Living on the Edge
“When did it occur to him to carry the world on his back? At what point did he make the resolution to owe us all the responsibility of making the globe go round? Why does he wear himself out with the unbearable burden of making everything keeps the flow, mustn’t be static, unmoving?”
These questions may come to mind seeing him for the first time.
Can it be that, in some bizarre way, he’s acquainted with the Weeping Philosopher, Heraclitus: Everything flows and nothing stays the same? Or is he simply another victim of a ploy set in a trap to have him spat out by this unforgiving city; by this merciless system?
He reminds me, each time, of the protagonist Quinn in the Paul Auster's’ story City of Glass. Perhaps he’s on the edge too, and then, by some folks who think he doesn’t fit anymore into the rigmarole of societal life, he’s pushed over and this is where he lands, in the street, in his now miraged life, blighted with the illusion that without him the world would stop, topple over, break away from its axis and lie helplessly beneath the feet of hell. He must prevent this apocalypse from seeing the light of day. He loves the world so much he gives his own life, right here in the street.
I first heard about him from a Facebook friend “…a patriot, controlling traffic by the expressway come rain come shine,” my Facebook friend writes. “I’ll run a project on him: His rise and fall.” Fall? has he fallen? Does he share the same sentiment about himself…that he’s now fallen?
I heard of him like one would hear of the Eiffel Tower in Paris before ever visiting France; saw a picture of him shared, liked and commented on by social media users. So that when I eventually move to Ajah area and the Lekki-Epe expressway becomes a regular route, I see him at the spot my Facebook friend said he’s always is, doing what he always does: dutifully directing moving vehicles. He does it so vigorously — although with no notable impact to the state of the nerve-wracking vehicular movements.
When I find him there I say — to myself: oh, here you’re. I’ve heard about you; I’ve seen you before. But I look at him anew nevertheless. From the distance, I marvel in the bliss and re-realization that comes with seeing in real life what you previously have only heard about.
And that is how I’ve come to know him to exist over time: on his feet, at the divide of the major road, kitted in faded short sleeve polo shirt and joggers. The pair of sneakers on his feet, which must have been snow-white at a time, is now bloated and have become a smudged sack from wornness — sometimes though, his sneaker is surprisingly clean-white, you wonder: how come?
He’s always attempting to control vehicles with such exertion and dedication one would pay to a case of life and death — perhaps to him it is. He sweats and grinds. He holds a flashlight to aid his task sometimes when it gets dark. To the motorists and pedestrians, however, his activities make absolutely no difference. As a matter of fact, he’s making no sense. How could he be making any sense…? He has no gun in his hands and wears no military or paramilitary khaki on his back. All he perpetually wears is a smile, a mildly melancholic smile — or, better put, his face (either acquired or inherited) has a permanent etched-out smile on it.
And so it goes without saying that no one gives a hoot about his being there, or about his self-appointed duties.
Standing almost six feet tall, with a frame one wouldn’t be mistaken to have said belongs to a wrestler, and dreads always mound in a large grey tam, he couldn’t have been missed by anyone, yet no one sees him. In this society, to lose your mind is to have it all lost, including your existential self. Everything and everyone passes him in flashes. I don’t see him, too — or maybe I do see him only as an animated monument — there, always there at that spot. In all of his active and vigorous presence, he is just there, unseen, unnoticed.
One day, arriving the bus-stop where I get a connecting bus home, at the place where he always stands, his absence is so loud and yet so elusive that I don’t immediately get what is amiss. But I’m not unconvinced that the whole setting of the place appears rather strange, quite unusual. An Eiffel tower has suddenly disappeared, leaving a large room in its wake. So I look around, as though searching a missing edifice, or at least the ruins it leaves behind. Within those few seconds, I turn left and right, not exactly knowing what I’m on the watch out for, I suddenly find the ruin, and it breaks me a little, transports me to another level of realization. I caught sight of him in his most unusual state of being: he is sitting on a fallen streetlight pole, resting. I’ve seen this man for almost half a year and he’s never rested, never sat, always on his feet. But today, I see an Eiffel tower perching on a broken streetlight, recouping his lost energy, certainly.
I’m forced to look at him anew, look at him now as a living being: So, like every other human, this man rests? Does he perhaps need water, too? Can he afford a bottle? How does he feel, feed? What’s going on in his mind as he sits there, the world heavy on his back? Could he be reflecting on something; asking himself questions, maybe? Does it worth it, all this effort? This life? What’s worth anything?
My Facebook friend does not believe he’s pushed off the edge; he thinks he’s being patriotic, a love for the country that demands he leaves his family and friends and whatever comforts the four walls of his abode gives him, to be on the street, trying to ease the traffic, trying to make the earth keep the spin. I think about it: Would he leave if the government decides to expand the park and thereby solving the traffic problem? Would he have been fulfilled and satisfied and go home? Or would he pick another area from the troubled land and continue his patriotism? Would he finally rest when there’s no report of traffic anywhere in Lagos, in Nigeria, in the world? Would he ever rest?
Sometimes ago I read about an Indian man who goes about filling potholes in the city of Delhi because his son had lost his life from an accident caused by one of the many thousands of holes. Could this man be tucking a similar story in the belly of his heart?