Why So Serious and Crazy

Crazy

It’s a sight as common as the bright yellow buses: two fighting. Drivers boxing. Two car owners testing the strength of their egos with the force of balled up fists. I remember the day I went crazy. I hasn’t happened yet, but I’m looking at it now. Me, pot-bellied. Me with a Camry bruised at the buttocks. Me holding a shorter man by his collar, finding the best landing spot on his face for the force of my anger.

There’s a boy crouched beside the bridge at Oshodi, doing his business at noon. While many rush past, in too much of a hurry to notice the strangeness of his act, he remains as zen as anyone on their own air-conditioned white throne. That’s a crazy that neither exits in my past or my future.

The conditions of the city that makes a man ignore his insurance and exchange blows with a stranger on the bridge, cars honking around them, aren’t far from those that make the young fella squat on the bridge. The devil exists in this city and he has robbed us all of shame. Only survival remains.

No self-respecting Lagos person will allow themselves be insulted, I once heard. Someone from inside the bus stretched out his hand at the defecating boy, flayed his fingers and shouted Waka. His face bore no reaction to the intrusion of his public privacy. He just continued his number two in open glare. We all laughed in the bus at the absurdity of it all.

I remember the day I went crazy. I hasn’t happened yet, but now, this is me, in a BRT bus, Gnarls Barkley in my ears, Dennis Johnson on my mind, trapped in the constipated guts of this waterlogged city.

Why So Serious

The lady in the red cab pressed the home button on her iPhone 6, swiped through the screen, and pressed the home button again. It is often difficult to find inspired, energetic people in transit on third mainland bridge on the first work day of the week. Except for these two seated behind me who are chirping at each other animatedly. Coworkers perhaps, or friends who met accidentally at the bus park.

Serendipity isn’t strange in Lagos. I’ve met the most distant friends in traffic before and we do this drama too: chatting about nostalgic nothings just to avoid silence. The radio in the BRT bus is playing Aramide’s ‘Why so Serious’, and her “It’s not that deep” feels like a chastisement. I drop the thought about the chirping couple and focus on my phone.

At the foot of the bridge in Oshodi, a man tries to hurry past the rest of us slogging along. He taps my arm like he wants me to move out of his way and I stare at his face, questions in my weary eyes: Where are you rushing to?

The bus that takes me from Oshodi to my penultimate stop is playing a medley of gospel songs. “Ta lo dabi Olorun.” Who is like God, the singer asks an uninterested audience only eager to get to their homes after a long day. Two lovers enter the bus. The man sits on the back seat beside me and the lady on the seat in front. He taps her shoulder. “Are you okay?”  This is how I know they’re lovers: the seat he occupies beside me is tighter and less convenient than where she is seating. There is a movement of the wind, a cold draught and a hint of rain. I try to wish it away and hope I get home in time to avoid another drenching.

_______________________

Featured image: Le Jour ni l’Heure 4317 by Jean-Michel Basquiat via Flickr

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4 Replies to “Why So Serious and Crazy”

  1. I visited New York before and after the destruction of the twin towers. The first time people were very rude or simply oblivious to others. Too many people crammed into a space competing for survival. After the terrible shock of 9/11 people were kind, traffic competition eased, police were helpful without being asked. It was amazing. I don’t know if that simple kindness has lasted or not. (And sadly I doubt it extended to people from the Arab countries.)
    In the 1970’s I moved from a medium sized city to a small rural town. The difference was huge. People knew one another, left their house and car doors unlocked, helped one another, and a locally owned grocery let me take a week’s worth of groceries home and told me to just pay the next time I came in, when I got to the counter and discovered I was out of checks. (This was before the popularity of credit cards.) Now our small town has grown and has lots of restaurants, chain grocery stores, traffic jams, constant crime, and people getting mugged in grocery store parking lots.
    But recently a person started a “pass it forward” thing of paying for the food ordered by the car behind them in a fast food drive through. It continued for 67 people. That tiny spark of simple kindness may dim, but it still flickers in the human heart.

    1. I read a story of a man and his son who were responders during 9/11 who died recently. You’re right that the kindness of that day seems distant. It became ground zero for a certain kind of paranoia that is still present with the world today.

      I’ve never lived in simpler times. And while until I moved to Lagos, I’d only lived in small towns, the primary difference has been the increased frenzy in the big city. Here, there’s an inherent distrust of the other that feels like a survival tactic. Even small acts of kindness are often approached with suspicion.

      People go through elaborate routines to prey on the goodness of others, in a way that makes most of us cynics. But there still exists small moments when we can choose kindness and I do try to look out for those ones, tiny gestures that might not appear grand, but will at least make the other person smile in a day that will otherwise be filled with frowns.

  2. I enjoyed both poems. I don’t have any thoughts to out down asides that. The imagery is one that stays with me, I feel like a fellow witness to all the poet is seeing.

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