by Femke van Zeijl
All of a sudden I see it too. The cramped expressions on faces, the throbbing veins in people’s necks, the eyes spewing fire over nothing. From the outside Lagosians appear to be in a constant state of rage.
‘Animal! Beast! You idiot!’ The taxi driver’s following lines are lost on me because they are in Yoruba. Judging his expression and intonation the content is at least equally insulting as his tirade in English. In his opinion, the bus driver coming from the opposite direction should have given way. Needless to say his opponent does not agree, which the latter expresses in a language matching his counterpart’s abusiveness. The two happily insult each other for a couple of minutes, not minding holding up traffic on this back road in Surulere near Lagos University’s Teaching Hospital. Then they move on as if nothing happened.
I do not realise how much I have already got used to this Lagosian way of communication until a friend from the Nigerian North comes to visit Lagos. He is shocked. ‘Why is everyone shouting? What are they so angry about?’ I look around me in surprise. All of a sudden I see it too. The cramped expressions on faces, the throbbing veins in people’s necks, the eyes spewing fire over nothing. From the outside Lagosians appear to be in a constant state of rage.
I fear for the physical health of an urban population that is so easily ignitable. The blood pressure table of the average Lagosian must look like a chain of mountains! How come not more of them keel and die of acute heart failure in the street, I wonder. Until I come to understand there is a special technique to Lagosian fury.
A couple of weeks later I find myself in another taxi. I know already how this journey will end, because half way the driver starts mumbling about how remote the destination is. The usual scam: he’ll end up demanding more money. When he actually does, something funny happens. I explode. I hear myself exploding. With raised voice I tell him I’m fed up with taxi drivers always trying to pull the same tricks, I get out of the car, slam the door and in an almost stabbing motion push my right hand with the originally agreed amount through the open car window.
‘You want your money or not? Take it or leave it.’
When I turn around and walk away from the yellow cab I smile. Then I realise what just happened. I became angry the Lagosian way. Skin deep.