This post first appeared on my Facebook Timeline on the 16th of December, 2016.
Today, Esther came around to bid everyone goodbye. We hugged for long in the room, and I cried on her shoulders, betraying the vow I had made earlier that I wouldn’t let the tears come. She told me she’d miss me; I said I’d miss her more. When she was leaving, she asked me to see her off half the way to her place. It was evening. Although my first reply was reluctance, I agreed, and we set out to Ogba together. It was a fun trip. We took a keke; for half the ride were the only passengers. We talked loudly, laughed about a funny video we’d watched earlier, and for brief moments that now altogether seem like one incredibly long moment looked passionately into each other’s eyes.
When we finally parted at Ogba and I had to return home, it was with considerable sadness. But I let her go quickly, patting her gently on the shoulder once and turning my back on her. I walked right away, looking back only once, because I thought I’d heard my name.
I decided that taking a keke back to Ishaga would be unwise, given the lateness of the hour, and went instead for okada. Ogba to Ishaga with okada after 6pm is 400 naira (sometimes, if the rider is considerate, 350 naira) if you’d be the only passenger. If not, it’s 200 naira. I chose not. The okada man was fat and overactive. He wore a large white-turned-brown shirt under a dark-coloured one, dirty gloves, and a pair of dust-encrusted shades. I knew I didn’t like him but, as I was already astride his bike, getting off seemed too much of a bother – and in any case, my sorrow pinned me down like a paperweight. My dislike heightened when, as he called for another passenger (‘Ishaga-Obawole, one. Ishaga-Obawole, one person, going!’), his arms stretched, his finger showing 1, he tried to feel a passing lady’s breasts.
We were on one side of the road, beside a gutter, and so the passers-by were squeezed between cars on the right, and okadas on the left. My okadaman, who’d seen this lady coming and had realised he’d have to withdraw his outstretched hand to let her pass, decided all that was codswallop. His brilliant idea was to instead lower his hand a bit, right to the point where it’d be able to brush the passing lady’s chest, and spread out his palm. He would have been successful, but the lady ducked his hand, paused, and gave him a stern look. ‘You want to touch my breast abi?’ she hissed. He waved his hand, his way of apologising (pathetic, I think), and the lady hissed again then walked away. His colleagues in front of and behind us who had been watching chuckled. I groaned; it was decided: I was going to have problems with this guy.
But just as I was really considering getting off his bike, he moved forward in search of greener pastures, and in a minute another passenger joined us.
He rode carelessly, but I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was wondering what Chimamanda Adichie would say about what had happened earlier. Would she be outraged, or would she just smile and shake her head? Still, it wasn’t lost on me that she might pull up a very different reaction than I’d expect. A scene from Teju Cole’s Open City comes to mind: the narrator, Julius, a psychiatrist, pays a visit to an ill old mentor, Professor Saito, and tells him about a case he’s just had. A certain conservative Christian couple was having a hard time deciding to let their only son masturbate so that the doctors might freeze his sperm before a leukaemia treatment that might leave him infertile. They could not let their son commit what they called the sin of onanism, so in the end, they decide to risk not having grandchildren. The professor shakes his head after hearing this story and, in what I assume is a very different reply than Julius expected, says, ‘People choose, and they choose on behalf of others.’, then immediately changes the topic.
When I repossessed my body, I realised that the okadaman had taken a one-way road, facing oncoming traffic. I was enraged. A week ago, I would have hissed and rolled my eyes and kept shut, but after the article on corruption that I’d posted on Facebook a few days ago, that suddenly became impossible. Why you dey pass one way! I almost yelled; it took everything in me to control myself. Why you no pass that other road. Why one way! He said a bunch of crap, to which I gave appropriately rude replies, but when the other passenger took sides with me, he apologised and tried to lighten the mood. He got off the one-way road at the next opportunity he got.
We were soon stuck in traffic. Nowadays, on Lagos roads the pedestrian lane is a few inches higher than the motor lane, on both sides of the road, like a framing. Our okadaman, ever the evil genius, decided that that pedestrian lane was the perfect lane for him. Once again, I exploded. But he wasn’t having it this time: No dey folo me talk like that. No be because of una I dey do this? I no wan waste your time. You just like to dey complain. Shey if I no pass one way we go done reach here? Why you dey do like woman?
Needless to say, all this left me exasperated and I kept up my rant, but it was that last statement that vexed me most. He said I was acting like a woman! What the fuck! I thought. I couldn’t understand how anything I’d done or said was womanly. A few days ago, a thought had crossed my mind about how, as a man, one was expected to be a fearless risk-taker; to be willing to put your life in danger – none of which I was. Now, I don’t like to talk about Adichie much, but her speech We Should All Be Feminists came to my mind just then, and I thought: ‘Hell, if being a woman means wanting things to be done the right way, then I’d like to be a woman.’
I said a few words back to him; the other passenger patted me lightly on my shoulder and whispered, It’s okay. Everyone finally shut up, although for me it was with grudge. I made a note to write about it later when I got home. Perhaps a few people would learn something from my little encounter.