Honking

No you don’t sir, I replied. You are just being sympathetic to me. You have to be home to understand what I have just shown you. Home is the madness that only home understands. You have to be Nigerian to understand what brought me to this wood to embrace noise.


It all started yesterday afternoon with my feeling cheated that I paid for my car when I bought it in 2014 and nobody warned me that there are parts of it that I will never get to use because of the culture of Obodo Oyibo.

If you sell me a car, and the culture of your society says that I will never get to use the horn, should you not have deducted the cost of that useless, extraneous part from the overall price of the car? This is car number 6 or 7, since my student jalopy days back in British Columbia. Six cars, twenty years, two countries (Canada and the US) and I can’t remember ever having had to honk, sorry, to horn. Not once.

Yesterday, I had had enough. Besides, there was this sudden, urgent, raw hunger of the soul for the chaotic symphony of car horns in the streets of homeland, especially Lagos. The musical composition that a Lagos driver cannot deliver with his car horn has not yet been composed by any musician. And the beauty of it all is that he absolutely does not need to horn most of the time he does it. Gestural noise pollution is part of the prosody of impunity that only his Nigerian culture underwrites with its own esoteric logic – incomprehensible to the outsider.

On the drive home, I think it was my spirit that took over the car. I headed to the woods, far from civilisation, far from where I could disturb anybody. I parked and started to recreate all kinds of symphonies in e flat major and e flat minor with my car horn.

Then I tried apala with my car horn – to ba gba kobo kan abo mi o le fe.

Then I tried fuji with my car horn – I wanna de le se Papa Tosibe o, I wanna de le se tosibe ventures.

Then I tried Dagrin, Banky W, Olumide, and 9ce.

Then my soul was satisfied that I had had enough psychic communion with the decibel chaos of my birth land, away from the order of Ottawa where the car horn is useless.

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Feeling satisfied, I made to leave. The uniformed security guard arrived. Apparently, I wasn’t on some unclaimed forest patch like I had imagined. I was on guarded private wooded property.

Sir, are you alright?

I assured him there was no problem. He did not believe me. He said I was honking loudly and desperately for nearly two minutes before he set out to investigate where the commotion was coming from.

You are sure you are not stranded sir? Did you miss your way? Engine fault with your car?

I reassured him again. Then the oddity of telling him that I drove all the way from Ottawa into the woods here for the express purpose of honking. Seeing that he was still incredulous, I assured him that I didn’t need the sort of help he was now certainly thinking of.

I brought out my phone to see if I had signal. Luckily, there was signal. I went to YouTube and randomly looked for a Lagos traffic honking scene. I found what I was looking for – a Lagos symphony orchestra of a thousand drivers honking needlessly in free flowing traffic. I showed him.

This is my homeland, I said, this is what I missed so badly I had to drive here to recreate it.

We both burst out laughing. A jolly good fellow he was.

Ah, I understand, he said.

No you don’t sir, I replied. You are just being sympathetic to me. You have to be home to understand what I have just shown you. Home is the madness that only home understands. You have to be Nigerian to understand what brought me to this wood to embrace noise.

We laughed again.

I shook his hand warmly.

And drove off.

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.