“Go faster Taiwo!” I was frustrated, rummaging through my briefcase hurriedly as the driver made hazardous bends around the chaos of Lagos traffic. The disorganised cacophony of noise that the streets of Lagos produced every day had, after so many years become the melodious gift of a busy city. The screaming of bus conductors informing potential passengers of their route; fused with the trade of customers negotiating with impatient street hawkers; harmonised with the undulating sounds of horns and road-side insults. This was the Lagos song, and I had learned it by heart. I had no time to listen today, as Uncle Chuka had given me an impromptu assignment. Evans, one of our star reporters, had suddenly decided that he was better served working for our rival newspaper, and had unceremoniously informed Uncle Chuka of this. Our editor-in-chief, after announcing at the top of his lungs that this was such a travesty, had proceeded to counsel Evans about the sense behind his decision. This was obvious by the way he could be seen through the glass walls holding the young man’s shoulders paternalistically. So he was “Uncle” Chuka. Because he gave us the misplaced sense that The Daily Report was more of a family than an economic unit. Evans had obviously stopped believing this.
Uncle Chuka had made his way to my cubicle, his tie four inches below where it had been this morning, a bundle of files in hand, and a sorry smile on his face. I had already seen him coming- the weight of his heavy steps were a warning. Of course I would be the fall-back guy. I had developed a reputation for getting things done, and that was a double-edged sword. Here was the time it stabbed me hard, letting me bleed a raging workload. I was lucky that I had finished my special report on family planning the day before. Still, I made a play of it, running my fingers through my hair, and stroking my chin pensively. I had to get entertainment wherever I could find it. And I wanted Uncle Chuka to remember better that I had come through for him. I opened the heavy files to find etched on the first page, the words, “Violence and the Lagos Youth”. Evans’ work to date seemed to be indicative of his mental state- it was confused and lacked focus. The files were piled high with random articles on gang crime and area boys, but no actual writing had been done. I had exhaled worriedly in my realisation that this task could be more than I could hope to accomplish in a day. The issue would go to print at 3am, as usual. Where the hell was I meant to start with this? A source. A source. It seemed like I was thinking out loud, because Anu, the new girl, had looked at me decisively and said, “I know someone”.
So we drove. From the comfort of the Lagos office to the confusion of “the troubled towns”. That’s what we called it at the paper. It was the collective name for any area that seemed to produce only bad press. Any area to which a visit felt like a preparation for something scary; for which we had to streamline our appearance of privilege, and roll up our sleeves like we were about to dig. It was indeed digging, because we had to get the words out of people to whom words came less easily than ourselves, or people who would rather not share those words with us. We knew we were out of touch, so obviously they did too. Taiwo had begun to slow down. I glanced down at the address Anu had written. This was the place. Taking off my blazer, I gave a cursory look at the decrepit building decorated with ashen walls. This was no war in Gaza or riot in Libya, but Lagos held its own share of scary reporting. “Wait here Taiwo”, I instructed as I descended from the Camry. He always did, but it was good to make sure. Three boys about the age of 19 sat lazily on the concrete slab that extended before the building. One of them caressed what looked like a cigarette between his blackened lips as he made light rings dance in the sweltering heat. “Good day. Who is Debo?” I said to no one in particular. The one in the middle made a motion to the building, indicating that he was inside. I had learned early on in my field reports, that trying to speak pidgin, the local version of English, insulted the intelligence of the people who could see that I was nothing like them.