To live in Lagos is to know when to flaunt your body. I will always be amused by the tales of Danfo bus drivers who resort to stripping naked to avoid being penalised by LASTMA officers after flouting traffic laws. ♫ I’m sexy and I know it ♫
To live in Lagos is to know not to run when you hear shouts of olè, as you might get confused for the thief and receive fiery punishment for much more than restless legs.
I once heard a joke about a man who was running wildly, and as he raced along everyone who saw him joined him unquestioning. When asked why they were running they’d simply point at him and say “Something must be chasing him, I don’t want it to catch me.” To live in Lagos is to intuitively know what sort of race to join.
To live in Lagos is to accept that everyone owns you, people feel entitled to a piece of everyone else whether they like it or not. An unspoken communal ownership of human beings. Lines as thin as the translucent strings seen when lifting amala from well-whipped ewedu stew separate your business from my business and our business.
To live in Lagos is to wear the armour of suspicion and the helmet of paranoia but still embrace your neighbours with an open heart. It is wise to set out on a new journey armed with a detailed map of the route because asking for directions from passersby on the street might only yield blank stares or deaf ears, for to live in Lagos is to give trust sparingly and expect the extraordinary.
As a child, I recall the rumours of private parts disappearing following a response to a seemingly innocent “What is the time, please?” Fact or fiction? Who knows, but to live in Lagos is to clutch your own privates or breasts or both, if your physical or mental hands can manage, whilst telling the time to a stranger if you insist on being so generous with your o-clocks.
I like to think that Lagosians sometimes look out for each other, how else do you explain the helpful arms that gravitate towards a broken-down car, assisting the owner to push it towards a mechanic.
A fortnight ago, a well dressed young man stopped in the middle of the road behind my house and cried out, clutching his head as if in pain. Suddenly, he became possessed by an urgent need to undress, it seemed his clothes burned his skin, then he stripped and began to run bare-buttocked. His mind had gone with the exhaust smoke polluted wind.
A crowd raced after him, but not unquestioning, they felt obliged to extract him from the grasp of insanity. They captured him, subdued him until his mania subsided, then they dressed him in his clothes and took him home. Your business is my business is our business.
To live in Lagos is to pick your battles wisely and to know when to let go. When a careless driver hit my car from behind, I got out to declare my war with him. A group of mediators appeared from nowhere, it’s almost as though they had a sixth sense for confrontation, like they sniffed it brewing and it pulled them with a magnetic force not unlike soldier ants migrating to grains of sugar.
Unsolicited, they started apologizing to me on his behalf. One tried to wipe the scratch off my car with his handkerchief, another pushed the slightly dislodged bumper back into place.
The young man actually had the grace to smile sheepishly at me. Case closed, it was simply another day in Lagos.
To live in Lagos is to know that you are not God. If I had insisted on prolonging the battle, the pleading crowd would have instantly transformed me from aggrieved to aggriever with a dismissive “Sista e don do, na ordinary car. You no be God”. As if one needs to be reminded of their own mortality in Lagos.
This thrilling city of hurried hustlers, if one can survive in Lagos, they can survive anywhere. Every inch throbs with the rhythm of resilience, the energy is quite infectious really, you’ll catch it like a bad cold if you have both a mission and vision.
To strive in Lagos is to never give up, seeing the funny side even in tiresome situations. To thrive in Lagos is to blossom in a storm, selling matches profitably to the devil in hell.
My Lagos, best eaten with small, dainty bites. I live here, I strive here, I thrive here.
PS: I originally wrote a portion of this post in response to Jacqueline’s SWBA questions.