The Adventures of Tola

okada-blog

IMAGE from: omgvoice.com- Jide Odukoya

In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn’t bald, he hasn’t got a big belly, and you don’t realise, the first time you see him, that he’s the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. I have been to his office only once, when Mummy could not pick me up from school. Uncle Ahmed unlike many bosses in Lagos did not even have a car of his own. On this day he came to get me not with his car but with an okada. Uncle held both my food and school bag and the okada man propped me right in front of the handle bar, while Uncle sat behind the okada man. I imagined I was the one riding the okada alone as I placed my hands on the handle bar enjoying the wind brush my face and dry my sweaty uniform. It did not bother me that my feet could not reach the pedal or that we were not wearing any helmets, or how upset mummy would be if she found out Uncle had not used a taxi as promised.

 

The Okada man did not know his way around, so Uncle had to direct him through narrow streets to avoid the traffic, the okada man whose attention was divided between my Uncle and the road did not notice the black jeep at the junction. It happened so quickly. I found myself in the middle of the not-so-busy street.

 

My Uncle and the okada man had fallen off the okada a few metres from where I was lying.

The jeep drove off as if nothing had happened.

 

“Uncle Ahmed” I said in a whisper as I tried to get up.

 

The okada man was already on his feet as if this was normal, he helped my Uncle up and picked up my bags from the road. Uncle’s shirt was torn at the sleeves and his blue tie was stained.

 

“God go punish that man!” the Okada man cursed loudly. He picked up his okada and inspected it.

Uncle walked towards me, pulled me up and hugged me. He looked at my face and touched my forehead

“Tola, you are bleeding, I need to get you to the hospital.”

 

“Oga, one hospital dey for the next street make I carry una?” the Okada man cut in starting his motorcycle.

 

“No. No. You have done enough for today no worry, we go use leg.” Uncle said quickly.

“Haba Oga, no be my fault na, make I at least drop you there for free.”

 

“No worry ehn, thank you”

Uncle picked up my bags and carried me gently over his shoulder.

 

“Tola, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. What will your mum say? I wanted to make it back to the office in time…” Uncle Ahmed went on, sobbing lightly as he carried me in his arms to the hospital.

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I wrote this short story as an entry for the AFREADA writes Tomorrow I’ll be 20 competition with Alain Mabanckou in June 2017. I stumbled upon it recently and I absolutely loved it! So I am considering doing a mini-drama series out of this (“The Adventures of Tola”). Did you like it? Please share your thoughts below.

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Like Dancing Chairs…

I had gone through this route before. Countless times, but today I connected with it all.

When the traffic lights turned red they marched in a procession toward the shiniest cars. It was like a game of dancing chairs- who could get the most money before the lights turned green. Except this was not a game, it was a fight for survival.

The little ones, bare feet and unassuming moved through traffic quickly trying to reach as many cars as possible. I was sure they were timing themselves- 15 seconds, or less if the driver was ignoring them.

The disabled were there too, plenty. Few on wheelchairs, many with long walking sticks while double amputees were on make shift ‘planks-on-wheels’. The latter had it hardest, rolling their way through traffic to salon cars, avoiding the 4 Wheel Drives- too high to get any attention- only the very ambitious  bothered.

I saw the able bodied- mostly young men, with worn out glass cleaning wipers and Eva bottles filled with green foamy liquid. Though fewer in number, these ones I could tell pride themselves in their ‘service’. They were in search of ‘dirty windscreens’ and of course spare change. In spite of it all they were no different from the others they ignored the dirty commercial buses and taxis favouring only the shiny cars.

The clock was ticking; the lights would change in no time. The little ones had just about gone to all the cars, while the adults played catch up.

 In this race, this fight for survival they had to contend with the vendors. They were the undeniable winners of attention, with many more willing to trade than empathise.

The vendors were more than them- men, women, children hawking  plantain chips, biscuits, mints, garden eggs, books, drinks, yogurts, inflatable beds, teddy bears, handkerchiefs, tissues, stationary. There was an endless stream of them; all moving fast only stopping when there was interest. They were attentive and ready to jump off the road when the lights turned green.

Just as with dancing chairs, the music stopped, the lights turned green and everyone ran to  the kerb, the disabled first, the traders last- always trying to hold up traffic.

For everyone it was a two minute hustle on repeat every six minutes when the lights turned red again and every participant was ready to try their shot at this hustle till the night came when the grid-lock began and they were more cars to visit.

Under Pressure 

Photo courtesy Volkswagen USA

I have never been more afraid than I was today; my two year old was trapped in the car with the car key locked inside, I stood outside the car in shock and panic and I thought of a hundred ways to break the glass without hurting my child. 

My Monday mornings are typically very busy, I work full time and take my pre-schooler to school first before driving to work. His school is not far from my office, but we live about an hour away, so we usually leave the house at about 6 am to beat Lagos traffic. My son Joshua is pretty much use to the routine, at first it was a hassle getting him up early, but these days he is up before I am.

The past couple of weeks have been particularly tiring for both of us, we wake up too late to sit down and have breakfast like a normal family. I decided it would be better to have breakfast in the car at Josh’s school car park- that way we beat the traffic and still have some quality time together before Josh goes in to school. Josh loves eating in the car anyway, so this little change in our routine was great. 

On this day we were having French toast. I usually move to the back seat to seat next to Josh who is in his car seat eating to reduce potential spills. I could easily let one of his teachers feed him instead, but Josh would somehow end up not eating his breakfast. It was drizzling that morning so it was a bit chilly, the car windows were up and the air conditioner was off. Josh had just finished his first toast and was half way through his hot chocolate. I could see he was sweating; the car was getting a bit hot. I could easily have shuffled myself back to the driver’s seat if I had on trousers however I didn’t want to risk tearing my skirt, so I got out of the car to turn on the air conditioner which would only come on if the car was on. The moment I got out, I realised I had made a mistake. I heard the car lock behind me. I tried to open the door but it was locked. My head went blank and I pulled at the door handle repeatedly expecting a different result each time. I stopped and looked into the now misty glass. Josh was looking back at me with no expression. I could feel the tears coming, I was hardly breathing and felt faint. I wanted to call for help but the car park was empty, the security man was somewhere outside the compound, far from the scene. I weighed my options, I scanned the car park in search of a stone, big enough to break the car glass, I looked at Josh again he had come out of his car seat and was attempting to open the door. It wasn’t opening. I started panicking, my car was only 6 months old and I was still trying to understand how the lock system worked. I had left the smart key in the ignition in the hope of turning it on with my foot on the pedal from the driver’s seat. However, by getting out of the car, it had automatically locked itself.

 I scanned the car park again, nothing had changed; we were alone. I didn’t want to leave my son in the car while I went for help. So I told him, “Josh, Mummy needs you to get the key to open the car, come grab the stirring wheel.” I pointed to the driver’s seat. He quickly shuffled forward and sat on the driver’s seat, “I need you to pull out the key” I said to him slowly, loud enough for him to hear me. He looked at the key and looked  back at me, I nodded “Yes, pull it out” He put his little hand around the key and pulled. It didn’t respond. He kept trying to pull out the key repeatedly with both hands, the key wasn’t budging. Josh’s school uniform was soaked in his own sweat, I worried that he might suffocate if I didn’t break the glass. Just then, I saw the security guard and another parent standing a few meters away. At that point I didn’t know whether I could trust my son or let someone break the window and possibly hurt my son in the process. The security guard was already standing next to me, I couldn’t  hear what he was saying, I told he and the parent not to worry. They obviously did not believe me because the parent ran into the school to get help. I decided that I had to ignore them and trust my little boy could do this. 

“Josh you can do this, pull it harder” I said repeatedly to him. After trying for about 2 long minutes the key suddenly came out and Josh pulled the door handle to give me the key- the car was still locked. 

He looked at me with fear in his eyes, “You’ve been such a good boy, stay calm.” I said to him trying not to cry. “On the key I need you to press the last button to open the door.”  Josh whose attention was wearing off pressed the first button and the boot opened. I shook my head, “Baby, the third one.” I kept saying desperate for the car to open. 

The Car suddenly unlocked, I pulled the door handle immediately, yanking it wide open, picked up my son and gave him the tightest hug and filled his face with kisses. 

We stood outside in the rain as I cried and thanked God that my son had miraculously saved the day. 

Driving in Lagos

Someone once told me that if you can drive in Lagos, you can drive anywhere else in the world. For a long time I believed those words because it is only logical that if you can do something in the hardest or toughest conditions, you can do it when things are easier. In the past few weeks I have decided to re-evaluate whether this is true. 

What makes driving in Lagos truly challenging is quite complex and difficult to explain. One reason I say this is the fact that there are too many cars and not enough roads; hence most of your driving experience is spent in traffic (‘go slow’), and I have to say that driving in traffic is an art. It is a story of near misses and dodging of  potholes, danfos (commercial busses) , and broken down vehicles. It is one of patience when there is grid-lock and gruesome aggression when the traffic eases up. 

There is also the competing modes of transport. In some parts of Lagos okadas (motorcycles), kekes (Nigerian rickshaws) commercially  operate simultaneously as well as danfos, let us not forget the occasional bicycle rider. What this means is that the average Lagos Motorist has a lot to pay attention to; you can not make sharp turns or fail to horn or use your pointer( “traffigator”), You have to communicate effectively with your lights to not only other private cars but other road users (pedestrians inclusive) to avoid accidents.

There is also the number of trucks in Lagos. For a long time, I remember avoiding roads that had too many big trucks and tankers. I soon realised that the only way to avoid them was to move out of Lagos; they are everywhere. The hardest part about driving next to an average 7.5 tonne truck in Lagos is the ‘road-bullying’. These truck drivers are in a mad rush and will do anything to get you out of the way. With a lot of horning you can overcome your fear and overtake a truck (but please don’t overtake them on a bend).

For the most part driving in Lagos is tough, however just because you can drive in Lagos does not make you a better driver, in contrast I think you become a horrible driver. The driving environment in Lagos does not foster good driving habits, such as, waiting at a zebra crossing, or giving way for traffic on the left. It is almost impossible to observe any of these traffic paradigms because of the fear of causing an accident when you slow down suddenly or the simple fact that there is just too much traffic to slow down any further.

Driving in Lagos is no guarantee that driving anywhere else will be easier, for the most part it is harder to drive else where because there is a lot more to driving than just competing for space, road raging and horning!lagos-traffic