Lagos has really changed in the 2030 of Tunde Sule’s imagination and for the better too. In ‘2030’, a story among the 10 in Half this, Half that, a collection released a couple of years ago, even the taxi driver, through whose car window one gets a glimpse of this reborn and spotless Lagos, speaks fluent English. Not that there are no such taxi drivers in the present-day but there is no doubt that this is a deliberate government policy.
Joshua, as he is called, is also polite and the mouthpiece of the tourism arm of the city. He gets a commission for bringing the passengers he picks from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport to the aquatic wonder that is the biggest water park in the world and poised to host the World Aquatic Games in two years.
The airport itself has transformed and Linda Adigun, returning to the country 30 years after her first visit, finds it hard to believe that this is the same airport she landed at when she came to Lagos with her mum. And this is not because she was too young to remember, there has really been a thorough makeover in Lagos. Indeed, as Joshua explains to Linda, “unusual problems require unusual solutions” when he talks about how Oshodi got rid of its persistent street traders. The garrulous taxi driver tells Linda of the LEB which ‘takes no rubbish’ in the managing of waste in Lagos, as he heads to the Sixth Mainland Bridge on his way to Ikoyi. That’s right, sixth, among many other changes to Lagos.
The writer dreams up a plausible Lagos judging from what he sees in the present-day, where the government has a road map to transform the city. The other stories, except for the one titled, ‘At the Gate’, are set in the everyday Lagos. In ‘Nine’ a mother wakes up after a caesarian section and asks for her bag rather than the baby she has just given birth to. A dirt-poor father takes his life under the watchful eyes of his son in a one-room apartment and a staff tries to rob his boss at home. There is also the antics of a Lagos landlord and the goings-on when some of the dead in the stories converge at the gate of heaven.
‘Nine’ is an interesting tale with humour and suspense but the reader has to wait till he reads the second part of ‘Father’ to know why the new mother would rather have her bag. This is the way in which each story connects to the others forming a chain that links them but allows each to stand alone.
‘Nine’ engages the reader from the very first line just like the rest of the stories in the collection. In fact, many a reader who lives in Lagos would see himself/herself in the characters largely because of the clear picture the writer paints with his pen. ‘Loved’ chronicles Linda Adigun’s first visit to Lagos and reveals why her mum would rather she has nothing to do with her father. ‘Fool Time’ presents fools who do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In ‘Buying and Selling Trouble’ the reader meets with Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel-like Baroka, a ‘Bale’ whose stock in trade in this case is married women. ‘Oily Mess’ and ‘Nineteen’ tell of young men who allow the devil to find work for their idle hands. This is no doubt Lagos but it is couched in language simple enough for everyone who can read to go through the stories and enjoy them. The writer also deploys humour as a tool to make the stories as fascinating as they are entertaining. Though this is Sule’s first time out, the firm control he wields over the stories stands him out as someone who will be here for a long time; perhaps even unto the immortality he seeks by writing in the first place.
If it is true that “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become,” as C.S. Lewis puts it, then Sule has many lessons to teach those who get to read his stories. One such lesson is that the future is bright not just for Nigerian writing but also cities that have a road map for a better tomorrow.