Lagos the Chameleon

Nigerian writer Ọpẹ́ Adédèjì shares her personal reflection of Lagos.

By Google Arts & Culture

Lagos from above (2019)Original Source: Homecoming Festival

My Grandfather Moved to this City

My grandfather moved to this city nearly a century ago. He was a two-year old boy with only one parent: his mother, a Beninese trader from Port Novo; his father had just died in the city of Ibadan, our ancestral home.

Lagos from above (2019)Original Source: Homecoming Festival

No one thought he'd survive

No one thought he’d survive because his mother had lost several children before him. Abiku. His rarely-used name said it: Bámidúró — wait with me. My grandfather waited. Against all odds, he survived and by 1970, he had six sons and had built his first house in Lagos.

Backflips at Tarkwa Bay (2018) by @__tseOriginal Source: Homecoming Festival

This was my first impression of Lagos

This was my first impression of Lagos — it was a tender, soothing thing, welcoming strangers with open arms, giving the resilient a place to claim as home after ‘home’ spat them out.

Musical Embellishment I (2018) by Moses UnokwahTerra Kulture

When my grandfather died

When my grandfather died in 2013, his body was not returned as is the custom in Yorubaland. Lagos had become his home, so he was laid to rest in an old cemetery. This solidified my impression about Lagos, the city that gives and gives.

Homeward Journey (2018) by Damola AdepojuTerra Kulture

But I didn't really know Lagos

But I didn't really know Lagos. Certainly not Lagos the chameleon. Not until I set out into the world myself. Alone. In rickety yellow buses that breezed through the Third Mainland Bridge and on bikes that snaked through corners and on sidewalks, I saw the aloofness of the cramped city.

Lagos from above (2019)Original Source: Homecoming Festival

It was in the battered shoes

It was in the battered shoes of workers who set up at dawn to find bread, and in the woman singing ‘Ẹ káàárọ̀…, oní búrẹ́dì ti dé o’ as she moved from home to home, making barely enough to feed the child on her back. 

woman's wrapper; adire (1950s) by Yoruba peopleIndianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields

The same thing

The same thing that welcomed strangers with warmth, was the same thing that spat them out.

A cloth being displayed after dyeing at the Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano, NigeriaThe Centenary Project

If you move around Lagos

If you move around Lagos long enough, through its depth and it’s breadth, you’ll know that more than one thing can be true.

Artworks at Nike Art Gallery (2019)Original Source: Homecoming Festival

From pot holes on narrow roads

From portholes on narrow roads with buildings that are so close you can stretch your hand from your parlour into your neighbour’s kitchen to high-rise buildings, overlooking neighbourhoods with manicured lawns and gardens growing orchids and hibiscus, Lagos is Jack, off too many trades.

Ope Adedeji (2020-07-01) by Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà

Sitting in a dark room

Sitting in the corner in my grandfather’s old house, I write stories about this spectrum: the Lagos that gives and gives, the Lagos that takes away and takes away, and everything, everything in between.

Credits: Story

About Ọpẹ́ Adédèjì 
Ọpẹ́ Adédèjì is the managing editor of Zikoko Magazine and was the managing editor at Ouida Books in Lagos. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Afreada, Arts and Africa and McSweeney’s Quarterly. She is an alumnus of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2018 Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop. She is also the winner of the 2019 Brittle Paper Award for African Fiction and a finalist of the 2020 US National Magazine Award in Fiction.

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