Finding Myself 

The Third Mainland Bridge reminds me of Christ on the cross, sandwiched between two men of contrasting fortunes. One heading for the gilded streets of Heaven, the other resolutely headed for the crackling fires of Hell. Both men unified and split by the very thing which brings them together. Fate. On one side of the bridge lies Makoko, one of the largest slums in Africa, a waterside settlement where tendrils of smoke, from fire pits where freshly caught fishes are roasted, rise to the heavens and children chase each other through a sea of filth, stilted houses and dugout canoes. On the other side of the bridge lies Victoria Island. Victoria Island is everything Makoko is not. It is a watering hole of the affluent. The bridge between Makoko and Victoria Island is not one that connects, it is one which divides the filthy wealthy from the perilously poor.

Unlike my aversion for many parts of Lagos, I feel a connection with the Third Mainland Bridge. I am stuck in traffic on the bridge, staring out the window of an Uber and listening to Johnny’s Cash’s Hurt, a song which reminds me of a girl I love less and less with each sunset, when I feel this connection for the first time. It is something ancient and intense.

Like the bridge between Makoko and Victoria Island, I am stranded between dissimilar phases. Phases which are at war for my very soul. I am stuck between the boy I was and the man I must become. I am not as young as I used to be and I am not as old as I feel. I am not a boy and I am not a man. This stage of my life is purgatory without the assurance of paradise. I am butter thinly spread between two misshapen slices of bread.

As I am purged of the naiveté of adolescence and the large margin of forgivable error that is a perk of being young, I feel the years of my youth slipping through my fingers like the beads of a rosary and the veneer of innocence eroding beneath my feet as the latter makes way for the quicksand of the future. The road to adulthood is paved with responsibilities and comes with a huge sign post which reads “Actions have consequences”. Although I do a decent job of making it from one day to the next in one piece, I am not sure I am ready to be an adult. I am not ready for my actions to have consequences.

People say I have a way with words. I wish I had a way with life. It is one thing to conjure characters and events from the combination of thin air and the letters of the English language. It is another to understand the dynamics of adulthood. The first comes easy, the latter is a struggle.

The evolution from boy to man is as sudden as it is chaotic. You wake up one morning to a reality check with your name scrawled on it in comic sans- the universe’s subtle stab at humor. Things will never be same. Midnight walks from SSQ to Hall Three while arguing the proper pronunciation of a Mexican footballer’s name with Simon, as Ose, Bryan and Segun make jokes at Jude’s expense, are a lifetime away. You have a boss, a thankless job you journey to in rickety buses always more crowded than the highway to hell, and bills to pay. For good measure, your friends live in different cities and bus tickets are expensive.

When I was a kid, my biggest problem was finding a matching pair of clean socks in time for school in the morning. Now there are ambitions to be shelved, bridges to be burnt, appearances to be kept, lovers to be unfaithful to, DMs to slide into and loved ones to be lowered into freshly dug holes in the ground.

I am like a ball of wool in the furtive hands of a curious child. With every sixty seconds, I come undone a bit more. I am more defined by the questions-why? what (have I become)? where (did the time go)? how?-than answers. Answers are cemeteries, finite conclusions, dead ends with well-defined borders cordoned off to further inquiry. Questions less so. Questions are vacuums requiring filling, realms buzzing with endless possibilities, gauntlets thrown to the mechanics of reality. Every morning, a woman at Oshodi, a tattered King James Bible in one hand and a rusty tambourine in the other, assures me “Jesus is the answer”. One half of me refuses to believe the answer is that simple; maybe I like my questions too much to seek answers.

If I told you the truth and held nothing back I would tell you I am more scared now than I have ever been. There is so much to do, so little time and even less money. I am not scared of adulthood itself. I am scared of the baggage it comes with. I am not scared of responsibilities. I am scared of falling short. I would also say I am losing it if the statement wasn’t an admission of ever having ‘it’ or knowing what ‘it’ is in the first instance. What is ‘it’? Happiness? Money in the bank? Assurance of a place in father Abraham’s bosom or one of the sundry creature comforts of Heaven?

And what really is the point of it all? The first time I asked myself this question, the casket holding the remains of a classmate had just passed by me on its way to the altar where the priest, a man with broad shoulders and a husky voice, began the homily with the words “The Lord knows best”, a rhetoric I had heard more than a few times in the days leading to the funeral and one which would cause me to, in the days that followed, stare into the distance as I wondered what the point of existence is. Live a healthy life. You die. The Pope dies. The libertine dies. The tycoon dies. The pauper dies. Everyone dies. Is death the point?

The preacher at Sunday service said all I need do is talk to God. I agree. He’s the Author and Finisher of my fate. No pun intended. I have no qualms about bending the knee to God. There’s just one snag. How do I begin a conversation with a person I haven’t spoken to in three years? There’s so much to say, but silence is golden and my tales would turn a nun’s cheeks green. I wish I had a closer knit relationship with God but these moral shortcomings won’t fall for themselves. I am more rogue agent than soldier of Christ. I probably should not have leapt off the Potter’s wheel but the thrill of the fall was worth it, and the crash site is scenic to put it lightly.

Psalm 23, given its assurances, is my favourite psalm, yet I have certain reservations about yielding to its wordings. Yes, the Lord is my shepherd but on some days I do not want to be led. Yes, He says I shall not want, alas I have developed quite the appetite for delights which are not featured on the menu of the Straight ‘n’ Narrow.

I currently call a city summoned from the depths of the ocean, home. Like the element in which its foundations are set, Lagos never sleeps. At all hours, someone in the city is in hot pursuit of something -a bus, a deadline or even an amateur pickpocket.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a chaser of things- a place in the good books of the teacher of my kindergarten class, high scores on tests, getting called to the Nigerian bar, the affections of girls I don’t speak to anymore- achievements which reduced in value as soon as I held them and left me asking what the point of the incessant pursuits was. The thing about running is that everything else loses out to the object of the chase.

I turn a year older in a few days and although I haven’t seen a lot of life, I feel a jadedness and fatigue that is not a fallout of physical exertion. I am obsessed with the belief that there is more to life. There has to be more to life than being spanked on your bum shortly after emerging from your mother’s body, breathing oxygen, growing vertically, being used for target practice by Cupid, finding a job, exchanging vows while guests scramble for food and souvenirs, swapping black hair for gray strands and a bald spot, and finally, keeling over and dying as spurts of carbon dioxide flee your lungs for the last time.

If this stage of my life were a thing, it would be the apple which fell far from the tree which blossomed with promise. Life hasn’t cracked up to be what I expected it to be. Reality runs circles around my expectations, but I accept this turn of events as a real life plot twist. Although, I have come a long way from scribbling stories behind my commercial law note to being published by Brittle Paper, I am more potential than finished product. I have loved, I have lost. I have held newborn babies, I have stood at the gravesides of friends. I have grown, I am growing.

Life has become like a woman I once saw in traffic, hobbling from vehicle to vehicle and shoving an emaciated child in the faces of motorists, forcing them to reach a decision. To give or not to give? Give and you’re left with less. Refrain from giving and you’re an insensitive soul. There’s no winning. Life is at my window, rubbing its callused fingers over the panes, demanding that I empty myself into its outstretched blistered hands.

As I fall apart in the furnace of evolution, I mull over words left unsaid and things left undone. I fight the urge to escape, to seek solace in shots of vodka on a Friday night and happiness in the arms of a woman whose name I forget as soon as her clothes come off, and I realize I still am a runner. I am fleeing from myself, bursting at the seams with emotion yet expressing none, craving yet wary of company. I am an oasis of contrasts. I am vulnerable, strong, brittle, resilient, all at the same time. I know I am losing and gaining myself. I am my own predator and quarry.

Maybe life isn’t meant to be figured out, maybe life is meant to lack definition. Maybe that is the point of it and I am ready for another 365 days of “it”.

Here goes nothing.

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Rant001

When I was thirteen, a house down the street from ours caught fire. The flames cackled with delight as they feasted on the belongings of the occupants and stuck out defiant tongue of fires in the faces of the valiant firefighters. Nothing of value was rescued from the inferno. In the days that followed, I, for the first time, saw heroes who didn’t exist on the pages of comic books. A neighbor offered his boy’s quarters to the victims. Food items and clothes poured in from all angles. Tribal and religious differences were laid aside as everyone pitched in. This is a story for another day.
On my way to work a few weeks ago, I boarded a bike to Ojuelegba. After an eternity of parting flood waters replete with chunks of garbage tossed from houses, we finally arrived at our destination-Ojuelegba. As I made to get down from the bike, I didn’t look back for any persons coming from behind me. If I had, I would have seen the man, right behind me, taking a litter of children to school. He was on his own and I was on mine but as I debarked from the bike and the heel of my raised shoe missed the head of his daughter by the smallest of fractions, our paths crossed for the briefest of moments. If I were any shorter I’d have gashed her forehead. He angrily said something in Yoruba which for all I know was an angry reprimand or an insult or both. You never know with that language. I just apologised in Yoruba and English.
As I moved in the general direction of the bus whose conductor was shouting Ikeja to the hearing of the entire city, and the look of shock on the girl’s face as my heel missed her forehead was foremost on my mind, I realised that I could have reacted differently. I could just as angrily as he had reprimanded or insulted me, asked what his daughter’s head was doing within the precincts of my foot or why she chose to be so tall for her age or why he didn’t take another route that morning. And I would have been an idiot if I had reacted any differently than I did. Why?
When our neighbour’s house got burned, no accusing fingers were pointed at them for tempting arsonists and no one was encouraged to reside beneath bridges as a deterrent. It is relatively cheaper to live beneath a bridge and in all my years of existence I have never seen a bridge on fire but I digress. When a house gets robbed, we don’t blame the victims for amassing material possessions and deserving the robbery attack. When a hit and run accident occurs, the victims don’t get blamed for staying in one place. If we don’t go against the grain of rationality when a lot of crimes occur why don’t we run with this mentality when a rape occurs? I am stuck here wondering why people would change the rules of the blame game when it comes to crimes involving sex and would rather victim blame than perpetrator shame.
Now anyone with two brain cells to rub together should see something wrong in the violation of a woman’s body. At the risk of stating the obvious, victims don’t cause crimes, perpetrators do so the ‘what was the victim wearing?’ question is an infinitely stupid thing to say when a rape occurs. It is even more severely silly to seat in a house with four walls and a roof and believe rape can be prevented by a woman dressing ‘decently’. The only thing a woman needs to do to be raped is be a woman. The fact that her gender, which is her sole contribution to the crime, is one that isn’t even determined by her mirrors her inability to cause the crime. Women have raped in all forms of clothing known to man so all forms of logic in support of this argument go out the window.
Clothes apart, what the excuse for men who rape children? They weren’t properly dressed. It just makes no sense to make excuses for rape.
The gravity of the offence that is rape is lost on a lot of us. A few months ago, I lost my wallet and I took a while to recover from the theft. It felt like a piece of me had been suddenly and very violently ripped apart from the rest of my body. My loss didn’t stem from the value of the items in the wallet as at the time of the theft. The wallet was a Chrsitmas gift from my brother and a lot of water-university, law school, NYSC- had gone beneath the bridge of my life between the time of acquisition and loss. The wallet was much more than a carrier of personal items, it was a connection to the time before I got my first reality checks and my life was less chaotic. And at the end of the day, neat descriptions aside, my wallet was little more than several pieces of leather strapped together. A woman’s body,on the other hand, is worth more than a thousand wallets could hold .It is the vessel she dwells in, she travels through life in it, everything that makes her tick is contained in it and rape is an invasion of that private space. One of my favourite Bible verses goes thus ‘…your body is the temple of God’. Rape is an indescribably intense and personal defilement of a woman’s temple which is her sacred building, in the worst possible way. Even Jesus despite his disdain for physical buildings couldn’t stand the defilement of a temple. The scars inflicted by rape run deeper than a river and the victim has to journey through life with the burden. No one should and if there is any justice in the universe trivializing it or blaming the victim for the act should be a cardinal sin.
On a final note ,at least for now, having considered the fact that all pro-perpetrator arguments have more holes than a sponge cake, the blame for rape should be placed where it rightly belongs, at the feet of the perpetrators.
To be continued.

The Bus Driver.

It is Seven thirty p.m.  Tuesday evening and I am done with work. As I begin to stash my belongings into my backpack and wait impatiently for my system to shut down, I notice the sky is the exact shade of black I always imagined it would be on the day the world ends. Jet black clouds laden with moisture stretch as far as the eye can see. I have no umbrella. It is the end of the month and I have no money for a cab. Colour me fifty shades of screwed. There’s a raindrop up there in the sea of dark clouds with my name firmly tattooed on it.

My monitor turns pitch black and I scurry out of the office only pausing for the briefest of moments to wish the security guard goodnight, a gesture which is more ritual than sincere wish. I hurriedly wander a series of pothole riddled streets, evidence of government’s ubiquitous failings. These streets are no place for a writer as little is left to the imagination by the ladies across the street. They are dressed in red lights and little else. I have read books where red light districts have been described but a thousand authors would struggle furtively and ultimately fail to describe the scene on the other side of the road where women of diverse ages and cup sizes flaunt bodies which would make the Pope renounce his vows while ripping his robes to shreds maniacally and frothing at the mouth.

After an eternity of making my way past heavily made up faces and voices dripping with lust , cooing the words ‘’customer” and reminding me of a last time I cannot for the life of me remember, I arrive at the bus-stop. I join a crowd of droopy eyed commuters- men, loose ties draped around their necks, women, sleeping children strapped to their backs and a group of young ladies gesticulating wildly, as they exchange what I assume is the latest gist- to wait for a bus.

We watch as enraged motorists honk wildly at one another and several buses, filled with passengers looking out dirty windows with condescending smirks on their faces, zoom off into the night.

Seconds become minutes which in turn evolve into hours as we keep vigil beneath velvety black skies. After what seems like an eon of waiting, a bus emerges from the darkness, the sound of its faulty engine is dwarfed by the hollering of its conductor as he shouts ‘Ojuelegba underbridge. Hundred naira. Wo le pelu change ooooo’. Two men, their arms as wide as tree trunks, break free of the crowd and make a wild dash for the bus. They knock several persons aside and send a woman and child on a swimming adventure in the pungent waters of a gutter.

As the bus screeches to a halt, all Hell breaks loose. Men, toss home training aside and women forget all etiquette, as a battle of the sexes ensues for a seat on the bus. In the midst of the scuffle, against all odds, I secure a seat. By the time the bus gets filled, several persons are clinging to the frame of the bus, even more are standing. This isn’t a bus anymore, it is a cocktail brewed from bad breath copiously mixed with the odours of a thousand unwashed bodies served on a yellow and black platter sitting on four wobbly wheels.

Voices behind me shout ‘driver oya now, make we dey go’. Since I am just as enthusiastic to get home, I am not as bothered by the shouting as I am by the copious amounts of saliva which, with each word that is uttered, make soft landing sounds as they settle on my neck. Without turning to address us, the driver, in a voice bristling with fury says ‘I no dey go anywhere. I no dey carry those useless men go anywhere’. As we exchange glances and wonder who the ‘useless men’ is, he adds ‘na those men wey first enter the bus, I dey talk to, una useless no be small. Omo oloriburuku. Say u wan enter bus no mean say u no go get sense, oya make una come down.’ The shiny eyes of the conductor, a bald man with one arm, dance from seat to seat and come to a halt behind me. “U no dey hear, my oga say make una come down, oya come dey go’. The guilty parties? The fellows who been kind enough to drench my neck in spittle. As they make their way out of the bus, Lagosians true to form, boo and jeer. A hundred voices shrieking insults are the only sound for miles.

As, the driver revs the engine and we disappear into the night leaving two lone figures standing on a lonely road, I realize you don’t have to ride a Batmobile or own a cape to be a hero. You just need to know and do the right thing.

Albatross 

 Each time I go to CMS as I scurry along city streets brimming with unwashed bodies hidden beneath  foul intentions and layers of cheap perfume and oversized clothing, I see her, my albatross. Her eyes light up with recognition and she begins her approach, hair fluttering in the breeze of the marina, unrestrained breasts, the size of pawpaws, jiggle excitedly beneath a sheer dress, as naked feet reduce the distance between us. Up down, up down, they go. It’s a scene straight out of your favorite unoriginal romance plot. The heaving breasts get closer and closer when out of nowhere five fingers caked with dirt replace the wondrous view. 

‘My baby is hungry’ she says in  a voice which lacks the resignation of her kind. Her request is less a plea than it is a demand that I make penance for being inexplicably responsible for her child’s empty stomach. She is a regent demanding tribute on behalf of the sleeping child king strapped to her back. I hand over several notes, adorned with the picture of a murdered General, over. It is a move that comes as naturally as breathing oxygen. 

  A Daniel always pays his debts even those he never incurred. 

Picture Perfect 

Picture Perfect. 

The more he tried not to think about her, the more he did. 

Goddamn Cupid, he sighed. 

Every time he saw her, his heart, that Judas of a vital organ, skipped one beat. Although a lifetime of missed beats had passed since that first one he was yet to figure out what it was about her that made his heart stutter. 

  She looked nothing like the girls he usually found attractive. He had been around the block more than a few times so he was something of an expert. Light brown hair which streamed down both sides of her face, like liquid chocolate, and pooled on her shoulders reminded him of the clouds of dust kicked by the herd of wildebeest startled by the tour bus during the safari in Kenya.

 The last girl he had been with, Imelda, a leggy blonde with really full lips and a pointy nose, which he joked was evidence that she must have told a lot of lies as a child, had had on what he could swear was at least six inches of makeup. On the  first and last night they spent together, he had had a mini-heart attack when she emerged from the bathroom looking like she had swapped bodies with her hundred year old evil twin. The blonde hair was gone, same for the supple bum he had eyed expectantly at dinner, the lush eyebrows and eyelashes had passed away too. Even the lips had lost a bit of their plumpness. To make matters worse, she had two red-tipped pimples, one on each side of her face which gifted her the looks of an imp. He had stuck to his side of the bed throughout the night, kept wide awake by her snores.

The loud chiming of the clock in the hallway brought him back to the present. He glanced at the ever present watch on his left wrist. Eleven o’clock. It was time. As he rose from his seat, several winged creatures took flight in his belly and an army of goosebumps scurried across his skin. He hurried past several empty offices and barely visible paintings. A leaden blanket of silence had fallen on the museum complex, a silence which was punctured only by the shuffling feet of a sleepy eyed night guard making his rounds in the distance. 

He found her leaning against a wall at her usual spot, the hallway to the right of the Venus De Milo. She had on a coffee brown dress which was gathered at the breasts, the same one she wore the first time he saw her. Right on cue, his heart skipped one beat. Who could blame it? She was picture perfect. 

He gave a mock bow, twirling his wrists dramatically, not unlike a nobleman with severe Parkinson’s. Moves she greeted with a wry smile complete with a dimple which punctuated her left cheek. 

 As they made their way down dimly lit hallways, he slid one hand across her slender frame. She did not shrink away or resist his moves. 

  He helped her into the front seat of his beat down Saab and could have sworn he heard her chuckle when he wiped a speck of dust from her chin. In order not to be seen by her when he leaned against the trunk and punched the air several times, he opted for the longer route to the driver’s seat.  He was beside himself with excitement. This really was happening. 

 As the car sped past streets littered with  excitedly pointing tourists, he imagined the headlines. No one loved a scandal more than the French Press and a legion of frenzied journalists would fall over each other to break the news of their outing. 

He wished his friends could see him now. He would give anything to see the looks on their faces when they saw his face , plastered on the front page of tomorrow’s papers, just beneath headlines which would read ‘Museum Worker Fingered in Mona Lisa Theft’. 

Father’s Killer. 

​Like a woman with all the time in the world, death wrapped it’s coils slowly around my father. As if someone had poured bleach into their sockets, his eyes turned fluorescent white. An ocean of crimson oozed from his chest and lazily spread its liquid tentacles to the farthest corners of the room. 

He died five minutes before the ambulance arrived. The droopy eyed police men, who arrived shortly after, said the murder was  the work of a professional. The stab wound had been too cleanly executed. 

Bad news travels fast. The morning after the night before was evidence of this. The first signs of daylight were barely visible when the first visitors, a motley crowd of pastors and elders of the church, their faces and mouths unwashed, stopped by the house. They did a bad job of hiding their rabid curiosity. I told them of the loud scuffle at midnight, father’s anguished cry for help and the late arrival of the ambulance. 

I showed them the cordoned off room where the body had lain and the window through which the killer had made his entry and exit. Each hour saw the arrival of a new set of wide eyed callers. By the time the Married Women Association of the church arrived at midday, attired in their uniform adorned with pictures of father and howling like lost wolves, I had told the story for the umpteenth time and was in no mood to go over the gory details. 

Thankfully, Pastor Vincent Okafor, not one to pass up the opportunity to stake a claim for father’s now vacant seat as the head of the church, satisfied the women, each of whom after a fresh bout of melodramatic tears treated me to a buffet of bear hugs featuring breasts with varying degrees of softness and camphor scented clothes. 

 By the time talk drifted from the brazen daredevilry of the killer who had touched God’s anointed to the insensitivity of the government of the day, the throng had begun to thin out. The women had hungry mouths to feed with new gossip. 

 The sun had begun to set when pastor Vincent Okafor cleared his throat a little too loudly and asked those left to hold hands in a prayer circle. He motioned me to the center of said circle and enjoined those present to pray that father’s killer know no peace and that all lines would fall in pleasant places for me. 

 As the gathering exploded into prayers and showered me with flecks of oozing spittle, I wondered if they would ever realize both prayers had the same subject. 

The Homecoming 

The long limbs of twilight played a slow game of police catch thief with the last signs of daylight. The sun had not risen when he left Lagos.  A medley of bad roads which were a fixture of bloated government budgets, and needless countless checkpoints, manned by hungry looking policemen more concerned with lining their pockets with the contents of his wallet than national security, ensured that sixteen hours after he drove past the Agba Meta he was only just approaching the Ringroad axis of Benin City. 

His arms were beginning to ache. He had never driven over such a long distance  before. He had no complaints though. He was behind the steering wheel of a car which had papers bearing his name and passport. Mama would be proud. 

He had arrived Lagos with a rucksack of clothes several sizes too small , mama’s blessings and two crumpled one thousand naira  notes slightly discolored from their long vacation in a knot of mama’s wrapper. 

Life had been good to him but Lagos had first been cruel to him and had shoveled king-sized servings of misfortune down his throat with reckless abandon.  He had spent his first night under a bridge at Ojuelegba, kept wide awake by a zealous orchestra of mosquitoes and the stench of marijuana and piss. In the morning he discovered the money he had hidden in a sock at the bottom of his bag was missing. The sock had been emptied and replaced. Lagos 1- 0 Osayuki.  ‘Lagos na wa’ , he sighed. All was not lost. The previous night, he had come up with the idea of splitting the cash and the surviving one thousand naira was stashed safely in his underpants. 

A lot of water had passed under the bridge of his life since that sleepless night. He had wandered the streets of Lagos in search of a job suited to his meager qualifications during the day and washed grimy Danfo buses at night. He would never forget the plate number  of the first yellow bus he washed.  AG904IKJ. The bus driver was a burly Yoruba man, with hairy armpits and a hairless head, who reeked of dry gin and paid him two badly faded fifty naira notes. He had not lacked places to rest his head because if there was one thing Lagos had in abundance, it was bridges. Bridges sprouted from the ground like ripe boils and he rested under a different bridge every night. The sound of rotating tires and tooting horns overhead made sure he never had a good night’s rest. 

By his second week in Lagos, his cash reserves began to run low . He took his breakfast of bread and Pepsi off the menu. Unripe boli and groundnut washed down with two sachets of water at five o’clock had to suffice. Driven by hunger and the determination to get some form of employment, however menial,  he set out earlier and walked longer distances in his search for a job. His tired feet took him to Ladipo market where he found employment as a sales boy at a spare parts shop. The years of listening to mama haggle the price of pepper, fresh tomatoes and second hand clothes came in handy . He had an eye for a bargain and his knowledge of business studies helped him balance the books. For the first time in six years the Ladipo market branch of Chimezie Ventures had tidy books and even turned a small profit. The change in fortunes did not go unnoticed. By the next year he was transferred to the head office. Everything he touched turned to gold and lots of profit. 

He whistled Victor Uwaifo’s Mammy Water  to drive away the tedium and take his mind off the pain building in his arms. 

He had been away for  too long. Eight years. He hadn’t seen mama for eight years. Hadn’t heard from her for the last three. The chaos of work and overseas travel had  prevented his return home. This trip was long overdue. He had planned to make it last Christmas but end of year stock taking and last minute trouble at the ports held him back in Lagos. 

His life had been an adventure and the memories of the years gone by were preserved in the  album with the white leather cover resting on the front seat. He had formed the habit of taking pictures. There were pictures from his first trip to England. He recalled his futile struggle to grasp the words which flew out of the client’s mouth at lightning speed. There were pictures from voyages to Japan , China, Australia and New York. He never left a city without getting a souvenir for mama. Lace from England. Shoes from Milan . Perfume from Turkey. Indian spices. Moroccan headgear. Leather bags from Kano. He felt a lot like Sinbad the sailor. 

Traffic slowed to a crawl  at Mission Road. Christmas was in the air. Carols blared from speakers and packs of mothers, children in tow, bustled from shop to shop in a frenzied search for the best prices. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally eased out of Ringroad and got on the homeward stretch. Airport Road went past in a blur of bright lights, ritzy hotels, loud bars and commuters. 

 For a place he had spent the greater part of his life in, Oko felt  unfamiliar. The cratered red roads he once roamed on barefoot had been tarred . Civilization had found it’s way here and had snuffed  life out of the rustic scenery. Farmlands had been replaced by buildings which oozed refinement and new money. 

At the entrance to his street a garish signboard announced the presence of a hotel. As he made his way down the street the raucous voices of men sitting at a table lined with green and brown bottles of beer welcomed him home. A weary looking man with several gourds of palmwine dangling from the handlebars of his bicycle almost lost his balance as he gawked at the vehicle and peered intensely to see if he could recognize the occupant of the big car with tinted windows.

His heart beat a little faster. He could smell home. He saw mama in his mind’s eye. He wondered how she would react to his arrival. Would she shed tears of joy, break into dance or throw a tantrum for his failure to show up or at least send a message of some sort? 

He tooted his horn at the gate he had last seen when he was little more than a teenager with no idea where his life was headed. The gates were cranked open by a boy in a dirty shirt riddled with holes. He couldn’t be more than seven. Osas guessed he was the son of the neighbours. He recalled Mrs Ehondor being pregnant when he  left for Lagos. 

He could not care less about the run down look of the house. He was taking mama with him to Lagos so he could afford to   be indifferent. 

The glare of his headlights caused a woman seating on the verandah to shield her eyes with a palm. The figure squinted at first and then let out a squeal of delight when he came down. ‘Osas, ó ré nè o’  she shouted. A dog barked in the distance. She held him in a warm embrace, her flabby breasts pressed into his chest. His response was less enthusiastic. She was an unwelcome distraction. He really wanted to see his mother . She was probably asleep. Mrs Ehondor fussed over him, ran five curious fingers through his hair and pinched both cheeks,all the while making sounds better associated with the arrival of a baby than a thirty year old man. The boy in the dirty shirt and shorts gazed on, wondering why his mother paid so much attention to the stranger with the big car. 

She asked how Lagos was and then rebuked him for not remembering them. He begged her forgiveness and promised to settle her soon as he was done with mama. ‘Is mama in?’ He asked. The question brought a stop to her rabid movements . ‘Ehn, yes and no’ she replied, her voice lacked the excitement it had buzzed with a minute ago.

 ‘Yes and no?’ He was at sea, his forehead was furrowed with confusion. 

‘Sorry, yes, she dey but she no dey inside  house, she dey back’. 

‘Thank you’. 

He made his way to the backyard where mama maintained a small garden. He swept the garden with his eyes but mama was nowhere to be found. Mrs Ehondor must have lost her damn mind in the time he was away. He had made up his mind to give her a severe talking to when he saw it. A wooden cross standing atop a mound of red earth. He would never see his mother again. 

******

Agba Meta – the statue of three elders at the entrance of Lagos. 

Boli- roasted plantain. 

Ó ré nè- bini greeting acknowledging arrival of a person.