Blocked Out

“Get your earphones out”,

My aunt would always chastise me,

For having the round things in my ears,

Clinging to my lobes like a life-line,

Wearing them as a statement of truth,

Using them as weapons of sound-

Against other sounds,

Blocking out the world and all its voices.

 

And then I did:

I took them out,

Ready to relate; wanting to listen,

Waiting to hear the sounds;

Hoping for the world’s voices,

But not getting anything real or true,

Stuck only with the sights,

Of people just like I was,

With their earphones in.

 

“Get your earphones out”,

Someone ought to say,

They are all so detached,

Standing together, but being apart,

Looking at faces and seeing nothing,

Walking past, always walking past,

Speaking but not saying a thing.

Never really saying a damn thing.

 

“Get your earphones out”,

I will be the one to shout it,

To make you hear the other sounds,

Not just the ones you know,

To feel the life around you,

That you forget to find,

It’s bad: the whole world is blocked out,

And has blocked the whole world out,

Reverse it: turn up the volume on life,

When you get your earphones out.

 

Image

What do YOU bring to the table?

Dinner Table

Friends For Sale

The pawn man asked me why I came,

I held no trinkets to be sold,

I looked down at the floor in shame…

 

“Do you buy only treasures and things?”

He wasn’t quite sure what to say,

“Well dear, it’s whatever the customer brings…”

 

“Then I have some strange goods for you”

I held out all the friends I’d made

“Don’t worry”, I said, “they’re still brand new”…

 

“Whatever’s the reason to give them away?

It must hurt to let them go”…

“Well, they were never there on a bad day”.

 

Mr. Pawn Man’s face showed disgust,

The same brand I’d always felt,

“Why have friends you can’t even trust?”

 

I was glad he could now see

“So how much would you want to pay?

I’m willing to let them go for free”.

 

“Well, my dear, it really depends,

They need to have some sort of use,

Since they are no good as friends.”

 

“Can they pick good places to eat,

And form good chats on headline news?”

I was really quite amused…

“Yes, Mr. Man, that’s their only feat.”

 

So there and then the deal was made,

I gave all my friends to this lucky man,

As I walked away, I let their faces fade…

 

“Aren’t you scared of hard times alone?”

Mr. Pawn Man asked as I went,

I guess this was a way to vent…

“I have always faced them on my own”.

Friends for sale

The Story of Three Guns 3/3

“So tell me about the second one”. I was excited now. A good interview needed flow, and this one had it. Debo dropped the first gun from his lap, and picked the one closest to me. “You know… for your article… you may want to know that these are called AK47s.” I looked down and smiled. It was actually really stupid that I hadn’t asked. “The spe-ci-fics.” Debo said slowly. “Didn’t they teach you that in South Africa?” He cocked his head. “You know, I don’t blame you for being angry. But I’m on your side.” Debo laughed at this. “The only thing on my side are these A-K-forty-sevens” he hissed. “The only reason you’re safe is a side called my kind side…my calm side.” Right. “So… about the second one.” Debo wrung his hands. “You know, this country is shit”. I wanted to smile. This guy really didn’t hold back on the shittiness of things. “Why do you say so?” He sat back. “Because there I was, being an armed robber… the vermin of society” he said that in a funny voice, obviously imitating someone. “There I was doing damage, with…those guys out there.” He pointed to his friends who were still sitting on the concrete slab outside. Is this what they did all day? “And one day, I swear…you know, on my life… I swear that through this very door… a guy came walking in who was running for governor.” I sat up. This was really getting good. “And, you know… He was rounding up guys like me… As security…” He said that in a funny voice as well. “For the campaign. You know? To mobilise people and all that nonsense.” Debo began to laugh. “I couldn’t believe it man! I was hosting a big man!” His hands lingered on his face. “And you know what his right-hand guy brought me when he left?” Debo pointed to the gun he was now cleaning with a cloth. “And you know… I felt proud… Like some… some bastard child… It was like my father spoke against me in public, right, and then came to hug me in private”. He smiled. “You know. This country… It’s shit… Because it accepts people like me.” He started smiling wider. “Actually…you know what is on my side? It’s…it’s the greatest fuck-ing count-ry ev-er…That’s what’s on my side.” Leaning forward again, he asked, “who have YOU got?” Shit. I didn’t know.

“The third one.” Debo spun it around on its axis. “You know, I can do a lot of cool tricks with these. Do you want me to show you?” My impatient side couldn’t be calmed. I couldn’t let him get distracted now. “Actually, I’ve got a deadline.” Debo stopped spinning it. “Right… I’m some prostitute or something…an ash-e-wo…And you get what you need and leave right?” This guy has wit. I smiled. “It’s the job, my man. You don’t stay to embrace your victims when you steal from them, do you?” Shit. I said that before I could think. Debo laughed. “Good one”. He looked at the third gun. “How new do you think it is?” I had no clue. “Just guess”. How the hell was I meant to know? “One year?” Debo laughed. “Way off, man! I bought it last week”. Oh. “So why did you decide to buy a third gun?” Debo started spinning again, obviously insisting on showing me tricks, whether I liked it or not. “Have you ever heard the term, lau lau spending?” I laughed when I heard that. That was what Uncle Chuka would say when he informed us that we had been paid for the month. He would usually accompany it with some outrageous music video dance move. “Well”, Debo started. “When we started to do well in this career…,” A career? This boy must be kidding. “We realised, that when we got all dressed up, no one would know we were robbers.” I was confused. “Why is that a bad thing?”I asked. It’s not really a thing of pride to steal, right?  “Be-cause”, Debo said slowly, mocking me for not getting it, “other robbers would steal from us”. Wow. The irony was endearing. “You know”, he continued, “this place has no fucking loyalty. Everyone wants… So they take…You take. I take. We all do”. He stopped spinning. He got up. The swiftness of his motion scared me. “You know who the winner is?” He asked me, his height intimidating. “Who?” Debo straightened out his shirt, kicking the guns back in position and flipping the rug back with his foot. “The winner…is the guy who steals the most… And then stops everyone else from stealing what HE took.”

It was late when he walked out, and I followed. Taiwo was waiting for me, as he would. “Make sure you look in tomorrow’s paper”. The guys laughed. But I knew they would check. When I reached the office, Anu was packing up her things. “Thanks”, I said. “Who is he?” I asked, certain I knew the answer. “My brother”, she smiled. I sat down to write the story that would obviously write itself. The Story of the Three Guns.  Lagos had a song. That’s for sure. And its beat was often heavy as hell.

The 3 guns

The Story of Three Guns 2/3

I walked past the boys, into the building that had obviously been abandoned, perhaps after a fire. I would have to get my trousers cleaned after this. Standing in the sprawling room, I looked around for any sign of a Debo. The room was empty, except for the far left corner, where a tattered rug lay on the ground, weighed down by a wooden chair. I squinted to see the boy who sat quietly in the chair. “Debo”? I asked. He looked up, leaning forward in a hurry towards a bulge in the rug. “Na who you be?” He asked forcefully. “Anu sent me”. At that, his face softened. I took this as a positive first step. “My name is Lawrence, and I am a writer for The Daily Report. Do you know it?” Debo’s face was not giving anything away. I needed to rethink my method. “I am writing about violence in Lagos. Can you help me?” Debo laughed. “You want me to show you what it feels like?” I straightened up. “No. Telling me about it would be enough”. He turned to look at the wall, as if he was thinking about something. “I’ll talk. Anu sent you, so I will talk”. Another lesson I had learned from field reporting was to be humble. So I walked towards the gaunt-looking boy in the chair, and lowered myself to the rug. I made sure to stay clear of the bulge that imposed threateningly under it. “So, what do you know about violence?” Debo stared blankly past me. I tried again. “What experience do you have with violence?” He didn’t say a word. I was already starting to get impatient, this was not working out. I didn’t have his attention. There must have been a reason that Anu sent me here. Debo’s eyes were now focussed lazily on the bulge in the rug. I breathed hesitantly. “What’s under the rug?” Debo looked up at me, a smile spreading across his face. “Do you want me to show you?” I felt uneasy. This report had to be done. I looked around quickly. The Camry was still parked outside. I offered a quick nod. In a smooth motion, Debo picked an edge of the tattered rug, and flung it upwards in my direction, sending dust flying in my face. After coughing for a while, cleaning my glasses and making a mental note of the state of my trousers, I looked up to see it. It made me quiver. Laying on the ground were these large black guns, nesting around what seemed to be boxes of bullets. “A-are they all yours?” Debo nodded. “But they are the same type.” I didn’t know anything about guns, but they all looked identical. “Why do you need three of the same make?” Debo’s brows furrowed. “Because each one is different.” He looked down at them. “They each have their own purpose.” At that, I took out my tape recorder. I guess there was a story here after all. “Whenever you’re ready”, I offered.  At this, he smiled. “No, it’s when you’re ready”.

This boy has good wit. “So, which is the first gun?” Debo pointed to the most worn,  the smoothness of which was interrupted by dents and gashes. “You know, I wasn’t always like this”. The boy said this wistfully, now sitting with his hands underneath him. “What do you mean?” He brought out his hands and turned them over. “These hands, you see them?” I nodded. It was always safest to play along, even with rhetorical questions. He continued. “When other kids had palms covered with ugly scars from caning, I never even had one. I mean… I was never caned.” He looked off again. “I was such a good kid”. “What changed?” Debo looked me in the eyes. “Where did you go to university?” for some reason, the question made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the way he asked it, eyes unwavering. “I studied in South Africa”. Debo nodded as though he approved, or had thought as much. “You look like the travelling kind”. He wandered off again. “My university. It was so shit, you know? There everyone was… hugging me when I got in, and I remember thinking, how are they so sure? You know?” I nodded. “It was shit. Like, who spends seven fucking years at university? For what? You know?” I nodded again. He needed my approval. “So I dropped out, once I could no longer take the stupid strikes, and the shocked faces of my older friends that couldn’t find jobs when they graduated. Like, like… they expected something different.” He scratched his neck, the gun laying as evidence on his lap. “But I knew, and… I didn’t do well, you know…My dad. He…he was so sad. But I was so fucking angry. All. The. Time…” He shook his head, and looked straight at me. “People like you always win.” I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable at the accusation. “So I dropped out, bought this gun, and decided to steal from people like you… Because you stole from me.” I was thankful that I had emptied my pockets at the office. “But you could blame the govern…” Debo held his hand out. “Stop.” He looked sharply. “Here… YOU are the government. People… People with privilege.” I was struck by the depth of this kid. This was some good stuff.

Debo in a corner

The Story of Three Guns 1/3

“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.

Looking out

#4 Slavery Series- Death by Study.

He drank the thing,

It gave him wings,

It was such a victory.

But what a shame,

He didn’t know

He’d be flying too high to see!

study

#3 Slavery Series- Love Ties.

Laney was ready for love unending,

She pulled him to her dream,

But he was scared of a white wedding,

And everything in between!

Love woes

#2 Slavery Series- Brand Me.

“I already wear it round my neck,

I never take it off,

Sizzling me pricey won’t be a wreck,

I can not get enough!”

branded

#1 Slavery Series- Corporate Noose.

Jimmy boy hung his tie up high,
And he said bye. Oh he said bye!
Jumping swiftly from his desk,
He knew his files would fly!