by Babatunde Oyateru
The policeman in charge would stare out of his window, or at least where the windows used to be and wonder the same thing, did they really matter?
They have almost become part of the scenery, and in the usual ebb and flow of any busy metropolis, one would be forgiven if you no longer noticed them. The initial shock has long waned; and the automatic reaction of fear and discomfort is no longer there. They no longer have the ability to disperse an approaching crowd, or send the less brave pedestrians across the street. In a busy African town anywhere, people are moving in all directions, in mandatory crowds pressed together as they try and make the most of the space under a very efficient sun. Most people just try and avoid running into each other, or avoid the disregarding onslaught of vehicular traffic; and in all the going and coming, if you do see them, you do what African people have mastered over time, avoid, ignore and move on.
They were part of them, and they had been in the neighbourhood longer than anyone could remember, there had been attempts to drive them away, the Estate Associations had tried in the past to rid the neighbourhood of them and they had been successful, but only for a while. They always returned to mark their spot, like flocking birds they had a tendency to wander, but they always returned. They had become a neighbourhood institution much like the neighbourhood Police Station they liked to hang around; they were dirty, unkempt, and disconnected but they did have a keen sense of danger and an even keener sense on how to avoid it, again much like the policemen who they liked to hang around.
The policemen themselves had either accepted, like the neighbourhood, that they were there and not likely to leave or they had accepted them as kindred, belonging to the same social station, that bleak place society puts you when they presume you are of no value. Either way, the policemen did not bother them or disrupt them when they began their lengthy debates, which was quite often.
If anything sometimes the policemen would join in the debates to amuse themselves. It was a bleak place indeed, local real estate agents and landlords had stopped telling people there was a police station there, it was no longer a benefit, so they ignored it; the same way agents ignored telling people that they were there, right next to the police station. It is bleak when a group of people deliberately ignore you exist, when they look at you but fail to identify that you are there, that you matter. Matter is said to be anything that occupies space and has mass, for many in the neighbourhood the police station no longer mattered. It was a plot of land but many couldn’t care what was on it. The policeman in charge would stare out of his window, or at least where the windows used to be and wonder the same thing, did they really matter? If none of them showed up for work, would anyone really notice. He never allowed himself answer that.
He too would often walk right past them and when he remembered he would throw them a bit of whatever he was chewing. When he had first arrived he had protested that they couldn’t be allowed to stay in the neighbourhood much less the police station, but it fell on deaf ears. Today as he made his way through the many roadblocks and barricades that now surrounded the station due to the heightened insecurity, he mused to himself that it was an unnecessary display, if headquarters had forgotten the station, he was sure the terrorists themselves didn’t care much for the station, beside the neighbourhood was relatively safe, the local vigilante group was more effective than the police.
He needed to buy a cigarette, and as he walked past them, he gave them his usual cursory salute, one reject acknowledging another, they all smiled displaying rotten dead decaying teeth. It had since lost its effect on the policeman.
Walking from the kiosk around the corner where the policeman was headed was Aboki, the ubiquitous neighbourhood handy-man and drunk, who was one of those ambiguous characters you couldn’t place, the only tell-tale signs of his place of origin were the tribal marks on his face that placed him anywhere in the middle-belt. He had lived in the East, he had lived in the West, he had lived in neighbouring countries and he was now living in the neighbourhood and had been for a while. He was known to hold very strong opinions on everything, and would often punctuate his arguments with a smattering of every major language, he was a very dubious fellow, but he too had become a neighbourhood institution.
He passed the policeman and stood at attention to give a mock salute, the cigarette dangling from his dried cracked lips. The policeman ignored him and went on his way; Aboki was almost always in long flowing kaftans which made his gesticulations and movements all the more dramatic in the middle of a heated argument. It looked like he was conjuring the spirits; in his mind he probably was.
Aboki sat down next to them, very close to the police station. This had become a routine, Aboki liked to start his mornings this way, and while he wasn’t one of them, he was the only one they all liked and welcomed. “How na?” he asked as he made himself more comfortable, it was the one they called Ruth that answered, “We are fine o” she squeaked in her characteristically small voice that failed to conceal the baritone behind it. “Na wa! Wetin perzin go do dis morrin sef?. Na wich wan of dis oga dem go nid me today?” Aboki continued to no one in particular.
Just then a lady passed in front of them, in some hurry, she frantically looked at her watch. She was late for work. The one they called General spoke this time, his voice was frantic as always “Auntee wai ya hosban na! U no go quick marrey? U don dey old o” the General laughed loudly, but it was Ruth’s voice that was heard the loudest. The woman stopped, she looked for a moment like she was about to issue a rebuttal, but looking at Ruth, TheGeneral and Aboki, she bit her lips. Aboki was known to have a caustic tongue; she had found that out the hard way when he had come to do work for her.
Aboki joined in the laughter too, “Leave am, she dey wate make senita kam marrey am. See senita for hia” he laughed and pointed in the direction of his groin. Aboki heard his name in the distance, he scurried to his feet; it could be the sound of opportunity. He was half done with his cigarette but wanted to kill it, out of reflex he handed it to Ruth and General. General reached out for it and took a drag, he had recently taken to smoking, but it was Ruth’s hollow cough and shrill voice that followed, she wasn’t a fan of smoking and had complained. An argument ensued.
Aboki looked at him; the mad man had begun to argue with himself again. He heard the mad man mimic a female voice scolding someone called The General, right in the middle of a sentence he heard the General’s deep rich baritone answer back like he was giving commands, threatening Ruth. Suddenly General slapped Ruth hard; Aboki watched as the mad man slapped himself. Ruth screamed and threw the cigarette away, the Generals baritone bellowed out “Are You Mad!!!!!” as he continued on Ruth. Aboki started out in the general direction of his name, and made a mental note not to give the mad man anymore cigarettes. Another day had just begun in the neighbourhood.
Babatunde (Tundé) Oyateru is a political communication consultant and speechwriter. He has extensive experience in communication strategy and project management. Babatunde lived and worked in the Republic of Ireland for some time, but has since moved back to his native Nigeria where he works as a partner at ESFAJ & Partners [ http://www.esfaj.com/]
30 Days 30 Voices series is an opportunity for young Nigerians from across the world to share their stories and experiences – creating a meeting point where our common humanity is explored.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.