Have you ever met a fat Lagos woman? No a proper Lagos iya. They are usually half the size of a classic obese woman but they cause double the discomfort. They are usually dressed in roomy ‘nightgowny‘ Ankara dresses. And smell of something that makes acrid smell welcoming. And when they speak, it’s in spit fire rapid Yoruba, loud as loud can be whether they are on their phone or with the conductor.
I’m sitting 2 hours into a traffic jam with one of these women, and she is currently having a shouting match, in the name of a conversation, with the woman behind her. I have a record-breaking headache and my glasses really hurt and my joints are beginning to creak.
I nod along to the loud throbbing music and anybody who saw me would have thought I was a happy-go-lucky, upwardly mobile, corporate Lagosian who was returning to the mainland after a day of work on the island. And any non-Lagosian who had seen me would have been wrong . . . by a long shot.
First, happy-go-lucky does not in anyway describe a Lagosian by any long shot. We are sad-go-something, or suffering and smiling individuals who attempt everyday to make lemonade from the lemons we are handed.
I speak of “we” because, having stayed here for a month of internships and commuting everyday from the mainland to the island, having haggled for every single item I had bought from the market, and escaped the wiles of area boys to dupe me of my money or my phone or both, I can boldly say I have become a Lagosian. I have transited from a part time tourist to a proper dyed-in-the-wool Lagosian.
Now, that is way different from saying I am street-smart. In Lagos, street-smart does not cut it. Lagos smart is different. I was smart in the streets of Enugu; if you have not been to this mountainous eastern city, it’s a metropolis of well laid out townships, complete with wide well listed tared street. Filled with sane, salt-of-the-earth kinda folk who speak in dulcet tones of English or Igbo or ‘engligbo’ with pithy proverbs and parables, where u had to learn about nuances, contexts and veiled meanings. You learn to be wise, at least speak like you were wise.
In Lagos, the language was severally abbreviated and wrought with slang when the word was too long and it was spoken, it seemed with a rapid loud staccato beat complete with gestures, just brief hand movements punctuated with enough ‘ahhs‘ and ‘yehs‘ to get the point across, there was a German efficiency about the whole process. No word out of place, no gesture lost.
Being Lagosian was a practice in paranoia; you learn to be both paranoid and cool about your paranoia, like you do actual insanity practices. And to complete it, you are taught not to show your schizophrenia. I remember coming back from work in the rain one night at about 11 pm and 3 boys were running towards me. I noticed them—paranoia I told u. And I knew they were coming to rob me. I stopped immediately, did an about-turn and started screaming at the top of my voice running in the opposite direction. Ole! Ole! I screeched like a banshee. I ran into the road and started flagging down the coming vehicle while running towards the nearest shop. I got to the shop in good time and with the shop owner, we chased away the boys. In Enugu this would have been a Kodak moment for one of those double digest Pentecostal testimonies. In this case it was not. This is Lagos, life continues.
And yes, the music. The thumping, heavy bass line, overloaded, repetitive excuse for music that usually comes with no poetry, and seemed to like the word waist. You see, in Enugu we heard rap by Phyno and highlife by Flavour; these songs were culturally conscious and bracing, full of stories and anecdotes and (sometimes twisted) morals. There was something to learn if you listened to these songs. In Lagos, however, there was the sterile commercially viable semi songs with limited, rationed words. These songs seemed to need a loud noise accompaniment. They are broadly divided into two, the grass to grace stories, or the semi love songs. Now, the love in these songs was a throbbing, thudding, one-off grind. No ruffles, no goosebumps. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I chuckle to myself when I come to the realisation that all of this is happening around me and I don’t even notice. While in Enugu, I would have waxed poetic about my headache and my body pains; this is Lagos, the average Lagosian is a masochist. The women beside me can shout for all their life is worth, and smell for days, and my headache can triple, I will hardly notice. Meanwhile, I have settled into my traffic jam surviving posture, I just noticed I had one.