Blog Festival | A CITY CALLED MAD | By Evans Ufeli

Chikamnele Emela stood on Third Mainland Bridge when he saw a man in one of those stilt huts built above water excreting into the sea. He watched him pull his boxers down to his knees and bow swiftly, scratching his thighs while faeces trooped out from his anus right into the sea.

Chika had held a different view of the city until that day. He couldn’t fathom a reason for the hostile conduct of its people. He had arrived from a far village somewhere in the East in search of greener pastures, only to discover another phase of existence that seemed like a knotty, complex puzzle.

The man pulled up his shorts and slipped a wrap of marijuana in his mouth which he lit almost immediately, puffing out thick smoke from his nostrils. While he smoked, he sang in a strange language, stepped into his canoe, and paddled into the high sea. He would spend the whole day fishing, exploring the sea in excitement, and at dusk, he would go down the shores where market women assembled to buy the wares.

Staring at him and shaking his head, Chika felt what he’d just witnessed alone was one threat to the ecosystem.

He got home that night and engaged his brother in a long conversation on what he found disconcerting about the city.

 ‘I don’t understand why people walk as though they were being chased by wild animals here,’ Chika said.

‘Of course they are been chased! They are chased by life or so it seems. You will also observe they don’t care about the next man standing, ‘ Agu Ike mused.

‘What sort of life will chase a man to the point where he can no longer act like a human being?! He fights over his transport fare with a delusional bus conductor who equally gets drunk as early as 5 am, struggles through human traffic, is waylaid by street evangelists crying out on the danger of hell, gets robbed by hoodlums, and finally arrives at his office stranded. There he faces a boss who threatens to sack everyone because “everyone has gone mad”’, Chika ranted, his face an expression of confusion as his mind raced through many thoughts.

‘It won’t be long before you get used to it. This city holds everything, even things you can’t uncover. It’s the hotspot of this age and you need a broad mind to find your stay here worthwhile,’ Agu said.

All through the night, Chika stayed awake, lost in a pool of his thoughts. The room is dark. The house was built for low income earners and fondly called Face-Me-I-Face-You. Chika thought of life in the compound, how he would get up very early in the morning to queue at the bathroom while he stared at another queue by the toilet. Then there were the loud voices of children screaming over a demand for quick breakfast and the incessant fights by neighbours over light bills.

Sadiat Kareem, the landlord’s daughter, flaunts her bare waist around the compound seeking for attention. White powder around her neck, she wears a sleeveless top that reveals her scary skin and roars with a croaky voice, ‘Nobody should pour water here againiooooo! I don talk am again nioooo!!!’

She gesticulates, a hand on her waist, saliva spilling out of her mouth like rainfall. Her skirt has gone to the tailor’s too many times and still the patches on it keep coming apart. She has gone through high school but her accent was still a burden. She spoke English like one who had not seen the four walls of a classroom. The excessive reliance on the dominant Yoruba language in her school never gave her time to learn the English language properly. Her father never bothered either. His major concern was to get his tenants to pay more rent so as to enable him marry more wives.

Alhaji Kareem has six wives and eighteen children already. Sadiat is the fourth girl of the third wife. Kareem drives one of those yellow taxis in the city and had built the house in the 80’s. He cared less about his children although he always made food readily available for his household. That was the much he thought he owed them.

Chika had heard Sadiat’s voice blaring through the window that morning.

He wondered why that girl threw caution to the wind at the slightest provocation. He wished he could advise her, but on second thought he reasoned she would insult him. Quickly extinguishing that thought, he took a bucket of water to the bathroom where he met a long queue of buckets. He was worried because he needed to catch up with a job interview that morning.

‘Una good morning ooooh,’ he greeted the crowd waiting to get into the bathroom.

‘I beg, that persun wey dey baff make you do quick na. Wetin you dey wash since?’ Segun Adedeji yelled. He needed to see a client who kept calling his badly battered phone.

‘Hello, eh I don dey road now. I go soon reach your place now,’ he lied to the caller who apparently was exasperated.

Segun is a painter who is respected in the compound because he pays his bills regularly. Some time ago, it was rumoured that Sadiat had snuck into his room. This got to her father’s ears. Alhaji Kareem couldn’t be bothered.

He never asked him. As long as he paid his bills on time he would be cordial.

On his way to the interview on the Island, Chika peeped through the bus window on Third Mainland Bridge. He saw that man again in his canoe on the high sea, the wrap of Indian hemp in his mouth, smoke streaming from his nostrils. He waved at him but there wasn’t any response, the man’s concentration out of this world. The rivulets of sweat on his forehead showed the secretion of adrenaline in him had reached boiling point.

Chika got to the interview venue and shivered. The crowd was unimaginable. The vacancies only existed for five persons but there were over five thousand applicants jostling to clinch the job.

There had just been an announcement made that all applicants should wait. The interview would commence immediately the manager arrived. That manager was trapped somewhere in traffic. They waited for over three hours and at a point, Chika got discouraged and felt abandoned. The sun scorched his skin. He yawned repeatedly and dragged his feet hesitantly to a shade beside a block of flats close to the office complex.

After the day’s work, a female employee with flushed skin and a fake accent came out to announce the interview had been cancelled. There weren’t any serious apologies. They were told to come back the next week for the interview. As the crowd grumbled she became offended and began hurling abusive words at them.

Chika was frustrated and baffled, not just because of the interview but because of the conduct of the woman who apparently appeared rude and ill-mannered. Chika had thought civilised people dwelled in the cities. He was wrong, remembering the fisherman, the landlord’s daughter and other city dwellers with one strange story or the other.

On his way back, the sun had journeyed around the orbit and had settled halfway into the lagoon. Its yellow beams sparkled as its rays spread its light over the waters. Chika couldn’t understand why he had to wake up early, and go through many hurdles only to waste the same day through the sheer irresponsibility of an organisation.

When he got to his street, nightfall had descended and the moon was wearing a sad look. She soon disappeared behind dark clouds battling with the galaxies to take over the stratosphere. Chika hastened his steps at the distant flash of lightening and faint sounds of thunder. The generators of competing neighbours were on when he got home. Rumblings of hunger ravaged his stomach. He would soak garri first, while he waited for his elder brother to return.

As he settled down to read after eating there was a knock at the door. He heard a voice. It was Mummy Idowu.

‘Agu, you dey inside? I beg open door make I tell you something.’ Chika opened the door.

‘Ah! Na you dey? Agu never come? I beg come give me soup my pikin. We neva chop since morning.’

Chika was shocked. He couldn’t believe it. This city and its varying drama.

‘My brother isn’t back yet and we don’t have soup. I’m equally waiting for him to return. I’m sorry about that.’

Mummy Idowu left him with a bitter countenance. The troubles of the city extend to the dwelling places of its inhabitants.

Chika lit the kerosene lamp to continue the book he was reading – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. He had barely started when Sadiat knocked on the door. She had come to ask for salt. Chika gave her a fair sum watching how restless and distracted she seemed. She couldn’t even greet properly. Her armpit’s hairs were overgrown. She had a white singlet on and a pair of leggings that held her hips extravagantly. Closing the door quickly after she’d left, he settled down with a sigh and heard Ndebe Ogoo.

Ndebe Ogoo was drunk that night, as usual. He had summoned the entire compound to an endless debate on religion and politics.

‘Let me tell you something, any country that exacerbates its energy on religion, mixing it with politics never amounts to much. Look at the most religious countries of the world, you will find out they are the poorest. Religion is a colossal damage to our collective existence. Religion is blind. Religion and politics mixed together is a bad solution.’

He is interrupted by Papa Idowu. ‘Please don’t abuse God. Everything we are today is because of God. You cannot tell us that God is bad. We will not accept. There is God oooooh!’

Ndebe looked at him like a cobra who is near her prey.

‘My friend, shut up and listen! I’m not talking about God. I’m talking religion and politics and it has become a threat to man.’

‘Na true, church no good nowadays,’ Segun opined.

The argument became a civil disturbance. The tenants never understood Ndebe because his discourse always seemed above them, so they kept saying the wrong things and that made him angry.

Ndibe is a historian who had done research for notable organizations in the past, but his drinking had held him away from fortune. He currently taught in a secondary school where salaries are owed and workers are abused on a daily basis, but still, like zombies, they hold on for want of jobs. He still owed the landlord, and his family had left him. He also owed the bars he frequented.

Chika, listening to the noise, was pensive, thinking of all he had seen and heard. The troubles in the city were unending and unimaginable. His brother entered in interrupting his thoughts.

Shortly before they went to bed he shared his experiences with his brother. Quietly Agu surmised, ‘The city has no face and the inhabitants have no life.’

Chika understood.

Evans Ufeli is a lawyer and a writer. He has written countless stories that cuts across many genres of literature. His stories have appeared in Happenings Magazine, Granta, Connect Nigeria and Ethics Africa. He is the author of  The Gathering of The Tribe; a Novel that chronicles the lives of a people riddled with the enemies from within. He lives in Lagos Nigeria. Evans is best described as the seeker of the unknown.

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