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. 

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Dr Eggman, PhD Zoology

The homework for my cousin’s son’s class was: ‘Draw five sea creatures’

My cousin showed it to me across the dining table with an expression on her face I couldn’t read. Her son was sitting in a chair next to her with only his head showing above the table. She got up, tightened her wrapper around her waist and went into the room.
She came back with a blank sheet of paper and a pen and started to write an angry letter to the teacher. She said, “Can you believe this nonsense? The boy is just three, he cannot name five sea creatures, you want him to draw them. That is how they just pack useless homework and give.”
She ranted about the standard of education, then expanded the complaint to include the decline of the country.

I took the workbook.
I drew a generic fish. I drew an octopus.
I drew a crab, then debated whether it was a sea creature since I only ever see them on the shore scurrying from the waves.
I erased the crab and scribbled a sea horse from memory.
I drew a dolphin (big fish with pointy head) and a whale (much bigger fish with flat head).
Five.
I reviewed the drawings, shook my head. The boy was looking at me with expectant eyes.

I got fresh paper and made a list of animals I could use instead.
– Squid (octopus with skinny legs and pointy head?)
– Lobster (too complicated)
– Shrimp (small lobster, just as complicated)
– Sea horse –> sea lion (Does this count as sea creature?)
– Sea anemone (what is this even?)
– Sea section (har-har, no. -_- Punfound.)
– Calamari (??)
– Kraken

I crumpled the paper. The boy was still staring. I stood up, picked up my bag. I said, “It’s getting late, I’m going home.”
My cousin looked at the clock, “But it’s just six.”
I didn’t look at her. I said, “I live far.”

In the middle of the night, I woke up to pee and texted her: “Turtle!”
She didn’t reply until the afternoon. “The teacher gave him four over ten on that assignment. He was crying. Thank you, uncle.”

Slice

Bidemi Lajide was cheating on his wife of seven years. I should state that upfront so you do not think this is a mystery story. I should also mention that he will get caught so there isn’t any suspense about that either.

This evening, Mr Lajide is at home in the living room watching football. He has pulled the centre table close and stretched both feet on it. The match was played earlier today and he already knows the score, which is why he can kick back and watch calmly like this. His wife can be heard rummaging around in the corridor that leads to the bedroom. She comes out in a flurry of quick movements and enters the kitchen where she continues her noisy undefined activity. He is now on the phone: “Hello, I am watching the game. I know, see how our boys are messing up. If it was me I will not even wait, I will fire that coach immediately.”

At halftime, Mr Lajide gets up with considerable effort. Wheezing, he nudges the centre table with his knee and lumbers to the toilet leaving a deep dent in the couch and his phone on the table. His wife, Moji, comes in from the kitchen with a rag. She dusts the side tables and the shelf that holds the television. Her wrapper comes loose as she bends to clean. She turns to the centre table by the couch. She clears the table, picking the phone up and pauses for a moment, phone in one hand while she tucks in the edge of her wrapper with the other hand.

This is when Bidemi comes back from the toilet. He stops at the entrance to the sitting room and seeing his wife through the swaying bead curtain holding his phone with an irritated look on her face, he assumes that she has seen something on the phone to upset her.

Nine months earlier, Moji Lajide had talked about starting a business. It began on the day she ran into her friend, Bimbo, from secondary school. After the initial greeting, even though nobody asked her, Bimbo had said, “Ah, I am doing business now o.” She flashed the rings on her fingers and continued to give unsolicited information. “I go to Dubai, China, India, anywhere we have contacts.”
And as they stood there by the road catching up, counting off countries on fingers, Moji thought that if someone passing looked at them, the person would not believe they were ex-classmates. The person would think Bimbo was her madam.

They parted without taking each other’s numbers. Moji returned home that day with determination borne of the certainty you can do something better than someone else. She wasn’t impressed by the jewellery, she said when she told her sister. She didn’t care that much about travelling, she said when she told the other clerk at work. Really, how hard was it to do business, sef.

She talked about starting business about a hundred times that first day, about seventy times the second day, and only about thirty times on the third day. There was a wedding that weekend that she’d bought aso-ebi for and by the time Monday rolled around, other things occupied her mind.
So when her husband surprised her with seed money for the business, she couldn’t remember why she had been so intent on it.

She held on to the money for weeks, unwrapping it and counting every few days, annoyed at being put into this situation where she had to follow up on her talk, until one of the girls at the salon mentioned a man running a QuikInvest shop. Give him one thousand, she said, and after a month he will give you back one-five. If you want, invest the one thousand five hundred, he will give you three thousand.
The hairdresser said, “They are using internet. It is foreign trading. If you don’t believe, try small first. If it doesn’t work, at least you will know.” Moji shook her head and made a scoffing noise in her throat. When her weave was done, she got up and inspected it turning in the mirror. Satisfied, she paid the girl, and as she waited for the change, she looked in the mirror again, patted her new hair and said, “And give me that man’s number.”

She put in five thousand and got seven-five after a month. She took it out, pocketed the profit, and put in the entire hundred thousand. The QuikInvest man said, “This one will take more time, so you must exercise patience.” Then he asked if she had more friends who wanted to invest. He kept calling and texting her to remind her to recommend her friends. Each time, she would take the call in private, speaking in a low voice. “Yes. I’ve heard. I will tell them.” Afterwards, she would clear her call log and delete his text messages even though she had saved his name as ‘Oga Tailor’.

The months for the hundred thousand had passed, but for the last week, the man’s phone had been off. His shop was locked and the sign outside had been taken down. Moji went to the salon where the girl was sitting in the corner with swollen eyes. When the hairdresser saw Moji, she started crying again. The story that came out between sobs was about her mother’s pension and how could she face the people she had told to invest in the man. Moji rushed out of the salon. She went home and started furious cleaning. She washed the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and scrubbed the buckets. She swept the corridor, brushed the cobwebs high in the corners. In the kitchen, she wiped down the cooker. She exposed the dank interior of the cabinet underneath the sink and cleared out the junk that had accumulated there.

She moved to the living room, dusted the side tables and was holding her husband’s phone, absentmindedly tucking in her wrapper, trying to remember if she had saved any of the text messages from the investor when Bidemi stormed in shouting at her about checking his phone, and respect my privacy this and privacy that.

Country of Ember or Death and his friends

There is a scourge threatening the lives of millions of Nigerians.
No, not terrorism, or AIDS or cancer. Although those are terrible things too. It is the evil face of the -ember months.
As the months count off to the end of the year, in what is known as the curse of the -ember months, there is a deluge of people dying in deceptively normal ways.
Death, it appears, suddenly realises he has a 31st of December deadline and an unmet target of souls to harvest so he has to ramp up his activities.

It is unclear why the threat of the -ember months is so prevalent here. Either Death and his minions have to concentrate on one location in what little time they have and it is always Nigeria they choose. Or Death is more organised in the Western world and he kills regularly throughout the year to meet his targets rather than focus all his effort at the end like he does here.

Whatever the reason is, the end of the year sees the country turn into a killing field. People huddle in churches praying against the spirit of the -ember months. They make t-shirts and stickers. Like this one that says: “Mber Months: Back to Sender!”
Huh? Back to which sender? Pope Gregory of the Gregorian calendar? Does he know you don’t want his months?
I don’t think you can return months like they are unused data on your phone plan.

Meanwhile Death never thinks to switch things up. He never goes: “Maybe I work a little harder in May and June so I don’t have to struggle at the end.”
Death is chillaxing mid-year. No one in the country died in July and that didn’t raise any eyebrows. He is lying on the couch, his black cloak bunched up around him, watching Scandal. He is eating a hunk of watermelon, spitting the seeds into a saucer. He is doing stretches from this yoga DVD he bought on Jumia. His stress is melting away. “Eh, I’ll just pull some all-nighters in November and December. It will be fine.”

Then the end of the year comes and his friends call him:
“Hello. Yo Death, meet us at the lounge, we hanging out.”
“Sorry, I can’t come. I’m swamped with work, you know how the -ember months are.”
“For real? Where you at?”
“Ugh. Nigeria.”
“Word.”