A Bedroom and A Studio, 4 Ola –Ayeni Street, Computer Village, Ikeja
Bustling energy has cloaked an area that was once residential. Remnants of this earlier era are at 4 Ola –Ayeni Street, Computer Village, Ikeja. Just a ten-minute drive from Murtala Mohammed International Airport, without traffic, this was always my first stop in Lagos. My grandmother lived at this address until her death ten years ago. Her refurbished flat on the ground level now has lower ceilings and smooth walls that distort the history of the structure and its past inhabitants. It looks very different, but the nostalgia remains—I often look to the corner where she sat or have a think on her bed. Her savings, which she earned from selling ankara, purchased this place in 1965.
An emphasis on commerce is still palatable, though the products exchanging hands are now outside 4 Ola-Ayeni Street. For the most part, they are electronics. The dense hub of innovation offers solutions for any technological wahala, and has almost completely overtaken the quiet neighborhood this once was. The exceptions are the early mornings and Sundays. For me, when I enter the building, it still feels the same—the same labyrinth of passages, steep stairways, and many familiar smiles. The large pastel renderings of my grandparents are not far from the places where they had been for decades, and are just adjacent to the room I once used regularly as a studio. Working there can be too quiet, too stagnant at times and for those reasons, stepping outside offers the perfect respite.
The area is an economic indicator. And most of the products retailed here are imported. Its density has waned over the last year, as the exchange rate of the Nigerian Naira to the U.S. Dollar has climbed to 500:1; two years ago it was 160:1. Usually, there are sellers who have converted parked cars to displays for shoes and other wares. Youngsters strut up and down the street in the latest fashion ensembles and hair-dos. The lady selling the best ofada stew is just outside the premises, to the left. Latecomers are often disappointed to find she has sold out. I always hope she might have hake or croaker fish. The lady selling boli, and groundnuts, is usually a few blocks away. Then there are the mobile, dance advertisements and road shows that mask a symphony of diesel generators. I often think of the neighbours we used to trek to by foot. Where are they now? What would they make of all this? At other times, I just walk through the people traffic for the pungent smells, the boisterous vigor, the humorous and candid interactions, or the determined sellers promoting their wares to passersby. They pinch and say, “Madam, are you looking for screen protector?”
Then I return to my room or her bedroom. I am filled. And somehow all that is outside seems to stay outside.