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The sky darkens overhead and growls at you, rumbling, threatening, looking put out by an offence you cannot name. You growl back, snarl even, and stomp away feigning anger. But you are laughing; laughing at the caprices of Nature’s children – the indignant roar of Thunder, the brilliant smiling flashes of Lightning, the genial streaks of Sunshine as she plays peekaboo with Cloud, the whistling hum of Wind; her gasp and shuddering halt as she meets an obstacle – a building, a person, a vehicle, anything, and sashays by. Wind was the exhibitionist: fickle, grandstanding and hubristic with it. Your thoughts amuse you and you giggle.

You make your way through a throng of people, smiling and cussing out in turn, matching your mood to the weather. This is, after all, a market; every kind of behaviour is acceptable, expected even, and bluster is applauded.

Your senses are heightened: you are as one with your surroundings as you are with nature – the woman hugging a bowl to her belly as she is pushed along in a wheelchair by a lad of maybe eight years of age, the way she places a palm over the concave inside of the bowl to keep the few Naira notes from flying out; the meat seller haggling with a customer, assuring her that the goat, though missing its genitals was indeed a male goat. Everybody wants goat meat from a male goat – the skin cooks to a tender texture, the cooking giving off a heady mouth-watering aroma. Not so the female goat. She remains stubbornly resilient in death, as in life, refusing to cook properly and refusing to give off any odour, lest it be interpreted as pheromones, organoleptic appeal in death, just as it was aphrodisiac to the male in life.

You wonder idly what becomes of female goats if no one wants their meat. When they are no longer productive, are they kept around as grandparents, to teach baby goats morals, dispensing tidbits of wisdom for the ages “four legs good two legs bad,” or are they sold off, foisted, really, on unsuspecting housewives, who will be tasked with the thankless task of explaining to their frowning husbands and ungrateful offspring why the soup was not as aromatic, and the meat as meltingly succulent.

When you see the people huddled over a table belonging to a fish seller, you think of clouds. Storm clouds. It’s gotta be storm clouds because it is an impassioned crowd, heated words flung here and there, but it is obvious to you even at that distance that the words are not being flung at each other.

You notice something; in all this, there is a centripetal force, a magnet. Something is a pole, all the people huddled together in that group are opposite poles, and the attraction is uncompromising in its pull. Like puppets on a string, their heads are yanked Look!

And they do, eyes poring into whatever it is their eyes are poring into.

They are peering into a screen. The screen of a mobile phone. The faces surrounding the screen display all manner of emotion –  disgust, anger, horror, fear but the tug is fierce, their necks held in place by a brace, eyes glued to the screen; the screen that stares back with malevolent intent, going by the reactions it provokes.

You need to buy something. Your customer is not at her stall and before you pick her out from the crowd, you already know she is there. Everyone in this street, Line B, Ipodo Market, Ikeja Underbridge, Off Awolowo, Off Oba Akran, Lagos State, Nigeria. Earth. Universe. Multiverse – everyone seems to be at that table. A tiny speck, Less than a streak in cosmic events, this crowd, swelling and thinning as people join their ranks, fall away and are quickly replaced, two joining for every one that leaves, it swells and ebbs.

You call out, “Customer.”

She looks up, detaches herself from the crowd and walks over to her stall. She is usually effusive in her welcome but today, she is quiet. Distracted. You catch the sheen of tears in her eyes.

“What is it?” You ask her, alarmed. A new market law to further tighten the noose around these struggling traders? Last time you were here, it was an increase in the sanitation dues. They claimed they barely used the gutter the dues were supposedly spent on cleaning. You watched their entreaties, feeble protests, and helplessness with an anger that ran like underwater currents, just below the surface. Just.

“It is some women…” and somehow you knew what it was that had got them all hot and bothered. The video of the Ejigbo pepper thieves who had been beaten, tortured, sodomized, having bottles and other objects shoved into their private parts. You had heard on the news yesterday that one of them had died of her injuries. It had to be that story. Ejigbo market had been closed down and as such, their compatriots in business would be curious to know why. Little wonder they would find out about this matter now, this matter that had been on the airwaves and social media for months. Now it had hit a nerve. Closing a market was a big deal and only other market sellers would grasp the full import of such a disaster.

You look over at the swarm and you notice that the owner of the phone, slouched on a stool, his back against the wall seems to be enjoying himself. There is a benevolent smile on his lips but although you admit it might be your imagination, you think you see a glint of mirth in his eyes. He has created a feeding frenzy, his mobile phone a food source, effectively turning all the people around to piranhas, as he watches, his eyes nictitating, reminding you of a reptile.

You hear sounds from the phone now. They had been there all along as you struggled to make sense of what was happening. A woman falls away from the ranks of the crowd, her face frozen in a ghastly rictus as she stumbles towards her stall. She grabs blindly for a cellophane bag and loses the contents of her stomach in it. Your customer watches her, heaving, gasping as she tries to hold back her own tears. These reactions are multiplied, engraved on the faces of all the women in that Line B, Ipodo Market, Ikeja Underbridge, Off Awolowo, Off Oba Akran… a tiny portion of the universe where innocence is forever lost as people confront in living colour humans’ inhumanity to humans.

The woman who threw up makes a statement that resonates in your head through the cab ride home, and stays wandering around the empty hallways of your mind, clinging to the walls, bouncing off the ceiling. . .

“Dem chook something inside her toto, like stick, dem come dey turn am. E get as e do me for bodi bet I no fit comot eye.”

That gets you thinking.

And wondering about people’s fascination with horror. You had been unable to watch the video of the vicious rape of the ABSU student by four men; you had been unable to watch the burning of the Aluu 4; you had been unable to watch the burning of that homosexual man; and you had been unable to watch this. You got angry when people passed these videos around, shared them on social media like so much candy, sometimes with a warning, “very graphic – VIEWERS’ DISCRETION.” You had often wondered if you were a coward. You convinced yourself that your mind was fertile enough to imagine the horrors without the actual gory videos to back it up. Tragedy porn, your friend called it.

As you watch these people, you begin to understand. That in their shock and grief and horror, something deeper and more visceral is going on. They are enjoying this.

The word Schadenfreude or the transposed version, Freudenschade comes to mind unbidden, “a feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune.” This concept is well documented, the theories ranging from a harmless, often unacknowledged gratification at others’ pain, to a gloating, sadistic pleasure. This phenomenon is expressed in instances ranging from happiness at another’s team losing a football match, to fascination with the grisly details of a road accident.

You like this theory. It tells you a lot about human nature – about how little we know ourselves, about the fact that there are certain facts about us that we are unwilling to accept; like the fact that our minds do have the capacity to accommodate things we cannot comprehend. If only we gave it half a chance, we would be surprised at the equanimity and composure with which our minds would adapt to perplexities.

Like the way our Government squanders its way through our Nation’s coffers, as though stealing were going out of fashion

Like watching a man burn

Like watching a girl get raped by four men, in the vagina and in the anus until she asks, begs them to kill her and end it

Like watching a woman and her daughter get beaten half to death, raped and sodomized with sticks and broken bottles for stealing pepper

Like watching homosexuals love one another, live free of prejudice, hate, torment and pain . . .

Things like that.

Because that is what our minds do; they expand and they accommodate.

This was first published in Nigerians Talk- The Gay Issue

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