I wrote ‘The different shades of yellow,’ in January 2017.
It was inspired by a setting sun and the different hues it radiated one random evening.
What I didn’t know at the time was how this poem could reflect the many sides of human nature too. That was until three days ago when I met a gentleman in his 50s. He was a tall lanky European and was learned and quite interesting to talk to. We both got excited when he found out I was Nigerian and he told me he had a Nigerian experience from many years ago when he was in his late teens.
I will keep try my best to keep this brief😉.
He was in Nigeria on holiday. I believe Lagos. He reported being randomly picked up on the streets by touts who subsequently locked him up in a prison cell. It wasn’t clear if these touts were corrupt policemen (yes, there’s such a thing in Nigeria). He had no idea why he was stopped but attributed it to being a vulnerable rich looking white kid in a deprived neighbourhood. He was harassed and stripped of all his belongings including 60 naira, which was all the money he had on him, before he was let go. At the time, I must tell you 60 naira was a significant amount of money. He said, “I spent a day in that cell.” The little smile that played at the edge of his lips from the beginning as he spoke of his Nigerian experience lingered still, gradually turning into a reflective one.
I imagined how scared and alone he must have felt and without thinking, I started apologising profusely for the behaviour of those touts even as I felt a brief hint of regret at letting him know I was Nigerian. He put up his hand and stopped me mid sentence, “but do you know what happened next?” I shook my head, fearing the worst and wishing there was a huge mound of sand close by that I could bury my head in. He said, “it was interesting how my trip ended. Haggard and traumatised, I made my way to the airport. When I got to the airport, there was this immigration officer, a lady quite bald with dark brown skin who looked me up and down and asked if I was okay as she collected my passport from me. Vacantly, I said, ‘I am fine, I just need you to stamp my passport so I can get going.’ Through the wide aperture right behind her, I could see my flight had arrived and boarding had started.
But this lady repeated the same question adding, ‘are your parents around?’ I looked into her face and could see she was very concerned. Afterall, I was but a lanky teenager who must have looked frazzled and terrified by the experience I’d just had.
I cannot remember most of what was going through my mind, but I knew I wanted to get on that flight as quickly as I could and leave Nigeria. So I repeated ‘I’m fine and I’m going to meet my parents. All I need is for you to kindly stamp this passport so I can get on my plane.’
In a typical motherly style, she ignored me and asked, ‘are you hungry?’
I’m not sure if I lost my patience, but I enunciated the words this time as much as I could hoping she got the message. ‘I’m fine, I just need to get on that plane.’
Instead of stamping in my passport, she held on to it and handed me a 10 naira note. ‘Here you go, now take this money and go to that stand’ she pointed at a food stand that sold snacks and beverages to airport passengers. ‘Get yourself a spring roll and a drink then come back here.’
With the firm tone of her voice, I felt like I had no choice really and my stomach wasn’t going to argue. So I walked to the stand and picked what she asked me to from the rows of snacks and soft drinks. For a moment, I forgot about my flight as I fed my grumbling stomach. When I walked back to her, she stamped my passport and waved me good bye.” He had wondrous disbelief written all over his face as he said, “and that was my experience in the most corrupt place in Nigeria. Can you believe that?!”
As he ended the story, I wondered how many times he had told that story and how many times he had pondered on it. It was obvious from his face that he still couldn’t believe how his Nigerian experience ended. I did.
Ps… I didn’t ask how he got the money to make his way to the airport or any more specifics, so don’t ask. I hope nevertheless that you got the message from this story and poem.