Occupying the streets

“I was educated, now a destitute prostitute!” were the bitter words that almost escaped my lipstick-washed mouth as I sat in-between two other ladies – one about 25 years older than I and the other, barely 15. I was 30; a new deportee from Saudi Arabia and one of about 67 new arrivals. In spite of my background, I have become homeless as well as hopeless. No thanks to my folks, my government and myself! I felt like crying, but my tears betrayed me.

What worse thing is there than for one to be cut off from the source of one’s daily bread; or for the source of one’s livelihood to be severed from one? As bad as this is in itself, it is even worse (better to be decapitated) than to be transferred to a country, one’s country, which at once is at peace with itself – trying hard to ignore the numerous bombings and daily deaths – and at the same time her people, who are constantly at war with themselves, an internal turmoil, a nagging of the soul that even the diaphragm must not feel or the ears hear. A country where the days are sleepier (with mere murmurings) and the nights quite raucous with the lamentations and vituperations of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s legendary ‘gentlemen’, who just walked, hungry, sweaty and smelly into their various houses (that is, whatever it is they call houses)! I’m back to my vomit! Tears would have flowed, but those bastards still betrayed me.

A ruffian in ragged police-uniform pulled at my hair, stood a number of us up and shoved us ahead of him towards a stinking corner. I shared a cell with 17 others and I was happy! In spite of the evil details of Nigerian prisons, I was happy that I would be sheltered from the uncertainties of the community itself – a terrain that is a mire of gory anecdotes, never ending…never starting…. It is a country that boasts of many pretensions; from the knowledge of good and evil and an inability to do anything about it (chew on the forbidden fruit) to the personal awareness that all is not well but an almost-religious compulsion to admit (to oneself or God knows who?) that ‘All is well’. At least here, I am guaranteed of a secured life; in fact, a maximum security prison would have afforded me maximum security from the blood-sucking vagaries of existence in what we call a nation.

As I squatted beside the prison door to access some air away from the smelling lot of my company, I wandered briefly into my past. It was a happy family, my father went out all-day and returned only late at night. He worked very hard, but once, he stopped! He would stay home all-day, unable to sleep, usually angry; he would scream at mother and yell at us. We got scared…very scared of him! Mother kept assuring us that all was well. She explained that due to some constraints on the government, the price of fuel was increased and that affected father’s job somehow. I didn’t understand a bit of all of that, especially the fact that someone existed that dictated to father what to do and what not to do; when to come to work and when not to. He was asked to stay off work ‘until things normalized’. Mother left him taking my sister and I away with her…and later, mother left us taking no one with her. We were stranded! My sister and I ate whatever we were given by those who wanted to take advantage of us. We let them for as long as we wished to survive, until we had to ‘step up’ the game; thanks to a friend we never knew. The rest is history…a history that can be told by the present, except that my sister died ‘on duty’ exactly two and a half months ago. She escaped hardship!

I thought to myself, “When I leave these walls, what will be waiting for me on the outside?” Hunger; the raging fires of a rampaging Islamic fundamentalist group; the companions of unemployment, rape, financial and moral harassments; expensive transportation to nowhere in particular but a place of squalor; and worse of all, a dragging silence by the middle-class; a shameful silence that takes on the ego of ‘I better pass my neighbour’? Is that it, something to hope for? ‘Suffering and smiling?’

I have heard of the uprisings in North Africa including Libya at the centre, Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east. I don’t know much about Egypt and Tunisia but whatever is the case there cannot be much different from what I heard about Libya. I had a Libyan client once, who told me stories about his country. As he did, whether true or not, I felt like crying but my stupid tears betrayed me!

“In spite of Colonel Muammar Gadhaffi’s many good deeds and bold acts of altruism,” my client said, while he lay naked on the couch of the hotel where I was seized by the security agents before being brought to this hole, “the people still revolted against him.” He told me of the Libyan dictator building for his people eleven working refineries, provided free education, ensured his people got jobs or businesses. Funny though, he mentioned that a portion of the dowries were paid for intending couples. In fact, when he said this, I did some calculations in my head and thought, “if this had happened in Nigeria, maybe all those stupid men who didn’t want to marry would have changed their minds.” Maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me. Before the rebellion that toppled Gadhaffi, Libya had the highest Human Development Index in Africa and the fourth largest GDP. Yet, he was toppled!

When I thought of all these with Nigeria in mind, I didn’t try to shed the tears but the tears came anyway. It was shameful! I wasn’t crying for Nigeria but for the ousted Libyan dictator. If he had been a Nigerian leader, he would have been honoured like a god! I mourned for him, how fate so badly treated him to make him Libyan. It’s a good omen anyway; at least, if any of my children (hoping to leave to bear some) gets to a leadership position in Nigeria, he can ALWAYS eat his cake and have it. I mourned…I sincerely mourned for the unborn children that will escape from the wombs of their Nigerian mothers to the wombs of a Libyan (that’s if such a child will one day become a leader). If, however, the child will become a victim of ‘two elephants fighting’, dregs of the society, the unheard songs (which when heard are heard as dirges) roaming the dry streets with skimpy dress, then I will mourn if such a child chooses the womb of a Nigerian.

I became dizzy with apathy for myself and for my country! And it was only then that the lousy jailer, who would have pounced on our weak but sexy bodies if not for the watchful eyes of a similarly flirty boss, brought in the news of the resolve of the Nigerian government to remove fuel subsidy starting in January, 2012. I said to myself, “this is it!” Come has come to become and Nigerians must take their destinies into their hands. Or else, how many more people like me and the ghost of my sister will the insensitive academic economic macabre dance of our country create? How many more? “Fuel subsidy removal,” I thought to myself, “hence, fuel price increase, increased operational bottlenecks, layoffs, marital divorce, maternal divorce, prostitution, jail and then what? The leaders continue to pocket the removed subsidy?”

“This is the last straw that will break the camel’s back,” I thought aloud, “except of course, if Nigerians are eternally jinxed.” Then, the lousy jailer approached our cell. He started fondling with the lock and behind him stood his boss rubbing his potbelly with his right hand that had been charred.

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