On my way home from a wedding on Saturday, I got into an accident.
When I started driving in Lagos, my co-worker Demola pulled me aside.
“These are the most important things that you must know,” he said counting them off on his fingers. “If you get into an accident, never apologise. That is like admitting it is your fault. Never ever call the police, they will just take your car and demand more money from you. And don’t bother calling your insurance company. That insurance paper you have is just for show.”
I nodded, he continued:
“Here are the things that you can do to stop your car from being scratched…”
He paused for dramatic effect.
“Nothing,” he said “absolutely nothing. There is nothing you can do to prevent your car from being scratched. It is only a matter of time.”
“When you get into an accident, if it is a small bump and you’re the one at fault, ignore it until the other person says something. But once they acknowledge it, start by abusing them, then get down and prepare to fight. You don’t have to go through with the actual fighting but you must show a willingness to fight.”
I wrote down his advice in my notebook, tabulated under Dos and Don’ts.
The woman was driving a silver Matrix. She was in the left lane, and I was on the right and both lanes were making a right turn. No merges, no traffic lights, just two cars turning into two separate lanes. I saw she was moving towards me as she turned. I braked and pressed my horn, a long sustained beep. She didn’t hear it; she drifted closer and closer until she lodged the passenger side of her car into the front of mine.
I dropped my head into my hands. She climbed out of her car. She walked around to survey the damage. She glared at me still sitting in the car.
I rolled down the glass. “Didn’t you hear my horn?”
I repeated slowly, “I saw you coming towards me. That’s why I stopped and started horning. Didn’t you hear it?”
“Aah!” she said, “Are you acting like this because I am a woman?”
I was confused. How was I acting?
She was wearing iro and buba with sweat smudged makeup like she was returning from a party. Her gele was in the front passenger seat still wrapped up in the shape of her head. She was right, I was being dismissive about the whole thing, because she was a woman.
If it was a man, I would have been more aggressive. I would have scrambled out of the car before she did. I would have gone with huffing, puffing, and chest pounding. But I was sitting, calmly explaining through the window.
She said, “You hit me and you can’t even say sorry-”
I got out of the car. “How could I be the one who hit you? I wasn’t even moving!”
“And now you’re talking to me anyhow because I am a woman.”
“What does this have to do with you being a woman?”
A crowd had gathered. Drivers behind us reversed and drove around. The conductor of a passing bus poked his head out, he looked at the damage. “There is nothing there, take your car and go.”
She stuck her finger in my face, almost touching my nose. “You are wrong, admit it! Instead of apologising, you’re only treating me like this because I am a woman.”
I had come with logic and assumed that would be enough. If I saw her and wasn’t moving and she didn’t see me until she hit me, how could it be my fault?
A man from the crowd stood between us. He said, “Madam, calm down. Relax, madam.” Then to me, “You should tell her sorry. You know how women are.”
I was clearly losing.
I said, “How? Why! If you can’t drive because you’re a woman, you should stay home and pound yam for your husband.”
She shouted “E-hen! You will see today.”
She tightened her iro and ran to the front of the car. She pounded her hand on it three times. “Call the police! I’m not going anywhere until police comes.” Then she sat on the car.
Two months ago during the Christmas break, Niyi, a friend from New Jersey, was visiting his family in Lagos and I went to see him. I stopped at that suya spot by the Allen Avenue roundabout that sells suya all day. By the time I got to Niyi’s place, he was waiting for me outside in baggy shorts and sunglasses, holding a pitbull at the end of a jangling chain. I dismounted from the back of the okada and because I didn’t want the suya to get cold, I had started eating it out of the newspaper wrap. He saw me, shook his head and said, “O boy, you have gone native.”
Perhaps because of what I perceived as an implied insult or maybe it was just the look on his face when he said it, I got offended. I had been annoyed by it since then, since Christmas, up until now. I thought about that as I was berating the woman sitting on the car, and if you’d asked me at this moment, I would have accepted. “Okay, maybe a little native.”
It was past seven and fully dark. The headlights from passing cars would flash on us illuminating the crowd around the two cars. They had split into two groups: the first was asking the woman to let it go. The second group was asking me to beg the woman to let it go.
An hour-long scuffle later, after we had exhausted our insults, I resumed my journey home. The police never showed up. As I was driving, I noticed the rear-view mirror had been knocked out of position. I reached up to adjust it and in it a stranger with wild eyes stared back at me. I avoided his gaze.