The JRB presents an excerpt from a short story by Nnedi Okorafor, taken from the new anthology Lagos Noir.
Edited by Chris Abani
Cassava Republic Press, 2018
From the introduction by Chris Abani:
Lagos has, like many coastal cities, a very checkered and noir past. It is the largest city in Nigeria and its former capital. It is also the largest megacity on the African continent, with a population approximating twenty-one million, and by itself is the fourth-largest economy in Africa … It is rumored that there are more canals in Lagos than in Venice. Except in Lagos they are often unintentional. Gutters that have become waterways and lagoons fenced in by stilt homes or full of logs for a timber industry most of us don’t know exists. All of it skated by canoes as slick as any dragonfly. There are currently no moonlight or other gondola rides available …
The thirteen stories that comprise this volume stretch the boundaries of ‘noir’ fiction, but each one of them fully captures the essence of noir, the unsettled darkness that continues to lurk in the city’s streets, alleys, and waterways … Together, these stories create an unchartered path through the center of Lagos and out to its peripheries, revealing so much more truth at the heart of this tremendous city than any guidebook, TV show, film, or book you are likely to find.
Read an excerpt from ‘Showlogo’, by Nnedi Okorafor:
Showlogo fell from the clear, warm Chicagoland skies at approximately 2.42 pm.
He landed with a muted thud on the sidewalk in the village of Glenview. Right in front of the Tundes’ house. There were three witnesses. The first, and closest, was a college student who was home for the summer named Dolapo Tunde. She’d been pushing an old lawnmower across the grass as she listened to M.anifest on her iPhone. The second was Mr David Goldstein, who was across the street scrubbing the hood of his sleek black Chevy Challenger and thinking about his next business trip to Japan. The third was Buster the black cat who’d been eyeing a feisty red squirrel on the other side of the Tunde’s yard.
The sight of the man falling from the sky and landing on that sidewalk would change all three of their lives forever. Nonetheless, this story isn’t about Dolapo, Mr. Goldstein, or even Buster the cat. This story is about the black man wearing blue jeans, gym shoes, and a thin coat who lay in the middle of the sidewalk with blood pouring from his face.
‘I go show you my logo,’ Showlogo growled, pointing his thick tough-skinned finger in Yemi’s face. All the men sitting around the ludo board game leaned away from Yemi.
‘Kai!’ one man shrieked, holding his hands up. ‘Kai! Na here we go!’
‘Why we no fe relax, make we play?’ another moaned.
But Yemi squeezed his eyes with defiance. He had always been stubborn. He’d also always been a little stupid, which was why he did so poorly in school. When professors hinted to him that it was time to hand them a bribe for good grades, Yemi’s nostrils flared, he bit his lower lip, frowned, and did no such thing. And so Yemi remained at the bottom of his university class. He scraped by because he still, at least, paid his tuition on time. Today, he exhibited that counterproductive stubbornness by provoking Showlogo, hearing the man speak his infamous warning of ‘I go show you my logo,’ and not backing down. Yemi should have run. Instead, he stood there and said, ‘You cheat! You no fe get my money-o! I no give you!’
Showlogo flicked the soft smooth scar tissue where his left ear had been twelve years ago. He stood up tall to remind Yemi of his six-four muscular frame as he looked down at Yemi’s five-eleven lanky frame. Then, without a word, Showlogo turned and walked away. He was wearing spotless white pants and a shirt. How he’d kept that shirt so clean as he squatted with the other men in front of the ludo board while the wind blew the dry crimson dirt around them, no one knew. No one questioned this because he was Showlogo, and for Showlogo, the rules were always different. As he strode down the side of the dusty road, he cut quite a figure. He was very dark-skinned and this made the immaculate white of his clothing nearly glow. He looked like some sort of angel—but Showlogo was no angel.
He walked past two shabby houses and an abandoned building, arriving at his small flat in his ‘face me, I slap you’ apartment complex. He moved wordlessly down the dark hallway, past four doors, and entered his home. It was custom for none of the flats in the building to have keys. Too expensive. Showlogo had always liked being able to just open his door. Plus, no one was dumb enough to rob him, so what need did he have for locks and keys or hiding his most valued things?
He slipped his shoes off and walked straight to his neatly made bed. Then he removed his white shirt, white pants, white boxers too. He folded and put them on his pillow in an orderly stack. He removed the diamond stud from his right ear. Then he turned and walked out. People peeked from behind doors, but not one person spoke to Showlogo or each other. Not a whisper. Unlike Yemi, his neighbors were smart.
Showlogo’s meaty chest and arms were gnarled with scars, some from fighting and some from threatening to fight. Often, he’d take a small pocketknife he liked to carry, stab his bicep, and growl, ‘Come on!’ when anyone was dumb enough to challenge him. Today, however, he didn’t have his pocketknife. No matter, Showlogo thought as he strode down the street naked, I go kill am.
As he walked back to the game, people watched from food stands, cars honked at him, passersby quietly laughed and commented to each other.
‘Who no go know, no go know. Showlogo know some logo-o.’
‘I hope say you body ready for him.’
‘Hope na man today. Not woman.’
Everyone knew that if he said, ‘I go show you my logo,’ to a woman, it meant . . . something else. Either way, if you were smart, you knew to run. When Showlogo arrived back at the game, he found that Yemi had finally run for his life. Showlogo stood there, vibrating his chest, every pore in his body open, inhaling the hot Nigerian air.
‘Why dey run?’ Showlogo asked, his eyes focusing on Ikenna, who had a big grin on his face. Showlogo sucked his teeth in disgust. ‘Dem no get liver for trouble.’
‘Please-o. Forget Yemi, Showlogo,’ Ikenna said, laughing nervously. ‘Make you calm down. He ran like rabbit. Here, take.’ He held a stack of naira in front of Showlogo’s twitching chest.
Showlogo scowled at the money, flaring his nostrils and breathing heavily through them. Slowly, he took the stack and counted, nudging each purple-and-pink bill up with a thumb. The hot breeze ruffled the short, tightly twisted dreadlocks on his head. He grunted. It was the proper amount. If Yemi had given too little or too much, Showlogo would have left, found the disrespectful mumu, and beaten him bloody. Instead, Showlogo went home and put some new clothes on—jeans and a yellow polo shirt this time. Today, his fists would not tenderize flesh.
Showlogo owned a farm and he maintained it himself. It was good work. He’d inherited it from his adoptive father, Olusegun Bogunjoko. Twelve years ago, when his best friend Ibrahim was killed during riots between Ibrahim’s clan and a neighboring clan, Ibrahim’s father, who had no other male children, adopted Showlogo as his son. Showlogo had been sixteen years old. Olusegun had always loved Showlogo. The fact that Showlogo was so strong in mind and body and refused to join any side, be it a confraternity or a clan’s core membership, set the old man’s mind at ease as well.
Showlogo’s parents had died when he was very young and he already deferred to Olusegun as a father, so the adoption made perfect sense. Showlogo took over the coco farm and ran it with the strong, attentive hand of a farmer from the old precolonial times, before oil had been discovered in Nigeria and began overshadowing all other produce, before Nigeria was even ‘Nigeria.’ Showlogo was a true son of the soil, and the death of his best friend and the love of Olusegun brought this out in him.
Showlogo worked hard on his farm, though it made little money. However, when he was relaxing and not playing ludo with his friends, he was smoking what the legendary Fela Kuti liked to call ‘giant mold,’ a very large joint that was thick at the end and thin at the tip. When Showlogo rolled one of his giant molds, his friends would call him Little Fela, and he’d smile and flex his big muscles.
Few people in Ajegunle had not heard of the great and powerful Showlogo: the Man Who Could Not Die, the Man Who Could Fight Ten Men While Drunk and Walk Away Not Bleeding, the Man Who Was Not Right in the Head, the Man Who’d Chosen to Cut Off His Ear Rather than Join a Confraternity.
He’d once jumped from a moving fruit truck just to show that he could. ‘I dey testing my power,’ he’d said as he climbed onto the truck, clamoring over its haul of oranges. ‘No pain, no gain. Na no know.’ He had asked the driver (who’d been taking a Guinness break before driving his haul to Abuja) to speed down the road. When the truck was moving forty-five miles per hour, Showlogo jumped, hit the road, and tumbled to the side of it, where he lay for several seconds not moving. His friends had run up to him, pressing their hands to their heads and wailing about how terrible Nigeria’s roads were for always taking lives. But then Showlogo raised his head, sat up, stretched his arms, cracked his knuckles, and smiled. ‘You see now, I no fe die. Even death dey fear me.’
He’d thrown himself down hills, jumped from speeding danfos, leaped from the fourth floor of an apartment building, fought five men simultaneously and won, been shot on three different occasions, lost count of the number of times he’d been stabbed or slashed with a knife, saved a friend from armed robbers by driving by and throwing a water bottle at one of their heads. Showlogo had even looked a powerful witch doctor in the face and called him shit. Some said that Showlogo was protected by Shango and loved by many spirits whose names could not be spoken. He only laughed when asked if this were true.
And, of course, there was not one woman who had not heard of his massive ‘head office.’ Some said that he’d once visited a prostitute and she’d given him back his money just to get him to stop having sex with her. According to this piece of local lore, the prostitute ‘couldn’t handle his logo.’ Nobody messed with Showlogo and didn’t regret it. Then, two days after he nearly killed Yemi, Showlogo moved from local celebrity into legend.
In Nigeria, farming no longer made one rich unless you were farming oil. So, to make ends meet, Showlogo took odd jobs. For the past two months, he’d actually managed to hold a job at the airport. He spent the day loading luggage into and off of planes. It was the kind of work he loved—physical labor. Plus, he rarely had to deal with his boss (which was when the trouble usually began for him at other jobs). The hours in the sun made his near-black skin blacker, and the loading of luggage bulked up his muscles nicely. In the two months he’d been working at the airport, he imagined he was really starting to look like Shango’s son.
Keeping out of trouble at work, however, didn’t mean he kept out of trouble elsewhere.
‘I pay you next time,’ Vera said as she got off of Showlogo’s okada. Showlogo smiled and shook his head as he started the engine. ‘No payment necessary,’ he said. He watched her backside jiggling as she entered her flat. Vera wasn’t plump, the way he liked his women. However, she was plump in some nicely chosen places. Showlogo chuckled to himself and drove off. It was always worth driving Vera wherever she needed to go. It was also a good way to end a long day at the airport.
He didn’t make it a mile before two road police ruined his mood. He stopped at their makeshift roadblock, a long, thick, dry branch. He was shocked when the police officers demanded he pay them a bribe in order to pass.
‘Do you know who I be?’ Showlogo snapped, looking the two men over as if they were pieces of rotting meat.
‘Abeg, give us money,’ one of the cops demanded, brandishing his gun, waving a hand dismissively. ‘Then make you dey waka!’ He was smaller and fatter than the other, standing about five-six and looking like he had never seen a real fight in his life. The taller, slimmer one, who was closer to six-three, vibrated his chest muscles through his uniform and flared his nostrils at Showlogo.
Showlogo pointed a finger in the smaller man’s face. ‘You go die today if you no turn and waka away from me now.’
About Lagos Noir
An uncompromising anthology of noir stories set in the tumultuous metropolis of Lagos, written by some of the most versatile and fascinating Nigerian authors working today. Fans of the darker side of literature will revel in these tales from Nigeria’s largest city.
In his superb introduction, editor Chris Abani guides the reader through the dark, criminal and riotous history of Lagos. With an intimate knowledge of the city, each writer takes us through the murky underbelly of waterways and alleyways, freeways and spaghetti bridges to reveal the unbridled darkness pulsating through the nerve centre of this megacity by the lagoon.
Featuring corrupt cops, luxurious mansions and a trail of bodies, this carefully curated collection shines a light on the darkest sides of Lagos. From Abani’s witty and superb homage to Sherlock Holmes, ‘Killer Ape’, to Chika Unigwe’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’, where a taxi driver’s newfound riches disappear as quickly as it arrives, these compelling and sometimes surprising interpretations of the noir genre make Lagos Noir a must read.