This is an excerpt from Teju Cole’s novella, Every Day is for the Thief, that we just think is beautifully written. Teju Cole is a Nigerian American writer, photographer and art historian who has written two books; a novel Open City and novella Every Day is for the Thief. The later documents the life of an unnamed character who has briefly returned to Lagos from the U.S., the critical eyes with which he views Lagos. We hope you find it just as interesting as we did.
Touting is not a job. It is a way of being in the world. Pure attitude: the chest puffed out, the body limber, the jaw set to brook no opposition. There is, in every single tout, the same no-nonsense attitude, the hair-trigger temper, the willingness to get into a fight over any and all conflicts. There is a strut they do, a swagger. These are the original wise-guys of Lagos, some of them as young as fourteen. They do not go home in the evening and stop being touts; the thing is bound to their souls. The regular Lagosian, too, has to share this attitude. The body language as one moves through the street has to be one of undiluted certainty and self-assurance. Because uncertainty in the face or gait attracts attention, and attention is bad. When you catch a stranger’s eye, the message you send has to be unequivocal: ‘Trust me, you don’t want to mess with me.’ There are many people on the streets who roam about looking for victims. People who, by dint of practice, can sniff out weakness.