Cynical City Lights
It’s late evening in this city that has still found no reason to love you. Your boss closes from work having hit top form today, in terms of being an asshole; you have murdered him in seventy different ways in your head already. You get into one of these rickety buses that pile up orthopaedic misery on your back by the day. There is nothing in your system, save the contents of a poorly refrigerated bottle of Coca-Cola gulped at 8.40a.m.
It’s Friday, but for you it’s the old script: argue with your thoughts, revel in the strange pleasure you derive from having another emotional door slammed in your face, coming to terms with the fact that you may never wake up next to certain people that you’re not about to name, then offer some Chocolate vodka as a peace offering to the demons you go to war with on twenty-five hours out of twenty-four. You feel at home with the pain and silence from an ice-cold world by now, but a foot stomp from this new passenger adds some physicality to the mix. He knows what he has done, fixing an under-aged girl’s butt to his laps since his love can’t adequately foot the bills for two, and you give him “that” look. Still he doesn’t flinch, and you don’t mince words in letting him know (or rather, reminding him) what he did.
“Dude, you stepped on me”, you say.
“Guy, na Lagos bus be this”, he replies.
Oh well, you didn’t know that in Lagos, there exists a different definition for courtesy and civility, or that an apology was something you had to fight for like a World Cup trophy.
“Whether Lagos or Abuja, manners are manners”, you retort, in a voice so loud that it drowns out the feeble attempt at “sorry” from the minor who might as well have been sitting on a “carrot”.
“Oya, everybody come down, we don reach.”
The bus grinds to a halt amidst accusatory screams in the tone of “Oloshi, you nor carry us reach park, upon the 200 naira wey we pay”.
For you, this part of the trip could not have ended sooner. Your lower back bears the effect of a long week in the city’s vehicles, whose exhaust fumes now form part of your diet. You cannot and should not complain; you brought this on yourself. Afterall, you did not pack your bags and leave your family, your friends (who by now are sipping Star Radler while you wince in pain), and your adorable mattress to seek grass whose colour you can’t quite ascertain, with a gun to your head.
You jump into a tricycle. Yes, “jump” is the word; you need to be in active motion if you intend to get any part of this city in good time. You still remember the day you had to swing your elbow to catch a bus to work. Gideria has a way of bringing out the beast in individuals, eating out another chunk of their soul with each working day.
Two ladies pass by, swaying their hips. One in particular tries so hard, just to show that it’s not just fabric obeying the wind at that angle, and when you hear the tricycle operator exclaim “see nyansh”, you know he is not referring to her.
“Dey reason ‘hass’ there, nor look wetin you dey drive”, you tease him.
“Hass”?! How did that h-factor find its way to your tongue? You cringe at the idea that the speech pattern of the locals may rub off on you. Your thoughts are interrupted by the next man who flags down the tricycle. He gets in, and for a moment you feel like you are in a gathering of elders, where Aromatic Schnapps is not in short supply.
He talks about the need for flyovers on the island, he talks about the lack of adequate town planning, and he talks about display of status being one of the reasons for change in location. It is easily the most insightful thing you have heard today…unless you decide to regard your boss’ nags as inspirational nuggets.
He says he will stop wherever the rest of you choose to get off the vehicle. You almost feel sorry for him, and you think of his friends who must have let him have too much of the gin, and then left him to his fate. None of you pay for his fare, and he is left to haggle with the rider.
As if infected by the man’s breath, you stagger, in the direction of Iya Sikirat. You don’t have much of a choice: Ugochi is not waiting for you all dressed in your towel after creating magic in the kitchen, none of that is in place, and Mega Chicken is not the brightest idea on the 23rd day of the month. Besides, your 100 naira rice is equivalent to what others pay 200 naira for, and you don’t know why Sikirat keeps doing that, but you intend to enjoy it while it lasts.
“Oga, you for come since na. Food e don finish”, you hear Sikirat say.
You see them washing the dishes, and you picture your last shot at a decent, cost-effective meal go into the sand like the water from the basin. You think of your family, you remember there was always rice at home, and you tilt your head towards the sky, groaning loudly.