City of Schemes
An author revisits Lagos and finds it—and himself—drastically changed
Yasmine El Rashidi
Every Day Is for the Thief:
by Teju Cole
$23.00 List Price
There is a particular form of low-lying corruption that you learn to live with if you belong to certain kinds of cities. They are sprawling, chaotic, overpopulated places whose residents claim what space they can around tentacles of unplanned roads and a pandemonium of traffic. Their various nuclei are government buildings that comprise long corridors and annexes that are navigated like a maze; systems that take you back and forth from one point to another, one counter to the next, one officer to another, who may or may not sign your paper before telling you to go elsewhere. He gives you a name, someone he knows.
These cities—like Lagos or Cairo—run slickly on an emergent logic of their own. The traffic, to those who live with it, feels more cohesive with its lack of lights and lines and order, with the one-way street that on some days becomes two, and the officer who will let you cut corners and park where you can’t. At the local traffic department, your file of fines is retrieved within seconds from pyramidal piles of paper. It is also, just as quickly and for a pittance, put away. To those of us who belong to these places, we learn, early on, to contribute to this codified disarray—to feed the hidden veins that make it run—if we are to survive and construct lives ourselves. They are tips, to our minds, not bribes.
To the stranger, the reality is stark; these cities can feel overwhelming, mystifying, and unscrupulous, even at their embassies abroad. Teju Cole’s new old novella–turned-novel, Every Day Is for the Thief, first published by Nigeria’s Cassava Republic