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.

Missed Connections

Me: Waiting on queue at the 4th roundabout Oando in a silver Camry after sleeping overnight in the car.
You: Fine girl, trying to give me eye so I can let you chance me.

I hope you understand why I didn’t allow you enter.
But I thought we had a deeper connection, both of us hustling together in this soup called Lagos.
If you felt it too, holla at your boy.
The name is Derek.

PS: I have petrol so Am willing to drive to you.

Hard pressed on every side

Most of the businesses in Nigeria have an office gofer. Someone who can run errands for the staff, pick up food, clean a spill, make a cup of tea. Usually this person has an official designation, they might be the security guard or the cleaner. But when they aren’t opening gates, they hang around and wait to be summoned. 

The person who does this at my office is a girl called Esther who is always taking days off to write exams. She would say, “I won’t be around next week, I’m travelling to Ibadan to do WAEC.” Or “I have JAMB on Saturday, I have to attend lesson.” You’ll see her sitting in the corner reading Literature-in-English past questions, or squinting at an Accounting textbook. One day it was a Chemistry practicals textbook, I had to ask. 
She laughed, “Haha, all these subjects? It’s not for me, I’m doing the exam for other people.” 
I said, “What about id cards, don’t they check?” She said, “You know I’m a girl na, if they catch me, I just beg them.”
I would have complained more, but it seemed pointless to chastise someone who hadn’t passed her own JAMB for writing papers for someone else. 

When she returned from this last set of exams, my project was winding down so I was working late. Esther was cleaning the office. She was singing an indistinct song as she vacuumed. I moved my laptop to the kitchen area which has a sink, a fridge, and a small table with chairs around it. I was on a Skype call when Esther came in humming to herself. She started doing the dishes, washing coffee mugs and plastic take-away containers. The humming got louder, then she broke into a praise song. I muted the call and shouted at her. “Esther, stop singing!”

She looked over her shoulder at me, raised one soapy hand. “No, Uncle, you cannot stop me from worshipping my God.” Then she turned and continued washing. 

The whole thing guilted me because here I am thinking I’m a good person, or that I’m at least neutral, when I’m actually the villain in someone else’s testimony. I started praying more, I went to mid week service in church. On my way to work later that week, after the bus started moving, I brought out my phone and opened up the bible app. I disentangled my earphones and put them on to filter out traffic noise. As I was doing this, unravelling, inserting the earbuds, the woman next to me stood up, waved her hand over her head and said, “Praaaise the Lord!” She said, “I know some of you people will act as if I am disturbing you.” 

“Some of you,” she pointed her finger and swept it around the bus, “when someone wants to talk to you about God, you block your ears. You know who you are, God is watching you.” The roving finger stopped on me, then she went into her sermon. 

Our project ended that week and we celebrated with the entire department going to the beach on Saturday. I spent the day manoeuvring to be next to a sales rep, Tomi, that I’d been trying to impress. Whenever they divided us into groups for team events, I would wiggle around, swap seats until I ended up in her group. All that afternoon, I was quick with the punchlines. For anything she said, I had a funny anecdote to accompany it. We did some climbing challenge, I scrambled up, then stretched out my hand and we made prolonged eye contact as I helped her up. I was totally in. 

In the evening, the team gathered wood to make a bonfire. When the sun set, we lit it and gathered around. And there I was, right next to Tomi, like, “oh what a coincidence, it’s you again.”

She watched the flames and I watched her, yellow light dancing across her face. 
We were close to the bonfire, I could feel the heat from the blaze on my eyelids, it warmed the entire front of my body. 
She moved closer and brushed against the hair on my arm. The fire cackled and spat burning flecks into the night. She reached over and held my hand, I intertwined my fingers with hers. 

We stood like that for a while, staring at the fire, my body tingling, images flickering through my mind. 

She turned to me. I felt her breath on the side of my neck. She said, “If this small fire is this hot, can you imagine how hot hell will be?”
She dropped her voice and continued, “Father, help me make heaven.”

I said, “Amen.”