No matter how unfair life in Augusta seemed to become, Taiwo Olan never blamed the city.
Not when a mother stabbed her children to death in his convenience store bathroom in 2007. Not even when he tried to start over with a new shop on Laney-Walker Boulevard, and intruders robbed him 12 times in one year.
Born in Nigeria, Olan came to Augusta in 2002 after living in Atlanta for almost two decades. He hoped the move would allow him to grow a business to support his two young daughters, but instead it taught him how to see the goodness in life despite what seemed like endless cruelty.
“I’ve had bad luck in this city, but I’m a survivor,” he said. “The only one I fear,” he points his index finger to the sky and pauses, “is my Almighty God. My life is in no man’s hands. It’s in God’s hands.”
The moment that changed Olan’s life was when he walked into his convenience store on Lumpkin Road four years ago and saw blood seeping from under the bathroom door.
When police finished with the crime scene, Olan took a hose and bleach to the floor, hoping to scrub away the memories of that day along with the stench of death.
Hours earlier, Jeannette Michelle Hawes, 22, suffered a mental breakdown and stabbed her two children to death inside the bathroom while customers paid for potato chips and gasoline outside.
Almost immediately after the slaying, customers didn’t want to be anywhere near where those two babies died.
Olan went from $5,000 a day in sales to barely $300.
He tried to calm his customers’ fears. Members of the nearby Alleluia Community joined hands in the parking lot and prayed for his business.
But nothing seemed to make people forget.
“Customers said the place was evil,” Olan said. “They said there’s bad spirits, and immediately people said they are not coming back.”
A year later, when he missed enough payments, the property’s owner asked him to leave.
Olan found another shop on Laney-Walker Boulevard in 2009 where he thought he could start fresh.
While running the business, he was commuting every day to be able to spend time with his family who lived in Atlanta.
Nearly once a month, when he’d arrive at the store in the morning from Atlanta, Olan would find the door broken in or a window shattered. Burglars would steal his cigarettes, cigars, food, “anything they could take,” he said.
Pawnee Shaw lived near Laney-Walker and would stop in Olan’s store almost every day for snacks.
She saw customers “cuss him out for no reason.” She saw the scenes after the break-ins and wondered why.
“They did him real bad,” Shaw said. “Maybe it’s because he was an outsider, not from here, I don’t know. People were jealous of him. He is a good man, always made me feel safe, so I don’t get it.”
Olan rented a unit in Providence Place apartments to be closer to his business. One day after work, as he was putting the key into his apartment door, two men ran up to him with a baseball bat and smashed it over his head and back, sending him to the hospital for stitches in what police later told him was an attempted burglary.
As soon as he was well enough to leave the hospital, Olan applied for a gun permit and bought a handgun. Even then, he was too late.
Days after leaving the hospital, he walked into his store to find the 12th burglary that year. This time, intruders smashed in the roof to attack from above. It was at that moment that Olan had enough.
While living in Atlanta in the ’90s, Olan had gotten into the taxi cab business. He had maintained his taxis part-time when he moved to Augusta and decided in 2009 to delve into the business full-time.
The more hours he put in, the more he saw his Speedy Cab of Augusta business grow. Olan now sometimes works 15-hour days, roaming Broad Street on Friday nights for partyers needing a ride or shuttling to the airport to give travelers a lift home.
Olan has grown his taxi business to a four-car fleet with one assistant driver. And while he’d like to see his business grow, Olan said he feels happy when he gets behind the wheel each day.
In his attempts to survive, at no point has Olan thought of running away.
“I won’t leave Augusta because I want to grow with this city,” he said. “I work for my kids. I sacrifice.”
While he’s driving around Augusta offering people rides, his mind sometimes wanders to the day in 2007 when his life changed. He thinks about Hawes, the mother who would come into his store often, and those two children she always lugged behind her.
Then his thoughts go back to his own children and his work, and he can’t help but feel blessed.
“This is life. You can’t say because of this or that you’re not going to do the right thing and keep going,” he said. “Nothing is permanent. You just have to keep going.”