I do not like being bullied into giving tips with passive-aggressive, thinly veiled expectation.
The traffic warden at the junction near my home gets a little too enthusiastic whenever he sees my car approaching, simply because I ‘dash’ him a little something every now and then.
The thing is, I can sense his expectation building when he spots me. It seeps into my car even though the windows are rolled up, sucking all the air inside, very nearly suffocating me. It bullies me into paying the unspoken toll fare, if only to end my anguish and also abate my concern that his face might zig-zag crack if it had to sustain the pasted-on smile for much longer.
As I drive closer, our eyes meet. We try to step into each other’s heads. To give or not to give this time? Will I receive or not this time? The trumpets sound:
“Let the mind games begin! May the odds ever be in your favour”
On the days that I succumb, I reach for my purse, he sees the dipping motion and becomes even more animated in the bid to clear my path faster than Moses parted the Red Sea. I like that he feels the need to earn his tip.
I give. He hails me “Thank you Ma-Maa!” He salutes me, actually touches the side of his palm against his forehead stiffly. We continue this awkward cycle of ‘Give once; Give forever more’ because I have wandered too deeply inside his head, that I am now stuck in this suffocating rite of passage (there’s definitely a pun in there).
On the days that I pass sans that dipping motion, his smile falters somewhat. I silently berate myself for being overly sensitive to his nuances.
See, I appreciate what he does for me, especially on the days that I am running late. I should add that the junction is right beside a busy bus stop, the royal palace of the pompous kings of Lagos roads- Danfo bus drivers. Those sons of anarchy whose unruly behaviour causes traffic jams.
Then again, I wonder, why am I paying him for doing his job? Why does he seem to feel entitled to these extras? I suppose it’s simply the way things are. The gap. That disparity. I understand.
Still, I like being in control of my decisions, giving of my own free will. Wordless coercion is the worst sort.
Same goes for the women who use their twin babies as begging props. They lounge on raffia mats, body language casually demanding that someone else bears their burden by paying homage to the alm collection bowl. The Naira notes inside the bowl make their mute appeal for more friends to play with.
Fate has unfixed, am I the fixer? I struggle with my emotions;
With Annoyance – Laziness in this Lagos?! A more determined woman produced university graduates with her roadside Akara frying business. The eager crowd around her firewood pan would make one wonder if the keys to a mansion on the gold-paved streets of heaven were embedded within the oily bean cakes.
With Guilt – I contend with the quietly nagging WWJD (What would Jesus do) voice.
With Confusion – But is it right to encourage this sense of helplessness until it becomes a bad habit? With each Naira gifted, is it likely that she settles contentedly, accepting her lot in life?
With Pity – No child should feel the cruel pangs of hunger.
With Reasoning – Nature vs. Nurture. Do we get to choose our landing places, that point from which the race of life starts?
Empathy is a two-sided coin…
PS: My thoughts on Chuma’s “Little Money” inspired this post.