See What’s Coming


It was raining cats and dogs as Seyi made for the small Baba Ijebu shop at Alayabiagba close to the popular Boundary market in Ajegunle. He needed to win some money before he lost his crush Sikira to Odior. “Ungrateful bastard”, he thought to himself as he ran towards his favourite Baba Ijebu joint. Odior had been his best friend for 10years and his partner in trouble making. Together they shared a room at number 49 Uzor street. It was a face-me-and-face-you apartment with trouble just across the hall. Everyone in Boundary market knew Seyi and Odior and they had stories to prove it too. However Odior had never been too keen on work. He worked on days when it was inevitable and when Seyi didn’t make much “tax” from the commercial bus drivers and motorcycle riders popularly called Danfo drivers and okada riders respectively. As a popular Agbero, Seyi had the task of forcefully collecting money from Danfo and okada drivers and remitting to the park chairman. He had daily targets and only after those targets had been met can he keep some money from himself. There were days he had nothing left. Those days were rare and far between.

Seyi had been to the Baba Ijebu joint early that morning to play the numbers, hoping that day his tide would turn. Just the week before, Odior had won N50,000 and since then, Odior hadn’t been to the house. However Seyi had seen him a few times with Sikira going into Easy Bar and he knew that Odior had finally crossed the line he had been waiting years to cross. “Ungrateful bastard”, he said again. This time loudly to himself. He will show both of them on these streets, he promised himself.

***

You had left home this morning for the Apapa ports to clear some of your containers already there waiting for a pass from immigration. You needed to get your goods out and into the waiting hands of your eager customers. Obinna your clearing and forwarding agent despite his years in Lagos and deep understanding of Yoruba hadn’t been able to get it done. The immigration officers were proving difficult and nothing he said would make them budge. You needed to fix it yourself. An inconvenience of course, but the thought of losing substantial money like that was not something you would consider. Of course you knew the officers only wanted more money and you went with a few extra bundles. As your driver descended Eko bridge and headed towards Ijora, you noticed the slight shower of that morning had graduated into huge sleets of rain. “Not today”, you thought. Apapa was difficult enough without rain. Slowly your car descended Ijora bridge which became Marine bridge as you drew even closer to Apapa. You noticed the queue of parked trucks and tankers on one side of the road, the bridges included. The queue had started from Ojuelegba, you recalled. Your driver made a right towards Ajegunle to avoid the traffic of trucks and tankers on Marine bridge. He would make a turn just before Mobil depot and then a beeline for the ports. Just the thought of the turns and diversions was stressing you already. You just wanted to be out of there as fast as possible.

***

The rain had slowly ebbed. It had been two hours and you were just still approaching Mobil. A truck had tried to make a turn and had overturned right in the middle of the road; blocking your side of the road. Typical of Lagos, the Danfos had quickly found a way to cut into the other side of the road; openly flouting traffic laws. Ajegunle equalled den on unlawfulness so you weren’t all that surprised. Law enforcement officers looked on, clueless. What quickly became a solution suddenly became hell as traffic on the other side of the road soon became locked too. From the look of it, no one would be going anywhere soon. Passengers were already alighting from the commercial buses and trekking down the road towards Boundary bus stop. The crowd was overwhelming, unending. Who would have thought the slums housed such number of people? You told your driver it was time to leave, he needed to find a way out and back home. You would call Obinna and ask him to pay whatever was needed. You rolled down your windows slightly to assess the situation and just then you saw him. He didn’t see you yet but you saw him.

***

Seyi held on to his Baba Ijebu tickets as he downed a shot of paraga at Iya Rasaki’s. He stepped it down with the peppered Ponmo which made Iya Rasaki’s paraga popular with the boys at Boundary park. It didn’t matter that it was a N50 distance from the park itself. There was something about Iya Rasaki’s paraga and peppered Ponmo on a cold rainy day. The combination sent a spiral of warmth down your spine and left your brain at maximum capacity. And Iya Rasaki’s ponmo gave life on all kinds of levels. Seyi thought about Rashida, Iya Rasaki’s second child. The girl was not bad and he had seen how some of the boys described her with lustful looks in their eyes. He had even seen a few attempt to corner the girl but Iya Rasaki was always there to shield the girl. She just knew where to be and when. But Sikira was his real prize and he had let Odior beat him to it. He couldn’t believe it himself. Seyi had looked up just then to see you sitting in that car. He sat frozen in time. You hadn’t changed much, he thought as all the emotions he had kept at bay slowly began to hit him.

***

You saw the emotions run through his face. Recognition. Shock. Sadness. Pain. Anger. You saw his face as he fought the emotions for control. Just like his father, you thought.

***

Seyi remembered in detail. How years before you had told him to learn to take care of himself. How you wouldn’t be around much. How you needed to find his father’s people. And one day, he got home from school and found you gone. No note. No contact detail. The next day your sister had come for him. She had passed two years later and with no way to reach you, he had gathered what he could and left the house.

***

You looked at the man sitting across the road from your car. He reminded you of the man you loved. You had thought you’d be back in weeks with enough to take care of you and your son. Instead a few weeks had become months. You had begged your sister to keep taking care of your son till you could. Months had become years. Your sister had died and the boy had left home. You searched and searched but no one knew where he was. Now, there he sat across the road from you.

***

Seyi slowly rose to his feet. He looked across the road at you and you saw that big smile you remembered so well. You smiled back at him. Just then, he flagged down a bike and just as quickly, he was gone. There were no goodbyes.

***

End.

 

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Lost


That morning, Salewa logged in to her twitter account to find another tweet of a missing 16-year old girl. This time it wasn’t the usual stranger asking everyone to Retweet until the missing girl was found. This time it was her friend @niniayo who posted that his younger sister was missing. He had gone ahead to include his phone number for anyone who might have any information about the missing girl. Already the post boasts over 500 retweets and Salewa realized her 2-day hiatus made her miss the post. Lately it had been the norm – missing teenagers, kidnapped school children, residents killed in their houses. Salewa hurriedly took her mind off the recent happenings to concentrate on the post staring squarely at her through her phone screen. She did the needful by quoting the post “She’s my friend’s sister. If you’ve seen her please call this number”, posting it and then retweeting the original post by Niniayo. It was Tuesday morning.

The alarm on her phone subsequently went off. It was lecture time and she was still at home. She contemplated calling Niniayo first but decided not to. After all, there was a chance they’d meet in one of the classes holding that day. “Wasn’t Fiction class holding today?” She asked herself. Everyone called Niniayo “Ayo” because “Niniayo” sounded like a name one’s parents would give a daughter. Salewa hurriedly went into the bathroom she shared with about 50 other girls on the first floor of Queen Amina hostel at the University of Lagos. The day was going to be a tight one. There was still that quarrel to settle with Titi her best friend. Salewa had told Titi that her (Titi’s) boyfriend was cheating on her. The matter had led to a row and Titi’s boyfriend had accused Salewa of being lesbian who wanted Titi for herself. “Funny matter,” Salewa whispered to herself, smiling in that smug way of hers. She definitely was no lesbian, especially with her here-and-there relationship with Ayo. She and Ayo were not close enough to be called an item, but they were close enough for something to be brewing between them. However, Salewa sometimes gets the feeling she’s misreading signs from Ayo. “Time will tell”, she mused. Their friends knew they were just really good friends or worst case scenario, friends with benefits. She never bothered with what people said. There was class to attend and the thesis supervisor to meet after. There was also the school Library to visit as well.“One at a time”, Salewa said to herself as she headed out of the bathroom to get ready for school and face the business of the day.
*******************************************************
“How long are we supposed to keep her?” Awele heard the-man-with-the-slur ask. By now she knew there were three of them and she’d come to identify them by their voices. The men never call each other by name when with her. There was man-with-the-slur, man-that-stammers and man-with-the-calm-voice. Of the three, man-with-the-calm-voice scares her the most. Something tells her behind the calm is a devil she wouldn’t like to meet. Awele has been held for so long now that she could have lost count by a few days. However the rise and set of the sun which she peeped through her not-too-tight blindfold helped her keep count. It’s been no more than three days.

Awele knew Ayo would be blaming himself right now. She was supposed to wait for him to get back from class the day she was taken so he could drop her off at boarding school but Awele had wanted to see the latest Spiderman movie at the nearby Ikeja City Mall. She knew Ayo would never let them watch it, he despised Spiderman. Ayo’s said there was nothing unique about Peter Parker. That he was just a science experiment that bit into the wrong hands. Literally. And as a rule in the house, Awele was never to go anywhere without Ayo. She could not bear going back to Queen C, the nickname for the prestigious Queen’s College situated at the heart of Yaba, to tell her friends that she hadn’t yet seen Peter Parker’s latest antics. It would only confirm everything they think of her –Daddy’s girl.

So immediately Ayo had left for class that day, Awele had snuck out of the house and joined a cab from GRA to City Mall. She had done it several times with Ayo she could have done it so many times in the past by herself. But that was the first time she will be doing it.
************************************************************
Ayo was shouting at Charles in front of the faculty – something about grown men acting and talking like women. He kept shouting at the poor guy who stood bewildered at the rage. Everyone knew Ayo had been temperamental since his sister went missing. There was a bond between Ayo and Awele which many do not yet understand. Not even their parents. So his mood was explainable. But why Charles?
************************************************************
Mr. and Mrs. Ofure had been with the police trying to find their missing girl while their home was swamped with sympathizers. Ayo stayed away from home more, avoiding the pitiful glances of sympathizers especially with the continued absence of his missing sister. On one of such days, Mrs. Ofure had walked into Awele’s room to ensure it was in order. She wanted to stay connected to her child. She walked in and found a couple of lipstick stains on the dresser as if someone had left them there in a hurry. She looked around the house hoping in her heart that the girl had somehow returned home. The lipstick stains. She wondered at the lipstick stains.
*************************************************************
“Hiya! Thi-th-this world dooooon spoil o. Wha-wha-wha-what is-this world co-co-ming to?” Awele heard the man-that-stammers say to man-the-calm-voice.
“How caaaaa-an man be slee-slee-slee-slee-ping with man, Ngwanu?” He continued. “Tuuuuu-tu-fiakwa”. Just the, music credit from Fox’s Empire series filtered in through the room where Awele was being held. She instinctively knew that whatever man-that-stammers was about, Jamal Lyon was right at the centre.
“Thiiiiiis Oyibo peo-eo-ple dey ma-ma-mad I swearrrr. H-ha-how pikin go for front of hiiim Pa-pa-pa talk say na-na man li-li-like am him dey like kp-kp-kpansh? I tr-trust my Papa. Pa-pa-pa…”

Shhh”, man-with-calm-voice cuts in in that commanding tone that lets you know who’s in charge.

“Guy abeg”, man-that-stammers retorted. “I-i-i-magine say for that yaaaaa vil-lage, your wife tell you say sh-sh-she born man. As in ma-ma-man wey strong, man wey-wey be say if your wa-wife born as first pi-pi-pikin, other men go-go-go greet you Twa-le! Say-say you do-do-do well. Ma-make that man com-co-come say na fe-fellow man e wan-wan dey follow”.

“But na true dis guy talk”, says the man-with-a-slur. “Our people talk say pikin wey go be man, na from how him stretch him small manhood we go take know. This kain one wey dey wear girl cloth, e don already dey show where him manhood dey.”

Again the man-with-calm-voice said, “pikin no go bad sote we go carry am give lion chop. As pikin don say na man im like nko? Nna, no be that one we come do for here. After all, this thing na film”

As snippets of the conversations got to Awele, she again remembered Ayo. As a child, she always went in search of the next toy to play with – from Barbie Dolls to neighbours’ children to classmates. She always wanted more playmates. Being the only girl, she even begged her parents for a sister but their parents already had a plan. They would not have more than 2 children. And Ayo already came first. Awele didn’t mind that. Only that sometimes, she wished Ayo was a girl so they could both bond in a way only sisters could.
*************************************************************
It’s been three days since Awele went missing. Whenever Ayo had been home, he’d go straight Ayo to Awele’s room but no one knew. He missed Awele greatly and holidays when they could both hang-out were his best. Awele was a great listener and very intuitive. She understood him and could almost read his mind. Every minute with his little sister felt like she was put in the family to be his guardian. Even though she was younger, sometimes Ayo felt she helped him keep his sanity amidst all the expectations their father heaped on him. When they were younger, their father had put him in boarding school just because he was playing dress up with Awele and had dressed up as a girl. He didn’t understand it. It was innocent child’s play. Ayo knew how deeply Awele wanted a sister and how much their parents wished he were a girl, their-mother-come-back, they’d mentioned countless times before. So in that one instant, he thought to himself, “let me be a girl just this once. Let me be her sister just this once”. It was an instant that changed everything.

Ayo had pleaded with their father to let him remain at his former school and promised never to dress up as a girl again. Their father had been adamant. His reason: Ayo was supposed to be the elder. Why should an elder dress like a girl to make his sister happy?
Ayo had resumed his new school a sullen child. Gone was the care-free Ayo. Awele became his only connection to the life he was once a central part of and only when he was with her would anyone find a smile on his face. By the time she was completing her primary education, Ayo was getting ready for his senior secondary education.

Not long after, she had been enrolled into Queen’s College which was a far distance from his secondary school. He realized he could no longer sneak around to see her in school as he had done in her primary school. But his admission into the University of Lagos changed that. It meant he could always stop at QC to see Awele.

Then Ayo met Salewa and he could see everything his sister was and more. And again a lot changed with him. He had found someone outside his sister who could understand him. Someone who didn’t have to wait for him to say anything to know what he was thinking. They were really good friends, at least that was the front they kept among their other friends. However only he and Salewa knew there were sparks in there somewhere. His friendship with Salewa changed a lot of things. She knew he was carefree but the expectations from his father put pressure on him and on some days his smiles were far. But with her and Awele, it was easier for him to laugh.

No one knew he and Salewa were more than friends. A lot of times, he had overheard friends and class mates saying that Salewa was a lesbian and that the only man they ever saw her with was Ayo. He always laughed when whispers like that came to him. Salewa was a voracious lover. He knew that for sure. This time, a big smile came to him. It was an easy laugh. He let it out just as easily.
His mind went back to another time. He was nine. He had returned from playing football at the field just opposite their home when he overhead his mother speaking with his father.

“You know Osaron I had wished Ayo was a girl when I first held him. I so wanted Mama to come back to us.”
“Our mother returned to us, Omo”, he replied. “She only came as a boy”.
“If he were mother, she wouldn’t come as a boy”, she replied.
“He is such a handsome boy. I think we should have given him a name of his own, instead of imposing Mother’s on him”, his father affirmed.
“I agree, we should”, his mother replied as if reading her husband’s mind.
It all made sense to Ayo then. The jokes Ayo’s classmates made of his name. How they said it was a girl’s name. They made fun of him. And one day, when he had had enough, he changed the name on his notebook to just “Ayo” and he had punched anyone in the face who so much as snickered behind his back. But that day, he realized he was not the child his parents wanted. They wanted their mother back and he came. He was supposed to be a girl.

A week later, he had found Awele crying from her favourite toy missing an arm. In no time at all, he had her laughing again. Their father had walked in on them. “Abomination”, he had shouted as he looked disdainfully at Ayo who was in one of their mother’s clothes which they had both made into a cropped top over his chest. Two weeks later Ayo was on his way to King’s College and it was the last time Ayo ever played dress up.
************************************************************
It’s been two weeks since Awele went missing. Four days since she was put on a bus along with 12 other girls to begin their trip to Europe. She had been sold to a prostitution ring and her new buyers will hear nothing of calling her parents for a ransom. She would work her way to freedom, they had decided.

For Ayo, it’s equally been two weeks. Two weeks since he decided, until Awele returned, he would be the daughter their parents had always wanted. The daughter Awele would have been if she was home. Mr. Ofure had denounced him immediately, refusing to habour an abomination in his home. “No son of mine will live in my home a girl”, he had announced furiously. Their mother had been inconsolable.

Salewa had gone back to Twitter and posted “My boyfriend is now a girl. His sister is still missing. My bad, make that “her””. Already she boasts of over 10,000 retweets with even more mentions and replies. Retweets are still counting.

Written by Taiwo Odumala
©July 2017

Reunited (A Bankole Banjo short story)


“Don’t ever tell me goodbye again,” she said, tears clouding her unusually bright eyes.

 

“I won’t. I promise. I just really couldn’t take your indecision any more.” He responded with a smooth smile, his hands smoothening her wig. They were locked in the office meeting room, making up for lost time.

 

They had been hired by the bank on the same day, same grade level. While he worked in Risk Management, she was in the Legal department. They had met at the canteen one afternoon and her bright smile had arrested him. There was something about a lady with a toothy smile that melted his heart. He watched her every move as she queued to be served while he, already served, pretended to be busy with his bowl of amala and gbegiri. He wished he had ordered something appropriate. How would she feel seeing him battle a mountain of amala and gbegiri wearing a suit and a tie. “This life ehn,” he sighed.

 

“Can I sit?” He heard someone say just as he balanced a morsel of amala plastered with gbegiri. He looked up, morsel suspended, mouth open, to see the babe with the toothy smile. Embarrassment washed over him as he slowly dropped the morsel. He cleared his throat and responded: “Yes, you can.”

 

She sat with an effusive ‘thank you’. He took a side glance at her plate knowing what to expect. But he was wrong. Sitting like Olumo was amala dudu and surrounding it like Ogun river was gbegiri with a team on ponmo for company. Their eyes met. And she smiled again.

 

That was when he knew he was going to be close to her.

 

“My name is Gbenga,” he whispered.

“I am Uzo,” she responded.

“Ibo?”

“No. Delta.”

“Huh? Why…” he wanted to refer to the amala but she cut him short.

“My mum is from Ibadan. She thinks amala is the food of the gods.”

“Hmmmnnn. I believe her you know.”

“You do?”

He nodded and answered: “I am witnessing a goddess eat a bowl of amala right now…”

She smiled again. And Gbenga felt something kick in his tummy. He knew that sign too well…

 

***

 

They started dating three days later. Gbenga couldn’t get over her sense of humour and open-mindedness. She was everything he wanted in a woman. He thanked his stars he took the job when the offer came. Having tried unsuccessfully to get into AxaMansard where he knew he would get a higher position as a Risk Manager, the bank was his last resort.

 

Now the bank has brought him joy from the South. He was going to keep her. Forever.

 

Until Femi happened.

 

***

 

Femi was the debonair new Head of Legal. He was appointed two weeks after the erstwhile Unit Head left for the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

 

All the ladies adored Femi. He was dark like a bottle Of Guinness and tall like Idris Elba. And his command of the English language impressed every one. Someone said he spoke like he was born speaking. No one knew much about him beyond his professional interests. But everyone agreed he was a looker.

 

Uzo liked him the very first time. It was a harmless adoration that quickly developed into more. Soon, working late became the order of the day. If it was not Board papers, it would be some Relationship Manager’s pending case. While the late night work seemed official, many observed that it soon became a Femi and Uzo affair. Only the two of them of the 8 lawyers and legal assistants worked late.

 

The rumour mill started gradually. And by the time it got into overdrive, Gbenga knew a risk was brewing. The duo no longer met at lunch nor saw movies together Friday nights.

 

“Ol’ boy, Uzo don dey give that Femi boy toto,” Tobi, the bulky Relationship Manager who knew about them told Gbenga one night out. “If you think say na work dem dey do, you be number one fool. I even hear say dem go watch Black Panther together for Circle Mall.”

 

“Black Panther?” Gbenga repeated. Was it not the movie they’d been meaning to see for some three weeks only for her to say she was no longer interested?

 

“Baba, ja’ra e! You have to do something,” Tobi concluded.

 

“But guy, are you sure of this?” Gbenga asked, hoping it wasn’t all true.

 

“Ok o. Dey ask me foolish question. Dey there s’ogbo?” Tobi countered as he reached for his bottle of Trophy.

 

Gbenga would confront Uzo with the accusations. She would flare up like a fire disaster. He would beg her to forgive his indiscretion. She would walk out on him.

 

That was when he knew he had to do something.

 

***

 

“Baba o! Irunmole to n sise ni Bank. Iwin ti o need make-up. Okunrin ti o we to n dan. Eyan Anthony Joshua. Imule Tobesco, alaanu awon boys!”

 

The street boys hailed Gbenga as he galloped into the street, 8 bottles of Trophy coursing through his system.

 

Gbenga chuckled despite his grief. He had stayed out late with Tobi again with Uzo dominating discourse. He knew he needed to do something. But what exactly, he doesn’t know.

 

“Baba e da wa loun, e ki n se bayi,” Rasaki, the one with the bit-off ear hustled him.

 

“Rasky, eni o da. Maa ri eyin boys later,” Gbenga responded. Rasaki would hear none of it. Gbenga was their sure guy. Every other evening, he would drop money with Iya Codeine, the woman who sells all manner of drinks in a big brown earthen bowl, to sell stuff for the boys. He was loved and respected by the street. He was street-credible.

 

“Baba, e ma wo pe awa o kawe o. Ki lon bother yin? E je ka gbo.”

 

Lacking the will to shrug Rasaki off, he told him everything.

 

Shockingly, Rasaki had a plan; one so fitting Gbenga dipped his hand in his wallet and bought off the remaining skuchies on sale.

 

He went home feeling better. But first, he had to break it all up with Uzo. He opened his WhatsApp and began typing:

 

Sometimes we happen on life

And think, is this it?

 

Life is never fair

Will never be in a thousand years

But we owe it to us

To live. For self. For love. For joy.

Still we forget

Indeed we lose it all

Trying to please

Those who would never matter

 

But life goes on.

In our choices. And options.

In our troubles. And triumphs.

In love found in awkward places

And emotions battled to death

 

I live. For life.

 

I love. For Uzo.

I move on. For Gbenga.

 

 

Goodbye.

 

***

 

Uzo never acknowledged his best effort at poetry. He knew she had read it but to ignore his creativity hurts.

 

He moved on, hoping Rasaki will pull through with his plans. He was tired of the drama and the boys gist. He just wanted his babe back to her senses.

 

It took three days for it to happen.

 

No one saw anything. Not even the car park security. A passer-by heard screams coming from the direction of the car park. But this is Lagos: you must mind your own business.

 

Daybreak brought out the gist.

 

A group of four faceless guys had ambushed Femi as he opened his car. They had redesigned his face with blows and what-nots. Rumour has it his five front teeth up and down were removed and packed into his suit pocket.

 

For one week, Femi was absent at work. Uzo was distraught. The entire office was shocked. Security was beefed up at the car park to avert future occurrence. But there would be no future occurrence.

 

When Femi resumed, he spotted dark shades and his face had uneven ridges like a pawpaw. He spoke little and clenched what looked like unusually whiter teeth when he spoke. Everyone noticed he suddenly avoided Uzo like death.

 

They asked him what happened. It was an accident, he said. He had run into a wall. The lie was whiter than hissop but no one bothered to probe further.

 

***

 

“Promise you won’t say goodbye again?” Uzo asked again.

 

Gbenga smiled this time. He was not going to promise anything. He would take things one day at a time.

 

He drew her closer and kissed her forehead.

 

“I’m glad to have you back,” he whispered.

 

***

 

Iya Codeine’s was bubbling with guys when Gbenga was returning from work. As the boys sighted him, they all stood in unison, raised both hands and saluted.

 

“Baba o! Agbalagba oye, ekun oko Uzo. Your head dey there.” They chanted as if rehearsed.

 

Gbenga smiled and waved. Sometimes, the street fights for its own.

 

***

 

The End.

The Driving Test


I don’t like tests. Don’t get me wrong, I pass them. But I don’t like them. Reason? How does my answering them correctly indicate that I really know what I know? How do 5 sets of questions determine that I have really learnt what I was meant to over a period of time? What if I didn’t actually know the answers and only crammed them for the purpose of passing the test? I digress.

So about a week ago, I carried out a test of my own. Some kind of survey – let’s call it a driving test. It started when I mentioned in a Whatsapp status that I find it weird that when I’m driving on expressways linking two or more states, I rarely find women behind the wheel. But the moment I get into a state, women crop up almost one out of every two cars. So I carried out a survey – 12 women responded, all between ages Twenty-five and Forty-five. Four of those Twelve have been driving less than three years. Only one doesn’t own a car or drive. Only one doesn’t own a car but drives. Their reason, fear – fear of trucks and tankers, fear of bad roads, fear of car breaking down with no help coming, fear of commercial drivers. Truth be told, those Danfos and trucks can put the fear of God in somebody especially when they swerve to your lane and start saying “wo egbe e o” (watch your side o) while simultaneously hitting the side of their bus/trucks or just full out blaring their horns. But it’s my lane now, you think to yourself. Before you know it, they are right ahead of you threatening another car to wo-egbe-e-o as they move to take that space too. They are not okay walahi!

Picture this.
My friend Biona *not real name was heading to Surulere sometime ago. She prides herself on being street and strong-headed – one of those I-no-go-gree people. But the moment a truck blares its horn or she sees a trailer coming at full speed behind her, gra-gra don end. She swerves into the exit lane and parks the car. Then she waits an extra three to five minutes after the truck has gone to continue her journey.
***

The first time I stepped behind the wheel of a car was in Sagamu at one secondary school at High Court road. The next time I stepped behind a wheel was on Oda Road in Akure. My driving school instructor, let’s call him Baba, cramped 4 of us inside the car and gave us lessons while we all took turns to drive. Just before the roundabout towards Governor’s office, I was to exit the roundabout at the second turning and make my way towards a side road leading to Ijoka road. I nearly climbed the curb. My mistake was trying to figure out how to switch gears and still shuttle between brakes and clutch and the throttle. I looked down. Next thing, I was on the receiving end of a “Towa”. It was a hot slap that landed on the back of my neck. Anger rose up in me and tears sprang from the pain. I nearly retorted then I realized any comment I made at that time would have me “being referred home”. i.e. I would be regarded as a person with no home training for talking back or shouting at an elder. I held my tongue. Ah! The effort.

Back at the driving school, Baba said in Yoruba: A car is not something you pose with. It is a machine. It can kill. It requires a lot of responsibility – to you, to other road users, to the car. And one thing you don’t want to do when you drive is be afraid. You must have no fear when you handle a car. You must not panic. Behind the wheel, you must pack up your fears and throw them out.

Several times while living in Apapa, I snuck under a parked truck waiting for another truck to pass. Whenever that happened which was frequently, I was afraid. Every time I looked around me and all I saw was a sea of parked and moving 9ft 6inches high trucks and trailers, I almost pissed in my seat. So I psyched myself out of those fears. So a trailer is honking like a mad man. Ehn he should fly now. He sha won’t climb over me. Okay, Danfo is flashing lights behind me. Eh yah! He’ll wait noni.

I can hear your thoughts right now; this one wants to die o, you’re thinking. Truth be told, if you parked every time a trailer or Danfo blares at you, when will you ever get to where you’re going?
Let’s go back to my test.

Here’s the thing: no matter what, the fears will always be there. Who says we can’t do things afraid? What’s life without fears, without risks and without the strength to push them aside? The Greatest Showman has something to say – comfort is the enemy of progress. So for now I’ll go on in the world, in hope that one day, one woman will join me in driving on the expressways. And that woman will become ten women. And ten will become hundred until one day I can drive on the expressway and not have people look at me like I have the wrong head on my body.

Selah!

The Boy Almajiri


Yanju’s day started with his bicycle. He rode it all the way to Ilupeju where his mother owns a small kiosk. He helped her get ready everyday before he goes to school. Today was no different. As he rode in the early morning traffic, he steered expertly away from motorists most of whom were already familiar with the boy as he pedalled, sharing a wave here and another there. His cream-coloured school shirt already taking the colour of the sand gathered on the side of the road.

***

Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!..

It was the call to prayer from the main mosque loudly breaking the silence of dawn as Ahmed grudgingly roused from sleep. The night before, Alfa had decided the boys weren’t bringing in enough for their keep. He had threatened to hand over a handful of them to Alhaji Sule if they didn’t come back to the school at the end of the day with enough money for 3 days’ upkeep. Ahmed had been scared. It was open secret among the boys that Alhaji Sule used boys as a man would use a female. The boys who had been unlucky enough to experience it had not remained the same ever since. Something was just off about them, something Ahmed couldn’t exactly put into words.

Ahmed was one of the older boys in the Goje Arabic school. With the announcement, he had gathered a few of his friends and some of the more industrious younger boys and one by one, they had disappeared into the famous Suleja market. The Sun had risen with intensity. Sweat was soon streaming down their backs and it wasn’t even 7:30 a.m yet. They had agreed to start there at the market. Begging, harassing, threatening and if it came down to it, stealing. Anything so long as they escaped Alhaji Sule. Alfa had told them it was haram to steal. But didn’t Alfa also say Allah’s curse is on the man who commits adultery? Perhaps it’s not adultery if it’s a man and another man doing it.

“Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed whispered. He didn’t want to commit sin with his thoughts. Thoughts of going against Allah’s will must be a sin. Allah sees our thoughts. “Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed said again, this time loudly.

*****
Yanju soon noticed the sky. The Sun which had been fierce earlier that morning was gradually receding behind a film of clouds in the distance. It was going to rain. He pedalled at twice his prior rate. He needed to get to the kiosk and then, school before the rain poured. The wind was gathering.

******

The Goje boys were having the time of their lives in Suleja market. While walking through the throng of shopping crowd, Ahmed had pushed a woman mindlessly . The woman had turned around sharply and confronted him. It was obvious she wasn’t from around. Her uncovered hair and caramel-coloured skin stood her out like a sore thumb. How dare she confront him? Wasn’t she supposed to lower her gaze? If she had would she have known it was he who pushed her?

The ruckus had grown fast. Like wildfire. The boys had gathered round the woman and begun taunting her. A crowd was looking. The woman looked angry and kept speaking in that language Ahmed had heard Alfa speak sparingly with visitors. She kept pointing fingers in his face as the taunting continued. But something happened with her face – a dawning. Soon Ahmed saw her running so fast as if chased by a ghost, out of the market. She had dropped her purse in the hurry. It wasn’t stealing if the owner dropped the purse. Or was it? Ahmed quickly picked it up before any of the other boys found it. He counted 3 One Thousand Naira Notes. That’s the largest amount he had ever held in his hands. Alfa would be really proud.

****

The rain was pouring now in torrents. ‘Yanju had found a shelter to wait the rain out. the shop looked like its owner hadn’t come around that morning. ‘Yanju was late for school. He could tell by the dwindling number of cars on the road. Earlier in the mornings meant more traffic. The later in the day it gets, the fewer the vehicles to be seen, until the early or late afternoons when it’s rush-hour again.

****

“Ahmed”, Danjuma called out as Ahmed ran to cross the road…

****

‘Yanju heard a voice call out. Thunder rumbled as he heard the name “Ahmed”. The voice came from very close to him, like the caller was standing right beside him. Yanju looked around to see if someone else was hiding in the shed. But he was alone. Yet he had heard the voice loud and clear. It was an unfamiliar voice, yet it sounded familiar. And he had heard it loud and clear. He saw the boy Ahmed as he made to cross a road. The road was strangely unfamiliar. Thunder struck this time. He saw so many boys on the road, all dressed in tattered clothes, which they had obviously outgrown. They all held out a bowl, approaching people he did not know. Except the boy called Ahmed. He didn’t look any different from thing e rest. Only he had no bowl in his hand…

****

Ahmed told Danjuma about his early morning find with excitement in his eyes and together they went to find food. The money was enough to buy both of them a week with Alfa. Ahmed could not stop talking about his find. the boys looked in envy at the huge fortune that had smiled on Ahmed.

****

The rain was subsiding. Yanju decided to wait a few more minutes before he continued on his way to school. Thunder struck again.

Some boys gathered round the boy. He saw them make for his pocket. He saw the boy try to fight. Another boy was with him. Fighting. Yanju saw nothing else. The group of boys started walking away. Behind them, two boys stayed unmoving.

He recognized the boy Ahmed. A piece of paper flew through the wind. It was a Thousand Naira note. The two boys held something in their hands. A Thousand Naira each. The rain started again.

****

Used (A Bankole Banjo short story)


 

The SMS was three words long: I am pregnant.

 

You blinked twice, hoping your eyes would un-see what it had seen. But no, the words stood desolate on your phone screen.

 

Pregnant? How?

 

You sat back and closed your eyes. You recalled that afternoon you met her at Eko Hotel roundabout. You had closed early and was rushing to the Mainland when you saw her about to enter a red Camry. A closer look at the car told you it was a Uber. You double-parked and requested to take her wherever she was going. She was not going to enter until you promised to take her right to her doorstep, wherever that might be. While she pondered your offer, you quickly got down, palmed two crisp one thousand naira notes to the driver and opened her door.

 

Fast-forward three months and you guys had become an item.

Another month later, the SMS dropped, like unwanted fart at a high profile gathering.

 

I am pregnant.

 

“This is trouble mehn,” you muttered as your brain shifted into drive. “This cannot be, no. I just can’t…”

 

The opening beats of KSA’s Merciful God, which had been your ringtone since forever, broke into your thoughts. It was her.

 

“Hey baby,” her voice filtered through the earpiece.

 

“I got your message,” you responded, not bothering with any form of affection. “Why did you let that happen?”

 

Silence was the response you got.

 

“I am talking to you, don’t play deaf and dumb on me now,” you chastised, anger welling up somewhere inside you.

 

The line went dead. She had cut the call.

 

You called back. Again and again. She would not pick. Indeed she never picked nor responded to your many text messages. You became worried as the days gone by. Her line always connected but she never picked. The one time you used a new line to call her, she dropped the call immediately she heard your voice.

 

You went to her office, they told you she had resigned. You began frequenting her various fun places hoping you’d run into her.  You never did.

Every day, you sent a text. Each day, she kept mum on you.

 

Soon you began realising your foolishness. Were you not the one who had professed love tp her at various times? Were you not the one who refused condoms each time you got in the sack with her? Were you not the one who always told her how much you wanted her in your life?

 

Four months after she went blank on you, four months into your misery, you finally gave up.on looking for her. You deleted her number and the long list of unreplied messages on your phone. You moved on. You even impressed on your boss to transfer you to the Ikeja branch of your  office: passing Eko Hotel roundabout every day had become depressing.

 

Ikeja brought back your mojo. The transformation of Opebi, where your office is located, from an idyllic cosmopolis at daytime to a sprawling red light zone at night intrigued you. You registered at one of the high profile strip joints on there so you never have to hustle nor sit in the popular side like everyone else. You were VIP. In weeks, your memory of her faded in the daily lap dances and the weekly executive sessions with the ladies in the dimly lit private rooms.

 

Until that Monday morning.

 

You had woken up with a fever and general debility. Work was not an option. You called in sick and called a Taxify to take you to the hospital. You struggled out of bed when the cab called to say he was around. At the hospital, you went through the motions of the vitals and waited to see the doctor.

 

That was when she walked in, with a man in tow.

 

Your fever disappeared when you saw her with a visible pregnancy. You stood up so she could see you. When she did, she barely broke stride. Instead, she walked on to the ante-natal session her arm linking the man’s. She ignored you like a discarded underwear.

 

You were not going to take this lying low. After all, that was your baby she was carrying. So you waited. Even when it was your turn to see the doctor, you passed it up and allowed those after you go see him. You were not going to miss her on her way back.

 

She saw you first and smiled. Her smile disarmed you but you manned up and stood to meet her.

 

“Hi, how are you?” she asked stretching her hand for a handshake.

 

“ I, I am fine,” you stammered.

 

“Meet my husband of 4 years, Steve, he is just back from his PhD studies in the UK,” she introduced the man beside her. “Baby, meet my friend, the one I told you about that worked with the IT firm on Ligali Ayorinde.”

 

Steve offered a semblance of a smile and enclosed your hand in a firm grip of a handshake. While she did the introductions, your head began to spin like a helicopter rotor.

 

Husband of four years? PhD studies in UK? What is going on?

 

“I’ll see you later,” you heard her say as the headache and fever returned in a blast.

 

The text was sent almost 6 months ago. Three weeks before then, she had gone to the UK on vacation, she had said. When she came back, you tried to sleep with her again but she refused all your attempts. Then she sent the text.

 

It all made sense now. She had gotten pregnant in the UK. For him. And the text and subsequent call was for her to explain to you. But you had jumped the gun. She had decided to stay away from you. For obvious reasons.

 

You turned in time to see them leave the hospital arm in arm, like teenage lovers. There and then you got it. You were used, the foolish victim of a lonely wife.

 

***

 

The End

A Stupid Play


Lights. We see a dilapidated building. Completely run down. We see two men, seemingly brothers, in clothes that have had their fair share of washing. They are outside on a long bench gazing at nothing in particular. A sheet overhanging the roof seems the only cover outside the building providing shade. The older one lies on his back on the bench, leaving his brother just enough space for his butt.

Ilujinmi:  I think it’s going to rain today
Ibidun:   Rain. Have you seen this sun? It’s in its full glory it burns
Ilujinmi: Oh that! It’s just playing. (Slight pause) you know this is the sun for snakes. They can shed their skins and grow bigger.
Ibidun:   I found a snake yesterday. I was hoping it swallowed a house.
Ilujinmi: We sure need a house right now.
Ibidun:    Imagine the furnishing. Maybe every year we’ll get new upholstery like at the big rock
Ilujinmi: You dream too big (heavy silence)
Ibidun:    Kabiyesi crowned a new Iyalode yesterday. Bottles everywhere. Food packs too. Everything a good party should be. (Silence) you should have seen her. There is no doubt she is Iyalode. The Gele spoke its own language. (Slight pause) you know, you sleep too much
Ilujinmi:  (Unbothered) hope you had a good look. It will be a while before the next one.
Ibidun:    (Moves to get up) get up let’s fix this sheet.
Ilujinmi:   What’s the point? It’s just going to go with the next rain
Ibidun:    Come on. (Ilujinmi reluctantly gets up. Thunder rumbles)

Ibidun:    (Sits back down) oh well, looks like it’s going to rain afterall. Perhaps when the rain stops…
Ilujinmi:  It’s going to take the roof
Ibidun:    Well, maybe then we’ll get around to buying that new one we’ve been talking about.

They go inside. Lights fade. Light comes back on. Ilujinmi steps back out to take the bench he’s been sleeping on. He goes inside. Lights fade.

Moments from my Growing Years (1)


“You will kill me today”, I cried as I continued to slap the hands of a boy who wouldn’t stop beating me. I was in JS1 and he was in my class too. He was at least 3years older and much bigger. I was a typical smallie in secondary school which meant everyone was much bigger than I was. And there I was, caught in a case of beat-me-I-beat-you.

I’ll get back to this incident in a bit.

One of the things I learnt in various literature classes is that a writer is an embodiment of experiences and his society; all of which must come to bear on his writing. I hated Shakespeare. He wasn’t an easy read especially as G.C.E/WAEC made him a mandatory one. My first meeting with Shakespeare was in SS2 when I was studying for G.C.E. Before that, I had an almost non-existent relationship with Literature. Although I had spent the last 2 years in Arts class, we didn’t have a Literature teacher. So imagine being thrust with a book written in 15th century English. Oh my God! I struggled. Then I took that G.C.E, the first of 3 I’d eventually write. We were to discuss a scene from Merchant of Venice. How do I explain something I didn’t understand? Needless to say, I failed that paper overwhelmingly.

I have been in a lot of literature classes since then. Not enough, but a lot. I realized early enough that characters are not that different from real life. Their choices are influenced by the culture, society and age they live. In one word, nurture.

The experiences that shaped me happened mostly in Secondary school and University. I attended a notorious secondary school in Lagos state – Trinity Secondary School, Olodi-Apapa. At the time, it was a government school acquired from the Mission. I was one of the smallest and youngest in class. We had lots of teachers but the classes were overcrowded. We students didn’t make things easy either. We were noisy, we were loud. We were easily distracted. We fought at the slightest opportunity. So when teachers came to class, it was either to give notes to the class captain who then proceeded to copy to the board for the rest of us or to give tests.

The school was all shades of trouble waiting to happen. But the real trouble began in 2003 when the government decided to return all Mission schools back to the Mission (I hope I’m right with the year). My school was one of those. School fees were introduced. That alone reduced the class by more than half as most couldn’t afford it. Teachers left, the school could no longer pay them. We were left with mostly mediocre teachers who didn’t care whether we got educated so long as they were paid. In essence, teachers left faster than you could say Dele and there were months we didn’t have subject teachers.

But let me go back to that JS1 experience at the beginning of this story. We’d had a test that day, just before break and I had covered my book to discourage anyone from spying. This boy was sitting right behind me and kept stretching his neck to see. After the test and during break, he asked why I covered my book since he was openly copying from me. As a smallie in a class of bullies, my mouth did most of the fighting where my hands couldn’t. I insulted the boy and told him I would go report. Biggest mistake ever! The boy beat me blue black, and when I reported , the teacher simply said “Ah, it’s Sadiq! You too should have shown him your work now. Abi what’s there?” My tears would not end. I cried and cried. As I was later to find out, Sadiq was one of those boys who got away with anything because his school father was one of those who terrorized the school. The teacher did not want to be attacked.

I cried all the way home. My dad asked what happened and I told him I was beaten. The minute I said the boy was my classmate, my father said, “Your classmate beat you and you came crying home? You better go back tomorrow and beat him too.” To my father, the boy’s age and size didn’t matter. The fact was the boy was my classmate. So I went to school the next day, ready to “beat my own back” but knowing fully well that I would get even worse beating.

When Sadiq came to class, I went to him and slapped him. Everyone looked at me with probably one thought running through their mind: “this girl wants to die”. Sadiq beat me again. Then I beat him in return. It became a case of beat-me-I-beat-you. By this time, everyone in class was waiting to see what would happen next. My tears were a waterfall and I couldn’t even see amidst it all. I only knew I had to keep beating in the direction of my last slap. Sadiq kept beating me and saying “I’ll kill this girl. Somebody hold her o” but I didn’t stop. No matter how much beating I got in return, I kept beating back. Then Sadiq got tired and stopped but my hands were in automatic mode and I wouldn’t stop. That was when the Principal came in: to see what was causing the noise coming from JS1B. We both got punished but Sadiq got the bigger one for “spying” and then bullying. Sadiq left in JS3 when school fees were introduced.

However I learnt two crucial lessons that day. One, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how huge that problem, a win is just around the corner. Two, only after you’ve fought for yourself will anyone else fight for you – if they will fight for you at all.

PS: Till date, I still don’t know how to report anyone. You won’t even hear Taiwo reported me to so and so. Once beaten… or in my case, twice beaten.

Africans on Sale in Libya: It’s the 15th Century All Over Again


Sometime last week, I saw a video on an Instagram page belonging to Diary of a Naija Girl (DANG). It was pulled off a CNN report about ongoing human auction in Libya. The young man in the video, Victory a 21 year old Nigerian, recounted his ordeal in the 8 months he was traded until he was able to buy his freedom. It was gut-wrenching.

I decided to do a thorough search about the CNN report via Google, and the results from the search Engine had me angry. Then I watched the full report. From the video, humans are sold as “merchandise”. Humans are sold like cattle and forced to work. In Victory’s words, even while they were doing the work, they are beaten. They were abused. Some died.

I remember a story I heard a few months ago during my Annual Leave, that a woman celebrated after she got a call that her daughter had finally crossed into Europe. At the time, all I could think about was that girl who would have had a harrowing experience. Now I think to myself, was she sold too and forced to work until she could buy back her freedom and escape into Europe? Or is she still someone’s slave in Europe? These questions, I’ll never get answers to.

In many online comments, the judgement were, what were people looking for trying to escape into Europe through Libya? Some said these horrifying incidents will teach people to stay home. But it’s easy to condemn people for taking a chance if it will give them a better life than they currently have in Nigeria. Many of us are online to see and read the stories. The people who are right now saving every kobo to make the trip to Libya are largely unaware of these events. No be who chop belleful dey buy data? They just want to make it out of these climes. We keep saying Europe has its problems, but to them Europe without food is better than Nigeria without food.

Let’s go back to Victory and the countless unnamed Africans who have been or are still going through such horrifying experiences in Libya. The world finally heard about Libya’s thriving human auctioning industry. From all indications, it is an open secret. The UN is naturally appalled because it is violation of the basic rights of man. Celebrities, Football icons are adding their voice to it on social media, calling for an immediate stop to it. Some African countries are acting swiftly to get their people out.

I heard this morning that some 239 Nigerians arrived today from Libya. However more are still in shackles. The Nigerian Government has “naturally” remained silent. “If the rights of a resident alien are violated without proper redress in the state of residence, his home state is warranted by international law in coming to his assistance and interposing diplomatically on his behalf.” (pg 507 of The American Journal of International Law). What is the Nigerian government doing to ensure other Nigerians currently still in shackles in Libya is released and returned safely home? What are we doing to ensure when they get back home, there are effective social welfare programmes to set them up with? Are we calling for diplomatic protection of every one still in Libya? Are there stringent diplomatic measures already ongoing against Libya to push them to conduct a full scale territorial search for those who may still be held in Libya? Will perpetrators be tried?

This is the time for the Nigerian House of Assembly to call an emergency session. The Nigerian government should fix the country so that our people can stop escaping the country. If country good, who go wan run comot? Nigeria is in disarray economically. Social welfare is non-existent. The Nigerian life is not worth a Naira to the government. Make we first comot the dust wey dey our eye before we comot another person own. We need to fix our home. We need to intensify efforts to stop illegal migration of our people. We need to educate the populace in urban and especially rural communities on the dangers of sneaking into Europe through Libya. The government should make it easy for us to be Nigerians. We need to bring back our people while also fixing our home.

Stop It! Writing Is Not “Ordinary”


Today, I’m addressing this issue of Nigerians who disregard writers or writing generally because they see it as something anybody can do. Nigerians need to start respecting creative people especially writers. I know many don’t see writing as a prestigious career but if you love television, movies, music and gaming, then you need to shift your thinking about writing. Programmes are created by writers. The movies you love so much were first, stories on paper. That show you can’t get enough of on TV, were written by guess who – writers. Jenifa’s Diary has a script. The Wedding Party which everyone loved in Nigerian cinemas has a script. Big Bang Theory was scripted. Titanic was scripted too – all by writers. Also, each of these movies and TV material have made and are still making millions of Naira and/or Dollars from sales and rights.

Now let me give you a typical example of my day as a writer in Nigeria.

Client: I need a blogpost on so so so.
Me: It’s 30k o. When do you need it?
Client: 30k ke? For ordinary blogpost?

Shebi it’s “just” a blog-post

Or another example. Let’s call this person Mr. T.

Mr. T: Taiwo I need your help. I’m doing a documentary on markets in Nigeria. I want to submit the documentary video for an International prize. So I need like a script, well-researched o.
Me: Eh ehn! Your fee is so-so amount!
Mr. T: Ah ahn! Taiwo, can’t you do it for free? You’re my person o.
Me: Sir, will I get credit as the writer if you win?
Mr. T: Taiwo, why are you talking like this?

Bottom line, no one wants to pay a writer because “what’s there? Ordinary writing? Everybody can write na”.

Everybody can write. Anybody can copy. Anybody can take somebody else’s note, and write it down in theirs. But not everybody can create a story or write content from scratch on a blank paper. Not everybody can create something from nothing. Not everybody can write out the stories in their heads and make you look forward to more. Not everybody can write a blogpost that is so good, people who read it, and go out to buy the product or service. That is what makes a writer different.

Whatever is written is original content from the writer, it is a product. The writing process is service. So when you contract a writer for content, what you get is product and service. Why then will you say “ordinary writing” or cheapen a writer’s efforts by offering insulting fee for content that will be of economic value to you? How would you feel if as an accountant someone tells you what you do is “ordinary” audit? Would you go to MTN or Airtel asking them to give you free data? Shebi, “what’s there? Is it not to just go on Instagram and like pictures? And maybe Google stuff?” So why can’t Nigerians respect writing and the creative industry? I’ve seen writing job adverts in the Obodo Oyibo offering $2000 a month meanwhile over here to pay a token to a writer “dey hard us” because it’s “ordinary” writing.

This “ordinary” writing has taken a lot of sacrifices, a lot of schooling, years of training, and lots of practise, money and time investment as well as constant development to be this good and for me to remain passionate about it. It is a tad insulting to generalize it as “ordinary”. I may not have a sealed package to show for it but every story or content I put out or work on is a product. Respect the work. Respect writers. Pay our due without cheapening our effort or our work. If you want free ideas or content, do it yourself.