IS LAGOS TURNING ME INTO A PESSIMIST ?
I went out on Saturday to run some errands, after which I went to the bus stop to catch a bus back home. I was standing beside a woman and her kid at Iyana Ipaja roundabout, actively dodging Danfo, Maruwa and whatever all those mini-buses are called when a young girl of about 14 or 15 quietly approached me.
Her raggedy appearance and the way she uncertainly edged forward, caused me to immediately assume that she was of no good and just as she started to mumble something I fiercely shook my head and quickly moved several inches away from her, throwing my face to the opposite direction.
My reaction was almost automatic as if it had been hard wired inside my brain. This being because of previous experiences and also stories I have heard or overheard others share. As a Lagosian, when strangers approach me in a rowdy place, I immediately sense danger and my instincts alert me to potential trouble.
One firsthand experience I have, that has solidified my paranoia, happened during my NYSC days when I was still fresh in Lagos.
I boarded a taxi, somewhere at Oba Akran Ikeja, with the driver and a male passenger in front. Two minutes into the ride, the passenger motioned to the driver that he wanted to alight, he brought out a 100 dollar note to pay the driver, the driver shook his head and told him that he couldn’t provide the balance for him in naira.
The passenger started replying him in a flurry of French sentences, looking helplessly back and forth and after a short conversation between the two in which none of them appeared to understand each other, and the word “l’argent, l‘argent” (meaning the money in french) repeatedly flying out of the passenger’s mouth and me feeling like a savior who understood a bit of French (as I was at that time attending a French class), I cut in to breach the gap between the two.
To cut a very long story short, I was eventually roped (or rather roped myself) by both of them into offering to help (as a translator of some sort I guess) the foreign passenger to get his goods from where he had kept it in the care of I can’t remember who at the old Police barracks. Their enquiry about me and my relatives during the journey struck me as a bit odd and caused me to recall bits of stories I had overhead my mum and her friend talk about how taxi men and one of this our French speaking neighbors scam people with ‘jazz’ (Nigerian slang for ‘charm’).
However, I did not feel jazzed (truth be told, I don’t know how it feels to be jazzed as I have never been jazzed and by God’s grace will never be jazzed), but I voiced out my suspicions, which the taxi driver replied with a string of vehement denials and the passenger replied with what seemed to be abhorrent and righteous indignation mixed together over such conduct, so we proceeded on the journey, with my instincts still off.
Eventually we landed in what appeared to be a one shaggy room in a place that looked very much like a slum ( I like to refer to the place as their hut). We were welcomed by a man, who was a brother to the person he left his goods with and coincidentally he happened to be Igbo like me. A slight rapport ensued between I and him and he immediately assumed the role of an Igbo brother in my life, I guess in an effort to douse the look of uncertainty in my face.
He promptly produced three barrels, opened one and what the foreigner had been trying to convey to me all along as exotic photographic films he wanted to sell to a customer, appeared to be finely and well proportionally cut pieces of blank white papers, each the length of a currency note. I don’t know where a plastic bucket half way filled with water materialized from and one of them promptly threw one piece of paper into it, shook it for some seconds, flung it up and voila it has turned into a 1000 naira note.
The taxi driver screamed, “E don turn to money o, sister can you see it, na money e be o”. He looked at the foreigner who seemed at a loss as at what is going on and chanted, holding on to his sleeve “Money, Money, money “.
At that moment, it dawned on me that I was living and experiencing all those stories of scam my mom and her friend had shared.
The three men now focused their attention on me and asked me if I was interested in partaking of the jackpot. I shook my head, told them I wanted none of it, they tried convincing me for several minutes but the only words that came out from my mouth were “NO, NO, NO”
The disappointments in their face was vivid. I asked the taxi man to take me back and reluctantly he dropped me at a park in where I think was Ogba.
I still look back and wonder the drama that would have ensued if I’d greedily accepted their offer.
Besides this, I have also experienced the rather common one , where a bystander will approach you and beg to have their transport fares completed for them, only for that same person to approach you another day to complete their fare to that same location (Haba, even if na Ajala traveler I jam).
I have also heard how someone answered a stranger’s question and next thing they where somewhere in Ogun State, in line to be relieved off their precious body parts.
Hence my reaction when the young girl approached me. However I found it a bit out of character from the usual when the young girl still hung around with a look of dismay in her face. But I didn’t pay her much attention
Eventually the bus arrived, I rushed in and when I unconsciously turned my back, I saw the young one sitting uncomfortable on the laps of a lady.
I instantly felt guilty for having dismissed her without giving her the benefit of the doubt. Turned out she was truly in need of transport fare to her location and her scruffy appearance was probably from having trekked a long distance.
I asked her if that was why she wanted to talk to me and she politely nodded. I offered to pay for her fare, she agreed but the lady lapping her advised her to rather take the money, incase she needed it. I handed her more than the fare and when it got to where she will alight, she told the driver she wanted to alight in perfect English.
As we continued to our destination, I kept wondering if the bad experiences I’ve heard of or had in Lagos was turning me into a pessimistic, cold paranoiac.