Sitting up here in the lofty heights of my one-bedroom apartment, surrounded by Sandra’s perfume, I think of the young man downstairs rapping endlessly the bawdy lyrics of Obesere, oblivious of the passage of time. I peer through the shutters at his uncombed head; dirty, overgrown boy bent on forgetting his constant friend, hunger, and the hopelessness of his existence.
Suddenly I can see his future: a gun-totting hungry, angry stranger with fire in his eyes. Fire induced by drugs, pain and unfulfilled dreams. His predecessors have been terrorising the whole neighbourhood for the past past two weeks. After clearing up your belongings, they leave you with a compulsory wound as a memento. And now the fear is endless – it commences every morning as we fearfully start our vehicles to go to work and intensifies as soon as darkness falls. Come to Moro Street and you wont find any television set on by 9pm (Who wants to have an ear removed?).
This Saka chap is so inconsistent – he’s jumping from obscene Obesere to indecent Ayuba to abrasive Pasuma (You just must know who is who in fuji music if you live where I do). Sighing, I turn my head in the direction of a sudden sharp sound from the next house…perhaps plates crashing on the floor…someone lets out a shrill and all the occupants spew out on the verandah.
Oh, it’s Mufutau, the guy they say works with the fire service. He is always beating up his unemployed housewife who really doesn’t appear trained for anything. The other day, I had to join the scores of men separating the most popular couple on the street. The cause of the whole brouhaha, of course, money. Mufutau and his wife of twelve years fight at least thrice a week. A fight-free week is a novelty and is often greeted with a party by us neighbours.
Seperating them today is sixty-year-old, grayish, jobless Baba Ayo whose uncountable, abandoned kids are a major nuisance in the neighbourhood. One of his kids told me the other day why he has stopped patronizing school – the teachers have little or nothing to offer except idle chatter and extra free periods on the time-table.
“Well, you could change schools…”, I reasoned.
He simply laughed at me, “Uncle, who wants to be counting books in some derelict structure when others are busy counting money outside”
And you can’t tell him that at thirteen, he is a little too young to be quitting school because this thirteen-year-old has been working the streets and is already sure of his own second-hand TV set and video cassette player by Christmas.
Poverty has reduced the average person here to a scavenger. Just last week, I incurred the wrath of a long time friend because I had the foolishness to remark that his house looked like a European junk house -used TV imported from Germany, second-hand video player from Holland, used refridgerator from Italy…and so on. My friend’s favourite and only car is an epileptic eighteen-year old Nissan from Austria. For someone so good at acquiring used goods, it figures well that his wife has been through three husbands (The first two committed suicide and the last died of hypertension.) Now we have formed a circle of concerned neighbours to pray and fast for our increasingly emaciating friend on the last Friday of every month.
Oh, back to my street…The roads leading to our houses are so bad and puddly, I doubt if there is any day we don’t have to assist someone to dig his car from a ditch. So, we bachelors led, of course, by the best educated man on the street (my humble self) went to appeal to the local ‘big’ man, Chief Olowololaye Morogooluwa who is fond of calling himself “the one and only illustrious son of the street.” Apart from his name, the only other things remarkable about him are his horrendous, huge tummy and reputed extreme stupidity. He was a lowly clerk in one of the ministries before his distant in-law became governor in one of the states, then he resigned and the contracts and millions started rolling in. I reasoned that since he’d gulped our money, it naturally followed that he should vomit some of it to repair the roads. Here’s how our short-lived heroic effort went-
Chief Morogooluwa: Muddy roads…Is that why you scum have now brought yourselves to defile my house? I am not one of those money bags who squander money on useless causes…I am more interested in using my wealth to influence the government to locate an airport in this community…
Me, the rabble-rouser: But, Chief…since we all use the road…?
Chief Morogooluwa: Well, not for much longer…once the airstrip is approved and constructed…of course by my construction company…I will get myself an airplane and leave the road to you people…I know it is not wide enough for all of us as it is…
Me, the rabble-rouser: Chief, it is not the width, it’s the condition…
Chief Morogooluwa: Will you shaddap?!
That’s where our brave appeal ended. I was not bitter. In fact, I felt good he’d not condescended to throw us some bales of money as was his practice. Someone later said he must have been going through an acute psychological malady called electoral loss withdrawal syndrome – he’d lost his bid for local government chairmanship just a few weeks earlier.
Now, where was I? Ah, I was talking about the poverty in the land. Am I boring you already? It’s an old story…some people have all, others none – old story with a familiar, regular ending I assure you. One day the poor will wake up and face the other side and the seats will be turned. I will probably be one of the prime targets in this area – shows you the level of the poverty here.
“For God’s sake Segun, I’ve been talking to you…”, Sandra’s voice creeps into my thoughts. I’ve almost forgotten she is in the room.
“Oh baby, I’m sorry …what did you say?, I quickly respond.
She moves close and caresses my arm, “Segun, don’t you think it’s time we got married…you keep postponing it. I know things are not at their best but we can manage…”
“Ma…ma…marry…marriage?”, I stutter. Ha, ha, ha! Darling Sandra wants to marry, to manage, to suffer and smile like the rest of the neighbours. My laughter rings out loud, so loud even Saka hears and puts a halt to his migraine-inducing fuji rants.
Now she’s got me thinking again…Of Mufutau and his daily money wars with his poor excuse of a wife; blind and crippled Matthew who crawls three kilometers everyday to the Moro street junction to beg for his livelihood (Sometimes we forget he is there and spatter mud all over him); Baba Ayo’s children often numbering up to fifteen fighting and spilling blood over a measly loaf of bread; the reclusive ‘man of God’ in house number 46 who specializes in enticing juvenile girls with promises of food and dresses and baptizes them on his huge four-poster bed; the young university graduate who’s been searching for a job for three years and was recently caught shoplifting downtown; the tired line of slouched but chattering housewives streaming to the only source of portable water in the whole community; the gangs of disillusioned boys and girls hanging at the street crannies to do a little pot; the wailing kids with runny noses, in tattered uniform, learning a foreign language in a building without a roof and cracked walls that threaten to collapse any minute; the rest of us in our starched ties and stuffy suits making our way to work every morning and back each evening, tie askance, suit crumpled in the back seat, eyes empty; Chief Morogooluwa standing on the roof of his mansion with his cell phone to his cheek throwing down crisp notes of money…
No Sandra baby, I’d rather be a single ‘local champion’ than a married Lagos hustler pushing a rickety car to keep his demanding wife happy, taking each day as it comes, and searching daily for God’s face for deliverance from his economic, social and family chains. I’d rather be free to speak my mind to the befuddled leaders of this troubled nation than be hampered by emotional handcuffs.
Thank God for wisdom.