It starts out as a distant fear in December 2019, a virus, COVID19 or something like that, is ravaging Asian countries, millions of people contacting the flu, thousands dying… then it spread to Italy… locked down Italians are playing beautiful music, you shrug and enjoy the entertainment, with tears in your eyes. Then the United Kingdom, the USA— you watch with mounting horror as the capitals of the world succumb to the flu, and as you do when you’re anxious, you bury yourself in work, more work and loads of cigarettes.
You will not panic. Not when cities are being locked down and economies crumbling. You refuse to think of Nigeria, its poor health infrastructures, the economy that has been on life-support for ages, you will not think of the potential of you losing your job if the Rona reaches Nigeria and the bank decides to downsize. You absolutely refuse to think about things like losing your… life.
Maybe now that the Rona is in Ghana, maybe the government will stop international travel, but they don’t. First index case Lagos! You attend every church service; you pray the Rona away.
Your weekdays start out at 4:30am because you’re the branch manager of a bank located at Alago-Meji which is on the mainland, but you live at Ajah, the bottom end of the Island. Missing the alarm means you’ll be stuck in the heavy traffic going to the mainland. There are too many hurdles stacked against you, the first of which is your location, the second, the unpredictable temper of the car that you’ve been meaning to change for years— an option being eaten away by Nigeria’s galloping inflation and the many relatives you are supporting.
By the time you clock-in you are slightly late, and your daily visitor, that headache which usually kicks in the moment you step into your office, is already sending out minute exploratory aches… is this it? Have I caught the Rona? You swallow two aspirins and grimly dive into work… I’m dying by instalments anyway…
You surface for some air when the sun has made its way to its zenith, you order a quick lunch and eat it at your desk, because the moment you step out of your office things unravel. Not that your colleagues are totally inept, they just have a way of fumbling the ball the second your eagle sharp eyes are taken off them. After lunch you go to the backyard where you swallow a quick cup of coffee, two aspirins and sneak your first cigarette of the day. Back into the fray, you dive in and surface at 8pm.
Instead of returning to your apartment, you meet up with a few friends at Freedom Park where you unwind with a few bottles of beer, a plate of goat meat pepper-soup, live music. After all, it’s a Friday, you deserve it.
You arrive home at 11:30pm, your mum’s customary missed calls waiting on your phone. You call her back as you undress and fling the damn bra that has been choking you all day on the chair that doubles as your clothes horse. Your mother goes into a long rant of how her day went, how your father fucked up again, and ended with that one question, ‘when are you getting married?’
The headache kicks in again as she ticks off the long list of things that happens to unmarried single women your age. They die sick, broke and lonely, but most importantly, they die without leaving a worthy heir for your mother to dote over, without that one day of ‘glory’— when your mother finally shines in the presence of her peers— your wedding day.
You reflect on the fact that your mother has been married to your father for 40 years, a man to whom the description ‘deadbeat’ would be a great compliment. He gives you and your mother nothing but grief. He’s not a totally bad person, especially when he’s sober, or when he doesn’t have a new mistress or when he’s just gotten a new ‘contract’— both of which he loses with alarming regularity. Your mother is a hardworking, dedicated, Christian woman who raised you and your brother all by herself, but year after year of abuse, she still returns to a man who treats her worse than a workhorse— cooking, cleaning, providing. You almost blurt out that you’d rather die single than end up like her, but you remember her years of sacrifice so you keep your mouth shut.
At 12pm your lover knocks at your door, she lives only a few blocks away from you. A gorgeous woman who loves you more than you’ve ever been loved before, a woman who has dedicated five years of her life to you, a woman you cannot marry or even be in a committed relationship with because doing that— admitting you’re a lesbian— means the loss of everything you’ve ever worked for.
Unlike you, Anke has come to terms with her sexual identity, she flaunts it with pride and advocates for LGBTQI rights in Nigeria. She so tender and intelligent, generous to a fault. Every single time you attend underground LGBTQI events as a couple, you know people give you the evil eye, you know they question why she’ll choose to be with you even after all the break-ups and heartaches you’ve caused.
But they can talk, they can be out and proud. Anke comes from a family that doesn’t see her sexuality as a big deal, she’s a web developer who’s built a company that employs only LGBTQI people, she’s not dependent on anyone, she neither needs their opportunities nor their approval. You hold her tight.
For those few stolen hours, between 12pm and 6am, you revel in your lover. You make love, share the burdens of being female and being a boss in a male dominated environment, your failures, your triumphs… for those brief stolen hours, you become totally human, a complete you, defiant, vulnerable.
It’s a Sunday, so your alarm goes off at 8am, you give Anke a lingering ‘can’t wait to see you again’ kiss. You go through your ablutions leisurely, preparing to attend the service of a church where all the big Oga in your organisation attends.
It’s an unspoken rule that everyone working with your organisation must be a Christian or a Muslim. With your ‘single’ state a huge mark against you, you’ve had to carefully choose the church because it is the only place you can be ‘seen’ as holy and devout, the only place you can perform piousness for the people that matter within your organisation— those who determine whether you’re promoted sideways or upwards. You’ll be damned, if after all your years of hard work something as simple as religion will stop your upward mobility. So you joined several ‘departments’ in the church, ensuring you’re visible, seen, to be working for the ‘Lord’.
Your Sunday is eaten away by a host of meetings. You head two separate departments and you’re a floor member of the third. You ‘make pledges’ for the new building that has been in the works ever since you joined the church, you pay your tithes regularly and contribute to the widow’s funds. No wedding in the church is complete without your presence, or better still, the presence of the brown envelope you give to newlyweds. Your ‘kindness’ is famed in all the church branches, and they in turn pray for your ‘marital success’. For you, the hustle is real.
You get back to your apartment at 9pm having done battle, and won, against the traffic heading to Ajah.
Your weekdays start out at 4:30am, you jump into your car as you’ve done for years, and get stuck in the traffic going to the mainland. Your phone rings, it’s a text from the main office, you’re to stay at home, Lagos is on lockdown, all businesses are shut until the government finishes designing new COVID19 policies, there might be downsizing, but for now, half salaries will be paid until the bank is sure of what to do next. You switch off the ignition and cry.
A man is peering through your window, he’s saying something.
You hurriedly wind up the glass, fetch your sanitizer, wipe your face, the window, the steering wheel… realising that you’re having a panic attack, you take deep calming breaths, turn on the ignition and drive back home.
One day mounts the next, the door to your apartment is locked. You only open it to take delivery of food and other essentials that you order off the internet. Your phone is switched off, you watch your lover knock frantically at your door, you call out that you’re not receiving visitors, you watch as she sighed in relief and called out that she understands, you weep as she leaves.
It’s the quiet, the absence, the loneliness that finally gets to you. You finally turn on your phone, you read up everything on the flu, your anxiety level ramps up, but life goes on. Then, one after the other, you call your mother, you call your lover, you check your mail— you have to resume work on Monday, you let out a sigh of relief… but what about your safety? Going out to meet with people, possible carriers of the flu. You’re unsure the bank will provide protective gear even though they are going to be running with skeletal staff. You are afraid of asking, why examine the mouth of a gift horse?
Your food arrives at the same time your lover does, you eat, you lolled on your bed, you make love, you laugh… the whole weekend long.
On Sunday, you get a notification that the church has moved online, for the kingdom of god suffereth violence, and the violent taketh it by force.
Your jerry-curled pastor, a man you’ve admired for years is there on the screen of your laptop. He’s talking, and talking— no he’s not talking, he’s ranting, about 5G and other conspiracy theories. China in collusion with other capitalist economies are planning to wipe out the world… you listen in disbelief, as the man, who you’d always assumed has the power of god, spouted nonsense. It’s as if you’re seeing him for the first time.
You turn wide eyes on your lover, she shrugs and plants a kiss on your lips. She goes to the kitchen to make breakfast.
In order to reassure yourself that you’ve not wasted years listening to an idiot, you search church archives for past recordings, and listen to the man, truly listened to what he’s saying and not what you assume he’s been saying. You spent over 4 hours watching his glistening curls, his bleached skin— listening to his American accent that sometimes slips into its Isoko roots, and realise that the man is actually, truly— a blithering idiot. A notification enters your phone, you click on the message, in it is a link directing you to the website where you can pay your tithes and offerings. With a loud sucking of teeth you delete the damn message.
Your phone rings, it’s your mum, she’s scared of COVID19 she says. The world is coming to an end and the devil has taken over, she says.
‘Don’t you think it’s high time you give me my heart’s desire?’
‘No mum,’ you say, ‘I don’t owe you marriage or children!’
MEGACITY brings together twenty-two individual, creative responses to the megacity, infiltrating some of the densest, most difficult corners of the world today. From the tightly packed slums of Delhi and the violent favelas of São Paulo, to eye-watering London property prices and Chinese megacities constructed seemingly overnight – if you boggle at how anyone negotiates today’s rampant, unchecked city growth, this book is for you.
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