A private blog for my w-rants, writes and arts.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

CHALLENGE



Eskimi... Eskimi... Eskimi... You are unsure if it is you the voice is beckoning at. In the noise of touts, misfits, traders, workers and beggars, it could be anyone. So you do not acknowledge. Eskimi sah you hear the words thrown in your direction yet again. You, who is late for work, you who has two queries already in a single month, even though it’s just the tenth day. But you listen. Mi need ‘elp yin ni sah – I need your help sir. You notice easily how she battles the H factor. She must be from here you tell yourself. But using mi to replace mo  in a sentence is done by Lagos-ians. You take a sceptical look at her. You notice that the short hair on her head is browned by sun and hardship, and maybe from carrying too much. You observe that the hair is hollow, like the seat of an overused twelve year old Suzuki motorbike. She is wrapped in rags, you notice. While you’re assessing her, she calls out again to bring you back to the noise. Brother... You look at her… at her eyes. Reddened by dust and coated with malnourishment. She looks like she is from here. She talks almost like she is from here. But something in you tells you she isn’t. Your instinct is hardly ever inaccurate. That instinct of yours that told you Oga Monday, your boss at work, was having an affair with a co-worker, and subsequently pushed you to the staff toilet while they were having a ‘swell time,’ with Oga Monday sweating like cold orobo(fat) Coke that just made its way out of a freezer’s jail – smh. You’ve successfully bagged two queries since your discovery, and that’s the more reason you should be hurrying to work soon. Ejo ewa gbe rumi Sir — please help me lift my wares. You start to wonder why it is you she has called out of over a hundred people in the crowd. Your name is Biyi, EsuBiyi, not Moses. You’re not the called one; you’re the instinctively cursed one. But you offer to help her. Her voice, breaking in illiteracy as she utters each word, was pitiably compelling enough.

As you help her lift the wares, balanced in a tray,  to her head, she rushes a sentence without pausing to breathe, boda yi ejo ee saanu mi, e fun mi lowo kin fi jeun… in ti jeun l’ata na – brother please help me, give me money to feed myself, I’ve not eaten since yesterday. Even if you tried, you could not bring yourself to believe her. The stench oozing out of her mouth was beating down – Mayweather style – the spicy, eye-peppering smell of the soup in one of the containers on the tray. You find it difficult to convince yourself that someone who sells food has not eaten since yesterday. She is an apprentice, it is obvious, but then apprentices do so much evil in clean ways that their madams end up thanking them with morsels of Amala, and ewedu – the coat of arms of Ibadan – every now and then. They scam their bosses and still make them say oshe – thank you. Then they go home during long holidays to complain about bad treatments. Not that there aren’t bad bosses. This is Ibadan; all food sellers with apprentices are naturally evil, until proven otherwise.

You are still lost between giving her money and just walking on. The smell comes again. It oozes from her mouth. She smells like something old. She smells like something lost under bridges, or groomed in a slum. She smells like something distant, yet close. She does not have the rusting zinc, and metallic stench of garbage that Ibadan carries, she smells like something close to open sea… like houses lost in the heart of an ever developing city. She smells like the slums of Lagos.

You know the back story already; it is almost the same all the time. A man is unable to cater for all seven children he has somewhere in Ajegunle, or Alapere, and when you, a distant Aunt or Uncle to his children, paternal or maternal, makes the mistake of visiting the slum, they make a joke about the child following you… because the child likes you, even though s/he cries every time s/he sees you. The joke becomes impregnated into a Bagco bag filled with rags, dreams, hopes, expectations, and a pair of Dunlop slippers. They start to pray – because it is Nigerian to do – that the child will leave the slum and come back years later to save the family. You bring the child to Ibadan, or Abeokuta and child labour starts. A conductor at the least if it was a boy; a barbing or aluminium apprentice at the most, if you’re lucky. For a girl, qualification starts from the back. From the sweaty kitchen of a food vendor, to the boiling and ever congested shop of a hairdresser. The lucky ones end up in Gbagi, one of the most popular markets in Ibadan, learning how to cut clothes, and either to sell or sow them. But this girl, she is a Challenge product.

At Challenge, the life is different. The area lives to its name. You pass here every day, even on Sundays when you go to church. It is a very challenging area. The laziest person at Challenge would strip you of your hard-earned money, in minutes. From traders and touts, to beggars and bus- conductors, to hurried feet and wheelchairs; always in a rush to make a living or strip others of one. You stay too long on a spot and you either get brushed by one of the endless Micras, the Ibadan electric train, or you feel ghostly hands that you’ll never see, rub sensitive parts of your body. It could be your sex organ missing, or just your phone.  It takes three weeks in most parts of downtown Ibadan to become a resident of the streets. It takes only five walking days to belong to the Challenge Street. A virgin on Monday is a sexual predator by Friday. An ADMISSION seeker on Monday is an internet fraudster by Friday. A worker on Monday is a garage tout by Friday. As you guard your pocket in Challenge, you must also guard your destiny; else, you’ll not end how you’ve started.

You know this drill. And that is why you are surprised that a food hawker is begging you to feed her. There are many corners which she can comfortably sit at, and undress three wraps of Amala, with a piece of meat, curtsied by the Ewedu draw soup, to eat. You know she does not have to pay; all she has to do is sell two pieces, or three pieces of meat at inflated rates. #20 meat becomes #50. #50 becomes #100, and so on. But you cannot tell her this. You’ll let the street teach her, but you’ll help her this time. She be JJC you conclude. You dip your hand into your back pocket to bring out your wallet. First dip. Second dip. Nothing. Then you try to put two hands in a pocket at the same time. How Challenge challenges your sanity. You start to search for extra pockets in funny places. You start to check inside the bush of your hair... the sole of your shoe. Then it comes back to you slowly. Something has happened to your purse when you bent down to lift the tray. The girl asking you for money was to cover the sound made by her partner as your purse faces the tarmac of change-of-ownership. Challenge has challenged you. You start to laugh as the girl walks away. You should have just gone to work, you tell yourself. You know you may have lost your job, with a certain third query waiting for you, but you decide to walk the fifteen minutes distance to Felele, where you work nevertheless.

The honking of taxis, the noise of angry agberos, the stench of your foolishness, and the promise to never tell anyone what truly happened, all silence down in your head, as you walk away from Challenge.


You mumble; Challenge happened. But you know it won’t be the last time. It isn’t the first either.




I hope you enjoyed reading that, tell me how you feel in the comment box. Please do subscribe to the blog and download the app to enjoy regular updates. Shalom!

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