Your bus pauses at an intersection, about to take an alternate route through one of Mushin’s jagged streets. Across the road, two men dance around each other with their fists held up. One is tall, large, built like a bouncer without a need for weights. He is dressed in a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He hangs a rolled joint in white paper from a corner of his mouth with the insouciance I would a toothpick. The other is short, but also stocky. The shorter lunges for the tall one, who sidesteps, evades the blow, launches a counter, but does not strike with enough speed to connect with his target. They are going through familiar motions now, like sparring partners in a gym ring. They are no strangers to fisticuffs, after all, this is Mushin.
Fights occur in Mushin at the slightest provocation, and sometimes rage on until policemen move in with guns and armoured trucks, or their self-immolation reaches its peak and there’s nothing left to burn.
Matuwo, written in white letters on the typical Lagos green street sign, is a Yoruba word that means don’t check it. Don’t attempt to unravel it. This sign carries behind it the weight of a threat. This street already resists your deconstruction. You should heed its warning.
Your driver completes the turn and eases into the street, bringing the fight closer to the side of your window seat. The taller man swings again, and this time his blow connects. It is square on the temple of the short stocky one. Is this how the other street-wide fights start? Is this is how houses get burnt, and people untrained in the art of surviving a war migrate till the battle ends? There are other men sitting on benches in front of a wooden shack, smoking cigarette, taking swigs from small bottles of alcoholic bitters and watching these two men have a go at each other.
The blow that connected with the shorter man’s head is soft, below the quality that the bouncer-like body can produce. The shorter man runs towards the tall one and hugs him like a boxer out of his wits. But unlike boxers, there are no frowns here, no blood, no mouth guard to prevent the flying of teeth. Rather, he is smiling, hailing the tall one in a manner that suggests they are comrades on these fight-laden streets.
He collects the smouldering joint from his opponent, takes a drag, and turns his attention to your driver. Owo da, he barks. They are the city’s unofficial road revenue collectors (alongside policemen). You pay them for plying their roads. Your driver takes his hands off the steering, connects them together in obeisance and bows his head. Alaye, Baba o! He is one of them too. The stocky one waves on your bus and turns to the big man to continue their sparring. There will be no real fights here, no self-immolation, no crisis for the police to quell and profit from, at least not today. Matuwo.