Lagosians wear the agbádá of suspicion rather elegantly.
If there was such a thing as a scale that measured a person’s suspicion level and if the average human being’s suspicion level ranked 7, a Lagosian’s would rank an off-the-scale 12.
Yes, distrust is imprinted onto our subconscious, we go to bed with it and wake up with it. The typical Lagosian prides himself on being streetwise and thus blessed with an AntiMumu™ that repels the slightest sign of foul play.
Just like the iron gates that barricade our homes, with tiny slide windows to peek through, our hearts are guarded by our suspicion, our eyes are the simply the minuscule window, they play no role when it comes to discernment.
We are adamant that nothing is what it seems even when it can obviously be no more than what it appears to be. Our flair for the dramatic concocts a delicious conspiracy theory.
I learned the hard way that asking for directions from the passersby on the streets might only yield being out-rightly ignored, Lagosians are wary of strangers. It is fueled by a suspicion bordering on irrational paranoia.
One day, I got lost on the narrow one-way streets of Jibowu, and decided to ask a young girl for directions to the main road but not before arranging my face into the most harmless expression and plastering an unassuming smile.
I drove slowly beside her and asked politely. She shot me an angry look and walked away swinging her hips. I frowned knowingly, she assumed my smile would somehow hypnotise her into entering my car and I would whisk her away for ungodly intentions.
I wondered how I would manage this feat in broad daylight, the fact that I was female like her made no difference to her.
I drove a little further and saw an older gentleman standing in front of what I assumed was his home. I repeated my request adding an overly respectful voice to my facial expression. He also scowled at me and ignored me, but not entirely from fear of being spirited away to an unknown fate.
No, this time, I suspect my offence was having the effrontery to ask him- an elder- for directions. Or perhaps that I had the effrontery to even consider whisking him- an elder- away. Who knows?
In hindsight, I should have gone down from the car and knelt before him seeking help, like so :
“Oh wise one! I am on an epic journey to Ikorodu road and have become quite lost. Pray forgive my youthful foolishness which has led me on this aimless quest. Please bless me with your treasured golden counsel, show me, guide me, put me back on the right path of truth and light.”
On another day, my quest for directions led me to a young man, with a smile he offered to get into my car to guide me and ensure that I stayed on the right track.
My suspicion radar came alive and beeped maniacally as I imagined all the potentially sinister motives embedded within this seemingly kind gesture. I smiled and shook my head in refusal. As I drove away, still very much lost, I thought about the two-sidedness of this Èkó brand of distrust.
You are suspicious of me and I am suspicious of you. We are in this Lagos together.
PS: I was one of contributors to the first edition of the Monochrome Lagos Digital Photobook, where this piece was originally published. The aim of the photobook is to showcase Lagos from the fusion of photography and literature. The photographs are art and capture the essence of this interesting city beautifully.