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The Life Changer Chapter Three By Khadija Abubakar Jalli – JAMB Book
There was a long interminable silence in my narration. I could sense my children wanted to ask a
thousand and one questions. But each and every one of them was lost in their own thoughts. In fact
their silence reminded me of my own silence twenty years ago when my husband made that revelation.
For a long while I could not utter a single word. Then, after what seemed like eternity, I sighed and told
my husband to go to Dr. Samjohn and personally apologise on my behalf. I could not see myself going
back to the school to face my HOD after my inexcusable behaviour.
My husband understood my plight and agreed. The next week when I chanced upon Dr. Samjohn on the
corridor, he greeted me jovially as if nothing ever happened. But then, he was right. Nothing ever
happened. It took a while for me to wrestle with my conscience and convince myself that indeed
nothing happened. And life went on as usual.
“Mum, what about the quiet one?” Omar asked.
“The quiet one? Oh, the story my husband told me about our neighbour?” “Yes, mummy let’s hear that
one.” All my girls seemed eager to hear that story.
I stood up to let the blood circulate to my lower limbs then resumed my seat and recounted to them the
story of the quiet one as my husband told me.
I looked at Omar in the face and told him that the tale I was about to tell would be more relevant to him
since he was the one leaving our tiny community to a bigger city. He should not judge people on the face
value. Never judge a book by its cover. And he must learn to trust sparingly. You do not just trust
everybody you meet.
I reminded them that in our little town, almost everyone knew everyone else. In Lafayette, the tradition
had since been established that no stranger was hosted or given accommodation without the
knowledge and approval of the District Head, the Hakimi. The wisdom of this tradition was to ensure
that no criminal or fugitive from justice was harboured or accommodated in the village. Our culture of
neighbourliness was superlative.
This was contrary to what obtained in the town. In the town everybody came and went as they pleased.
Indeed, it was not inconceivable that two people living on the same street, or even next door
neighbours could live for years without knowing who the other person was. In Lafayette the story was
different. Everybody knew everybody else. In the case of the quiet one, everybody knew when he was
born, or more precisely the circumstance of his birth.
His parents were bona fide citizens of Lafayette and they were known to be a very pious and humble
couple. For several years after they were married they did not have children. It appeared, so the elders
said, when they were about giving up, they consulted the services of a formidable boka, a traditional
medicine man, and their wishes were granted. People give different interpretations to what actually
While some believed that the boka gave them some potent concoction for instant fertility, others
believed that he was indeed the one who fathered the child. In either case, Talle was the result. He was
called Talle on account that shortly after his birth, his mother died. Thus the secret of how he was
fathered remained a secret. His father married another woman who also did not give birth to any child.
So she helped in the upbringing of Talle.
Talle was not called the quiet one at birth. It was his reticent nature while growing up that earned him
the title. He was never known to have engaged in fisticuffs with anyone even as a young lad. He
withdrew into himself. And this silent character stood him in good stead whenever issues of
responsibility arose in the community. He was barely twenty years old when he lost both his father and
stepmother in a car accident. This compounded his state and he withdrew further into himself.
Talle was alone. Literally alone. He had no one to consult or to speak to. No one knew what he did with
his evenings and nights, but from eight o’clock in the morning to four o’clock in the evening, he would
go to work at the Local Government Office, where he served as a driver.
At the office, he was always on the first row during prayers. He was so dedicated to his piety that people
actually believed that there was something about him that indicated holiness. Talle never argued on any
issues; he hardly disagreed with anyone even if he was right. He never raised his voice on any one. That
was how he got the appellation of the quiet one.
Then one day, just one day, things stopped being quiet for Talle.
He had unwittingly established a pattern in his market purchases over the years to the extent that the
grocery stores he patronized knew at once what he was coming to buy. It thus became curious when
suddenly the grocers discovered for over a week now, Talle’s requirement doubled. The people knew he
was alone and could not possibly consume all the items he was buying all by himself. One of them
thought it was wise to call the attention of the District Head.
When Talle was summoned, he gave himself away by his very inability to answer the simple questions
put forward by the Hakimi, the District Head. The session began ordinarily but ended with a sad
dramatic twist. “What did you buy in the market today, Talle?” the Hakimi asked.
“It was, er. a few, er, a few measures of rice and some palm oil.” Talle was fidgety and seemed suddenly
ill at ease.
“What precisely did you need a few measures of rice for? Your customer here said you used to buy just a
measure which lasts you a few days. The measure of gari you also used to buy suddenly doubled.”
“Yes, Your Highness. But I just thought I should buy plenty so I would not suffer want in the event I have
“So where do you get all the money to make these purchases now?” Talle bowed his head and
studiously looked at the ground, the posture of an archaeologist who suddenly had a gut feeling that
something precious was hidden under the very ground he stood on. He stood there mute.
The people were getting restless. They seemed to think as one that this was the one moment when the
silence of the quiet one was not a virtue. He had better speak.
Just then there was a loud commotion coming from outside the gate of the District Head. There was a
loud siren, as of a police vehicle or that of a military escort which came to stop outside the entrance of
the Hakimi’s residence. In fact, it was not one, but three police vans that came to stop outside the gate.
The villagers were first mesmerised by this rare forceful movement and they became alarmed. It was an
unholy sight. And given the speed with which they came and parked before the entrance of the Hakimi’s
residence, the whole thing spelt something ominous. This had never happened in the history of
Lafayette community. People thus surged to find out what was going on.
On hearing the siren from outside, Talle sprang up and bolted into the Hakimi’s house. The courtiers
pursued him and brought him back. This act of attempting to run, confirmed to the people that if
nothing else, Talle was guilty of something. But guilty of what? Nobody knew.
“What’s wrong with you man? Why are you suddenly scared of a siren?” one of the courtiers asked.
Before Talle could respond, three policemen, armed to the teeth, barged in on the Hakimi and his
“Is this the palace of Hakimin Lafayette?” one of the mean looking policemen asked. “Yes.” The Hakimi
replied simply and added, “I am the Hakimi.”
“We are looking for one of your subjects in connection with kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion.”
“That is impossible,” the Hakimi said. “We are a quiet and peace loving people here. Our community has
never apprehended even a common thief, let alone a kidnapper.”
“Well, well, we learnt differently.” The policeman turned to one of his colleagues and said, “Go and
bring Zaki in here.”
“Zaki?” Everybody was shocked as Talle repeated the name. He swooned and fell. Those who observed
at close range noticed that he actually urinated on his person. “Do you have a person named Talle in this
“Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihir raji’un.” The Courtier said. “We did not ask you for any supplication, the
police officer said sarcastically.
“That was more of a pious resignation to reality,” the Hakimi said and added, “It means from Allah we
came and unto him is our returning.” “Let your man spare me his Arabic lessons. Do you have a guy
named Talle here or don’t you? And why is this guy sprawled on the floor?” the policeman was
impatience personified. He did not even give the Hakimi the respect strangers supposed to accord him.
“That is the Talle you are asking after?” one of the courtiers volunteered.
“Oh, in that case our search is over.” The policeman now turned to the Hakimi and said, “Who can take
us to his house?” “He will do that himself. But what is all this about?” “We told you that this man is an
accessory to kidnapping and extortion.”
Just then, the other policeman that was sent to bring Zaki came back dragging an obviously battered
Zaki who was chained arms and legs. On the sight of the chained and manacled Zaki, Talle doubled over
and, if that were possible, fainted a second time.
“Get up, my friend,” the policeman said curtly brandishing a kick at Talle’s middle.
Talle staggered up and immediately began declaring his innocence.
“Believe me, officer, I am innocent.” Talle said. “It was Zaki’s idea. He was the one who said they had a
neighbour in town…” “Shut up, my friend. Nobody asked you anything. Just take us to the house, your
house” the policeman growled. The Hakimi was beside himself with confusion. He had never before
witnessed anything like this. And he had been Hakimi in Lafayette for over thirty years. And, come to
think of it, if any act of misdeed were to be suspected in this humble village, Talle was the last person
that would come to anybody’s mind. Now it appeared Talle was not only neck deep in whatever he was
being accused, he was even trying to rationalize it. God, you really never know with men. Who would
have thought… but what was it really that they had done?
“Excuse me, officer,” the Hakimi cleared his throat.
“Yes?” The policeman turned to the Hakimi.
“Whatever it is that this man here would have done, it is expedient that you take a witness from here so
that we can explain his absence to those who may wish to know something about his whereabouts.”
“Please yourself, Hakimi.” But I can assure you that this man here would be absent for a very long time.”
“Who among you wants to follow them to town to report what is happening there?” the Hakimi turned
to his courtiers and other members of the community who had earlier trooped in to complain that Talle
was observed buying more foodstuff than he was used to buying. They had observed the trend for
almost one week before they decided to take action.
The people cringed and turned their gaze away from the Hakimi. “Well, then,” the policeman said,
“since nobody is following us to town, we would adequately inform you through the Hakimi whatever
happened later.” He then turned to Zaki.
“Is this the Talle you told us about?” he asked.
The policeman raised his baton, “Can’t you talk?” “Yes, yes. He is the one. That is Talle.”
“Ok. Let’s go.”
Two other police constables dragged Talle up and whisked him out of the Hakimi’s residence and into
the waiting police van. As they drove slowly towards Talle’s house, the people, hitherto reluctant to
follow Talle to town, now willingly followed the police vehicles to Talle’s house.
Once there, the policemen followed Talle into the house and shortly thereafter came out with a young
boy of no more than thirteen years old. Talle was already handcuffed. He was hoisted unto the waiting
vehicle where Zaki was and the boy sat in the front seat with the leading police officer who obviously
was the IPO, the Investigating Police Officer.
The vehicles zoomed off and left Lafayette as hurriedly as they entered. That was the last anybody in the
community saw of Talle. There was a rumour going on some years later that he was sighted in the
border town up north where smuggling thrived. This rumour was however unconfirmed and it fizzled
out as fast as it started.
Of course the Hakimi reported that the IPO sent a message detailing what happened in the Talle saga.
Talle and his fellow conspirators were sentenced to some years of imprisonment with hard labour for
kidnapping and extortion. The story the police told was intriguing in its simplicity. Talle was pressed for
money and he went to town on a weekend and he met Zaki. Zaki had a better idea.
He told Talle that at the GRA, there was this businessman friend of his who would always be seen driving
with his son in his car. If they could abduct the son, Zaki was sure the father would pay anything for
ransom. Somehow the boy was drugged and abducted and in the middle of the night they brought the
boy to Talle’s house in Lafayette and kept him for one week before the police came and freed the boy.
The boy’s father had been contacted and warned never to involve the police. The father reasoned that
the kidnappers were amateurs since their asking price was one million and later came down to two
hundred and fifty thousand naira. Zaki was arrested at the point of collecting the ransom.
“Wow. That is some story, mum.” Omar said. “It appears to be a general admonition to all of us. Why do
you say it is of particular interest to me?”
I smiled and said, “My son, you are like that young boy in the story. You are going to the university. Do
not trust anyone.”
“I understand. Of course you will make friends and all that. Just be careful.”
“If he likes, let him trust everybody,” Teemah said.
“Yes, I know what you will do. But whatever you would do, don’t get mixed with bad company.”
“Like kidnappers, mum?”
“Nope. Like cultists and those who engage in EMAL.”
“EMAL. Exams malpractice.”
“Oh, it was an acronym too?” “It has many names.
“Surely, I will avoid that.”
“You remember Salma?” Bint raised her hand as if attempting to answer a question in the classroom.
“Yes, my dear?”
“Salma is that student who embarrassed herself during your registration.”
I was impressed. “Clap for my Bint.” The others clapped half-heartedly.
“Well, if you remember, by her confession, our school was not her first,” I said.
“How did you know, mum?”
“She told me. We later became friends. It was exams malpractice that drove her out of the university.”
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