October 24, 2017.
You sling your backpack across your slightly bent shoulder, moving your body quickly for the leather to find home on your spine. It’s a relatively safer time of the day; seven hours before, or in the next eight hours, you would prefer to have the bag nestling on your stomach, because it’s stress to the neck joints to look over your shoulders every half-minute; the thefts in this city happen too quickly, and nanoseconds are all it takes to be a gadget or purse poorer in these parts.
“Gbvrbytrsmnwwh, one corner, one corner, one corner…jtyrfcvbghsvtykl, one corner, one corner, one corner.”
You set out into the road made fairly busy by the closing bells of the elementary schools in the area, and you are forced to share the sidewalk with a number of school kids, who would pass for six-year-olds, mouthing the lyrics of a recent viral track from neighbouring Ghana, complete with an accompanying ridiculous dance move. In weeks past you had trolled Instagram accounts that uploaded videos of the dance with comments like “too much Banku and Kenkey”, as you not only found it hard to mentally process how a trend could be birthed out of simulating intercourse with walls and chairs, you also wondered how the lines between comedy and madness had become so blurred.
You saunter into the kiosk at the next street and make the usual order; sliced bread, (hopefully) brought in today, two hundred and fifty naira to part with. The owner of the place, his hair quickly greying, takes the notes from you with grateful eyes; he had been lying on the floor of his “office” minutes earlier, and you were his first customer for the day. You look at him thoughtfully, wishing for a moment you could purchase every damn loaf on the wooden shelves, if only to clear out the clouds from his face. It would be easy for him to think that the woman selling confectionaries next door has cast a spell on his trade, or that his distributor has been serving up stale loaves lately, but how would he know that sliced bread is gradually gliding into the realm of ostentation and luxury these days? If only he knew how lucky he was not to be living in certain states where public employees are in debt owing to unpaid wages, while statues are erected for foreign leaders who are pretty unpopular in their home countries.
“Ikeja along, o wa o!”
“Iyana-ipaja-toll gate-cement-alagbado wole!”
You alight from the big yellow bus, squeezing yourself and your backpack past a bearded young man, on whose laps is seated a lady whose facial features and bust betray post-pubescence. She appears comfortable, never mind that there is a small yard of space between her backside and his trousers, like she is resting on a pin. He whispers into her ears, his stubble brushing her chin, and she giggles. Such love! You almost want to coo in acknowledgment of their public display, but you remember the report on Instablog9ja from the previous day, where a teenager (allegedly) lunged a knife into her lover’s chest barely 48 hours after he composed a heartfelt birthday message for her on his Facebook page, and you take a deep breath instead, pondering on how emotions find it so easy to swing across extremes.
You spot two policemen walking in your direction, you begin to feel uneasy, particularly when one seems to have his gaze fixed on you, and you sigh in relief when they suddenly take a turn to a dirt road on the left. Your shivers are not without good reason; you have no idea where the receipt for your laptop could be, and in these streets, a young man in a black t-shirt and brown shorts with a backpack containing a banged up HP Pavilion must be an internet fraudster (never mind that this is not 2007 anymore). No, he can’t possibly be a writer, editor, blogger or even an Information Technology expert, else he would have been in some office. He must be surfing the web for a middle-aged Caucasian to swindle, and who knows, his phone must be littered with nudes of some cougar whom he is seeking to extort.
“Hey, look where you’re going!”
You scan the mini-park to your right with your eyes, searching out a tricycle that is going towards Allen Avenue (all intentions noble, it isn’t Friday evening), but you reckon without the man who bumps into you, the one clutching a number of heavy files under his right arm, whose one round pouch has impacted on his gait. You apologise, and with one quick look you can deduce his calling; the tiny collar of his white shirt which yearned for bleach, the jacket, the striped trousers. He looks a tired forty, you can tell that there is no car parked nearby whose back seat would feel the weight of those files, and you wonder how long he can go on practising law like this.
“Fine boy, good afternoon o.”
You are approached, or rather, confronted, by a petite lady holding a microphone, with a jolly-looking fellow mounting a camera. They take position, amidst screams of “una go pay rent for this place wey una wan use do video o.” The name of the station as printed on the microphone does not come close to ringing a bell, and while you are not one for vox populi, you have a few minutes to gamble with.
“Good day sir, introduce yourself.”
“We want to know who your celebrity crush is.”
You know it’s Ruby Gyang, you once uploaded her photo two Wednesdays in a row, but since the Choc City signee has refused to embrace sufficient fame, you say, “Yemi Alade.”
“Why do you like her?”
“She is smart, she’s got stage presence and cghytbngrdsfpy…”.
You almost want to add “and she’s feminist”, but then the next question could be “what do you understand by feminism?” and you are in no mood for that.
“Ok, sing one Yemi Alade song for us.”
The world stops.
You want to tell your interviewer that the last time you sang in amplified mode at a friend’s birthday years ago, the microphone developed a fault. You want to tell her that your voice was built for pillow talk and not melody, but she probably reads the words from your eyes, and says, “don’t worry about the voice, just sing.”
The world stops again, for a few seconds longer this time.
For a moment, you want to brave it and break into a cacophony, but then you remember Kraks TV, you remember Funny African Pics, you remember Pulse Nigeria, your remember African Jagbajantis Vines, and the voices in your head concur with a resounding “you really don’t have to do this!” You remember Okon Lagos’ “what did you say?”, Mr. Ibu’s facial expressions, Chinwetalu Agu’s exclamations, and you elect to refrain from disgracing your community on live television. In any case, all lyrics relating to Ms. Alade’s catalogue have flown out of memory.
You begin to mumble, tilt your head away from the microphone, take a few steps backward and move from the interviewer’s reach, sighing as you board a tricycle few metres away. The images of a disappointed lady and a chuckling photographer fade into the distance, and you slowly shake your head, muttering “it’s not worth it.”
The tricycle gets caught up in the traffic jam that has trapped vehicles underneath a large bridge, and you observe a few muscular young men, all in vests, moving around, gesturing to their own faces. You look just above the chin of the one nearest to you, and you figure out what they are selling. You know better than to trade with these ones who have gone overboard with the pink lips business; you don’t want to end up looking like a drag queen who forgot to wipe off his makeup. You want to fart, but your co-passenger is Snapchat goals, so you hold it all in, inhaling the fumes from a city in constant motion.
Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer, screenwriter and literary critic. He has been published in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Pulse Nigeria and Kenya’s Daily Nation. He critiques African literature for Okadabooks on the Bellanaija platform. A lover of finger foods, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Book Reviews.