Photograph by Moyo Udiminue.
Kunle stood at the side of the road, bloodshot eyes darting around. His cloths were rags too big for his slight frame, his feet bare. Light brown hair gathered in lumps atop his head, with his dark skin dry and faded.
If he had been anywhere else, people might have paid attention to him or even gathered around to form a crowd. But on the streets of Lagos, the sight was ordinary enough to require no special attention; the most he got were glances and berths.
His eyes kept darting around. He took in the dirty roads, the gutters, the bridge up ahead, the cars around; Most importantly, he took in the crowded people shoving each other as they all tried getting ahead. It was perfect.
He saw a man in a suit up ahead. Shiny black hair, a black suit, and smooth skin, he seemed the most suitable. He was tall, so that he stood at least a head above most of the people around him.
Kunle peeled himself from the wall he had been leaning against and began moving forward. Merging into the crowd was easy enough, his slight stature aiding him as he slipped between people. He hated his stature sometimes, like when he got into fights, while he loved it at other times, like that moment.
After a couple of shoves, and multiple cusses, he was finally within touching distance of the man in the suit. He stretched out his hand as he kept moving, feeling around the man’s cloths. He would think it was just the usual shoves from people, so he would most likely pay it no attention. Kunle finally felt a wallet and a phone.
Finding them was easy enough, stealing them was the harder part. Dipping his hand into the pocket would be too obvious and easily felt since they were both moving, so it meant he would have to find another way.
Kunle brought out a razor blade, pushing himself even closer to the man. He tore through the blazer as carefully as he could while getting shoved, till he was able to slip the wallet out. He moved over to the other side of the man and began working on the other pocket.
He should have paid more attention to the man, that was his mistake. He focused raptly on the pocket he was cutting open, so he never saw the man’s fist descending. As he took the blow, he sunk backwards and went into the crowd.
“Ole! Ole! Thief!” The man shouted.
Much too late, since Kunle has already began putting distance between them both. He crouched lower so that he would be harder to see, moving towards the bridge he had seen earlier. His heart thumped in his chest, threatening to burst. He had seen quite a number of lynchings, and he wasn’t eager to be burnt alive.
He wasn’t calm until he reached the bridge, then he started to climb. He stooped at the top, looking down at everything else.
It felt good. For a moment, he wondered if that was how God felt when he looked down on everyone from the heavens. He felt like everyone below lived to look up at him and marvel.
“Yaba! Sabo, yaba! Onyingbo!” Conductors chanted below. The yellow buses of Lagos were parked in two straight lines, with some others out of place.
The road was tarred, the people moving on it like robots, drones all with one instruction, “move further.” Hawkers seemed to be everywhere, despite the ban placed on street hawking by the government. From where he stood he could even see another boy pickpocketing.
Minor fights had broken out in quite a number of places, altercations that would be resolved just as quickly as they had started. It was beautiful in an unconventional sort of way, how someone might find a killer shark beautiful.
With how bleak and grey it all seemed, somehow, he still saw colour below.