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by Yinka Elujoba | Klo 4

My name is Jamiu. I am thirteen years old and I am a ‘vulcanizer’. . .

And I have this little red book where I hide my thoughts and words that come to me. The words appear to me, suddenly, like LASTMA agents out of nowhere, demanding dues they don’t deserve. And I punish them by writing them down.

My Oga would go ballistic if he found out that I know how to read and write. Yes, ballistic. One of the BIG words I learnt from the old soldier that used to beg for alms at the edge of the street. That was before a trailer without brakes ran into him and the woman that sells tiro. I used to love her daughter Selimo too, before a strange man came and took her away. All I have to remind me of Sergeant Tintin are his rusty helmet and torn boots. And all I have to remind me of Selimo is a kiss, stolen in the dark, behind Baba Sadia’s Molue bus. It was that night too that I found out that Baba Sadia actually lives in his Molue. And he would have broken Selimo’s pretty head, or mine, with his 15 inches spanner had I not spotted him faster. . .

Oh. I have run off again.

Yes, it is a mistake that I know how to read and write. Usually, children from homes like mine go to Government schools, and some get something else from education, e.g. pregnant, marijuana, e.t.c. Unluckily for me, my parents are poorer than usual, and cannot even afford to pay for notebooks and the little expenses a Government school would require. So my father, after one of his nights of cheap tajutaju at Mama Pupa’s shed came home one day and screamed ‘Jamiu, Vulcanizer l’omo’. Then he fell on my mother and beat her. As usual. . .

Perhaps, more unluckily for me, my oga’s shop is in the middle of a motor park and a market. Oshodi market. So I am exposed everyday, to this life that Sergeant Tintin told me was a ‘corroder of futures’. It took me two weeks to find out what ‘corroder’ means. When I found out it made me cry and cry for plenty plenty days. My future will wear away gradually-it took me three days to find what that means too-like the tubes in okada tires? I tried to tell my mother, but she just smiled and said I should be a good errand boy for my Oga and maybe one day I will be a big vulcanizer. ..

But I don’t want to be a vulcanizer. . .

I don’t want to be a vulcanizer. I want to be a writer. I want to write of big places I will never go to. I heard in Britain, the people speak through their noses. I want to write of moments I will never have. I heard rich people take their children to places with swings and plastic horses. I want to write of people I’ll never meet. I heard of a strong man named Mandela, and how he set his people free. I want to write. . .

Ten days ago, when my Oga went to Ijaniki to get agbo for his stubborn back pains, I was alone in the workshop and a white man came to fix his tire. When I wanted to return the faulty one into his booth I saw a box filled with red cards. I took one out of curiosity and let the man leave before removing it from my mouth to see what was on it. It read ‘Bill Howards, Senior Publisher, Billoway books’ with an address under it. The next day when I went to fetch water from Mummy Jummy’s tap, I asked her what ‘Publisher’ means. She laughed at me and said, ‘what use will one ever be to you? Publishers only deal with educated people, or more correctly, writers’. . .

Today my one thousand three hundred and fifty naira is complete. Today I have a red book, and a red card. So I will take a BRT bus. And I will go to Victoria Island. And I will go to Billoway books. And I will run through the gates with my thin legs. I will run faster than a Jincheng okada. And I will enter Oga Bill Howard’s office. And I will look him in the eye and say. . .

I am Jamiu. And I am thirteen years old. And I want to be writer. . .

Notes (for non-Nigerians):
Vulcanizer’ actually doesn’t exist as a word in the broader English language. It exists instead as people whose business is fixing tires in Nigeria.
LASTMA agents are traffic agents on Lagos roads, some of them extremely corrupt.
An ‘oga’ is another word for ‘Boss’ or ‘Master’.
Jamiu, Vulcanizer l’omo’ is twisted slang for ‘Jamiu the Vulcanizer’.
An ‘okada’ is a motor bike.
Agbo’ is a local concoction of various types, usually liquid, taken as medication.
Molue’ is a rickety and excessively large bus, used for public transport.

Yinka Elujoba is an ordinary guy with spasms of madness in between. You can find him on twitter @yinkaelujoba.

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