Lagos heat, one of the reasons I mildly dislike this city. The hot sun burns my skin, and it makes me feel as though eggs can be fried against it. Combine that with the state of the environment I currently find myself in, I am extremely uncomfortable.
Placing a palm on my head, I take slow and deliberate steps through cracked soil and debris, trying not to fall in my four-inch heels. I have only being walking roughly few minutes but it feels like hours and the smell is only getting worse.
Dear Lord, did someone die here?
There are houses, if they can be called that, all over the place; and there are shops with children playing around and people generally just sitting about talking. No one needs to tell me I am in one of the slums of Lagos; someone just needs to tell me how anyone raises children in such unsanitary conditions. Beyond the dirt and the smell, the place is just unsafe; children are playing football on the road! Thankfully, I parked my car without hitting anyone; daddy won’t be pleased if I smash the Rolls Royce Phantom II within a week of owning it.
“Na wa o, see motor!” I hear someone call out and I turn around to see children standing around my car, and touching it. Some are pointing at me and whispering animatedly. Since I drove into the area, everyone has stared at the vehicle like it dropped from the skies and since I came down from it; I have noticed that the stares have increased. I want to pretend this is something I am fine with, but I am not; it is annoying when people act as though owning such a car is impossible.
Bringing myself to ignore them, I look back at my phone. I have sent in a total of ten missed calls to Lolu, my boyfriend, and these calls began before I left my apartment. I try one more call, for luck, and even that gets ignored. So gathering all the courage within me, I stare at the piece of paper in my palm, containing Lolu’s address which his best friend, Damilola, had given me after weeks of pleading. Because if my darling boyfriend of six months won’t tell me where he lives, I must find out myself.
No. 4, Sadiku street, Mushin, Lagos.
It had seemed pretty straightforward when I had left the house, but now I don’t know which one is actually his apartment; and a part of me is sincerely hoping I am in the wrong place.
I walk towards the closest house and stop there. It is small and unpainted, the surrounding is littered with debris and the cemented floor outside is broken in several places, with grass peeking out here and there. I will myself to look away from the sight, and instead smile at one of the children, a boy wearing a faded green t-shirt with tiny holes, none of which I am sure is the original design. Though finding his appearance unpleasant and unbefitting a sane person, I moved closer to him.
“Please, can you direct me to where Lolu lives?” I ask and he just stares at me. The other children are gathering around and doing the same thing, it is freaky. And I don’t want to head over to where some adults are seated; they look neither friendly nor sane. I repeat my question to the boy and he turns to look at his friends.
“Kehinde, shey o mo oun ti aunty so,” he says.
I do not understand Yoruba, and the only word that registers is ‘Aunty’. I find the language both difficult and annoying, so I scout the area for less-hostile adults, or hopefully Lolu himself, but I am disappointed. I look back at the children, wondering how in a crowd of six children none can either speak or understand English.
“You all should be in school, if private schools are too expensive then go to the free government ones,” I mutter to myself, running my free palm through my hair.
“Ehn?” a girl asks and I roll my eyes, ready to call Lolu again, when a bespectacled boy pushes himself to the front of the group.
“What you want?” he asks.
It is not the most fluent English but my heart leaps with joy and a smile crosses my lips for the first time since I got here.
“Please, can you direct me to where Lolu lives?” I repeat and he also stares at me for a while.
I thought he understood English?
“Aunty abeg, you fit come my level because I no understand you,” he responds.
I might not understand any indigenous languages but I am proficient in Pidgin English, it is at least something I have a degree in.
“I dey find one uncle dem dey call Lolu, where hin dey stay?” I ask and I can tell they are all surprised. He whispers to the rest and I wait for them to finish their deliberation. I hate waiting, but now won’t be a good time to complain.
“Aunty, nobody dey answer Lolu for this yard o,” he responds after a few minutes.
“Ehn?” is all I can say.
“In fact ehn, for this entire street sef, we no get anybody wey dey answer that name,” another boy adds and the others nod. I want to scream; since it appears Dami gave me the wrong address.
”He dey tall and get dark skin. He barb him head gorimapa and he dey wear cap well well,” I describe, hoping something would click. Children are supposed to be have the memories of elephants after all.
The children giggle at my mention of his bald head and I smile too, remembering how I often used it to tease him. They still shake their heads, they don’t know him.
Damilola is so dead!
Pulling out my phone, I dial Dami’s number, it rings twice and he picks on the third ring; good for him.
“Dami!” I begin, and only notice then that the children have resumed their games, I move away from the noise as he responds.
“Dolly!” is his way of greeting me, and while that would normally make me smile, today I am too angry to be amused. Inhale, Exhale.
“Dami, did you give me Lolu’s correct address? Because I am here and no one knows him, apparently no one with his description lives on this entire street,” my voice is low but anyone can tell I am quite irritated.
“Wait! You are on his street right now?” Dami asks. What nonsense question is that?
“Guy, I just said so. Is there any way you can help me find his house? I need to see him,” I state, and my heart jolts slightly when I hear a voice in the background, Lolu’s.
“She is here?” Lolu is asking and his voice is slightly loud and rather displeased.
“Dolapo, please, just wait. Give me a minute and I would come pick you up soon,” with that he hangs up immediately, leaving me in confusion. I didn’t expect him to be at Lolu’s place. With nothing to do but wait, I turn my attention to the children, their unkempt sight bothers me and I imagine how my mother would react if she were here. No doubt, Mrs Romoke Williams, would make them all take several baths with Dettol antiseptic and the soap. Their clothes would be thrown away immediately, I remember that as a child, if a cloth had being in my wardrobe for close to two years, mummy gave them out.
In my family, we sparkled. Dirty clothes meant an angry mother and she gave the worst punishments in such moods.
“Wow Dolapo, so you actually came here! This babe, you dey burst brain sha!” someone says before me and I look up to see Damilola walking towards me. He is coming out of the unpainted, grass-infested house and I can only hope my shock isn’t obvious.
“Dami, what’s up?” I greet, praying Lolu doesn’t actually live here.
“You look like you have seen a ghost, and you didn’t tell anyone you were coming. Why?” he comments as he comes to stand beside me. I ignore the comment on my expression and manage to smile slightly as I assess him, he is wearing a pair of black shorts and a white singlet that is fading to cream. A black button-up shirt hangs on his shoulder.
I want to ask him several questions, beginning with ‘How ill is Lolu’ and ending with ‘Why won’t you put on your clothes?’, his abs are not even well-defined.
“Well, I wanted to surprise him. So, surprise!” I am no longer as excited as I was when I left the house but my smile doesn’t falter. If Lolu lives in such an environment, just how bad has his illness gotten?
“Chai! I am sure Lolu will be so happy to see you. I mean, look at the princess herself in our small ghetto,” he jokes and it makes me chuckle. This is one of the reasons I like Dami, he is funny and can make me worry less.
“But wait oh, how did you get here?”
“Oh, with that,” I say as I point at my car parked in the street.
“Oh boy! Your papa no dey take you play oh!” he whistles and I cannot hold back my chuckle.
“Sorry ehn, I know you want to see your baby. Let us go and see the sicky-sicky,” “he jokes and begins to walk into the house; I manage a smile and follow him.
I had imagined the house to contain only one room, or at most two; because there is no way that the tiny house could contain more than two rooms without everyone being suffocated. But I was wrong, the house contained several rooms which faced each other on opposite sides, and a corridor running in between them. I took hesitant steps as we stepped into the house and I looked down the dimly lit corridor, telling myself Lolu definitely did not live here.
“Bros, your babe come visit you oh!” Dami says as we arrive at the fourth room on the left and Dami pushes aside the mosquito net and walks in. The net has obviously seen better days and must be useless by now, the room is as a small as a shoebox and as poorly lit as a well.
“Dolapo, welcome to our humble abode,” Dami introduces.
He did not just say ‘our’. Did they both live here? How? I am sure I look appalled but they probably cannot tell because of how dark it is.
Shock glues me to the spot and a mosquito that whizzes dangerously close to my face makes me move.
“Babe, have a sit na,” Dami suggests and leads me to a couch, or at least what once used to be a couch, now it is just a chair covered by a raggedy piece of cloth. I sit down and assess the room, beginning with Lolu who is lying on a tiny bed that has been set up in a corner of the room. It is so small, I wonder where Dami sleeps. There is a small window through which light filters through, but it is so small, you can only see so much and by the default, the room is also hot. I look at the walls and notice the cracks in the painting, and some places where it has completely peeled off, I look at the ceiling and find a naked bulb, a ceiling fan and some cracks where light filters through. The floor is covered with a brown carpet. The room is scattered and messy, a pile of clothes cover what should be a chair, some dirty plates stashed in a corner I assume is the ‘kitchen’ and a small wardrobe beside the bed is overflowing with clothes. There are cobwebs and the air has a musty feel to it.
The room is not just a place for the man I love to live in.
“So, what can we offer you?” Dami asks. I shake my head; I doubt I would want anything in this place.
“Baby, you should have told me you were coming,” Lolu’s voice startles me and I turn to see him sitting up on the bed. He does not look well and it breaks my heart. I stand up and walk towards him, sitting on the bed and taking his palms in mine.
“You would not have let me come. Are you any better? What exactly is wrong with you? Have you eaten today? Has he eaten today?” the last question is directed at Dami who is looking at us wistfully.
“I would excuse the both of you, just call me if you need anything,” he says and leaves the room promptly. I look back at Lolu and find him looking at me, he looks so fragile and I know he is anything but that; his bright eyes have lost their shine and his lips are so dry, but still inviting.
“Babe, why didn’t you tell me when you fell ill? I had to hear it from Tolani, imagine that?” I ask, wondering if I sound as indignant as I think I do, and hoping I do not. Tolani is one of the many other girls who have interest on Lolu, a friend of his and a foe of mine.
“It is nothing; I did not want you to worry unnecessarily,”
“Worry unnecessarily? It has being four days since I found out and you don’t seem to be getting any better, I have every right to worry. Well, what do you want me to do for you baby? How about I take you to the hospital?” I ask and he chuckles, this is followed by a harsh cough.
“I remember you making that offer when you first heard, and I remember also declining,” he reminds me, his lips curving into a smirk. Four days ago when I heard about his illness from her, I had called with an offer to take him to a hospital and he had told me not to bother. I had expected that, but at least, isn’t health supposed to trump pride?
I roll my eyes and sigh.
“Dolapo, you need to stop worrying about me. I am fine, I am a man and can take care of myself, I don’t need you to pitch in,” he adds, and I sigh even louder.
“Seriously?” is all I can muster.
Six months! Six months of an amazing relationship but my boyfriend won’t even let me contribute in any way that involves me spending money. We have the perfect relationship, in my opinion, but his desire not to have been doing anything remotely financial for him is our only problem. But today is not a day for quarrels, today is one to try to convince him.
Moving closer to him, I ensure there is no space between us and I notice his heavy breathing.
“Akinlolu, you know that self medication is bad and it can only worsen all this,” I begin, looking at his hands in my mine, aware of his gaze which lingers on me.
“Dolapo, I know about that,” he responds and I can imagine him smirking.
“Then, why won’t you…,” I don’t finish the statement, as he places a light kiss on my forehead. This signals the end of the discussion, anything after this is an avenue for a quarrel and my arguments die in my throat with a sigh.
But, I can’t just give up. What if he dies?
“Babe, if it is the bill,” I begin and it feels as though time stills, I can hear him hiss quietly.
“I can help,” I finish quickly, looking up to find him looking at me with a raised brow. Is this a good sign?
“Babe, I said do not bother. Please, let us not fight over this. I really do not have the strength,” he insists.
“But babe,” I really don’t know when to stop.
“Seriously? Dolapo, how many times will I tell you?”
His tone is all the indication I need to know he is very angry, that and the fact he called me Dolapo in that voice. It feels as though my heart stops beating for a nanosecond, it happens whenever he is angry with me.
“I don’t want to be a slave for money. I can foot my bills!” he is saying, but I am not exactly listening. I am wondering why he is being so proud and stubborn about this, am I not meant to be a source of joy to him, a source of blessings?
“Babe, you won’t be a slave to money for anyone. You would pay it back as soon as you get a job, I am sure of it!” I plead, holding on to his hands.
“Oh Lord, don’t you get it?” his tone is calmer now, the outburst is behind us. I don’t respond, and he continues.
“This has nothing to do with your money, I don’t want any of it, I don’t love you because of your last name or your father’s wealth. I love you because of you, because of your kind heart and your beautiful smile. I love spending my days with you and letting my dreams be filled with you because you make me a happy man. I love you without your money and I cannot accept it from you, you need to understand that. Please,” he is really pleading with me, but I am not sure I want to listen to him. I am sure I want to kiss him though, but I can’t, so I simply sit there and pout wondering whether he knows my ability to help him makes me a happy woman.
“Babe, you are dear to me, and it has nothing to do with your wealth,” he finishes as he gently pats my cheeks. I pause and think my answer through before I give it.
“I know all that, and I am not disputing your love for me, I only want to help you, doing that would make me a happier woman,” I finally say and he sighs.
“Baby, please this discussion is over, okay?”
I do not respond, I would argue my point another time; today I need him to get better.
“Anyways, what would you have? And don’t tell me you won’t eat oh. This is your first visit to my apartment, you simply cannot refuse to eat,” he sounds playful again and I smile, but I am not eating, I doubt I can eat anything offered here.
“Babe, I am seriously not hungry, just believe me,” I hope I sound convincing.
“Okay then, if you say so, then I would let you go without eating, but next time you must eat,” he sounds so sure of himself, but I am not even sure I would be coming back to his place, I feel uncomfortable sitting in the room, and it’s not him, it’s the dollhouse of an apartment.
“Well babe, I would have to be leaving soon. Please promise me you would take care of yourself,” I say as I begin to sit up.
“So soon?” he looks so cute when he is sad.
“Yes dear, so soon. You know I have lectures today,” I respond with a smile, hoping my white lie is believable.
“Okay babe, let me accompany you out,” I do not want him stressing himself but I want to leave and he won’t let me leave otherwise.
“Where is Dami?” I ask as we leave the room.
“Not sure, but he would be back soon. Do take care of yourself, okay?” he asks and I notice the change in his expression when we step outside.
“Is that yours?” he asks.
“Yeah, she is my new baby. What do you think?”
“She is a beauty. Well, I would see you later, he says and we kiss. As I settle down into the car, I look out to see him still standing there and cannot help but leave him with parting words.
“Babe,” I call out.
“Yes doll,” he says with a smile.
“I can make all your dreams come true, you just need to let me,” I say as I start the engine. He rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to speak but I blow a kiss at him and drive off before he can launch into a comeback.