It was my intention from the very beginning, from that point, that minute, that second, from that infinitesimal space of time in which I realized that I had to, simply had to write about Mr. Alani, to present him to my reader as clearly as possible, to paint a portrait as vivid and as bright and as rich as the larger-than-life boli-seller himself.
But where to begin? That became the question. Do I start with a description of the man? His physical attributes? Or with a few sentences to praise the heavenly sweetness of his roasted plantains? The crispness of his groundnuts? The neatness of his surroundings? The fastidiousness of his preparation? Or do I commence with a short bit of narrative detailing how my obsessive-compulsive love of hot boli and roasted groundnuts led me to make an acquaintance of Mr. Alani and to experience firsthand the power of his stunningly offensive and yet gregarious personality?
I decided to pursue the latter course and as an introductory paragraph to my short piece on my relationship with the infamous boli-seller, I described to the reader the circumstances that led me to become a favourite customer of Mr. Alani-Baba Boli.
I began with a simple statement of fact, the fact being that I had always been, from as far as I could remember, in a committed relationship with boli. From the blessed day, at three years old, when my grandmother cut a small piece of hot roasted plantain and blew on it, to cool it a little, and crushed it between her thumbs, to soften it a little, so I could chew it, and put it in my mouth, I had become hopelessly addicted to the plantain snack; this addiction leading me through primary school and secondary school and university to part with quite a lot of energy and money and also time, invested in walking about town, looking for that roadside woman who sold the best boli and its delightful accompaniment, roasted groundnuts. Read the rest of this entry
I haven’t used public transportation in Lagos State since 1995 when I was 9 years old, in the dark days before Mum married Otunba. Now, because of Yvonne, I am sitting in a bus, one of those abominable danfos, wondering what I’m doing there, wishing I could be anywhere else in the world but there and that’s when it hits me. I was already annoyed by the two fat women who have crushed me so tight between them that one of my legs is beginning to cramp. Two middle aged women who, just to irritate me, have discovered that they know each other and are now, in the cause of aggressive gossip, shooting tiny high-velocity globules of spit at each other across my apparently inconsequential bodily presence. I was already annoyed by the conductor who has refused to give me change after receiving 500 naira for a 70 naira trip. Each time I ask for the change, and I have asked four times in ten minutes, he responds like the insolent illiterate he is. “Oga, relax na. Wetin?” I was already annoyed by Yvonne, whose idea this silly bus ride was, because she said how could I call myself an urban writer, how could I write about the lives of everyday Lagos people, when I hadn’t been on a danfo in 16 years. She thought that would be quite fraudulent and I, the wonderful artistic me thought “Oh. She’s right you know. It is a great idea.” After all, you’re supposed to write what you know. So, I took her advice. And here I am.
I am silently hating Yvonne when it hits. The smell. A truly repulsive, horrifyingly obnoxious smell. Like all smells, I catch a small whiff of it at first. It’s like a little whisper. I wrinkle my nose and think, ew. But slowly, as the body of gas begins to bloom, gather weight, and diffuse, the whiff becomes a wave. A wave of smell so nauseating I feel quite light-headed. I pinch my nose shut and I am absolutely sure I will throw up because it smells like all the nasty things in the world combined. There are shades of indigestion, rotten eggs, rotten fish, faeces, and all kinds of dead, decaying things that my mind refuses to identify for fear that the result will be vomit. I look around. The stench is so powerfully revolting and yet so stunning in the complex array of stinks it torments us with. Whoever produced something so awful must be singularly gifted.
I believe it’s coming from somewhere in front of us. And I don’t care if it’s from that man who’s been eating non-stop since we left CMS or from that woman who’s sitting down beside him covering her nose with a handkerchief and staring at the man with undisguised animosity, I just need to get out of this bus!
Flashes. Flashes are all I see now. The buses come. The buses go. But me, I am numb.
I sit in a world of blindness, of darkness, of dust and ashes. So much noise, so much movement and yet there is no joy here. There is only pain. Pain, pain, more pain that never ends. That is what is here. That is what this world gives.
Flashes. The bright yellow buses with their two black horizontal stripes. Another one arrives. The next minute it is gone, fading away with its passengers, lost to the darkness. Lost to me.
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It’s amazing how many times I see them. I see them on the bus. I see them at school. I see them at Mr. Toni’s lesson. I see them at church, especially during Tuesday Bible Study. I see them everywhere.
What makes all of it truly remarkable is that they’re invisible. Everybody walks past them, they don’t see them; but I can. Ok, Ellie sees them too but she doesn’t count, does she? Everyone knows Ellie is ‘that mad half-caste girl who lives with Dr. Durotoye’. It’s not surprising that she sees them too.
I told Feyi about them. My Feyi, sweet Feyi. She told me they didn’t ‘really’ exist; that I always had a wild imagination, a wild brainspace. I told her about Ellie, about how Ellie sees them too, about how Ellie knew what they looked like without me telling her. Feyi was doubtful. I mean, everybody knows Ellie’s crazy, right? Right? Read the rest of this entry