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Lagos | Chukwuemeka Oluka | Short Fiction

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Lagos? That city is something else. Blink your eyes and you’re gone. I mean gone!

I am soft-spoken, somewhat introverted and gentlemanly, with a cool head on my shoulders. I hate anything that would give me stress. In all honesty, I always try to avoid any topsy turvy situation before it comes beckoning. That is my kind of person.

Could it be because of the environment I was nurtured? Enugu, I know is a decent city. The major occupation of its citizens isn’t trading. It is majorly a civil service state and little wonder it is the capital of the old eastern region. It remains a quiet metropolis and that is why it is a choice destination to raise levelheaded children.

My personality may have also been transferred from my parents. I can never be less proud of my parents. With a disciplinarian as a mother, and a father who uses his eyes to pass messages that chastise, growing up as a child was to never go wrong. My siblings and I dare not throw caution to the wind to exhibit unnecessary exuberance. The day my elder sister stood up to challenge my mother over some back and forth that came with changing a particular television channel called Zee-World, was the day she caressed the hospital bed for 48 hours. So, my formative years saw a gentle disposition to life.

But all these were soon to disappear after I was posted to work in Lagos; a city where flyovers quickly became the cynosure of my eyes. Lagos was beautiful, yet brute and rough. The city of Lagos is a land filled with plenty of opportunities. But blink your eyes and you’re gone.

The atmosphere at Peace Park Enugu was calm. Calmer it was in the Computer HiAce bus we boarded on my first trip to Lagos. I vividly recall how the passengers conversed in Igbo and English languages. But gradually, these languages changed, with tone of voices finding preference in pidgin English upon approaching Redeemers’ Camp along the Lagos–Ibadan Express. Body languages changed as well. Life seemingly comes to deceleration when your vehicle hits that mileage. The weird traffic and the manoeuvres of desperate drivers seeking to reach their destinations on time were characterized by abuses, insults and fights.

“Could this be why they say there is no sane person in Lagos?”

I stroked my breast three times, felt my pulses and then assured myself that my stay in Lagos would be beautiful. But then, I have often heard that, “to survive in Lagos, you need the technical know-how to switch from ‘hello’ to ‘wetin dey happen’ to ‘sholoriburuku ni iya e ni?’” This mindset never departed from me as I pondered all through while enduring the usurping traffic.

At last, I alighted at Jibowu Park. The moment I walked around, I needed no soothsayer to know my world was no longer for the fainthearted.

I had little or no difficulty settling down in Lagos, all thanks to my high school mate, Lanke. The moment I told Lanke I was deployed to work at the office headquarters in Lagos, he was all over the place with excitement. The craze that came with securing a house became an untold story because it was a no-brainer I had to live with him in his apartment in Surulere. Such goodwill from Lanke meant I totally avoided daredevil house agents who would milk unsuspecting accommodation seekers dry.

Journeying from Kilo–Masha in Surulere, to Lagos Island where my office was located soon became a routine business. But on that faithful day, the gods had earmarked the day to be one which I would witness the real side of Lagos.

It was my birthday.

A night before, I had had a mental rehearsal of how my day would go. The lady at Tinubu Square, Marina whom I contracted the cooking was ready to take the next instruction from me. She waited to be told when to bring the delicacies to the 14th floor of Necom House, the tallest building in Lagos. It housed over half a century of agencies, parastatals and offices, including mine. With 32 floors to its credit, its height stood at a staggering 520 feet above the sea level from where the Atlantic Ocean could be viewed with trembling and awe, as the case may be.

What about Joke the baker? She did an excellent job with the birthday cake. Even the drinks were bought and hidden at a neighbours’ office where they were chilled for greater relish. Everything was set, waiting for the celebrant.

Traffic was kind to me and I got to my work place at exactly 7:34am. On hitting the 14th button of the elevator, I realized I forgot the toast cups for the wine. For some moments I was lost in thought. “What on earth was I thinking while I left the house,” I said to myself. I called Lanke with a shaky voice, but respite came when Balogun Market became the only solution.

In a twinkling of an eye, all coordinates of my senses headed straight for the market. The iconic Balogun market located in the heart of the Island, sprawls across so many streets. It is arguably the largest market in the city. Characterized by its boisterous nature, everyone could be seen going about their businesses. Street vendors shouted at the top of their voices. The ones with no shops hawked their wares by the road sides and they made the loudest of noise. The danfo conductor felt he was smart not to have issued me my balance, but he never knew I had to forgo the money because I was in a hurry to get the disposable toast cups. I made my way, meandering through tight lanes, bodies and goods until I located the plastic line where the cups were sold.

Upon heading back through the market, I got into a nasty fued with the woman selling ewagoyin, a delicacy of bread sandwiched with beans. The beans usually sitting pretty in the middle of an unsliced bread. While I walked in a hasty and haphazard manner, I knocked down some loaves of bread she bore on her bare head.

Since I knew sane people were rarely found in Lagos, I was ready for any outcome. I was prepared to let her know she wasn’t meant to sell along the walk ways. After all, that was the position of the law. No sooner had I taken a step to continue my walk than she quickly dropped her tray containing the remaining loaves and roared at me like a hungry lioness.

Pairs of eyes soon were focused on me. They wanted to see my actions. Maybe something was not fitting because I wore an Italian suit with a beautiful neck tie lining the collar of my shirt. Little by little, a crowd gathered, and to make matters worse, I could neither speak nor hear Yoruba. However, I noticed the indignation on their faces because all eyebrows were raised alongside tone of voices. I dashed for my breast pocket and paid her the demages. “Two persons cannot be mad at the same time,” I said to myself and left the scene.

But soon, I was stuck in a heavy traffic in the market. I would have boarded an Okada, but the Lagos state government had banned their operation. This made the rate at which boys stood between traffic to snatch people’s phones very alarming.

The traffic was unyielding, cars moving languidly at a pace slower than a snail’s. While still on a bus, I wound down the glasses. My instincts began beckoning on me to observe the side mirror. As anticipated, one of the boys made a move for my phone. When I realized what he was up to, I positioned my phone with one hand and in the other, a weapon he didn’t see. As soon as he dived my phone, he got the shock of his life. Anyways, I wish him a safe recovery.

But did I tell you: I forgot the toast cups I’d bought at the scene where I almost fought the woman who sold bread loaves? Lagos will indeed make you mad!

 

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