Jaywalking in Lagos should be considered a suicide attempt. Half the drivers have no reliable brakes. Even those that do are pathologically disinclined to use them. (Facebook update)
–Igbokwe ‘theYakadude’ Ebuka
For a long time after my attack in May, I was very leery about stepping out of my house to go to work at any time before 6am. Even on those mornings when 6.30am still had the overcast look of dawn, I’d stay put, firmly so, inside my bedroom, waiting for the virgin brightness of the morning to part the skies.
Of course, that meant that I was either late coming to work, or arrived just in the nick of time, breathless and sweaty from the rush through the morning traffic. For quite some time, management understood, and then, as my scars healed, their patience withered. A call to the manager’s office later, and I knew it was time to get back some control over my fears.
That first morning when I stepped out into the chilly freshness of dawn, I was so tightly wound-up that a guitarist could have strummed music off my veins. It was 6:15, and it was dark enough that I needed the torchlight of my Nokia phone to navigate my way down the stairs. Rain had fallen sometime in the night, and so the atmosphere was moist. The nightly sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking in a distance had just begun to fade away as I started the trek for the expressway. My eyes – all of them, including the inner eye, outer eye, peripheral vision, side eye, corner eye, middle eye, every-every – were on full lookout alert. I swear, if a fly had so much as buzzed fifty yards away from me in the darkness, I’d have spotted it at once. And my ears, well, I could imagine them positioned, tips in the air like a rabbit tensely anticipating an ambush. The faint crunch of a stealthy footstep on the ground, and men! I was all set to run for my dear life. My strides were brisk as I hurried on along the deserted road until I got to the expressway, where there were a bunch of other commuters. Only then did I let out my pent-up sigh of relief.
As you should too. Seriously, guys, you can release that breath you’re holding. This episode of Lagos Diaries isn’t about another attack. Haba! Na winch? So relax, y’all. *wicked grin*
Anyway, I was at the junction, waiting for a bus going my way. The number of vehicles plying the highway was scanty, and the whoosh of the tires of those cars driving along the service lane lifted into the air fine sprays of the rainwater streaming across the road. A splash caught one suited guy on his impeccably-ironed trousers, and the young man let loose with a string of expletives, the ‘Your mama, God punish you’ kind that, I’m sure, will hound the driver to his dying day.
Morning had begun to stain the shadowed sky in splotches of gray when it happened.
I was standing in one corner of the service lane, still waiting for my bus, when I saw first one car, then the other, thundering down the road. The car in front was this weather-beaten, rugged-looking Toyota. Its driver was speeding. The car behind it was posher, a sleek, cream-coloured Cerato; its driver was speeding too, a touch faster than the driver in front. Now, the service lane is wide enough to accommodate two vehicles, moving side by side. Both drivers, of course knew this. But what the Cerato driver perhaps didn’t know, or hadn’t factored in at that moment, was that they were coming up towards the section of the lane where there was an outcropping of a small embankment, a concrete slab that separated the main road from that inner corner before the bus stop’s edifice that sheltered passengers waiting for buses and taxis.
If the Toyota had been moving, cleanly, on one side of the lane, perhaps what happened wouldn’t have occurred. But the car was moving dead-center on the road, leaving scant inches on its sides. Inches that a daredevil driver could risk and plough through without incident. Without that embankment in place, that is.
Now, I can’t imagine what the Cerato driver was thinking as he swerved to the Toyota’s right and attempted to overtake. He could clearly see the impossibility of the maneuver he was about to make. That space between the Toyota and the slab was just too damn narrow. But you know Lagos drivers, they all think they are road warriors, from those steering hefty trailers to the okada riders. Lagos drivers can be fearless.
And the Cerato driver clearly belonged in that ilk through and through.
You know how, moments before something bad happens, you see it about to happen? You see it rushing toward you. You’re certain it’s about to happen. And you can predict right down to the closest second when it will happen.
Well, I was standing somewhere, minding my own business, and I could see this one about to happen. The Cerato careened forward, and the driver, in all his foolish Monday morning glory, plunged into the narrow space between the Toyota and the slab. But you see, he was driving a car – a CAR! Not a motorcycle – and the traffic gods can be very merciless in their punishment of foolish driving. Expectedly, the right front tire slammed into the concrete, and the chrome wheel shrieked in protest as the metal was scraped against the asphalt. And he was speeding, so the force of the collision dislodged innumerable motor parts under there. I’d give you a comprehensive list, but I’m not very good with cars, let alone their parts. The shank (shebi that’s what it’s called?) must have been yanked out of position; the wheel exploded out of its alignment and shot into the air. Omo! See everybody taking cover as though the tire was this launched air missile flying towards a target.
The car itself followed with the kind of motion you see only in Hollywood action flicks. With a screech of metal against concrete and sparks flying, it was thrown into the air, not as high as the tire, and sideways, banging into the Toyota before thudding to the ground and grinding forward a few more yards. I cringed as I imagined all the ruin that had come on the loveliness that was the Cerato. The Toyota roared to a stop. The Cerato skidded on its side to a stop as well moments later.
There was maybe a microsecond of silence, one that emphasized just how ruined someone’s Monday morning was. And then, the microsecond was gone. Doors banged open. Voices were raised, people shouting. There was alarm, there was anger. And that’s how the trouble started.
“Airport road! Airport road!”
I jejelly waved the bus to a stop, got comfortable inside, and moments later, the driver engaged the gear and we were off, leaving some people’s troubles behind.