Syeda Ghulam Fatima

On Being the Light in Dark Places

“If your personal piety doesn’t produce patience and love toward other people…you’re practising self-righteousness”-  Lecrae.

 

We can look at the world and see all the darkness and evil surrounding us. And we can complain or debate. Who funds Boko Haram? Why does Putin act like the Anti-Christ? Why can’t America stop Assad? Why can’t we stop Daesh ( or ISIS or ISIL or whatever they are)?Why do cops kill unarmed Black Americans? When will racism end? Why can’t the world just be a better place?

 

Or we can see everything that’s wrong with the world and maybe try to make it right; one person at a time, one heart at a time and one step at a time.

 

You hold the light, and it’s shinning and making darker places brighter…

 

Like Syeda Ghulam Fatima in Pakistan who has devoted her life to ending modern day slavery in the form of bonded labour in the Brick Kilns. Fatima has been shot, electrocuted and beaten numerous times for her work as Pakistan’s Harriet Tubman. Her organisation, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front is small but determined (DETERMINED) and has been working to establish Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded labourer has access to legal aid. I only got to hear about her through Humans of New York (by the way, they’ve been able to raise over a million dollars to help her work).

 

Like the White Helmets in Syria. The White Helmets is Syria’s Civil Defence, a purely voluntary organisation. When a bomb goes off (which is awfully frequent) the White Helmets rush in first. In doing this, they risk their lives – some of them have lost limbs during rescue work. To understand the magnitude of the war in Syria, imagine a 7.5 Magnitude Earthquake every day. I have seen pictures of the White Helmets, sometimes they work without gloves. The White Helmets also now have female volunteers (some parts of Syria consider it dishonourable for men to touch women, even if it’s to rescue them) who go into the rubble to rescue women. They’re also advocating for an end to chemical warfare by the Assad regime.

 

There’s Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu, advocating for the search and rescue of the Kidnapped Chibok Girls- something like the voice in the wilderness crying. The world has forgotten, but she finds a way to remind us everyday that the girls are still missing.

 

There are tons of people who do great things every day. They create light out of the darkness, they’re the glow in the darkness. And even more astonishing is that they didn’t wait for any grand platform to start from. They just started anyway, and they’re making the world better.

What are you going to do?

 

Kanye Glastonbury

On Being the Greatest Alive

“I am the stone that the builders refused. I am the visual, the inspiration that made lady sing the blues. I am the spark that makes your idea bright, the same spark that lights the dark so that you can know your left from your right. I am the ballot in your box, the bullet in your gun… The story that just begun, the promise of what’s to come. And I’mma remain a soldier till the war is won”.

– Asheru,  Judoflip

 

I’m a Kanye stan fan. I say fan and not Stan because I don’t necessarily agree with everything that ‘Ye says or does. I loved Kanye from Graduation and College Dropout and I’d like to think that he’s one of the most gifted rappers, writers and producers. Down to earth, point-blank and full of indignation, what stole my heart most about Kanye was his ego.

I watched Kanye from being the first to admit that he was self-conscious and thinking that if he talked about Jesus, his CD wouldn’t sell to Kanye’s self-awareness that he’s a king and a wolf (beware Starks). Kanye has compared himself to Steve Jobs, Beethoven, Nelson Mandela, Picasso and even our Lord Jesus Christ. Kanye’s mind is like a Hermes factory, he jogs in Lanvin, he doesn’t think there’s a living celebrity with more weapons formed against him, and he will go down as the greatest voice of this generation. Oh and yeah, his greatest pain is not being able to watch himself perform live.

Kanye is also God’s vessel and is always bubbling with ideas, so much that he’s a superhero like Cyclops. Kanye is married to the most beautiful woman of all time, the top 10 of human existence who is undoubtedly greater than Michelle Obama. (I think Kim Kardashian is a lucky woman). Kanye is too busy writing history to read it. He is so credible and so influential and so relevant that he will change things. And he doesn’t apologise, he claims his apology to Taylor Swift was due to peer pressure.

June 27th 2015, Glastonbury Festival: Kanye stops his concert to declare to his audience “You are now watching the greatest living rockstar on the Planet”. In his own words, he may not be able to make the same statement, 10, 20 or 30 years from 2015, but in that moment, he was the greatest on earth.

That was HIS MOMENT.

Obviously I’m a little obsessed with Kanye.

But what will you do in your OWN moment?

Are you going to hide behind the celebrated virtues of modesty and pretend humility, or are you going to get on the stage and own it, knowing that you’re the greatest as long as you keep putting work out?

And it’s always YOUR moment.

Finally, in the words of Marianne Williamson,  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Love and Light

xoxo

‘Gbemisola

Zanzibar

Stone Town

The sea, the majestic sea
Breaks everything, crushes everything
Cleans everything, takes everything from me

– Corinne Bailey Rae, The Sea Lyrics

If I close my eyes long enough I can shut down and be where I want to be. I just need to concentrate….

 

 

Long enough and I’m in Stone Town. I’m looking at the slave fortress. And then the local mosque. And the market. I can see the Ankara fabrics with Swahili proverbs on the edges. I’m wearing shorts, short shorts, and a tank top. I throw my kimono on so I look acceptable, and I’m wearing a hat, like a real tourist. Not someone who is trying to… Never mind.

 

I’m strolling through the Art Market, and everything is so African and beautiful. But I need to buy things that won’t haunt me, seen too many of those in movies. I’m at the beach now. My feet are in the water. The sun always shines here. And it’s just right for me. I love the sun on water. I’m taking pictures for the nights when I don’t want to talk to anyone. I’ll scroll through them and smile and say “so beautiful”. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll find a Starfish. Or maybe I’ll just lay in a hammock and watch the sunset.

 

That always calms me, seeing the reflection of the sun on water. Maybe because it reminds me how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

 

When I open my eyes, it’s to the sound of blaring horns and the smell of exhaust. Lagos, my Lagos, you’re both the cure and the disease. I’m still between the first two roundabouts, I’m going to the sixth. The devil must live on this side of town, that’s the only logic behind this traffic. I would like to think he must live somewhere around Jakande, but Ajah people can argue about that. The fuel situation is unpredictable, so no Air Conditioning tonight. My body aches from sitting all day, and I’m tired, even to my lips so every sentence is answered with a different “hmmm”. There’s one for disagreeing, one for agreeing and another for “really?”.

 

I’m numb, not just tonight, but every day. If you asked me what I was wearing, I wouldn’t be able to tell without looking at myself first. I don’t know today’s date, I only know how many days I am from Friday. Autopilot. I work for 30 minutes and put my head on someone’s shoulder, but I don’t need shoulders. Shoulders are temporary, what I really need is to grow a spine as they say. I already have one, only wish I could brace it so I’ll stop crumbling under every little weight. I listen to Kanye’s “Graduation” and Tye Tribett’s “Greater Than”, they’re the Negro Spirituals to this Slave Ship. Kanye for indignation which is the only thing I feel at the moment, and Tye because Jesus gives me hope.

 

Swing Low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home to Kizimkazi, where the sun never stops shinning and I can put my feet in water. Kizimkazi where the fishing boats are white and the water is clear and blue.

Oh the sea….

invisible-boyfriend

Much ado about $25 and conversation

Some background: I live alone. Every once in a while I have a friend over, but I’m not great sport sometimes. I enjoy contemplating life and beauty in silence. I will be in a room full of people having great conversation and be lost in another world on my Kindle. However, if I ever need someone to talk to, I have 200 active BBM contacts (minus the people who I added for clothes and human hair). I have three loving siblings and a teeny tiny circle of friends who are always available.

 

Last week, I almost bought a boyfriend off the Internet on Invisible Boyfriend. A little background on Invisible Boyfriend- It’s a paid service, subscription is $24.99 and it gives you real-world and social proof that you’re in a relationship – even if you’re not – so you can get back to living life on your own terms .  Only reason I didn’t sign up is because I don’t live in the United States or Canada (I plan to start a petition to bring their services to Nigeria or maybe even build the Nigerian version). Invisible Boyfriend sends me 100 text messages, 10 voicemails and 1 handwritten note (I particularly love the handwritten note part).

Why Invisible Boyfriend?

 

To start with, I think I live a private enough life to have removed the need for social proof of a relationship. You only see what I want you to see, and as far as relationships go, I can say you don’t see anything at all. So why do I need a paid boyfriend? Because for starters, there’s a certain ease that comes with talking to people far removed from our world. It’s why a taxi driver can tell me that his wife suddenly absconded to Abeokuta, why women will rather email Linda Ikeji than a marriage counsellor and why we’d rather tweet than speak. People far removed from our world listen, because that’s the only thing they can do. They don’t know us well enough to judge. And even if they try to judge, they couldn’t hurt us as badly as people we know.


Again, half the time, people really do not care. You have people ask you what’s wrong and then when you finally say what’s wrong, they take off like Barry in Flash. Or maybe we can’t trust our own judgment. So we keep picking the wrong people to talk to and they keep letting us down (These h**s ain’t loyal, trust me). You can’t spend your whole life dealing with betrayal so you just totally stop trusting.

You know what they say about life being a perpetual flux and that you can’t step into the same river twice? I think it’s bullshit. You can make the same mistakes over and over again. And so you confide in your friends or lovers and they leave as people are wont to, and you confide in new friends and lovers who also leave too and the cycle is endless.

You know what? Just tell it to Jesus.

Or the boyfriend (or girlfriend) you bought.

conversation

Can We Change the Conversation?

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better”- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

 

So this my well-meaning friend, let’s call her Mrs. Z (because Mrs. A is too mainstream). Mrs Z and I lost touch, then I restored BBM on a new device and voila, here she is. Mrs Z and I have a short catching up conversation, it was 2 years since the last time we spoke. I try to ask enough questions, but not enough to make anyone uncomfortable or cross lines that I didn’t know existed. Anyways, the next night, I get a chat notification. It’s Mrs Z. “Gbemi are you married?” “Err… Nope”. “But you promised me the last time that you would get married in 2014?” “No Ma’am! I didn’t promise, but I planned to, but the whole roadmap changed”. “So when will it be now?” “Sweetie (because, I don’t want to say Boo Boo Kitty a la Cookie Lyon), if I could buy a good husband, I would have. But I can’t. So I’ll just wait till I find someone who wants me and who I want.” It gets interesting.

“But you know you’re not getting any younger, and beauty, especially for women fades”. I rush off to the bathroom with a torch (I haven’t been able to change my bathroom bulb because I’m vertically challenged) and I stare long and hard at my face. So far I have managed to defy gravity. So far. I look 23, sometimes. I run back to my phone. “Sweetie, my own beauty doesn’t fade o. Jesus has given me beauty for ashes. Besides, beauty is way more than skin deep. It’s from somewhere deep within”. Mrs Z is unrelenting. “I understand. I just think that time is going”. “I have nothing but time”. “What if I introduce you to someone?” “Errr. Nope. Been there, done that, got a T-Shirt. I’m good. Besides, I have a peculiar taste in men”  “There’s this my friend that I have given your number” “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”.

 

In the last couple of months, I’ve met many well-meaning people like Mrs. Z who are eternally trying to marry me off. And I have nothing but love for them, seeing as I have previously proved absolutely inept at getting my own game (Key word here is previously). However, I do have reservations about a society that teaches women that they are incomplete outside the walls of a home or marriage. I am hopelessly romantic and trying to be open to love. But I have come to learn that there’s so much more to life than a three letter prefix and children. And I think that it’s unfair to judge a woman’s success based on her inability to be yoked.

 

Being single is not a deficiency. There’s so much more to life for women, besides marriage and children. There’s passion and advocacy and travel and career. But if you feel marriage is God’s calling for you, it still doesn’t invalidate the choice of the other woman choosing not to marry yet. Don’t make someone else feel inadequate because they are single.

Amen?

Maybe we should start asking our daughters and friends where their careers are going and start fighting for equal pay, rather than hassle them about their marital status.

douchebag alert

How to Lose Friends and Alienate Everyone

Originally Posted in July 2014

I know everyone keeps teaching you about how to make friends and influence people, how to always be the good guy, how to take the high road and how not to be a douchebag. But that isn’t why we are here.

All of you seemingly good people will understand that being a good person is always hard. I’ve tried to be good and succeeded in the past but it didn’t get me anywhere and it doesn’t mean people won’t try to piss you off. I learned quickly that bitch-mode or douchebag-mode as default state of mind isn’t always a bad thing. And so I’ll be sharing a few easy and fun ways to make enemies and alienate people.

  • Do NOT keep in touch: This is the very first step in being a douche bag. Social Media is built to help us stay in other people’s businesses, but we don’t need friends. So while we want to feed our need for information, we must try to be as covert as possible. You can log into Facebook, but do not add any new friends or like posts and photos when you won’t be telling people Happy Birthday. It will show in News Feed. Remember to turn off Facebook Instant Messaging so no one can attempt to buzz you, but even if they do ignore them. Do not keep in touch on BBM, just read people’s updates. You may not update your pictures and status too. If they happen to want to keep in touch, do not read their messages until 1 a.m when they will be asleep. You don’t want to wake them up. Or turn off data services and read (This may not work for BBM on Android, but it’s worth a try). Whatsapp is even better. Since the plan is to alienate people, there may be no need to remove the Time Stamp. Let them see that you are online, you just don’t want to talk to them. Do not answer your phone. Do not return missed calls and do not reply text messages and if you must, reply only on weekends, because work and traffic, or because you had to be by yourself.
  • Teach people how to live their lives: This one’s pretty easy. We all always have to resist the urge to tell people how to live their lives and accept our friends as they truly are. Bullshit! If you don’t want friends, here’s a simple way to do it. Get in their business and tell them how to run their lives. Call your single friends and say something like “You are too choosy, at this rate you may have to marry yourself”, or when someone complains of being broke ask them what they do with all their money. Ask someone who is struggling with bills why she doesn’t save enough or ask a pregnant woman with 2 kids already if she is a pig. Be obnoxious, everyone will hate you.
  • Do NOT visit anyone: Your friends and cousins are all popping babies or getting married. But you are still as awesome as you were in your First Year in School. Well, you don’t want them to envy you, so don’t visit them. Do not attend weddings so you don’t have to run into other people (remember you hate people). No bridal showers or baby showers or Bachelor’s Parties for men. Decline being a Bridesmaid, Don’t buy aso-ebi. Do not call people who are grieving because you may not know what to say to them and if you do, just ask them if they would like Ice Cream. Don’t visit people who just had babies because babies are dangerous, and when you have to go, make sure it’s not the Christening Day.
  • Do NOT allow your friends to visit: So you are making progress alienating people but your mum thinks you need an intervention and she has called your friends. So they call to ask if they can visit. It would have been easier to not answer but they’ve figured you out and now only call you with different office phones. They want to visit, and if you say no you may be kidnapped and sent off to a Church on the Hill. So here’s what you do: Tell them it’s okay to visit. When the day comes, have a neighbour lock your gate for you from outside. Appearing to have gone out is key here. If you are in, they may be scared that what has been eating you has finally swallowed you and want to break in and see what’s left of you, remember it’s an intervention. However, since you are out, they will be grateful that you at least stepped out and won’t try to visit for a long time again.
  • Try to borrow money from all your friends: Call all your friends from out of the blues and ask them to lend you huge sums of money. Do not tell them why you need it or when you will return it, just give them a really vague response about how it’s important. They’ll share notes and conclude that you are a sinking ship and run. No one likes to sink. But if they do lend you, by all means default. Do not return their calls or money but be sure you show off your shopping bags and post pictures of you doing retail therapy. If they get really angry, tell them to call EFCC. That always works!
  • Be Dramatic: So you are trying to be Robinson Crusoe in peace but your kind-hearted friends won’t let you be great. Well you must frustrate them. If you have tried the first five steps and they didn’t work, stop trying. Show up to everything in inappropriate clothes. Wear Jeans and a Slouchy Tee to Weddings. Do not have a bath before you go and see your friend’s new baby. When you go out with your friends and their significant others, make them uncomfortable. If you are a lady, hug the groom a little too long at his own wedding. If you are guy, tell your friend’s date that she has really cute boobies. Act weird. Be rude. Scream at people on the phone. Cry often in public. Try to read people’s emails or phone messages over their shoulder and laugh at their conversations, or tell them they’ll never get past that level on Candy Crush. Never mind the Candy Crush part, people are always kind when playing. Get fired from work too.

There you have it. If anyone is still your friend after you have tried all this, maybe you should just run away from them and change your number. That person isn’t human. Have fun alienating people and thank me later.

P.S: Seeing as I clearly do not have friends and all I have is this blog, you may share with your friends (right before you alienate them). I have no one to share with.

 

Pepper Seller

Of Rage and Other Dreams

Do you remember me?

Yesterday I was at your shop stall. I wanted to buy Pepper- Ata Rodo and Tomatoes, Fifty Naira. But you didn’t sell to me. You wouldn’t even look up. You said it couldn’t be sold; it was too little to sell. I told you I just wanted to fry eggs and there was no light to refrigerate it. I slithered away defeated, as I always do. You see everyone does that, what you did- talking down on me. And all I do is slither away. I don’t open my mouth, I don’t talk back. After all, a lady should be seen and not heard.

Well, maybe I slithered away yesterday, but tonight I will talk back. You did not know me yesterday. When I am done here, you will. Oh by God, you will!


Months ago, I would never have had to buy fifty naira pepper. I had mouths to feed. People used to love me feeding them.  But all of that has changed. Now I cook for one and I eat it all at once, because my generator doesn’t work and even if it did, I wouldn’t put a petrol jerry can in a Bagco Bag and take to work. But you don’t know how hard that is, or do you? You use your wretched “I pass my neighbour” generator that has seen better days. You send your son to buy you four hundred naira petrol in a polybag every other evening on his way from lesson. Then you mix it with engine oil and some palm oil because you think it will make the fuel last longer. And you open the choke half-way. You are pathetic you know? The only thing you watch on your television is the Obesere DVD you took from your husband’s bus the last time he came home (We are still going to discuss your husband when I am done with you).

 


You are envious of Cossy’s breasts, but that is understandable. What is not understandable is how you let your teenage son watch that rubbish. Well, soon he will get tired of staying in that one room that all five of you live in and you never open the windows because you do not want the neighbours to see inside and know that you have bought a bigger fridge and increase your share of the electricity bill. So your son will start to play that rubber band on the ground game and steal your money and go to the game centre with his friends and start to hang around uncompleted buildings and start to fondle little girls. Then one morning, a woman will come with her daughter and say that your son and his friends “defiled” her. You will want to fight but you will not want the neighbours to hear, because if they do, half of your row in Oyingbo will hear. And your son will never have friends until you send him to go and live with your brother in Alagbado where he will learn Vulcanizing when he comes home from his new school where pupils are being recruited as cultists for MAPOLY.

 

Your other son may be good to you. But he is withdrawn. He is taunted at school every day because of the ekusa on his head. Maybe if you had sold pepper to me I would have told you what shampoo to buy and what antibiotics to give him. I have doctor friends and my father is in the health sector too. Or maybe I would have bought the drugs myself- sometimes I’m nice. But you didn’t. So on my way to work every morning, I’ll watch you sandpaper his head right before you bathe him on the wooden plank that covers the gutter in front of your house. He will bleed and scar and you will think that you have cleaned his wounds. Let me tell you, all the Izal in the world cannot save him, the same way all the Moju and Dusting Powder in the world will not stop the heat rash plague in your compound. And all the Chinese Balm at the aboki’s counter cannot cure that ekusa. You will buy that pink ointment that’s in the same bottle as otapiapia, the one that man at the bus-stop sells in a wheel barrow. The man said over his megaphone that the ointment cures everything, from ringworm to leprosy; but your son’s ekusa will not go. Then one day, he will tell you that he wants to change school because no one talks to him because of his ekusa. But the only other primary school is a distance away and you will have to give him money for transport and lunch.

About lunch, have you noticed that his stomach is getting distended, he and his younger sister. My sister that is what they call Kwashiorkor. Every time you give him money, you only give him money for rice. So he buys rice twenty naira, no fish, no meat, no over boiled egg, no beans, no vegetable. He buys only rice and pure water. The little girl has started eating solids too, the same miserable rice and pure water. But even before then, she was an Ogi baby. You gave her only Ogi and water every day. Then when she’s ill you give her water and kafura pelebe. Isn’t that like camphor? And to think that you put relaxer on that little child’s hair last Ileya so that you could do “Net Gel” with starch and your husband’s old sponge. Did that child even get all her immunizations? You should have breastfed her much longer.

 

You thought if you stopped breastfeeding your husband would find you attractive again. Has he? No woman, it doesn’t work that way. Now he has eyes only for that sells agbo in their motor park. He even paid for her to fix that weave that makes it look like she’s losing touch with reality. But she likes it; her oshuka sits well on it so her wares don’t fall off. Your husband loves the hair style too. He doesn’t hide their love at all. He has rented another one-room apartment where they stay. I am sure your friends have told you. She sits with him all evening when he’s with his friends when they drink 33 extra lager every day. He used to buy her Small Stout. Now she drinks mostly Maltina because she is pregnant. I can tell already, her breasts look fuller. And when she took a sip from his beer the other, he said it was so that “ara omo yen ma da saka”. She will have a boy, and your husband will be over the moon and forget that he already has two boys- the paedophile and the ekusa boy. He will kill a ram for the suna even though he didn’t give you two thousand naira for your aunt’s husband’s burial aso-ebi. Then after three weeks, he will bring his sorry ass, and his hungry ass relatives to the room that you both share. They will beg you and tell you to draw your new wife into your bosom; to forgive your husband and thank God for the blessing of a new child. You will be shattered but you will not let them see your tears, because they don’t like you. They stopped liking you when your father gave them the engagement list, and now you know they are gloating over you.

 

You remember when he was a good guy and you two had bliss. You would sit in front of his bus and he’d ask you to wave at people for him, because he thought if he took one hand off the steering he would crash the bus. Your husband will stay a few weeks with you. Don’t flatter yourself. It is not because he has changed or you are now attractive; it is because she is bleeding and he hates the taste of breast milk. Then one morning he will drive his bus off and not come back.


 

Maybe you should take care of yourself a little more; like waking up in the morning and brushing your mouth once and for all, instead of that chewing stick ritual that ends at mid-day. You should comb your hair and have a bath early in the morning, your husband left you because of your dirty wrappers. If you wake up early enough, you wouldn’t have to queue to use the bathroom. And maybe you should take care of your children too. You don’t seem to realize that you are as single as an office pin. Hehehehe! It’s just you and the children now, no husband. You should take them to a hospital when they are ill, that ekusa can still be cured. Maybe you should spend less time attending market women’s meetings and save up on all the Ankara money you have been wasting. What’s the point, you always sew hideous styles. I would have said that you should give your children proper home training and help out with home-work. But alas, you don’t give what you don’t have. So we will pass on that. Maybe you should sell more Pepper and treat your customers nicely. That way you won’t ever have to throw a whole basket of tomatoes away again. Maybe your life would be less miserable if you sold fifty naira pepper. But I know women like you. I know you.

 

Do you remember me now? Will you remember me?

 

I’m the girl that wanted to buy fifty naira pepper.

 

Lagos-Bar-Beach

Concrete and Confusion

Originally posted in November 2013

I hate Lagos. I know. I always say “Hate” is a strong word. But tell me, what emotion do you feel when you are smothered in the midst of fifteen million people- the mix of odours (and fragrances once in a while), the noise of people, every one of them trying to find his voice, the false airs, the religion, the vice, and the ghetto.

But Lagos is my city, and I probably would not survive elsewhere. I did a few days in what used to be Yobe and I felt like a fish out of water. Abeokuta is sleepy, and Ibadan well, there are no words to describe it. But I know the rhythm of Lagos. I can travel Lagos with my eyes closed. I sleep off in the bus knowing when to open my eyes. I know how the water at Leventis smells, it’s fishy and nauseating. I know when CBD will raid the roadside traders at Idumota. The potholes in Ikeja tell me I’m almost at work. I know everything- Ojota smells like the huge refuse dump that it is, Mile 12 has the permanent smell of rotten tomatoes and now Ikorodu is one huge cloud of dust. Every evening, at my bus-stop I can see from the corner of my eye when an okada man stretches out his hand to tug at my dress. I know how many inches to move without bumping into someone else. I have been doing this since I was thirteen when I started going to school on my own. I have mastered the art of keeping a straight face when I hear lewd comments about my ass. I know this city. I own it, but sometimes, my Lagos likes to spring surprises on me.

 

 


 

Last week I saw a naked man.

I have seen naked men before, but on the street, a street inside Lekki Phase One. He is dark black, but he is crying so much that he is red in the face. At first I think he is a lunatic, but lunatics don’t attract crowds in Lagos, they are a part of our mix and the lines are blurred. I want to know but I do not want to stand and watch.

I have heard learned to stop watching roadside shows since I was young. One day my mother asked my sister and an older cousin living with us to go buy food stuff at Oloosa market. They stopped to watch a travelling magician, one of those whose outfits was somewhere between a Priest’s Soutane and an Indian Lord’s outfit. I have never seen an Indian Lord but I see the pictures in Molue buses. I don’t know how long my sister and cousin watched the show for, but I know they got home late that night, without the foodstuff. Later that night, over their wails while my mother beats them with an electric cable, I hear my mum telling them that people’s body parts had been removed and their destinies stolen, while they watched roadside magic shows.

Well, back to the naked man before me. Since I cannot stand to look, I slow my pace and put my ears in antenna mode. I learn that he is an okada man who is trying to evade arrest. He has stripped himself naked and started to shit and curse the police simultaneously. Of course, men are gathered around him, trying to cover him and then it occurs to me that if it were a woman who was naked, they would be taking pictures on their phones. I have always doubted Sigmund Freud’s Penis Envy theory and I am reminded once again that it is Lagos men that have a Breast Envy Syndrome.

I certainly do not envy his Penis and I still feel violated.

I should go for confession this Saturday.

 


 

Every time people ask where I live, I smile and just say casually “I live on the Island” in my most unassuming voice. And then I pause, let it sink in, and wait for the response. For those who know the Island well, they ask “where on the Island”. I say Lekki and when they ask if it’s Phase 1, I say before Chevron. Saying I live “just before Chevron” makes me sound a little more bourgeoisie. Igbo-efon sounds local, and it is, by most standards. Every time I tell people who don’t live on the Island that I live on the Island and they  say “Gbogbo bigz girl” or “Island big girl”, I inwardly want to slap them and knock their front teeth out. Do they know how far I have to roll up my trousers because of flood? Do they know how far away my landlady parks from the house because her car engine has “knocked” one too many times? And how annoying it is when the kids on my streets that play with rubber bands and old Dunlop slippers come to knock on my gate because their “shoe fly into your yard”?

The people here also seem to smoke a different kind of weed. Once, the young man beside me in the bus was peering in my phone as if it were a shared resource. Later he had the guts to tell me that he “just want to be a friend”. The other day the driver of the bus I took home was driving as though he was driving a refuse truck. When a LASTMAn jumped into the bus to arrest him for reckless driving, he simply drove us into the Police station, parked the Vehicle and walked to his desk behind the counter. I simply picked my stuff and left.

The pattern of craze is unpredictable.

 


Today I am at one of those exhibitions. It is a photo exhibition, one of the things that come with Mega-City Status. I know the crowd- young, middle to upper class and upwardly mobile- the ones who went to private schools or who schooled abroad. They speak a blend of the accent they pretend they are trying to lose and Nigerian Queen’s English and they all act like they went to Finishing School. I have never been to “overs” but I can fit in well. I am already dressed the part, I know this pattern well. “Table” becomes “teibl” and I say “yea?” and “basically” more often. I say “Oh my days!” with my eyes wide open because it is more believable. I hug a few people and they ask what perfume I am wearing and if my eyelashes are real. We talk about Drake’s new album and 15 karat Lorraine Schwartz diamond rings.

 

The Bar Beach is a stone’s throw away. I haven’t been on those flea-ridden horses since I was a child and the thought is suddenly appealing. Alcohol is cheap and vice is norm there. The white garment churches are there too. I imagine wearing a transparent soutane and throwing my ass around with reckless abandon. That’s the Lagos that fascinates me, not these nasal conversations and matte photos. My nose is twitching and I want to poke it. Someone asks why I’m smiling to myself and I say the pictures are so beautiful.

 

In my head, I am singing “Alomo Meta”.