Rate me well

So, Mo picks me up from work on a mall run. We are five minutes away from The Palms when we get stuck in traffic. A blind man and his companion step off the sidewalk onto the road. They make their way down the line of cars. At each window, the female companion stops. The blind man leans into the window with his palms open and runs through his list of prayers and blessings.

With a signal that is imperceptible to the rest of us, the blind man lets the girl know when it is time to move on to the next car. Or maybe the girl decides herself. She stares into the distance as he speaks and when she gets tired of listening to him, she walks to the next car dragging him along.

I see them do this a few times ahead of us watching their interaction, then I turn to Mo and tell her something that happened the previous day.

I am in the same area in Victoria Island. Two blind men pass each other on the street. The girls leading them are friends so they stop to talk. The first blind man keeps his hand on his girl’s shoulder and waits as she chats with her friend. The second man does not wait. After an initial pause, he sighs and walks off leaving his guide behind. He strides away confidently, not feeling his way slowly tapping his cane every step. He is just an ordinary man in Lagos wearing a kaftan with dusty feet who happens to be holding a cane.

He walks right into the intersection. A motorbike swerves to avoid hitting him. A keke sideswipes him and pulls up in front. Cars pile up behind it. Everyone is honking. What is this blind man doing, they are saying, where is his PA. The keke driver sticks his head out and yells at him. The blind man has made it halfway across the road. Maybe he knows the place. Maybe he thinks it sounds like Adeola Odeku and he can smell the pizza dough wafting over from Domino’s. The road is divided by a raised barrier about one foot high. The blind man has to step over it or find the gap to walk through. The man is feeling the stick along the highway barrier looking for an opening. He is stuck. 

His helper finally hears the commotion, she darts into the road and takes his hand, leads him away from all the people calling her stupid girl. The entire time I don’t see them speak. I am saying this to Mo now. I am telling her, I don’t think they talk much. I say, The girl was very chatty with her friend and when the blind men are together at the foot of the bridge, they stand with their hands stretched out and talk to each other. But the men don’t talk to the girls. I say, How about that? 

Mo is thinking about it. She’s also struggling with it, thinking to herself, this is a weird conversation to be having. 

Mo says, Maybe they don’t talk because they don’t know each other.

I say, How can they not know each other, they walk together every day.

Mo says, That doesn’t mean anything, maybe they are assigned to each other. 

I scoff at her, Assigned how, like a temp agency? Are you serious?

Mo is bites her lower lip, she nods, Yes, I’m sure they have something like that.

I say, So you think the blind man wakes up in the morning, dresses, and goes to some office. There they check the database, because obviously, all these helper children would have registered earlier. The office has a man wearing glasses and a short sleeved suit behind a wooden desk with a rusty standing fan in the corner. The man pulls out today’s availability report from a file, runs his finger down the page humming to himself, Hmmm….. Aisha is free today. And then she gets assigned to him?

Mo fixes me with a frozen stare.

I say, This is what you believe, right? That there’s a whole infrastructure around it. Something where at the end of the day, the blind man can bring out his braille phone, give her one star and leave a comment: “Aisha talked throughout the day. She made me walk into traffic, I’m lucky to be alive. I will not ride with her again.”

Mo blinks. She says, You know sometimes you take these things too far. 

Bus tales: Of mice and men

One weekday morning on a danfo, a young man with funny pointy ears was sitting in the row of seats behind the driver. He had long skinny arms, and looking at him, you assumed his voice would be high pitched, mostly because of his ears. He sat at the end next to the window.

There was another man sitting next to him. This other man was built like a bus stop tout. He was stout with a thick neck and stubby fingers that were blackened at the ends, as if he had been digging earth using his hands as a shovel. In spite of his grubby fingers, he had a neat haircut, a clean shaved head and well-defined goatee and the kicker was that he was wearing a suit.
The bus was heading towards Lekki when it started to drizzle. The light rain faded in and out. It went on for a long time in that undefined weather space between raining and not. The wipers of the bus were off and you couldn’t see any water drops hitting the window, but if you stared into the distance you would see the precipitation making the morning misty.

After getting some dampness in his face, Pointy Ears struggled with his window and jiggled it shut.

The bus moved about half the distance to the next bus stop then it got caught in traffic. Everyone on the bus moaned. Without the forward motion, it got hot on the bus. Grubby Fingers, in his suit, reached past Ears and pulled the window open. The breeze blew in. The bus inched forward in the traffic jam.

Invisible rain droplets pelted Pointy Ears and his ears, he pushed the window closed.
Grubby Fingers reached over again and opened the window. Pointy Ears spoke, and yes, his voice was high pitched. “Why na? Can’t you see the rain is beating me?”

He closed the window.

Grubby Fingers glared at him, stretched his hand and opened the window.

Pointy Ears shut it.

Grubby said, “I am warning you. If you touch this window again…” He left the threat dangling as he opened the window.

The passengers were glad to get some air.  Nobody was sure if it was raining or not.
“No,” Pointy Ears said in his squeaky voice, “No, I am the one sitting by the window.” He made a move towards the window. Grubby Fingers grabbed his hand. They tussled.

In their seats, grunting, they locked hands in a tug-of-war. Pointy Ears was losing, his hand was being edged away from the window. He gave up. He tried to stand in the confined bus. Panting, he said, “If you want open window, why don’t you sit next to it?” Grubby Fingers slid past him and took up the seat by the window. Pointy Ears moved into the second seat. His chest was still heaving from the exertion.

The bus was full. The bus was quiet. The fight had been contained to that spot. Some passengers were looking at their phones, others were staring straight ahead ignoring the fight.
Past the Jakande roundabout, the traffic cleared. Now the rain was heavier. It drummed on the roof of the bus. The driver accelerated. The speed blew the water in through the open window. It was undeniable. The driver turned on the windshield wipers.

Over by the window, Grubby Fingers sat stone-faced, ignoring the change. Raindrops ran down his face, pooled in his beard and dripped onto his suit. The rain dowsed him. It blew into his eyes, blocked his nose so he had to part his lips to breathe. But he hung in there, with the window open, like every man before him, trapped by his words and his ego.

Icebreaker 2.0

There is a couple, Dayo and Faith.
Faith is the girl, in case you were wondering. It gets tricky with these things.
They are new age. Not new age new age, but they are modern.
Dayo proposes to Faith at the park. Before that, they go to watch a movie, it is a Saturday afternoon, and this time he holds her hands for the full 90 minutes, except for when he reaches for the popcorn. After the movie, they eat lunch at the food court then she feels like he’s rushing to drop her off at home, but he says, First let’s stop at this park.

At the park their friends are there and her parents too. He has done the right thing and asked them and even though they are not crazy about him, it has been a four year relationship so they’ve said, Fine you can ask her.
No one yells Surprise or anything like that. The couple walk into the park, Faith sees her friends, she turns to Dayo, maybe knowing, maybe a little confused. He holds her left hand, he drops to one knee. He tries to put his hand into his pocket to get the ring out, but by kneeling down he has wedged the case tight in his jeans pocket.

He stands back up, still holding her hand and wiggles the case out. The audience of friends and family do a nervous chuckle and end it with a small cheer as he gets the case out. He kneels again, says something like, Ever since I met you I have dreamt of this day. The day to finally ask you to be my wife. Will you, Faith, do me the honours?
She nods, says Yes. He squeezes the ring onto her finger, gets up. They hug.

After that, things get intense. One day, they have their regular date night. Dayo says he’s thinking of getting a tattoo. He wants it to say Faith, right over his heart. Faith laughs, says they should get matching tattoos. Well, not matching she says, I should get Dayo and you get Faith. Dayo doesn’t laugh back. He grips her hand, his gaze is serious. More serious even than when he asked her to marry him. He says, Yes we should.

They are at the tattoo parlor a few weeks later. They go into separate rooms. Dayo and Faith. When he comes out 30 minutes later, Faith is standing there in the open space.
Dayo is holding his arm stiffly, in pain. Faith says, I couldn’t do it.
Dayo is looking at the fresh markings on his chest. Faith. He says, What?
Faith says, I tried. Honestly. I just couldn’t do it.

Dayo storms out, leaving her there. Faith tries to call him, he doesn’t answer her calls or reply her messages. She tries for three days. Then she gets angry. She tells her sister to forget him. She tells her sister Dayo is being petty. She tells her sister, of course Dayo wouldn’t mind inking Faith on his chest, even if we break up, it would still be meaningful. Faith says, Imagine me carrying Dayo around on my chest forever. What will I tell another man?

Dayo calms down a week later. He calls Faith who doesn’t pick up. He calls her sister. They chitchat. Her sister says, I will talk to her for you. Her sister says, You sef you shouldn’t have gotten angry. Dayo says, Why wouldn’t I be angry? Am I not the one here with Faith written on my body?
The sister lets it slip, Yes but it’s Faith, it can mean anything. It’s not like Dayo.
Dayo is silent on the phone. The sister does a delayed laugh to try to retrieve her comment. The laughter trickles out of her mouth and achieves nothing. Dayo is quiet. She checks, Hello are you still there? Sorry it was just a joke.
Dayo says, So it’s like that?

Two weeks later, Dayo and his friend come to Faith’s house. She is there with her sister. It is their first time meeting since the tattoo parlour incident.
They sit in the living room. Faith’s sister serves drinks, she sets them out and returns to the kitchen. Gets an extra glass, gets an opener.
Faith says, Things didn’t have to get this bad. I am so-
Dayo holds up his hand, cuts her off. He says, Here is what’s going to happen. I am going to get your middle name, Tubosun, on the right side of my chest.
Faith says, Haba I thought this thing was settled.
Dayo says, It’s sad that I have to prove that I love you, but I’m doing this for myself.
Faith says, And I have to get the Dayo tattoo?
Dayo shrugs, as if to say, it doesn’t matter. He is seated on the sofa leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He drops his head into his hands. In a low voice, he says, If you want to get married.
Everyone hears him.

The tension in the house is thick. Dayo’s friend is not sure why he is there. He sips his malt. He looks around the room. The television is on mute, the sounds of traffic come in faint from outside. He sips his malt again. He attempts a joke. Just Dayo? Or Dayo and your middle name? Hehe hehe… He puts awkward laughter at the end. Then quiet.

Minutes later, Dayo says, It’s Timothy.
Faith says, There’s no way I’m getting two tattoos.
Dayo says, Then do the full thing, Olamidayo.
Faith says, Oladayo.
Dayo says, Fine whatever.

The last time I saw him was at the beach. He was wearing a tank top and striped shorts. He would wade out until the water was up to his knees then he would wait for a large wave to come and race it back to the shore. Sometimes he would outrun the wave and make it to the shore, and sometimes, the wave would crash around him drenching him. You could see the edges of two tattoos on both sides of his chest, and he was alone. Very alone.