She got off the bus at Ochanja, but there was a crowd. She was wary of crowds, especially in a place like Onitsha. Her i-Phone 6 was in her hand, and she couldn’t very well struggle with her acrylic nails, so she paused and tried to ascertain what the excitement was about.
It was all she could do not to roll on the floor laughing when she saw that the crowd had milled around to watch the display on an animated billboard that had only just been put up.
What in the world? She thought, besides herself with amusement. Bush people.
Having been born and bred in Lagos, flamboyant billboard displays were nothing new to her; she wasn’t even impressed anymore by how beautiful Lagos Island was at night, with its million lights, especially at Christmas. And here, the unveiling of an animated billboard was an event.
She became aware in that instant how different she was from the people in the crowd, how much farther up the civilisation totem-pole she was from them, and this realisation made her more sure-footed, but weary, also; ridiculously frightened at the thought that she could possibly be tainted by these people’s backwardness, as though it was a communicable disease.
She was thinking this, trying to catch a glimpse of the images on the billboard, when she was bumped into by another spectator, so hard her phone slipped from her grip and crashed to the ground.
‘Are you blind?!’ She snapped at the lady who bumped into her, tacky in a T-shirt branded with the theme for a church programme from 2001 and an ankle-length skirt from another era.
‘Are you deaf? You can’t even apologise! You bumped into me, and’—
‘Ehn ehn, Madam Oyibo’ the lady hurled back, shouting over her and cutting her off, ‘kparikwa onwe gi! Insult yasef, you hear me? Why you sef not looking where ya going? Are you blind, too?’ The lady let off a long hiss and walked off.
She looked at her phone screen —still intact; looked around her —the world was still moving. However, she felt embarrassed, so ashamed that she’d let some lowlife shout her down. Even though they weren’t of the same class. Regardless of the fact that she had seen more of the world, had been on an elevator, an escalator; knew all about seeing a Hollywood blockbuster in a packed cinema hall.
How dare that lady talk back at her?
It occured to her, as she waved down an okada, that though she was better than the tacky lady in a number of ways, there was nothing about her to distinguish her so markedly; nothing about her, physically, to warrant the presumption that she’d had all these experiences and knowledge, that she was better and deserved to be treated with more dignity, more respect. If only she had curly hair and was the right tint of yellow, the lady would probably not have dared mouth off at her let alone insult her.
Knowing this gave her perspective, but it didn’t make her feel any less disrespected.
She learned a valuable lesson, though: that you can’t lord yourself over another unless they let you.