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ConnectNigeria_strangers   There’s this guy I used to see often. Sometimes I’d be riding in a danfo and pass him on Ozumba Mbadiwe Road; other times I’d walk by him while I’m walking across Falomo Bridge to Ikoyi, always on my way to work. He’d be either running on the culvert that divides Ozumba or he’d be on Falomo bridge doing stretches, headphones clamped over his ears. I used to wonder about him – what drove him, if he was training for something, if he was ‘FitFam’, but like a really hyper version, like FitFam 10.0. One day I saw a video on Instagram. My friend, Ore, had seen this guy one morning doing his warm ups on the culvert on Ozumba and made a video. I left an excited comment saying how I saw the same guy all the time. Ore responded: ‘he’s begging to be interviewed’. A seed was sown and I went away thinking, ‘well, why not?’ But it wasn’t ‘why not’ in a rhetorical sense. Cos when I asked myself why not, a few reasons came to mind: 1) He could scream insults at me for interrupting his intense workout. 2) He could get up and, without warning, start chasing me down Falomo Bridge. And he will catch me; he can run. 3) He could tackle me and toss me over the railing of the bridge, and I would go tumbling into the lagoon, hoping my backstroke would be good enough to save my life. Because, with any of the above outcomes, when they tell my story people will say, ‘Aho ma se o. But why did she not just mind her business? Shebi it was office they said she was going to?’ *** For about two weeks I didn’t see this guy on Ozumba; and as I was taking a different route to work I could not see him on Falomo Bridge either. It was my last day with my former employer the morning I saw him again. Running late for work, I was marching across the bridge when I saw the familiar figure, legs splayed out like he was doing a split, the ever-present headphones over his ears, sweat running down his face and neck and turning his clothes a darker blue than they were. This had to be some kind of nudge – after today, with my job change, who knew when next I would have cause to walk across Falomo Bridge in the morning like this? Who knew when I would see him again? I didn’t slow down as I approached the man; there was no hesitation. All the reasons you can have not to talk to random strangers in a place like Lagos faded from my mind. I stopped in front of him, my feet a few inches from the length of off-white fabric he had placed on the ground to protect his clothes from the dirt. He looked up at me and nodded, making a gesture that seemed to say sorry I’m in the way; please go ahead. I shook my head, bent forward a little and started talking. He eased off his headphones and listened, squinting up at me in the sunlight. As we talked I noticed some of the people I had passed on the bridge earlier on in my march overtake me, giving us curious looks as they went. I told him about seeing him working out often, about my curiosity, and about the video and Ore’s comment that had prompted me to stop and talk to him. I asked if he was training for something. He said no; he exercised for his health. He said that, being a doctor, he was aware of the importance of exercising, and that if his patients knew half the things he did they would be much better off. He said he was working on a book on health and fitness, so he could share some of this knowledge. He did not attempt anything remotely bizzare. When I thanked him for talking to me he thanked me back, saying it was nice having someone stop to ask for once. I was glad I did. (And thanks to Ore, for being the prompter.) I haven’t seen this man since, but I like to think he’s still out there doing his thing. And I really hope he writes that book.  

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This article was first published on 26th October 2014 and updated on March 31st, 2016 at 7:48 am


Uche Okonkwo lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where she works as managing editor at Kachifo Limited (publishers of Farafina Books). She also takes on freelance writing and editing work in her spare time. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester, UK, and in 2013 she won the first ever Africa-wide Etisalat Prize for Flash Fiction. Her short stories have been published in The Ember Journal, The Manchester Anthology 2012/2013 and others, and are forthcoming in Ploughshares and Per Contra. Uche enjoys theatre and travelling and writes about both on her blogs, and

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