The first time I got behind the steering of a car — my father's car — I was 18. I can’t remember why I was home and not at the university but I remember telling my father that boredom was stripping me of any reason to be.
Under the rays of Lagos's scorching sun, my father led me out of the house and proceeded to give me a driving lesson. Instead of starting with the rudiments — the little bits of information about the steering, switching gears; all those things I later learnt at a driving school years after, — my father chose to ask me to drive. Bless his heart — he was, is my biggest cheerleader and regularly commented on my ability to learn by observation and must have assumed it applied to driving. “Start the car,” he told me, as I anxiously fiddled with the key and got the car to start. “Your legs on the brake: Don’t worry. Be calm.” He moved over me to adjust my car seat. “Put the car on the drive and release your legs from the brake.”
I removed my leg from the brake quite alright, got the car to move, but put the leg on the next available pad I could feel, ramming into a neighbour's parked car.
Events that make history can seem unremarkable in the moment: When we got down from the car, my father patted my back and told me to go in. I would have preferred that he shouted down words on me like heavy rains but he didn’t. My anger at the crash was there but it felt inevitable — I didn’t know anything about driving.
Catalysts for lasting change, even in personal life, can be impossible to predict. I never expected that that simple event, resolved by our family mechanic in two quick days, would force a brain-rewiring metamorphosis in me, resulting in the monumental shutdown of the idea of driving in my life, but 15 years after, I still couldn’t drive.
I went through four different driving schools and attempted two weeks of nerve-wracking training for each one — all around the Yaba metropolis — and nothing changed. The fear of crashing paralysed me. The fear stood firm like smirking revenge, seamlessly integrating itself into me like a second skin, trapping me at the intersection of my first experience and the wild sights and scenes of the Lagos driving scene.
Humans tend to romanticise intuition and every time I met yet another person who found out I couldn’t drive, different variations of “go with your gut, trust your instincts and don’t put your mind on it” were spewed out at me. Moreso, society tends to perpetuate this idea that there are some things one should know how to do at a certain age. It’s a convoluted concept, going hand in hand with the idea that life is a rite of passage and certain activities must happen at specific points in our life. Like getting married before 30 and all that jazz. I believed in the trope. I bought a car, which I summarily crashed during another unsuccessful training cycle and sold off immediately after I fixed it. Then, bought another car which remained parked and unmoving in our flat; much like my fear.
In my 15th year of dealing with my inability to drive, I finally stepped out of the debilitating trance. It was neither goal nor an intention. I had given up on driving. When I got a new job that meant a daily commute between Yaba and Victoria Island, I simply started looking for a driver. For a little over a month, after resuming work, I was on the search. I was stuck on the idea of being driven, especially as the ride-hailing apps had introduced me to that convenient lifestyle of being taken from place to place without lifting gear or stepping on a pedal.
My search was unsuccessful and while traversing the exhausting commute back home one day, anxious about what the eventual rising fare of my Uber drive would be, I decided to drive the next day.
Just like that.
I had my husband call the only driving instructor that I had given glowing reviews and gave him a job — to sit beside me every day, to and fro my commute.
As someone who at that point had all but given up on the idea of driving, every day I drive is a miracle. Although the daily interactions with angry Lagos drivers on the road is a thing I wish I could be rid of, I see driving these days in a different light. I see it as a necessity. I take days off when other aspects of life gain greater urgency and subjecting myself to driving would mean further strain. I find ways of enjoying the ride with music and affirmations, especially on days I stay out late and have the darkness and blinding headlights to deal with. And I scoff at people who claim driving is therapeutic. Driving requires therapy.
My view of driving, overall, is more flexible and dynamic, incorporating my sudden determination and very rational fear into the context of the greater need to move from point A to B. Amid the chaotic roads, when everything seems to be on the brink of collapse, the fear rears out its familiar head but self-soothing rituals performed in the isolation of my locked tinted car sustain me.
The most important thing is that I move forward. 80km/hr.