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.”
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.


Last bike to Clarksville

Last year, I was on my way to a meeting in Yaba. I made it as far as Ikeja Along before getting stuck in traffic. I was going to be late so I hopped down and ran to a bank of motorbikes.

An okada man agreed to take me to Oshodi. I climbed onto the back of the bike expecting him to start it, but he just stood to the side and shouted, “Oshodi, one chance, one more yansh.”

Huh, what does he mean by one chance? I’m already here.

Unless? No…. no way.

But the people I see doubling up on bikes always look so happy. Two people who were strangers minutes ago, chatting it up the entire ride, getting into playful arguments and tapping the okada man in to mediate. “Abeg tell am Barca no fit win.” Sometimes you have a third person sitting between the handlebars, eyes squinty from the wind whipping, alternating between chipping in to the argument and grinning like there is nothing else in the world he would rather be doing.

I reasoned then that if I insisted on special treatment, I would always keep asking for special treatment, so I decided to go along with it.

I start to rethink my decision when a man approached another bike and refused to ride with anyone else offering instead to pay for “both” seats. But I have a problem with changing my mind in public. I am convinced that thieves and kidnappers target people based on how uncertain they look in public. When I’m out, I try to look as confident as possible. I would take a taxi to a wrong destination rather than admit to the taxi driver that my plans have changed and I no longer have to go there. After he drops me, I would pretend to look through my bag until he leaves then I’ll get another cab to take me back to my original location.

I went over the mechanics of the ride in my head, who would go in the middle and who would go at the back. I’m tiny so I would likely get stuck in the middle, the meat in the motorcycle sandwich. Will my new best friend lean over whispering into my ear to start a conversation? Would he grip my waist with his thighs to steady himself, rubbing my back saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay’ if I pretend I dont understand him? Could a bomb go off right here killing all of us and saving the day?

I was so engrossed in thought, I didn’t notice a shadow looming over me until a large woman tapped my shoulder indicating she wanted to get on.

She straddled the motorcycle sitting behind me and each of her breasts rested on a separate shoulder.
The okada man started up the bike. “Abeg, dress forward small.”

I said, “Uh-oh” as she scooched closer, then I blacked out.

Or I thought I blacked out. I was enveloped in a cocoon of warm flesh. My hearing went and I couldn’t see a thing. I tried to wiggle my head to the side, but nothing happened.

I had no sense of the motorcycle’s motion. I imagined I could hear the rumble of traffic, a murmur in the background like waves in a seashell.

I’ve heard of these sensory deprivation chambers where you’re suspended in goo and lose all sense of self. You could hold your hand in front of your face and would be unable to see it.
It was like that. Minus the availability of air and the relative safety.

And the freedom of motion.
And an avenue of escape like knocking on the walls of the chamber for the operator to let me out.

The motorcycle entered a pothole and jostled her, I came up for air like a drowning man before I was sucked back under.
At some point during the ride, I think she took a phone call. Her voice came to me in that dark place as an omnidirectional rumbling transmitted as vibrations directly into my body.

When the bike stopped at Oshodi, she got down and the sun hit me as I was spilled out into a harsh world. Dizzy and disoriented, I staggered around in circles then I walked out into the middle of the road.

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Banking community

I was in line at the ATM. This task is always made more complicated by the set-up at my bank; two machines, side by side, each with winding lines extending into the parking lot. At the machines, there are the same number of people on both lines, so you have to take stock of the people on the line to decide what selection of people to queue up behind.

I don’t like to admit I judge people but on a pressing assignment like this, I have to forecast which of these characters is going to get to the front of the line and have a problem with the technology.

Some people are upfront about it, before it gets to their turn, they will turn around and say, ‘Abeg when I reach, you fit help me change my PIN?’
But many people say nothing. Between the people who admit they don’t know what to do, and those who think they know, are all the others you have to deal with.

The girl chewing gum and smacking it loud in her mouth who will get to the head of the line and have to call home to verify each step of what she is doing. While she is punching numbers into the keypad, she will squawk into the phone, ‘E duro, e duro, O so pe shecking.’

Or the young man wearing baggy trousers who gets to his turn, brings out a cache of ATM cards tied with a rubber band from his cargo pockets, cycles through each card, first checking the balance then ejecting each one, scratches his beard, stares into space doing mental calculation, reinserts the card and take out 1,000 naira, then repeats that nine times.

And the old man in the worn down leather sandals who will shuffle to the machine, check his balance and start muttering to the screen in a slow plaintive voice, ‘But…. my son…. sent me money…. last night. How come…..’
He will continue on an extended monologue until someone comes out of the crowd, wraps their arm around his shoulder and escorts him to the grief counselling section on the side to stand with all the other people who have been rejected by their account balances. Every ATM has that bunch of people by the side, they scrunch their faces as if they’ve been wronged or misinformed and hold their bank cards in their palms stroking them like magic lamps to coax funds into them.

I get to the machine and punch through the options, Savings Account, Withdrawal, and here things could go one of two ways. You could be taking out a lot of money, and the machine will take hours spitting it out. That endless uncomfortable Prrrrrrr sound is amplified by Nigerian ATMs as it double counts the naira notes alerting everyone in the vicinity that you think you’re a bigshot. Even the security guard all the way at the gate hears it. He has gotten up from the white plastic chair he was lounging in and pushed his crusty feet into his slippers. He is rubbing his palms together, and you know when you try to exit, he will smile and say, “Chair-man, happy weekend. Anything for us?”

But today is not that day. Today you’re taking out such a low amount that the ATM will spit it out to you in disdain.
The machine won’t even stick the bills out of the slot for you to pull them out yourself. It will just dump them at your feet so you have to scramble to recover them.

Then it will give you an uber-fact on the screen with an audio voiceover: Did you know the cost of the electricity it took to dispense your 2,000 naira, and the paper to print out that your balance is 528 naira was more than your entire net worth?
Now bow your head and do the walk of shame past the people whose time you just wasted.

Every bank has a different rule.
Some you can withdraw all your money as long as the ATM can dispense the bills.
Some you can withdraw up to an arbitrary minimum balance, you must leave five thousand naira in there.
Others you can withdraw up to a certain amount at the ATM, but if the withdrawal puts your account below, say, 2,500, you have to go into the bank and speak to teller in person to shamefully admit that you need the last 2,000 naira from your account.
And she will make a big deal out of it. “Ah! You know you will only have 500 naira left? Everybody come and see this man o!”
Sometimes she will get a puzzled look on her face, then she will whisper to one teller, walk over and talk to the next teller, then she will go to the back and talk to another person. You will see her craning her neck, using her lips to point at you, ‘uhm mhm that one, over there, don’t be fooled by the clothes he has no money,’ as if you cannot see them. She will gesture at her belly, ‘Even with my pregnancy, he is making me do all this work for common two thousand naira.’

Which is why I would never do that.

Which is why I am staring at the screen while it gives me another of its cryptic messages: ‘Invalid terminal ID’ ‘Data timeout’ ‘Transaction not permitted’ ‘Insufficient funds’

I know my time is up when I hear sighing behind me and turn to see the people fuming start to migrate to the other line. So I eject my card and move to stand with the ATM support group. They pat me on the back welcoming me as I take my place beside that old man in the sandals, and he says, ‘Wetin do ya own?’