December In Lagos.
Detty December is once again here.
It’s 10:25 PM, WAT. On the stage in front of you, three shirtless men in ripped jeans dance legwork with white handkerchiefs in their hands. The music blasting from the speakers is infectious, and even though you don’t feel like it, you nod your head and tap your feet in rhythm. That is the magic of Afrobeats. The dancers are not the reason you’re out here, they are side attractions, fillers to keep your senses busy till the headliner gets here (if he ever gets here). Above you, there are two, maybe three stars in the dark Lagos sky. You read somewhere that the stars are hiding - that they ran away because of the pollution - years of smoke from the exhaust pipes of Danfo buses, I-Better-Pass-My-Neighbour generators and a million cigarettes can do that to the environment. Beside you, your friends have their phones in front of them, Snapchat filters seamlessly editing their facial and vocal features as they shout out various internet slangs that signify they’re having fun: “WE OUTSIDE!”, “E CHOKE”, and other variations. When the camera pans to you, you shake your shoulders a bit and give a smile that does not reach your eyes. Behind you, hundreds of fans are doing the same things, while they wait.
The truth is that you’re not having fun, and you want to - you need to. First of all, you saved up to be at this concert. The economy is shit and the prices of everything have doubled while your salary remained the same. Thank God for your uncle who sent you 20k to “flex”. You chuckle as you think about it. He must be living in a bubble if he thinks that qualifies as flex money in 2021. But, beggars can’t be choosers or complainers, so thanks to him regardless. So yeah, you saved up to see your favourite artiste - he’s been touring the world all year, and now it’s time for his “day 1” fans. The videos you saw on Twitter were beautiful; crowd after crowd singing lyrics back to the superstar, under floodlights. You imagined yourself doing that too, but it doesn’t look likely. A quick glance at your watch tells you it’s 11:25. Time flies when you’re not having fun.
The cool evening breeze kisses your shoulders and you shiver with the realization that you’re cold. As you head back to your friends to grab a jacket, you see that a small commotion is brewing in the middle of what was a buzzing dance floor minutes ago. Your “amebo” mind carries you to the scene and upon getting there it’s immediately clear what happened. A man dressed in a green sweater and jeans is fighting with a girl wearing a red shirt, and a bouncer attempts to separate them. A question to one of the bystanders confirms what you suspected: while everyone was dancing, Mr green sweater tried to cop a feel and began touching red shirt girl in a way she wasn’t comfortable. She immediately told him she wasn’t down for that and moved to the other circle. In a manner typical of men, he refused to listen and followed her around till she gave him a dirty slap. You shake your head as the bouncer called to intervene laughs and says “na just rock e wan rock nau.” The agbaya in the green shirt is still huffing and puffing, but a couple of men have stepped in and you figure they’ll find a way to cool him down or make him leave. You walk over to the redshirt girl and ask if she’s alright. She sobs and you offer an embrace, leading her away to your friends and trying to assure her that everything’s alright now. It is a constant story everywhere in the world: a woman tries to enjoy herself, a man ruins it.
A whisper ripples through the crowd, quickly becoming a murmur, then a collective shout of joy and relief. He’s here, finally. Your favourite artist who has put on punctual and great shows in the US, the UK, Sweden, Germany and even Finland has finally turned up hours after the promotional poster said he would. He climbs on the stage and you find yourself smiling even though you don’t want to. You don’t deserve this treatment - it’s disrespectful to be kept waiting hours after paying such a substantial amount of money. Heck, it’d be disrespectful even if you were let in free. But he’s starting with your favourite song off his new album, so you whip out your phone, open Snapchat and start recording yourself as you sing along. It’s 1:09 AM.
Your phone beeps at the same time with your microwave and you smile at the coincidence. Usually, plantain takes precedence, but the text is from Stephanie, your girlfriend. The relationship is fairly new, a couple months old, and the jitters of love still bounce around in your stomach whenever you get a text. You unlock your phone and read the message: “Hi babe, just reminding you about the party tonight at Club 99.” Ah, of course. That’s the one thing you haven’t fully come to terms with - parties. You’re an indoors person - you prefer to cuddle and watch movies, or read novels. Stephanie is the party type, out 7 nights a week, and you wonder when she gets any rest. But it is December, the unofficial party month, and you have decided to give it a shot. You ask her what to wear and she replies: “just don’t embarrass me.” How sweet.
It’s 8 PM now, and you’re trying to be sexy for her by reversing with one arm, but she’s staring into her phone and you just look stupid. A message from someone named Chris appears at the top of her screen and you can’t help but notice that the person’s name is saved with five heart emojis. Your name is just “Akin” on her phone. Weird alarm bells ring in your head and you find yourself reading the entire conversation instead of driving. She’s so engrossed in her replies that she doesn’t realize you have come to a stop in the middle of the road.
Chris (five emojis): Where are you?
Stephanie: Omw, he’s driving.
Chris: You’re coming with him? Why?
Stephanie: It’s fine, dw - we’ll still have fun.
Chris: Are you sure? I don’t want to deal with anybody’s stress.
Stephanie: Trust me x
She clicks on his name, and his number comes up. It’s a +44. Of course. You take your foot off the brake, and continue the trip, startling her out of the conversation. “Why did you stop?” You shake your head and continue to move. A few meters away, the lights of Club 99 beckon you in their green and red Christmas lights. As you pull up at the gate, the guard holds up a hand telling you to wait for someone else to leave before you enter. It’s your opportunity and you take it:
“Who is Chris?”
“A friend, why?”
“Just a friend? Why is he upset I’m coming with you?”
“Ah ah, Akin - you were reading my texts?”
“I just happened to see it”
“Why are you so insecure?”
“Yes - reading my texts so that what will happen? What are you looking for?”
“Oluwa saanu mi, I just asked a question, Stephanie”
“You’re not a real man. I don’t even know wha-”
Her phone rings and you both pause. You know it’s him and you ask her if she’ll pick. She frowns at the thought and hits the green button. “Yeah, I’m here, come get me.” She opens the door and comes down without so much as a glance. “You can come if you want”, she says as she walks to meet a man with dreads and a huge beard. You reflexively reach out to touch your pathetic goatee. Ew. You wave to the security man now trying to guide you in and reverse away from the gate.
In one night, you have been dragged away from the comfort of your house, read a conversation between your girlfriend and her IJGB boyfriend, been called insecure and had your manliness questioned. Some people don’t even have that kind of eventfulness their whole lives. You look at the rearview mirror and see tears streaming down your face. Everything hurts now and in your muddled head, there’s only one thing left to do. You park beside a kiosk and the shop owner peeks out. You point to two bottles and he doesn’t ask questions, he just wraps them in a nylon bag and brings it to you. In the milky glare of the moon, something in his eyes tells you he understands. He probably doesn’t get what exactly you’re going through, but pain is universal and everyone knows the symptoms. You grab a couple of notes from your wallet and squeeze them in his hand. No time for change, it’s his lucky night. All you want to do is drink away this feeling.
Two hours later, you’re on the floor and the tears come in full force. You just checked Snapchat and saw Stephanie aggressively dancing with Chris five emojis. You knew she was going to dance with him, but witnessing it is a different kind of violation. You reach for the bottle again as you mutter her name uncontrollably. A few states away, your mother is on her knees praying for your wellbeing and growth, not knowing that you’re drinking local gin and crying over a woman who doesn’t care about your existence.