I begged them. I gave them money. They took my money and left with my phone also.
My head weighed a ton on my shoulders as I watched them make off with my phone in broad daylight. Inside my head was a swirl of confusing thoughts.
I felt like some stupid coward. I shouldn’t have made it so easy for them; I should have fought back. I should have risked getting stabbed in the guts.
Let me back up a bit and fill you in on how this all went down.
It happened last month in Douala, Cameroon, near the end of December (27th December, around 4 pm to be precise.)
Two guys were walking behind me in a narrow street that almost looked like a corridor. They made a noise that was intended to get my attention. I slowed down and looked back. One of them said to me, “Are you just deaf or you want to show us how proud you are? Is Emma not your name ?” He said this in French. I would have welcomed far ruder words in English.
I looked the two of them over. The one who had spoken was the bigger of the two. He seemed to be at an age with me but his companion looked a year or two younger. I ignored his rude words. I looked behind them and saw no one who might have called me; besides, Emma isn’t my name.
“No, that’s not my name” I replied and then turned and continued walking home. They approached me and began to ask for new year’s gifts. I told them I would find something for them but only when the new year has finally come. I continued walking; they kept following close behind me. A short pause ensued in which nobody spoke.
Then all of a sudden, the big one pounced on my hand as a cat would on a rat. He wrenched my phone free from my grip and put it in his pocket. The two of them then closed in on me on both sides. “Who the hell do you think you are? Do you even know who we are? We own this quarter, ask anybody around here they will tell you. You are one of ‘em Bamendas, aren’t you? I could put a knife in your stomach right now and nothing would happen.”
Oh thunder, where are you? He called me a ‘Bamenda’.
(Bamenda simply means I am from the English speaking region of Cameroon. Some people from the french region regard us in this way with hate and disdain because the English region has been seeking independence because they are being marginalized.)
At this point, my heart started palpitating. I looked around for help and saw a few other boys who were mending shoes a few yards off. I thought of shouting for help but feared that they might all be a team, and calling for their help would only make matters worse for me. I relied on bidding my time and hoping they would notice and come to my aid of their own accord. They didn’t.
I turned to the one who just took my phone and said, “Bros, take it easy naw. Just give me the phone, I will find something for you guys right now.” He insisted I give the thing first. I drew a 2,000 FCFA note from my pocket and gave it to them. I thought he would give my phone after that but they said the money I just gave was for one person; and asked that I give the other, too. I told them that was all the money I had but they wouldn’t have any of that.
To cut the story short, I finally gave them another 2,000 FCFA and they took it and left with my phone also.
For a minute, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. As they left, I kept thinking about my phone. My two SIM cards. My pictures. Those pictures number up to a thousand; I would never see one of them again. My stomach irked. My blood boiled.
I turned to the guys who had been mending shoes and one of them kept warning me not to follow because it was dangerous. His warnings only irritated me the more. So you guys actually saw it happen and did nothing.
I walked up to them and started giving them this big speech about how they should have helped a brother in a difficult situation; asking them what kind of world they are fostering by standing by and doing nothing while evil men prevail against the innocent; beckoning them to marshal their numbers and charge after the thieves.
I regretted that speech immediately after giving it. For after I’d finished, I saw nothing but quiet pity in their eyes. This made me feel even more pathetic.
I resolved that, perhaps, what they needed was motivation. I declared a bounty then and there: “I am willing to pay 20,000 FCFA this very instant to whoever brings my phone back.”
They said nothing for about a minute. Then the oldest among them rose to the occasion and started listing his qualifications to me. He said he knew the guys very well. To him, they were just kids in the quarter. He could go to their den and with just a little bit of chastisement and negotiations, he could get me back my phone.
I gave him 10,000 frs and assured him that I would give him the rest when he returns with my phone. I gave him a number to call. He assured me that I would have my phone before the sun goes down that very day; then he went on his mission.
Poor me, I never heard from him again.
The rest of that day I was fuming. My blood boiled with indignation and a mad rage.
You may laugh if you want, but I began to think back on all those Jackie Chan movies I’ve watched. Have I learned nothing of fighting from those movies? Three Jackie Chan moves would have sufficed, just THREE; and I would have incapacitated them. But of course, one thinks these things only after it has already happened.
Now, I know there is this thing called Caution; but there is also this thing called Fear. Fear got the better of me. I said at the beginning how I should have fought back and you might think this a reckless move. You would be right and if I were put in the situation again, I would err on the side of caution. But I would say that I also made it too easy for them.
When I heard the word knife, a shiver went down my spine. They probably read this fear from my body language and the tremor in my voice. This is where I failed. It made them grow even bolder. I can bet they didn’t even have a knife. They just said it to intimidate me, else they would have removed the knife already.
I said there were other guys mending shoes around the premise but those were not all the people around. There were other people too, traders. They were not that close but if I’d screamed my lungs out, they would have come to my help.
Anyways, I guess when it is past one can say anything about it now but it wouldn’t matter.
The fear I felt and my reaction to this incidence raised some deep questions in my mind. Do I love this life so much? Do I fear death so much? The answers to these questions didn’t seem right for me and I felt I needed to take a second look at my life. To see where that fear is coming from and to strangle it before it gets the better of me again.