You know what they say about love at first sight? Actually, I think that’s all they say about it – love at first sight. Anyway, I was going somewhere with this.
Picture this: 9pm. You’re on a moving bus. Your muscles are cramped from sitting in the same place for 13 hours. You’re thinking of a cold bed and maybe a brief dinner if you don’t pass out from exhaustion halfway through it. Then, someone says,
“We don reach o! Welcome to Lagos.”
And just like that you feel it. Boom! Love at first sight.
This place you’re in, it’s almost magical. Although it seems like just an endless stretch of road, there is something about the way hundreds of street lamps lined along it give a seductive light that makes everything look ephemeral, like if you don’t grab onto it, it will smile and slip away into smoke. At this point your resolve is solid. You whisper to yourself, “I will never leave this city” because somewhere in your heart you know this is where you belong.
In many years, you have been to many places, seen many cities but Lagos settles you. Ibadan could be that old uncle that wears skinny jeans and snap backs to stay “with it.” He’s harmless in his eccentricities and everybody likes to humor him, but your humor can only go so far. And Abuja, she is your well-behaved aunt with the small voice and bright smile. Everybody calls her wife material 1 million yards. But Lagos… Lagos is everything.
Lagos is that woman from down the street who went abroad and came back to purely dazzle with the whole world watching. She has statesmen for breakfast, impressing them with demure smiles and dainty silk napkins. She has 12-noon brunch with the bus conductors with her brash laughter resonating above their coarse voices. Her lunch appointment is with the millionaires from the Island and dinner is gàrrí and ẹ̀pà with the guy that sells gala in traffic. This is what Lagos is.
Èkó gbonílé, ó gbàlejò, because Lagos is the perfect host with doors wide open and an even wider smile that says,
“Come in, for a fee.”
“What fee?” you ask.
“What will you give?” you hear.
You give your sleep and she takes it. She shakes the crumbs from your eyes until they are wide open. She shifts the ground beneath your feet until it rocks and you run. She rattles you like a rag doll until your body and soul are one.
You give your money, and she takes all of it so that you begin to think perhaps money does grow wings and, when you frighten it, it jumps out of your wallet and takes off like a sparrow.
You give yourself, pouring your heart and your soul into this place so that you both become like the sky and the sea. Neither knows where one ends and the other begins.
So that one day, when you’re driving home at 9pm, exhausted from your 9-5 that actually ends at 8, your foot straining against the accelerator going 120 in a 60 zone, you suddenly look up from the wheel and see the lights, bouncing off the black tar beneath your wheels, melting in the miles of water beneath the road. It’s almost magical. It looks like someone sprinkled a million diamonds over the lagoon and as the light glows, they shine and melt away. When you see the water shine like this, you just know. This is where you’re meant to be.
We don reach o – Nigerian pidgin English expression that loosely translates to “we have arrived”.
gàrrí – cereal made from dried cassava flakes.
ẹ̀pà – roasted groundnuts.
gala – packaged sausage rolls sold as snacks
Èkó gbonílé, ó gbàlejò – Yoruba proverb that loosely translates to “Lagos is the home of the indigenes and the visitors alike”.