“Sir, your coffee,” the waitress said to Musa, trying to get his attention.
“Oh, sorry,” Musa said to the waitress, having been distracted by his thoughts. The waitress placed the cup of cappuccino over the table, with Musa pulling it closer. “Thanks,” he said.
As the waitress was on her way to attend to other customers, Musa drew her attention to the menu in his hand.
“May I have one orange soft drink with my order?” Musa asked.
“Yes, sir,” the waitress said.
Looking down, however, Musa couldn’t help but to place his finger on the price. “Four hundred Naira?” he exclaimed.
“Yes, o,” the waitress exclaimed, in a tone coming off as a bit sympathetic, having heard similar complaints from some customers. “The owners need to pay their rent.”
“I remember the day when soft drinks were just one Naira, fifty Kobo each,” Musa said with a slight sigh.
“Oh?” the waitress exclaimed, with her eyes wide open. Then, she asked “Sorry to ask, but what year were you born?”
“Eighty-five,” Musa said while handing the menu over to the waitress. “But, the price was in 1991.”
“He looks young for his age,” the waitress thought to herself.
As the waitress walked away with the menu, Musa was left with his thoughts, with a slight sign of worry on his face, as he slowly took some sips of his cup of coffee. As he waited for his order, he looked up to watch the current match to keep his mind occupied.
Thirty-one years ago, life in Lagos was quite different, perhaps simpler to a young child in 1991. Before the advent of smartphones, each household had a landline. Instead of cable television, each home relied on free-to-air stations for entertainment and news. For a child, it was the best way to watch cartoons after school. However, there was something magical in tuning in at three o' clock, an hour early, and being greeted to a static screen and a selection of music. At four o' clock played an instrumental version of the Nigerian national anthem, followed by the pledge, and the network commencing operations.
Since it was the early 1990s, just like the United States, children in Lagos had also grown accustomed to the concept of Saturday morning cartoons. Every Saturday, at seven o’ clock, Musa would tune in to his favorite cartoon shows and sitcoms, while his mother made her way next to the local market to buy some akara. This was in addition to buying Agege bread from a saleswoman just outside the house.
Two hours later, Musa’s shows ended, but that didn’t stop him from partaking in other fun activities. Without fail, he’d often make a phone call to his classmate, Wale, asking if he’d like to come over to play video games. And, almost every time, Wale would show up with either of his friends.
“Good morning, Mama Musa,” they greeted Mrs. Shajareh by the entrance.
“Good morning,” Mrs. Shajareh greeted, directing the boys to her son.
With the exception of housework, Musa and his friends lived blissfully without the stress that came with adulthood. Saturdays during a school year may have been the closest to summer vacation. However, school days felt quite alright at best since the boys could still hang out after school.
Every Saturday, Mr. Shajareh would close his gift shop for his lunch break. Every so often, he would make time to take Musa around town in his family car. “Let’s go for a stroll,” he’d say to his son. After that, Musa would spend the rest of the day at home. One Saturday afternoon, however, Wale came over to ask if Musa could join him for a walk around Apapa. Mr. and Mrs. Shajareh agreed and, shortly after, the two friends stumbled upon a local vendor selling biscuits and soft drinks.
“Give us two minerals,” Wale said to the vendor, with “mineral” being a local term for soft drinks.
The vendor gave the boys two bottles of orange soda, as Musa paid one Naira and fifty Kobo for each. But, since this was their first time meeting him, they weren’t allowed to just walk away with the glass bottles. They had to be returned for distribution reasons, thus boys sat by the corner sipping slowly over a conversation.
“Have you thought of who you want to be when you grow up?” Musa asked Wale.
“When I grow up, I want to be a policeman," Wale said to Musa with certainty. “I want to help catch bad guys, and keep the streets safe.”
Musa, although unsure as to why Wale would choose this career path, nodded gently to it. "Sounds good," he said.
“What about you?” Wale asked.
“When I grow up, I want to be a banker. I heard bankers make a lot of money,” Musa said.
Wale nodded to Musa’s career choice. "That’s a great idea," he said.
Musa never did share his reasons as to why he wanted to become a banker but, unlike his age mates who wanted one career path or the another because they sounded cool to kids, he already began to understand the concept of money. He hoped that, as he got older, he would be able to afford a house while looking after himself and his parents. At this point in time, money was among the main discussions had by both his parents at home, something that he was aware of.
The boys emptied their bottles, and returned them before resuming their walk. But, as the vendor placed the bottles in the crates, Wale took a sachet of biscuits off the table, and proceeded to pay with his change. And, with the biscuits firmly placed in a black nylon bag, the boys resumed their walk around the neighborhood.