Alphabet series

L is for Landlord

My first landlord was cheap. We had a broken boiler in the middle of a cold Liverpool winter. In a house where the radiators stayed lukewarm despite the ticks of the pipes, my brother, sister and I would stand in the hallway, frost floating out of our mouths, warming ourselves up with futile talk about reporting the landlord to the council. But he was my father’s friend and we had home training.  It was the sort of winter where you could put a bottle of Fanta outside and an hour later have a cold drink. The kitchen sink grabbed your attention once you walked in, dishes were always piled high.  Our hands could not stand the frigid tap water long enough to wash up. We each got electric heaters for our rooms.The gas meter always ticked down slowly, not needing a top up for weeks but every three days we’d have to buy electricity.  We learnt that three full kettles of boiled water makes a shower. Kettles which came to our home expecting to make a cup of tea every now and then, found themselves pulled into service they were not built for. They never lasted long. We lived for three years in that home. The boiler never got fixed.

My second landlord’s name was Anthony Walker.  After viewing the house, he asked if my friend and I were nurses. We’d said we were Nigerian. I wanted to push back and say that the sight of blood makes me nauseous but maybe some stereotypes are good. Better to rent to nurses than 419ners right? My Anthony Walker was white but somewhere in Liverpool, there had lived another Anthony Walker. A black boy. A child of 18, whose life was taken too soon by someone who felt that a mountaineering axe belonged deep  the back of a nigger’s head. I knew Liverpool had racist elements, I’d had eggs and nigger thrown at me before. But Anthony’s death seemed so pernicious. In an office where the every little twist and turn of the country was discussed, none of my colleagues mentioned the awful news that hung over the city.  Nothing.  I think that was when I stopped taking white people as they were, on face value. A friendly face is now meaningless.

My Lagos landlord was desperate. I’d found a ground floor one bedroom flat in the heart of Ikeja, after months of searching. Months spent viewing houses purporting to be homes but were more like boxes laid with carpet. Of being rejected because I was single. And once, lying that I had a fiance so that I could just have a place to stay. I found this place, with its granite floors through an agent but I hadn’t met my landlord.  I was away at a workshop when the landlord rang.  Could I please pay next year’s rent five months before it was due? I stalled but the texts and calls continued. It was one of the most ridiculous situations I had ever found myself in, almost at par with the time a neighbour’s Sallah ram charged at me and I fell on my ass, scrambling backwards on the gravel. Lagos is a city of ludicrous moments strung together. The landlord had gotten my number from the woman who lived in the flat above my own. She was a diminutive but formidable woman, a luggage trader at Alade Market with a daughter she loved to bits. But she lived alone. From time to time, she would call me up to her flat in the evening. I’d sit with her as she watched Yoruba movies with badly translated subtitles littered with grammatical errors while eating her dinner. We would talk about her daughter, how she was doing in Accra. About how the state government was trying to move the market women out of Alade Market, a market that I has existed since my childhood, and into a new complex built on swampy ground. I’d been warned about her by a few of the neighbours. The man who sold clothes from a shop in front of the house said she was troublesome and not to get close to her. The man in the flat opposite hers came to my door one night to tell me not to trust her. Days later, in her living room dotted with pictures of her daughter and grandchild, she recited his words back to me verbatim while I thanked God that I’d only made noncommittal noises in a private conversation. Lagos is ludicrous.

My current landlord is a corporation. It owns several houses and lets rooms out to people like me who cut their cloth according to their size. The boiler gets fixed when it breaks down and there’s no one asking for the rent in the middle of the month. The city I live in seems to be getting more and more multicultural with every passing year – I have never been racially abused here. The most I have to contend with is my roommate leaving streaks on the toilet and the weather bending to climate change’s will. Like a movie based in the suburbs, I wave and say good morning to my neighbour as I cycle past her walking her kids to school. The littlest one always parrots my good morning back to me, his face glowing with that type of glee only a child can muster. It is weirdly idyllic in a city of 450,000 people, where traffic snarls and chokes you. And for this peace, I am grateful beyond words.