LAGOS DIARIES XXIII

While I was growing up, I’d always thought of Lagosians to be this bunch of super-crazed people living in this super-crazy city, all in a super-crazosphere of their own. It was a notion that couldn’t be helped, seeing as I attended a boarding school where the Lagosian students made up this fast-talking, loud-mouthed, crass-mannered bunch. They projected an image in my mind of a place where there’s so much hustle and bustle, day and night, and no rest for the wicked . . . wait, sorry, I meant to say, no rest for the dwellers.

So you can imagine my shock when I visited Lagos for the first time and found that while places like Oshodi and Ojuelegba and Orile and Ikeja Underbridge, places famed for their characteristic chaos, existed, there were other places like Lekki and Victoria Island and the suburbs of Ikeja, where there aren’t bodies jostling one another and car horns honking madly and irritated pedestrians heckling daredevil drivers.

As in, LIKE SERIOUSLY?! (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XXII

There is an attitude that is a must-have for Lagosians, indeed all Nigerians, a characteristic that is a necessary acquisition for the purpose of survival in the uncaring streets of Lagos. Some people are born with it, others acquire it.

What I’m talking about is the aptitude of being ‘sharp’. Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘being clever but possibly dishonest.’ I checked the definition; it has the word ‘disapproving’ attached to the definition in brackets. In other words, it recognizes it as an unsavoury term.

Naija Book of Lexicons (seeing as we have our very own Nigerian English) begs to differ. It defines being ‘sharp’ as a survival tactic that is a necessary part of everyday living. Its stamp of approval is the reason we have yahoo-yahoo guys and 419-ners giving us such a distinctive, world-class recognition in the international community.

I digress. (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XXI

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* (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XX

I’ve often wondered about the business relationship that exists between Lagos drivers and conductors and the roadside touts – the agberos.

A bus pulls to a stop at a bus stop, and a group of loud-talking men descend on the vehicle. Their hard faces are slick with sweat, and their fists are clenched over grubby Naira notes. If you lean in just close enough, you may catch a whiff of tobacco as they exclaim, the fumes of marijuana which has them pumped up for roadside action. ‘Owo da!’ They are shouting at the bus conductor, hands outstretched, as though making a demand that they had every right to. The conductor, without any argument, peels out a 50 naira note from the wad in his own hand and gives it to the agbero hand that grabs at it faster. Then the tout will scribble something on the side of the bus with his marker, an endorsement that that vehicle had paid its dues. And the driver is off. Business done.

But then, in comes another bus, with a disagreeable conductor and a short-tempered driver, whose moods are soured by the fact that business has been slow. Not enough passengers. Too much hold-up on the roads. And this idiot is coming to tell them ‘Owo da’. For wetin? There’s an outburst of angry voices. Yoruba expletives are hurled about. Fists are clenched. An altercation is brewing. The agberos audaciously yank at something from the bus. A car seat. A windscreen wiper. Something to get the conductor and driver to behave. Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XIX

My father was in town for some concerns. And he was staying with my uncle in Yaba. As his child, I was supposed to go and see him, to welcome him, to take in news of home and my siblings, to acquire whatever goodies and provisions from home he brought with him, and to let him see that I was hale and hearty, and doing fine in Lagos (The man can like to fret, he nearly turned into a basket case when news of my attack got to him). But you see, I had an obstacle – two, infact. The kind that will leave Tom Cruise stumped in the Mission Impossible franchise. The two of them – distance and work. I stay in Festac side and I have the kind of job that pulls me in behind the desk sometimes on Sundays. Plus there’s nothing I find more cumbersome than a visit in Lagos that requires more than, at the most, two bus rides. Any more than two, and you had better be a very, VERY good reason for dragging me that far.

But he’s my father. And I am a dutiful son. And where there’s goodies from home awaiting, there’s a way. And that way was provided in two words – overnight bag. I would go on to Yaba from work, spend the night catching up with Dad, and leave for work from there the next day. See how I solved that particularly knotty problem? Paramount Studios really should consider me for the next Mission Impossible installment. #TeamTomCruise

Anyway, that morning saw me packing the barest essentials in my backpack. In fact, the only thing that made the bag weighty was my laptop. I wasn’t about to go spend an entire twelve hours of the night without at least tinkering on the computer and getting down a few lines of whatever story popped into my head. And then I went to work. After several hours of handling customers and swallowing my condescension and stifling sarcastic retorts and smiling until it felt as though my facial muscles were going to be perpetually hewn like so, I finally called it a day, slung my backpack over my shoulders and started out of the work building. (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XVIII

It was the end of another work day. A Friday actually. And I just couldn’t wait to embrace the weekend. To prepare for it, and because the closest bank and ATM to my place would require a trek that would ruin the unmitigated laziness I had planned for the weekend, I had to withdraw some money while I was at work. I closed early from work, and did a quick run in Ikeja for some purchases, enough stuff that filled my backpack and made it hang heavily behind me. Now add that to my wallet bulging from my back pocket and my phone snugly tucked inside my side pocket, and I was feeling very vulnerable. Every face I walked past on the crowded road as I headed to the bus-stop, Ikeja Along, was a potential robber. You stared at me too long before you walked past, you walked a little too close beside me, you remained an unshakeable presence walking behind me, and my entire self-preservation system kicked up into overdrive. I felt like a thief magnet, but for my own sake, I prayed the Fates were not about to prove me correct.

So eventually, from Oshodi, I was home-bound in a bus headed for Mile 2. I was tucked in at the end of the seat, closest to the window. On my right side was a scrawny-looking dude, with shifty eyes and a face that looked like Lagos life had given him a touch too many bitch slaps. He had ‘No Good’ written all over him, but I wasn’t judging. How could I judge when I had my backpack firmly sitting on my laps, with my hands clutching it, with my wallet in my hand and my phone a snug fit in my side pocket. On this guy’s right was seated this other man, an Igbo man, yes, I know he’s Igbo because he was one of this annoying people who just don’t understand that when you’re on the phone in a bus, you don’t have to let the whole bus know your business. Carrying on in Igbo, he yelled at Boniface to make sure he collects the money owed by that customer before closing up the shop. And then he snapped at Nkechi when she called to say that there was not enough stew for dinner. And he grumbled his impatience with Mama for pestering him for the credit he promised her he would send. Yes, I felt like we were all one big happy family – me, him, Boniface, Nkechi and Mama – just by listening to his loud, raucous rejoinders on the phone.   (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XVII

I finished my first novel – tentatively titled The Conference – in December last year. It took me all of 2012 to write it, and when I tapped the final word on my laptop, I felt a rush of relief, and on its heels, a fired-up zeal to do it again. Not to rewrite the novel oh – God, no! What I wanted was to find another storyline, expand another plot, and start writing again. The completion of my book did not drain me of the energy of producing more words, far from it. Instead, I said to myself: ‘If I could do it one time, surely I can do it again.’

And so, everywhere I looked, potential stories lurked. Characters jumped out at me. Dialogues raged in my head. Friendships were formed and loyalties broken in the murky waters of my imagination. I committed several murders and made lots of love in my first book, so the bloodthirstiness was real and the romance was begging to be indulged again.

I asked myself: ‘What do you want to write about?’ I walked out into the street, and I wondered. Perhaps, there was a story in the scene that played out before me where a bag of rice unhooked itself from the over-laden behind of a commercial bus speeding past, and fell on the expressway. The bus sped on for a few metres, before it began to slow down. The frantic voice of a woman was resonating from inside: “My rice – conductor, my rice don fall!” But you see, the bag of rice was no longer there. Two highway touts had weaved, lightning-fast, through the traffic and snatched it up, disappearing with it into the crowd of pedestrians and bystanders teeming on the roadside.

Or I could begin a story with a prologue detailing another scene I witnessed at a bus-stop where a street urchin nearly lifted, clean off a woman’s handbag, her purse. The purse was leather and looked bulky with promise. A promise the urchin never got to discover, because the owner – this woman – who must have felt a few pounds lighter at the slow departure of her purse, turned, nabbed the little thief, and pounced on him, yanking his ear with such savagery that the skin ripped. There was blood. I didn’t stick around to know how that drama ended. (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XVI

It is not every day you get comic relief at the end of a long day at work. You have slogged throughout the day, dealing with all sorts of crap – like that exasperating client who suddenly backed out of a deal that you two were this close to signing; or that annoying colleague who told you to cover for him so he could go on a five-minute errand that quickly turned to three hours; or that slutty secretary from Admin who is giving all the guys green light, all of them but you; or that mean boss who seems to have an agenda to frustrate you into resigning; or that lousy waitress at the diner where you had your lunch break who nearly spilled mineral on you; or that stupid okada man that snapped at you for remembering on the way that you actually want to drop at Number 45 instead of 35. At the end of it all, you just want to get home and unwind. Just shower, eat and hit the sack. Nowhere in this end-of-the-day schedule is featured a brief moment of humour, a fleeting instant of levity, one injected to lighten what had otherwise being a somewhat burdensome day.

And then it happens, and you find yourself smiling, chuckling, perhaps laughing uproariously, and all the while appreciating it for what it is. One of those moments when life takes on the role of a joker to entertain you at someone else’s expense.

I had a day like such recently. That day was Friday, a real bitch of a day. It seemed as though whatever power-that-be had had suddenly realized that this would be the last day of work before a highly-anticipated weekend of decadent laziness and utter relaxation, and so this power-that-be unleashed everything to make this Friday hellish. There were irate customers and nagging colleagues and paperwork piling up faster than they were getting resolved. Through it all, I kept muttering, ‘TGIF! TGIF…!” (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XV

Escalatophobia. Now that’s a fancy word. One that ought to be in the dictionary. A fear of escalators. I suppose a good number of people must have it. So yes, it ought to be a recognized word. After all, all Beyoncé had to do was jig her booty and rip out some vocals, and ‘Bootylicious’ became more than just a hip-hop lingo.

I watch Hollywood movies. I see the actors flying up and down these vertiginous escalators, not tripping, their equilibrium intact, their speed totally unaffected by the fact that the escalators are in motion. It makes me marvel. How is it they don’t trip? How can they take on the flight, three stairs at a time as though they’re rocketing up and down a normal staircase? I tell myself I’d like to find out, but one episode with the escalators years ago has set me deep in the trenches of my escalatophobia, so deep there’s no getting out and grabbing on the courage to conquer my fear.

Wanna hear the story? Well, I’ll have to take you back some eight years. 2005, to be exact. (more…)

LAGOS DIARIES XIV

The day started with a ping from Yvonne.
I was hustling about in my room. Mentally ticking off every process of preparation before following it up with the deed itself. Belt trousers. String shoes. Apply hair cream. Shove laptop into bag. Keys. Wallet. Check for sufficient transport money. I was running late, and my oga at the top hates coming to work before me. Before anyone.
But in the midst of my private chaos, I had time – I always have time – to scroll through my Blackberry chat list. I tossed off a few replies. Skimmed through a few BCs. Pinged a couple of contacts. And kept some other pings pending. Those required more patience and an unhurried reading. Yvonne’s was among those I replied. She was scheduled to be in Lagos for a photo shoot and was flying in from Abuja by 11am. She wanted to be sure it would be alright for her to drop in at my workplace to say hi.
She’s SARTian. She’s a good friend. She’s fun. Of course it was okay. I pinged her my response, stuffed my phone into my pocket and went off to begin my day. And the day was a very interesting one. Ramsey Nouah turned me momentarily dumb when he swung by with an entourage to make an enquiry. I became friends with a popular male model after I helped him out with a minor snafu. A rotund business man flying out of Lagos tipped me generously just because he said something to me in Igbo and I responded likewise. #Onye ebeayi thinz
And then, Yvonne pinged me frequently to update me on her movement.
#Racing to the airport
#Flight delayed
#Very upset
#Finally onboard
#So excited
My ping-tone kept on tinkling, causing my oga at the top to give me the eye each time I reached for my phone. Who send am kwanu? As long as I have a dazzling smile and a scintillating response ready for the steady stream of customers, I’m in the clear.
By 3pm, she was in Lagos, a period which incidentally happened to be the time I was getting off my shift. She sashayed up to my work station, all fluttery eyelashes, beaming countenance and giggly smiles. We chatted a bit in the food court, took a few snapshots (with a photographic background that the photographer assured us would make people think we had just touched down in the US), and then got whisked off from the airport grounds in a taxi she’d chartered earlier on.
It was at this time, when we were tucked away in the backseat of the air-conditioned car, that she began to elaborate on her business in Lagos. Like I said, it was a photo shoot, in come studio in Satellite Town, one that would precede a possible lucrative contract with a well-established company. She told me to keep the news hush-hush. So that’s what I’m doing now, keeping it hush-hush. I will carry the name of the company to my grave, all KGB questioners and CIA torture-masters be damned.
I digress.
Back to the gist. (more…)

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