Here’s a short story I based on the classic by Russian master Leo Tolstoy, How Much Land Does A Man Need. Hope you enjoy it. Wrote it to clear the writer’s block I was experiencing while attempting to write Monday’s episode of Broken Mirrors.
Jaja hated his job. Everyday, he woke up at four in the morning and didn’t get back into the house before eleven. And what did he do daily? He counted the money and kept the inventory for the owner of the small microfinance bank, with the prestigious title “Chief Accountant”. But with a salary that was barely enough to take him home, he could only afford a house in one of the border towns, while he journeyed into Victoria Island daily. And the owner of the company where he worked didn’t get in before ten every morning in spite of the fact that he lived in an estate which was a walking distance from the office.
So that morning, as he was in the throes of the final sequence of his dress-up routine, putting on his neck-tie, he grumbled out loud
“If I had half of all the money in Nigeria, even the devil could not take away my happiness”
Now it happened that just as Jaja spoke those words, the devil himself was passing by and he heard them. So he decided to stop by and take the speaker up.
Quite suddenly, the devil appeared beside Jaja, startling him. He greeted politely “Good morning Mr. Jaja”.
Jaja looked at the well dressed gentleman in a kaftan and cap that stood in his parlor and took two steps back,
“Who are you? How did you know my name? Have we met before? Why are you here? And how did you get into my house?” he asked a torrent of questions
“Ah, Mr. Jaja, you called me as I was passing by and I heard you call my name. Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said, removing his cap. “My name is Lucifer, but some people would call me the devil. And I’d like to take you up on your offer.”
Jaja recoiled into a corner, as far away from the man as possible “if this is a joke, stop it o!”
“Joke?” the man raised an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe you’ll find me more recognizable in this form.” With that, the fine clothes disappeared, and the cap gave way to horns. A tail appeared between his legs and his face became reptilian. His skin, drawn out now became the red of glowering coals. And then, in another instant, the monster was gone and the gentleman stood before Jaja again.
“How would you like to have as much of the money in this country as you can have? Think of all the trillions you hear them talk about on the TV daily. All you need to do is want it, and it’s yours.”
Now Jaja was afraid, truly afraid. But even as he heard the devil speak, he felt something move in his heart. He really wanted it. And that something told him if he could have as much as was possible, he would be able to outsmart this devil and keep some.
“Everything?” he asked haltingly.
The devil smiled, a smile that looked extremely endearing and said “yes, everything.” And, to ensure I keep my word, here’s a contract. He waved his hand and poof, two copies of a contract appeared in his hands, pre-signed Lucifer, and with Jaja’s name printed as the second signatory.
“Please take a few minutes to read and then sign only if you are satisfied with my terms.”
Jaja glanced through the contract. He smiled in spite of his fear. The terms were in his favor. He could have whatever he money he wanted within Nigeria, no matter how much. He had to know about the money and want it, so monies he was unaware of he couldn’t get. He had to be specific, he couldn’t just say “I want all the money in Nigeria,” and get it. He had to name specific monies. And the contract lasted only till nightfall, any money he had as at nightfall would remain his own. The moment he decided he was going to sign and began to look for a pen, his signature suddenly appeared on the contract.
“Ah, Mr. Jaja, I see you have decided to take my offer. A very wise choice, I must say. A copy of the contract will remain with you, and I’ll take my copy. I’ll see you at sunset.”
With that, he was gone, as suddenly as he had appeared.
Jaja didn’t feel anything after the devil left. He had thought he would feel different or get some heightened sense of perception or something. Nothing happened.
By the time he got to work, he was convinced that he must either have been dreaming or imagined what he thought he saw.
He opened the balance sheet of his bank to start work and eyed what the bank was worth, comparing it to his own worth. “Kai, two billion. If only I had that kind of money, life would be different!”
It wasn’t five minutes after he said this that the owner came in. Jaja jumped to his feet and said “good morning sir,” wondering what he had done to warrant such a sudden visit.
“Sit down Jaja,” he said, taking a seat too.
“Look, Jaja,” he continued “you have served me faithfully over the years, and I’m relocating to Europe to face my business there. I don’t want anything tying me up to Nigeria, so I’m transferring ownership of this bank to you. Do your best with it. The lawyer has filed papers already and you don’t have to do anything.”
The man got up to leave a stunned Jaja, and then as if he forgot something turned and dropped the keys to his Range Rover. “That’s yours too.” And then he left.
Immediately, the executive secretary came into his office to lead him to the MD’s office and then brought papers for Jaja to sign. Five minutes later, he was alone in the office, reclined on the huge chair, feet on the polished mahogany table. Then he began to laugh wildly. It was really working. It hadn’t been a dream, he was really getting it. And he would best the devil, because he would go for the biggest cake there was. Where better to get this than the central bank.
He quickly began to go through the CBN website on the executive laptop. Yes! Eureka! He had found what he was looking for. In one swoop, he would make all the money outside of no effect and own all the real money with this his plan, effectively making himself emperor of Nigeria. Now he kicked himself. Why hadn’t he asked for the whole world in bargaining with the devil? Anyway, he would make do with this for now.
“I want the cash in circulation to require my physical signature to be valid. All cash must be brought for my signature. Oh, and the cash is two trillion naira, and I will have half of it as the contract says after I sign.”
Instantly, there was a knock on the door, and the CBN governor came in.
“Mr. Jaja sir,” he said, “the first of the bullion vans are here for your signature.”
He laughed ecstatically. “Bring them in!” he said, punching the air.
And so stacks and stacks of money came in. And as he signed, one would be kept for him, and the other would be taken back to the central bank. And the money kept coming in. And he kept signing. And signing. And signing. Until his pile grew to almost fill the huge office, yet he kept signing. His hands ached, but he didn’t stop. His belly grumbled but he kept signing. His legs began to get numb, but oh, Jaja didn’t stop signing. When the secretary brought in lunch, he shouted at her and fired her for interrupting his signing. When his wife called, he ignored the call. After all, he was signing. Everything else didn’t matter, he was signing!
On the top of each hour, as time passed, the clock in the room chimed, counting which hour of the day had just been passed. And with each hour, the greed gnawed away at Jaja’s heart, driving him to keep signing.
The clock chimed and counted six. And almost immediately, the devil appeared again.
“Mr. Jaja, I see your pile has grown tremendously during this day. You seem to have done very well for yourself. You’re not quite at half of all the money in Nigeria yet, but then, a deal’s a deal, so this is all you get. Now, I’ll leave you to enjoy what is your, yeah? But we should shake hands like honorable beings that we both are before I depart finally.”
Jaja thought he would be happy at the end of the day, but he felt exactly the opposite. Now, a million and one smarter ways he could have obtained this money rather than the silly signing he had been doing came to him. And now the opportunity was gone. He attempted to get up from the seat to go and shake the devil’s hands. A searing pain shot through him as the blood tried to rush into his numb legs. It was as he attempted to stand up that he realized just how exhausted he was. His body was worn out, and it protested the sudden exertion and he fell back into the chair. As he fell, the devil smiled that smile again. And that was the last thing he remembered, for he died as soon as he hit the chair.