The houses in Bashir Compound were built with mud, so closely together they constellated the few acres of land on which they stood. Neighbours could hear the conversations being held in the next house without listening too hard, and sometimes they threw greetings to one another without leaving their rooms. The walls of every house in the compound were pasted with Portland cement. Several years' layers had given the walls a blend of auburns and dull whites. Some houses in the compound wore thin coats of paint, but this did little to cover the poor plastering or the scrawling made with charcoal by little children learning to write.
The landlords were great-grandchildren of Amidu Bashir, a settler who died several years back as an Aso-Oke fabric merchant. They "renovated" the place annually, making the compound appear like makeshift hen houses built by rural farmers. The roofs, made of second-hand rusty iron sheets from the black market, had so many holes in them that the sun shone through and dotted the floors. The landlords replaced the roofs only if the holes were big enough for rats to pass through.
The residents earned barren wages. They were people who had migrated to the city from rural areas looking for work, illegal immigrants from neighboring countries, students who couldn't afford better accommodation. The area was strategically buried with the dreams of many in the heart of the bustling city of Lagos, and only those who sought poverty or were a victim of it found their way to Bashir Compound.
I lived in building number nine. It was a house with twelve small rooms divided by a very narrow passage into six on each side. The structure of my house and the others like it were referred to as "Face-me-I-face-you," because the doors of the rooms were directly opposite each other. Usually, every Face-me-I-face-you was expected to have a communal toilet and bathroom, which all the rooms in the house shared, but we had no toilet or bathroom in Bashir Compound. We bathed in a stall made from corrugated iron sheets carefully arranged into a box. The box leaned against an abandoned building that stank always because it was used as a garbage dump and a burial yard for malnourished children and the aborted babies of teenage girls. When the Sanitation Officers demolished our toilet, we started throwing our shit in the abandoned building, too.
The day the Sanitation Officers came, after demolishing the toilet, they locked our house with a big Diamond padlock. Our landlords disappeared for fear of being mobbed by their tenants, and in their absence we wasted our frustration on cursing and sighing. We camped in different corners of the compound like refugees expecting relief, sleeping under the trees because no one else in the compound was willing to take anyone into their already overcrowded rooms. Those who could not find a place under a tree leaned against the wall of the house in frustration. We battled mosquitoes and soldier ants, who bit unusually hard that night. It was as if they had trained for the task of sucking us dry of our blood. Parents of little children didn't sleep, staying up to brush ants and mosquitoes from their children's skin.
I couldn't sleep. I spent the night listening to the snores of the others and driving mosquitoes away from a little boy whose mother had an amputated arm.
The next day when it was past noon, our landlords came with a key and opened the house. No one fought with them. We were too tired to start anything. Quietly, we entered our rooms and slept with heavy hearts. Our landlords had been able to collect the key from the Sanitation Officers by giving them a payoff, then promising to build a hygienic toilet by the end of that month. That toilet was never built.