One of those evenings when I did not feel up to the Premiership on Saturday, I drove down to the Mainland from the Island. Venue: Mende Suya Spot. I wanted to be among the regular patrons of the beer saloon hosting the suya malam. Honestly, some of these guys had in the past handed over to me some of the finest ideas of living. It is without argument. The suya spot at Akerele in Surulere ranks as the best in Lagos. After Mende Suya.
As I made my way down through Third Mainland Bridge, I found the unusual. The bridge was free from the usual tight traffic. Less than a kilometre later, my mind began to race. It was discomforting. I thought it was best I did the whole stretch of the bridge in a shorter time because that way it appeared safer given the absence of traffic. On both sides, I passed by some fellas around the link-joint coming in from Ikoyi whose faces reminded me of some scenes in horror movies. So, I pushed down the gas pedal and off I went. One vehicle after the other sooner began to see the butt of the car graciously given me by my employers.
Quickly, my mind went over to my little niece. On each ride, she always encourages me to ensure that none of the vehicles go ahead of me. It goes, as she would say:
‘Uncle,’ she would call.
‘See, all the vehicles are “firsting” us,’ she would point out, before adding, pleadingly, ‘Please, “first” them at least for me.’
‘If that’s what you want, I will do it, Dora.’
‘Thank you, Uncle Tony,’ she would respond and adjust her set on the seat, ready for higher speedometer readings. ‘Ok, Uncle, “first” thirty vehicles before we get to the end of the bridge.’
‘Ok, Dora but it’s not easy.’
‘Try for me.’
She would thereafter begin the count. Huge smiles at that moment would stretch her sweet innocent face. Dora is only about five years old but everyone knows she is quite competitive. She once asked me to ensure she got to the final of a dancing competition I hosted two Christmases ago. Unsurprisingly, she informed, ‘That’s where the real competition is.’ Unluckily for her, I withdrew my judgeship in the dying minutes for I was afraid I might not be fair. Although she made it on her own effort to the final but lost out to her senior cousin, she held a grudge against me for a while. It only frittered away when I offered her another drive through Third Mainland Bridge. Again, no vehicle ever drove by me that day. A few times her grandma, my own mother, had informed that Dora borrowed much of her competitiveness from me. I never gave way to anyone in spite of the pleading. I had my convictions about anything or everything I wanted to be part of even as a child and I could never negotiate them away.
Back to Dora, I would turn in her direction, look at her and smile. If only she knew what she was asking for, I would say to myself. Isn’t ignorance sweet? Truth be told, in most cases, I obliged her. At the end of the bridge, I usually got a hi-five. I could never turn her down. I feared and still fear losing her friendship. Fortunately, I am her favourite uncle and I can do no wrong. Between us, the bond is electrovalent, not covalent. For those who did O’ level Chemistry, I am sure you know what I mean.
I quickly did the twists and turns from the Anthony end to Mende, Maryland. Mende Suya was calling me. After exchanging pleasantries with the ‘Abokis’ on duty, I made a hard search for a seat. Everywhere was filled with punters; smoke from puffers and burning coals filled the air. Happily, I sat with more of the representatives of the society without the presence of the men of means. Seconds later, one of the suya merchants came over to me and I made my order. I asked for my usual – a bottle of malt drink. I teetotal. While I waited to be served, my tongue floated in heavy saliva. It was some sort of ‘Ke nako’, as the South Africans would say, as I adjusted myself. Waiting.
I met some men at the table. There was some discussion on poverty going on. My mind crept up to one of the sayings of Pablo Picasso – the man who did magic with the brush. He only desired to live like a poor person but he would rather be in plenty of money. Nice one!
‘I have a problem as a person,’ one of the men began. His voice was slightly heavy of drink – alcohol. ‘I cannot see, feel and know the truth and still keep shut.’
‘What’s the truth?’ someone by me asked in a drawl before coughing out loudly. ‘Go straight to it.’ The smell of alcohol oozed out from him.