Lagos is too fast for my life. Everything moves in a speed of light, including its love and the aftermath. Maybe it is because I was born in Port Harcourt – a mini, less chaotic metropolis and often times, a more proverbial Garden City, than in reality, where a degree’s needed to actually identify a garden out of the many heaps of filth and flooded gutters which housed more mosquitoes.
I watched my life take shape in a neighbourhood where I practically knew everyone. But that could be good too, except that you have to greet everyone at your return from school, since you knew them and that could be straining.
I knew the guys with very large chests and fearsome muscles. When I ran into trouble I scared away possible bullies with the idea that I had brothers with broad chests. No one who liked peace dared anyone from across the expressway; Ogbunabali especially. The name evoked fear. Being a derogation of Ogbum-Nu-Abali – the two villages that own the territory, it loosely translates Killer of the Night. I ran errands for the terrifying men and so I could conjure their images for salvation whenever it was needed.
As a boy I knew the men who smoked hemp and lifted heavy metals to build their giant biceps. Some cringed when it was too heavy but they never ceased. One of the men had returned from Lagos. Someone had joked that he returned with a polythene bag after several years of hustling in Eko. He cut the thin thread that held his temper and a fight ensued. Lagos meant possibilities; of course it failed a lot of other people.
On the street, I knew a woman; a landlady who was the only one on our street and the neighbouring streets to own a borehole. She sold water. She sat on a lowly bench with a plastic bowl with cover which had money of all denominations, and a cane beside it, to scare away unwanted people; adults and children alike. She had grown children who lacked the control of their tempers. They handled pistols like it were a tool for being a man. And they fingered the triggers anytime nothing interested them. The street people knew too much than to fight. Quarrel was allowed. But it was not taken too far, except the man or woman had her own army. Her image reminded me of a character in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Basi and Company, when he left for Lagos and engaged a lady whose house he rented but could barely kept up with the bills.
The famous landlady played a role; of a boss and a woman who was fierce than a man in my growing days. I watched her and wished I could do some harm to her. I guess I am still making up my mind, about 20 years later. She screamed and would empty a filled can of water on the ground if the stipulated bill was unpaid. We, the children would put out legs and allow the unfortunate water wash our feet. We scrambled for whatever errand that made us find favour in the sight of the lady. This was my Port Harcourt and a fierce Lagos was all over Nollywood where people fought or attempted it just to make a point – maybe as a child it told me of a vain Lagos I would come to dislike but for its competitions. I would be the last to experience a people who knew much about money rituals as a resort to the demands from home. At least that was what I was shown on television.
I was part of the many children who made a queue and waited even when adults who came later would adjust our buckets and make space for theirs at the borehole. We did no more than murmuring. Knocks came with a thought so we were careful and watchful.
I crossed the road to school. My father had little money. He might have been too wise for any school that would involve transportation. The four lanes expressway looked really wide to me. Many years later when I saw what Lagos had, I felt ashamed of my experiences in Port Harcourt.
In the Garden City as a pupil I barely crossed the road alone. Helpful adults assisted. A few times, mischievous students who wanted to dare fate by avoiding the foot-bride lost vital parts of their bodies or lives to their courage. In Lagos, children who had left some for school changed into money coughing creatures, in the wardrobe of wealth-thirsty men. But the footbridge was not much of a path to walk to school. The sight of often fresh heap of defecated mess made breathing uneasy. And maybe these students might have found it very depressing too. Lagos has a different creation, not humans, but people who have been lifted from the realm of human to something very uncertain. They wake up before dawn. They sleep anywhere. And they hustle with more passion than a man to his wife on the night of his wedding. But the many worries of Lagos come with a price. You are not to sit back and enjoy the amusement. The victims are those who take the Lagos joke to heart. People who dupe you speak more English than a grammar professor in Oxford. The beggars who come to you dress more than you do and cook up very fine tale for you. Maybe it would be fair to say no one is a saint in Lagos. But today’s Lagos life is characterised by expensive housing, transportation, education and a competitive life that is always on the go.
Armed with forewarned tales of how to survive in Lagos I hopped onto my first molue bus in 2011. Refined as BRT, the standing could not be avoided. Wallets could still find its way out of a pocket and trek into the palm of a determined hustler. Lagos has its own miracles and I did not pray for it. The sight of the Third Mainland Bridge excited my mind, refreshing the memory of beautiful prose written about it by countless writers. “not to be a JJC” was the first mission. Perceived first-timers in any new environment are usually the first preys. I had always heard about it and when I arrived I became wiser than Solomon, or so I thought.
Once the capital of Nigeria, Lagos had occupied my head as a home for everything good and bad. When one met a bank or a bigger company to discuss business and certain involvements, it was always said that the Lagos office had to make a final statement. To people like me who Lagos came to as a myth I embraced it and even the writings. Lagos was home to anyone who was serious about business. Established writers lived in Lagos. When you wanted an editor or a publisher, Lagos had to be consulted. The headquarters of the writers’ body was in Lagos. Lagos was home to anything living. But this was the same Lagos I could not fit in to.
One unforgettable memory was on a trip en route Accra. In Lagos I had been unwise to patronise a local meat seller. The result was something I fed on until I gave a thought to see what it was that I was eating. Pathetic as it may sound, there were more maggots in the wrap than meats.
The taxi man who took me to an ATM once I had arrived Lagos late was a police officer who cheated me more than I would ever be cheated as a man. Lagos is great and its pace is fast. People lie to fit in. When a lot of others disappear from their villages, they are reborn in Lagos and then hustle until the money’s made. One notion I heard before I visited Lagos in 2011 was that no one is a good guy when it was about survival.
The stories about Lagos in books made anyone from any smaller city look like a stranger in Nigeria. The friends I had from Lagos are very business conscious. They do nothing for free. They are always precise.
However the very great muse in Lagos, there is the cost of living. Lagos could be a bit difficult to stay. Yeah, if you are not rich enough to reside in areas where life is more meaningful it means you have to wake up early to catch a bus and then spend a chunk of time in traffic as a usual compliment. The population in Lagos is good for business. When a man becomes popular in Lagos he is famous in Nigeria. Lagos life is unlike life anywhere in the world, it is unique but fast and highly competitive.
Nwilo Bura-Bari writes from Enugu, Nigeria. He tweets @BuraBariNwilo.
Photos | Google – Blue Cloud Photography via Google.com