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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What These Men Want

It had only been two weeks, but Mr. Isiukwu
Bigwillie, 27, who had only returned to the
country from the annual hustle in Malaysia to
celebrate the Christmas holidays, was getting
bored. He couldn’t believe that in fourteen days,
all he had unzipped his trousers for was to use
the restroom of his suite at Oriental Hotel.
Afterall, he had the wheels, gold neck chains and
multiple rings on his fingers (never mind that he
had auctioned one of his kidneys at Kuala
Lumpur), so why would he spend his vacation
with just his hands for company?

After a few calls
to friends who were familiar with the terrain, he
drove in the direction of The Palms. A lot of
traffic lay between him and Wadbash at Ajah, he
reasoned, and besides he was no cheapskates.

Tekena was all he desired; straight legs,
prominent hips, not-too-flat stomach, breasts
struggling for air in her knee-length dress, with
that ebony complexion to match. He didn’t
subscribe to light-skinned ladies, only hanging
out with them back in Malaysia because over
there, choice was a luxury he couldn’t afford.
After a brief negotiation, she agreed to
accompany him to his suite for thirty thousand
naira. It was quick and Mr. Bigwillie dozed off in
a matter of minutes, but he had got what he
wanted, and even if he did not notice Tekena slip
one of his gold chains into her handbag, he slept
with a smile on his face….

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Until he woke up the next day, solely clad in a
pair of brown underwear, four policemen
surrounding his bed. Tekena was long gone, and
he was only allowed to wear a pair of shorts and
a yellow singlet as he was whisked into the navy
blue police van , his one round pack on display.
Officers on duty quoted Bible verses as they
pushed him around the counter, and by 10am that
day, he had been arraigned….before the state’s
Ecclesiastical court.

“That you, Isiukwu Bigwillie, on or about the 7th
day of December 2016, at The Palms, Lagos,
within the ecclesiastical district of this court, did
commit the sin of Lust by approaching one
Tekena (now at large), and thereby committed an
offence contrary to the Holy Bible, and punishable
by this court.”

“ That you, Isiukwu Bigwillie, on or about the 7th
day of December 2016, at Oriental Hotel, Lagos,
within the ecclesiastical district of this court, did
commit fornication with one Tekena (now at
large), and thereby committed an offence contrary
to the Holy Bible, and punishable by this court.”

“That you, Isiukwu Bigwillie, on or about the 7th
day of December 2016, at Oriental Hotel, Lagos,
within the ecclesiastical district of this court, did
have intercourse with the use of contraceptive, as
recovered from your hotel room as an exhibit, and
thereby committed an offence contrary to the
principle of natural prescribed by the Bible and
Canon law, and punishable by this court.”

Perplexity would have been a mild word to
describe the look on Bigwillie’s face as he heard
the charge read out to him by the court clerk. He
had no idea that an ecclesiastical court existed in
the first place, and now he was aware of what
constituted offences therein, he wasn’t so sure
how to react. He couldn’t believe that pleasure
had become criminalized, and when he was asked
for his plea, he laughed loud and long before
screaming “guilty as charged!”

The penalty was two weeks of supervised Bible
study and spiritual counselling as well as two
weeks of cleaning cathedral pews, and was to
begin the following Sunday. Bigwillie shook his
head repeatedly as he left the courtroom, and
when he finally got hold of his phone and other
personal effects, his first reaction was to log on
to Facebook and update thus:

“This is why I hate coming to Nigeria. So now, to
dey straff don turn crime? What are our
legislators being paid for sef? Naija and stupid
laws! Tsk tsk…”

Later that night, the men in black visited him
again, this time at the room he booked at Protea
Hotel. Apparently, his Facebook update had been
perceived as malicious, his phone had been
tracked, and he was to be taken away for
questioning, in line with the provisions of the new
Social Media Act, which had been domesticated
by all the states.

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After 24 hours of slaps and mosquito bites, he
was transferred to Alagbon, where he was to
remain “until investigations were concluded”. He
realized that he would be sharing the same cell
with the likes of Chris Nwandu (Head of the
Nigerian Bloggers’Union), Walter Ude, Nathaniel Jonas and Elsie
Godwin, who had been called in for “inciting
statements” on their respective blog posts. Linda
Ikeji had only just been released on bail few hours
earlier.

***********
Meanwhile, at a large mansion in one of the more
secluded parts of the capital territory, Senator
Needo Melanin was laughing with another beer-
bellied senator over glasses of champagne. The
other senator was faithful to his usual dress code
of blue jackets and over-sized black trousers.
Their giggles struggled to negotiate upwards from
the fat in their necks, and they knew what they
were celebrating. The case involving foreign accounts filed against Senator Melanin had died a natural death, the media house that did the investigative journalism had gone under, and the respective bills they
sponsored had grown into fully operative laws.

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