I’ve always had a problem with introductions. To me, they don’t matter. It’s either you know me or you don’t—you get? If you don’t, the main thing you need to know is that I am a hustler through and through. I’m that guy that gets shit done. Simple. Kick me out of the house at fifteen—a barged-in-on secret behind me, a heartbreak falling into my shin as I walk—and watch me grow some real useful muscles. Watch me learn how to play all the necessary games, good and ungood; watch me learn how to notice red eyes, how to figure out when to squat and bite the road’s shoulder with all my might. Watch me learn why a good knife (and not just any type of good, but the moral-less kind, the fatherlike kind) is necessary when you’re sleeping under a bridge. Just a week after that, watch me swear on my own destiny and insist to the God who made me that I’m bigger than that lesson now; then watch my ori align. Watch me walk from that cursed bridge a free man and learn how to really make money between age damaged and age twenty-two; watch me pay the streets what I owe in blood and notes (up front, no installments); watch me never lack where to sleep again. Second thing to know about me: I know how to make the crucial handshakes. Third thing: I no dey make the same mistake twice. Almost evict me from my place in Surulere at age x and watch rage stab me forward. Watch how in three weeks, I treat my own fuckup with not just a room but an apartment four times as big in Gbagada. The how is irrelevant. Fourth thing: I am serious about being alive. Because of this, there is nothing I can’t survive. Anybody who knows me knows that; the rest na breeze. It is my God-given right to be here. This life? Me, I must chop am, and it must be on my own terms. What makes all this worth it, otherwise? Nothing. Someone I know joked just two days ago sef, that even if I end up in hell at the end of the day, I won’t stop kicking, I won’t stop reaching for something, I will insist on my space. In reality, I’m not the kind of guy who ends up in a place like that because fifth thing: I’m not the kind of guy who believes in hell, or in a god who imagines a lake of fire. I just can’t see it—you have a mind that’s wider than the sky and that is what you use it to picture? To me, that sounds too petty, too human, too undivine to be real. People sell all kinds of gods all the time. I know the One that moves me and it’s not the one I was raised on. To me, you can’t say you’re love, choose to roast people for eternity, and then pretend it breaks your heart. Pick a side. Anyhow, the guy said the hell thing to make a point and it’s true—luck finds my head, business competes with my blood on who keeps me best, and either might fail depending on the day. So now, I always wonder: What do people want to use my name for? It will not buy you anything. Name-drop me and they’ll still redirect you to me. In that sense, it’s irrelevant to know. I answer a first name only and it’s for the people I know. But my story? Ah damn. Now, that? That, many people can do a whole lot with.
Start here: I’m not inspiring. When I first moved to Lagos, I didn’t come here with good mind. I came here with one mission and one mission only: to get a lot of money, so as to prove my popsy wrong. That’s all. For me, blood family doesn’t mean shit. Family is your spine dividing into four, hot metal in your back, red life shooting out of you in a geyser. It’s you falling forward in slow motion, a yelp in your neck, whole outfit ruined in the air. You, reading this, you’re here, alive, because your parents synced and you showed up. That’s it. Even if they planned for a child, it was still a raffle draw. A hand went in a bowl and picked you. The tree shook and a fruit fell down. If it pains you to read, then cry. It’s deeper for your mum because she probably pushed so hard her body gasped, only for your ungrateful head to come out of it. But your father? Half the time, all he did was grunt and drop some bands. And on the way to where I am, what I learned is that anybody with money can drop money. And most men, ehn? Can drop money. Even poor men. That’s something I wish my mother had known so she wouldn’t have but-at-leasted herself into the ground. Money loves circles and men run in circles stinking, adrenaline pumping. Money hardly goes to lone dots, unless you threaten it. And even then, believe me when I tell you it probably took a hundred-person team to execute that threat, most of them unnamed. The face of a thing is not the body of it. Even women with serious money—few and far between dots—have to pretend they don’t have. There’s a reason, you know? It’s in the code; it’ll take a new world for that to stop being true. Men with small money will still impress each other over beer, men with medium money will find ways to barter, and men with large money will slice this country like cake if they get sad enough, bored enough. Dropping money is all tied to pride and they taught us that we need pride. So for many of us, that act alone—of rescuing someone, of fulfilling a duty, of settling a debt—pumps blood somewhere specific.
When I lost home, my goal was simple. All those insults that my father used to be casual about, I wanted to erase them. I wanted to outdo him, so that when people called our family name there would be more to say about me than about the man who picked me up as a boy and stretched me into a man in the space of an afternoon. I was on the streets so fast it felt like I dreamed those memories of the Man reading a newspaper, the Head of the House watching the news, the Father petting the koboko like something safe. He beat the sound out of all of them, so those days when I used to play my mind back wondering if things could have been different, I met more bite than bark. But he hardly talked anyway, except to say things like You won’t amount to anything, so it’s not like I was missing much. He was furious a lot, which makes sense. People are like that when they hate themselves.
He was wrong about what he said, though. Embarrassingly wrong. What I have amounted to can buy who he was, at least twice. My father was a well-educated man, a man who had a should-be-so for everything. The table should be set so, all family members should be at home by seven p.m., breakfast should always include eggs, a wife should be this way, a husband should be that. Dutiful, he never excused himself from his own hand. The one time he was unable to pay our school fees and our mother offered, the house did a headstand and blood rushed into our brains, I swear. We sat at home that term. That’s what should can do. About me, he believed I should be grateful he still chose to raise me, having noticed my softness from early; he believed I owed him something and feared that if I didn’t love the way he prescribed for me, I’d ruin my life. Funny, because his love tied his hands often; his love made an army out of us. That day when he walked in on me and my classmate, I saw him fight himself to the ground. What followed was what he thought he had to do. He questioned every feeling, tested it for fitness. If he didn’t think it would suit a man his size, he’d treat it like a son, send it away with its head bowed. Rage was good, rage was a feeling with a hard core and some biceps. So, a beautiful rainfall of blows. What kind of weak father would have no problem with what he saw? What kind of weak man would see such a thing and let his son go free? Look at yourself, he kept saying, staring me down. Look at yourself. You’ve destroyed the family name. I dropped the family name after four years away. They can keep it. It stopped meaning anything to me. Any weight put on my name since then comes straight to me. Is for me. Just me.
He used to say, It’s as you make your bed that you lie in it. I sleep in a made bed every night. King size. It’s someone else’s job to make it. He also loved to say, Any man who comes back home after seven p.m. is a thief. Some days, I leave home to work at seven p.m. because I can. Na me get my life. I’m many things but a thief is not one of them. The easiest way to put what I do in context is to quote Jay-Z: I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. Everywhere you look around you, there are gaps in markets. I see them and fill them. That’s what I do. I did some shady things in my earlier days, I can’t front, but those ones are not for the books. When popsy first kicked me out, I went to my uncle’s house—a pastor, and he housed me. I don’t discuss those years for good reason. Let’s just put it like this: everything that was “holy” in me left me there. Na there my eye first tear. So when I left, I worked with churches, supplying actors for dramatic miracles. I trained them from experience—taught them how to faint, how to roll their eyes into their heads, when and through where exactly the spirit should flee. Pastors rushed it. Me and my guys got our first place in Opebi with the money we made. We paid two years’ rent, cash down. I’m sure the landlord thought we were Yahoo boys, but why question cold cheese when you can just shut up and feed your family? After that, as a side thing, me and my guys used to move shrooms in on a steady. People went crazy for that. We opened a barbershop in VI briefly, but they shut it down when the queues became too long. They said we were doing illegal shit, but really, one of us was a therapist and many men needed somewhere to talk on a low. After that, I used to organize people for VIPs. My friend was a sitting politician’s son, so he plugged it. As for how we run things, Wizkid don already talk am: I know bad guys that know real bad guys, that know some other guys. We made a lowkey app with photos and specifications—twins, triplets, dark-skinned, mixed race, BBW, gay men, drag queens, lesbians, kinksters, all sorts. All our clients needed to do was tap the screen and a fee would appear. Whoever they chose would be on the next flight in. It’s not mouth I’ll use to tell you how much money we pulled from that. It’s not a small job to guard a tall gate. If you know you know. But over time, it became too heavy, because secret yato si secret, kink yato si kink and if you know anything about underbellies and darkness, you know their everlastingness. The deeper you go underground, the darker it gets, because the more they trust you with. And you know what? In life, you have to be careful who you allow to trust you; you have to know where to stop before life stops you.
Now I run a souvenir shop. I sell fridge magnets from all sorts of countries, for people who lie to their partners about traveling abroad for work. If you lie like that, you need supporting gifts. I woke up one day, saw the gap and did quick maths. We fly things in from all over, daily. We have our own duty free—everything from perfumes to whiskey to Montblanc to Swarovski to Crème de la Mer and La Prairie dem—you name it. Now, it’s not just husbands and wives who use us. It’s people who lie to their parents about what they do and how much they earn and how much they travel (and dem plenty). We found a guy who’s a wizard with Photoshop, hooked him up. Now we also have a photography studio to complete the whole deal. We work with lowkey hotels too, for those who need where to hide until the lie expires. Just last week, we sorted out an influencer who wanted to turn her Instagram around but didn’t have the funds for it. After she filled the forms, our photographer took the pictures and placed her in multiple locations in all the countries she said she wanted to travel to. From this Lagos here, she was posting photos of herself on the plane, at the airport, in the cities themselves. Our plugs do the legwork and get their cut. In the photo I like the most, the babe is sitting in the Rock Zanzibar and there are prawns inside her mouth that she never tasted. In the next grid, her internet self is in Sandton Skye with a friend, eating risotto and drinking sauvignon blanc at the Codfather. They posted it from 1004 here. The week after, we dipped her Insta self in Lac Rose in Senegal. Come and see comments. Her leg has never touched there, the water doesn’t know her skin, but who must know? She gained thousands of followers from that move, because image. Everything in this life is what? Image. These days, people always talk about getting a seat at the table, putting a foot in the door. Me? I make doors out of thin air.
In my life, I have never put on long-sleeve shirt, lined my own collar with a tie, knotted it and pulled it up to my neck. I’ve never worn suit in this Lagos heat or carried briefcase to any office, and since I turned twenty, not once has landlord knocked on my door for rent. I know I’m lucky, trust me, but when people look down on me for being me I just know their brains are small. If you think it’s only hard work, and not smart work, that will keep your life together in this country, then you’re a fool now. Are you not? You’re a fool. We started this thing last year. So far I’ve seen over two hundred clients and we don’t charge chicken change. Why does it work? Because there’s always a market for lies. It’s the demand that makes the supply necessary. The other day, somebody asked me what I’ll do after this and I told him I don’t know. I always know; I just don’t discuss my moves before I move. My next target market is already set. Never forget: wherever there are people, there are opportunities, and anything can be doctored so far you know who to call doctor.
Me and my partner live in a six-bedroom house in Lekki, except for when we’re at our beach house in Ilashe. We got this place when he moved from Jozi to come and be with me. He’s half from there and half from here. When we got tired of the distance, we had to choose. In that his old apartment in Maboneng, all it took was one look at each other and K. laughed because he already knew. We didn’t even table the question twice; his bags were here a month from then. Between me and K. we can afford to live nice on some expat shit because he has never not earned in dollars and for him, work is a drug. If you step outside our front door, we have two Mercedes-Benzes parked in a line. Behind the Benzes a Bentley, behind the Bentley a Lexus convertible that was just delivered last month. We bought it together, tear rubber. All this and thirty is not that far behind me. Next is a G-Wag. K. doesn’t know yet, I’m surprising him with it for his thirty-eighth and I know he’ll cry. We like cars, both of us, but his own is different. He knows everything about engines and wiring and all. Me, I collect them because I can. In a way, your car is like a second outfit. My wardrobe is full of casual things, but I’m always making statements. Short, memorable statements. Clothes are just one way to tension streets. But a mad whip is a great way to say, Don’t fuck with me, and here the streets need to hear that in pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, plus many other languages. For everyday things, we ride either Benz. Both are tinted, with customized plates. Police have not checked our license or car papers in years. To them, our names are Chairman, and why wouldn’t it be when we’re more government than their governor. Here, this one for you. This one for the kids. We keep them happy and they save us stress. For parties where there will be VIPs, we use the Bentley and leave with the right business cards. Me and K. wear rings, but people don’t ask personal questions when they see what you’ve come out of. We bought that right to go unchallenged. It was not cheap. When I’m going somewhere chilled with K., we take the Lexus and drop the top. Still so new, it gives me what they call . . . endorphins. Me and K. love watching sunsets like that. When he falls into his dark moods, I take him on long drives and he blasts the music until the mirror starts beating and we can’t hear our heads. King of the aux, give him two songs max and he’ll reset us both. I love those drives. Some nights when we’re bored, after playing fifa, me and my guys race each other down the Link Bridge at two a.m. with some Formula One energy. Whoever loses has to buy the next stash of loud. Sometimes, K. stays home and watches Netflix; other times, he comes with us, and I see how happy he gets with his head outside the window, wind beating against his face. That’s an answered prayer right there. Before K., I’d never been with a guy who gelled with my friends.
Years ago, we couldn’t have imagined half the shit we have now, but it’s real. To me, the joy of having money is in sharing it. Life of my dreams with the people of my dreams. Even though we all have our places, my closest friends have keys to my house, and I have keys to theirs. Sometimes, you need a break from your normal. Right from day one, they didn’t waste time at all—rascals, all of them—they claimed their rooms sharp-sharp. Maro picked the room downstairs that opens into the garden. Akin likes the guest chalet. You should’ve seen the rest fighting. It’s their house too at this point, so they cycle in and out as they like. Some of them drive my cars out on dates. There used to be another car years ago—our first one—but for May’s thirtieth, K. said we should give her the Hummer. It suits her, and babes love a dyke with a big car. Gives off the right message. Plus we’d outgrown our love for it and she was obsessed. Simple maths. Life is about give and take. I tell people all the time: streets na electric, anybody fit shock you. So when you find your people, the ones wey go ride for you till this world fold, commit to them like it’s a religion. We live our lives like it is. Every other Friday, one of us will host games night. We rotate houses. Lagos Island this week, Ikoyi next week, Magodo upper week. We show up unless we can’t.
Speaking of my guys? I’d put a bullet in any body for them if it comes to that. I always pray it never comes to it. But check this, some weeks back, one of them came to my house crying his eyes out. Way over three decades into his life. He has seen heartbreak, stabbings, jungle justice that involved fire with a body smoking, and this was the third time I’d ever seen him cry. The whys of the first two will follow me to my grave. But that day, I had to hold him until he could breathe again. His father had died and when he got the news, he said he could feel himself spinning. The last of all of us to become fatherless, he was on the street outside a restaurant where they’d been eating, and his person hugged him after he got the call, held him as he tried not to break down. My guy said he felt so much sadness mixed with fear mixed with relief mixed with shame; that instead of relaxing, he scanned the street and pulled out of the hug, but not before thumping his person on the back three times, code for No Homo, Bro. Who does that, he wanted to know, no one was even there, just like two kids passing; I’m not even that kind of guy. Me and Maro laughed out loud, then told him the truth. Maro and I have been friends for twelve years. Before we got free, you know how many times we made someone we love feel crazy in public, just to save our own face? It’s enough to flood Yaba Left. But if you catch it, you can fix it. That’s another thing about my life: Without my friends, I’d be dead. Without my friends, I wouldn’t have words for things that need names to shift, I wouldn’t have ever faced things you need safety to confess. I know what else he was feeling, what he was saying under what he was saying: there’s something about losing a dad whose life killed you, you know? There’s no way to explain it. You either know the feeling or you don’t, you get? You feel like you can finally breathe.
At some point, I asked Maro, who knew his father was one of us, if he thought he’d be himself if his father had not died. He said, No. He hated himself for it, so no. And you know what? If my popsy had as much as opened his mouth to say he needed me to correct it, or to say that I could solve his depression by marrying that Efua babe I was seeing, best believe I’d be on baby number three with her today. So as free as I am now, I’m only free to date whoever the fuck I like, fuck whoever the hell I want, because he never asked that of me. I could see it. Maro’s father never married, but he had a best friend who sometimes showed up to the house for weekends. Uncle H. had a wife he couldn’t stop telling about business trips. Maro’s father would set the table, shave his head in anticipation and then act surprised at the knock. Many times, they cooked dinner from scratch. My friend, go and play with your own friends, Uncle H. used to say to Maro, laughing. Let me catch up with my own. But Maro has a memory he talks about often, of his father looking at his skinny jeans with disgust and asking him, Is that what you want to be? They never talked about it again. He was drunk then. Maro’s story is not as simple as mine—how can it be when there was a noose involved—but I sat there thinking: My god, one less death and my boy would not exist. My guy, my best friend whose love saved my life, would not exist. You know what I did? I hid behind my teeth and thanked God for it. Terrible, but I thought: We are fatherless boys now and sure there are big griefs in us, but at least we get to be us. At least we get to be us. At the end of that conversation, when we got drunk-drunk, we sang along to the song Akin wrote in five minutes while we were smoking. Genius man, that one. We sang:
If you know where people go
when they die
pardon me for assuming
for assuming you’ll reach there before me
tell our fathers they tried
tell them they made some good boys
made some good boys, in the end, out of us.
We all cried for real then. Whether it was the happy or sad kind, till now, nobody knows.
Last last, all of us go still die. But if we must live, then shey it only makes sense to love? At different times, we were terrified that we wouldn’t find our tribe, we wouldn’t find our people who would see us for us because of what we’d been told to hide. But here we are, all flavors of free. One of my guys has a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They live together. They said it’s called a throuple. Me I cannot wrap my head around it. May dates multiple women at once and they all know. Some of the people she dates even date each other too. They say that one is polyamory. Me do I understand it? No. Another one of my friends does not want anything to do with sex. He has never tried it and he’s not moved by it. I can’t relate, but I’ve learned that you don’t have to relate to give people the space to be. Me I’m in love and safe—imagine? I’m safe. So I confessed too that I don’t think both my father and I could have stayed alive, in each other’s lives, as our individual selves. Someone needed to become something else. So I did. I didn’t fully become me until he was gone. I never thought I could voice those words. But you know what I like the most about all of us? Before we met each other, we all had lies we needed to tell ourselves and others if we were going to live well. Maro says there’s already a term for that type of lie: necessary fictions. Looking at each other and saying: This is my own lie, this is my own truth. No, that other part was a mask, this part here is my face. It’s a survival thing. If you know this country, then you know not to walk maskless. But let me tell you something, this love shit is holy. When it’s pure and patient, the thing just bends your knees. It’s scary—I shook so much the first time Maro told me he loved me. I didn’t even know friends could say that without it turning into something else, so I thought he wanted something and I tried to reply with my body, just out of reflex, out of gratitude. He saw where I was going, stopped me and said, It’s me. I remember that moment clearly: it was one tear at a time until I couldn’t stop. He didn’t run; he held me. When you meet real care, it changes you, it remakes you as you. It lets you take a deep breath; it turns your friend into your brother. It took me time, but I say it back to all of them now.
Anyway, you want to know what I said when I was at work one day and got a call to come back home because my father was sick—after years of not hearing from him? I said yes. And I stayed there for two months. I took care of him and paid all the hospital bills. When he got well enough to say hello to me, my father followed the greeting with a request. You’re doing well for yourself, he said, and my life is going. There’s only one more thing remaining. Won’t you let me meet the woman you will marry? Won’t you let me see you whole? Now the difference between Maro’s story and my own is that my father looked at me, even knowing I owed him nothing, and he still asked that of me. I held his hand, my heart capsizing slowly, and said, Yes sir, you will see me whole.
When? he asked.
Tomorrow just here, I said. For the anxiety that request dragged out of me, I planned to walk out of there and never return. Still I said, If you’re ready, then I’m ready. Tomorrow.
Good, he said and closed his eyes. He believed he needed to bless my heart for love to work for me. Imagine that. A man I lived without for over a decade. A man who didn’t know if I still had a beating heart wanted to meet the person I would love enough to start a life with.
I went home and cried on K.’s shoulder. It was both of us who pooled resources together to do what we could for my dad. For months, K. had been dipping his hand into his pocket for the man who almost made us impossible, the man who would hate him on sight. It was somewhere in that breakdown that I changed my mind. The next day, I took K. to my father’s bedside. My person stood by me, watching us. Where is she? my father asked, ignoring the obvious. I stared back my response, no words involved, just eye to eye, man to man. I saw it click. He swallowed and then opened his mouth to talk. Nothing came out. I repeated myself with a closed mouth, hands in my pockets, staring him down. I felt K. turn to stone in fear. The money we’d both spent bullied my father in front of me, its knuckles ready for his teeth. Do you understand? the money asked him. He shrank and I almost pitied him. I reached for K.’s hand, and feeling how much it had been sweating, I lifted his hand to my mouth and pressed my lips to it before holding his palm to my chest. Are you sure you understand, Dad? I asked. By then, my voice was hot iron. No one, I decided there and then, is allowed to kill me twice. Using my child-voice he said, Yes sir, and using his dad-voice, I said, Good boy.
Watch Eloghosa Osunde and other Issue no. 234 contributors read from their work at our Fall 2020 launch event.