#Blogfest 2:0, Day 27 – #30dayscountdownto2016
7am, pedestrian bridge,
The dark grey clouds of the dawn are slowly disappearing, giving way to the white morning clouds that will pave way for the sun very soon. I climb the stairs of the pedestrian bridge making my way to the top of it. A beggar, crippled in appearance, is sweeping the stairs and some pedestrians who are ahead of me are dropping money in a rolled down polythene bag. Sometimes the beggar will stop sweeping, look up and say, “Sister anywhere you dey go God go save you. God bless you.” He says it depending on the gender of the person that passes by his side.
I pass by the beggar without dropping any money because I don’t have a small denomination. Maybe when I successfully complete this job, I will come back and give him a handsome donation that will keep him smiling throughout the day. At least if not for anything but for the community service he is doing by sweeping the dirty stairs.
It is Monday morning and the traffic is pretty heavy. I have endured an hour thirty minutes of it from my low cost house in Ojokoro estate to Ikeja metropolis; a journey that shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes. I stop in my track, move to my right and rest my hand on the railing, watching the vehicles moving bumper-to-bumper at a snail’s pace. Many of the vehicles are going to the inner part of mainland Lagos, to the island, and a few are probably going out of the state. The traffic on the opposite lane is very light, and no doubts about it that any commuter will spend nothing more than twenty minutes to get to the outskirt of Lagos.
The anthem of the traffic is a beautiful song made up of different decibels of car honks, the yells from the vehicle drivers, and the screams from the road transport tax collectors popularly called Agberos as they argue with commercial bus drivers who refuse to pay the daily toll. An undertone to the anthem is the constant sound of different car engines, slowing burning petrol like a cancer eating up a human flesh.
I look away from the railing and set my gaze to the path that leads to the other stairs and I continue my walk. My sight sees a vantage point- the edge of the path I’m on, near the other stairs that leads to bus-stop close to the railway. I move towards the vantage point in haste. I have an important job to do. Oh, I haven’t told you about my work. I am a photojournalist. I take pictures of important events and rare moments, but mainly political events, for the BEAM newspaper. It is a really dangerous job that sometimes takes me to the edge of death. Like the day I was taking pictures of the battalions of soldiers that had just been deployed to combat the Boko Haram insurgents. I was in the middle of my work when Boko Haram attacked us, shooting a lot of bullets into the air to scare us before they started shooting everyone at sight. Some of them were shooting; others were stealing the rifles of the wounded or dead soldiers. Even though our soldiers fought back bravely, I must admit the insurgent had the upper hand. They looked organised, and they were good marksmen. I thought I was going to die that day and would have, if not for hiding inside one of the bunkers while the gun-fight lasted. In thirty minutes that felt like a millennium, the insurgents were repelled and the combat ended. Scores of soldiers were dead and few of the insurgent were. In the actual count, forty five soldiers died, twenty one were wounded while only fifteen of the insurgents were killed, but in the news the following day, it was reported that one soldier died, four were wounded while fifty of the insurgents were killed and many escaped with bullet wounds. I laughed on how much the media lied in order to allay our fears.
The most dangerous aspect of my job is taking rare photos. Such kind of photos can be a once in a lifetime shot and their chances can appear impromptu; like the snapshot of a drunk celebrity, fighting in the House of Representatives, or our president attending a meeting barefooted. These kinds of photos are high risk photos and one must be careful not to be caught. When a chance of a rare photo shows up, I rarely think about the risk involved. I just have this pulsating urge to get the job done quickly.
So you see it is a really hard job. Not to be compared with office jobs that one would sit inside an air-conditioned room, writing inside one big book like that- (mocks Toke), or working with a computer.
I am at the vantage point- a perfect spot for my job. I touch the bridge’s railing and look down towards the railway tracks that separate the highway from Ikeja commercial hub. There have been reports of overcrowding of passengers inside the train. It is said that sometimes people sit on top of the moving train. Not so many people believed this story when we first published it in last weekend’s edition of the BEAM newspaper. They say picture speak a thousand words, so my job this morning is a simple, rare and dangerous one; take a picture of the train right before it stops with passengers sitting on top of it. It is a dangerous work to do, but less dangerous than dodging bullets by hiding in a military bunker. The dangerous part of this job is that I must not be caught taking the picture. Those guys on top of the train wouldn’t want me showing them to the whole world, or who will want to be shown in a newspaper committing a crime?
The Intel I have with me says the train stops at the Ikeja train station at 7:15am. This is 7:08am, some seven minutes to go. All is set. I am at the vantage point, from here; I can capture a wide angle of the train. My photo equipment is not the standard digital camera, but my standard digital camer. I decided to use it today because it is lighter; with a camera lens of 8MP it has a similar mega-pixel as my Sony digital camera; and to top it all, I took it because of the hint a fellow photojournalist gave me.
Looking down at the rail, I see it is buzzing with activities. A man is placing his merchandise-novels, on the rail, and another woman probably his wife or assistant is ringing a bell shouting, “Buy your novels here hundred-hundred naira, shikini money.”
Beside them is another woman who has placed her own merchandise, female footwear, on the railway. She is shouting, “Gbanjo, gbanjo three hundred naira only. Correct designer shoe. Three hundred naira.” Occasionally, she will pull a lady and say, “Sister, your size dey here.”
At the bottom of the stairs, near the rail, is a cobbler trying hard to convince passing pedestrians with dust covered shoes to polish them.
At the far left of the railway is sick child, with a dreadful disease I can’t make out from my position, but I guess it is a dreadful one, which can make someone puke, because the pedestrians are avoiding him like plague. He is on a wheelchair with a tan complexioned woman beside him. A rolled down polythene bag and a megaphone are placed at the front of the sick child. The megaphone hums until the woman takes it up and changes its battery, then it starts to talk, “Save this helpless child…” it goes on to say a brief pathetic history of the sick child and how much they need to raise to save him. Few pedestrians are dropping money into the polythene bag as they pass by it.
I look at my watch again. It is 7:12am. The train should be almost here. It should be somewhere around pen cinema, I deduce. I return my gaze to the railway. It is now a mini market sort of. In the novel section, a lot of buyers, mainly ladies, are picking up novels, examining the synopsis at the back. Few are actually paying for it, while others are picking and dropping the novels, trying to make their best choice. It is almost the same scenario for the woman selling the female footwear. How will this people manage to clear up from the rail when the train arrives? Well it isn’t my headache that I should take panadol for. I bring out my BlackBerry, switch on the camera and take a few snapshots of the busy rail-market.
It is 7:14am. I hear the train honk from a distance. It is out of sight from the Ikeja station. It has probably reached Ile-zik. The man and woman selling the novels start putting them in a box, same goes for the woman selling foot wears, except she is putting hers in a knapsack. The sick child is on the other side of the rail, the train coming isn’t on the rail they are, so they stay put. Everything is in a hurry. Apart from the rail traders, pedestrians are running across the rail so as not to be stranded for the few minutes the train will stop.
It is 7:15am
I see the train approaching at a steady decreasing speed. Its yellow and green stripped painted control room section, emblazoned by the morning sun, comes into view. And yes, there are people on the train! Some are sitting, while others are standing, walking on it rather. So those stunts they do in Hollywood films can be real. The train is still far-off for a clear picture, but it will in a few seconds. I launch my BlackBerry’s camera application, and aim it at the train. I snap – not clear. The train is moving to a stop. A clear shot will only be possible when it stops. It should stop in 5, 4, 3, 2 seconds. I snap. Another view- snap- share…
“Hey,” a voice shouts from below, “That man dey snap us.” he raises an alarm.
A lot of the passengers disembark the train top, beckoning towards me. I turn and bolt. My pursuers are much. Bystanders join, I don’t wait to count how many. Like a thief who has just snatched a purse, I keep running. I reach the pedestrian bridge stairs that leads to the Ikeja-Along bus stop. I attempt to jump several steps at once, I miss my balance and I roll on the steps. The next thing I know, I’m on the floor.
They surround me, one ransacks my pockets and he takes my BlackBerry. Another takes my purse.
“Eh en, na dat phone e take dey snap.” Someone says
“Format the memory card,”
“No format both the phone and memory card.”
I try to show my identity card, but one of them kicks my hand. There are several unfriendly hands on my body and they take different forms – kicks, fisted blows and stick flogs. Within thirty seconds, it is all over- the police arrive. Those thirty seconds are more painful than falling inside a pit full of scorpion. The beating has stopped but I can still feel the searing pain slicing through my body.
“My phone,” I manage to say to one of the Police officers, “They’ve taken my phone.
I can’t see clearly. I touch my face; it is swollen in several parts. I can feel blood trickling down my forehead, and a headache is slowly engendering.
“Is this your phone?” one of the police officers asks, brandishing my phone before my eyes.
“Yes it is.” I collect the phone. It feels light. I press the power button, it doesn’t turn on. I try again, it still doesn’t turn on. My intuition tells me to check the battery- opening the back cover, my thought is right- the battery has been stolen. My memory card too, but I can still see my green coloured micro-sim tucked in its compartment.
The police start to question me, and I manage to tell them my occupation, and the reason why my pursuers beat the crap out of me.
“What a wasted effort,” one of them says; his intonation is filled with pity. Others join to pour out words of pity, but I feel different.
Tomorrow, the BEAM newspaper headline will be about the overcrowding in the trains and bolded as a picture will be the snapshot I took. My battered face will be an inset on the page, and a journalist will write a comprehensive article to marry my snapshot. It will be mission achieved.
Written by Kayode Adeleke