The Third Mainland Bridge reminds me of Christ on the cross, sandwiched between two men of contrasting fortunes. One headed for the gilded streets of Heaven, the other resolutely headed for the crackling fires of Hell. Both men unified and split by the very thing which brings them together — fate. On one side of the bridge lies Makoko, one of the largest slums in Africa, a waterside settlement where tendrils of smoke, from fire pits where freshly caught fishes are roasted, rise to the heavens and children chase each other through a sea of filth, stilted houses and dugout canoes. On the other side of the bridge lies Victoria Island. Victoria Island is everything Makoko is not. It is a watering hole of the affluent. The bridge between Makoko and Victoria Island is not one that connects, it is one which divides the filthy wealthy from the perilously poor.
Unlike my aversion for many parts of Lagos, I feel a connection with the Third Mainland Bridge. I am stuck in traffic on the bridge, staring out the window of an Uber and listening to Johnny Cash’s Hurt, a song which reminds me of a girl I love less and less with each sunset, when I feel this connection for the first time. It is something ancient and intense.
Like the bridge between Makoko and Victoria Island, I am stranded between dissimilar phases. Phases which are at war for my very soul. I am stuck between the boy I was and the man I must become. I am not as young as I used to be and I am not as old as I feel. I am not a boy and I am not a man. This stage of my life is purgatory without the assurance of paradise. I am butter, thinly spread between two misshapen slices of bread.
As I am purged of the naiveté of adolescence and the large margin of forgivable error that is a perk of being young, I feel the years of my youth slipping through my fingers like the beads of a rosary and the veneer of innocence eroding beneath my feet as the latter makes way for the quicksand of the future. The road to adulthood is paved with responsibilities and comes with a huge sign post which reads “Actions have consequences”. Although I do a decent job of making it from one day to the next in one piece, I am not sure I am ready to be an adult. I am not ready for my actions to have consequences.
People say I have a way with words. I wish I had a way with life. It is one thing to conjure characters and events from the combination of thin air and the letters of the English language. It is another to understand the dynamics of adulthood. The first comes easy, the latter is a struggle.
The evolution from boy to man is as sudden as it is chaotic. You wake up one morning to a reality check with your name scrawled on it in comic sans; the universe’s subtle stab at humor. Things will never be the same. Midnight walks from SSQ to Hall Three while arguing the proper pronunciation of a Mexican footballer’s name with Simon, as Ose, Bryan and Segun make jokes at Jude’s expense, are a lifetime away. You have a boss, a thankless job you journey to in rickety buses always more crowded than the highway to hell, and bills to pay. For good measure, your friends live in different cities and bus tickets are expensive.
When I was a kid, my biggest problem was finding a matching pair of clean socks in time for school in the morning. Now there are ambitions to be shelved, bridges to be burnt, appearances to be kept, lovers to be unfaithful to, DMs to slide into and loved ones to be lowered into freshly dug holes in the ground.
I am like a ball of wool in the furtive hands of a curious child. With every sixty seconds, I come undone a bit more. I am more defined by the questions — why? what (have I become)? where (did the time go)? how? — than answers. Answers are cemeteries, finite conclusions, dead ends with well-defined borders cordoned off to further inquiry. Questions, less so. Questions are vacuums requiring filling, realms buzzing with endless possibilities, gauntlets thrown to the mechanics of reality. Every morning, a woman at Oshodi, a tattered King James Bible in one hand and a rusty tambourine in the other, assures me “Jesus is the answer”. One half of me refuses to believe the answer is that simple; maybe I like my questions too much to seek answers.
If I told you the truth and held nothing back, I would tell you I am more scared now than I have ever been. There is so much to do, so little time and even less money. I am not scared of adulthood itself; I am scared of the baggage it comes with. I am not scared of responsibilities; I am scared of falling short. I would also say I am losing it if the statement wasn’t an admission of ever having ‘it’ or knowing what ‘it’ is in the first instance. What is ‘it’? Happiness? Money in the bank? Assurance of a place in father Abraham’s bosom or one of the sundry creature comforts of Heaven?
And what really is the point of it all? The first time I asked myself this question, the casket holding the remains of a classmate had just passed by me on its way to the altar where the priest, a man with broad shoulders and a husky voice, began the homily with the words “The Lord knows best”, a rhetoric I had heard more than a few times in the days leading to the funeral and one which would cause me to, in the days that followed, stare into the distance as I wondered what the point of existence is. Live a healthy life. You die. The Pope dies. The libertine dies. The tycoon dies. The pauper dies. Everyone dies. Is death the point?
The preacher at Sunday service said all I need do is talk to God. I agree. He’s the Author and Finisher of my fate. No pun intended. I have no qualms about bending the knee to God. There’s just one snag; how do I begin a conversation with a person I haven’t spoken to in three years? There’s so much to say, but silence is golden and my tales would turn a nun’s cheeks green. I wish I had a closer knit relationship with God but these moral shortcomings won’t fall for themselves. I am more rogue agent than soldier of Christ. I probably should not have leapt off the Potter’s wheel but the thrill of the fall was worth it, and the crash site is scenic to put it lightly.
Psalm 23, given its assurances, is my favourite psalm, yet I have certain reservations about yielding to its wordings. Yes, the Lord is my shepherd but on some days I do not want to be led. Yes, He says I shall not want, alas I have developed quite the appetite for delights which are not featured on the menu of the Straight ‘n’ Narrow.
I currently call a city summoned from the depths of the ocean, home. Like the element in which its foundations are set, Lagos never sleeps. At all hours, someone in the city is in hot pursuit of something — a bus, a deadline or even an amateur pickpocket.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a chaser of things — a place in the good books of the teacher of my kindergarten class, high scores on tests, getting called to the Nigerian bar, the affections of girls I don’t speak to anymore — achievements which reduced in value as soon as I held them and left me asking what the point of the incessant pursuits was. The thing about running is that everything else loses out to the object of the chase.
I turn a year older in a few days and although I haven’t seen a lot of life, I feel a jadedness and fatigue that is not a fallout of physical exertion. I am obsessed with the belief that there is more to life. There has to be more to life than being spanked on your bum shortly after emerging from your mother’s body, breathing oxygen, growing vertically, being used for target practice by Cupid, finding a job, exchanging vows while guests scramble for food and souvenirs, swapping black hair for gray strands and a bald spot, and finally, keeling over and dying as spurts of carbon dioxide flee your lungs for the last time.
If this stage of my life were a thing, it would be the apple which fell far from the tree which blossomed with promise. Life hasn’t cracked up to be what I expected it to be. Reality runs circles around my expectations, but I accept this turn of events as a real life plot twist. Although, I have come a long way from scribbling stories behind my Commercial Law note to being published by Brittle Paper, I am more potential than finished product. I have loved, I have lost. I have held newborn babies; I have stood at the gravesides of friends. I have grown, I am growing.
Life has become like a woman I once saw in traffic, hobbling from vehicle to vehicle and shoving an emaciated child in the faces of motorists, forcing them to reach a decision. To give or not to give? Give and you’re left with less. Refrain from giving and you’re an insensitive soul. There’s no winning. Life is at my window, rubbing its callused fingers over the panes, demanding that I empty myself into its outstretched blistered hands.
As I fall apart in the furnace of evolution, I mull over words left unsaid and things left undone. I fight the urge to escape, to seek solace in shots of vodka on a Friday night and happiness in the arms of a woman whose name I forget as soon as her clothes come off, and I realize I still am a runner. I am fleeing from myself, bursting at the seams with emotion yet expressing none, craving yet wary of company. I am an oasis of contrasts. I am vulnerable, strong, brittle, resilient, all at the same time. I know I am losing and gaining myself. I am my own predator and quarry.
Maybe life isn’t meant to be figured out, maybe life is meant to lack definition. Maybe that is the point of it and I am ready for another 365 days of “it”.
Here goes nothing.