Is it just me that it happens to or are there other guys out there who invariably are mistaken for a fence whenever they drive through the streets of Lagos? For those not conversant with the word's usage here, it generally means an individual who makes a living by obtaining stolen goods from a thief and then disappearing it into the legitimate market in which that good is normally sold, in a clean and untraceable manner.
This case of mistaken identity, for me, usually occurs around the Apombo area, at the end of the road draining traffic out of the Island of Lagos, into Surulere, Apapa, Ajegunle etc. For about a two hundred metre stretch of road lying beside the market for wholesale domestic consumables, the traffic usually grinds to a constipated crawl.
Hawkers of everything from children's toys to kitchen utensils and women's bras(are there men's?) pour through every crack in between like water finding its level. They challenge you to make purchases by proferring their wares, pushing them into your face. They all must have graduated summa cum laude from the School of aggressive marketing. Cars are lined up on either side, and because the road which was three lanes wide leaving the CMS overhead now begins to narrow to a claustrophobic two lane, a feeling of dread ensues in your head.
You begin to imagine the crush of mangled metal and flesh stewing together to make one huge mess except if you stood on your breaks and let the stream of madness on either side rush like legion into the swamp of Apombo.
That's when it usually happens. A rap on the windshield on your side. It's your only car so you treat it like a first son, the original bloom of you manly virility. You look up startled and before the 'rapper' withdraws it, you catch a glimpse of silver flashing. It could have been a metal or glass but instinctively you know it could only have been the former. A gold (coloured) chain, perhaps. A would-be Omega or Tag-Heur watch more likely.
But what catches your attention is the furtiveness or 'conspiratorialness' which the vendor contrives by withdrawing the article from the market no sooner that your eyes had begun to transmit a picture to your brain for further comparison with similar articles in your long term memory. That and the knowing dead-pan on the face of the man who might or might not be a real thief but desperately wants you to believe that he is, so that he can sell off his article which most likely is a fake for the vastly discounted value of an original, for it having been stolen. Except, if it was an original, then it would be most likely that you were dealing with an original thief and not fake one who most likely was selling some item that was part of a robbery in which case.....Confused already?
This is a trick schoolboys everywhere know. Whet their appetites for pete's sakes and then stretch a palm to collect their lunch monies in exchange for more! In school playgrounds, huddled in the group raconteur's corner after lights out, it is the same air with which the smarter boys had dispensed shady and cracked pictures of that moment's passing fancy, swaddled in nothing but her birthday clothes. Or even more intricate arrangements captured before lascivous photographic bulbs sweating to feed a worldwide hunger for smut.
The strategy is also to appeal to a sense of sleaze which modern civilization erects in all of us. We go to school to pick up every nuance possible between good and evil, and then are forced to agree with Socrates that good is better except we have also examined evil and know what 'goods 'it can proffer. So because we are also enamoured of finding the easier, more travelled path and following it to enlarge our coasts, we are confused to learn that the road to evil is paved with stones shaped exactly like that. Knuckles rapping against our windshields, a gold watch momentarily proffered then quickly concealed - all these things clear the confusion by suggesting to us that a possession of ease will quickly follow, if we can but negotiate the risks shared between them, once the seller has gained the buyer's attention.