City On Fastforward | Non-fiction

(I wrote this piece two weeks ago after a busy, sunny day in Lagos traffic. Not sure of my penmanship lately, but I can only try.)

October 24, 2017.

Lagos, Nigeria.

1.35pm.

You sling your backpack across your slightly bent shoulder, moving your body quickly for the leather to find home on your spine. It’s a relatively safer time of the day; seven hours before, or in the next eight hours, you would prefer to have the bag nestling on your stomach, because it’s stress to the neck joints to look over your shoulders every half-minute; the thefts in this city happen too quickly, and nanoseconds are all it takes to be a gadget or purse poorer in these parts.

“Gbvrbytrsmnwwh, one corner, one corner, one corner…jtyrfcvbghsvtykl, one corner, one corner, one corner.”

You set out into the road made fairly busy by the closing bells of the elementary schools in the area, and you are forced to share the sidewalk with a number of school kids, who would pass for six-year-olds, mouthing the lyrics of a recent viral track from neighbouring Ghana, complete with an accompanying ridiculous dance move. In weeks past you had trolled Instagram accounts that uploaded videos of the dance with comments like “too much Banku and Kenkey”, as you not only found it hard to mentally process how a trend could be birthed out of simulating intercourse with walls and chairs, you also wondered how the lines between comedy and madness had become so blurred.

You saunter into the kiosk at the next street and make the usual order; sliced bread, (hopefully) brought in today, two hundred and fifty naira to part with. The owner of the place, his hair quickly greying, takes the notes from you with grateful eyes; he had been lying on the floor of his “office” minutes earlier, and you were his first customer for the day. You look at him thoughtfully, wishing for a moment you could purchase every damn loaf on the wooden shelves, if only to clear out the clouds from his face. It would be easy for him to think that the woman selling confectionaries next door has cast a spell on his trade, or that his distributor has been serving up stale loaves lately, but how would he know that sliced bread is gradually gliding into the realm of ostentation and luxury these days? If only he knew how lucky he was not to be living in certain states where public employees are in debt owing to unpaid wages, while statues are erected for foreign leaders who are pretty unpopular in their home countries.
***

1.46pm.

“Ikeja along, o wa o!”

“Iyana-ipaja-toll gate-cement-alagbado wole!”

You alight from the big yellow bus, squeezing yourself and your backpack past a bearded young man, on whose laps is seated a lady whose facial features and bust betray post-pubescence. She appears comfortable, never mind that there is a small yard of space between her backside and his trousers, like she is resting on a pin. He whispers into her ears, his stubble brushing her chin, and she giggles. Such love! You almost want to coo in acknowledgment of their public display, but you remember the report on Instablog9ja from the previous day, where a teenager (allegedly) lunged a knife into her lover’s chest barely 48 hours after he composed a heartfelt birthday message for her on his Facebook page, and you take a deep breath instead, pondering on how emotions find it so easy to swing across extremes.

You spot two policemen walking in your direction, you begin to feel uneasy, particularly when one seems to have his gaze fixed on you, and you sigh in relief when they suddenly take a turn to a dirt road on the left. Your shivers are not without good reason; you have no idea where the receipt for your laptop could be, and in these streets, a young man in a black t-shirt and brown shorts with a backpack containing a banged up HP Pavilion must be an internet fraudster (never mind that this is not 2007 anymore). No, he can’t possibly be a writer, editor, blogger or even an Information Technology expert, else he would have been in some office. He must be surfing the web for a middle-aged Caucasian to swindle, and who knows, his phone must be littered with nudes of some cougar whom he is seeking to extort.

***

1.50pm.

“Hey, look where you’re going!”

You scan the mini-park to your right with your eyes, searching out a tricycle that is going towards Allen Avenue (all intentions noble, it isn’t Friday evening), but you reckon without the man who bumps into you, the one clutching a number of heavy files under his right arm, whose one round pouch has impacted on his gait. You apologise, and with one quick look you can deduce his calling; the tiny collar of his white shirt which yearned for bleach, the jacket, the striped trousers. He looks a tired forty, you can tell that there is no car parked nearby whose back seat would feel the weight of those files, and you wonder how long he can go on practising law like this.

“Fine boy, good afternoon o.”

You are approached, or rather, confronted, by a petite lady holding a microphone, with a jolly-looking fellow mounting a camera. They take position, amidst screams of “una go pay rent for this place wey una wan use do video o.” The name of the station as printed on the microphone does not come close to ringing a bell, and while you are not one for vox populi, you have a few minutes to gamble with. 

“Good day sir, introduce yourself.”

“Jhgredcvbytp Cfdtrwzxssw”.

“We want to know who your celebrity crush is.”

You know it’s Ruby Gyang, you once uploaded her photo two Wednesdays in a row, but since the Choc City signee has refused to embrace sufficient fame, you say, “Yemi Alade.”

Mistake.

“Why do you like her?”

“She is smart, she’s got stage presence and cghytbngrdsfpy…”.

You almost want to add “and she’s feminist”, but then the next question could be “what do you understand by feminism?” and you are in no mood for that.

“Ok, sing one Yemi Alade song for us.”

The world stops.

You want to tell your interviewer that the last time you sang in amplified mode at a friend’s birthday years ago, the microphone developed a fault. You want to tell her that your voice was built for pillow talk and not melody, but she probably reads the words from your eyes, and says, “don’t worry about the voice, just sing.”

The world stops again, for a few seconds longer this time.

For a moment, you want to brave it and break into a cacophony, but then you remember Kraks TV, you remember Funny African Pics, you remember Pulse Nigeria, your remember African Jagbajantis Vines, and the voices in your head concur with a resounding “you really don’t have to do this!” You remember Okon Lagos’ “what did you say?”, Mr. Ibu’s facial expressions, Chinwetalu Agu’s exclamations, and you elect to refrain from disgracing your community on live television. In any case, all lyrics relating to Ms. Alade’s catalogue have flown out of memory.

You begin to mumble, tilt your head away from the microphone, take a few steps backward and move from the interviewer’s reach, sighing as you board a tricycle few metres away. The images of a disappointed lady and a chuckling photographer fade into the distance, and you slowly shake your head, muttering “it’s not worth it.”

The tricycle gets caught up in the traffic jam that has trapped vehicles underneath a large bridge, and you observe a few muscular young men, all in vests, moving around, gesturing to their own faces. You look just above the chin of the one nearest to you, and you figure out what they are selling. You know better than to trade with these ones who have gone overboard with the pink lips business; you don’t want to end up looking like a drag queen who forgot to wipe off his makeup. You want to fart, but your co-passenger is Snapchat goals, so you hold it all in, inhaling the fumes from a city in constant motion.

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Swipe Right | Fiction (?)

“Hey, didn’t you call a cab? How are we supposed to get there?”

“You see, miss, I just felt like identifying with regular city people today.”

“You should have told me earlier. My flatmate is a make-up artist, now all this effort on my face will waste with the sun.”

“Trust me, it will be fun.”

The disappointment in her tone was so evident that I could almost taste it, but I couldn’t be bothered now. Femi, the guy I was squatting with at Ajah (I was yet to save enough to rent my own apartment) had headed to the mainland with the 2009 Toyota Camry I had planned to impress this girl with, and my Taxify account was devoid of any credit. In any case, I had no long-term plans with Lara; we were simply going to hang out, maybe see a movie, (hopefully) come back to “my” place, and that would be it. A one-off.

I had met Lara one day on a bus heading from CMS back to Ajah. I was “between jobs”, and I had done a bit of knocking at a number of large offices on Lagos Island, handing in physical copies of my resumé while hoping that the front desk officers would not dump my credentials beneath the rest of their office files, or worse still, gift them as wrapping paper to some nearby suya seller nearby. Six months without a job was nothing to giggle about, and, frustrated with the indifference of HR personnel to my mails, I had decided to be extra.

I had noticed her curves as she climbed into the bus and took position two rows in front of me. The black blouse revealed some cleavage, the navy blue skirt had her hips pop out, and the jet black braids amidst her light brown skin threw me into a state of “kuku kee me”. I waited for the directive for all passengers to alight before I approached her, and when she asked what I did for a living, I quickly blurted out the words “I work at an advertising agency in Broad Street”. We exchanged contacts, but she kept giving monosyllabic responses to my Whatsapp chats, until one day weeks later when I got a “hey you, how’ve you been?” from her. I think it must have been the day I updated my Whatsapp story with a photo of me posing in Femi’s car.
“About the Toyota, it’s been giving me issues, so I took it to the mechanic”, I saw in a low voice as the bus we boarded a few minutes earlier whizzed past Chevron Drive, in a bid to nip any questions concerning the car in the bud.

“Today is Sunday. Should we go to Silverbird?”

“No La-la, let’s try The Palms. We have a wider range of options there.”

We arrived at The Palms few minutes later, Lara’s makeup already showing signs of imminent melting. We walked past KFC and took a seat at the customers’ section of Coldstone Creamery. I had not deemed it fit to display any kind of chivalry, but if Sophia noticed this, she did not show it, staring thoughtfully instead at the different flavours of ice cream on the menu.

“I love the Oreo when it’s broken inside, really nice”.
I saw her eyes brighten up as she grabbed her order, only stopping short of immediately scooping a spoonful. I slowly picked my cup of plain Vanilla and placed it on my end of the small round table.

“How much would that be?”

“Five Thousand Naira for both cups, sir”.

I had estimated the cumulative cost to be three thousand six hundred naira, and I wanted to find out how the attendant arrived at that total, but I looked at Lara, took a deep breath and whipped out my ATM card. The attendant slotted it into the POS machine, had me type in my pin, and looked at me as the machine displayed a “Transaction Declined” message.

“Maybe it’s network, try again.”

The ice cream was chilled, but I began to feel a lot of heat. I handed the card over again, and it was returned with the same result. By now, Lara was almost done with what was in her cup. I quickly sent a text message to Femi, reminding him of the six thousand naira he had promised to lend me by way of a transfer, and he replied that he had forgot to send it.

I presently had just two thousand naira in my account…twenty nine million, nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand naira shy of thirty billion. Tope Alabi’s hit track “Aiye le o, Ibosi o” began to play in my head. 

In a low voice, I told Lara that my card was having network problems, to which she replied “and I left my four ATM cards at home!” I began to look around, trying to see where Coldstone staff kept their mops, brooms and aprons, before I saw Lara dig her nails into her handbag. She brought out a few rumpled five hundred naira notes and handed them over to the cashier amidst a largely visible frown. “Vex money” had saved the day.

“Lara, erm, thanks, you see, the way my savings is set up, sometimes the network…”

“It’s fine, just have enough cash in hand next time”, she cut me short, smiling wryly.

The rest of the conversation was awkward from there. I could not even broach the subject of taking her home, let alone asking her out. The lame questions matched the forced replies, and the three-hour hangout I had mapped out in my head ended in seventy minutes.

“It was nice hanging out with you, L.”

“Ok.”

I was lucky to have enough money to board a bus back to Ajah, and save for the conductor’s expletives, it was a pretty quiet journey. 

“Guy, is that how you used to do?”

“What?”

“Not even money for Marwa?”

We walked to a nearby automated teller machine, where I withdrew a thousand naira and handed it to her. As she quickly snatched the two Azikiwe notes with her left hand and squeezed them into her purse, I figured that it would be futile trying to guilt-trip her with questions like “how will I survive this week?” The Lara that stood beside me at that moment couldn’t possibly be expected to give a damn.

I looked at her face once more; the make-up had significantly worn off, and the tribal marks were beginning to show. The goodbyes were mutually mirthless, and as she crossed the road, I knew I would not be seeing her ever again.

Opinions And Cages | Non-Fiction

(This piece was first published on my Facebook wall in December 2015. It is a true story, and rather long, but I hope you find it readable at least.)

October, 2015.

For a few moments I could not recognize my surroundings, and twice the bus conductor had to inform me that I had reached the last stop. I alighted, feeling a little embarrassed, with my movements unsteady and my eyes trying to make out where I actually was. I should have known better than gulping down several glasses of Vodka on an evening that was neither Friday nor Saturday, particularly when there was still another day of work at that office where my only smiles came at 6pm, before ushering in the weekend in its saving glory. Sure enough, the mini-university reunion had been lots of fun, reliving old jokes and all, but there was only so much alcohol the body could freely accommodate, and with what was left of my sobriety, I could deduce that the next day at work would be a long one. Still, I boarded a tricycle to the estate housing my apartment, not quite sure if I had not paid thrice the fare. I definitely wouldn’t have known, I was intoxicated like that.

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Reunions, Memories And Mixed Drinks

“Hey, are you ok? ”
“Yes, I am. Why do you ask? ”
“Everybody is having fun, and you just choose to sit here? ”
“I’m getting into the groove, just watch, you will be begging me to slow down.”
“Ok o. Until then. ”
With that, he went his way, leaving you to sit on the sparsely decorated white plastic chair, a tall glass of red wine and a flurry of thoughts being your choice for company, at least for that moment. The curiosity of the man you just had a conversation with was not without good reason; it was not the kind of evening where being alone with your thoughts would be a particularly popular choice, afterall, high school reunions were not organised too frequently, what with the financial obligations, logistics and all. Continue reading

The Periwinkle List

​9.58am.

Victoria Garden City, Lagos.

It was an unusual time on a Monday morning to still maintain the affinity between my back and the multi-coloured bedsheet that I had been too lazy to wash over the weekend; I should be in my slave plantation of a workplace, dazed by the grueling traffic from a few hours before, responding to threatening office mails in servile fashion and flashing plastic smiles to customers with an unnecessarily huge sense of entitlement…..but today was different. The ones who worshipped on Fridays rather than Sundays had their version of December 25th going on, so the federal government pleased all 9-5ers as it rarely did, by announcing a two-day public holiday. Left to me, I would have loved that a search be conducted for another missing moon thereby causing an extension of my days away from the plantation, but no horses were going to have beggars riding them. I scrolled down my phonebook (in vain) for the phone numbers of friends who would have me partake in a binge on those juicy ram parts, and finding none, I opted for another outlet to search for company: my social media timeline. Continue reading

The Detached

(The following is a narration of true events that took place in the wee hours between 27th and 28th March, 2016.)

27th March, 2016.
Lagos, 10.22pm.

I kept my gaze on my smartphone, waiting for the Airtel network to convert the little spiral lines into a green tick, and send my message across hundreds of kilometres to the heart of the East. It was a late Easter message to Ugochi, with the extra gloss of “I’ve missed you a lot” and “I really want you around”. I didn’t have faith in achieving any kind of positive outcome with those words, but I had nothing to lose by typing them out either.

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Catching Up….Or Not

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Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have had any business in the banking hall that day; i did not operate any account with them, and I had no deposits to make on anyone’s behalf, but the phone dealers across the street had shamelessly failed to get their POS machine functioning properly, so I had to make a withdrawal at the nearest ATM available (yea, ATM, not “ATM machine”)…..but a number of the notes that popped out consisted of “oil money” – literally, stained with palm oil – so i elected to step into the hall and ask for substitute notes. Afterall, the erring papers came from them.

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THEY SHOULD HAVE KILLED CHIVALRY

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(The next lines you will read are inspired by true events that transpired in the final few hours of January 31st, 2016.)

“Bros, abeg help me check time. ”

“It’s eight-thirty right now. ”

He nods in acknowledgment of your response and places his foot a little more firmly on the throttle. It’s Sunday night in Lagos, few hours separating you from that month in the year where everyone becomes a poet and the prices of flowers and chocolates skyrocket. Lekki is the destination, and the roads look free enough to conduct a Grand Prix…..except for the Ajah axis, that is; you could end up in a traffic jam at eleven forty-five p.m in that part of town. In any case, you both are sure of getting to her place in less than forty minutes, where same would have taken one hour and a half on either of the five days of certain gridlock.

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Hymns From Badore

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Six months had passed since I last set foot into a church building (my last appearance being Easter Sunday), but I did not feel for a moment that I had missed anything. The reading of the bible passages reeked of dour formality, the officiating priest churned out recycled sermons, the chants were the same, the hymns had not changed much, and I pretty much knew which activity followed the other.
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Strange Boots

23rd September, 2015.

The spot hurts, and not without good reason. Twice in the space of ten minutes, that corner of my head has made forcible contact with a sharp-edged portion of the bus. Not that the bus is comfortable by any standards, but there is something about this part of the bus that makes it seem like a reservoir for pain. My head was already previously aching from a long day at the slave site I call an office, so the double bump is just perfect. No, I didn’t cause the hurt myself by nodding carelessly to loud music. On the two different occasions, passengers had thought it wise to make unsolicited body contact while boarding the bus, and apparently, an apology is too much to ask for in this big city. Life is too short for that, and besides, you should understand that the one thing on every passenger’s mind is getting home, so courtesy and good manners face suspension like a country’s constitution under a military junta. I am learning. There is still a lot to catch up on around here, but I’ll be fine….  Continue reading