Originally on the Sauvage
I’m driving. My cousin’s in the car. I’m on my best behaviour. I’m usually on my best behaviour in the car. It’s new, and I don’t want to soil it with my careless antics. I’ve been driving in Lagos for 8 years. I should be a pro. I should be used to the lack of order, the unending snap decisions you have to make as someone forces you to capitulate when they swerve or ignore the fact that you have right of way.
“What’s his problem? Did his father build the road?”
My cousin asks as some oaf drifts too near, ignoring the strips of white that should show him his path. I snicker at this.
“Of course! The road is his and his alone.”
The sarcasm in my voice is palpable. I cringe from how bitter and cynical I sound. I’m well past the point of rage. Road rage is for beginners, but unbridled acidity is for the veterans of the Lagos hustle. I don’t kiss my teeth, or yell or horn, I put my foot down and race past him. He is a murderer looking for an opportunity, and I’m not willing to die just because some charlatan can’t hold his arm steady as he navigates the winding road.
“He’s going to get someone killed.” she says. Her statement doesn’t require an answer but I give one anyway.
“As long as it isn’t us.”
My foot inches down, and the car skips eager to please. We’re going to Afropolitan vibes at Freedom Park. It’s a monthly live outdoor concert. She hasn’t been before, and I can sense her anxiety. She worries about the crowd and the location. Lagos Island isn’t known for it’s civility. Even on a day when the President is some 500 metres away, it is still possible to be met with misfortune that’s entirely preventable. Men rioting cutlasses in tow can still break into your car as you’re sat in traffic. There’s no protection from the brutal underside of Lagos. Nigerians tote themselves as being the masters of piety and properness, while subscribing to every vice publicly known.
“It’ll be alright. It’s gentrified.” I tell her as she fidgets beside me.
“It’s a good crowd. It’s mixed but everyone will be there.”
“I’m not that worried.” She replies.
The kilometres pass quickly, the beauty of the city ever more apparent as darkness shrouds the symptoms of poverty, and the street lights highlight the recently constructed roads. Eko oni baje comes to mind. That means Lagos will not spoil. The governor that came up with that slogan has lived up to it for the most part. It is now possible to exist in a bubble completely ensconced in privilege.
We get out of the car and march to Freedom park, a talisman that nods to our oppressive colonial past and tries to distract us from the fact that we’re anything but free. The only freedom here is death. The oppression isn’t as public as it once was but, when your politicians fail you are you not still oppressed? They may not beat you and torture you, but every moment that you fear for your safety is torture in itself. With their convoys and government sponsored security details, they’ll probably be fine but your future is not so certain. As we walk in we’re greeted by the acrid smell of burning cannabis that’s aptly named skunk. I don’t blame them for their indulgence. It is a miracle that we that live here aren’t high all the time, but that too is understandable. If we spent our productive hours comforted by the powers of THC, how would we lift ourselves from the status quo? I’m wearing Nike plimsolls, cuffed diesel jeans, and grandfather gifted dashiki. It’s pedestrian, but this works well. I won’t stand out. People won’t see me and think of my ajebo beginnings, and in Freedom Park, this can only be a good thing.
The drink of the night is Orijin, a cider that isn’t a cider and a bitter that isn’t a bitter with an addictive herbal twist. Jesse Jagz is performing. He isn’t great live, but very few of them are. We appreciate him for the nostalgia of it. He was popular when we were teenagers, and he’s making a comeback. He performs a song that neither of us knows, but we bob our heads along to get the groove going. We’re not here for new material, we’re here for Wetin Dey, a song at least half a decade old. When he graces us with it’s performance, we dance with abandon remembering a time when all of the shit that comes with living here wasn’t quite so shitty. There is nothing that gilds perception quite so well as youth. As with all good things, the song ends, and the spell is broken.