By the time Yosi woke up in the morning, his brother had gone out. His brother’s senior wife served him and the children food. Yosi told his children of the arrangement with his brother. He painted a very bright future of them as quarry contractors. Like all children, the boys believed their father. The youngest one asked if they would be going to the quarries after school as they used to do in the village when they helped out on the farms. This was very difficult for Yosi to explain. He gently told them that they would not be going to school anymore. They would be going every morning to work in the quarries with their uncle.
Oye returned in the afternoon just before lunch. He was excited. After lunch, he told his brother that he had been able to find a solution for his daughters. He had discussed with a used-clothes dealer - a woman that he had known for many years. The woman had agreed to take one of the girls as an apprentice used-clothes seller. The woman promised to speak with two other friends - a fish-seller and a yam-seller to take on the other daughters. Oye reassured Yosi that he would personally see that the girls were well treated. The girls too would be earning money while learning their respective trades. He told Yosi that he would be paid one-year’s wages of the girls’ apprenticeship whenever he brought them over. Yosi explained to his brother again that it was the safety and protection of his children that mattered to him, not the money. His brother promised to do his best to look after his nephews and nieces. Yosi promised to come back with the girls in a few days.
Oye drove Yosi in the tiny blue car to the motor park. On the way, he told Yosi that he would be willing and ready to assist other boys from the village to secure jobs in the quarries if their parents wanted them to come over to Ileokuta. He promised to give a little commission to Yosi for any boy that came through him. Yosi promised to speak with other parents in the village as soon as he got back.
Yosi arrived back in the village late at night. He recounted the events of the past two days to his wives and showed them the money his brother had given him. He divided the money in three equal parts. He took one part and gave his wives one part each. The wives, as mothers were very sad at the departure of their children. They expressed their concern, disapproval and disappointment that their children had become quarry apprentices. Yosi assured them that his brother had promised to look after the boys. He added that, it was better that the kids were far away from the clutches of “It” (meaning Gombii), rather than become its victims. The wives grudgingly conceded but declared that they would not allow their girls to leave the village. They insisted that their daughters would continue to go to school and if it was the will of the gods that they would all perish in the hands of Gombii, so be it. Yosi bought a bicycle with his share of the money. His wives bought new clothes for themselves and for their daughters.
Soon, all the villagers in the district got to know that Yosi’s sons were with his brother in Ileokuta, far away from the Gombii malediction. At first the requests came in trickles. A neighbour with two young sons asked Yosi to help him speak with his brother. He too would like his sons to work in the quarries. Yosi promised to send word to his brother. Within a week, more that ten parents had made the same request. Yosi sent word to his brother through the driver of the weekly bus to the village that he would be coming over with thirty boys from the village for apprenticeship in the quarries. Oye sent word back that he would personally come over to take the boys. There was no need for Yosi to bother himself. Yosi was worried that Gombii could afflict his brother if he came to the village, so, he decided to take the boys in group of tens to Oye in Ileokuta.
Very early one morning, Yosi left for Ileokuta with the first group of ten boys. They arrived in Ileokuta after sunset. Surprisingly, Oye was at home. The two brothers greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries. Yosi asked after his children, and the brother said they were doing very well and were in the quarries. Yosi handed the boys over to his brother. Oye immediately gave Yosi money for the boys’ parents; Oye also added Yosi’s commission. With business concluded, and after eating, Yosi asked if he could go and visit his sons in the quarries. His brother said he would have loved to take Yosi there, however, he had very important appointments that evening. He promised to take Yosi to the quarries at his next visit.
“But what time and do they return home if they are still in the quarries by this time?” Yosi asked his brother. There was a flash of anger in Oye’s eyes. He answered, “Look here, my brother. You have entrusted these children to me for training. I have given you money. I feed them. I house them. Don’t our elders say: ‘If you give a goat to someone, you must let go the cord?’ Your children, my nephews, are very safe with me.”
“I understand that. I am just asking what time they return home. And how do they find their way home? I do not think there is anything wrong in asking after my sons,” Yosi countered.
“They will come home. Do not worry,” Oye said evasively.
“When? What time? Oye, tell me. Where do my children sleep? When was the last time you saw them?” Yosi firmly demanded.
“Okay, I will tell you the truth. But you must not share this with any other person.”
“Your secrets are very safe with me,” Yosi assured.
In a flash, Yosi wondered if Oye had sold his sons. There had been rumours of ritualists buying children for sacrifices. Maybe Oye had made all his money selling children. Yosi shot his brother a stern look.
“You see, besides this family that you know, I have another family. I have two other wives living in another house that I built in a neighbourhood not too far from the quarries where the children are working. My wives here know nothing about the other women. That is why it is top secret. I decided to move the children to my other family so they will not have to trek long distances before and after work. The children are quite happy there. My wives are also happy to have them. They had been accusing me of hiding their existence to you and our cousins. Now they are happy that your children are staying with them.”
Yosi laughed. “But you should have told me, you little rascal! You must take me there when next I come to town so that I can meet your wives. Maybe with time, I will get to meet their families too.”
Oye nodded and apologised. “I did not know what you were going to say about it. Now I am happy, but please keep this strictly between us.”
Yosi returned back to the village. He gave the parents of the boys the money his brother had sent them in exchange for their sons’ labour in the quarries.
Five days later, Yosi assembled the second batch of ten boys and set off for Ileokuta. Shortly before arriving in Ileokuta, he was stopped by the Immigration services. The officers wanted to know where Yosi was taking the boys to. He explained to them that he was taking the boys to his brother, Oye, an important quarry contractor in Ileokuta. Yosi was arrested. The Immigration officers took him and the boys to their office, where Yosi was further interrogated. The officers went to look for Oye, but could not find him. Somehow, word had filtered to Oye that Yosi had been arrested for child trafficking. Oye rushed to the quarries, hid all his “apprentices” in the bush, and left town.
Yosi was charged to court. He was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labour. There was no option of fine. The boys were returned to their village by the Immigration officers.
The villagers were all convinced that Gombii was responsible for Yosi’s plight. They became more scared for their lives and for the lives of their children.. They were now more determined to send their children away from the village before Gombii wiped them out. They devised other means of sending their boys to Oye, who re-emerged from his hideout after Yosi’s conviction. He had learnt of the Gombii story in the village and he reinforced the fear of the villagers. He told them that Gombii was real. It was out to wipe out the entire district. He told them of the havoc and the desolation that Gombii had inflicted in a district in one far away country, where he had been based before he moved to his present location.
Almost all the young boys left the villages to work for Yosi’s brother who became immensely rich. Young girls were sent to work in the cities. Only old men and women now live in the village. They live on the money sent back home by their children working in the quarries.
In his second year in prison, Yosi learnt that two of his sons working in the quarries had died. They had been living in the quarries since he left them in Oye’s custody. Oye did not have a second family, neither did he have any house in the neighbourhood near the quarries. All the children Yosi had brought to Oye lived in the bush in the quarries. The children were poorly fed and often badly beaten up by their master. They could not run away, because they had been told by Oye that if they tried to escape, the Immigration Service of Ileokuta would catch them and put them in prison.
Yosi’s two wives packed out of his house. They both remarried.
Yosi hanged himself in his cell.
Globalisation, alias Gombii, had the last laugh.
Excerpts from "Gombii and Other Short Stories" By Abimbola Lagunju