. Trust me.”

He had a thick wad in his dashiki pocket which he kept whipping out to pay for each order, and I saw the pain on Munirat’s face increase as the wad’s thickness decreased. I sipped my Coke, my mind anxious about the money upstairs under my bed. Clement was all smiles, so I assumed the old man had already paid him his money; he hovered around our table like a vulture waiting to pick up the gleanings, shaking the old man’s hand at every opportunity. He rushed back to change the music when Papa John requested a special number by Rex Lawson. The whole room fell silent as the old man and Munirat stood up to dance to “Guitar Boy.”

I bade them good night when the music ended and I went up to my room.

*  *  *  *  

But I couldn’t sleep. The money under the bed was like a layer of nails, pricking at me through the mattress, and twice I brought out the bag to check that its contents were still there. I had never seen so much money in my life, and even though it wasn’t mine I could feel a rising excitement whenever I touched the thick bundles of notes. I turned off the light and went to sit by the window, staring out into the still-busy backstreet. The yellow danfo buses were even now dropping off and picking up passengers, and the call of the tired conductors assumed a plangent, wailing note. The buses’ rear lights were iridescent, mobile, twinkling briefly, and then were swallowed up by the night.

At last I was able to drift into a restless slumber, but it didn’t last long. I was awakened by voices just outside my door. It was Papa John’s, and the other one was unmistakably Munirat’s. They were parting. She was advising him to get some sleep. I went back to sleep myself. But almost immediately I came awake again.

This time it was a scream, clear and sharp at first, then it became muffled, as if someone had put his hand over the screamer’s mouth. Then came sharp whispers, then silence. I stood up. The voices were coming from the direction of Papa John’s room. I went to the door and quietly pulled back the bolt, then I opened the door a crack, but I couldn’t see anything. There was a power outage and the corridor was pitch-black. The voices came again; someone at the door was urging someone inside the room to hurry up. Now I could see a dim, wavering light. I heard the muffled scream again. Robbers. The money. Under my bed.

How long would he last before he told them the money was with me? I quickly closed my door, but before I moved away from it I heard footsteps coming from the old man’s room. I leaned my back against the door. Waiting. But the footsteps passed my door, toward the stairs, the voices talking angrily. But even in my fear I recognised one of the two voices: it was Clement’s. My legs felt weak; I sat down on the floor, my back against the door.

Almost an hour later I opened my door slowly, and after making sure the corridor was deserted, I went to the old man’s room; when I touched the door, it creaked open and in the silence the creak was amplified a million times. I went in, shutting the door behind me.

“Papa John, are you in there?” I whispered. I moved in, straining my eyes to see in the complete darkness, but at that moment the lights came back. He was lying on the bed, his back to me, and for a moment I thought he was sleeping, until I saw the blood. It was almost invisible on the blue bed sheets, but on the front of his white dashiki it was stark, startling, like a splash of cold water on the face in winter. His face was frozen in a grimace of pain; they had cut him on the fingers and on the face repeatedly before slitting his throat. I felt dizzy. For a moment I forgot where I was, then the dizziness passed and I bolted. I went back to my room and locked the door.

I sat on my bed, my mind a blank. Soon they would come for me, I was sure. Even if he hadn’t told them, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out that he might have left the money with me. But when the hours passed and they did not return, I began to relax a bit. I packed my bag in the dark and sat on the bed, waiting for morning. I tried to think what best course of action to take, but my mind was like a block of stone.

*  *  *  *  

I ran all the way to Munirat’s place. I found her in the small yard behind the buka, pounding yam in a mortar.

“Where’s Papa John?” she asked.

“I . . . the . . . they killed the old man,” I blurted. Her wide smile of welcome shriveled as I told her the events of last night. Tension and fear lent my words directness and sincerity that immediately arrested her. Her shock became terror when I told her we should go to the police.

“We ke? I no want police wahala! I no go any police o.”

“But what should I do? They killed him.”

“These people na bad people o. Just carry your bag and leave that Hotel Malogo now now. Go, a beg. I no wan any trouble o.”

I left, thinking the best thing for me would be to walk away right now, without my bag, without the money. But like most sixteen-year-olds, I thought I could get in and out of the hotel without being seen. I was wrong. When I opened my room I saw that someone had been there when I was out, and they hadn’t even made any effort to hide it; my bag on the bed lay open and my clothes were scattered on the floor, and when I looked into the bag I saw that the red bag was gone. Just then the door opened and Clement came in, another man was behind him, in the corridor. They must have been waiting in one of the rooms.

“Diaz.”

I tried to act calm. I told myself that they mightn’t know for sure that I had seen the dead body. “Clement. I was just coming to you. See, someone broke into my room. We have to tell your manager, and the police.”

I saw them look at each other.

“Where you go?” Clement asked me. Now I had a good look at his friend. He was over six feet tall, with a clean-shaven head and red eyes that remained fixed on me. I was sweating. I said I had been to Munirat’s to eat.

“Dem steal your thing?” He was trying to trap me, he was waiting to see if I’d mention the money or not. I made a show of hesitating before mentioning it.

“Well, there was some money, a lot of money.”

“Ehh, money? How much?”

“It was a lot. It was Papa John’s money. He gave me to keep and now I don’t know how to tell him when he wakes up.” I sat down on the bed acting distraught. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Wait,” Clement said. They went outside to whisper. Through the door crack I could see the hefty man talking, one hand on Clement’s shoulder. I looked toward the open window, telling myself it was just one floor down, and if I trusted in my legs . . . But they returned before my legs could obey.

“Let’s go to the office.” It was the first time the other man was speaking to me. His voice was low, gruff. “You can write a statement for me. I am the manager.” There was an amused smile on his lips. I doubted if he was the manager, but he seemed to be the brains of the duo.

“Come,” he said, his eyes still fixed on my face, his hands hidden in his pocket. I imagined the knife slicing into Papa John’s face and hands. Clement threw my things into my bag and led the way. They put me in the middle, and all the way to the barroom I could hear the heavy tread of the man’s feet behind me. The office behind the counter was also a bedroom, Clement’s bedroom, and against one wall was a bed with a thin mattress and rumpled sheets that looked as if they hadn’t been washed in a long time. There were empty crates of beer in one corner, a desk, a window, and a chair. The man pushed me into the chair, and then he opened the desk drawer and took out a pen. He looked around for a paper in the files and books on the desktop, but there was no paper.

“Get me some paper,” he said to Clement.

“Paper don finish,” Clement said.

“Go and buy some then, and hurry, we don’t have all day,” he said angrily. He sat on the bed. It was stormy outside, the wind banging the window loudly against the wall. He stared intently at me; I lowered my head, avoiding his merciless eyes. He is going to kill me, I kept telling myself, I am going to die. He wanted me to write a statement before killing me, but why? Why not kill me straightaway and dump the body in some dry well and nobody would know. I should scream, make a break for the door, but I knew that I couldn’t make it; the bed was nearer the door than my chair, and even if I made it through the door, I wouldn’t make it past the counter before he got me.

“You saw the old man, didn’t you?” he asked. The pretense was over. He bent over and dragged out the red bag from under the bed. He waved it up and down.

“You did know we have the money, didn’t you?”

I said nothing.

“Diaz. What a stupid name.”

All I could think of was the old man’s mutilated body upstairs, and the contorted agony on his face. We sat in silence broken only by the violence of the wind on the window. Just then a loud knock sounded on the outside door. He ignored it, but it came again, louder, and after a while we heard the door creaking open. Clement was back. “Don’t move,” the man growled before going out. I heard voices. It was not Clement. It was an early customer garrulously asking for a beer.

“Go away,” the man said. He was at the counter, and from where I sat his back looked as insurmountable as a city wall. I opened my mouth to scream for help, but just then the wind blew harder against the window, and when I stood up I could see the road. There were the endless danfo buses, and across the road were the dark, cave-like doorways and alleyways. With my heart racing I realized that the window was big enough for me to pass through. I could stand on the bed and make it through and across the road and into one of the alleyways before the hefty man left the counter. And if I put all my trust in my legs, I could snatch the red bag from the bed as I went. This time my legs obeyed. I started running as soon I landed in the grass outside; the wind was two giant hands under my arms, lifting me up and hurling me forward.

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