Excerpt: Somber City by Rotimi Ogunjobi


Under the heavy jacket of his faded suit he felt cold and empty. Worst of all was the realisation that he was actually empty of a destination, having hinged the day’s itinerary on the favour he had expected to receive from his friend. And now that the favour, the hope of the favour, the friendship was dead and so to speak, put to rest, he felt empty, unhinged and the day had suddenly became purposeless. The road was sticky, like mud. The air hung still and stale all around him like a corpse’s breath. And he is aware, like a fleeing fugitive from some hideous darkness of the ferocious stare of the noon sun, of the hot, angry eyes of a celestial cyclopean.


He had suddenly found himself again becoming aware of all the passing eyes. It was the feeling that everyone was looking at him, and it made him uncomfortable. Eyes. The entire world had been too often these days reduced to eyes; the world had become full of eyes. Timid eyes, angry eyes, hateful eyes, tired eyes. And they appeared to follow him about everywhere. And Femi had often found himself afraid of the promised psychosis. Today, there was nowhere to go anymore, but he nevertheless felt the urgency of the need to hasten along. Even if only to avoid the eyes.

He could feel the organic presence of his heavy dark thoughts shuffling alongside like weary spectres. His strongest instincts had always been to sustain courage and a stubborn hope. Femi considered going back home to sleep – to curl up like a foetus, if possible, into some pre-natal occupations. But that hardly defined hope. He had even often considered a noose around the neck. But that hardly described courage. It was a real pity that virtues couldn’t sustain life nevertheless. He wished to thin away like smoke, into nothingness; to mingle with the breeze and to just fade away.

Seek and you will find. That was what the good book had taught. But out here Femi knew that there was nothing to be found. Still there was a man’s deed to be done – seek. Seek like the wind. The wind with no name. The wind with no destination. He was the wind.

Prevailing circumstances had robbed him of any sort of individuality. But he had learnt to rescue himself from anonymity by this elusive purpose: to seek.  And his name had become To be – to be somebody, a person.

Sunlight seemed to have completely departed from his day. The streets had become dark, winding, fetid alleys cluttered with the congealed ghosts of dead dreams – all of them plentifully manifested in the living detritus of the metropolis. And patiently waiting alongside like carrion, were gallimaufries of cannibalistic pursuits – pimps, prostitutes, preachers, peddlers, pawnbrokers, and sundry professional prosthetics. Femi felt like going back home. But in his present financial state, home was where one went to die.  Home was the anxious eyes of a spouse following you all about and supervising your every twitch. Home was where you had your disabilities amplified.


The entire world had become full of eyes. And they were all watching him. They were all watching his every ignominious step. Yet he must press on he knew, but to what destination he had no idea. His life had come to a sudden aposiopesis.

Not far away, a billboard bore the tattered remains of a Benson & Hedges advertisement. Shredded by neglect and weather, the copy had been reduced from a hopeful Turn to Gold to a very ominous Turn old. The model’s grin had faded into a sorry grimace; and around the browned cigarette sticking from his mouth he appeared to be apologising: Sorry folks, I know that I’m going to die of lung cancer, but right now I need the bread.

This, nevertheless, thought Femi, was the apogee of survival: a belief, an acceptance of consequences. He had often wondered though what was left for him to believe in.  Nothing seemed destined to work; not anymore, however.

He is really not a stranger to disappointment. The event of the day had merely been a culmination of just another bad journey. It had been just another stop along the way of the coach trip to nowhere; a journey in which passengers are forced to pay their fares in the currency of hope and the tour owners rip you off by the mile leaving you more hopeless at each stop. All that the trip promised was just a long wait for something to happen, for someone to come. But nothing happens, nobody comes, things never get better and even when you think it cannot get worse you are damn surprised.


Every day had become the same; every day crawled along so slowly and seems like a year. Life is like that when you have absolutely nothing to do with your time, he had realised; and left you grasping desperately at disjointed thoughts to connect together; left you seeking even a modicum of excitement to wake up the benumbed mind. Thoughts of tomorrow had become for him clothed in pain, because tomorrow, he knew, would only be a rehash of yesterday and an extension of the languor of today.

What will you do tomorrow, Femi? Nothing that he could think of today.


He had wandered as it would happen, into the middle of a market – the notorious Oshodi market; a cacophonous menagerie. Street vendors yelling, bus touts yelling, fake cure-all medicine vendors yelling, schizophrenic preachers yelling, a muezzin in nearby mosque yelling, travellers dispossessed of their possessions yelling. All these noise Femi thought as fuel being put to waste. He conceived in his mind a device which would collect all these ambient sound energy and transform them into electrical power. Transducer is what such a device is called. This time, he visualised how it may be used on the local scale to produce all the electrical power that the market needed.


Femi had once quite postulated noise as either a product of or the reason for poverty; reason being that the poor always seem to constantly have it in obscene quantity all around them. Indeed, he had been able to sufficiently prove, albeit to himself, that the world could be free from poverty if noise could be harvested as a commodity and processed into an income producing product. He reminded himself to write a letter to The Guardian as soon as he reached home:

Dear Sir,

            There is one thing that the idle and the poor people in the world always have in a great abundance. It is a great quantity of latent energy which if pooled together could actually provide all the electrical power needed for all the poor nations of the world. This has been proved even in school laboratories by students who have been able to keep light bulbs alive and glowing by putting a rodent in a small slatted drum, the circular movement of it which runs a small dynamo. It has also been proved on a slightly bigger scale by having an able-bodied man pedal a stationary bicycle to run a bigger dynamo which feeds electrical energy into an accumulator. It goes without saying that electrical energy needs of many households could be met in this way by the unemployed members.

            If we now consider millions of pedalling men and women daily feeding power this way via cables running in series from their dynamo equipped bikes, will we not in one fell swoop be able to achieve not only clean renewable energy, but also millions of healthy and gainfully employed citizens?

Yours faithfully,

The Common Man


[End of Excerpt]