I make a soothing ascent from the toilet seat; appeased, pausing only to muse over my handwork. Satisfied, I appeal to the shiny lever at the angled extremity on the top right of my ‘pleasure box’. I extend my hand, teasing the lever, inclining it to the right. With little effort, the pulley system succumbs to my advances, bestowing the the title of ‘Rainmaker’. I observe as the ensuing whirlpool overcomes the brown, leaving only tiny green bits of vegetable; evidence of yesterday’s dinner. As I head out of the rest-room, I hear a rumble of applause from within- the only gratitude shown me in recent times. My chain of thoughts organised, I begin a rehearsal of my presentation.
On Friday, I received an invite as a guest speaker from a charity organisation. I should have declined- I would have declined, but for some reason, I’ve no excuse in particular. Not the four meetings I had to reschedule for next week; not the two conference invitations I declined. Nothing dissolves the applause of two hundred hungry but happy children. By the way, when those M.Ds and C.E.Os clap their hands for me at a conference, it is a formality. Not gratitude…
Hissing at the thought of this customary ritual, I mentally re-arrange punctuations by soliloquy. Where was I..? Ah! “…as part of a plot to improve economic turnout, I suggest that…” -I interrupt myself: “That doesn’t sound right. Not to a crowd of nine-year olds and teenagers.” I approach the two-panelled room door, reaching for the handle. I pause at the thought of the shoes I’ll wear. I had figured almost every other thing. I walk towards the shoe rack- half my height, carved from Acacia and polished the colour of Amber; I can tell, I polished it myself. I walk along it’s length, my fingers trailing, stopping intermittently at each heel; examining, choosing. Finally, I pull out a pair of dark-tanned Brogued Captoes, size 43. “Musa will make this shine.”
I will probably never leave Lagos! I walk briskly, my shoes in my right hand, my phones in my left. I am armed with my wallet, safe in the back pocket of my three-quater length blue Jeans. The one Tolu had made me buy. A smile creeps into my face, as her face drifts into mental focus: Her pupils are dark, her eyelids are fertile; sprouting graceful eyelash. Her forehead is shiny chocolate; smooth, except for an occasional die-hard pimple. Her nose is broad, African; although in my prayers, I’d asked for narrow and long. Her lips are primly portioned, laced with varnish the scent of Mangoes; cheek bones so smooth, a tear wouldn’t stop halfway…with careless excitement, I place an unwary foot on the dry tarmac. As if to punish my lack of discretion, a crazed knight on motorcycle back charges past me, from my opinion, hoping to sever my foot. “Mad man!” I scream, but he is long gone. I probably will never leave Lagos! But I despise these ‘Okada men’. Extending my less- burdened arm, I appeal to an old lady seated behind the wind shield of a Ford Explorer. She obliges, and I hurry across the road. Once safe on the other side, I walk towards another beauty of Lagos; somewhere between a huge shopping complex and the defiant giant of a Banking hall. Somewhere so tiny it could contain only three people. Constructed in a lean-on style, the once silvery roofing sheet is now brown halfway from exposure to the elements. The ‘pillars’ are square- sawn planks wedged prudently into the ground. Walking closer, the bowed head of a man begins to distinguish itself from the dark background. On his laps is a plastic rectangular basket. I’m most certain his mother had discouraged him from playing with sharp objects- his defiance is evident from the content of the basket: needles and hooks, nails and tacks, a tack hammer and coils of thread. His hands engaged, sorting; mending. He exposes his left palm to reveal scars of varied depths, the majority at the tips of his fingers.
“Musa, abeg, help me polish this one.”
“Oga, na pipty naira.”
“Tah! Take twenty!”
“Oya bi-ring am come.”
I begin to construct my speech again, thinking up possible ways to cheer up the less-privileged. Distracted, my eyes find their way back to Musa’s activity. I watch him smile secretly at the leather, a remark that said: “come to Papa!” He picks the left foot, and begins to paint. I am a communicator, a public speaker skilled with the secrets of human interaction. However, watching Musa hue the crevices of my footwear is humbling. I slowly join him on his bench, keenly observing. He wipes the brush with the skill of an artisan. With finesse, he bathes this foot, appealing to it, teasing it until it succumbs in shiny perfection. As it begins to shine with an evil lustre, he places it gently back on the ground, retrieving a brown piece of foam rubber to pacify it. He then picks the other foot, repeating the process.
“Oga, I don pinish o.”
Breaking my stare, I reach for my back pocket and retrieve my wallet. I flip the currency notes, until I arrive at the One Thousand Naira currency note. I pull it out, extending it to him.
“Ah! Oga no change o!”
“Keep the change, Oga Musa.”
Bewildered, he nods appreciatively.
“Tank you, Oga! You do well o!”
I should respond, but my pride won’t let me. Instead, I nod, pick my shoes and start walking. Back across the busy road. Back the way I came. I enter the house and begin to look at my shoes, as if I’d just bought them. Guiltily, I acknowledge: “He’s better than I.” Then I begin to reassure myself: “No! I went to school! I went to College! I have a well-paying job!” Then it hits me. I have happiness. Musa has it more. I was given a Coat of Varied colours. Musa’s is a Monochrome. But he has included in it the colour of happiness. I want that colour. We all do.
The guilt pangs begin tearing at me again. But I’ve done no wrong. I only covet the contentment of those with little means. The contentment of Chidinma, the albino that peels oranges in the next street. The contentment of Iya Fathia, the one that Tolu buys ‘Ata rodo’ from. How she and her children chant and bicker. The hyperactive hands of Musa the Shoe-shiner. Their contentment.
Resolved, I begin preparing for tomorrow’s speech: “THE COLOUR OF HAPPINESS”. But I will not tell what that colour is. A secret. Monochrome.