It took Ikem a long time to understand that there were two Lagoses instead of one. That was the first shock. When he left red soft sands of the East to Lagos unknown, in hopes of greener pastures, he had imagined and dreamt even, that all Lagos was one. His failings started even before he began.
Volts, a name that had conjured up German motor spare parts in his mind was the place he was supposed to live and imagine his surprise to find the earth there blackened as soon as he arrived, and the poverty so apparent that shame itself was a luxury.
“Welcome to Lagos,” his uncle was saying, the one that bleached his otherwise dark skin into an unhealthy yellow before returning home for Christmas.
“Welcome to Lagos,” his uncle was saying again, but Ikem couldn’t hear him or rather didn’t want to hear him, too many mini-sized generators were competing against each other for which would sound the loudest,
How can I honestly respond to him? Ikem thought. The journey had been particularly stressful, the hold up to him had seemed a mile long, stretching into infinity. Then the assault he had received from bus conductors who didn’t know that you stopped the bus for passengers to get in, not this hopping into buses like monkeys, where are we rushing to?
“Uncle thank you sir,” the reply had fallen out of his mouth and he was surprised at it. Thank God I can still lie this fast, he thought.
But this Lagos was something else, where was the television Lagos? The Lagos where the streets were so clean and the roads so perfect it was a wonder to look at? Where was the beach and its white sands and those boys and those girls that wore skimpy clothes while drinking Coca Cola and stared into cameras with fun-filled eyes? Certainly it wasn’t this loud Lagos with its too much people, with its too poor people living together like chicken in a pen; it wasn’t this Lagos, where people like his uncle lived in a room and used curtains to differentiate between parlour and the bedroom, and pornographic DVDs littered the floor like an accusation.
While he was thinking these thoughts, Bolaji a neighbor poked his head through the curtains of the front and said in a voice loud enough to overcome the generator’s sounds,
“Happy Independence Day!”
And Ikem surprised himself by replying, “Na today?”
“Yes brother na today.”
They were surprised, they had expected him to act timid at the very least for a week but this forwardness was something new, it made them wonder if he was a Lagosian too. But his next relpy took all those thoughts from them,
“Abeg I wan rest, the stress wey person meet for road no be small thing.” Disappointment held him down like envy, and sleep was the only comfort in reach, so he held tight.
Imagine seeing this Lagos and adding Independence Day’s reminder to it, please one needed sleep.