Of Tyres and Death

The funniest thing happened to me this morning.

Let’s take two steps back.

Few weeks ago, I was at Obalende, en route home. There was a little fiasco afar off, people gathered, chanting different things. Some were stuck on “Ole” (that’s thief in yoruba) others on “Kill him” and some others again begging silently for mercy. I asked some passerby what he stole, he said gala. You know gala? That hard supposed sausage roll we consume in traffic that goes for fifty bucks. Yeah that. That dude was about to be sent to his grave for it.

I’ll move on.

I took a bus to work this morning. I was in front next to the driver. See ehn, I live at the end of Lagos and I work on the Island, so I leave my house in the middle of the night – 5 a.m. – to beat traffic and get to work in good time. It’s the life of a hustler, I know.

I’ll move on, again.

I spend the commute sleeping, as expected, so this morning, I was asleep. Unusually sound asleep too. Suddenly the driver taps me and hands me money, I hold it and sleep back. He taps me again and hands me more! It was at this point I realized passengers were passing their fares to him from behind and he was handing them to me so he could concentrate on driving. After everyone had paid, he said to count the money, the expected sum was 5,500, I had 5,400.

He shouted “Who never pay o!, the money never complete” I drifted off again.

I woke up when I realized the bus had stopped moving.

I woke up to angry shouting passengers.

You see, from the 5,400 accumulated, two passengers were gonna collect change summing up to 900 bucks!

ONE WHOLE THOUSAND NAIRA WAS MISSING!

Oh, the bus was filled with angry people, I say.

We spent the next twenty minutes tryna find four people who hadn’t paid. Everyone swore they had. The driver said he wouldn’t move an inch till he got his complete sum. They all continually screamed in frustration.

I sat still, blank eyed, wondering why I woke up in the first place.

Someone suggested we help the situation and contribute 50 bucks each for the guy. I dipped my hand in the side zip of my bag – where I put my change – to contribute my quota.

I found a stray 1,000 naira note.

You know the rest of the story.

A series of unfortunate events

2005

It’s was the period after break. I was in SS2. Someone hit the table in the rhythm every QC girl knows, to usher the teacher in.
“Good AAAAAfternoon ma!” we all chanted. To which she replied “Bring out your new practical English textbook and open to chapter  ‘x’”.

I do not remember the chapter now.

“Let somebody read to us”

Odunola began.

“May your roads be rough…..”

There was a pandemonium as we all shouted “God forbid!”

***

April 2014

Thirty minutes ago

I walked with steady strides oblivious of the happenings around me, clutching my nylon to my chest like my life depended on it. Horns blaring, bikes swerving, people cursing. It was too short a distance from the bus stop  to my house to have all this fiasco, I thought. But I didn’t care much. I had been numbed. Momentarily. Till I found a safe place to break – My dad’s room.

Last week

I had realized that my seat of dissatisfaction lay in my lack of activity. I made a list of interests and promised I’d pursue them, one after another. It was photography this month. I bought a camera.

One hour ago

I boarded my last bus home. I was on the seat next to the open door where the conductor hung – in the typical Lagos way. I had my handbag, a nylon containing my newly acquired camera and an umbrella, all on my lap. The conductor, with his armpit over my head, asks for my fare. I reach into my bag to get my wallet out to pay, and somewhere in-between avoiding his under arm and getting the money out; the driver swerves and his sharp turn sent my nylon flying in the opposite direction, outside the bus. It was seemingly a short moment between when it fell out and when I got the conductor to run back to get it, but in that little moment, tires had run over it. Tires had crushed my camera.

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Twenty minutes ago

I rushed into my dad’s room and I broke down. They weren’t tears streaming down silently, they were deep racking unending sobs from a soul that’s known to much grief in the last seven weeks. It just went on and on, and my dad – amongst other things – said: “It’s life, things always happen, you have to learn to bear it” (How does anyone even learn that ?!)

Now

I’m learning that my roads might have to be rough.
I’m also learning that halcyon and breathing might be a long way off.

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them”- Epictetus

 

Passing Faces

I work. I suppose you know that already. Of all the many nerve racking things that come with working, commuting to work is the absolute worst for me. I’d go on and on telling you how depressing it is, but that’s unnecessary. It ain’t my flow.

You know the Yin yang theory? In my oh-so-dark-depression every morning, there’s this little shimmering light that makes all the difference. Brings some strange sorta peace in a very weird way. It has come to be the best part of my mornings.

I do it every morning. Have conversations with myself. About them. :)

From the moment I’m dropped off and I walk the rest of the journey to work, there are specific people I expect to see. I’ve seen them everyday since I started taking that route. I’ve watched them. I know them. But they don’t know me.

I do not know their names but I’ve named them in my mind and I wonder about them.

I walk pass tons of people everyday, but these 7, I look out for. They have come to be my light in all the dark.

There’s the first woman. I call her Iya Titi, for no reason in particular. It just fits. She’s there every morning. As early as 6 a.m. She faces me as I get out of the car. She sells fruits, as the seasons come. It was mango once before, and then tangerines, bananas at some point too. It’s agbalumo now. I bought a few from her some days ago, just because. She looked up and smiled at me and said thank you, I smiled back and walked off with agbalumos in my bag and a name for her. We’re friends now, if only by a smile.

Next up are the two beggars who sit in the path I thread by with laminated A4 papers around their necks. I’ve never stopped to read what they have on, neither have I stopped to drop a few bucks. I’m not mean, I just wonder about them. How long would they sit out to beg, what amount of money would make a difference to them. What do they want out of life? Even I cannot fathom what it might be.

I walk just a few steps more before I start to hear the clinging sound from afar off. It’s where the next two are. I think they’re sisters. In my mind they are. The elder one fries puff puff, the younger one hits a fork on an iron tray to get the attention of passersby. They’re there everyday too. We don’t smile at each other – yet – but it’s satisfying seeing them support each other in the early hours of the morning, trying to make ends meet as people swarm by to face their daily businesses.

I walk only a little more, and then I’m on the street that leads to the back gate of the estate my office is. I take a bike from this street. There are tons and tons of bike men who chant “Sister come” when I get here, but I never budge. I have a chosen one. He’s the sixth. He wears a thin faded blue shirt everyday and has a fixed sad smile. He’s old and I have no name for him. I take no other bike when I do not see him, I’m always early anyway, so I have enough time to spare. I do not want my N50 to go into anybody else’s pocket. I want it to be in his alone. And he knows it. When I get there and he isn’t there, immediately he’s back, he comes to me and says good morning, with that fixed sad smile, only a little wider. I give him the brightest smile I’ve got and say “Good morning, sir”. And then, I get on the bike and we zoom off in the ambiance of our silence and peaceful friendship. On random days, I want to pay him N100 instead of N50, just because, but I wonder how he’d react. I wonder if he’d be excited or if he’d feel insulted. I wonder about him. Every single time.

The seventh person is a lot like me. She’s a young girl. She lives within the estate. She’s always leaving for work when I’m walking the last mile to my office. I envy that. She’s very pretty :) We pass by each other without a word but we give each other a placid stare. I know when she’s happy and when she’s down. I know when she had a good night rest and when it was frustrating. Yesterday, after we passed by, I turned around to look at her again and she had done the exact same thing. We smiled and turned around. I planned to ask for her name today :)

I’m glummer than usual today. My little lights weren’t there today.

Iya Titi wasn’t on the bridge today chanting “buy your fruits, fresh fresh fruits”. The beggars weren’t on the street. I didn’t hear the clank of the fork on the tray from afar off. I got there and saw the elder sister alone struggling to fry the puff puff, get people’s attention and sell them all at once. I stood out for almost thirty minutes, my bike man never came. And when I walked in, she didn’t pass. I couldn’t ask for her name.

I walked by looking worried, wondering where they all went and what could have happened to them. I saw too many people look at me like something was amiss.

I walked on, finding my path in the dark wondering if my lights would be back to light up the way tomorrow.

A Tale of Bravery

When I think about my parental years ahead, I’m constantly on the edge, hoping I’d have a personal story of bravery and focus to tell my kids to inspire them.

I imagine them sitting at my feet with awestruck gazes saying “Mum, how were you so courageous/Smart/Awesome/Drop-dead-gorgeous…?” (You catch my drift?)

Up until yesterday, I’d seen myself say “I used to be the best in my class”, like your parents and mine, and I’d cringe at how funny it is that everyone’s parent was a smarty pants back in the days. Who now failed, biko?

Speaking of yesterday, it was the scariest moment I’ve had in all my years and the bravest. For the life of me, I had no idea where it came from. Here’s how it happened:

It was about 7:30pm. I was on my way home from work in my friend’s car. We were on Osborne road, just before the intersection that diverts to Third mainland bridge or Eko bridge. We were three in the car; two guys and I, I was seated in front next to the dude driving.

We were in traffic, blaring loud music with  the windows down and arguing about pre-marital pregnancy. My phone rang; it was my dad. I picked the call with my right hand, that’s the side of the open window.

“Hello daddy”

“Deola, where are you?”

“I’m about to hit Eko bridge”

(Two guys passed. I put the phone on the other side. Daddy continues)

“Ok. Be………..”

I didn’t get to hear the rest of that line yo! The two dudes were at my window pointing a gun! “Gimme your phone!” They chanted. “Gimme your phone”

I felt an onslaught of emotions, my people. It was fear. Panic. Trepidation. Wanting to pee and poop and fart all at once!

I just stayed there, gazing at them in confusion. I had dropped the phone beneath my foot.

I screamed a little, looked around to check the boys in the car with me, wondering if they were still there ’cause it was dead silent in there! They were. No one was saying anything. Or at least I wasn’t hearing anything. They looked even more confused than I did. I was a lone foot soldier at the warfront.

One of the guys hit my jaw, a first time, then a second! Well aimed punches. All my sanity left. I was acting out of fury. I kicked the hand holding the gun, random kicks that hit the target, chanting “Give you what?! ehn! Give you what?!”. The moment the hand was out, I wound up and at that moment I wasn’t so alone, my friend zoomed away from location as fast as possible.

A few takeouts:

  • There’s is a tendency to think this happened over a while. No. It wasn’t more than 5-7 minutes. Yes. They were the most frightening 5-7 minutes I’ve had in all my years and it could have cost me my life.
  • My friends said the gun looked like a toy gun. I didn’t check. It was the least of my worries.
  • You would think and maybe even ask the question: “You phone or your life?” I’d say both! No scummy stupid thief would just whisk by and dash off with my possessions! Dafuq is that about?
  • I’d like to stand on a pedestal and sing “I’m a superwoman, yes I am”  in Alicia Keys’ voice for the itsy-bitsy bravery I showed last night, but I know better. I’m still the same old lily-livered rat. It was bravado borne out of shock. I’m glad it worked.
  • My kids and grand-kids would re-tell this tale to their friends, more awestruck gazes *does a little dance*
  • Lagos has got to be one of the unsafest places. I’m moving out! *packs bags and heads to Antarctica* 😐
  • Most of all, I’m grateful I didn’t lose my life over a bloody phone.

Peaze out!

Until you hear my story

I live the life of a classic Lagos hustler; up at 4 a.m., out of the house an hour later to beat traffic, get to work by 6:45 and the day goes on till 5:45 when I’m on the move again to get home by 10 p.m.  A good part of the day is spent communicating with strangers and inhaling exhaust fumes with trepidation. It’s the hustling creed. This isn’t my flow.

In all the hustle, for the life of me, I still haven’t gotten a grasp of why people in Lagos are so disgruntled. I just don’t get it! I mean, we’re in this together (even if it’s at different scales, hustling is hustling) and I – for one – don’t go about biting everybody on the road. Psssst!

Yesterday, I was trekking a little distance between the bus I got off  and where I’d get the next. It was crazily rowdy; the kind of rowdy where there is only a little space for the next foot to fill. I was walking carefully seen that there were tons of disgruntled humans around me and snap! I stepped on this man! I hadn’t taken the next breath when he started in the typical Lagos disgruntled pedestrian way:

“You no dey see? ehn? your eye dey pain you? Naso all of you go dey form stupid sisi, you no go dey look where you dey go. Abeg comot for here!”

And with that, he stormed off.

Please note that I didn’t step on him like I was trying to put out a fire on his foot or kill a monstrously huge bug, it was a little tap. Why the violence?

I just trudged away. I didn’t need that kind of stress.

I got to the next bus, the conductor is chanting;

“If you no get change no enter o! I dey talk am now o”

The disgruntled lot filed in.

While the conductor was collecting all the money, he was adding interjections after every person’s payment. They ranged from “I go marry una today, you no gimme change, I marry you with anoda pesin” to “una never know the kain conductor wey I be, shebi you no hear say make you bring change”.

Not one person said a word. Till he got to her.

She gave him 200 naira for a 100 naira fare. He said “Na you I go marry first” and at that instant, the volcano erupted!

“You are mad! Very mad! Better give me my change now if you don’t want to see trouble! Nonsense! Nah you go marry pesin wey no get work. Na you go marry stupid pesin. Idiot! Foolish man……yan yan yan yan yan yan yan”

SIGH!

We all gaped at her. Even in our respective disgruntlement, this was a first.

She went on and on till an elderly man in the bus could take it no more.

He ventured:

“Aunty,  it’s okay! He did not say he would marry you, he meant he would pair you up with someone else who is collecting change so you can find where to split the money yourself”

To which she replied:

“Daddy please, please leave me. That’s how they say it and mean something else. Why didn’t he say that in english ehn?! I’ve been quarter to getting married three times, one stupid joke like this will happen and the marriage will be off and you say it’s ok? It’s not o! It’s not! Just leave me let me react, because you won’t understand, you can never ever understand, until you hear my story”

But why? :(