To get a better understanding of Nigerian life, we started a series called ‘Compatriots’, detailing the everyday life of the average Nigerian. As a weekly column, a new installment will drop every Tuesday, exploring some other aspect of the Nigerian landscape.
This week, a cab driver in Lagos gives us a scoop on the wild ride that is, navigating the city as a means to an end.
Cast your mind back to the last cab you rode in, I’ll wait.
Was your driver dark? Irredeemably sunburned? Did he have most of his hair, or had life taken disrespectful nibbles off the edges? By any miracle, do you recall what he was wearing?
Chances are, important as getting from point A to B with a few taps on your phone is — escaping a bad date, ducking off work, getting home safely after a night out — not as much importance is placed on the actual interaction of the journey to make it worthy of any recollection. If that doesn’t sum up my experience as a cab driver – equal parts invincible and invisible, I don’t know what will.
I made the decision to convert my mileage to cash and star ratings about seven months ago. It was the third month of the year and for the third time, I was falling short of my humblest monthly earning ambitions, carefully scribbled away in my new year resolutions. The numbers from my fabric supply business just weren’t adding up, I had long since given up using my computer science degree for anything other than a conversation starter, and time was running out.
After toying with the labour and capital intensive ideas of starting from scratch — a catfish farm and then a printing press, hitting accelerate in my already present car, didn’t seem like such a bad idea. And there began my now seven-month journey, making trips while engaging in a never-ending game of people-watching.
All my life, I thought I had experienced all that Lagos, the state I love and grew up in, had to offer. See, I was wrong. Witnessing the city within the 12-hour daily driving limit prescribed by the company I work for, births some new life and emotion to the city-experience.
There’s anxiety, at the start of your new job. Do I initiate conversation? Maybe silence would rub the passenger the wrong way. So I ploughed riders with offerings of sweets, questions on preferred routes and radio stations, the prospect of carrying their first child, anything to get that five-star rating.
That anxiety sometimes gave way to shame. Shame when passengers sat behind, rather than adjacent to me. Barking orders, solidifying the driver role I set myself up for. Shame whenever I picked a known acquaintance’s request, all but praying that they cancel the ride. A little while on the job, however, I was past caring. A credit alert is a credit alert.
Reduced sweet portions, learned comfortable silences and indifference to passenger positions after, my anxiety and shame gave way to a new emotion – anger. Anger at the potholes littering the streets. You know, the ones that sound like answered mechanic prayers when you venture in. Anger at myself whenever a wrong turn convinces my rider of a calculated attempt to inflate the fare, and eventual anger at the passenger that just won’t shut up about that missed turn! Anger at Danfos, Keke Napeps, people that take their sweet time crossing.
But if you think anger is bad, try fear. Is that sound coming from my car getting louder? Why is this vehicle slowing on the highway with a passenger present?
While going through the rainbow of emotions driving in Lagos affords me, sometimes I take a break to notice the person occupying the same airspace as me.
Here’s the thing, I’m a hard person to miss. For preference of this size-friendly word, I’m heavy-weight. There are tribal marks scribbled across my face, drawn with maybe the intention to connect, but never quite doing so, and you will always find me riding around with gloves in hands (stipulations of a wife fed up with rough embraces). But for all of my distinguishing features, I could be driving around in an invisibility cloak for all the restraint riders show, passing stories around in full-hearing of a third party. Now, I’ll never share stories that don’t include me in the exchane, but oh man if I did.
On the flip side, when I am in the exchange, you would not believe the things I’ve witnessed. I’ve had a passenger rudely demand I drive to opposite ends of the state in one night, only to offer to pay in kind at the end of the trip. I’ve had drunken passengers forcibly insist I accompany them to their next spot of the night. And I’ve had more passengers than I can count, deliberately input a wrong, but sane part of Lagos as their destination. If one more person tries to convince me Ojuwoye Mushin is really in Ilupeju, I might scream.
But, for all the craziness involved in turning my four-wheeler into a taxi, dining room and the occasional bedroom to make ends meet. I can’t imagine doing much else to make ends meet. How else would you get the undiluted craziness of Lagos on the go?