by Temitope Shittu-Alamu
Turns out that there is more to an agbero‘s life than we understand.
Very recently, I found out what really goes on under our Nigerian bridges. Not all the bridges; just those ones that we actually walk past speedily so that we don’t get our phones snatched.
The term “under-bridge” has always been scary for me. I mean, that’s where agberos pretty much do everything: sleep, bath, smoke and drink Star beer with beans. I grew up learning that they were ne’er-do-wells, and it’s actually quite difficult to convince anyone that the young men have anything to offer. They carve out like a corner under the bridge where they stash what looks like hundreds of old tyres. That, combined with the multitude of old car parts flung around the dank, pungently scented, perpetually dark space, and it always looks like an earthquake just occurred there. The ground is usually dug up soil; it is never tarred. Even if it were, all the activity that went on there would be more than evident; stained different shades of brown by all sorts—from engine oil, to blood, to the old kerosene by the akara woman’s side.
There is always, ALWAYS an akara woman. She’s the mother of one or more of the under-bridge dwellers and usually by midday, her job is done.
The young men seem to quarrel every morning but they are really just discussing how “selsea” (Chelsea) beat Barca the previous night. A typical agbero morning though, starts off with a loaf of bread in one hand and a plate of watery beans in the other. Completely brown-once-blue jeans sag while he swaggers with his hands full of food and drink, trying to be a local champion and to keep his jeans from falling at the same time. They stride across their “self-contained” apartment without a care in the world.
I once came across a young agbero as he fervently discussed football. His feet were in multi-holed bathroom slippers but I imagined them in football boots. He said in Yoruba, “Refree yen o gbadun, offside le fi score la na o.” He was describing an offside goal with disgust but his feet were just too swift. When he realized I was looking in his direction, he smiled.
For that split second in my mind, he was Ricardo Kaka. I tried to imagine what he would turn out to be in life; I hoped the best for him but it wasn’t much. Turns out that there is more to an agbero’s life than we understand.
Under-bridge life is what he has always known. Why should I think to take him out of his comfort zone? A community where he was born, bred and toasted by a hard-knock life. They run their stuff. As a matter of fact, they have their own chief and sometimes, lawmakers. We know them to be phone snatchers and disturber of the peace, but in their community they are a neighbour like any other you find around the city. After a long day of driving danfos around the city, they settle for drinks and to make merry. From a distance, they sound like they are drunk. Perhaps they are, but they are in their world. A world that no other person can reach. A world that a non-agbero can never understand.
When the night is dark, they arrange their tyres and sleep. What is amazing is how peacefully they sleep, with no thought of what tomorrow holds.
I think of my life and all the opportunities I have to be what I want to be. My mind goes out to the under-bridge folks whose minds are caged, not knowing there is another way of life.
About the author: Shittu-Alamu, is a writer, an eclectic public speaker and master of ceremonies with a degree in History and International Relations. Passionate about the media and of a strong believe that “it is my platform to building the Nigeria of my dreams”. She hosts a yearly Christmas show on television.
I love God, I love people.
Did I mention that I love Garri. Wow it keeps me going. BLOG; http://eclectictope.wordpress.com/
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.