By Amma Ogan
By Amma Ogan
Madam come, see if e go size you, try now e fit size you…." This was a shoe seller at Balogun Market enticing me to take a seat in his tiny shed and try on a pair which he proceeded to place on the ground over a carefully spread sheet of paper to protect his inventory from the dirt of Lagos. It is a novel concept is it not? This idea that the shoe has in some way to conform to your perfect foot. It has to fit you, not the other way round.
This is almost as plaintive as that other typical Nigerian construction. "I came to your house the other day, but I met your absence." There is something so poetic about the sound of that. It conveys in such a dignified way the regret at not finding you home, without suggesting any remission on your part for not being there.
In the same vein comes: "How is your mother, say me well to her when you see her." This could mean speak well of me to her, but the real import is give her my good tidings and that is so much more than say hello to her or greet her for me.
Then there are those constructions that we have seized on and sized to fit our usage. We have an intermittent relationship with electric power, and exercise whatever control we can by ‘oning' it and offing it, with a vengeance. Nothing so genteel as switch it off or turn it on, we dispense with all protocol and off it or on it, snatching those brief opportunities we have to do so.
Likewise, or should I say, in this wise, we get to the kernel of the issue. Why else would one sit around cracking palm nuts? The British coined the phrase, To be forewarned is to be forearmed, whereas, we just know that to be for war is to be for army. Finish. Case closed! Think before you enlist.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Lagos is a city where traffic takes such a toll on our time there is little left for other things. Subsequently getting to the point quickly and efficiently is an important part of any discourse. You want that goat leg cut into pieces? Don't confuse the butcher, just ask him to "pieces it". Much quicker; three words versus two.
Driving along Broad Street many years ago, and searching in vain for a parking spot, my father pointed to what he thought looked like an available space, but the driver knew better. "Oga there is no true fare there," he volunteered. Of course he was right. It was supposed to be a thoroughfare but the Lagos municipality in its infinite wisdom had blocked the road off with giant cement boulders. There truly was no way for a car to get through to that tempting parking space.
And while we are on the subject of driving and looking for destinations, there is nothing so taxing as trying to find an address in a country that is still very much a work in progress, a construction consistently under different management, plans incomplete, or new wings abandoned: this house in not for sale! So there is this story of asking for directions somewhere in the middle of a busy metropolis, just about mid south of anywhere in this blessed land…
"E dey for alon." "Which side for alon?" "Dhown." "Which side for dhown?" "Dhown,
dhown." Believe it or not this is clearer than asking about an address and being told to drive "two poles." What in the name of sweet tombo is a pole?
Ours is a society with such a multiplicity of cultures that we have honed the ability to convey a world of meaning with the simple, curt, phrase. A good and homely wife, anxious to fulfil her maternal instincts and envelop her home with the sound of many children's voices, literally drags her abstemious spouse to her gynaecologist because he won't ‘do' to her satisfaction. The embarrassed man offers this one explanation to the doctor's gentle enquiry.
"I am tinkin." Determined not to let the issue die the wife counters:
"You are tinkin? What are you tinkin?" This is akin to that example of Lagos road rage, "What are you driving?" which has nothing to do with the make of the car.
Now if this were a case of, "I am reading," all Madam Missis would have to do would be to off the light and proceed to pieces the whole argument.