Two male nursing students daintily walk out of the wide gates of Alimosho General Hospital Igando manned by stout, dark uniforms. A white clothed pair laugh while walking away from the lawn path where many persons disappear. A short, curvy, glowing-light brown woman gets down from a grey car minutes after them. She locks the door with a clicking key. Then walks towards the lush lawns and green shrub bordering them. Other smartly dressed people hurriedly walk by on the cool, cement coloured interlocked brick pavement. Three old men in faded brown, orange, blue patterned Ankara buba and trousers are sitting on a wooden bench chatting in soothing Yoruba.
It is a calm morning but Lagos hoots, zooming by; trades, exchanging naira notes and bustles about. The wind catches falling green leaves and large, bright, pink petals, swaying them softy to land on the lawn. The curvy woman is walking by the strong, dark, brown branches of my hibiscus tree then stops to admire me. Although nature has plucked a quarter of the flowers, littering the floor under the trees. The floor looks like a bowl of Efo Riro.
Centuries ago, when Lagos was known as the Pepper Station and the Lagoon fishermen trade hub for neighbouring pre-colonial African cities. Long before those metal ships captained by Greed stole safety. Àwa Èmí, we spirits, had to be appeased before our physical properties and hosts were tampered with by curious humans. But even the millennium environmental regulations don’t stop wandering fingers.
My breath slowly exhales through my red stalk as I wait for the usual warm tug-snap of a deathly pluck. But it did not come that way. Snap! A white, square device emits this sound thrice. Through the damp morning air I note that the white is pristine like my petal edge streaks. “Artistic beauty! Each petal is an intricate blend of vibrancy. I’m so going to hand paint a fabric patterned after this large hibiscus.” She says while moving the box around my face.
Finally, she moves away her pretty face and gives her attention to the white metal box. For once the numerous, tiny ants that run in formation on my branches irritate me. I’m jealous this human and her piece of tech, as the butterflies who stop by to pollinate the yellow pollen tell us, are leaving. Butterflies feature in nature shoots unlike me who hardly gets that much attention in front of the hospital.
Later, the wind brought my friend’s usual brunch whispers, the Red Hibiscus tree spirit would narrate what she saw on the inside of the peach wall. While I’d note how many vehicles recklessly drive, carrying Death unknowingly. Sometimes I’d complain of the noise but not dark clouds of carbon large, yellow, burping, danfos emit. Or which child dropped a flower they’d plucked screaming as ants run around, painfully stinging their murderous fingers– punishment for disrupting life. Today I’ll excitedly chat about being immortalised in painted fabric. Out of small, popular red hibiscus trees, it’s exotic white hibiscus cousins and dried purple hibiscus usually featured in Zobo product photography, I get chosen. And of course, the white metal box that snaps without killing!
I could still see the woman pace behind mustard kabu-kabus at the taxi park, holding the white box to her small right ear. Sighing, she’d wait three hours for a male portly medical consultant. The Red Hibiscus tree spirit told me a bespectacled, portly man waited inside the buzzing human populated, sectioned iroko-tall buildings, lush maze-like lawn and murky filled porthole General Hospital compound for her.
Her Unusual Snap is a short fiction piece of African magical realism and speculative fiction that encourages you to respect and care for flowers and our plant environment. Inspired by this unusual but beautiful hibiscus tree and it’s flowers outside the Alimosho General Hospital Igando in Lagos Nigeria. A place I had to stop a small boy from plucking the purple flowers growing at its Laboratory Block.
Image Source: AmethystShotX for Amethyst Saw
ILEYA IN LAGOS is a creative non-fiction piece written by Adaeze Feyisayo Samuel.
ILEYA, is a Yoruba name for the Eid-al-Adha festival. It’s loosely translated to mean Going Home. It’s a specific synonym for ram meat, Fuji music, golden laughter, new clothes and traffic free roads in Lagos. Everyone you know looks forward to the second Sallah as they call it. It’s trite you get a public holiday. So you begin to call your Muslims friends weeks before to secure invitations. In spite of your preparations weeks ahead before Ileya, you’re always surprised with each celebration yearly.
You go to bed the night before contemplating your visiting schedule. Should you spend the day with your parents’ close Muslim friends or yours? There had been heavy rains that afternoon. An attempt to hold the rain for the next two days of the celebrations people say. What you don’t expect is to wake up hours before dawn to find your furniture, clothes and documents submerged in water. In your warm car, you doze off remembering books and movie scenes saying it’s cold sleeping in a car. The shock of your temporary displacement rings through your wet feet up your shivering body as loud as the mosque call for prayers. A daily, dependable, morning alarm in Lagos.
The visiting schedule is suspended as you make calls to your parents and apartment caretaker. While you salvage the dripping contents of your home. You know Mommy Moyo and her Ankara clad Olopos, skilled cooks, are already laying out fragrant, unbound firewood for the agbari ojukwu. The traditional stove that holds huge metal pots which boil her famous Sallah jollof rice you love so much. There is an eerie silence in the air as you turn on your data connection and Snapchat. Videoing your flooded apartment, collecting evidence you call it, you’re grateful your laptop was on a chair. Snaps of people travelling to their ancestral homes are online. You’ve watched them so you continue calling the caretaker’s phone number.
As your hungry stomach rumbles. You hear it. The sound of King Wasiu Ayinde”s voice. The voice and lyrical dexterity that got him crowned Oluaye of Fuji. This melodic singing in Yoruba language you recognise as the official soundtrack of Ileya. The piano, percussion and rumbling drums of his Fuji Fusion signify the men have began killing, cutting and dressing rams and cows. Which had stood unassuming in certain compounds days ago. You fry breakfast while standing in water. The smell of smoke, hot oil, steaming ram perfume the winds of the city you call home. Home! You remember Lagos is the ancestral home of certain city dwellers. With this a list of friends and their invitations to their Sallah celebration come to mind. You text your mother to apologise to her friends about your absence. The text says you sadly won’t drive three hours to Ikorodu to attend their spectacular yearly Ileya parties. What your text doesn’t say is that you won’t be there to kneel in greeting, chew mouth watering ram meat, laugh with strangers, gossip with friends, escape match-making parents, ogle stunning Aso Ebi and abayas or drop thoughtful gifts.
A loud bang scares the peace. Has the frying yellow plantain slices exploded in the kitchen? It hadn’t. The banger is followed by colorful fireworks you spot glittering in the sky relieved. Your misfortune almost made you forget it’s Ileya. A warm smile spreads the worry lines on your brown oval face.
Hours after the transculent water is scooped into large buckets and disposed. You drive out with your weekend bag headed to an hotel. As the car swerves onto the highway it seems the wind is singing Wasiu Ayinde’s Berlin. You smile knowing Aisha and her family would be back from the prayer ground lectures. Lagos streets seem too calm so you observe why. Less people are milling around bus-stops, few danfos speeding by and almost no hawkers. Many people have gone home or stayed indoors. The neon digits of your grey dashboard clock says Dami would already at the beach with her son, husband and father. She’d said they wanted a private Ileya away from her great-grandfather Lagos Island home robust celebrations.
After jumping on the white duvet covered stiff bed you cheer up as you roll around, sniffing clean cotton. Your phone buzzes and your hello sounds exhausted. It’s Nasir. He wants to know when you’ll be at his house for their exclusive Sallah party. This invitation is surprising considering what happened at Christmas eight months back. You explain why you’d miss– meeting his numerous cute cousins, speaking Yoruba with his favourite Aunt, savouring the chefs’ menu, turning down pot belly advances, getting reports of your afro bun photo bombing selfies, loosing count of full beer crates that morph into plenty empty green and brown bottles. He is shocked but agrees to drop your food and drinks at the hotel. You won’t miss savouring the Chefs’ menu after all.
Beads of cooling water land on the white towel wrapped around your curvy hips. You type HAPPY HOLIDAYS! to your social media friends. The #eidblackout and #barkadesallah are trending with melaninated slay selfies, happy family photos, unbelievable throwbacks, noisy videos, artsy Quran prayers and adverts. Your fingers leave your typeface to massage castor oil into gold streaks circling your lower back. From the window you see a shiny, black Gwagon drive into the shrub decorated compound. Nasir steps out from the passenger door. You happily note he could escape the white canopies and festivities. Your aqua-green lacquered fingers pull on denim shorts over your peach bodysuit and walk downstairs.
He’s lanky frame looks more handsome in crisp, white, native trousers and embroidered Buba. Grateful, you collect the warm large plastic dish, cold fruit juice pack and sweating cans of malt. He invites you to come around in the evening for ram pepper soup and champagne with his friends. You promise to think about it. You ask questions. Is he okay? Did he change his car? Is that a new friend in the driver seat? He says this his mother’s other car and her driver brought him to you. Outlawed you! The surprise doesn’t slide off your face fast enough but he ignores it. People tend to be more forgiving and generous during Ileya.
When the steaming scent of boiled tomato pureed rice, real Nigerian party jollof rice escapes the bowl you feel at home in this day. Each spoon filled with orange, red specked grains ignites memories. You remember how during Ileya, your Aunt would cook delicious turkey stew and jollof rice. Unlike your mother who never cooks during the celebrations. She’d dish out from her friends’ vintage China bowls of Odun food. Then go remove her mules, gold jewellery, iro and buba. A small bite into a succulent chunk of ponmo reminds you of Mommy Moyo’s late afternoon-evening parties. Well dressed guests eat and eat from a seemingly never ending supply of rice, moi-moi, coleslaw, pounced yam, semo, juicy pieces of brown meat, small chops, efo riro, egusi soup, suya and peppersoup. The three pieces of meat left make you smile. Your mother’s voice softly tells you Yoruba people believe you shouldn’t give gifts in odd numbers.
Another memory of Ileya, from Aisha’s grandmother’s Ikeja house shadows your chewing. Licking oily, spicy fingers you smile remembering driving her and two cousins to share food parcels for beggars. When you all got back her controversial, older, distant cousin Yetunde was being hugged by family members who’d watched Mama admonish her. It’s magical that family feuds are settled during Ileya. Faint fuji sneaks into the room through the billowing curtains. The opening snap of the malt can reminds you of Nasir’s finger nails tapping a dark, red wine bottle he served your mutual friends last year. Your clit almost misses those slim fingers. The hand wash is the colour of bubbling champagne in frosted flutes he usually reserved for you both.
With clean hands you look through whatsapp pictures and watch festive videos. Each status remind you everyone will have a different holiday. Not every Muslim goes home. But some unexpected family members will travel into Lagos. Some families may not kill a ram, after all it isn’t an explicit instruction. Not everyone will get parcels of fried meat. Many neighbors will miss the locked shops. A few after party invitations are disguised booty calls.
E ku Odun, this holiday greeting is padded with prayers. Even though you aren’t at Ikorodu unpacking vintage China bowls or sipping from champagne flutes perced on woven, raffia table mats. You thank God for the day, for family and friends that called, texted, checking on you, for life, for Ileya, for party jollof rice and free wifi.
YOU ARE NEAR YET YOU ARE FAR by NKIACHA ATEMNKENG
‘Travel between both Nigeria and Cameroon is supposed to be easy since citizens of both countries do not require entrance visas. However, the land route between the Cameroonian border town. Ebok and the Nigerian border town, Ikom is currently barricaded. Don’t ask why.’
‘You finally get jealous of the damn Sanja and feel like peeling it off your body and disappearing into the restroom. But if you peel it off just to pee, you will become naked and everybody at Ake will embark on a screaming spree. “Mad writer! Wahala dey for here o. Dr Dami, please bring that your mad bus. Carry y’im go. A man’s body is not a country!’
I finished reading this piece and the magazine it was published in, in June. Its incomplete review has sat in my draft since. In a bid to clear out my draft I’m published my thoughts about this second person travelogue. It makes me smile that the author’s first name sounds Igbo because of the irony the first paragraph presents. He began his non-fiction story stating many Nigerians drummed ‘you look and sound Nigerian’ into his Cameroonian ears. This was delightful reading this travelogue written by an African visiting Nigeria.
Halfway through this creative non-fiction piece I’d highlighted various honest paragraphs and comical sentences. I just knew this is my favorite work from the Saraba Magazine: Issue 22-OPEN. This travelogue made me reminisce about my tour of Obudu, Ikom and Calabar in Cross River State. Where no one could answer my questions about why the Cameroonian border was closed. Or why people kept asking if I was Nigerian.
Apart from the humorous yet observant tone and ironic experiences of the narrator. Its the second person point of view used makes this read very compelling. Apart from the Literary Exchange Programme, he visits the Ake Arts and Literature Festival. Since I missed the ‘This F-Word’ themed fifth festival, his narration made me feel like I was there. I attended the sensational festival through his thoughts, reflections, dialogues and famous Sanja. His bravery in publishing a food review that didn’t crown Nigerian Jollof Rice ruler mirrors his candid appraisal of Nigeria-Cameroon relations. I felt near to this Douala boy, involved in his discussions about culture, literature, geography, politics. Yet I am far, far away in Lagos.