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Lagos living: Driving and dying.

N. F. Kenure

Roundabouts are where Nigerian brains in Lagos go to die.

 

As a Lagos driver approaches any kind of intersection, especially a roundabout, an unseen force field fries as many brain cells that spend more than a second in its sphere. Everyone knows this intuitively so all the drivers try to make it past in a wild dash. This means that every kind of haphazard reaction to get to the other end will emerge. No one knows anything about the right of way, talk less of caring. Why signal to let your enemies know you mean to go left when their reaction will be to lunge forward impeding you because they can? Why stay in the outer circle when you can suddenly feint right at the last second? Why should the danfo wait behind other vehicles at the traffic stop, when it can sashay down the exit lane, blocking legitimate exiters then leap forward to the delight of its occupants. Leave them all guessing, no one comes to Lagos for peace and calm.

 

Everything that is wrong with the nation as a  whole can be observed on our roads. Any attempt to do the right thing by waiting your turn or joining a queue at the toll quickly becomes a lesson in why “doing right” is only for the stupid. You watch other people drive on ahead to the front end then do the “nudge”, edging out legitimate turn takers and smugly driving off into the sunset leaving losers who waited in line behind. Soon, a new line of impatient drivers is born, but even they, in their fake legitimacy are overtaken by usurpers who will not even take turns to cheat. Lines have long blurred and this simple drive back home has devolved to a fight to the death for many of the cars on this road. A beautiful discordance announces itself with the prerequisite cacophony. Only a saint remains on the true line at this point, and there are no saints in Lagos, only new imports who will learn the truth in due course. They too will one day catch a glimpse of themselves, fangs unleashed and snarling at a foe.

 

A LASTMA official and a traffic policeman watch together in the wooden shade sponsored by a bank. They do not earn enough money to make their business their “business”, and the Lagos sun, a fireball that sears through everything in its path is just too much trouble.

 

When the young men with petty wares begin to appear right in the middle of the highway; plantain chips, gala beef rolls, handkerchiefs and the highly sought drink touted as ‘‘ice cold water”, an acknowledgement of what it once was, the drivers realise that things just got real. Hungry, tired and frustrated, they hurl insults for perceived slights as they slowly bake in the heat, unable to tap into the balm that the breeze from speed would have provided. Boiled groundnuts casings fly out of windows, banana peels, plastic bottles and more, landing wherever the gods ordain. Child beggars swarm untended windows, leading disabled relatives. The moneymakers have graphic disabilities, one arm gone won’t hack it on these streets. The hunchback with a dangling eyeball is king here.

 

Cars begin to fall off by the roadside, or right in the chaotic midst of it all. One overheats, sizzling steam emanating from the still closed bonnet. A burnt clutch here and a flat tire there. Every mile or so, there is the furor of drivers whose cars have kissed without the consent of their owners. There’s the woman screaming hysterically, her window smashed all so casually, the youngster making away with her handbag, leaving behind shards of glass in her laps and displaced wig. She’s been robbed right before a thousand eyes hiding behind raised cell phones.

 

A young boy grazes a side mirror as he tries to get to the other side of the road but has to duck past a wheezing okada. Minutes later, a danfo hits the side mirror and it hangs in defeat held by a lone red electrical wire. The owner and a dozing passenger ignore all external stimuli. If it were the start of the day, maybe he would chase after the bus, beat his chest in a display of machismo, the driver would prostrate in the red dust begging for forgiveness because they all know their roles in this play. But it is the end of another long day in Lagos and man is tired. His exit is just ahead, right there by the last roundabout. He will keep his head down, conserving energy for the last push and hope to keep just enough brain cells to make it through and live to fight another day.

 


Posted:

Apr 8, 2019