My Life Has Many Uses

A man’s contentment surprised me. This was Cable Point, a little part of Asaba on the bank of the Niger. This was a street where hustle unfurled—where, for instance, a man named Mamadou said, I dey do many kind work.

Before I spoke with the man I’d noticed a door ajar, seen another man in the room the door led into, another man drinking beer, surely warm beer, since for days there hadn’t been electricity. I faced the door, hesitated, and then turned when beckoned with a whistle.

He asked me: Are you Igbo?

—Yes I am.

—I saw you looking at the door and I wasn’t sure what you were doing here.

—I am just looking around.

—Okay. No problems. As I stand here, smoking my marijuana, no police can stop me. I can walk from here to that filling station over there and still be smoking.

—What work do you do?

—I am an agbero. Leave that thing my brother. Work is work.

—Yes.

—I am proud of my work. See me, I am proud to say I am an agbero. I do all kinds of work. If you ask me to get you Obasanjo’s head, I will get it. If you want cocaine, I will get it. If it’s woman you want, I will bring one for you. That door you were looking at, that is ashawo house.

—Do you live here?

—Yes. The house behind you belongs to my uncle. Where do you come from my brother?

—Afikpo.

—Jokwa!

—Jokwa nwerem…

I met Mamadou. He’d moved to Asaba from Kano, three years ago, at the invitation of his friend. There was no future in Kano with his father. In Asaba he arrives at a certain truth: In this life everyone finds their way. He has pushed carts. He has ferried trash. He has driven a motorcycle. He has driven a truck. All work for him has been temporary. Here today gone tomorrow. Hustle is a blanket without span, unfurling throughout life.

A street with superfluous stalls, items and bodies offered for sale, hawkers whose voices foretell their disillusion, transactions completed and suspended.

There are living areas behind the front stalls. Rooms infested, hard to sleep in, where objects have double uses. A television for instance serves as base for a makeup kit. A dictionary as pillow. A phone lights the way in the dark. The floor is a dining table. A steel plate a candleholder.

The streets I’ve seen on this trip: the faces I’ve considered. Few Nigerians learn contentment. Even fewer will ever be content. I speak provisionally. What I sensed was contentment, in the brief moment a man claimed Agbero as the sum of his life, like a destination.

Agbero—My life has many uses. My daily work is to be available.