Lagos weeknights are a thick blend of weary people returning home, bars filling up and emptying, and homeless people spreading out their cartons and blankets to end the day.
I meet Sumaila and Ibrahim just outside, chilling on a neighbour’s bonnet as I return home.
“How far na?” I greet them.
They are Mai Ruwa, our own mini water companies that push around carts that can only fit ten kegs at a time, or more.
“Fine.” The English leaves their mouths one month at a time, mostly misplacing ‘I’ with ‘you’. Somehow, you can feel that even as their limbs are toiling in this city, their hearts are back at home where their mother tongue is a river flowing from their mouths.
“Where you come from?” I ask Sumaila as Ibrahim goes to get something.
“Ah, how your wife?” I tease, hoping he’d give me an answer.
“Wife dey.”His smile is bright.
“You be senior man o,” I say, “Even me never get money to marry wife. How old you be sef?”
“20-something,” he says, as he pulls out his wallet. The folded paper he pulls put is masked in cello-tape, and even before he can spread it open, you know it has seen seen age and been to places I might never see. It’s an immigration slip I had no idea ever existed. It says he first entered Nigeria in 2011, at 21.
“E get one person wey no get am. Immigration come carry am. Five thousand naira.”
“Na the same mama and papa born us,” Ibrahim says as he returns. Ibrahim is taller than Sumaila, but clearly he is the smaller man. I ask him about his wife.
“I no get wife,” he laughs, “na Sumaila get two wife.”
I take a look at Sumaila again and mines are going off in my mind. He’s laughing, I’m laughing too.
“Him just come back as him marry the second one sef,” Ibrahim adds.
“Wetin be their name?”
“The first one na Aisha, the second one na Hameema.”
“How old this new one come be?” I ask.
“She just be like that girl for that house.” The neighbour’s daughter is probably sixteen or seventeen.
“Wetin your wife come dey do now?”
“She just dey. I just dey send am money every month. She dey go market, buy food, buy things.”
“She no go school?”
“No o!” Even though his laugh is still soft, it is the strongest he has laughed. “If she go school, she no go see husband marry.”
“Nobody go fit wait for that one na. I dey always send am money.”
“When you go come marry na?” I face Ibrahim.
“I never get money na.” the tempo of his speech rises, “and the money done even spoil. When I go change am, twenty-six thousand naira na ten thousand cefa.”
I ask him about Buhari.
“Before I been dey talk say Baba done come, but now the money done spoil, light no dey. Before before e no be like this.”
He does a little comparison of Jonathan and Buhari’s administration, and the former wins. He is his own economist and financial expert.
“How Lagos be for you?” I ask.
He just shakes his head repeatedly and that is just enough of an answer. One cart, 10 kegs. He fills one keg at ten naira and sells at thirty or forty. Sometimes he pushes his luck to fifty. He pushes the cart every day, going back and forth from buying to selling.
“See where I dey sleep,” he points to the balcony where he sleeps with his mosquito net already set. “I get house for my village, but money no dey, so I come here. My wife no fit come here, because I no want make she suffer.”
“If you wan marry now, how much you need?”
“Hundred thousand naira,” he smiles like he plans to make a trip in the coming months. “Our place no be like here wey be say you go get big house before you marry. For there, house dey.”
“How many children you get?” I ask Sumaila as he joins us.
“I no get children. I never ready. I wan get money well and make my two wife grow well.”
“So you get any plan after abi na water you wan dey sell?”
“Na water I go dey sell.”
“Next year? Next 5 years?”
We talk about random things from when next they intend to travel to Ibrahim going to back to get married in a few months.
“Abeg help us carry water come tomorrow morning,” I tell Ibrahim.
Just beside us is a ditch the water corporation dug for their pipeline construction work.
Our taps will stay dry for a few more weeks, but our buckets won’t. Ibrahim and Sumaila are our water companies, and they deliver everyday, ten kegs at a time, at thirty naira per keg.