Amazing Race Lagos

Tune in this Thursday for a NEW and EXCITING episode.

Two, that’s TWO, contestants are given a danfo bus and a torchlight phone–complete with rubber band holding it together.
The contestants must make it from the Seme border on one end of Lagos ALL the way ACROSS the state to the Olu’s palace in Epe.
The bus has no fuel.
The phone has no credit.
Contestants are given no money and are not allowed to contact previous associates. They have one month to get to the finish line or until such fate as would befall them as to make it impossible to continue.

Meet our first contestants, Olalekan and his son, Segun. They sell the phone (hellooo… brought to you by Airtel) to get enough petrol to start the bus. Olalekan and Segun form a driver and conductor team and are quickly on their way, picking up passengers and using the fares collected to pay for more fuel. But at Oshodi they are stopped by touts. The agberos harangue Olalekan. “Where is your sticker? Owo loading da? Owo security and parking?” Segun steps in with an explanation.
Segun gets stabbed.
Let’s catch up with them next week as Olalekan waits for his son to get stitches.

Next up, Ifeanyi and Ada. He says she’s his girlfriend, she says it’s fiancee, we say that is a matter for another show. They decide to sell the danfo for parts and use the money to pay for a taxi. Right at the border, they sell the side mirrors, they sell the windows. Ifeanyi is on the phone (hellooo… brought to you by Airtel) talking to someone who is willing to buy the frame of the bus.
But uh-oh, don’t look now. The Alaba International boys have gotten wind of unsanctioned trade activity in the region, and are moving in on them.

Meanwhile, Taiwo and Kehinde, twin returnees from Houston, have abandoned the bus and are attempting to hitch a ride. They stand on the side of the Badagry expressway with their thumbs out. Cars zip by, one slows down to yell, “Ashewo!” but who will stop for them?
Two girls!
One chance!!
Zero possibility of winning.

Finally, the mother-daughter team of Isabella and Mama Isabella. After buying fuel at a petrol station, their bus refuses to start. The pressure of the race is getting to them.
Isabella pushes the bus with help from two of the fuel attendants while her mother controls from the driver’s seat. The danfo rolls, gathers momentum, Isabella shouts, “Mummy, Now!” Her mother jumpstarts the bus. It jerks, it sputters to a stop. They push again. The engine catches this time, then it coughs and dies.
Isabella wails. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? Are you releasing the clutch? Are you pressing the accelerator or the brake?”
Her mother sticks her head out of the window. “You this girl, your mouth is too sharp. Everything, you must comment. That is how you drove Paul away.”
*gasp*

Drama! Adventure!! All on Amazing Race Lay-Gos!!!

COMING SOON!
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“Nne, what do you mean you operate a cash only business?”

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Terms and conditions apply.

Start with ABCs

On the bus this morning, a man came in pushing two little boys ahead of him. He ferried them into the back row sitting them next to him. The man was wearing a light blue dress shirt with a tie. The shirt was too big for him. It was loose around his arms tapering into his buttoned wrists. The boys were in matching school uniforms and one of them was clutching a sheaf of papers stapled together.

At the top of the page, the heading said: Spelling Bee Sample Words. And below that, in tables, words were listed alphabetically alongside their origins (Latin, Greek, etc.) and the definition of the word.

The bus took a long time to fill up. The man got antsy. He kept looking at his watch then outside at passing cars. When the bus started to move, the boys huddled together to study the pages.

The man paid the bus conductor and turned to the boys. He snatched the paper out of their hands. He ran his finger down the page and said to one of the boys, “Abysmal.”

The boy mouthed the word a few times before spelling it boldly, A-B-E-S-I-M-A-L. The man stared at him for a long time, saying nothing. The boy did not make eye contact. The man sighed. He looked at the list and picked out another word for the boy.

“How about Bedlam?”

Before the boy could reply, the man’s phone rang. The man wrested the phone out of his pocket. He shielded it to read the screen and put it to his ear.

“Good morning, Ma.” he said.

He listened for a while.

“Mummy, these students really disappointed me. I was waiting until eight.”

He listened some more.

“Blessing never showed. I am here with Akande and …”

He put the phone to his shoulder and poked the abysmal speller.

“What is your name?”

“Oladele,” the boy replied.

The man returned to the phone. “I am here with Akande and Oladele.”

He looked from one boy to the other.

“I don’t know, Ma,” he said, “I really don’t see how we will manage without Blessing.”

He shook his head slowly, said goodbye, and hung up.

The man looked out of the window. The road was clear going in the opposite direction. He returned the phone to his pocket and picked up the sheets of paper.

The man turned a couple of pages and said, “Akande, Catastrophe.”

The boy said, “C–A–T–“. He trailed off.

After a long pause, Akande continued.

“C–A–”

“No!” The man snapped, “How many times have I told you. Don’t double the letters.”

Oladele snickered. The man swatted him with a backhand. “Stop laughing and support your friend. Don’t you remember how Blessing used to do it?”

The man flipped two more pages. He addressed Oladele. “You, Disaster.”

The boy opened his mouth wide and gave the teacher a blank look.

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. 

Bus tales: Of mice and men

One weekday morning on a danfo, a young man with funny pointy ears was sitting in the row of seats behind the driver. He had long skinny arms, and looking at him, you assumed his voice would be high pitched, mostly because of his ears. He sat at the end next to the window.

There was another man sitting next to him. This other man was built like a bus stop tout. He was stout with a thick neck and stubby fingers that were blackened at the ends, as if he had been digging earth using his hands as a shovel. In spite of his grubby fingers, he had a neat haircut, a clean shaved head and well-defined goatee and the kicker was that he was wearing a suit.
The bus was heading towards Lekki when it started to drizzle. The light rain faded in and out. It went on for a long time in that undefined weather space between raining and not. The wipers of the bus were off and you couldn’t see any water drops hitting the window, but if you stared into the distance you would see the precipitation making the morning misty.

After getting some dampness in his face, Pointy Ears struggled with his window and jiggled it shut.

The bus moved about half the distance to the next bus stop then it got caught in traffic. Everyone on the bus moaned. Without the forward motion, it got hot on the bus. Grubby Fingers, in his suit, reached past Ears and pulled the window open. The breeze blew in. The bus inched forward in the traffic jam.

Invisible rain droplets pelted Pointy Ears and his ears, he pushed the window closed.
Grubby Fingers reached over again and opened the window. Pointy Ears spoke, and yes, his voice was high pitched. “Why na? Can’t you see the rain is beating me?”

He closed the window.

Grubby Fingers glared at him, stretched his hand and opened the window.

Pointy Ears shut it.

Grubby said, “I am warning you. If you touch this window again…” He left the threat dangling as he opened the window.

The passengers were glad to get some air.  Nobody was sure if it was raining or not.
“No,” Pointy Ears said in his squeaky voice, “No, I am the one sitting by the window.” He made a move towards the window. Grubby Fingers grabbed his hand. They tussled.

In their seats, grunting, they locked hands in a tug-of-war. Pointy Ears was losing, his hand was being edged away from the window. He gave up. He tried to stand in the confined bus. Panting, he said, “If you want open window, why don’t you sit next to it?” Grubby Fingers slid past him and took up the seat by the window. Pointy Ears moved into the second seat. His chest was still heaving from the exertion.

The bus was full. The bus was quiet. The fight had been contained to that spot. Some passengers were looking at their phones, others were staring straight ahead ignoring the fight.
Past the Jakande roundabout, the traffic cleared. Now the rain was heavier. It drummed on the roof of the bus. The driver accelerated. The speed blew the water in through the open window. It was undeniable. The driver turned on the windshield wipers.

Over by the window, Grubby Fingers sat stone-faced, ignoring the change. Raindrops ran down his face, pooled in his beard and dripped onto his suit. The rain dowsed him. It blew into his eyes, blocked his nose so he had to part his lips to breathe. But he hung in there, with the window open, like every man before him, trapped by his words and his ego.