Hustling in Ajah has a certain peculiarity to it: it’s a quite humane but nonetheless vicious attempt at survival in a society offering not too many choices at an economic headway. To be seen a hustler in Ajah — and its environs — is to be caught with your pants down; it is embarrassing. Unlike in Oshodi, where no one gives a damn, an Ajah hustler, who is likely a middle-class fellow, is somewhat always methodical in his approach, never to be perceived aggressive or a wayward brute.
Many Ajah hustlers are ‘responsible’ people; they go to church, have families they claim to be proud of, and have outlooks detailing their aspirations. But a deeper look will paint a truer picture: just like many other hustlers in other parts of Lagos, the Ajaians, too, have been weathered by hardship, weighed down by the stress called Lagos. They only hang on because giving up to the surrounding circumstances, for some reasons I’m yet to fathom, is to them like admitting to a crime.
I had moved out of Oshodi as a panacea to a psychologically unhealthy living the place presented me. I desperately wanted sanity; wanted to be chaos-free from within and without, the chaos gradually seeping into my nature. Ajah, I thought, could afford me the decorum I sought. But did it?
At a bus-stop, alongside a few other people one very hot afternoon, a private vehicle slowed down and parked beside us. I was heading to Lagos Island — there’s nothing new to have a private car pick up would-be passengers by the roadsides; it’s a way of topping up income for the day, a kind of hustle in itself — What was strange about this particular pick-up, however, was that this car wanted just one person. I had already opened the front seat door when the other guys got waved back by the driver of the car, a bearded, spectacled man in a deep blue suit.
He wanted only one person, and that person happened to be me.
I felt lucky, like a four-leaf clover. I hopped in the car and had barely settled down in the front seat when my host put the icing on the cake: “I’m lifting you for free…” he said, with an air of casualness. Now I felt blessed.
“Oh, thank you,” I said.
Promptly, I found the seatbelt with a left hand and crossed my chest with it, ready for the trip, honey in my tummy. My village people are at last having a break on my matter, I thought.
I was wrong!
A few minutes into our journey a discussion naturally broke up. My host was a music producer who graduated from the University of Ibadan some sixteen years ago. He had been producing Nigerian pop music since then. But he still confused Dunkan Mighty with J. Martins; Teniola with Niniola; he confused musical eras as though he had gone into sub-consciousness some decades ago and suddenly woke up to this day. “Oh, are the Psquare brothers apart now?”
Each time, I tried the best I could to set the records straight for him.
“No, Teni hasn’t been in the music industry about seven years ago; she isn’t the one you used to know in UI. She was discovered on Instagram with her freestyle Fergin. That was less than two years ago, yeah.”
“Oh! Perhaps it’s the sister I used to know — Nini.
“Perhaps…” I said.
“But how do you get to know all these people?” he asked.
It was a rhetorical question. I responded with a smile. But aren’t this common knowledge, Nigerian pop musicians and their lives? I wondered.
“I need to invest more to into these guys’ products,” my host said. “I just haven’t had the time.”
My host also played the piano for his church, a Redeem Christian church in Lekki, where he was currently having a disagreement with his pastor for imposing a tax on him.
“Nowhere in the world are musicians subjected to tax; not even them, Wizkid and Davido.” Did I not know this? “Why then should I be taxed by the church?”
Again, the questions were rhetorical so I just sighed and maintained a stern gaze on the road, where he seemed to have been losing it just less than a mile ago.
His driving had been very gentlemanly, with a steady hand; not too slow to vexation or too fast to angst, until we got to the spot where we were now. My host was being distracted by something. For a short stretch on the road, we had entered a couple of potholes I thought his expertise on the wheel should have maneuvered.
“I have not renewed my driving license,” He murmured. “The Road safety guys are always out around here.”
He stretched from his seat to catch the sight of a possible presence of a uniformed man on the other side of the road, on my side of the window. I followed the look and found no man in uniform. He heaved a sigh of relief. The trip went back to normalcy.
“Although these ones here never stop me, I’m just being cautious of when it will go into their heads to do so one day.”
“I should make it a matter of priority now to renew the license.”
“Yea,” I said
“It isn’t about the cost, you know; I just have not gotten the time.”
Imagining how the whole day could be if we got caught, I dreaded a little. It would be terrible… because then I wouldn’t be able to leave my host in the mess without feeling guilty. But thank goodness no one caught us. We drove past.
We were now in light traffic and the heat came upon us like we were being steamed. My host looked at me, the parts of my body that could be seen. I was sweating.
“Sorry I’ve not fixed the air-conditioning system,” he said. “I haven’t just had the time.”
The traffic had us moving bumper-to-bumper now; the car becoming a kiln. My host started singing the praise of Pepsi. It was his best drink; he drank it all day yesterday, even without eating; ohhh Pepsi; ahhh Pepsi; waayoo Pepsi.
I felt really embarrassed that I was forced to catcall a street hawker. Although my host gestured to pay, the gesture was so very lame it couldn’t have carried out the action in ages. My money got to the hawker first on my side of the window.
“Thank you,” my host said.
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
We drove a little farther and then veered into a filling station. My host talked about the petrol in his car, “It is going down like someone is drinking it”, he said, laughing. I didn’t smile or laugh, I was being skeptical now. This man wants to get back his money through a back door, I thought. I should be reserved now, to safeguard the rest of my money. After all, this was supposed to be free. So I said No to his advances a lot of the times just to stall further conversation that might lead to further familiarization and then a further exchange of gestures, especially one that would cost me money. No, I said, if I knew the new Redeem Church around this area; No, I said, if this government hadn’t been acting irresponsibly; No, I said, if I could create time to come to his studio; No, I said if I knew a hospital around here where all the doctors were white.
Then he started talking about his sick son, who had been taken to several hospitals but the doctors couldn’t find what was eating him up in his stomach. He was feeling very sick and lean. He used to be big and healthy. Someone had told him about a hospital in this area where all their doctors are white people. Perhaps they would be able to help.
By now I had started missing regular transport, a regular conductor, who would take a legitimate fare and not only transport me, but also give me peace of mind.