I run hurriedly towards the bustop.I can see the conductors pointing towards their yellow and black painted buses.As I approach the bustop I can hear their croaky voices shouting
When I first came to Lagos everything the conductors said sounded like Greek to my untrained and Lagos inappropriate ears but now I can make out the places they mention like a pro.I struggle through the tens of people all rushing into the bus heading for Maryland.Successfully seated,I wipe the sweat off my brow with the back of my palm as I listen to the conductor’s familiar call
“make una hold your thirty thirty naira oh,me no get change!”.Inspite of the stink of fish and sweat filling the bus and the loud groaning sound of the engine,my mind drifts back to a day just like this;the day I came to Lagos.
I had just gotten my admission letter to the University of Lagos which was no surprise since my JAMB and WASSCE results were the best in the whole of Orumba South local government.Eventhough it was obvious that it was the end of my educational journey since my parents,a poor farmer and a petty trader were too poor to pay for even the cheapest tertiary institution in Anambra state,I was hopeful.I had written severally to my mother’s brother,uncle Chima in Lagos concerning the possibility of me coming to stay with him and of him sponsoring my university education and he finally replied with a letter saying that he would be coming to the village that weekend.After waiting all week with baited breath,I watched his car pull up in front of our practically destroyed house and my heart leaped for joy when he told me I would be leaving for Lagos with him the very next day.The next day bright and early,after my parents hugged me and prayed for me for what seemed to be like eternity,we were off.Uncle Chima was a quick driver and we arrived in Lagos just before the sun went down.I remember staring out of the window in awe as I watched a seemingly impossible amount of people and cars breeze by.As the hawkers shouted ‘gala’,’pure water’,’la casera’,I shook my head and smiled at each one in amazement and they all peered at me suspiciously and said things to me in Yoruba which sounded so foreign,so magical to my ears.The bright lights,the voices,the people,the buildings;Lagos seemed like heaven to me that day,the place where dreams came true!If only it had turned out to be so…
I am brought back to reality as I see with my peripheral vision that the bus is about to pass my bustop.
‘Mr Biggs bustop o wa oh!’ I scream.
‘You dey sleep before?’ the conductor hisses at me as the bus slows but does not come to a stop.I jump out of the moving vehicle,this is a skill I have perfected in my 6 month stay in Lagos.I begin to walk briskly down the street to the house fully aware of the area boys lurking in the corners.
As I get to uncle Chima’s house,I open the gate and run quickly to our generator with the keg of fuel I’ve just bought.I pour in the fuel and pull the rope on the generator and after 3 or so energy draining tries,it jerks to life and I switch over from NEPA to generator and go in as I see signs of electricity.It used to take me longer to carry out this routine but NEPA’s consistency in depriving us of power has made me perfect in yet another ‘Lagosian’ skill.I run upstairs to our appartment of the 6th floor and as I step through the door,a heavy hand lands sharply on my face and I stagger a bit before I regain balance.my hand is now on my burning cheek as I look up and see that it is aunty Ify,uncle Chima’s wife who hit me accross the face.
“Where were you,ehn?!my friend where are you coming from?!” she screams.
“Aunty you know there is fuel scarcity so I had to go to 5 different filling stations before I got the little fuel I put in the gen” I say.
“Mcheeew!my friend get into the kitchen and start pounding the yam for dinner,take Nonso with you”..I take the screaming baby and as I start to walk to the kitchen,she shouts
“hey Ngozi where is my change”.I hand her the 200 naira.
“What is this?!why is it 200 naira?!” She inquires loudly like a cobra ready to attack.
“Aunty I took a bus because the place where I bought the fuel was very far” I say in mouse-like whispers.
“Idiot!Anu!onye ara!you could not walk gbo?!is it your foolish father that worked for the money?!go and pound that yam before I descend on you!mbeke!”.I sprint to the kitchen,strap Nonso on my back and pound as quickly and as perfectly as I can;I serve the food and take it to aunty Ify in her room.she takes one look at the food and says
“give it to the dog”.
I blink severally
“ehn?!” I manage to say.
“Idiot are you deaf,give it to Lucky.I am not hungry!better don’t eat it because if you do,I will kill you this night.go and pour it in Lucky’s bowl.I’ll be watching u from the window”.I give Lucky the food that took all my remaining energy to prepare and he turns his nose up at it and runs away.
All the lights in the house are turned off now and everyone is asleep even Nonso eventhough it took me 2 hours to get him to sleep but I know that my duties for the day are not over.There’s a brief,soft rap on my door;it’s my last duty for the day.uncle Chima comes in,takes off his wrapper and mounts me.I don’t make any sound or movement,I just lie there and let him have his way.when he is done he says his usual ending note
“don’t worry oh nne,you will go to school very soon’ and he leaves to return again tomorrow night.
I’m fully convinced that I will never go to school.I cannot go back to the village because my parents will never believe that their only child’s only uncle and his wife turned her into a sex slave and a domestic servant.I cannot run away because I cannot survive out there on the cold streets of Lagos without shelter or food.Yet,I know I cannot stay here.
I get out of bed,walk to the balcony of the appartment and look down.I used to cry but the well from which my tears were drawn has long dried,I no longer feel the hurt or the pain.my body is an emotionless,soul-less empty shell.
Lagos was my future,the place that seemed so distant and so magical to me back in the village.The successful people say “Eko ile!Lagos my home.Eko o ni baje oh” but those at the bottom know that Lagos is a jungle,a dog-eat-dog world,a place of survival only for the fittest.The beggers on the streets,the hawkers,the area boys,the pick pockets,the burglers,the house helps,the yahoo yahoo boys know that Lagos is no fantasy land,Lagos is a battle field.I am sure that every mad person on the street,contrary to the belief that black magic is the cause of their madness,has run mad because of the soul draining,heart wrenching horror of surviving in Lagos.Lagos is the most populated state because people in the villages,people in other states,like me,keep running to Lagos to fulfill their goals,to live their dreams of being rich,of going to school,of starting businesses,of getting jobs;If only they knew.Lagos is not heaven,Lagos is not shangrila.I now know that though life is hard,the universe has made it harder in Lagos.
My life flashes before my eyes,the times when I was happy in the village.My parents will forgive me eventually I think as I jump.My soul-less body hits the ground.
Goodbye cruel world,goodbye Lagos