Tuesday 9 February 2016


The Maryland Bridge Hawker.
Image: Chibuike Casmir
Lagos traffic is horrible! That is a fact. I am sure that anyone who lives or has visited Lagos one time or another can attest to this fact. It is also true that when there is that ugly traffic jam, there is almost nothing you wouldn’t see. It could be a fighting agbero, an impatient driver, the surprising ways people meander through traffic or that hawker that would chase a bus just so he can sell a bottle of fizzy drinks for ₦100. Usually, traffic in Lagos is a bedlam of activities, a combination of awful smells, an absolute drag and a time-wasting event!

With all that craziness, there is that time when you get to see a genuine source of inspiration!

I did. Let me tell you what happened.

I was on my way home with my new friends – Tonia and Chibuike aka Chibyke. It was rush hour and most of the roads were tight. We were chatting, laughing and basically having fun in the car. We had dropped Chidi (another new friend) off a while back so we were goofing around. All the crazy stuff was just our way of coping with the horrible traffic.

When we got to Maryland Bridge, we felt like we had hit the worst of the jam. I was right behind Tonia and was looking out of the window on my left. Tonia reduced the volume of the stereo which had Beyonce telling us to ‘Run the World’. She did it so she could ask a question. Chibyke’s response to Tonia’s question made me laugh out loud and turn to them.

That was when I noticed him.

The hawker showing his wares.
He was a hawker who sold socks and handkerchief. It wasn’t the items I noticed; it was his hand…or the lack of it. He balanced the sock rack on the stub where his right hand used to be. In his good hand, he held the handkerchief and other items. He was standing at our car and seemed to be beckoning me; seemed to be willing me to continue staring. I didn’t blink. I didn’t know when I blurted, ‘I need his picture so I can write a story about him.’

Chibyke, being the sharp guy that he is, wound the glass down and called him. He asked me to take pictures as he purchased some items. I picked up Tonia’s phone but my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t focus. So many thoughts were going through my head; what if he got mad? What if he asked us to pay him for the pictures? What if he was a lout guised as a hawker? I was so worried…I couldn’t even take one shot!

Tonia kept asking if I had taken the shots. I said no. She snatched the phone from me while Chibyke continued hassling. When Chibyke asked if the socks were original, the man said he only sold original and he was on that bridge every day. He went further to say that if we didn’t like the socks, we could come back and he would change them. He was such an effusive marketer that even I was tempted to buy a sock. But all this drama was so Tonia could get good pictures. She would tell Chibyke to bend for a clearer shot and the way he would do it wouldn’t give us away. She took many pictures but they just didn’t have the essence I wanted.

Chibyke, seeing my frustration, paid the hawker for the socks he didn’t need and then said, ‘Guy, ehen. Make I tell you something. My friends like you well well as you dey do your work and they want write your story. Abeg, you go fit allow make we take your picture?’ The hawker smiled and said yes. I breathed a much needed sigh of relief.

Chibyke took the pictures and just as we were about to ask his name, the traffic jam broke and Tonia had to drive in!

Balancing his handkerchiefs so he can sell his socks. 
I was so inspired by the man. I know everyone hustles in Lagos but I was surprised that a man with disabilities had mastered the art of balance to function as one without. The way he switched the handkerchiefs to his neck, using his shoulder as prop and still managing to interact was wonderful!

I am sure many people have seen people with worse disabilities doing better but this was new to me. You see, because I grew up in the Northern part of Nigeria, I am used to seeing people with disabilities begging. They use their disabilities as an excuse to beg…and to sometimes guilt you into giving them money. I hate to see people beg! I am totally abhorred by it. I believe people should work and earn their living; no matter how small it is. There is honor in work and ONLY disrespect in begging.

So you can imagine my elation at seeing this man work! He couldn’t be making more than ₦2000 or ₦5000 per day and most times, that would just be to recover his capital. But he told us he was there every day trying to make ends meet.

This should be a lesson to all the ‘big boys and girls’ who laze about saying there are no jobs. If a man with disabilities can wake up every day to ensure he is not dependent on anyone, what bloody excuse do you have with your whole body?!

I am hoping to find him again and probably get a full interview; when I finally get my nerves straightened out. I want to find out his name, his story, how he lost his hand and what motivates him every day to ignore his disability and go out to make that money.

If you ever pass the Maryland Bridge and see him, buy a sock or a handkerchief. Help him to be better! Help him earn his living!