Know when to run…
A young man in Lagos is buying a car. A night before, he cannot sleep. He tosses from one end to the other on his bed from anxiousness. Anytime he closes his eyes, it’s him in his car, buckling a seatbelt, parking, reversing, overtaking, or calling a beautiful lady to hop in for a lift.
Few months ago he would never have imagined owning a car — or rather, getting ready to own one. He would have laughed the idea in a stupor or welcomed it as some sort of lofty prayer common among his country people.
“Me, buy a car? “Amen!” he would have said and quickly bring himself back to his reality. It’s always unhealthy to stay too long on lusty wishes.
But now a tiny fortune has smiled on him: he’s buying the oldest model of Toyota Rav4 you can find in town.
He sleeps the night fitfully and wakes earlier than usual. He goes through his morning rituals in quick succession and soon hurries himself in a commercial bus. The bus in turn hurries itself to the road. The journey is smooth. But not for long. The traffic starts in earnest, from an unusually early stage of the road, far before the major bridge, far from anyone’s expectation. The sight of the jam sickens everyone, sending tiredness down the bottom of bellies.
Our man is especially sick. He checks on his time. Everyone check on their time, groan and hiss and curse. Our man looks out the window, habitually. It has been in him for the past days to try look for his soon-to-be-his car model on the streets. When he finds one, the sight consoles him. When he cannot find — which is usually the case — he finds other little cars, or rickety ones, catches the face of the driver and consoles himself. Now, in the sea of cars he gazes at through the window, he cannot find his car model.
The traffic moves little at a time, engines revving on the same spots. Clouds of fumes from damaged exhaust pipes. People chock on smoke, gnash their teeth, curse, and curse again. The noise of the engines are like the wails of End Time — it’s always like that. Many end times that should have ended life as we know it in this Lagos. But, Mafo, as a Marlian will implore, life goes on. They move on, only that at that moment, there’s no movement.
Our friend checks his time. He would be late for work. He would be late to get to the bank for the money to be transferred to the car dealer. He jumps off the bus and tries looking for okada. On ground, he cannot get okada. Every glimpse of one has a passenger already, snaking away between other vehicles, running away from hell. Our man starts to walk. While walking, he remembers the song by Kenny Rogers. Lagos is about knowing when…when to take a cab…when to take a bus…when to mount a bike…when to use your legs if ever you’re to win the city in its maddening gamble.
His well-polished shoes is now carrying galaxies of dust. He looks backward, down the vehicle-infested road and wonders where he would have been in the mix had he owned his car. Suddenly, the idea of getting a car weakens him. He thinks of giving it up. He thinks of giving it a second thought. Then he resumes trekking. No okada still to rescue him. He is surprise to touch a string of sweat rolling down his temple. It is harmattan, yet the hazy morning has managed to squeeze a sweat out of him. The bus he came out from is now far behind.
Soon he gets to where the problem is: a tanker lying across the road like a big reluctant baby, unwilling to leave the playground after playtime is over. He gets there when they are dragging big baby off the road. Big baby, bloated with gas, heavy as a moon, pulls its weight against the drag. Inch by inch the road find its face again, the road is free again. A swam of okada come flooding, among them our man takes hold of one, mounts with relief, and flees in the newly found freedom.