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Humans of Abeokuta. Episode 5

“Aff you aff an idea ayam like you?”

Her cheekbones lifted the fleshy puff-puff encasing them, sent them to greet her eyes. Her lashes lowered, sent her gaze to the tarred road. Her fingers twiddled nervously, caressing themselves awkwardly. Her teeth appeared then, bit her lower lips softly, suggested a deliciousness in their luscious pinkness.

His lower jaw fell open just as his right hand rose to his head. His nails scratched his hair, he shook his head, then spread his left leg wider. A stance to communicate the confidence he hoped for?

“Ayam liking you too, but you Oga”

A sound rose from him. Nervous. Like the first cackle of fighting chickens. Then the night wind blew, the cotton shirt hugged his body, tickled the curled hairs on his chest. They had not been there when I was a boy, he must have remembered. The cackle deepened as his fears dissolved, became a rich dark rumble of stomach-deep pleasure.

It was then that his shirt shook. Up and down with the rhythm of his laughter, it went. Vibrations of a stomach so big, it was a life of its own.

I turned to my little Sister then. I affn’t affed an idea, before that night, how interesting it could be to watch people initiate conversations of love.

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I traveled to Lagos one weekend, and my head did an immediate switch; happy to have malls, ice-cream, and pizza within thought distances. Then I returned to Abeokuta and the first thing I noticed was a strike by members of the Union of Road Transport Workers. The cause of the strike: an over hundred percent increase in taxation had been placed by the State Government. That, in a city where passengers perennially haggle for the lowest fares conceivable, and some plead to pay twenty naira for some distances! It was simply impossible. A deliberate act of cruelty which could neither be allowed nor accepted. For a minute I stood at the garage and just stared at people walking down the long road; a vision of colours, luggaged backs, and stretching legs.

At the bus-stop, there were some parked cabs. There were also men beside them occasionally in conversation with people as they walked. The people often walked past them shortly after. On rare occasions, the people got into the cab. I guessed that some few routes were bereft of protesting Union staff; hence safe for cab drivers to ply. Hoping my route was among the ‘safe’ ones, I took contemplative steps towards them.

“One-fifty ni”

“Shey nitori strike? Sebi awon egbe yin naa l’on fa wahala? Ibo ni k’a ti ri? Ko ni da fuun yin. Ebi l’o ma pa yin ku. Shey thirty naira ori e yen lo ma je ke la? Oloriburuku oko asewo…*”

I felt my jaw fall, but couldn’t lock it back. A woman had gotten to the cabman I’d heard calling destinations along my route just before me. And she was cussing him out because of a thirty naira increase in the fare.

Is she bloody joking?

My mind couldn’t grasp it. I had mentally prepared to pay a hundred percent increase in the fare, and she was going crazy over a less than fifty percent increase. When the financial risk he ran for operating at a time his union members were protesting was –at the least– over ten times the fare he was requesting. I was shocked!

You see enh, in Lagos: when anything happens to cause a driver any inconvenience -whether or not there’s a risk attached to it- passengers compensate with higher fares. Rain falls; you pay for the inconvenience of his being on the road, instead of cuddling in bed with his wife. At rush hour, you pay for the ribald tales, pepper soup, and bobbing, laughing stomach which should have been his at any of the many bars sprawled all over the city; if he hadn’t been driving you. On any random day, you pay extra if you’re too impatient to wait for another vehicle, and he needs money to make up his children’s school fees… or give his woman for that fashion accessory all her friends want/have…. The list is maybe endless.

While the woman’s tirade and my thoughts debated, I slipped into the cab. The people already in the cab were divided; some empathized with the driver, others lamented the increase. I looked at them closely; then smiled. The ‘lamenters’ had tribal marks that proclaimed them from Abeokuta; while the others bore travelling bags, and soon began to speak of other cities.

Aah, I thought, case dismissed.

*Translation:

“Is it because of the strike? Isn’t it your colleagues who are causing the trouble? From where do you expect me to find the fare you request? It would not be good for you. It is hunger that would kill you. Is it the thirty naira increase that would make you successful? A no-good person, husband of a prostitute…”

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Humans of Abeokuta: Episode 3

Abeokuta is an ancient town. It’s people live by ancient ways. This means they adhere to ways of life indoctrinated by their forebears; including food and drink. I used to think its status as a State capital, and location between Lagos and Oyo States would have influenced it someway. You know, introduced the love of junk food and luxury beverages. I was wrong. And the discovery of only 2 standard shawarma spots should told me so. But it didn’t.

Time was 8:45 a.m yesterday, and I was at a residential training. I had strolled to the breakfast table was heavy feet and eyes; the effect of catching sleep in brief glimpses of shut eyes and quiet mind. My words slurred when I greeted “good morning”; heavy, thick, and seductive, with some unintended bedroom huskiness. A hand paused midair. Oil gathered at the base of the scooping spoon.

“Plop. Plop”

The sound of oil dropping on stew in the warmer sounded like the tick of my wristwatch.

It is loud. Too loud. Louder than it should be.

The words seeped slowly through my subconscious; cautious, as if not to jar me. The tiptoe of the hungover. Light dimmed, my eyes squinted to focus on the face of the person holding the scooping spoon. It was my colleague. Mouth agape, adam’s apple bobbing like one repeatedly swallowing spittle or strugglng for words; he looked lost. Something nudged at my consciousness; a persistent knock seeking attention. There had been a subliminal message in the initial thought.

If the drop of oil sounded too loud, then the room was too quiet.

The room hadn’t been quiet when I walked in; brief seconds ago. Curious, I looked round the room. There were colleagues with forks halfway to their lips, and some with hands idly twirling spoons in mugs. They were all watching me. Puzzled, I lifted a brow; a low shift of my face to ask a question. That seemed to break the jinx. Laughter, hushed comments…

“Did someone keep you awake all night?”

A voice, filled with laughter and teasing. I shook my head, jesting acknowledgement of the thought that raised the question.

“Your voice is strange this morning. Like you’re still asleep. And coffee’s been exhausted.”

Coffee…exhausted.

That was all I heard. While my head questioned how coffee could finish, my feet led the way to my room. Once there, I fetched my wallet. It was not the kind of day to broach without coffee.

Fifteen minutes and eight shops -5 of which were still locked- later, I was still without coffee.

Who doesn’t stock coffee?

How does someone sell these chocolate beverages but not coffee?

Do people in this area live coffee-less?

Why are some shops locked?

Who knows if the locked shops have coffee in them? Can I check?

Is breaking-and-entering still a crime?

Unanswered questions racing through my mind; disbelieving my coffeelessness. How could neighbourhood shops be locked at almost 9 a.m? Why would anyone have a beverage shop and not stock coffee?

Desperation awoke my basic survival instinct. I recalled the back-up sachet coffee lying peacefully in my purse; untouched for almost 6 months. Feet lighter, I strode purposefully back to the hotel. Splinters of memory replayed in my mind. The attendants in the 3 shops which had been open. Two of them had gone blank, asking what coffee was. The third had raised eyebrows, examined me up and down like one who’d just discovered an alien, and asked:

T’anin mu Nescaafu?

Translated: “Who drinks coffee?”

 

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Humans of Abeokuta: Episode 2

That’s how I wrote the past two episodes in my head and my notebook…. You forgive me; right? Please say you do.

Abeokuta is often confused for being geographically sizable because people clump its neighbouring towns with it. But it is actually a small town. A really very small town. If you’ve never lived in a small town, there are some things you probably take for granted:

  1. Everyone minds their business
  2. Everyone is in too much of a hurry to ‘small talk’
  3. The place is too big for people to know other people’s businesses

In small towns, such as Abeokuta, these rules don’t apply. Matter of fact, people make it their business to discuss other people’s businesses. You don’t believe me? Here’s how I found out; just last week.

I was at a residential training, multi-tasking listening and chatting. It was against the rules to use gadgets during classes, but my hands were under the table, serial tweeting. I had gotten really good at chatting while looking straight at the presenter and stealing glances at my phone- thank God for touchscreen phones and typewriting classes. I was particularly enjoying Trillary (Trump/Hillary) tweets when the man two seats away tapped my shoulder insistently. I looked at him, wondering if I had gotten too engrossed with my phone and missed something that required my attention at the training. Then:

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Man: *excited* “This is an extension worker. He has the experience of speaking with farmers”

Me: *puzzled* “You tapped me?”

Man: *grins. leans closer* “His first wife left him because he did not have money. They say that even while they were married she was seeing a politician who was giving her all the money she was using to buy things in the house. When she got pregnant for the politician, she left him.”

*uses nose to point in the direction of the man making a presentation in front of the class*

“As we heard, the man could not take the shame. That was when he went to the village. He became the head of farmers there. During Gbenga Daniels’ tenure he was made an extension worker, because he is educated and other farmers trust whatever he says. We also heard that he is not really a man”

Me: *quirks head at the interesting possibility that the speaker is a cross dresser or of some other uncustomary sexual preference*

Man: *voice drops decibels lower. Eyes glisten as one revealing a scandalous detail* He cannot do! His ‘kini’ is scared of women! They said that’s how he knew his wife was adulterous. But that his wife enh… Women are evil! She got pregnant for someone when her husband could not even do! They said the woman now…

Me: *jaw drops as the tale of another person’s life becomes hydra-headed* They’ll fine us for side-talking Sir

So, if you ever visit Abeokuta -or any other small town for that matter- know to hide your business like gold. And, of course, tell me thank you for forewarning you.

P.S: ‘kini’ is euphemism for ‘penis’

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Humans of Abeokuta: Episode 1

Abeokuta literally means “under rock”; a referent to the refuge people found under its many rocks in 1825 while escaping slave hunters from Dahomey and Ibadan. That was 191 years ago, but the rocks remain in their majestic beauty; wowing visitors, and lending a picturesque quality to the scenery of the town in almost every direction. I suspect too, that some inhabitants of Abeokuta didn’t leave their refuge under the rocks those many years ago. Matter of fact, I suspect some of them -through perhaps an overdose of the many juju/jazz/ogun/magicks that were used at the time- were placed in some state that maintained their youth while putting them to sleep. It seems those people are only now waking; ignorant of the passage of time and ancient norms. Only that, you see, explains what I saw last week.

It was 10:34 a.m and two meetings after breakfast. I was running low on ‘human’, and in desperate need of some beany love-in-a-mug (that’s code for coffee, by the way). I trudged my way to the office kitchenette, and was washing teaspoon and mug when the shrubbery in the house opposite the street moved rather sensibly. It wasn’t the effortless bow or wave of wind-caused movement, but some haphazard shift that could only result from human or animal manipulation. My hands stopped mid-air, raising my mug for draining, and I tipped my glasses up my nose with my left hand; my concentration fully on the ‘moving bush’.

Tick.. tick.. tick

I could hear the hands on my wristwatch pace, feel the soft breeze kiss my cheeks, see…

“Hunh”?!

A naked arm rose from between the shrub, holding a blue bowl. The hand turned the bowl, and water poured down the middle of the shrubs. 

I could smell dust; lots of it. I realised then that I had unconsciously moved forward, perhaps in the bid to see clearer, and my nose was now pressed against the window. I stepped back, even as I sneezed, then moved as close as I could without breathing in dust.

“What the…?!”

A head with a mop of undone hair emerged, then shoulders, swinging breasts, curved waist, flared hips, a miniature bush of hair at the juncture of athletic thighs…

My jaw slackened, my mouth hung open, and I couldn’t find the will to lock it back. A woman was in the shrubbery behind a house, sponging her body! And this, right in the middle of town, not some outskirt. I don’t know how many minutes I stayed there; mouth agape. I was jolted back to reality when she bent, head forward, and rose again, swinging a wrapper around her wet body. An iron bucket rose in her hand from somewhere in the shrubbery; and she was gone, through a door, beyond my vision.

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I sat on the nearest chair then, wondering what I had just seen. And if maybe she had seen me… If she would be coming for me in my dreams one night. Because, who showers in a mere back-of-house shrubbery in this age? And at almost 11a.m, when the world is up and about? And in the middle of a busy area where storey buildings abound?

Who knows these things???

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Humans of Abeokuta: Introduction

As usually happens, strangers and visitors note nuances easier than natives. Also, the farther the personal culture of the stranger/visitor from the new land, the easier it is for them to note socio-cultural nuances. The simplest reason for this can be explained in terms of the Biblical log and speck of wood analogy. Simply put: if you live with something (the log, in this case) you get used to it; and either never note it, or  note it but label it as ‘norm’. When faced with something new (the speck, in this case) however, it registers in your subconscious; at the very least. That would be why visitors say things about where you live that you had either never noticed, or taken for granted. It’s also why you imagine your mother’s soup the sweetest until you travel. Experiencing new things widens horizons and perspectives; the consequence of encountering new experiences.

I moved to Abeokuta some weeks back, a state capital that is a picturesque town. Exploring the town, I am often the lone person smiling to herself, trying hard not to smile, or getting so frustrated she’s chewing on her lips. So I had this brilliant idea: to show you the Abeokuta I see, tell you of its peoples. Let’s explore Abeokuta together, through the city girl’s eyes for as long as I can manage. Noting and enjoying the nuances of this town and its peoples.

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An aerial view of Abeokuta; found on Google

 Aye, all of these long ‘Englishes’ are to introduce a new series on dupewrites: Humans of Abeokuta. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Perhaps you would show me and the reading world your town/city too someday; aye?