Fighter (Part 3)
“Karate kid, what happened? Do you still fight?”
I was in my thirties, and I was about forty pounds heavier than I had been during my late teens. Truth be told, I preferred my new stature as it was deemed more respectable, especially since I moved back to Nigeria. Those who hadn’t seen me since my teenage days asked the Karate kid question, after looking me up and down, and then down and up. In response, I smiled. It had been years since I was involved in an altercation.
One sweltering afternoon in Lagos’ bumper-to-bumper traffic, I found myself sitting idly behind the wheel on a narrow two-lane road, for too long because cars on my lane had not crawled an inch. Jazz music and a blast of cool breeze from the air conditioner calmed my nerves, insulating me from annoying drivers, street beggars, and aggressive roadside vendors hawking an ever-growing array of products from snacks to area rugs for the living room.
While daydreaming about the delicious home-cooked meal that awaited me, I glanced at my left side-view mirror and saw a 1970s style Land Rover open pickup, which was often used to transport sand and gravel. It was approaching at top speed on the wrong lane. Ahead, an overloaded lorry chugged up the left lane. It occurred to me that at some point the crazy driver was going to have to enter the right lane in order for the massive lorry to pass.
I watched as he tried to cut into the right lane three cars ahead of me, but he was promptly denied. He then tried to outmaneuver the two cars in front of me, but the drivers successfully denied him entrance too. With each attempt, he became more aggressive, using his rickety pickup, which looked like it had eczema, to push the cars ahead of me further and further off the shoulder until they were almost climbing the kerb to avoid his advances. By this time, the lorry was within striking zone and blaring its horn Lagos style. It was a warning signal understood by all: my brakes are dodgy; I will not stop, and will certainly hit you if you are in my way.
Since it was paramount that he get out of the lorry’s way, the battle to cut in front of me ensued. Riding in my black-on-black Range Rover Sport, which was in mint condition, I decided to yield and allow him in. As he slipped in front of me, three things happened that immediately changed the climate in my car.
First, his buddy on the passenger side was cheering him on. Second, I noticed a sticker on the rear windshield that read: Nobody can stop me. Third, I realized that my right tire had entered a hole and I had to reverse skillfully to avoid being stuck. I went from cool to livid in less than three seconds. The bully’s bully had been bullied by a tout! I decided it was time to exchange some words and maybe explain the virtues of patience to him.
Immediately our lane opened up and cars moved forward, I maneuvered around him and cut him off. I left my door ajar and walked swiftly to his vehicle. Recognizing my intent, people cheered me because they had witnessed his bullishness. At traffic gridlocks in Lagos, usually a few decide they are above the law and can chance others by jumping the queue. As I approached his pickup, he started to curse me out, and in the middle of his rant, I heard the word ajebutter. Dressed in a spotless white shirt, blue khaki pants, and brown suede loafers, and driving the sort of vehicle I did, I could see how he mislabeled me. But it was his unapologetic demeanor that drove me over the edge. All the blood in my body rushed to my brain.
I opened the door of his vehicle, reached in, undid his seatbelt, picked him up by the neck, and lifted him out, all in very quick succession. Only then did I realize that he was quite muscular, the kind of muscles you can only get from manual labor. He then tried to grab me, so I let go and stepped back. I asked him to apologize to me and the others present for his unruly behavior. Instead, he swung at me with his right hand. As I blocked his hand, my reflexes kicked in and I slapped him. With the crowd on my side, I launched into how-dare-you-go-one-way-and-have-the-audacity-to-be-so-unrepentant-after you-almost-ran-me-over mode. The crowd screamed at him to apologize, but he lunged towards me. From the corner of my eye, I saw his stunned buddy rush out of the vehicle with a wrench. I slapped him again.
To my amazement (and horror), his head went straight to the floor and his legs dangled in the opposite direction, in the air. He flipped over two more times until he crumbled and almost folded into the gutter. I had not merely slapped him; I had hit him with a partial karate chop.
The crowd switched camp immediately.
“What did he do to you to deserve such!” one woman belted out.
“Oh no, you want to cause irreparable damage to another human being!” A middle-aged foreigner screamed.
But it was the last yell and the fact that he was not moving that had me very worried.
“Oh my God, you have killed him!” an elderly man shouted.
I turned to his buddy. Like the driver, he was wearing a pair of dirty-white shorts and singlet. With mouth agape, he dropped the wrench, fell to his knees, and started begging me. His eyes went from fierce to sad, almost puppy-like as we both looked in the direction of the aggressor turned victim. We rushed toward him.
With the crowd accusing and abusing me, we checked his vitals and revived him slowly. After the dust cleared, I walked to my car, a lone shadow in the afternoon sun. There were no cheers, no accolades, no prizes, only regret.
This story is for every entrepreneur who has made a costly mistake, and if you haven’t already you will. Good, even heroic, intentions combined with rash actions birth unwelcome consequences. The lessons are to make amends, forgive yourself, and grow from the experience.
After all these years, Lagos traffic hasn’t changed, but I have.
How have you grown from a self-inflicted setback on your entrepreneurial journey?
So share your ‘fighter’ stories. I would love to hear them!