Not too long ago, I used to live in a noisy, stuffy, cramped up neighbourhood somewhere in the Oshodi area of Lagos State. Unless you were a heavy sleeper, you dared not plan to take a power nap at home on weekends because of the indigenous music blaring from the home theatre owned by the man who lived three rooms away. I also had to put up with frequent moans from the next room (which sounded louder because I was single and involuntarily celibate), and the girl who loved to smoke some marijuana before adding it to her pot of beans (or pot of soup, or pot of anything) contributed her bit to the air I was breathing.
But that is not the story.
Iya Ibukun was known for two things in the yard; selling tiger nut juice, and her penchant for gossip. She knew which girl in the neighbourhood had just started having sex, which boy just did his first break-in, and which married man was fathering a child that wasn’t his. More curiously, however, she engaged in this interesting ritual where she would wash scores of underwear every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and populate an entire cloth line with panties of all colours. It developed into a routine, and on those specific days of the week we knew better than to place anything on that rope.
I moved out a few months later (as I am sure everyone else in the yard aspired to), but not before subletting it to a friend who had recently made a decision to stop living with his elder sister’s family, and needed a small place to start out life as an independent bachelor. One Wednesday evening I visited, and when I saw the line devoid of any fabric, I inquired, in mock concern, whether she had changed her usual practice.
“She nor dey hang payint (pant) for there again o”, my friend responded, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle. “You nor hear say dem don dey use payint take kpake person destiny?”
We have seen the Instagram skits, we have (had to) read the broadcast messages, we have stumbled on it on the news, and somehow we managed to survive the torture rack that was the “Logo Benz” song. It’s official: underwear (and to be very specific, ladies’ underwear) is the new precious stone, even though we are not quite sure where the mines are. Who would have thought that a day would come when looking to see a pair of underwear on cloth lines at female-occupied hostels in universities would be akin to hunting for the Holy Grail? There have even been Facebook posts by female post-pubescent teenagers resolving not to move around with underwear anymore. The reason?
“I nor want make person point me gun, come collect my payint.”
This is a sad state of affairs, but it’s the situation in which many ladies today between the ages of 16 and 52, who live in densely populated areas, find themselves in lately. They live in fear of being raped when they walk alone in the evenings, they have to shut their ears to catcalls the moment they step into the streets, they face the risk of getting harassed whenever they opt to go shopping in Yaba, and now, they also have to guard their underwear jealously, simply because of an existing belief that somehow, you can swing your way into affluence simply by making away with a girl’s lingerie and dropping it at the right witchdoctor’s mat.
More than anything, the need to invade a laundry basket or wardrobe for lingerie, believing that the key to wealth lies in Hauwa’s or Nneka’s (used) panties, reflects the direction in which society is headed as well as the thought pattern of a sizeable chunk of the active male population, and not in a good way. We are shifting focus from scouting for organs and chewing faeces to grabbing intimate underclothes, and no, it is by no means less horrifying. It shows that the developing of novel, disturbing mechanisms with a view to getting quick bucks won’t end anytime soon. Yes, the emphasis on hard work and patient journeys to success is dwindling by the minute, but this is what we have come to. Wow!
But then, what is the process of extracting wealth from these underpants? Are they dipped into some magic pot, then incantations are made and then the unsuspecting lady’s “destiny” is altered? Is there some mystical money-spinning power in a lady’s vaginal discharge? Can the fabric used in making lingerie be burnt (or otherwise disposed) and recycled into legal tender? Is there a central hub where panties are pooled together and then mint is produced?
These are the questions, and it makes for curious reading, really, considering that there is no empirical evidence displaying how Ezedibie Nwoko or Babalowo OLofin changes panties into cash. It’s almost similar to the penis-stealing phenomenon, which is still in dire need of proof (does the organ simply shrink, or does it actually disappear leaving a blank space?) What is the guarantee that these witchdoctors are not trying to start a lingerie boutique somewhere, or that there is no major export plan involving underpants?
Hopefully, one day our collective curiousity will be fed, and then we will gain an insight into the chain of transformation from a black underwear to a black Toyota Corolla. Until then, we will be faced with ladies who’d be overly cautious of where to spread their laundry, and you’ll find cloth lines bereft of undergarments.