Mad John the traffic man
If you ever walked down Bode Thomas street, Suru-lere, in the late seventies, you’d see a man in rags, a bit mad directing the traffic, nothing new about this, there are many lost souls walking the streets of Lagos, some madder than most, some high on something or the other , some had just lost the plot and taken to rambling and hassling people to get a bite to eat, some were said to be cursed by someone or had drunk a poisonous concoction of herbs and stuff!, some were just pretending and preying on the sympathy of people, But this one was different , very different, he was sun burnt beyond recognition and his once blond hair was more dreadlock than a Rastafarian, he chewed a pipe, his clothes were torn and dirty, he wore shoes fashioned out of car tyres caked in mud, he wore what had once been some unnamed army clothes and some occasions he would wear an Agbada and stroll around, on the Agbada days he did not direct the traffic, but weaved in and out of the cars, saluting and praising the Shell club lot as we called them, the ones who were in the with in crowd, the occupants in cars with the tinted windows were mostly likely to take pity on a mad white man, they would wind down slightly and toss a few Naira. And the other white folk in their 4 by 4 and SUVs, well, they would stare straight ahead or read the paper –who would want to be associated with the crazy white man directing the traffic in 82 degrees heat, not many! but I was curious.
He was quite good at what he did, cars never bumped into each on the Mad John days, the go –slow that Lagos is famous for seemed to melt away when he was in charge. We named him Mad John the traffic man – it had a ring to it!
No-one knew where he came from or what Nationality he was; he spoke French, English and Italian! He was so good at fooling the various officials that came from the Embassies, rumour has it that when people from the UK high commission came he spoke Italian, when the Italians came he spoke French and when the French came – he decided on Finnish and claimed he was from Belgium, so they all left claiming that they could not take responsibility for him as he was not one of theirs, where in the world did he come from , how did he get there and why did no-one care?
No one did until me and my two brothers decided life in Suru-lere Baptist school was getting a little tedious and we needed some excitement, the teachers were more interested in their little side gigs, selling one thing or the other or arguing over whose turn it was to get the money from the current pardner scheme they were operating. Well we needed a project our own side gig, why? I hear you say, didn’t we have anything to learn in the 70s school system in Lagos, were we also a little mad? Well may be, we were bored, mad and in search of Adventure and a money making venture. We came up with the idea that if we could find out who mad john was, his family would give us a reward, we might even get a trip to wherever he was from.
‘London, USA or America’ said Bode the youngest of my brother, ‘stupid said the other, USA and America are the same place!
May be letting 7 year bode was a bit foolish, Taiwo and I would just have to find out who mad – John was
back in the day there were two school sessions, morning and afternoon, we were in the morning session and finished school around 13:00, just in time to see Mad John the traffic man direct the afternoon rush. kids from the Baptist school on Modupe Johnson just stood and looked at we’d ask him questions about his day,