When we first moved to Bariga, there was this guy who lived around the neighborhood. Let me just call him Caleb.
He was tall, handsome and always well dressed. He liked carton colour Chinos and polo shirts.
Everyone seemed to like him. Young boys and girls, old men and women, would hail him as he walked by. He was always walking somewhere. He had swag before the word was even a word and he smoked too. How cool could a young man get?
I was 21 or so and he must have been about the same age or two years older than me at most. But you could tell he was very street wise.
He had a girlfriend on our street. She was light complexioned and as sexy as they come. I had a mad crush on her but a crush was all I could do because I knew there would be blood if I so much as said hi,
Me and Caleb didn’t talk. We saw each other. We knew each other. Sometimes we acknowledged nods but that was it.
I didn’t really mix. Bariga wasn’t my scene. I was away at school in Jos and only came home at intervals. And when I was home, my girlfriend and I would take long walks in Gbagada as I dreamt of buying a fine house one day.
But then in 1994, I won an award that took me to Switzerland. I spent 2 weeks in camp then my final week with the Krahenbuhl family in Bern. It was a lovely time and as I prepared to return to Naija the family asked me what gift I wanted. I didn’t waste any time in saying TYPEWRITER.
There were no laptops then and if they had them it wasn’t something I was familiar with. I was becoming a writer and I needed my own typewriter. So, they got me a typewriter; a cute little thing that came in a box. (The typewriter is still here in Lagos but Victor Ehikhamenor has turned it into a work of art.)
Anyway, after buying me the typewriter, they asked me what other gift I would like to have. I said a CD player and so they bought me a CD player.
Now buying a CD player is one thing, buying the CDs to play in it was another smelly kettle of fish entirely.
Now, understand this. Back then there was no Olamide or Wizkid or Igbo boys peddling N150 CDs in traffic. 2face was already playing music but he was a small time singer in Jos and part of a crew call Rough, Rugged and Raw, I think. I remember how 2face used to come and beg my friends in Sose Club to allow him sing during the Miss Ujay pageant. Today, 2face is a legend.
Anyway, I got back from Switzerland and started looking for CDs. Someone told me Caleb sold CDs. So I went to him and bought 3 CDS; Michael Bolton, “Time Love and Tenderness”, Mariah Carey, “Music Box” and a soft rock compilation that opened with that popular Cat Steven song – “Morning has broken like the first morning /Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.”
That was how Caleb and I became friends.
Time passed. I finished school. Caleb was still hustling and getting hailed as he walked by. His dream, he told me, was to move to America with his girlfriend. She had brothers there who said they would file for her and bring her over. But she said she wouldn’t go except they filed for Caleb. Babe was smallish and could pass for a teenager. Meanwhile Caleb looked like he had been shaving for 20 years.
He always marveled every time I went abroad and came back.
“O boy you dey crase o. People dey waka you dey come back.”
For my NYSC, I taught English Literature in a secondary school in Gbagada. I wore second hand clothes from Tejuosho market and some new ones I bought on my trips abroad. I had finally started drinking beer and also had this tall dark and very pretty girlfriend.
But I still felt inferior to Caleb. He had swag, I didn’t. I was just a graduate who wrote and had been abroad a few times.
Bad boys have all the fun, shege!
I remember one day, I was walking back home with one of my students who lived on the next street. He was in SS2 but was not doing so well. So, I said to him when you grow up what do you want to do.
“I want to be a hustler like Broda Caleb. I no want be Jew man like you.”
It stung but then time passed.
I finished NYSC
I started working at Hints.
I got an official car.
I moved into a 3 bedroom flat in Akute
I became popular as a writer.
I was not Mayor of Lagos yet o, but my swag had started coming small-small.
Meanwhile, Caleb had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and her brothers had said no way. We are not filing for you again. So, dude and dudette were stuck in Bariga.
Caleb still wore his chinos and polos. But things were getting tight and clothes were sagging. He had a woman and a child to feed now. Hustling no be work.
He would be waiting in front of our gate when I came to see my folks on Sundays and I would drop something. He was still living with his parents. Then he got her pregnant again and his parents said he had to leave.
So, he gathered money from friends and family and rented a place in Oworo. It was in the swampy part of Oworo. It was small and cute and ever the swagallicious dandy he proceeded to paint it a sweet baby pink. Dude actually used Dulux paint. He made that house look so fine you would think he had just moved into a duplex in Ikoyi.
They moved in on a Sunday and he asked us to come for the house warming. Of course, we bought the drinks. Caleb was a bobo and bobos don’t get embarrassed.
Anyway, we were drinking and gisting with boys smoking when Caleb remembered he had a painting he wanted to hang on his wall.
“Abeg, come help me go carry am.”
I said I was tired. Caleb begged. So finally I said okay, let’s go.
I wish I had insisted and you will soon see why.
By the time we got back, our guys had left. After dusting the painting, Caleb got his hammer and found a nail.
He put the nail against the wall, hit it with the hammer and something terrible happened – THE WALL, COLLAPSED. As in, like the Wall of Jericho.
One minute the wall was there. The next minute we were staring at bush and swamp as a million mosquitoes invaded the room.
Caleb burst into tears and watching him, kneeling there with the hammer in his hand and a gap in the wall, I burst into tears too.
Lagos can kill your dreams o.