In Lagos, everything is designed to kill you, everything is designed to make you laugh, everything here is business. Name anything and you’ll see that what I am saying is true. I have been here for a couple of months now, and I’m getting to rediscover the Lagos I left behind. The Lagos of Mad people in bespoke suits & sane people in tattered apparels! Lagos and it’s many ironies.
I once saw a man walk up to a mad man under the bridge in Ojuelegba and gave him two hundred Naira note, I thought he was such a kind hearted person till he brought out pen and paper hurriedly as the mad man muttered some numbers. I was confused, I had to ask my new friend, Joseph about the whole charade. Joseph and I are both undergoing our compulsory Youth service at Flobbs Media at Onikan.
Mah guy, na wetin we dey call “Too sure” be that! Joseph said
I didn’t understand so I quizzed him further
“See ehn, the numbers the mad man gave that guy, he only gives it to one person per day. Tomorrow, we fit hear say that man win Baba Ijebu money”
What’s Baba Ijebu? I asked while twitching my nose
It’s a lottery system, old and young play it, even corporate people play. You see that guy is the lucky one today, someone can give the mad man two thousand naira and he won’t even pretend like you are there afterwards, he only gives the number to anyone his spirit inclined with.
But how do you know these things? I had asked with my eyes watery with surprise
Omo, no dull o, I dey play wella. I don give that wèrè Hundred naira before, the idiot no even send me
You look like the idiot here- I thought aloud within myself
I was quiet for a while as we kept walking forward to get a Keke Napep to Adeniran Ogunsanya, I had stopped calling it Tricycle after they called me JJC at Allen junction in Ikeja the other day, I asked Uncle Akin for the street name for the tricycle. I kept thinking about what Joseph had told me about the mad man, and I was wondering who was the real mad person here? The mad man giving out numbers and collecting cash from a lot of able bodied men or Joseph and his likes, collecting numbers from a mad person.
The ironies of Lagos are kind of bitter sweet, humorous to say the least. Most times, it is a “siddon look” situation.
Last Sunday, I was going to meet up with Joyce. After my Ojota incident, I feared Lagos but I still didn’t want to look like a weak child to my parents so I stuck to my plan of experiencing Lagos (unwillingly). Joyce and I met at the NYSC secretariat in Surulere. Joseph had actually introduced me to her and like me, she schooled abroad. She always liked to flaunt “I schooled at the University of Liverpool” at everyone that came her way, I know a lot of people that don’t like Joyce because they think she is too much of a show off. Once she knew I, like herself, didn’t go through the clogged education system in Nigeria, she didn’t bother with the charade. We were both in Calligraphy CDS and she had been inviting me to her place for a while, but I had declined a number of times. Joyce actually liked me, but myself, I wasn’t ready to be choked by commitments. I just wanted to document places, sleep and eat without any woman nagging me all the way. I agreed to visit Joyce after Mass on Sunday.
Even though I barely attended one church service in New York, I still liked the idea of attending mass at St Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland. This has been our family church since I was a boy and I had always visualized myself getting married in the church. The stained blue cross glass with artistic design just behind the altar was and is still my favorite view in the large auditorium. After the 7AM mass, I rushed down to Mr Biggs to grab a bite after which I headed for the bus-stop.
No King as God! The inscription written at the back of the Danfo!
Yaba! Palmgroove! Onipan! Yaba! Yaba!! Yaba!!! Wolé pèlú shangi o– the conductor was very mechanical with the way he called the location! There were like three other conductors around calling out the same tune and their keys seemed to rhyme. Their orchestra was a very coarse one! I boarded the bus to Yaba, Joyce’s house was around Alogomeji, I sat in front with the driver, on the dusty dashboard I saw different stickers of Fuji artistes, but one sticker struck me
King Saheed Osupa! One and only king we know…
An elderly man came in the front seat and sat with me. He had a very old portmanteau he was carrying and it reminded me of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter series. The bus waited about fifteen minutes before moving, I had started reading Pettinah Gappah’s “Book of memory”. I was lost in the book, I didn’t hear when the Conductor said
Owó yín dà ní wájú?
It was the old man with the portmanteau that tapped me to the realization of the conductor’s voice.
Tani ìwo? Sèbí I tell you say make you enter with your change? You go come down for next bus stop. Ó dà’pé orí yín ò fé ma pé mó.
I had forgotten I exhausted the smaller Naira denominations on me in Mr Biggs.
Mister, calm down, is One thousand naira note not money? Please take a chill pill.
Èmi ni kí’n pill àbí? Ìyé e ló ma pill! Tó’n bá ti bí e da má bó’lè ní next bus-stop
I looked at the driver’s face for some sort of support, I don’t know why I thought he would support me, but I looked at him nevertheless. He was bumping his head to ‘Òlàjú dé’ by Saheed Osupa and didn’t pay cognizance to the squabble between his conductor and me. I felt a splinter of betrayal pierce my underarm. The conductor was raising his voice on someone at the back row now!
Palmgroove na waso! I no go collect taati naira from your hand. Na your papa buy motor for us?
The guy was now pleading, please help me, Ègbón e jo… Mi ò l’ówó dání (Big bros, please help me, I don’t have money on me)
Aiyé é fé bàjé àbí? Má bè mé l’ébè òsì (it’s like you want your life to be ruined? Don’t beg me)
Muti! Muti!! Park ni Anthony! Jé kí àwon wèrè yí bólè.
Ègbón Olóyìnbó? Abeg come down! I no get change! Mister Soyinka
Chairman, you can’t just tell me to get down, I paid you, it’s your duty to get me change!
If you no carry yourself and your oyinbo wey you dey scatter comot this motor now….
The driver who was laughing at his conductor now added more fuel to the fire
Olóshì, ò kùkù lo school, oyinbo kékeré yen l’ón da opolo e rú? (Unfortunate fellow, you didn’t go to school, look at how ordinary English is scattering your brain)
This infuriated the conductor more, He came to the front and jerked the door open for me after throwing my one thousand naira note on me.
Comot my motor, I go spoil your fine boy o!
I thought about it, a peacock can’t fight a pig, the peacock will get its feathers dirty. (Or I was scared of getting slapped in Lagos again) I respected myself and came down from the bus, the conductor went to the guy with thirty naira and dragged him down too. He jumped back on the edge of the door and hit the top of the bus, signifying to the Driver to move…
Here I am, standing by the roadside with enough money to get me to my destination and another man standing with not enough money to get him to where he is going to. Well, this is Lagos I thought.
As I was putting my one thousand naira note back in my pocket, the man with thirty naira moved up to me
Oga, please help me with money, I beg you with the name of God, I am actually going to my school in Akoka for a tutorial..
I didn’t let him finish before I gave him the one thousand naira note. Well, like me , he has suffered a lot today in the hands of the hostile conductor.
Another Danfo pulled up just beside us. “Yaba! Yaba!! Yaba!!! Wole pelu change e o”
I have one thousand Naira on me, I told this new conductor
What a relief! The thirty naira man also entered,
Owo yin da?
I brought out another one thousand naira and passed it to the conductor, while the man with the thirty Naira brought out a crisp one hundred Naira…
He smiled at me!
I was exploited,
I played myself.
Written for the Photo Series titled ‘Black,White&Yellow – An Attempt to narrate Lagos’