He hadn’t realized how tired he was until he found himself snapping in and out of slumber, as his hostess and other members of her family tried their best to make him feel at home. He remembered been asked to stand and be shown the room he’d be staying but not how he landed on the bed and had some more than ten hours of sleep. By the time he woke, he wasn’t sure whether it was because he’d had enough sleep, or because he was so famished. Fortunately, his host was magnanimous enough to leave instructions on where he’d get cooked food and have it microwaved seeing as he slept without dinner the night before. He felt that the fact that there was electricity the whole night must have contributed to his uninterrupted sleep, a near impossibility in Nigeria where there are more hours of blackout than when there’s “light”, as in Nigerian parlance. He smiled to himself when he remembered the joke about a Nigerian criminal and fugitive, that the FBI was closing on. Another Nigerian on the FBI team suggested that the lights in the pub the fugitive was suspected to be hiding be put off and back on again. His bewildered colleagues reluctantly followed his advice, only to hear someone shout “UP NEPAAAAAA!”, (as with most Nigerians when electricity is restored, NEPA been the defunct National Electric Power Authority) as the lights came back on.
He was out of the house by ten o’clock. He intended to visit the university in London, to complete his registration procedures. He’d gotten hints from past scholars and would-be classmates on the whatsapp chat group that was created for purposes such as the one he was facing. At the bus stop, he decided not to go with the first double decker bus that came his way, but rather to study their pattern. He’d been gifted an Oyster card for use by his host for the day, till he could get one for himself. Apparently, it was cheaper than the pay-as-you-go option.
The buses appeared about every six to ten minutes making the next stop almost always on time by his reckoning (something one can really plan ones day with, unlike in Lagos where departure and arrival time are at the mercy of the elements spiritual and temporal), some of them hardly filled, though he suspected that at rush hour they’d be fuller. It was the opposite of the situation in Lagos (where he’d spent most of his life until five years ago when he moved to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja), where even the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT system meant to bring some sanity to commuter transportation ended up becoming more of what it met on ground, where buses will park to be filled up before moving on to the next stop.
The windows of the double decker buses are wiped clean, as are the seats. Though BRT buses in Lagos were air conditioned when they were initially introduced, some even had overhead TV for in-bus entertainment, but over time most of the facilities fell into states of disrepair. His last memory of the BRT before he left Lagos for Abuja was seeing a cockroach crawling off the back of the seat in front of him, and during his last visit to Lagos before leaving for the UK, as his brother drove him to rendezvous with a friend for a sendoff get together over what his friend termed the “best ISI-EWU (Goat Head Peri-Peri) on Terra firma”, the BRT bus he saw looked so tattered, dirty, with the ads’ paper on its body torn off at several points, almost reminiscent of the days of the “Molue”, that the BRT buses were meant to replace more than eight years ago.
He decided to do a tour of the city of London, rather than complete his registration process seeing as he still had an extra day to play with, having done much of the work online. He alighted at the next bus stop and began a trek to see much of the city as he could before burning out. He saw the Westminster Building, Kings Cross Station, British Museum, the Cathedral, Library, University of London, the array of big shops he’d long heard about, with the Thames running around Central London, and the likes during the few hours he toured the much he could, within a perimeter he’d earmarked on his map. He was impressed with the accuracy of the paper map, considering that once he’d driven into a dead end on assignment in Kogi State while using Google map, that was meant to be updated, though what constituted the dead-end in that particular case was a shortcut that used to be a road now turned bush, filled with a heap of refuse due to disuse.
He observed that central London was structured in such a way that every major institution or building of importance to the majority of the people were set just about a stones’ throw from the other, all packaged within one city, against the growing but prevalent norm in most developing countries like Nigeria, where state governments spread governmental institutions statewide to encourage infrastructural development even outside the state capitals and major cities and towns. Only those seeking something extraordinarily exceptional or uniquely specific may seek to leave the city for elsewhere, where such thirst can be quenched. Central London reminded him so much of Lagos Island, and he could have sworn that those who designed the latter must’ve had the former in mind when Lagos was a British Protectorate. Unfortunately, much of that landscape has become overshadowed and overtaken by the raw buying and selling that takes place in much of central Lagos Island, that you have to look beyond the very visible to see the inconspicuous initial outline and landscape, and the beauty it must’ve represented in its heydays.
Like highbrow Ikoyi and Lekki in Lagos, and Abuja both places where he’d worked prior to coming over to London, London’s workforce mainly come in from out of town, because of the expensive nature of the city. Most of the houses where important people once lived have been turned to hotels or mini-museums to celebrate the lives of those people, something Nigeria hasn’t learnt to do yet.
He found it pitiful that at a time when South Africa notably kept Mandela’s house, for instance, till date, that it made news that during an attempt to clear Lagos of filth and restore a so called master plan of the highbrow Ikoyi and Lekki areas, a house that was considered a United Nations Heritage Site was partly demolished, as it was already slated for demolition before the error was noticed. In immortalizing the greats, he met with the comically ironic, when he came upon a building where Lenin, the founder of Communism, who denounced capitalism for all it’s worth, lived, lending his name as marketing tool for a hotel in capitalist London. He wondered if the comrade won’t be turning in his grave at the sight and import of the happenstance, protesting the grave injustice done him and his name by an unprincipled capitalism.
One other thing he came to love, and in fact was looking forward to, each time he made a turn into a new part of town was the statues. They added much more than art and history to the London landscape, with statues of Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale particularly been of interest to him. Even statues of fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes wasn’t left out.
Before Mr. Babatunde Fashola became governor of Lagos, statues in and around Lagos were rare and mostly of Yoruba icons such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief M.K.O. Abiola. Fashola it was, who extended the gesture to include late members of the academia and human rights activists like Professor Ayodele Awojobi (of the University Of Lagos) and Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti respectively, unfortunately many of those statues are left unkempt with bird droppings leaving designs on their sculptures, in the parks where they are located, that have become largely overgrown with weeds, since the present government, apparently not caring much about flora and fauna of Lagos, came to power. It hurt him to think that there’s no memorial at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital celebrating the prowess of the institution in the field of In Vitro Fertilization, even though
the procedure was successfully carried out there barely six years after the first one worldwide, possibly first in sub-Saharan Africa. Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka taught in universities in Lagos, Ife and Ibadan, Professor Chinua Achebe of the “Things Fall Apart” fame, lectured at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; J. P. Clark of international renown also lectured at the University of Lagos, yet nothing in these institutions commemorate the presence, at one time or the other, of these great men as well as women who brought Nigeria international recognition with their works. He recalled reading somewhere in the Bible where the children of Israel were admonished not to shift ancient landmarks, such that till date Abraham’s well at Beersheba still stands amongst many others. Sadly, his Nigeria marks festivals of imported religions only, then maybe armed forces remembrance days, forgetting it’s war and true national and sectional identities and history.
By the time he came to himself evening had set in. The tour of Central London he’d made mainly in the afternoon could’ve been near impossible anywhere in Nigeria, with the hot humid weather, except one had malaria, in fact he regarded the love for unbearably hot afternoon sunshine as positive diagnosis for malaria long before he went to medical school. In London, the presence of brilliant sunshine had not the heat and humidity baggage, hence no sweat. It was a most refreshing experience for him, as well as (he considered) the iPhone wielding human traffic around him. He was surprised to find many people handling the pricy gadget, the latest of which he learnt many Nigerians back home, despite their love for smartphones have largely tended to ignore, not just for its ridiculous cost, especially in the face of a Naira that’s astronomically rising in geometric progression in relation to other/foreign currencies, but also because of the easy to lose cordless earpiece. By the time he boarded the double decker out of the city centre towards home he was afraid that he may still become carried away by landscapes once again, and fail to complete his registration.