A Lagos Experience
By Olusola Akinwale
July 11, 2013.
The mass transit bus slowed to a halt, and the
mad rush began again. Chime shoved two people aside and squeezed past the mob
congregating to get onto the bus. He took a seat in the middle of the bus, by
the window, satisfied with himself, his victory. His cousin, Jude, had prepared
him for it—the early morning jostle—before he had left Enugu.
“Lagos, our Lagos, is a no-
man’s- land. It’s the capital of hassles and tussles, where anything can
happen. It belongs to the die-hard,” Jude had said when he was orientating
Chime about Lagos.
Before getting to the city,
Chime had learned about it as the place where the lost and the dead could meet
and embrace, weeping over each other’s shoulders and reminiscing together about
the old times amidst a cacophony of noises from car horns and street traders.
He had learned about the molue buses that breathed different emotions and
drama; the Area Boys who delighted in Indian hemp and lived under the bridge;
the Oshodi bedlam; and the mermaids who came out of the ocean, turned into
pretty girls, and went to nightclubs to seduce, punish, and perhaps kill,
This morning, he was going
to Mile Two, his place of work. He gazed out at the others still rushing toward
the bus. A man shoved one woman aside, not minding the baby on her back. The
woman turned toward the man. She narrowed her eyes, tightened her lips, then
cocked her arm and swung her purse. The blow landed on the back of his head,
throwing him against the handrail. The man howled in protest.
Securing a seat or a place
to stand on a bus was a matter of survival of the fittest, like the Hobbesian
state of nature. There was no decorum, no etiquette, and no chivalry.
Everything had been thrown into the LAWMA bin.
With all seats occupied,
some passengers stood in the aisle, clasping the overhead rail. The smell of
sweat and nauseating perfume combined to milk the bus of freshness. A full-bearded
man wearing a white gown—presumably a prophet—sat beside Chime. He had long,
flowing locks that were as brown as the earth. His white garment had been
stained by the crowd of hands waving about during the jostling, and Chime
wondered if the sanctity of the so-called holy gown had been desecrated. He
wondered if the prophet would still be acceptable before God, since that faith
said the gown must be without blemish or spots or wrinkles.
Chime was wedged on his
seat. It was meant to hold only two passengers, but three of them occupied it.
The third person was a girl, possibly in her early twenties, sitting quietly by
the aisle, not minding the noise in the bus. Perhaps she was meditating. She
had a scarf around her head, and her skirt was almost touching her heels. She
wore no jewelry. She might belong to a religious sect whose followers believe
jewelry is a barrier to reaching their eternal home.
The bus finally pulled away
from Ketu bus stop to Oshodi en route to Maryland. The conductor, spiky-haired,
asked for the fare immediately. “No change o,” he shouted. He had a stud in his
left ear and wore a replica Chelsea FC jersey. The club logo on the blue shirt
Chime put his hand into the
pocket of his cotton trousers, trying to squeeze out a hundred naira note. As
the bus began to creep in Ojota traffic, which sometimes stretched to Elizade
Motors, a shout of, “Paise the Lord!” boomed, and few passengers answered,
Looking up, he saw a man
standing in front, two seats away from the driver. The man standing in front
wore a rumpled blue suit with a tie that barely reached past his sternum. Chime
needed no one to tell him that the man was one of the unconventional Lagos
preachers, who eased their ride with laughter. These preachers, who had made
buses their hub of commerce, were as charismatic as the Bishops he saw on the
TV. Chime had witnessed one of them, a woman, sell an herbal medicine she
called “nature.” She had proclaimed that God had sent her to the world to bless
mankind with herbs and declared her medicine was multi-purpose, an antibiotic
that could cure rheumatism, e-coli, syphilis, staphylococcus, infertility,
tuberculosis, jedi jedi, gonorrhea, eczema, yellow fever, ring worm, rat worm,
When the man began to pray,
no one responded. He stopped and, for a few moments, quieted like a Rabbi in
meditation before shouting, “Prayer is the key! The Bible says we mustn’t stop
praying. The twanty-four people that died in Idumota accident two days ago
don’t know death was coming when they left their houses. Some people blamed
police. Yes, we always blame police, because they are not our friends. But I
want to tell you that devil was behind it. The agents of darkness are now
donating blood to their blood banks. You must pray for God to escape your
Chime understood the
preacher was saying this to put fear in the passengers, to force them to
respond to his call.
“I escape my blood from
witches in Jee-sus’ name,” the preacher said.
“I escape my blood from
witches,” the passengers chorused.
Chime saw that a firmly
built man who sat three seats away from the preacher was unmoved. He was
reading a newspaper, Complete Sports.
The conductor continued collecting the fare, not minding the prayers. When he
got to Chime’s seat, there was a brief exchange of words with the girl next to
the prophet because she’d held out a five-hundred-naira note.
“I don tell you say I no
get change o. You deaf?” the conductor told the girl.
“Isn’t it your duty to find
change for your passengers?” the girl replied.
The conductor collected
Chime’s fare and moved away.
The preacher was still
thundering prayers. “I fire yokes of the enemy upon your life in my mighty name
of Jee-sus. I bind evil powers and witches and wizards in your father’s house.
I destroy by fire all ogbanjes in your mother’s house. I free you from bondages
that you know and don’t know in my Jee-sus’ name.” He paused and continued, “My
blethen, you lucky to meet today. Very, very lucky indeed. Who know where I go
His finger sifted the pages
of his bible, as though the answer to his question was written somewhere there.
“I go to Ghana—Kumasi and Tamale,” he continued. “Two weeks ago in Bouake it
was fantabulous. I went there to break evil powers as I do all over the world.
Yesterday they phoned me and said I
should come again.” Sweat broke out profusely on his face. “I said I
don’t want to come now, because I want Nigerians to enjoy me. Before I met
Christ, I operated in the kingdom of darkness for twanty-eight years.
Twanty-eight good years, my blethen. Not child’s play. I used to eat with devil
every seven, seven days. I am his second-in-command,” he boasted.
Satan must have had thousands of deputies.
There was a silence in the
bus, which was occasionally broken by the whine of a baby.
“Take her away from your
back,” someone told the mother.
“She can’t carry the girl
in her hands. You want her fall down if the bus gallop?” another person
The preacher continued
narrating his sojourn in the kingdom of darkness. By the time the bus reached
the Independence Tunnel, the firmly built man had dropped his newspaper. He
listened to the preacher like a servant to his master’s instructions.
As usual, Chime gazed out
at the portrait of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Tafawa Balewa painted
on a fine coat of yellow background on the wall of the Tunnel. The three exuded
a calmness that undermined their rivalry, their political battle for Lagos of
the sixties. They had scrambled for the soul of Lagos, where the central power
lay, perhaps in the manner the Europeans scrambled for the soul of Africa.
Perhaps that was why everything about the city was scrambling. You scrambled
for jobs, for money, for the bus, for space, and even for breath.
Each time his bus passed
the Tunnel, the trio seemed to stare back at Chime, making him feel he should have
been part of their Lagos, the Lagos his father’s uncle had taken his father
along to visit before the Union Jack was lowered.
Leaving the Tunnel, Chime
noticed another girl two seats away from theirs whose mind seemed far away as
she stared out the window. Did she see the road or any of the other things the
bus passed—vehicles, houses, pedestrians, billboards? He wondered why her hair
was so disheveled on a Monday morning, and what could be troubling her. She
could be a mistress who had just met her Waterloo at the hands of a wife.
An ugly incident that had
happened in Enugu when Chime was in his teens crossed his mind.
Mama Obi had caught her
husband in a compromising position in their bedroom with an undergraduate girl.
Locking them in the bedroom, she went out to call her friends, the busy-bodies.
They accompanied her to the house and pounded the girl like yam in a mortar.
They dragged her into the street for everyone to see and tore her clothes to
Chime’s father had always
told his children to guard their hearts and beware of things they saw, read, or
heard. However, on that day, Chime could not stop himself from joining the
others to look at the girl whose hips and breasts were revealed to all. He
could feel it beneath him, shameful and sinful, to look at her. She
sobbed profusely, begging for mercy.
Now Chime tried to
resuscitate the image of the girl, to picture her naked and crying, but all he
saw was Omu, the first lady he had lain with in Lagos. He might have lost
his innocence on the day he saw the naked girl, but he did not taste the
ambrosia of a woman’s bosom until nearly two years after he got to Lagos.
On the eve of his departure
for Lagos, his father had called him into his bedroom. In the dim lantern
light, the father’s wrinkles became more pronounced and beads of sweat lined
his brow as he warned him to be wary of Lagos girls, who he said were heinous
Chime had thought the
warning was enough anesthesia to make him resistant to seductive prowess of
women, had thought he was immune to “unholy sex,” as his father had said. But
he was let down—or rather, he let himself down—when Omu came around. It all
started with a glance and a brief introduction, which soon buried his power of
resistance in the sepulcher of lust.
On their very first night,
he trembled as Omu slipped off her dress. She was charcoal-skinned. Her hips
were full; her breasts were voluminous. Her shamelessness dazed him.
His father’s voice began to
buzz in his head, haunting him. Beware of
those Lagos girls. They were in a hired room in an austere motel in
Oworonsoki. The light flickered overhead, casting shadows and colors in a
rainbow pattern all over the room.
“Take off your clothes now.
Or why you dey shake like leaf for water,” Omu said when she had stripped
completely. “Or make I tear them off? If I tear your sokoto I know no wetin you
go wear go house.”
Isn’t this your first attempt? he wanted to ask.
He was still dragging when
she pounced on him, and with swift, jerky motions, she pulled his trousers down
past his knees and pushed him to the bed. She removed the trousers off his legs
and then unbuttoned his shirt and slid it off his shoulders. She ran her finger
along his lips and kissed his mouth. Her breath smelled of alcohol. He closed
his eyes and abandoned himself to her like a cow on a slaughter slab. She ran
her hands down his stomach to his privates, which she lingered on, stroking. A
moan escaped his lips, again and again.
Later, as he complied with
her wishes, his father’s voice receded into the distance, like a guardian Angel
leaving him. When they had finished rumpling the sheets, they lay beside each
other with Chime panting like a dog and catching his breath, which had been
ragged during the act. Omu looked as if nothing had happened between them, as
if she had not dissipated any energy.
Where did she get her strength?
A mischievous smile laced
Omu’s face when she giggled and said, “You tried, Chime, though you do am like
a boy, you go get beta, huh?” She began to run her hand up and down his body
again. She kissed him on the chest and the neck. “I go teach you how to
do am like a man, how to sama a woman well well.”
She got out of bed and
switched off the rainbow light for the white bulb which hung by a cord in
another part of the sagging ceiling. She returned to the bed, with the red,
purple, and blue beads circling her waist jiggling. Chime had paid no attention
to the beads during sex. The beads were as tiny as mustards seeds and were
strung on three thin chains. When she sat on the edge of the bed, her back to
him, he saw the imprint the beads had made around her waist.
“I go give you somethin’ to
give you power wen you dey with a woman.” There was a hint of pride in her
For some time, she would
direct the whole thing like a quarterback in American football, telling him
what to do with certain parts of her body. She introduced him to ale, a local alcoholic concoction. His
father mustn’t hear of his communion with alcohol. She said the drink was an
aphrodisiac. Often she would give him a mixture of three or four before the
“This drink,” she would
hold out a bottle to him, “go make your thing strong kakaka. It go give you energy.”
They continued to hire a
room in the same motel for their banquet of lust. There, the dance area was
narcotic and burst with libidinous music at night. And young women shimmied to
the music, with their pendulous breasts leaping in adoration of the god of the
moment. Shamelessness paraded herself as the mistress of the house.
At first Chime was ashamed
of people seeing him cross into a room with Omu. He would try to hide his face
until he realized that no one was watching him, that everyone was minding his
own business. He buried his shame.
When he had become the man
in bed, Omu would shout “Chime!Chime!” so loudly that her noise would scare the
hell out of the rats, which ran helter-skelter for dear life on the roof. There
was no time they got in bed that the sheets didn’t hold the memory of the last
users. Omu would spread the sheets inside out and spray her perfume on it. She
might have picked cigarette stubs or empty beer cans or tissues on the floor
into a waste bin in the corner of the room. Then they would turn and jerk and
rumple the sheets, rubbing their smell and sweat on them, giving them a new
memory. They wouldn’t stop until they’d worn themselves out, breathless.
Sometimes when he’d gotten
to the motel before her, Chime would ask the girls, either in the alleyway or
in the house, if they had seen Omu around. He could call her on the phone to
ask about her whereabouts, and she might say she was nearby buying something
for the night. She always had something to buy.
Once she kept him
waiting endlessly. When he tried to call her, she didn’t answer. In the bar, he
sat over a cold beer and fried gizzard. At the table near him, a lanky man and
two women sat. The bar reeked of a combination of cigarettes and ganja. The speakers throbbed with
strange sounds. A lover of everything musical, he couldn’t help but to nod his
head, snap his fingers or tap his foot to any song being played. But on that
night, that became a past time. An idea in his mind was overwhelming: Omu had
begun to see another man. She had gone to service him in another place.
He drained the first bottle
and motioned to the waiter for another. As he awaited his order, he overheard
one of the women say, “— go floor you yakata.
You fit do am without Viagra?”
He tilted his head toward
“Me? I get horsepower. Next
time you see me you go waka,” the man
said, and the trio laughed above the music.
Receiving the second bottle
of Gulder from the waiter, Chime said, “It’s not cold.”
“It is. It’s colder than
the first bottle you drank,” the waiter countered.
“The gizzard you gave me wasn’t
fried today,” Chime added.
“Haba, broda,” the waiter
“It tasted like a left over
“We don’t do that here. You
know us now.”
The waiter opened the
bottle and left. Chime discarded his glass and drank straight from the bottle.
He turned his head this way and that to see if Omu had entered. No sight of
He was on the third bottle
when a girl approached him. She wore a camisole and tight-fitting leopard print
“I don dey observe you for
long. No be good thing for a man to be alone. Make we fall ourselves. You may
have me with small change.”
Her bleached skin and
stretch-marked arms irritated him.
“I called you? Go away!” he
shouted at her. He would never in his life sleep with a prostitute. Omu wasn’t
one; she was just a secret lover. The money he did give her was not for sex. It
was the normal money a man would give his lover.
The girl cringed. “Take am
easy o. I just say make I help you. Na me say make she know come,” she said,
and left him alone. Chime saw her talking to another of her ilk in the doorway.
They both glanced at him and then went outside. He was tired now, but
wasn’t sure whether his fatigue was of the mind or the body.
Omu met him in the alleyway
when she arrived. He held up his hand for quiet when she spoke.
“Where have you been? Why
are you just coming?”
“Wetin now? Make I talk
“What do you want to say?
You think I’ll buy your lies, asewo?”
“Who is asewo? You mama is asewo?”
About five girls had
gathered around them. Chime’s chest tingled with embarrassment.
Shuffling his feet, he
stuttered, “You’re a useless dog.”
“You are too. It’s not your
fault.” She hissed. “Because I allow you to sleep with me. Or you think we are
mates? You think you can talk to me anyhow?”
She rolled her eyes and
walked out on him. It was the first time she had spoken to him in fluent
English, the only night they had met without rumpling the sheets.
Life continued normal
between them afterward until Omu didn’t come to the motel another night. Chime
watched a March moon rise higher and higher without seeing her. He left the
motel a worried man, troubled, not because he was concerned about her, but
because he thought she’d gone out with another man. Or why would she switch off
her two phones?
On the second, third, and
fourth nights, Omu was nowhere to be found, and her phones were still off. The
girls in the motel began to mock him.
“Omu don go out with a
military man,” the girl he had shunned said.
“She don go Italy where
money dey,” another added.
“Come shine your kondo for
my place. I go do you well pass Omu.”
“I no kno’ wetin that Omu
get self wey I no go give you.”
Frustrated, he stopped
Chime’s father had told him
about his past mistakes, which he wanted Chime to avoid. One of them was the
fling his father had orchestrated with a girl when he was living with his
uncle. Chime’s grandfather had died when his father was thirteen. Papa Chime
had aborted the plans his uncle had for him when he impregnated Ngozi. When the
no-nonsense uncle got wind of the pregnancy, he sent Chime’s father back to his
mother in the village, and Papa Chime’s dream of a solid formal education was
The thought of Omu, the
manner of her departure, continued disturbing Chime’s heart. A voice told him
not to bother about her, that she had become history like Gomorrah. While his
mind wanted to relax, another voice roared that there was cause for alarm. The
voice would say Omu was a mermaid and that she had left because she had
completed her assignment. But she could return any time to make him pay for the
time he had with her, to make him regret the fling, like his father. The voice
reminded him of his last night with her. He’d worn a condom, which she always
brought. But on that night, she didn’t come with any. She said her body
had developed an allergy to raincoat, and that it was time she felt him
deeply. She had her way.
The bus had scaled through
the Ikorodu road traffic and turned to Oshodi road. The preacher held out a
pack of CDs now.
“In this CD,” he said,
“you’ll hear full details of my encounter with devil. How he sent me to
different places, how we caused the war in Iraq, how I caused thirteen plane
crashes and I didn’t die. Oh, devil is a liar. He used me, but thank to God I’m
free today.” He wiped the sweat on his brow. “You’ll also hear how to identify
witches in your family. How much is this CD? My blethren, it’s chicken
change. Just one hundred naira. It’ll bless you. When you hear it, you’ll
call me to testify.”
Chime watched him pass
copies of the disc around.
“God bless you my brother.
Jehovah bless you my sister. As you buy this CD, I pray the enemy will not buy
your life. As you grab this divine CD, you grab divine blessings in my Jeesus
Holding a small polythene
bag, he said, “I want you to give to God. Even though God’s work is expensive,
no amount is too big or small to give to Him. Please support me to expose
The girl passed the bag to
the prophet without dropping anything. The prophet dropped a twenty-naira note
and held out the bag to Chime. He staved the prophet off. The bag went to the
Scores of people ran after
the bus as it glided to a halt at Oshodi. They wanted to be among the next set
of passengers. Before the bus could find a place to halt, some had clung
to it. There was another round of shoving and cursing at the two doors.
The two beside Chime had
gone out when he made to go to the front, but his right leg would not allow
him. It was stiff like a fossil. He remained on his seat, his face rumpled.
The bus filled up again.
The preacher was nowhere in sight. Chime had two new neighbors: a blowsy woman
and a man leaner than him. The woman sat between Chime and the man and occupied
much space on the seat.
He watched the man
grimacing, apparently unsatisfied that the woman had taken much space on their
seat, a discomfort the man must endure till he alighted. As for Chime, the
discomfort of being wedged in the seat was not as unbearable as the thought of
Omu coming back with a child.
Olusola Akinwale is a Nigerian writer. His short stories have appeared
in Underground Voices, Translit Magazine, The Monarch Review, and Istanbul