BLACK, WHITE & YELLOW:THE IRONIES OF LAGOS

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.

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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

Oya enter

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’  

All Photos by- Seun James Taiwo (IG: @seunjamestaiwo)

BLACK,WHITE & YELLOW: OJOTA

“Ogbodo ridin (don’t be stupid)

Ogbodo suegbe(don’t be slow)

Ogbodo ya mugun L’Eko (Don’t allow yourself to be taken for a fool in Lagos)”

Culled from BlackAss by Igoni. A. Barrett

Growing up in Ojota in the 90s and early 2000s was quite different for me. While normal kids played on the streets, I was forced to stay inside the house and read. Read my school books, read journals, I even read Tell Magazine as a kid, even though I never really understood what was in it. I usually also read my Uncle Akin‘s Hints magazine whenever he dropped it carelessly, my mother caught me on one occasion and beat every hint of the magazine content out of me, my uncle also got the sticks from her for keeping such around the house (It was in my SSS class, I solved the mystery of why my mother beat me for reading Hints). I was made to read so much that at a point I thought my parents were out to kill me with books. I watched from our window pane while other kids my age splashed water on each other in the rain, or while they ran across the street to play the rubber band game. I hated them, I envied them, I wanted to be them so bad. Anytime I got a rare opportunity to join them in playing, I always got bullied. I wasn’t street smart one bit.

There was the day I saw Muri and Niyi playing table tennis on a makeshift Tennis board, I was running an errand for my mum, but I decided to damn the consequences and play this particular game with them. They asked me if I knew how to play table tennis and without thinking it through, I said yes. Niyi was a bit nice and he gave me his Bat and with my first hit, I broke the tennis egg. Muri asked me to pay for the Tennis egg, I told him I didn’t have money and I was trying to run away, for a boy my age I was supposed to be smart and talk my way through, but to cut the long story short, Muri and Niyi beat the hell out of me. I’m grateful to my uncle Akin, he saved me from their hands, it was as if Muri was on a quest to make my legs bow like his…

I am now writing this because earlier this year, I visited Ojota again. Did I tell you that after that beating from Muri and Niyi, Mum and Dad decided to take me to a boarding school to toughen me up. I spent most of my time in the school, I even spent some holidays within its walls. I moved to New York just after secondary school and Ojota had soon become vague memory. I only came back to Nigeria for my youth service and I had planned on visiting old friends and show old foes a new me

I had read Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the thief few weeks before traveling down to Nigeria and I related with the book so much that I promised myself to experience Lagos like the character in Teju’s book had done. I promised myself to connect with the normal Lagos life, I wanted to document Lagos as much as I could, I wanted to take as many pictures as possible and I promised myself not to give in to the kingly treatment accorded to the IJGBs.(I Just Got Back)

BWY 01

Black, White and Yellow- Lagos is home to all 

… I visited Ojota again. I braved the nagging of my mother, the sarcasm of my father and the blunt refusal of my Uncle Akin who was now a Major in the army. They all didn’t want me visiting Ojota again, definitely not in a Danfo, never will that happen my mother swore loud in YòrùbáOrí mí kó” The same woman who was always lapping me around in Danfos and Molues back in the day, I wondered why she was acting like I was going to the war front. I, like Teju, refused to listen to whatever they had to say and headed for the road with my Canon T5i camera in my backpack and iPhone in hand. I came to a compromise with Uncle Akin and I took his offer of a lift from Lekki to Obalende.

I love the new Lagos. The nearly pristine way people lined up for the BRT under the Obalende Bridge was not what I expected, the neat roads from Lekki and all the beautifully tended lawns around Dolphin Estate made me remember the first time I made love, she was a pretty girl from Manhattan and seeing this particular lawn at Dolphin Estate reminded me in a very odd way of how silky her hair felt in my hand, the smooth road reminded of her smooth palms caressing my jugular, like Lagos, I was pleasured in a treacherous routine.

I took a tricycle down to CMS from Obalende, I wanted to see the beautiful Brazilian (Saro) influenced architecture on this part of Lagos. I had been on this part of the city with my mother on one or two occasions as a boy, and I can barely remember any of the buildings vividly, but as the tricycle zoomed off,  my memory was refreshed by the sights. Some sights of disappointments, some other sights of hope, some sights of freshness, some just wowed you till your eye teared a little, this is really Lagos after-all.

I got to the Tafawa Balewa Square, the Old Race Course and alighted from the yellow Tricycle. I bought my tickets and joined the queue down to Ojota. The funny thing was that I was missing the Chaotic Lagos, the rush for buses, the coarse rendition of different bus stop names by conductors which wasn’t t much on this part of Lagos due to the big air conditioned buses, in place of the comical conductors, it was just uniformed people selling tickets and frowning a lot. Oddly, I miss this Lagos chaos that I had romanticized in my head.

My camera was now in my hand, I hadn’t summoned enough courage to use it all the while, but the trip down to Ojota from TBS gave me a good opportunity to shoot. I sat by the bus window and took a lot of pictures, like a little kid given a cane to beat on someone, I snapped everything and anything in my way. I couldn’t remember the names of most of the areas on the way, on a Danfo, the conductor would have called all bus-stops to everyone’s hearing, but the new Lagos is systematic, you might have to ask people around for these details…

… I got to Ojota and alighted from the BRT, the air in Ojota was a bit different. The smell of hot beef from the Gala factory in the area filled the air, at some points pungent odour came from nearby dumps and smeared the hunger inducing smell of the Gala. I think I finally found my Lagos, I grinned slightly and walked forward, my phone already beeping. “Hello, are you in Ojota now? Please be careful o and my regards to Tayo” my mother’s voice resonated from the other side. I quickly cut the call at the sound of bye, I just saw something worthy of capture…

A man dressed as a woman. He was standing just below the Ojota pedestrian bridge, and people were gathered to watch him display. He had breasts made of foam, a very large ass. If any woman had such big ass, every other woman would have a common enemy, he made up his face in a very grotesque manner and his facial expressions were the ultimate comedy. He was actually selling black soap (or maybe I was the one that thought it as black soap) and his target audience were the women around. The ones who couldn’t afford the expensive skin care creams, the ones who marvel at his comedy, they were all buying his product. This man had a good marketing strategy because he had lots of women listening to him while he displayed the magic of the soap. I decided to overcome my fear and take some pictures of the crowd and the entertainer, I looked for a vantage point and clicked and clicked and I kept clicking. I was still clicking when Uncle Akin’s call came in “Hello Bodunde, hope you’re in Ojota now? “ that was the last word I heard for the next 6 minutes.

É pèlé bòòdá

Bí wón se ma’án se níbí nìyen

Sé etí ò dùn yín?

It was like I was hearing the echoes of what all these people were saying, like they spoke from kilometers away. The petty traders, the pedestrians, the law enforcement officials, I was the new entertainment. My mind raced back to when Muri and Niyi beat me up back in the day, a skinny child who wasn’t street smart. Now right here in the same Ojota, few metres away from my old house and almost 15 years later, I am being consoled by strangers for not being street smart, my phone is gone, a single slap took it away…

Written for the Photo Series titled ‘Black,White&Yellow – An Attempt to narrate Lagos’  

All Photos by- Seun James Taiwo (IG: @seunjamestaiwo)

PLEASE WALK!

Please walk!
Away from beautiful lies
The amusing sadness
From hugs that squeezes life out of you

Please walk!
A mile away from disappointing friends
Far away from little happiness and gargantuan pain
From the Ones that are quick to say a shabby ‘sorry’
And quicker to hurt your being

Please walk
!
Away from what you want
The sweet nothings you lech after
The one that makes you lay with the Devil
That fill your eyes with tears of regrets
And make your knee crumble at the weight of your belly

Please walk!
Before you are made a prisoner
A spoil of war.

Bed Time Thoughts

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All happened in my mind

We met at work

The first week, we said Hi! Hi! and that was it

The second week, she didn’t turn up. She was sick. I waited till the end of the week to get her number from our boss claiming I wanted to check on her but right then I knew it was a means to an end.

The third week, I placed a call through to her and we started talking. That was the beginning of our friendship

Midway through the week, we were already sending messages on a social app. I was using google and the few knowledge my mum had passed down to me about treating her ailment to get her confidence and I did a good job of it

The fourth week, she couldn’t wait to get back to work cos then, we were friends and we were already chatting like we’ve known each other forever

And finally, the fifth week

The first thing she ever told me in a heart to heart talk was that she did not exist. She told me she had a boyfriend but that things were fragmented between them and that for the past few weeks, I’ve usurped him. It was a beautiful lie, the truth buried deep inside. The truth was beautiful but not as beautiful as the lie

The first thing I ever told her was a reply to her beautiful lie. I told her she needn’t worry as she didn’t exist. I told her she was just another office worker that I stopped thinking about once I signed out of the office. It was a beautiful cheeky line. The truth, also buried deep inside. She did not exist so, why do I keep seeing her every time I close my eyes (till date)?

Cynics will always get it bad. I know I need to be in love, I know I want to be in love, I know I just want to love someone for a change. It’s just bad because it all happens in my head with her or so I thought
Maybe she doesn’t exist or maybe she does.…
Maybe she is just a distant memory I’m hopelessly trying to bring back.
I don’t care, I loved her…. I love her

Last night as I close my eyes, I saw her pointing excitedly at the spider building. She pulled me to the entrance and begged me to see the structural beauty of the building even if the lack of maintenance had robbed the building of its aesthetics. I smiled and shook my head. She turned and held my hands, looking into my dark face. I looked into her eyes and my reflection as a tiny twinkle. I was still smiling. I was in love with the building, I was just pretending. She begged me to come inside but then she caught a glimpse of her shadow and she knew immediately that it was late

This isn’t a lie, this really happened….
I prefer the lie so I’m going to lie about our visit to forks and fingers, her favourite restaurant

Pointing excitedly at the ice cream shop, she pulled me to the shop’s window and begged me to come inside with her. I smiled and shook my head. She begged me to come inside and eat some ice cream with her. She said it was going to be worth it. I said she did not exist, hence the ice cream did not exist and that everything was just my wild imagination. She said my mind was her amusement park and right now she wanted ice cream. I laughed and told her to go inside

The ice cream shop was small and it was all in my mind. I made two chairs appear on the far corner of the shop. There was no one in the shop so I held her close to me and looked through the different ice creams

Vanilla
Chocolate
Strawberry
Amala

She laughed and pushed me away. She asked why I had to create Amala-flavoured ice cream. I told her that my mind love a little dark humour and chocolate wasn’t dark enough. She pulled me out of the shop

The sky turned grey and rain started pouring melancholically. She asked me what was wrong. I said I just remembered I was a sad fellow. She held me and told me to kiss her. I kissed her. We kissed. The warmth from her lips gave me a kind of glow. It was as though the sun came out through her mouth and my tongue was the cloud giving way for it to shine. The rain stopped and birds sang songs from up in the trees. The sun was shining bright and our feet felt a little scorched

We were standing in her room, she hugged me and told me she loved my mind. I smiled and lifted her from her feet. She screamed happily as I swung her around. Her voice was the lead on the song the birds sang. The wall clock was the bass, my heart was the percussion beating rapidly. My mind was the stage, the audience and the applause that followed. I’ve landed my one and only

We fell to the bed and laughed. She told me she wished we could do this forever. I said I could but then I’d have to die. That way my eyes would be closed forever and my mind forever active. She smiled a sad smile and sighed. It started raining and through the open window, I could feel a few droplets. I would have sworn, the raindrops tasted like tears and the rain sounded more like a wail of a Scottish bag pipe

I told her I missed her.
I told her I loved her.
She told me she did not exist.
She was a beautiful lie.
I love it

I still do….

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