by Elnathan John
”I am paying and the girl in the black hijab appears again, stares again, this time with a smile.”
Tuesday. Off to Lagos. Two meetings and some hustling. As always I will go out of my way to drink in Lagos. My excitement is embarrassing sometimes.
On the plane. About to disembark. Naija guy who has been uber polite right from checking in, suddenly decides we must all know he speaks a European language. He proceeds to hold a long , loud and guttural conversation on the phone in Dutch. No one is impressed. Woman in veil in front of him seems concerned about phlegm reaching her. His exaggerated attempts at speaking Dutch yield no results.
Airport. My friend suggests we walk out of the airport for a cheaper taxi. I am thankful not to have to do the hassling because my limbs hurt and I have a headache. The drive is short or smooth.
Agege Local Government Council. Too quiet. Awaiting the evening buzz when a million generators came to life all at the same time.
Evening. Orile Agege. Motorcyclists with a death wish. Local joint. Trying Harp Lime for the first time (which you mustn’t drink if you believe in the sanctity of beer). Darkness. Stifling humidity. Pretty girl in a hijab stares. Amala and ewedu is all they have. But the fish is encouraging , it is freshly fried and I can see the steam from the huge bowl. I have never liked amala, but the soup is good and the fish even better.
I am paying and the girl in the black hijab appears again, stares again, this time with a smile. Then she starts to clown, saying things in American sign language. I realise she is not hard of hearing but showing off the sign language she has learnt. I am not sure why she thinks a random stranger will understand sign language. Maybe I look deaf to her?
‘You are handsome,’ she signs. I blush; she has taken me unawares. I take my change, smile, walk away. Fast.
Wednesday. Orile Agege. I wake up thinking of amala and ewedu. And the lovely waitress in a hijab flirted with me yesterday. I will ask for her name. If she asks for mine, I will tell her,” Tomorrow. I will tell you tomorrow.”
“An old bus drives dangerously close to us and the conductor sticks his head out and shouts at me: ‘Yahoo-Yahoo!’; I feel like sinking into the ground .”
Wednesday evening. Orile Agege, Lagos. Dinner. Lovely waitress is shy today. I have a closer look at her. Her eyes can’t handle it. She is pretty in a way that is both earthy and provocative. There is naughtiness in her eyes and her cheeks quiver, threatening to break into a smile. When I come to pay, I will ask her, for her name. I see the picture of the late Sheikh Inyass whose face is popular on buses up north. Great. I have a good conversation starter. She will not expect that I know a lot about Inyass. I will show off and make her eyes light up.
I go to pay. The girl has disappeared. There are knowing smiles all around. As I walk home, already thinking of when to come tomorrow, I realise this is the stuff addictions are made of…
Friday. Orile Agege. Finding electricity is like looking for sugarcane in Shoprite. Generators buzz angrily around me. I hear the sound of a car chase on TV from loud external speakers. People are gathered outside in front the matchbox soap, watching a 14 inch colour TV. I stop.It is an old Indian movie, the type where all the Indian actors had shiny smooth brown skin; Brown like Lipton tea with not enough milk. The Indian movies in which a punch sounds louder than a gunshot. Something is different though. The mouth of the actors are not making the sounds that are coming from the speakers. I listen closely. The movie is actually in Yoruba! I hear a young Amitabh Bachchan saying ‘Woo!’ Another guy, angry responds, just before letting out a punch: ‘ Omo-ale!’
Friday evening. Ikeja. Walking with a dear friend of European descent. Everywhere we go, we have an audience. The eyes trailing us are without pity, without shame. I try to keep my head up and deflect the rays. She doesn’t understand why I am so uncomfortable. She wants to be happy, flick her silky hair under the fading sun, smile big pale smiles and hold my hand when crossing the street. All I want to do is get in a cab and disappear.
An old bus drives dangerously close to us and the conductor sticks his head out and shouts at me: ‘Yahoo-Yahoo!’; I feel like sinking into the ground . Finally, someone who has spoken for all the others. She doesn’t understand what the bus conductor has just said, what he has just accused me of. What all those eyes accuse me of. ‘You are not smiling,’ she says, ‘what’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing,’ I lie.
This is Lagos, where thousands of young men sit in cyber cafes trawling the Internet for naive white women to scam.
Metro Park. Ikeja. Sundown. We settle down to cool beers. An old white man has picked up a spindly young working class girl from the street ( they are all around) and walks into the Park. Black eyes follow him. I turn to look. She is playing the part, clinging to the frail white man, having that fuck-you-all-very-much look in her eyes. I look away, refusing to be part of those black-judging eyes, wondering if in any way they think of us differently from them. I am relieved though that for a moment, they find the other inter racial couple more exciting to look at.
Saturday Afternoon. Terra Kulture, Victoria Island. Sitting outdoors with a brilliant Nigerian writer whose good manners make me look like an area boy. He makes me think of all the writers I have met, the most beautiful eyes after Chimamanda Adichie’s. I can’t help staring at them. I have always thought them pretty but today, outdoors, with the sun high in the sky, they become, resplendent. I resist the temptation to ask if he is wearing contact lenses. I think of sexuality and how I cannot admit to a girl (or worse, a heterosexual man) that I find Jude’s eye’s pretty and still be thought of as heterosexual. It is sad, I think, because I like to rave about beautiful things. Jude’s eyes are beautiful. I should write about this.
He drops me off at Ahmadu Bello Way. I take a bus from there to Barrack Bus stop. The bus driver is young and wild, taking more risks on the road than my heart is willing to bear. At some points I close my eyes. Even at the crazy speed of our bus, motorcycles zoom past us. Just as I shake my head at one of them doing a zig-zag between cars, the back tyre of his motorcycle slides and he tumbles to the ground, violently. The fat Yoruba man by my side says ‘Ehen, Hausa ni’ or something like that. I am not Hausa, but I feel offended especially as the crazy motorcyclist, who is now getting up from the ground like nothing happened, bears no resemblance to anyone from the North. A traffic hold-up builds very quickly. I call a friend and speak very loud Hausa. The fat man’s discomfort is pleasing to me.
Barracks Bus stop. The bus to Iyana Ipaja is even worse than the one from VI. My buttocks hurt after only a few minutes. We move for less than 500 meters and run into a traffic hold-up. Doesn’t look like anyone is going anywhere. Many engines are turned off. I sigh. This isn’t going to end soon, I realise. Finally, I am caught in the famous Lagos hold ups. For the first time. The air is still. My head and torso drip sweat, smells hit me from all directions, people all around scream at each other and a hundred cars honk at the same time, just because they can. I expect a headache. Actually I already have a headache.
I fear my love affair with Lagos is officially over.