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Frankly Speaking With Jola Sotubo What a Lagos "agbero" taught me about kindness

A typical agbero has a hardened face filled with scars from many street brawls and even his attempt at a smile is hideous; the one I’m writing about was no different.

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Lagos Agbero (Photo used for illustrative purposes only) play

Lagos Agbero (Photo used for illustrative purposes only)

(Information Nigeria)

Kindness: the act of going out of your way to be nice to someone or show a person you care – Urban Dictionary.

If you know anything about Lagos ‘agberos’, then you’ll know that there’s nothing kind about them.

A typical agbero has a hardened face filled with scars from many street brawls and even his attempt at a smile is hideous; the one I’m writing about was no different.

Tunde (not his real name) operates an early morning shift at a roadside taxi park for cars that take passengers from Ojodu Berger to Victoria Island.

I had seen him in action before; screaming at strange cars that attempted to pick passengers and even pulling out a foot mat from one such car while it was in motion.

“This guy is a lunatic,” I thought to myself on that day, and it wasn’t even an insult; “agbero” must definitely mean “lunatic” in another language because there’s no other explanation for why they behave like rascals.

A day before my direct encounter with Tunde I had glanced at him and noticed that his upper lip had taken on a permanently swollen look.

“This guy must be a hardened criminal,” I thought “He’s probably been fighting since he was a child.”

That same day, Wednesday, February 15 2017, I forgot my laptop in one of the space buses that operate in Tunde’s territory and that is where my story really begins.

The next day, I left my house early and cautiously walked up to the roadside where Tunde was standing, “E kaaro,” I said in a Yoruba morning greeting usually reserved for adults and people who are not one’s mate in other respects.

Tunde was not my mate.

He responded in his usual gruff manner and I proceeded to explain how I left my laptop in one of “his cars.”

“Ah Laptop!” he exclaimed, because laptops cost a fortune, or at least what seemed like a fortune to him.

His next statement shocked me; “Don’t worry, we will get it back,” he said, in Yoruba of course.

What?! An agbero?!  First of all, who is this “we” he is speaking of, agberos only know one personal pronoun, and that is “I.”

An agbero is forced to fight for everything he has; his life is a daily game of survival of the fittest, so there’s no way he’s concerned about anyone but himself.

As if that were not shocking enough, he told me not to worry; the average agbero would already be counting dollar signs in his head the minute I told him about a missing laptop, but Tunde was telling me not to worry.

He went on to tell me stories of valuable things that had been left in his care that he had returned to the rightful owners.

Tunde also explained how he had single-handedly chased away all the robbers and kidnappers who had previously operated around his park, and how he had helped take some people to the hospital when they ignored his advice and entered a strange bus.

I stayed quiet and for a moment forgot about my missing laptop (well almost).

This was a man who was on the lowest rung of society; one of the most despised groups in Lagos, and he was talking to me about acts of kindness that he had done.

The amazing thing about our conversation was that he didn’t get the least bit emotional about his stories; he didn’t smile at the remembrance of doing good and his face didn’t soften at all, in fact it seemed harder.

The driver whose bus I entered the day before eventually came along and gave me my laptop back; that’s a story for another day, but it was my encounter with Tunde that really stuck with me.

Tunde the Lagos agbero taught me, first of all, that kindness comes in unusual packages.

Kindness is not always sweet, soft and friendly; sometimes it’s just dutiful and strong. It’s not always wrapped in a nice, cute package; sometimes it comes in a hard, unyielding box.

Kindness is not defined by the person who gives it, it’s defined by the actions, by the fact that it just is.

A Lagos agbero was kind to me; I will remember that for the rest of my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll also remember to give people the benefit of the doubt before I judge them.

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