Apapa has been in the news a lot recently. The government is either trying to clean up Apapa, or maybe tear it down and rebuild from scratch, I’m not sure.
Apapa is a strange place for me. I feel like it doesn’t exist in the real world, like it is in a parallel side universe with these little doorways in our world that lead to it. I’ve been there a lot, but never deliberately.
Once, I was on my way to Festac Town, got lost, ended up in Apapa. Another time, I was headed to Victoria Island, took a wrong turn, ended up in Apapa.
It seems like any time I go out, Apapa is right there on the periphery of my vision stalking me, knocking on the door of my mind.
I’m driving, to somewhere that is not known to be close to Apapa. I’m trying hard not to think of it, and I’m succeeding, but my phone rings breaking my concentration.
Next thing, boom, wrong turn. Dark oil covered roads, shadow people darting about, the soil darkens before my eyes turning from light brown to dark brown then black, tankers materialize on both sides of the road spewing thick exhaust like a fog, and rain clouds appear to blot out the sun. I enter the shadow realm, I am in Apapa.
How did that happen, I could have sworn I was in Ikeja a minute ago. I start looking to make a U-turn, but I’m stuck.
In other places, when there is a traffic jam, you might not be moving, but you’d see cars in the opposite lane coming from your destination and giving you hope. The passing drivers would wave at you and say, “Don’t worry, the road is clear in front.”
Not in Apapa. Our side of the expressway is clogged, but the other side is strangely empty. We are all in line to go there, but no one is coming from there. In the distance, smoke rises, and vultures are circling. It is a one way trip to hell. We should run away, but we can’t. The cars are packed too densely together.
No one wears white in Apapa, but on the side of the road is a woman wearing a white skirt and business suit. She has a look on her face like she is lost. Her mouth is open, her eyes glassy. Like she was kidnapped then thrown from the car hours later with a blindfold on, she has managed to loosen her hands and work the blindfold off, but she now has no idea where she is.
A street trader worms his way through the mass of cars hawking something in a cardboard box on his head. He is wearing a black shirt that used to be red, and when he reaches out to ask me if I want to buy, I notice his fingernails are gone, replaced by dark nubs, and his hands are grimy, like he has been working on car engines his entire life without the benefit of tools.
A family friend told me he was almost carjacked in Apapa. I realize now that was a lie. You could be robbed, yes. But carjacked? Unlikely.
The robber would point a gun at you in traffic and drag you out of your car. He pistolwhips you and as you fall to the ground he continues to kick you until you black out.
You come to an hour later, still lying on the road by your car. There is a pile of discarded wrappers by your head, gala, plantain chips, and other snacks. The thief has been hungry, he emptied your wallet for money to feed himself. He has gotten tired of waiting, so he gets out of the car when he sees you standing up, shakes his gun at you with a grunted threat and leaves taking your wallet and phones with him.
Nothing has changed.
The lost woman is still on the side of the road, her rumpled clothes are yellowed and edging into brown. The road is still blocked.
You climb back in and continue to wait for the traffic to clear.