Hasn’t it always been this way? Isn’t this the drawback of metropolitan cities? That they teem with busy people who bury their conscience in the fortress that earphones and smartphones provide? Agitated people with tired eyes that look past others to admire the moving vision of success. Rush-hour people who hold their bodies tautly to avoid brushing against each other as if touch is an infectious disease.
Lagos is Nigeria’s biggest cultural melting point, a land of opportunity where I hope to make it big if I hustle right (not everyone returns to Nigeria with excess Pounds and Dollars). In spite of all the promise it holds, people warn that Lagos can be a dangerous place. I feel safe in our flat and the office, but the streets scare me, crowded as they are with worker ants motivated by the fear of poverty and beautiful homes on The Island.
At 04:45, my internal rooster crows and I use warm water to flush traces of sleep from my eyes. I leave our flat with my handbag and a waterproof bag that contains my office shoes, my feet in rubber slippers for the morning jostle on the streets.
“CMS, Lagos CMS, CMS!” the bus conductor’s call rouses the streets.
The driver whisks us away from The Mainland to The Island, where we’ll run laps chasing dreams, luck, and money. At CMS, Victoria Island beckons. Behind the bus stop, the ripples on the sea glitter like diamonds under the rising sun, while container ships dock at Apapa Port.
My jewellery lies scattered in crevices in my handbag. Unadorned with shiny objects, I am an unlikely target of pilferers. I hold my bag tight under my armpit as I board the bus to Victoria Island. I have not spoken to anyone since my journey began. My hair rests on the window and my eyes feast on luxury cars. One day, I will ride in one of them.
The day’s work is hard and my journey home long and silent. Small puffs of dust rise from where my flip-flops slap the earth. In five minutes, I will enter the haven of high walls and still warm air trapped between three-storey buildings that is our flat.
Ahead, a car burns slowly at first, and then with a feverish rush that epitomises the pulse of Lagos. I mean to walk past, but the fire is a magnet that draws others and me. I mean to just look and shrug and stand at the edge, as I am sure the others will do too, but this victim of sudden misfortune tugs at the heartstrings of calloused street people.
We pour water and sand alternately on the burning car. The fire mocks us; its flames lick our concerted effort. Commands fly left, right, and centre as raindrops escape from the sky. Unable to surmount the singleness of our vision, the fire sucks its last breath when a fire extinguisher emerges.
Smoke clouds shaped like ghosts sail across the sky. We, and our ghosts, our resurrected conscience, shout for joy. The rain plasters my hair to my skull and dripping water teases my ears. Eko o ni baje o, Eko o ni baje o, now, I believe the streets still hold promise.
When I open my bag in our flat, my purse is gone. Disappointment strikes blows at my gut as I calculate what I have lost. I embrace urban solitude, the definition that at first made me laugh because I thought it was relevant only in London.
“Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude.”
And why not? On the streets a kind deed breeds mistrust that quickly turns to scorn. Asking for directions or providing them is a chore weighed with suspicion, and if death nearly claims a soul, the body that houses the soul stands no chance; it will be mangled in the stampede to “arrive” or survive.
This city bustles with life, yet there are fewer strangers to talk to. I long for human contact, not the obligatory type I receive when I walk into a shop, but the disarming type. The unexpected touch from a stranger whose smile meets my upward gaze as he hands me something that dropped from my bag, or the kinship in eye contact with a stranger, after a silly advert on a giant billboard has amused us both.
Eko o ni baje o!
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
Eko o ni baje: (Yoruba) Lagos will not spoil.
Read more about Lagos? These are snippets with photos worth seeing:
1. Yellow. Bright. Happy. Memories of Lagos:
2. Eko The Musical
1. Beyond The Rules (Danfo on Lagos Bridge) by Kosol Owundinjor (Photo by Lagos) http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/beyond-the-rules/
2. Protected Helmet (eko oni baje helmet) by Kosol Onwudinjor (Photo by Lagos) http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/protected-helmet/
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