Friday, January 12, 2018

Good Teeth (plus an update)

It was the way she said it that made my heart start to pound in my chest. The way she shifted close to me on my bed, glanced around, leaned forward. Her breath smelled of sardines. When I tried to put a fraction of an inch between our thighs, which were now touching, she closed the gap in a second.

- I saw what happened...

I ignored her voice, her breath tickling my ear. I wondered what brand of sardines she favoured. Titus? Lots of people liked Titus? But this girl was cheap. Probably Milo. Yes, she seemed like a Milo.

- This afternoon on the queue…

I knew what she was doing, leaving her sentences unfinished so I could implicate myself. But even as my feet went cold I kept my face straight. She leaned closer.

- I saw what that idiot boy Kenny was doing to you on the line.

The cold was rising from my feet now, creeping up my thighs. When it reached my chest my heart would stop. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. There would be nothing to feel, no shame, if I just fell back on my bed and died.  

I sat still. But she was staring at me and her face was a question I needed to answer before she made her own answers. I tried to look confused. She glanced around the dorm room before looking at me again.

- He was… rubbing his thing on your bum-bum when you were standing on the line.

How did I convince myself that no one saw it happen? It was barely two hours ago, standing in line with other students so we could file into the dining hall for lunch, when I felt something rub against me from behind. It took a moment for me to realise that this was no accidental brush, that there was a rhythm to the contact. Our bodies were packed close in the queues, but not that close.

I looked behind me, saw his face. Kehinde – or Kenny, as he preferred – the second half of the principal’s set of twins. There was no apology in his eyes or on his lips. There was a smirk, behind which lay a brazen challenge: so what are you going to do about it? The eye contact lasted two or three seconds before I broke it.  

- Didn’t you know what he was doing?

I looked at her now. It was easier to shake my head, so that was what I did. Easier to do that than to try and explain why I said nothing, did nothing to stop him, even though I wanted him to stop. There were no words to describe it, the helpless embarrassment that stopped me even from quietly moving away. I just stood there, rooted, hoping nobody would notice. I suppose it helped that after our brief eye contact he stopped.

- You didn’t know. Hmm…

I couldn’t tell if she believed me.

I wasn’t exactly lying when I said I didn’t know. Because I didn’t know why, when you came down to it, I had done nothing. It wasn’t because Kenny was the principal’s son; I cannot say I would have acted differently if he wasn’t. What was it that kept my tongue tied when I should have talked, my feet rooted when I should have walked? The same thing that kept me quiet as a child when I would rather suffer a scarred scalp than call attention to the relaxer burning on my head, preferring to wait unobtrusively until one of the salon girls remembered the little person they were supposed to be watching? The same thing that wouldn’t let me show my teeth when I laughed, even though they were perfectly good teeth?

- Okay. It’s all right.

No. No, it’s not. Many things are not right with me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

'The Girl Who Lied' published as a Ploughshares Solo

My (long) short story, ‘The Girl Who Lied’ has just been published by Ploughshares Journal as a Solo piece and I’m pretty excited about this.

Kemi, a risk-taker who's used to getting her way, and Tola, shy and obedient, couldn't be more different, but when boarding school brings the two together, they become inseparable. Their friendship and Tola's morals are put to the test when Kemi is involved in a serious and suspicious accident. Tola must make the difficult decision of telling the truth and obeying the grown-ups or protecting the secret of her newfound friend.

Support my hustle and get ‘The Girl Who Lied’ here for just $1.99!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Since I've Been Gone...

... not a whole lot has been going on for the eternity three months I've been away. 

In case you missed it, my short story 'Long Hair' was published in the latest issue of Per Contra. Below is an excerpt, and you can read the full story here.

When Jennifer first joined our school everybody asked her all the time, ‘Jennifer, are you mixed?’ ‘Jennifer, is your mother from London or America?’ Jennifer liked it when the other girls asked her these questions; you could tell she was the proud type. She would laugh and say yes to everything: Yes, I am mixed. Yes, I was born in London. Yes, my mother is related to the Queen. But we all knew she was joking. We had seen her parents – they were both fair but they were not white. 

All the girls liked Jennifer but I used to look at her with side-eye; her type of hair needed an explanation. Nigerian girls don’t have this kind of long hair just like that and for no reason. We pay for her type of hair at the market, and then we pay more at the salon so they can fix it in for us with thread or glue. Then we wear the hair for six weeks so that the money we spent on it doesn’t feel wasted. And when it starts to itch we beat on our heads like drums, because everyone knows your fingers can’t reach your scalp when you’re wearing a weave.

Also (and this is some serious throwback), for six weeks in the months of May and June I travelled Nigeria with a team of fellow artists - writers, photographers and a filmmaker - on a project by Invisible Borders tagged 'Borders Within'. We blogged about our experiences on the road trip here.

Here, I write about my anxieties travelling to Maiduguri; and here's a post about fear and our hotel in Calabar getting robbed; and here I experience my hometown Asaba with new eyes.

Happy reading!

*tiptoes back into oblivion*

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Danfo Chronicles – The Best Laid Plans

* For Atoke and Abe (@saintabadini), for unwittingly providing the motivation for this post. Thank you.

I was returning from work one fine evening when I boarded a bus from Yaba that looked innocent enough. As the bus went down Herbert Macaulay I was thinking the usual things I think when I first get on a bus: gauging the driver’s speed and demeanour, trying to sense if this was a normal human being behind the wheel or one of those demon-possessed drivers, and whether it was time to start singing ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’. I examined the bus, or at least as much as I could from my place on the second row: side mirrors, check; rear-view, check; door that looked steady enough to not fall off its hinges any minute, check. All gravy.

Moments after we got on Third Mainland Bridge the bus engine started to sputter. The driver eased over to the outer lane and the bus began to slow down. The driver and conductor started a conversation:

‘Na fuel don finish so?’

‘No be fuel. Engine go soon pick.’

‘You sure say no be fuel?’

‘I say no be fuel!’

The bus went slower and slower.


Alas, no amount of nos could keep the bus moving. We were halfway across the bridge when it came to a jerky stop. The driver turned the key in the ignition. The engine wheezed but wouldn’t come to life. He did this five times before he was ready to admit:

‘E be like say na fuel o.’

Well done, Captain Obvious.

I turned to look behind me at the speeding vehicles. The conductor had got off the bus and was waving oncoming traffic onto other lanes. I shuddered and turned to face forward again.

‘No mind these stupid danfo people. Dem dey drive dey make money, yet dem no go buy fuel. Na water una wan take drive?’

‘This is how they have wasted my time. The whole of today, from one danfo to another, all of them, time-wasters!’

The driver shouted something to his conductor in Yoruba. The man sitting to my right chuckled and interpreted: ‘E say na person come thief the fuel wey dey him bus before.’

‘No be only thief. We resemble small pikin wey dem go dey lie give anyhow?’

The driver turned the handle of his door and let go of it. I watched with alarm as the door swung open and into the road.

‘Driver, hold your door! It’s entering the road!’

The driver pulled the door ajar and shimmied out of his seat. He went to the back of the bus and opened the boot, and then the latch covering the engine.

‘Wetin you dey open engine for, this man?’ This from the woman sitting in the passenger seat. ‘Abeg, come give us our money!’

Really, on Third Mainland? And you’ll do what with the money? Fly?

The driver replaced the engine latch and shut the boot, and he and his conductor stood behind the bus trying to flag down another danfo.

‘What are you people doing?’ the man beside me called to them. ‘Who wan stop for you on top Third Mainland?’

I sat biting my lip and glancing nervously behind me, trying not to imagine a speeding vehicle ramming us from behind.

After a few minutes of futile waving the driver walked back to the front of the bus and opened the door, again leaving it to swing into the road.

‘Oh, God, this man! Hold that your door!’

‘E be like say dem dey follow this driver from village.’

The driver held the door against his body with one hand and, with the other gripping the door frame, he began to push. I turned around to see the conductor pushing from behind. I winced as a vehicle coming fast behind us swung into the next lane with seconds to spare.

The driver said something in Yoruba, and again the man to my right interpreted: ‘He said you people should come down and push.’

I pictured me pushing a danfo bus on Third Mainland, or anywhere even, and I couldn’t help myself. I closed my eyes and laughed till I was wiping tears. The Interpreter joined in, but he and two other men got down to push. As they pushed the bus began creeping onto the next lane, and I stopped laughing long enough to scream to the driver to keep his bus on its lane.

The bus was inching forward, pushed by five men, when another danfo, spotting us from a distance, started to slow down behind us. The other bus flashed its headlights and the message was clear.

‘Enter bus, enter bus!’ the conductor screamed.

The other danfo was now right behind us, and the men who had been pushing hurried back onto the bus. The other danfo bumped us from behind and kept moving, taking us ahead of it, with our driver keeping us in lane using the steering wheel. I looked behind but couldn’t make out the face of our rescuer, only white teeth.

The other bus pushed us all the way to Adeniji Bus Stop where it left us and sped on ahead. But instead of putting us on another bus or giving us a refund, the conductor grabbed a five-litre keg and got off the bus before it had even come to a stop. He hopped onto an okada without breaking stride, and we watched as he disappeared down the road into Adeniji.

‘Him don go buy fuel be that’, the man to my left said with a sigh. The woman in the passenger seat got off the bus with a huff and soon boarded another one.

Moments later, a man with the soiled clothes and unkempt hair of a vagrant appeared at the door of the bus. He placed a slip of paper that looked like the receipt for a lotto ticket on the bus’s front bench, right in front of the man seated to my right. And then, muttering something reproving, he wandered off to stand a few metres from the bus. I looked at the unkempt man, and then at the man to my right. He looked back at me, his face mirroring mine.

‘Wait, so he just came and dropped that paper and walked away?’ I asked. The man’s answer was to glance back at the unkempt man, and then shift on the seat, closer to me and away from the slip of paper. I laughed, but this time I laughed alone.

The conductor returned minutes later with his five litres of fuel. He poured it into the tank as the man to my left said, ‘That’s how they will be buying kobo-kobo fuel. Very soon now they will go and stop other people again on Third Mainland.’

When the driver turned the key this time the engine roared to life. We continued on our way, and I expected to be at Obalende in another two minutes.

As we approached Sura Junction, I noticed the driver muttering something, saw the index finger of his right hand swinging between the road to the right, which led off from Sura Junction, and the road continuing straight ahead, which led to Obalende, like he was contemplating which to take. Everyone knows that going by Sura Junction would almost certainly mean getting stuck in traffic in the narrow streets of Obalende, before reaching Obalende Bus Stop.

‘Driver, no take Sura o,’ the man to my left said.

The driver said nothing.

‘This man, abeg follow straight.’

He kept swinging his index finger


We reached Sura Junction and the driver turned right. Into Sura.

It took what felt like a full minute. And then, from the man to my left:

‘This driver, God will delay your destiny the way you have delayed us today.’

The driver was calm when he spoke: ‘It is your destiny that will delay. In fact, your destiny have die.’

And so on and so forth. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Exploring Historic Epe and Sungbo's Eredo

I joined the Nigerian Field Society last December, and on my first trip with the group we explore historic Epe and the mysterious Sungbo Walls. Here’s my account of the trip.

On December 31, about 20 of us met up at Lekki Conservation Centre in Lagos between 8.00 – 8.30 AM and left for Epe at 8.40 AM. During the 80-minute drive to Epe, Ed Keazor, brilliant historian, lawyer, author and filmmaker and our guide for the trip, provided us with some background on the land development around Lagos Island and extending all the way toward Epe, from colonial times to present day. He talked about the intricate ties that Ancient Benin had (and still has) with Lagos and a large part of Western Nigeria, highlighting some of the influences of Bini culture and history in Lagos and Epe. Ed also answered questions on land sale in Lagos, discussing its somewhat precarious nature and some risks and pitfalls to avoid.

As we arrived Epe, Ed discussed the past economic and religious tensions between the 'Eko Epe' – the settlers who arrived Epe with Oba Kosoko in 1851 when he fled Lagos after being deposed by the British colonial government – and the 'Ijebu Epe', the Epe locals. The Eko Epe were mostly traders while the Ijebu Epe were largely fishermen. We learnt that Epe is about 80% Muslim, and that the town got its name from the large number of soldier ants in the area. Ed pointed out trademark Afro-Brazilian architecture, a lot of which can also be found in parts of Lagos, as we drove through the town.

At 9.57 AM we reached the First Epe Central Mosque, built in 1862 and rebuilt in 1930 to accommodate the expanding Muslim population. We met the Chief Imam of the mosque and, with our feet bare and heads covered (for females), were allowed to see the inside of the mosque. (Only then did I realise, to my surprise, that this was my first time ever inside a mosque.) We took in the ancient rafters in the building as the Chief Imam spoke (in Yoruba, with Ed translating) about the significant role of the central mosque in the community, for information dispersal, for guidance and leadership; and also about the ways in which religion and tradition interface in the community (for example, the traditional leader of Epe is turbaned in the Central Mosque by the Chief Imam).

Chief Imam (centre) and Ed Keazor (right)

Inside the First Epe Central Mosque

We left the mosque at 10.40 AM and drove to the Fish Market. There, we explored the market, buying fish, taking pictures and watching the local fisherwomen work. As it was a Sunday the market wasn’t in full swing, but we got a good enough sense of its scale and its economic significance to the town.

Man on canoe

Fish kept alive in water so it stays fresh for long

More fish

Baskets and berthed boats

We left the Fish Market at 11.50 AM and arrived Eredo at 12.25 PM, where we headed to the home of the Baale (community leader) to make our presence known and pay our respects. Next, we visited the caretaker of the Sungbo walls, Chief Sunny, whose dedication and personal devotion have kept the Walls open and accessible. Chief Sunny has had virtually no support from any quarters in maintaining the walls. Since he fell ill about a year ago the Walls have deteriorated even further, and as we walked our guide had to clear a path for us through the forest with a cutlass.

Walking the Walls

As we walked, Ed told us about the history of the Walls – which were commissioned by Bilikisu Sungbo – some of the myths and speculation surrounding them, as well as some amazing facts: for example, sections of the Walls can be seen from space, and about one million cubic feet of earth was moved to create the Walls. Ed pointed out that there are still many unanswered questions about the Walls: its purpose (it is thought to be protective or spiritual, or both), its extent and its shape (circular or otherwise) are debated till this day.

It was saddening to learn that there is very little study being undertaken to uncover the mysteries behind the Walls. Some of the most notable research on the Sungbo Walls was done by British archaeologist Dr Partick Darling. According to our guide there is some talk about some government involvement with the Walls in the near future, but only to the extent of building (much-needed) staircases to allow for safer ascent and descent to and from the trenches, and to build a gate at the Eredo entrance to control access. So essentially, the government involvement will only be concerned with revenue generation, and not research into or preservation of the Walls. The Eredo Walls are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

We emerged from the Eredo at 1.28 PM, and walked about 20 minutes to a nearby spring where we had lunch. We left Eredo at 2.50 PM and arrived the lovely and serene Epe Resort and Spa at 3.10 PM. There, we had drinks and admired the grounds of the resort. We left the resort at 4 PM and arrived back at the Lekki Conservation Centre compound at about 5.20 PM.

The Nigerian Field Society is a national organisation founded in 1930 to:
- encourage interest in and knowledge of the fauna, flora, history, legends and customs, arts and crafts, sciences, sports and pastimes of West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular;
- support their conservation;
- co-operate with organizations with similar interests.

NFS is active in a number of cities in Nigeria. For more information on the organisation, as well as how to join, please visit the NFS website.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Theatre Reviews: Wakaa and Kakadu (Musicals)

Happy New Year, everyone! Here's wishing us all the very best in 2016.

The musicals Wakaa and Kakadu are still showing at Muson Centre, Onikan, and will be on until January 3. I saw both shows and reviewed them on Curtain Call Naija, my new blog dedicated to theatre. Please read, like and follow Curtain Call Naija for theatre news and reviews going forward.