I try to be in tune with my ancestors-who were in tune with nature, by looking at the sky, like they would have, to predict the weather. The sky, blue, scudding with light clouds, seem to hold promise of a hot day. I later learned that a clear blue sky in Lagos can betray you, and your ancestors. Of all the times to start raining, it was when I was almost at my bus stop the rain started dropping. If I didn’t know any better I would have said it was stalking me, waiting for me to come out since I had been indoors for about two weeks. The rain started pelting the bus, its windshield, sliding down its window, hitting the ground and coming up in splashes, people were running for shelter, feet splashing water; I saw a girl with a tray of groundnut on her head holding it with her two hands, running, I wondered if the groundnut would taste different after the rained soaked it. I looked at them in their rush to avoid getting wet; the blue sky had fooled everyone.
I alighted at my bus stop, and ran into a filling station I saw close by. Under the forecourt were others taking shelter from the rain. There were four fuel attendants standing by each pump. One of the attendant looked at us like we were a nuisance; may be if she could help it she would have told us not to come under the forecourt and go somewhere else. May be she blamed us more and the rain less for not yet meeting her quota for the day. I imagined if she were in our shoes, it could have been her running under the rain looking for cover. Here I was, disappointed by the rain, I had actually stepped in a puddle of water and anytime I moved my feet, my sneakers squelched water; my body was dripping wet, and what struck me the most was the look on the attendant. A sport utility vehicle drove into the fuel station, and the attendant with the mean look waved and waved her hand to draw the attention of the driver but the car went towards another fuel pump. She looked at us again, eyeing us; eyes saying “make this rain do finish make una commot for here, una just de make person de lose customers.
The rain subsided and I stepped out from under the forecourt. And I took a left turn unto Commercial Avenue. At the beginning of the street were yellow buses parked. A conductor, with unbuttoned shirt, ebony stomach was screaming the destinations of the buses.There were puddles on different parts of the street. Despite the wetness, the street was busy; It definitely was a Commercial Avenue: People were lined on either side of the road. There were people selling stuff in trays, wheelbarrows, kiosks and buckets; others buying the merchandise, others walking past me and other just sitting or standing outside enjoying watching people or the scene. The last group, immobile, stared at passersby like virtual people stepping out of a television screen, an invasive, almost daring look, as if to question your realness. One staring at me, got an equally rude look were I squeezed my nose looking at him like filth. I kept turning back to see if he would come and punch me.
This clustered street, with plastic bags and container, littered Stagnant slimy green water in the gutter, which was filled and channeling unto the road. Foul stench. The brown roofs on old houses with paints peeling, and windows that had torn mosquito nets and missing glass louvres surrounded by fences with broken bottles in them. I looked around. This did not seem like a place a cinema would be located. I looked at my phone again. I knew it; wrong street. I made my way back, retracing my steps like someone who lost a key. I was back at the junction with the Filling Station to my right. I walked straight, crossing the intersection unto the other side, this time checking my phone constantly to be sure. Now, I didn’t need the map anymore I could see the billboard of the Ozone cinema. It was the street directly opposite the one I was just coming from. This street was well spaced and clean with tall corporate buildings behind well structured and painted fences and occasionally flowers, and trees. I had won the movie ticket which I had in my pockets, by answering some questions about history on the radio. I won a movie ticket to watch the Crazy Rich Asians.
The movie was interesting. It was one of those romance movies, which after watching you wish you were a billionaire in love. I and Yomi had been fighting for a while now. Threw her phone at me. I dodged. She’s Now telling me to fix the phone. We are not on speaking terms. But I kept thinking about her throughout the movie. It is the sensation of standing in front of the ocean, hearing the waves roar, feeling breeze on your face, the water engulfing your legs and receding, but no one to share it with makes the moment lost. I thought of calling her, then I let go of the thought. I told myself I love me and I took myself out on a date; so I bought myself ice-cream, considering the sun was fierce after the rain. On stepping outsider, a little girl, and her much younger brother ran up to me in tattered clothes, bare feet. “I want ice cream” she said. I replied “you want to take ice cream?” She nodded and I handed her my cup of ice cream with philanthropic ease. She turned and ran, her brother chasing after her. After a coupe of steps I saw a mother and her son, who had dreadlocks, seated on cartons by the road side begging. Looking at me with eyes that had suffering in them, eyes that pleaded with me not to smash their hope; eyes that held up their hope to me almost desperately. They most have hope in humanity, to sit by the road side begging. Hope that man would help another man. The thief has no hope in humanity and would rather steal than beg. The innocent child, a victim of circumstance, what has he? You would find a thief who doesn’t want his children to know he steals, but a beggar who uses his children to beg. The beggar has no choice. The beggar has no pride. The beggar has no shame. Life has robbed the beggar of everything but hope. Yet a thief raises a child better than a beggar. I try to think like a poet. “My duty is not to judge but understand.” The evils of capitalism are no longer news. The evils have become the gospel truth that man is not made equal. Man would try to fight for everything from nature and try to control her , be her master but leave her with inequality. I look at the woman and her child. If the walls could push her away they would. She Probably hasn’t had a wash in days. They could have malaria, diarrhoea or even cholera considering they don’t have access to clean water. She could get robbed, raped or murdered; and the child kidnapped. The child is robbed of the innocence of childhood. His ego for now is one with the world and he wouldn’t understand most of it till he starts to see himself as separate from the world. I gave his mother 500 Naira. I just assured her, there’s hope, beg again tomorrow.
There are a lot of charities in Lagos. At times you could be hanging out at restaurants, an event centre or the mall, and a representative of a charity organisation would come to you with a flyer, requesting for aid. As the number of charity organisations increases, so does the numbers of poor in Nigeria. Take that woman and her child out of the street and another would come and sit in her place, take the replacement out and another would come again. We are paying less attention to the sickness itself, and trying to manage the symptoms. Everybody is creating charity organisations. That is nice. “Nobody is useless who lightens the burden of another.” But how about organisations that question the government? Organisations that sue the government. Organisations that put the government on its toes? Organisations that pressure the government to live up to its responsibilities? The government is happy that there are charity organisations carrying out its responsibilities. Government is not built on charity organisations. And the charity organisations are dealers in luck. If you’re a lucky enough you get charity aid. How about those unlucky? Those faraway from the concentration of charity organisations? Still at best most charity organisations manage the symptoms, while the disease, the root cause is left festering. Unemployment ; lack of schools; poor healthcare etc., all provide the subjects for charity projects. Then again, the government focuses only on the urban area, the urban areas like smelling corpse attracts a fly into the coffin, in the guise of the rural dweller with nobody in the city to help but the stories of how people have made it in the city; the ruthless city that turn dreamers to beggars.
I’m in a bus now, heading back home. Third mainland bridge. The water reflects the setting sun. Does the fish enjoy the view? Bumpy ride can’t seat back the backrest Is a thin metal, offers more pain that comfort. This buses offer mobility but not comfort. Little accidents and we are all badly hurt no space metal bars everywhere. Buses shipped from other countries where they had cushions all about them, arrive naked here, painted yellow or white, the welder brings old irons and wields a seat for his bus owner friend maybe he has secured a free bus ride for life. Traffic. Law school. Mobile exon. The palms. The tollgate. The pedestrian bridge. Owa. The bus stops. Oya oya oya drop the conductors says. On the pedestrian bridge now, cars pass under me. Took a bike. Stopped at a supermarket . Paid the bike. Will walk home. Just gonna get me yoghurt. Oh my. Almost like the woman at Ozone cinemas. Seated under a tree, behind the tree plastic bag stuffed with belongings, her son playing in a puddle of water. Oblivious to the world. His ego like the other child is one with the world. Last money on me. Yoghurt or charity? Stupid question. She says thank you. The boy says tanchu, exposing more gum than teeth. The excitement in his mother’s voice makes him excited too. He jumps in the water on the pavement. Her gratefulness, his innocence, his joy made me feel alive. Walked home thinking. DAMN CHARITY IS A GOOD FEELING.