Guest Post: Cashless: Diary of a Lagos Commuter by Abdallah Dindi

Maryland, Lagos

As usual, I closed from work that Wednesday. I hopped down the stairs and crossed to the other side of the road. In two minutes I was in front of an ATM machine down the street. The machine spoke to me; I checked my account balance and headed straight to the bus-stop. I looked forward to a safe journey home, a modest dinner, and a refreshing sleep at night. But something happened that evening after the bus moved.

Several minutes into the journey, the bus conductor began to ask for the bus fare. This he did with neither respect nor decorum. The way he treated other passengers in front of me earned him a spiteful and condescending frown from me. Who’s this rude and impatient fellow? I thought to myself. My confident countenance was buoyed by the fact that I was so sure I had the N500 note in my pocket to pay him – the money that also held promise for a decent dinner.

Still frowning, I dipped my hand into my pocket to fetch the note. It brought out nothing save a bruised N10 note. I thrust it into the other pocket, this well was dry too. In split seconds, my frown diffused into thin air. I had started to search my brown envelope for the money when the conductor came around the second time demanding his money, his tone getting worse with less patience. By now, my frown had melted away completely and my face told of deep anxiety. I searched my pack painstakingly and my fingers probed the corners of my pocket again and again. Same story. I had to face reality. Even if my money had been stolen or misplaced, it was definitely not on this bus. How was I to convince this red-eyed conductor to accept N10 for a N30 journey?

I quickly consulted a fellow passenger next to me for help, but he shook his head and soon hopped off the bus at his stop. I moved on to the next person, a guy like me. I tapped. I nudged, and made my humble petition in low tones, like a criminal nabbed red-handed in crime. But this fellow turned a deaf ear, nay, a blind eye to my plight and request. He looked straight out of the window, his eyes fixed on a distant object like someone in a trance. Shame engulfed me now. I felt desolate, deserted and betrayed. I withdrew. I decided to rise to the occasion and do like a man; to open up to the conductor.

With a steady voice that belied my anxiety I announced to him that I had just a third of the fare and if he so wished I could alight at the next bus-stop.

“Ehn!” he barked. His temple creased in mistrust and furious furrows formed on his forehead. He refused and demanded that I pay the full fare. I gave no response, the creased N10 note still in my hand and a defiant resolve painted on my face. As we travelled further, he probably saw the futility in holding a penniless and stubborn man for common N20. Then he beckoned to his driver to halt at the nearest bus-stop. The bus stopped.

I rose from my seat thinking he would spare the last N10 I had on me. That was wishful thinking. For when I got to the door, I met a wide, red palm stretched before me. I placed the money in his hand and hopped off the bus. I hopped into the uncertainties that held sway that evening! –GN!

Photo credit: Gbenga Awomodu

Guest Post: Two Quick Book Reviews! by Lanre Shonoiki

It’s been almost a week since I made a post. My few final weeks in the University are already filled with several deadlines and my examination time table is out! But I’ll ensure there’s at least one new post every week.  For the first post this week, I share two quick book reviews by Lanre Shonoiki my witty friend and classmate. The Thing Around Your neck and Eko Dialogue are two of my favourite books read so far (this year)… Enjoy!

THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK (written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Here, Chimamanda transitions from the novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, into a collection of short stories, told in the effective, simple language she is highly reputed for. Skepticism on the minds of her fans about her ability to rightly tell bits of narrative doesn’t make it beyond “Cell One.” Characters practically walk out of the pages and lead you through experiences so real that you sometimes fear you turned the last leaf over yourself. The exuberant youth who learns from the shattered to value life (Cell One); the retired lecturer whose life resonates with wraiths of friends and lovers past (Ghosts); the faraway wife on the verge of “adopting” a “younger sister” (Imitation); the as-like-as-chalk-and-cheese writers on Jumping Monkey Hill; the re-dejected Kamara with autistic lesbian tendencies and a handful of others all resound the depth of Adichie’s knowledge of the situations, challenges and psyches of Nigerians. Accounts presented are rich, personal, convincing, seamless and above all beautiful in all their circumstantial imperfection. By the end, readers would find themselves culturally and essentially educated, critics would be rendered speechless, publishers and editors would have found a new standard of reference and writers would have found a higher level of story-telling to aspire to. Thumbs up Ngozi! The hat trick is complete.

EKO DIALOGUE (written by Joy Isi Bewaji)

Simply hilarious!

Some would describe this book that’s barely twice this whole review as ‘small’. ‘Effective’ should be the word. Joy manages to share the true Lagos experience in a hundred and twelve twenty-line pages. (A handful of BBC’s best reporters have tried in over a million words and the thesis is still on the drawing board.) Eko Dialogue is a collection of broken “gossips” on the lives of unrepentant survivors as they rive through the Lagos city cum hive, tricking and treating barely living bodies and semi-nobodies in a bid to make it back home at night… for the next day’s dose of the city’s travails. A fine broth spiced with slangs, grammar-murdering bus conductors, unforgivable vanity junkies and people who haven’t the faintest idea who they are, Eko Dialogue is a book you will keep not just for reference (I bet some of the stories bring personal experiences to mind), but for the occasional laugh you need to fix a broken day.  A few typos make the read slightly bumpy, but be rest assured that you would get good value for your money… or the minutes of cajoling it would cost you to borrow a friend’s copy (no one would let this book out easily). You’ll be through with the book in a few hours, but the book will linger a little longer… to punctuate the next time you haggle the fare with the conductor or listen to the pastor bid you sow “special seeds”.

Ababuo: Another Night in Lagos

By Gbenga Awomodu

Night falls upon us

Photo Credit: Tosin Poluyi

“Ababuo!” Mama’s voice tolls from the back yard. “Aba-buo-oo…!”she calls a second time, then a third, her voice now approaching a crescendo. “Mama… I’m coming!” Ababuo crawls out of the old rusty bed, accompanied by the jingling of tarnished springs, dislocated out of joint. Tired and still sleepy, she yawns and squints in the dark room. She feels the side of the bed, and the window sill for the torch. Outside the window, the day has suddenly sung itself into evening. The evening comes in slow steps, its star silvery and solitary on the girdle of the early night.

She saunters out of the door, into the dark night which now engulfs the backyard like the devil’s parcel. She staggers and navigates the delicate path to the kitchen, amidst rooms unconventionally scattered on both sides of the tiny passage. She walks somewhat unsteadily like a blind man feeling his way. She is led by a glimpse of the red glow of kerosene lantern down the path and the beam of light from her torch.

As she draws close, the sweet aroma of peanut soup wafts along with intrusive smoke from the cramped dingy kitchen. “The soup is ready. Let’s make the fufu.” Mama pours the boiled starchy cassava and plantain into the giant, wooden mortar and pounds it into a glutinous mass, stirring to the limits of her endurance. She dumps a cup of the mixture into a wet bowl. Ababuo shakes the dough until it forms a smooth ball with sticky, slightly resilient consistency. She serves the fufu on five platters alongside the peanut soup. She takes Papa’s dish – the largest of all the platters – into the living room, and makes for the frontage where Papa and her two siblings are seated.

Under the moonlight, Papa, a poor pensioner and head of a family scraping by on a single income, shares banters and stories from the good old days with friends. The kids in the compound listen, enthralled by the golden gloom of the past and the bright-hued hope of the future. She walks at an even clip towards her father and whispers to him, Papa your favourite is ready. Papa brings his Ghana-Must-Go story to a close and excuses himself. Suddenly, power supply is restored to the street. Everybody, young and old, diffuses into thin air.

Two hours later, darkness descends on the community! The television flickers into nothingness. Ceiling fans whirr to a stop. Ababuo sighs, gasps, and laments as she reaches for the match box. She lights the kerosene lantern and her candle, opens the windows, and lifts the curtain for a release of fresh air from the street. The air is raw and pointed. She studies strenuously for another hour before the candle chills out. She cringes with pain in her heart. The stifling room heats up.  Smell of fossil fuels laces the air. At 12 am, the wail of a trio of power-generating engines in the compound gives way to the loud singing from a church, four blocks away. Ababuo slips under the clammy sheets. She catches a glimpse of her Ghana-must-go bag as she tries to find sleep on the wafer-thin mat. Every occupant in the room has rivulets joining into streams on their forehead.

Many times, she wishes Papa had left when her people were forced out of this country. She has learnt to see in the dark and think through the noxious fumes. She dreams of success in final high school exams and hopes of a bright future. She surrenders to a fitful sleep.

(c) March 2010

Guest Post: Time Machine by Lanre Shonoiki

Bike Man

Bike Man on the Island

Granted, this sounds like another lofty claim, but had I never made use of this appliance myself I wouldn’t have believed it too. Its operating mechanism starts with an air-splitting chortle; as though the gods are mocking our attempts at twisting the hands of time. The transition platform shudders under my feet as the contraption kicks to life and assumes a rhythmic rumble. My eyes are fixed on the dial running up the radial calibrations on the speed gauge. Slowly but surely, the air around me starts to rush by, gaining speed and finally nearing the regime of a cyclone. I raise my palms to my face; they’re sweaty. So are my ears under the nearly deafening shield of the helmet I was made to wear. Yet, I still hear the steady buzz of the power engines; though unsure whether through the vibrations underfoot or those near my ossicles. My heart is racing, my mouth is dry. I can feel the air sweeping back the fur on my arms as it dries my eyes to the brink of pain. The solace I find in the backward rush of the clear blue sky overhead is not enough. I’m as scared as a cornered stray dog…

But the okada man couldn’t be less concerned about my situation. He hums a local tune a few decibels above the revving of his bike’s engines as he weaves deftly through staggered rows of traffic-jammed cars on Ikorodu road. Save for the horrid look on my face, Neil Armstrong would have been jealous of him, me and our little time shuttle on our intergalactic journey. Oh yeah! We did bend time. While other commuters waited at bus stops for commercial transport that rarely arrives in good time, I was fast approaching my destination; the JAMB office. It was past noon and I had to get my little sister’s result slip ready for the post-UME exams slated for the next morning. Necessity had finally pushed me over the mountain of excuses I had for not patronizing commercial bikes. For one, the fact that the cost of these jolly rides always encourages peace talks between the walls of my pockets discourages whimsical ascension of the soft leather seats. Worse still, there is the occasional mishap when a misdirected bike spills its load -passenger and rider irrespective- onto the road and probably into some innocent by-standing NEPA pole… or occasionally, into the hungry tires of a moving trailer. Ew!

Never mind though, the busy businesswoman who has to reach Ikeja from Victoria Island in 30 minutes isn’t complaining. Neither is the UNILAG student who has an 8 o’clock lecture on some Monday morning in the first few weeks of resumption for a new session. On the machine, he’s over both Herbert Macaulay and University Roads in 8 minutes, notwithstanding mud splashed from yucky puddles onto his new True Religion jeans, notwithstanding the occasional burn he suffers when his trousers ride high and his right leg kisses the hot silencer… and OMG! The dirty helmet!! If the privilege of not riding confined in some ramshackle bus with hard, wooden seats is not enough consolation, then the vainer benefit of sometimes sharing a bike with a well-endowed chick might just be… Or far more fulfilling, the fact that while he cruises towards a seat in front in a class of 200 (with no Public Address system), towards a sure 3% of the requisite 65% attendance for writing examinations and away from the assault of the overzealous midday sun; Lanre, his prudent, meticulous and safety-conscious classmate has to wait on the campus shuttle queue… for another 45 minutes.

Lanre Shonoiki is a final year Chemical Engineering student at the University of Lagos. An avid reader and freelance writer, he lives in Lagos.