It Could Have Been You.

To all my friends, who like my shit.

It was on your birthday. You slept in because friends and family had woken you by midnight with phone calls of happy birthday and congratulations. You have quite a lot of female friends so you couldn’t go back to sleep until around two a.m. after you put your phone in airplane mode during a call with a very garrulous girl. You needed sleep and you didn’t really like birthdays, if you were being honest. It’s just another year closer to death, how’s that something to celebrate?
It was also the last day of Ramadan. You woke up 4 a.m. for Sari, which happened to be the usual stuffed-with-bromate bread and moi-moi they had bought the previous night for this purpose, and heated this morning.
You finally woke around noon, a luxury you could only afford because you had a Togolese maid who performed all of the chores in the house. Your blue sheets were soaked with sweat; the result of sleeping in a room without electricity. You switched your phone off airplane mode and switched on your cellular data. A couple of seconds for the service provider to get its head before alerts began flying in from your instant messaging apps. You replied to all, and quickly closed a chat where a girl had sent you nudes as your early morning birthday present. Final day of fasting and this one wants to mess it all up, you thought. The devil attacks the fiercest when the battle is almost won.
Later in the evening you decided to meet up with a couple of friends at the mall. You’d all see a movie at your expense (your birthday treat) and when it was permissible for you to break your fast, you’d get some food at the Food Court.
It was on your way to the mall you had the worst public transport experience you’d ever had in your life. You were standing at the bus stop, passing over several buses plying the same route you were going because they looked rickety or the conductors looked too rugged. One finally came that looked a bit decent and had a conductor who had on a clean shirt and blue jeans that actually reached his ankles, as opposed to the torn-jeans-converted-to-shorts/three-quarter-wearing-touts that filled the roads. You had hit the jackpot, or so you thought.
You hadn’t gone a quarter of the distance when the bus coughed and danced and broke down in a secluded street the driver had taken to avoid the traffic on the expressway. Deserting the bus wasn’t an option because the conductor had collected your fare. Apparently, the bus was short on fuel, and (as usual) there was shortage of fuel on the country; you had no hope of continuing your journey any time soon. You almost cussed out loud until you remembered you were fasting.
About twenty minutes later, another bus driver whom your own driver had called came to pick you all up. This bus, however, was as rickety as they come. It sounded like nuts and bolts in a can of sardine would when it came your way, moving like a heart attack.
Everyone rushed in while you waited; Lagosians and their culture of struggle. Last to board the bus that sat 19 including the driver, with a new conductor—the torn jeans wearing kind, this time—who stank like a bucket of shit. Last to board the bus also means you had to sit by the conductor who could not stop talking all through the journey, resulting in you having to endure over an hour of intense halitosis coupled with his equally severe body odour. You had to get down several bus-stops from where you intended, and then get another bus.
By the time you got to the mall your friends had been waiting for over thirty minutes. Criticisms and apologies were exchanged while standing amidst the throng of bystanders who all came to the mall to have fun. You moved on to the cinema—pushing past a bunch of people standing at the foot of the escalator taking photos—to check for a movie to see.
Your friends Solomon and Aare began debating on what movie to see. Solomon unlike his name may suggest is quite unwise, although, his affinity for the female folk was very much like the biblical Solomon. What he lacked in intellect however, he made up for in social skills. You and Solomon had been friends since primary school, sitting beside each other in both primary four and five. You didn’t like each other at first; he was always complaining you drooled on the table while sleeping in class and you reported him to your teacher with the several tribal marks for always touching his private part in class. But rivalries are swiftly forgotten in childhood and you soon became best friends. Hard to not as you were stuck with each other for two years. It was Solomon who introduced you to the perks of hanging out with the female folk, he had a lot of experience as he had been introduced himself by their older female help when he was six and in primary three, a year before you met, in an affair that continued well after you left primary school.
It was also Solomon who introduced you to your other best friend Aare. Aare was a student of Solomon’s secondary school until he transferred to yours in the first year of your senior secondary class. Although they weren’t close friends as Solomon was one of the popular ones and Aare was not, when Solomon heard it was your school Aare transferred to he insisted you introduced yourself to him and ‘showed him the way.’ You did introduce yourself and you became quite close. It was Aare you shared your exploratory teenage phase with. Those days in the cramped hostel, horny teenagers with no persons to release their sexual tensions with, except their male counterparts who slept on the same bunks as they did. It wasn’t planned or anything, he had slept on your bed on the said night after a senior had forcefully collected his to build himself a mattress fort. You were both in your boxers and had huddled close to each other. You were tickling him and he was laughing out loud when your room prefect told you to keep quiet so he could sleep. You continued the tickling but now much more subtle and Aare began laughing again. He began to tickle you also and you started laughing and your heads just somehow connected into a kiss. It went on for a couple of months, and then it just sort of fizzled out. It’s an unspoken event between you two now. Something you both know happened and you remember clearly but won’t talk about, and is only acknowledged by the passing glances between you two when you’re amongst your gay bashing friends.

They finally settled on one and it ended a couple of minutes after seven, conveniently, so you made your way to the KFC below the cinema where they ate (your treat, still) and you broke your fast.
Solomon had suggested going to watch Chelsea and Liverpool play and Aare, the cannabis enthusiast, suggested going to Fela’s shrine to see it
You walked, Ikeja looking so beautiful with the grand cars in the coordinated traffic caused by the traffic lights on Awolowo Road, their yellow lights illuminating the trees that lined the adjoining streets, the beautiful high rise buildings contributing in no small way to Global Warming as they neglected to switch off their lights, the deserted street that led to the state mosque and the rowdy one where the shrine stood; everywhere was so beautiful.
The match had started when you got to the shrine. One of the boys you saw standing outside followed you in and showed you to a table. He asked what you wanted and Aare instructed him to bring you three bottles of palm wine and three packs of weed, handing him one thousand five hundred naira. The boy, not looking a day older than any of you in a Fela shirt left to get your drinks and you noticed the crew seated by the table next to you; policemen wearing white undershirts revealing rotund bellies with their shirts hanging off the crown of their white plastic chairs as they sat smoking and screaming instructions to the footballers on the big screen television.
The boy came back with your drinks, weed and three transparent disposable cups and asked if you could roll the weed yourselves. He left after Aare told him you could and tipped him with an ancient looking two hundred naira note, Ahmadu Bello’s face looking weary.
The football match barely commanded your attention, you were too busy staring at the girls seated a little distance from you smoking and drinking and talking in loud voices. Your mother would call them harlots. You considered walking towards them, something you could do now that your fast was over, but decided against it, scared that they would probably ignore you, or worse, embarrass you.
You decided to go get a pack of gum, walking past shrineboys and their long, hungry faces, asking you to drop something. You told them you weren’t leaving yet but was merely going outside to get something. It was drizzling. You got your gum from an old woman selling sweets, biscuits and paraga and had a sneer plastered on her wrinkled face. You wondered why a woman selling local alcohol just outside the shrine would judge you for smoking weed. Back inside, you told Aare and Solomon you had to leave soon, it was raining outside. They said you should wait until it was half-time.
The three of you got up to leave downing your palm wine in a rush. It was halftime and the match was goalless. Walking past the shrineboys again, this time you handed a burly looking one in blue body-hugging shirt and ripped khaki pants a two hundred naira note and watched the others crowd him like flies to shit. You saw one of them, probably not a day older than fifteen get pushed to the floor and laughed at. You swallowed your conscience; Lagos wasn’t for the weak. At that moment all you wanted was to get home before the rain started in full force. You didn’t know that barely five minutes later, you still on the street and just out of the building that housed the shrine, you’d witness an explosion that engulf the shrine and everyone in it. You wouldn’t think about the boy who was pushed to the floor then, or the girls you wanted to walk up to. The policemen wouldn’t even cross your mind. You’d just look at towards your two friends, your eyes wandering over their bewildered faces and think: it could have been us.


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