By IfeOluwa Nihinlola
I showed my friends a picture of Uchechi posing beside a dancing drag queen in red. You don get mouth, Wale said. Cyprian licked his lips, already mind-fapping to her carnival bikini-clad body. When we go meet her? Wale asked. I no know, I replied. Na Lekki Phase 4 she dey stay. He opened his mouth and looked at Cyprian, who said, I know say that job go make you fuck up; I no just know say na sharp-sharp the thing go happen.
The job he spoke of was my internship at the new archives department located in the old Museum Building on Awolowo Road. It was part of the reconciliation project that recruited Mainlanders to work on the Island, both to help the city recover its cultural roots, and to offer a way for bright Mainlanders to be integrated into life on the Island.
Part of my job was to go through the Twitter archives of a few residents of the old city who our friends at AmaSoft had considered essential. Twitter was a mixed baggage: one dude had #HistoryClass every week like books had gone extinct, and another just posted bad puns that ran into millions of tweets. The jokes were, however, valuable in understanding the city. One time I found this: BROKE UP WITH MY BF WHO WENT TO RUSSIA. NOW A GUY SAYS I SHOULD VISIT HIM IN IKORODU. WHY WOULD I WANT ANOTHER LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP? Only if she knew…
Three months after we met, Uchechi invited me to an exhibition. It was about visions for rebuilding the Yaba ruins, where the mainland rebels had staged their final resistance. My Island visa was only valid for weekdays, but I said yes. I spent a quarter of my salary paying for a fake weekend pass, and another quarter on an air cab through the Epe Pass, because the officers at the Obalende Water Terminal were bastards who always nabbed people with fake IDs.
At the exhibition, she introduced me to her friends as a very smart person. They looked at my disintegrating boat shoes with wary eyes as they swirled white wine in antique flutes. One of the guys eventually cornered me and started a conversation about architecture. Your friend is really brilliant for someone who has schooled his whole life on the mainland, he later told Uchechi. As a sharp guy, I’d spent the whole week studying architecture in the archives just to prep myself for the exhibition.
They piled into their super cars, waved goodbye, and I started the walk to Obalende. For the first time since I’d met her, I realised Uchechi was really out of my league. That moment, I promised myself I would impress her on her birthday.
The steward who attended to me in a corner shop in Mandillas was an old androgynous model—no emotion chip. He stared at Uchechi’s picture, cocked his head to the left, and said: I have just the dress for you. I returned to Ghana High in an air cab to meet the lunchtime rush, and saw them as I stepped out. I mean, they didn’t have a reason to kiss since they were still going to enter his car together, but he stuck his tongue in her mouth and kept it there like he was announcing his ownership for all creatures in sight.
After work, I couldn’t return home to the guys because I wasn’t ready to be mocked in pidgin. As I stepped out of the office, enroute the shop in Mandillas, the TBS horses gave a metallic neigh as they raised their hoofs eight times to mark the time. I searched the eyes of the people on the road, hoping they could detect the pain in my eyes, the heartbreak in my gait.
You’re back, the steward said. Yes, I answered. Wrong size. That’s impossible, he said. Then he collected the dress from me and processed my refund. I stopped at a bar in the old CMS Church building, one of the surviving structures of the Old Island. The bar was filled with geriatrics sitting with droopy faces, and taking draughts of synthetic pammy. They were like relics, the only witnesses of the Eko Class War. I ordered the cheapest drink and drowned my misery. I woke up in the morning on the floor of the bathroom. My shirt reeking of eau de vomit.
My supervisor walked past my cubicle, paused, and said: You shouldn’t look sad on this job, li’l buddy. You know many Mainlanders would kill for this job, right? Don’t make me think you’re unhappy here.
I wanted do him a favour by head-butting him. That way, he would get a replacement for his buckteeth. I spent the rest of the day at the Instagram archives, tagging images of the four mainland bridges. One of them was taken at the start of the war as the Island force bombed the four bridges at once. The whole frame was black.
After work, I returned to the bar. You’re back, the bartender said. You should ease up on the Burukutu. The edges of her lips curved upwards in perfect symmetry. I smiled and wished I could pull out her power unit in spite. She was a more advanced model, the best of them. The bar emptied around 11pm, and I was alone with her.
The manager just updated me with Jazz. Do you want to listen? My mind said no, but my mouth said yes.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, a husky male voice sang, and the whole cathedral pulsed with life like it didn’t have the whole night. She stopped cleaning, placed empty mugs on the counter, clapped both hands above her head, and swayed like fish moving slow-mo in water. Can you dance? She asked. I wanted to say no, but only a dead Lagosian rejects a dance with human perfection. So, I said yes. Yes I can dance.