The New Arrival (excerpts from A Fistful of Sands)

The IFEANYICHUKWU night bus arrived the Maza-Maza bus terminal from Sabon-Ngari in the early hours of the morning. His new world packed into a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, Ogbuefi had walked the streets of Lagos, asking from passers-by for directions to the address scribbled on a piece of paper he had carefully secured in the buttoned breast pocket of his denim shirt. It took a lot of time to get to Ugwumba’s place in Alapere, an outskirt of the Lagos metropolis, more so because passers-by in Lagos weren’t as hospitable as their counterparts in Kano. They were an apprehensive sort who regarded him like he was an alien shot to the earth by error when he stopped them to ask for directions, others simply ignored him and hurried on to their destinations. He was later to learn the reason being that gbomo-gbomos, kidnappers were rife on the streets of Lagos, using voodoo to hypnotise their victims into following them wherever they led. He missed that part of Kano immediately, that part of Kano that made every stranger want to stay on, that made you feel like you were home in your own country built on a brotherhood of diversity; you just had to notify any stranger that you just arrived the city and they wouldn’t mind suspending their destination to deposit you on the very footstep of your destinations irrespective of your tribe or tongue, for as long as they understood what you were saying. They could be such warm, care-free people when the fire of religious bigotry and political doggedness hadn’t torn into the very essence of their humanity.
The sheer peculiarity of Lagos had overwhelmed Ogbuefi. Lagos was very different from life in Kano in all respects, for where Kano was easy, slow, and assured, life in Lagos was too fast and sophisticated; everybody seemed to be in a hurry to or from somewhere. People hopped in and out of moving buses, they hurried along the highways and bridges, you could see them in the wee hours of the morning hurrying mindlessly along-like ghosts hurrying to get to their graves before the first light of day sneaked onto the dark night- to their places of work in the mainland. In the evenings they hurried home weary but determined to endure another bout of commuting to wherever they lived in one of the many densely populated settlements at the outskirts of the metropolis. One experience shook Ogbuefi to the very fibres of his being; he never envisaged a man of such status as Ugwumba to live in such squalors as he met him in; his host lived in a poorly ventilated two-room apartment with his wife and three children, one of the rooms served as a parlour and the other a bedroom where bags, baggage, utensils and every other bits and ends necessary for family living was crammed onto shelved nailed to the wall to maximize the use of the little space available. His host slept with his wife on the single sized bed in the bedroom while his guest and children made themselves as comfortable as they could on the couch and on raffia mats spread on the linoleum-carpeted floor. This made the air-less room thick with the suffocating smell of stale sweat stuck into the fabric of the couch over successive periods of time. In Kano where a man was accustomed to a lot of living space, the average Lagos dweller lived in as much space as chickens in battery cages were allotted to; the bathrooms and toilets were often communal and unsanitary and one had to stand in a queue in the mornings to await his turn to bath or defaecate. Some slum dwellers defaecated in their rooms into small empty pails that once held paints or custard and in the mornings would be seen standing on the queue awaiting their turn to empty the mobile toilet off its content. He was to learn that most of his reputable Lagos-based kinsmen lived in the same squalid or worse conditions where the sheer size of rats nearly as big as cats made one shudder with fearful irritation. These rats had an air of importance about them; their gait were suggestive of a people exercising their constitutional right of freedom of movement and occupation, for they paraded the cramped living quarters of people like they also were tenants who paid their own share of rent and timely.
He also got to learn that the cost of rent in Lagos was just too exorbitant for an average struggling fellow who had obligations to meet in the Southern homeland. What however baffled him was the ease at which these squalid-living kinsmen showed off their ‘fortunes’ during festivities at home, making monetary donations like they never sweated to get the money. He considered that these Lagos-dwelling kinsmen had big duplexes and bungalows built in the villages, overgrown by weeds for nobody lived in them; they only travelled to the villages once during the Christmas season, but for no longer than two-weeks.
Lagos still held come wonders for the first time visitor. The first time he met a surging mass of humanity at the Oshodi bustop,- workers hurrying home from work with determined steps- he had thought it was another version of the Kano riots playing out but in another fashion more dramatic; he had been awestruck at the sheer mass of people coming together in one place. The number of bridges overhead was also spectacular, he had counted and counted while he commuted on an excursion about the city one Sunday morning, with Chief Ugwumba’s eldest son as a guide, until he had lost count and fallen asleep in the rattling danfo bus. He had been on edge the entire time the bus took the Third Mainland Bridge to Ikeja; with every relay bump the whirring Volkswagen danfo bus hit, he had felt the wobbly yellow and black contraption would magically topple over and deposit them into the endless body of glittery white water.


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