By Muyiwa Adetiba
My phone ‘died’ on me for nearly two weeks last month. It was an unnerving experience. Unnerving because I didn’t realise how dependent I am – we all are – on that little flat gadget we can’t seem to let out of our sight for a second. It is, for many, more faithful than a dog, more intimate than a lover and more efficient than a secretary. Unfortunately, it could also be more addictive than cocaine. It is the ultimate alter ego. Embedded in those tiny chips is the entire life of their users including secrets they would not want even their best friends to know. Phones come in various shapes and sizes. But whatever the shape or sophistication, the aim is the same; to take over the life of their owners. And we willingly let them. To the extent that all you need is a day with someone’s phone and you would be able to profile the person accurately enough to live in that person’s world comfortably.
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The second reason it was unnerving is because it happened when I desperately needed to be reached. The first sign of trouble occurred so innocuously that I didn’t realise the gravity of it. My brother had called to say he couldn’t reach me on my regular number. I use a phone with dual sim for convenience but hardly use the other number. I looked at the phone. The known number showed no network. I shrugged thinking it was a temporary thing and continued watching my Saturday sports programme. Thirty minutes later, my wife said she was on her way. She had a function her friend had called to pick her for. An hour later, I was dressed for my own outing. I went downstairs. The car was there but the driver was, as usual, nowhere to be found. Impatient and slightly imperious, I reached for my phone. The two numbers had no network. I booted; no response. I switched off and on; no response. I had to humbly beg a security man to use his phone. The driver came scampering from nearby. He had naturally assumed I would call him. I got into the car wondering how we used to get around without a phone. I also realised I could neither reach nor be reached by anyone. And that made me uncomfortable. I switched off the phone for about ten minutes hoping it would reset itself. It didn’t. Just then, the driver’s phone started ringing. He ignored it as he had been told to do when driving. But the persistence of the caller made both of us uncomfortable. He glanced at the phone. ‘It’s madam’ he said. I took the phone from him. My wife had been involved in a serious accident near the stadium in Surulere. An out-of-controlvehicle had leapt over the kerb and railings from a side road and landed on the roof of their moving car smashing the glass and compressing the car.The driver of the offending car tried to run away on realising the gravity of his action and the possibility of casualties. He was quickly apprehended by onlookers. The disoriented driver was, wait for it, a policeman. My wife had tiny cuts on her body but there were no fatalities from either car. They were on their way to the police station at Alaka, Surulere. I looked at my phone again. The two numbers still showed no service. I felt impotent. If there was ever a time I needed to make calls, to reach out, it was then. What a time for a phone to die.
Monday found us first at the police station for statements and later at the doctor’s for a check- up.Not to our surprise, the traffic officers wanted us to pay for towing the vehicle. Nobody didany ‘on the spot marking’ of the cars. Nobody attended to the victims except sympathetic bystanders who brought water, ice blocks and analgesics. The car was a write-off but it didn’t matter. Somebody could have needed urgent medical attention but it didn’t matter. No first aid was administered. None was thought of. That is how unfeeling and unprofessional our law enforcement officers are. Not to our surprise, the police were up to their usual games. We should be happy nobody died, they said. We should be happy the car was comprehensively insured, they said. We would have to pay a certain amount to get a police report and a VIO report.We were the victims, but we were to pay for towing. We were to pay for reports. We were to pay our medical bills. That is our Lagos. That is our Nigeria. Meanwhile, the drunken police officer who happens to be a MOPOL officer was not impressed on to pay for anything. In fact, he might get away free from the look of it. The police seem obviously unwilling to prosecute or even discipline him. This is unfortunate because he is an unstable officer – his wife confessed to spells of incoherence – and it could happen again. Next time it could be fatal. Next time the victim could be a top politician’s wife. Or a top policeman’s wife. Or even the DPO himself.
Put together, the phone must have come to life for maybe four hours in those three days. I took it to where I bought it from because it was still under warranty. I was told it would have to be sent to the owners of the brand for repairs. But it had to revert to factory setting. This meant returning it to its original state. It meant transferring all the stuff in the phone’s memory to a computer in theirshop. I thought of all the sensitive, saucy and raunchy stuff on the phone not to talk of personal information which could now be available to the operator should he decide to be curious. Suppose he decided to sell stuff to a ‘yahoo boy’? I felt vulnerable and slightly naked.
It also meant that my life had temporarily gone back to factory setting as well – what it used to be before phones entered it. I went back to my first love, the written word. The first three of the promised seven days were sheer bliss as I had time to read things I had filed away. But then it meant no messages to check first thing in the morning, last thing at night and a few hours in between. I started to feel cut off from my world as I had grown to know it – the world I felt was too flirty and shallow. By the end of the week I was craving for my phone like a man needing a fix and was willing to buy another phone if it wasn’t going to be ready. I thought I could do without those phone Apps because of the distractions of the social media even if that wasat the expense of a convenient access to information. But those ten days proved me wrong.