You will be coming to my house for the first time, pal, and the following are words to live by:
When the bus drops you off at the bus stop, you will find yourself cutting the sharp corner leading into Alapere Estate and at this point, it’ll be wise to do yourself a large favour and march very quickly past the dingy bungalow to your right labelled “Alapere Police Station” in fading red ink above a narrow entrance halved by a door like a most diligent boyscout late for his early morning parade. Simply do this or risk being stopped and invited into the station to discuss how come, in spite of the sickening weather, the blinding dust and the no-end-in-sight recession that has struck the whole land like a plague, you walk like you are the one true Lagosian, the heir to the throne of everywhere; why you are shrouded with the ambiance of one with absolutely no worries, one who seemingly has, hidden in some secret vault, the vial that provides six packs and extra inches whenever he needs them.
If you are in the mood for trials and tribulations, plug in your headphones, preferably the elaborate colourful ones from DJ Cuppy’s tool box (don’t fret, Eazi’s gonna take it easy), or adorn a glistening gold chain with a large pendant— a mini-skull should do or a member (if you desire to be even more precise). It doesn’t have to be legit, just make it shine so bright it reflects the sun and makes you vividly conspicuous from about a mile. Or better still, strap on a bulgy Akube backpack and be unfortunate enough to have a laptop seated within.
Here is how you will spend the next four hours from that time (or three if you’re just too lucky): you will be asked to sit on a long wooden bench— that immediately protests your weight with a loud squeak— aptly surrounded by officers who will burn you with gazes like you are the elusive rat keeping their wives busy on those burning afternoons bored evil spirits titrate the contents of recalcitrant swollen bellies. You will be peppered with an exasperating myriad of questions: What is your job? Are you doing Yahoo-yahoo? Mojo dey your computer?
If nerves get the better of you as you punch life into your computer, such that you input Instagram’s password, Twoo, Eskimi, Nairabet and Merrybet’s before finally remembering that your password is your girlfriend’s maiden name, each goof lighting up the faces of the growing horde around you like vultures waiting for death to spice their meal with approval. Or if after you finally log in, a kobalizing email page pops up, revealing erstwhile conservations with a certain Mr Azalea Banks from Ontario about some containers and urgently needed installment payments, just know this: you are in deep shit.
If you are not an Ondo man or somehow you are able to tame the Isale eko ginger brewing in your veins and permit divine wisdom to fall upon you, you will quietly settle these men in black but be warned, they will be insulted by your first offer, snarl at the second, sigh over the third, ask you to top up the fourth and finally laugh wildly at the fifth. You will become friends immediately, slap hands like greased senators fresh from another docile seating, and exchange lewd jokes about your fineness and their innumerable victims until they free you to resume your journey.
Walk northward and you will walk past a row of traders with pylons of Mayjoy bread, trays of boiled eggs, plantains, second-hand shoes and bags that justify their cheap prices with one glance, DVDs and so on. Ignore the bananas, they might look robust, spotless and yellow like mini Brumese pythons but the moment you peel one open, your tongue splattering saliva desperately in anticipation of a colonization of filling sweetness, you will be greeted by a creamy pulp savaged by the pangs of inorganic fertilizers and formulas.
Onwards, you will see a long row of Keke Maruwas, their drivers standing by the entrance yelling the different locations they are headed and more importantly, emphasizing that they don’t have change. After about six or seven kekes, you will see a driver yelling: “Goriola, Kazeem Street.” Enter this one holding your change and if you don’t have, pretend you do because if you decide to be sincere of spirit, waving the heavy duty in your hand and confessing your sins, you will remain there till Arsenal wins the UEFA Champion’s League. Those drivers, no matter how long they have been working, never have change. It’s a theme over here; call it an anthem if you like.
Don’t sit in front with the driver. His open thighs coupled with your own desperation to avoid making contact with his grimy clothes, and the disproportionately large wheel as he meanders the road will keep nudging you out till half of your buttocks is hanging in the air, leaving you at the mercy of your centre of gravity and your mother’s prayers to keep you alive or else you will fall out onto the road and get crushed. Just sit at the back, the middle preferably and you should be fine.
If you are the perceptive type, you should begin to sense the marked changes the deeper you journey into Alapere. The air slowly accommodates a fog that darkens the ambiance just enough to be markedly obvious but not enough to obscure sight in any way. And the smell, once virgin and resplendent in its minty Harmattan naturalness, gradually starts to take in a fetidness that starts out as something like the smell of raw meat before graduating into the stifling stench of static gutter water. You will drive past innumerable shacks, ancient face-me-I-face-you buildings on the painful journey to dilapidation, the bars and Suya spots the size of kiosks, the breakaway streets with untarred roads punctured with murderous trenches, goats and their kids, hens, dogs and their halos of ticks, old women and their large transparent sacks filled with refuse and the booming Fuji music from innumerable video shops spicing the scenery. Just when your judgmental poverty-porn loving self is about to declare this place a slum, you will see eateries painted with primary colours, several dress and footwear stores all crammed into mega-complexes with corrugated caps embellished with stalks of DSTV dishes, betting outlets painted green with slide doors, and hats off to architectural ingenuity speckled here and there.
As you absorb all the juxtaposing imageries and sieve through the husks of appellatives stacked in your brain, you’d better slither back to your consciousness and remind the driver to stop at Kazeem Junction before he drives you off to Okija shrine. He will ask for his money, barking, like you are the NURTW officer that took away half of his earnings the day before. Riposte with a deadpan expression, this is especially important if you do not have change. A meek or a cheery expression opens the door for insults. But go commando, shove that crisp heavy-duty note into his hand and pretend to be distracted by Durotoye’s 2019 presidential election poster on a nearby wall or frown at another stale Facebook post by Ayodeji Oluwaseyi Isaac on your phone. The insults could still be conjured but the vocal expression will be stifled or at best limited to grunts and sulks, but even if a most twisted facial expression attempts to make up for the emasculation of articulation, pay him no attention till he gives you your change. Collect it and walk away defiantly.
When you alight from the Keke, don’t walk down the same street where you are dropped, that place is none of your business, even though its history is probably more interesting that this story. Where you’re headed is the street at the other side of the road. Now, be smart, don’t imagine this is a sane community. Before you cross, look left, right, left, right, left again and right again. Do this all over again and then cross. The vehicles or the trailers are not the problem, they are obvious enough; you should be wise enough to wait them out or you die, mangled flesh on the ground. The real issue is with the Okada riders; the way they pop up randomly from corners you never knew existed with speed and recklessness bordering on madness. Actually it’s really not madness; these men are sane members of the community on the prowl for their daily bread. The issue is with their minds and the puissant unction from alcohol, cannabis or whatever devious substance they’ve tasted. It’s not their fault.
If you survive the street and make it to the other side, you will most likely be greeted by suspicious looking men gathered in groups of threes or fours, arguing— if you choose to glorify cursing and profanity — football or betting odds. Ignore them. They are not why you are here even though, yet again, narrating their histories would probably amuse you more than this story. Walk down the untarred road and kindly thread softly. You will see that the road is heavily furrowed with potholes deep enough to hide your feet completely. You will come across polythene bags in some of the furrows, avoid them with your life, they are but faeces, the watery kind with concentrated smell that’d stick to you like your destiny. You’d wonder why cars are parked on both sides of the road, further narrowing the narrow road, almost turning it into a fucking pathway. It is mindboggling, you will be tempted to question the sanity of the inhabitants but oops, that will include me, so move on.
When you look around, you will see people staring: the skinny hairdresser in her shop, the busty liquor seller and her vibrant cohorts cloaked with the inimitable shade of inebriation, the sooty black refuse collector sprawled shamelessly in his wheel barrow, the grim-looking old woman behind trays of overripe tomatoes (she makes great ewa agoyin, by the way), the young men wielding spliffs in front of the football viewing centre cum betting booth, the salon filled with black knuckles, the barely dressed kids spurting water on each other by the tap and the sleeping bloodshot eyes lurking in the darkness behind the windows. Ignore them all.
Enter the fourth building on the left side of the road; it’s not a shop, shed or shack but a proper building, unpainted to boot. It’s a two-storey building with an underground compartment. You will walk past an abandoned well covered with tin sheets and planks, climb the steep staircase to the top floor and walk into the dark corridor miserly lighted by the bright reflections of the beautiful afternoon. Ignore the switch opposite you: that suspicious looking black knob jutting out of a broken white box filled with wires and their coppery innards, yes it’s a switch alright and it works, but there’s hardly ever light.
The first room to your right belongs to the landlord. Most likely his door is locked. The small angry man resumes very early morning at the beer parlour and staggers in drunk at mid-night, sometimes dropping at the entrance, soaked in his vomit and piss, smelling like a corpse. The consensus is that he is merely reaping what he’d sown but what exactly he had sown is a great source of discord. Some claim he used his wife and four children for rituals in exchange for wealth to build his house. Some claim he was afflicted with a momentary spell of madness and sent them out for no apparent reason and has since being in a sizzling romance with misery. Some believe his wife and kids are still in his apartment but they are nothing but mere bodies, fleshed mannequins devoid of thoughts or minds of their own. Some claim he’s a cannibal and he ate them, most likely with pepper soup and a crate of stout. While the others—mostly alakowes who consider themselves superior— think he’s just a lonely old man fortunate enough to be a slave to a generous ruler like alcohol.
The next two rooms to your left, according to the landlord in conclusion of a drunken barb, have been empty for years. Apparently the tales shrouding the building is a repellent and it’s really none of your business.
Move to the last room on your left, push aside the spent brown curtain and plant your ear against the grey wooden door blessed with a fading Gunners poster, you will hear the soothing evergreen tunes of King Sunny Ade’s “Grace of God” and if you strain harder, you will catch the slow disjointed typing on the keyboard of a computer. Oh ah. That person is me and I am writing the fifth draft of this baseless story. And I know you will wonder why on earth anybody would make a home in this building despite the many inconveniences and the unsettling back stories (most of which I have kept away from you). The truth is, I do get scared, a lot in fact. There are nights I wake up to soft whistling sounds or cries that sound neither like cats or little babies and my hair strands turn up so erect, they are tugging hard at my skin. I do not help myself on such moments as I begin to dream up false images of the landlord’s wife and the kids, running in and out of the walls, sometimes naked with bloodied stains, chanting and laughing manically. What about the hot muted afternoons I hear scratches on the wall, wild clanking as cutleries in my kitchen suddenly dropping to ground, and a husky voice shouts my name and tells me to cook Ekuru? Not to add Ajinomoto to the accompanying peppery stew.
These things scare me and constantly brands a reminder in my consciousness that I am nowhere normal, but really, the above inconveniences—however eerie they may be— are insignificant compared to the fact that I am paying a rent of just 26,000 naira per annum. I know what you will think. What you will call me. And I can’t blame you. I sometimes call myself a cheapskate too.
The important thing is: come inside.
About the Writer:
Ayodeji Oluwaseyi Isaac is a physiotherapist and screenwriter based in southwest Nigeria. He has works published on several platforms, online and print, and may have written a couple of things you may have seen on screen. He blogs, when he can, at ayodejiseyi.wordpress.com.