The 48 hours after reading Easy Motion Tourist are somewhat similar to that of the entirety of the book - that is, a perpetual rush of emotions for both the characters and (now) the reader. In what starts off as an official trip and perhaps a hopeless bid for self-validation and/or actualisation, Guy Collins - a British wannabe journalist - voluntarily arrives Lagos to cover an election story. Like a kid who waves a hand through a fire to see if it burns, Collins sets out to discover the night life in Victoria Island, Lagos — or crudely, to find black loving.
Collins quickly learns that Lagos not only burns with a devouring intensity, with greed and poverty as oxidant and fuel, but also fiercely consumes. By virtue of his failure to adhere to his manual on residing in Nigeria - in other words, by being present and simultaneously videoing - Collins is caught in the middle of a crime scene: a mutilated naked female body found in a gutter, and thus assumes the position of a lead in the investigation that shapes the main plot of the novel.
In interchanging narratives - which I loved - told by an unknown narrator and Collins, the author, Leye Adenle, eases the latter and the reader into the underground economy in Nigeria; one “where sex and perversion [are] mixed freely with violence and death.” Amaka - a fierce, sexy and intelligent lady with a phenomenal awareness of self - commands the attention of the reader as she unveils this pervasiveness, and the sophistication of the Nigerian sex work industry from the second chapter.
The author’s solid characterisation and the rawness in imagery allows for another central theme - the trade of humans-for-money - to be explicitly explored. Chief Amadi - a prominent and affluent Lagos ‘big boy’ - introduces this line of business to Catch Fire, who in turn, reels in Knock Out and Go Slow by the hook of desperation. This tag team of headhunters - widely reminiscent of the network involved in the famous Otokoto hotel, which the author also references - are driven by their quest to make quick bucks.
Unlike Amadi, these other characters are careless enough to leave the trails that open up the same investigation Collins is webbed into by Inspector Ibrahim. What unfolds is a crime story woven into the fabric of Lagos; in the same way in which the paths of Amaka and Collins align. The moments of intense suspense are, however, balanced with the right amount of humour: from HotTemper’s irrationality and Collin’s naïvety. Not for once did it feel like there was anything missing - I mean, just Amaka’s sass was enough to keep a reader on alert!
Dark Cracks and Plaques Of Righteousness
Doubling as a prostitute on ‘assignment’ and a guardian angel to sex workers, Amaka offers a different perspective to prostitution in Nigeria. The author does a good job in creating a voice for the females involved in this shadow economy, by telling their own stories. The reader is also exposed to the hierarchy of risks involved in prostitution: from being arrested, to being physically abused (Florentine), to the extreme of being the subject of ritual killings.
Adenle, in writing these stories, gives a fictional push for the legalisation of sex work. Considering the violence against these women, this subtly becomes an idea that lingers in the mind of the reader. Amaka’s role of maintaining a database of all ‘customers’ and her network of female workers seemingly becomes valid; forcing one to adopt a new lens to these women - humans, first, then vulnerable (but not illegal) labourers.
Though I found this interesting, I did tire of the references to choice, in pertinence to prostitution. I found that the feminisation of poverty and the lack of agency and voice stringed with the narratives on sex work was conflicting. I grappled with the idea that all sex workers are victims of the socio-economic conditions and secondly, that choice and poverty are mutually inclusive. To some extent, the former massively contributes to the motives for engaging in sex work, but does this really erode choice?
Hover around the charts below for statistics.
Motives Of Engagement
Data (In %) Based On Study By Fawole and Dagunduro, Conducted In Abuja.
Source: Olufunmilayo Fawole and Abosede Dagunduro, 2014. Research paper here.
In a survey on 305 female sex workers (results illustrated above) in Abuja, Fawole and Dagunduro found a link between socioeconomic factors and motives for engaging in the Nigerian sex industry. What is actually more gripping is the fact that 74.7 percent had at least started secondary education. In this study and another conducted in Lagos in 1990, unemployment and financial limitations, and broken homes (50 percent) and poverty (18.67 percent), were respectively noted. Exogenous factors as a precept for sex work? This, I understand.
Notwithstanding, I do question (amicably, too) the proposition that “for them [Adenle referring to sex workers in Easy Motion Tourist], prostitution was not a choice, […] [but] a lack of choice.” That is, “they had all been forced into that life when the ran out of choices.” Florentine, who had previously been taken care of by her aunt, however deliberately substitutes this for independence. This, in line with Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street’s Sisi, alludes to an element of choice, however marginal, in prostitution.
Another assumption tied to ‘choice’ is the argument that women previously assaulted are subservient and more susceptible to selling their bodies. Not only does this study negate this argument by showing that only 20 percent of sex workers had previously been raped, Amaka - who was sexually assaulted at young age - is depicted to have made a decision in selecting her line of business. One could however argue that Amaka - unlike the other ladies and Aunty Baby - was ‘shielded’ by wealth and education, and thus, cannot be compared.
This, in no way, subtracts from the sheer brilliance of Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist. The truth is: walking a quarter a mile in their shoes could drastically change one’s perspective. I appreciate the author’s argument and even more, the fact that he makes each character so real. He shows that Knock Out, Chief Amadi, ‘Rose’ and Chief Ojo are among us, and the reality of Nigeria’s underground economy, which we ignore. We, however, probably seldom hear about them in-house, unless they sip through the crack, and into the arms of international media.
In this sense, the reader is exposed to the tug of war between power and justice. One in which virtue is punished and viciousness is rewarded; integrity is awarded with early retirement, whereas those who are to protect are the backbones to those who devour the country. This poetic injustice is subtly noted amid the author’s kind portrayal of a highly effective Nigerian Police Force, intelligence unit and responsive intensive care unit — the three of which Nigerians long for.
Oh, if only Adenle’s words were horses, pigs would fly!
My letter to the author.
The end of Easy Motion Tourist left me very uneasy. Simply: I could not believe Adenle’s guts. He took my emotions by full force, and had my heart racing through the last pages, only to toss all, with reckless abandon, into further suspense. I no longer had a reason to bombard my read buddy with excitement at 2am, nor a good enough reason to jump out of sleep at 4am to read. What I was left with was an emptiness and a need for closure on the love affair we shared over 327 pages of crime fiction.
Though I have largely focused on the discourse on choice and the lack of it in prostitution, this does not change the fact that Easy Motion Tourist is easily one of my favourite reads, so far, this year! The palpitation that followed the twists were unbearable — especially from chapter 50! This book, I tell you, is guaranteed to leave one heart broken, with heart-in-mouth, or both. I, however, take joy in knowing that my healing is coming in its sequel - When Trouble Sleeps - in 2018. This makes the book an exception to “the rule” - that is, an ‘ex’ worthy of reconciliation.
Dear Leye Adenle,
You were made for this - do not stop.
Have you read Easy Motion Tourist? What were your thoughts?
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