6 January 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

A day in the life of a Lagos squeegee boy - Part 1

On my way back from the business where I'd gone to make enquiries, I turned in the direction that led to the spot where the bunch of squeegee boys was located. As I approached them, I noticed one of them who was speaking and had the audience of every other boy. I heard him say something about stealing in Yoruba with a voice that reminded me of the typical Lagos bus conductor. The closer I got to them, the lower my confidence fell. The boys were too close together and seemed really engaged. I felt it would be awkward for me to just barge into their midst and ask for their audience. They would probably shoo me off rudely.

I walked past the boys until I got to the end of the road, then I turned around and started again towards the boys. I ended up pacing back and forth about three times, trying to decide the perfect icebreaker for approaching the boys. Alas, nothing was coming to mind. After my third time past the boys, I felt like someone might have noticed my wandering and started to get suspicious. So I threw in the towel and just continued away from the boys towards the junction where I was going to get a bus to take me home.

For the first minute of walking away from the group of squeegee boys, I was okay with my justifications. My ego consoled me with the thought that the boys were probably nothing I couldn't fathom with a bit of imagination. That a chat with one of them would probably not teach me anything I didn't previously know or assume about them. However, as I continued my walk towards home, the full realisation of what I was doing came to me.

I was giving up too easily like I'm used to doing in the face of challenges that take me out of my comfort zone. I felt like a loser and I thought, "really, if you can't do it now, then will you ever get to it? The conditions are perfect now, why don't you take your chance! What's the worst that could happen? At worst they would be rude to you and of course, you will survive that". A line from a graduation speech (The sunscreen song) which Seun Lari-Williams first shared with me in my final year at UNILAG came to me. The line says: "Do one thing that scares you every day".

In that moment, it dawned on me how despite the fact that I had always wanted to follow that instruction because I know how much doing so could improve my life, I hardly ever did. And here I was, about to pass on the perfect chance to live by this rule. "Not this time!", I thought to myself and I found myself turning in the opposite direction once again. Even though I had now put quite some distance between me and the Lagos squeegee boys, I made my way back towards where they were gathered on one side of the Herbert Macaulay road.

"This is it", I thought. This time, I approached from the other side of the road as I was on my first attempt. I figured it would help if I approached a lone boy who had just finished hustling a few customers. As I approached the traffic light behind which several cars were queued, waiting for the green, I noticed the outspoken Yoruba boy once again. He was in the midst of the cars.

I approached him quickly and confidently. As soon as I was close enough for him to hear me, I said in Nigerian pidgin: "Hey, I want to see you. Come with me". With little hesitation, the squeegee boy whom I was soon to find out is named Shakir came with me as I crossed over to the other side of the road and headed for a spot which I deemed quiet and calm enough to host our discussion.

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