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. 

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Last week, I had to wake up early to catch a flight. I live on an estate that doesn’t allow public transportation in, so I had to walk all the way to the entrance with my luggage. It was just about five a.m., there were no cars or pedestrians and it was still dark. As I exited past the security guards, a bike pulled up to the gate carrying four people. 

There was the okada man, behind him was a woman, and sandwiching her was another man. In the front, between the handlebars was a little boy. The man at the back dismounted from the bike and swung the boy off, carrying him in his arms. He said “Wait” to the bike and trotted to the gate house. The woman grunted in response.

The woman was having trouble breathing. She put her head on the okada man’s back and put her hands on her pregnant stomach. I could hear her panting. 

I could also hear the man talking to the security men. “My wife…. ” he turned and pointed back at her. He went into a pleading explanation. His wife had an emergency and needed to get to the hospital inside, could the guards let the bike in?

The okada man on hearing this, said, “If I dey enter, na two hundred naira.” The woman was hyperventilating. She raised her head, clutched her belly and wailed, “Nooo….” she said, “one fifty.” The bike man shook his head. In between her gasps, they haggled. “Two hundred naira.” “Lai lai.” She screamed, “Argh” and bent forward, “one fifty.” Back and forth like that, nobody was budging. 

The woman started to get off the bike even though she was in great pain. She rocked side to side, huffing the whole time, then she stretched one leg to the ground and struggled off. 

The security guards had opened the gate. The husband was standing with the boy in the crook of his arm, waving the bike in. He was surprised to see the woman standing beside the bike. “Ah ah, what happen?”

The following day, I was returning to Lagos. The Owerri airport is one of those small ones that are like bus stops. It has just one runway and one building. No gates or any of that fancy stuff. When the plane lands, it rolls to a stop at the end of the runway, drops people and picks up passengers at that spot then K-turns and takes off. There is no room for anything else. 

We were lined up at the boarding stairs to climb into the plane. We had just trekked all the way from the one building to the plane because there’s no such thing as taxiing in Sam Mbakwe airport. 

There were two wheelchairs that had brought people who disagreed with all the walking. Airline staff were patting people down at the foot of the stairs and at the top, they were checking boarding passes. We shuffled up the steps bit by bit. Behind me, I heard someone say, “What is wrong with you? Let her pass!”

I turned around. It was a woman about four steps below shouting and she was addressing me. Closer to me was a woman carrying a wrapped infant. The shouting woman glared at me. “Let the woman with the baby pass. Why are we behaving like animals?”

Was I blocking the woman with the baby? I didn’t think so. Was I standing in a Lagos stance with my elbows out to fend off imagined competition? Not consciously.

I opened my mouth to defend myself and realised her question was not just for today. It was for every time before now. For the previous day with the pregnant woman. For the okada man who wouldn’t let fifty naira slide. And for me who jumped on the bike as soon as she wasn’t using it, saying to myself, I’ve got a flight to catch. Why were we behaving like animals?

I swallowed the insult and entered the plane. 

Zatoichi

A narrow road runs along the edge of the Akesan model market. The road is bounded on one side by the gutter that drains the market, and on the other by the high barbwire-tipped fence of the military cantonment. The road is just wide enough for one car but on market days, with traders spilling into the streets only half of that is usable. Pedestrians clutter to either side to avoid being sideswiped by passing vehicles.

A young hijabed girl led a blind man on the side of the road. The man, in a white kaftan top, had his hand on her shoulder and he felt his way along with a shiny metal cane.

Coming in the opposite direction was a woman carrying a wide tray stacked with loaves of bread on her head.
The girl leading the blind man walked past the bread woman, and because she (the girl) was short, she passed the bread woman and the tray skirted over her head. However, she neglected to signal the blind man about the low clearance.
The tray clanged against the man’s head. He screamed, clutched his forehead with one hand, and baring his teeth, he turned and swung his metal stick hard into the bread woman.
The blind man yelled at her, his gray eyes glowering at the region in front of him. The bread woman held her hurt arm and looked apologetic.

A few metres away, an area boy saw the hit. He hurried across the road cutting between hawkers and stepped up to the blind man. He did that thing that tough guys do before they start fighting where they puff their chests up and stick it in your face and in his gravelly voice, he said, “Kini!”
Even though the blind man heard the confrontational bark, without any visual to go with it, he responded by raising his chin up, and weaving his head from side to side.

The bread woman was holding her elbow, watching the encounter with the sweetest, most innocent look on her face. She wore a brown half pleated skirt and a tight striped multicoloured blouse. And the way she held her hurt elbow with the hand across her chest, she formed a rectangle that framed her breasts.

The area boy, trying to impress her, was not backing down. “Why you flog am!” He was getting more agitated, chest bumping the blind man who was trying to explain by pointing at the bread woman. Or in the general direction of where she had been before he was initially chest bumped. A crowd was growing around them. Someone blamed the leading girl for not warning him and steering him around the tray. The girl cowered in the corner, covered her face and cried into her hands.

People tried to appeal to the area boy. “No vex, no vex.” He had muscled forearms, and to accentuate them, he had wristbands of large gleaming black beads around both wrists.

The area boy made a sudden move, phase two of stepping to someone where you spread your hands and try to scare them by pretending you will hit them. The blind man did not flinch. But the area boy’s bracelet caught on something and it broke. The beads scattered, making pinging noises as they bounced on the street.
The blind man’s ears perked up. His face darted left then right, his sightless eyes tracking each bead as it plinked on the road and clinked into the gutter. He was still staring after the beads’ fading sound when the area boy’s fist hit him low in the belly. He whooped out all the air in his body, folded in on himself, and fell to his knees.

The crowd surged in and pushed the area boy away from the blind man. They surrounded the area boy, attacking him as a shoving wall hurling insults. He swung blindly into them. Punches, kicks, his shirt was dragged. It tore down the middle in front. The shredded shirt was pulled off him leaving him absurdly wearing only sleeves. The melee went on for several minutes.

Gunshots rang out. A barrage of bullets rent the air. The crowd froze.
Then the shouts of soldiers: “Hey! You, stop there!”
Everybody scattered. Not as a unified mass. Some ran this way. Some ran that way. More shots, more shouts. Some doubled back and ran the other way.
Finally the place was empty.

Except for the blind man feeling his way slowly along the fence.

Taking the piss

I was strolling along a back road in Yaba. The sidewalk was elevated from the road on my left and bounded on my right by the fence of a school.
There were no cars passing and no other people on the street except one man walking towards me. About forty steps away, he stopped, looked around furtively like a burglar and turned towards the wall. He unzipped his trousers and started peeing against the wall.

I kept walking, wondering what the appropriate response to this was.
Should I cross the road? I could ignore him, but was there enough room on the sidewalk for me to pass without brushing against him?
Did I want to pass him while he was pissing and listen to the splashing while pretending not to see him?
Should I walk faster to get past him before he finished or slower so he’d be done by the time I got there?
Would he then shake himself off and ruin the rest of my day by making eye contact?

Thirty steps away, I had chosen to make no changes. I am, by nature, a very slow walker. This quirk had come up in a past relationship where my girlfriend’s idea of quality time was going on walks. She would take quick strides while I trotted behind her to keep up. At the end of the relationship, during the airing of grievances, I brought that up, whining, “Why do you insist on going on walks when we never walk together?”
I don’t have an excuse, it seemed important at the time.

I was twenty steps away now. How could he still be peeing?
That’s the thing about long pees. You’re always about half-way through them before you notice, damn, it is a long one and you should have been timing it.
If I was a WC engineer, I would dedicate all my research to my greatest invention: A toilet with sensors in it that starts a timer as soon as the first stream of fluid hits the water. It would have a digital screen above it and when the client is finished, the display would read:

“You have just ejected 1.3 litres of fluid in a time of 32 seconds.”
NEW TOILET RECORD!
Hit flush to continue

The next screen will have a list of high scores and you’d enter your initials like an old school arcade: TAT

Ten steps away and I was worried.
He was facing the wall and the puddle of piss pooled at his feet. But the sidewalk sloped downward from the fence to the road so he widened his stance to allow the stream flow between his legs. Behind him, the liquid fanned out into a wide based triangle and I realised that to pass I would have to hurdle it.
I tried the long jump in secondary school but it didn’t take. There was the run-up and the take-off board and people who were good at it would adjust their strides just right to get their last foot to slam perfectly on the board as they hurled their bodies into the air. I could never get that to work. I would approach the line running too fast, then lose all momentum by slowing down to get my final foot on the board.

I broke up my last five steps to the pisser into ten mini steps preparing to leap for maximum distance. I stutter-stepped cha-cha-cha… cha-cha-cha and took off. I sailed through the air flailing my arms and pumping my legs. The landing was flawless. My hands were stretched forward and my feet placed together hit the ground simultaneously. I stood up straight, thrust my fist in the air, and bowed to the crowd.
Behind me, the river ran unabated.