I’m going to own a cranberry coloured Jaguar XF, and I will pick strangers in it. At least that is what I tell myself.
Welcome to Lagos; a city like none other. With about 21million people living in about 385.9 mi² area. It is a surprise we don’t bump into each other on the streets. The bustling streets of Lagos never stay empty; driving is like playing vice city. From a distance, it looks like a scene from fast and furious waiting to happen. We are like our cars, always on the move. For an average Lagosian, mindless seating is not an option. In Lagos, you see everything, buy and sell everything and you can experience anything. It is a land for hustlers. Here, risk is just another word.
By the time my cousin and I rushed out of the house, the brown pencil had barely settled on my brows and my body-con skirt wouldn’t let my strides move any further than four inches but, I still managed to run. We had just seen flashes from the headlamps of his car and that only meant one thing, he was outside the estate gate and in less than ten seconds he would take off if he didn’t see us. We had woken up by 4:30 am just to catch up so, we couldn’t afford to let him leave without us.
Eventually, we caught up, the hardest part was over. The rest was a smooth ride in a respectable car, with a slow chilling circulation of refrigeration that made the run worth it. He was among the good ones; it was a good day. He would pick us up every morning, all we had to do was be on time and be willing to keep up a good conversation.
On the bad days, it was both pitiful and adventurous. Somehow, in all the sadness, I manage to find it humorous. It might have been how most of the men looked the other way as they drove closer avoiding our pleading eyes or how the women looked down at us in pity or utter disgust. Perhaps it was the city, beyond every reasonable doubt, they had every right to be sceptical about two fully dressed corporate looking girls on the street soliciting for a ride. Couldn’t they afford a bus? Oh yes! We could.
But we didn’t want the bus, not this morning. A car would serve better. This pleading routine would usually go on for long minutes, where we would examine both the car and its owners determining if it seemed fit for us. Sometimes, we used sign language for rides that had pitch black windows or outrightly asked if they mistakenly gave us the eye. We got lucky most of the time; people are courteous.
There were a number of reasons why people offered to give us a ride. Some wanted companionship, others felt a human inclination to extend help, some wanted to flirt and possibly get a number. But, of all the numerous reasons, nothing baffled me like a man who said he had picked me up because I looked confused. Another said, I looked like his pending miracle, he then went on to narrate how terrible his life had turned out. Conversely, another seemed so cheerful that, he literally stamped his feet to the beat the tunes, perhaps he had just won a million dollars. Again, another admitted that he had been hesitant to pick me up for fear of thievery; the last girl he helped stole his phone. I noticed him continuously check my hands just to be sure; I had never been so uncomfortable.
When it comes down to it, people have a natural tendency to be kind. Generally, most people are lonely and would tell you their story in a heartbeat, even if it meant they wouldn’t see you again. Make no mistake, this didn’t erase the fear of the unknown from my mind. With such a degree of exposure, anything could have happened. They could have been kidnappers or murderers; these were horrific times. My cousin believed that, if you didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t happen to you. I’m not sure that premise is enough reason to dish out your safety to a total stranger. But we did anyway.
I’ve been in an SUV, range rover, Toyota, Camry, Venza, a Benz and all the other names I didn’t quite care to memorize. And, I have also been in several buses, even one with no doors. Where I sat so close to the edge that, I could clearly see the road move as fast as we did. A gigantic bus rode very close to ours, it looked like a house on wheels, I had never seen this type of bus before. But, this is Lagos; a place where everything is possible.
The traffic crawled, giving me ample time to observe. Not like I had much of a choice since I was barely inches away from its massive tyre. For some reason, it generated a lot of heat; my legs wept. For the most part, I enjoyed the experience, I like to think it’s a once in a lifetime kind-of-thing. More like my own version of, “started from the bottom” kind of story.
I looked around at the people close to me, they were all tired. Of all the risky things, this might be the most perilous. The conductor hung at the edge of the moving bus, aggressively demanding for his money. Some unsatisfied passengers yelled about how reckless the driver drove and how sluggish he drove, either way, they yelled. There was always that one person that was ready to break a head if he didn’t get his “change”. No one here smiled at irrelevancies, it was all serious business. I held my purse dearly……