Friday, January 7, 2022.
As I step into his Uber, I can tell he’s an AC Milan fan. There’s a black AC Milan face cap on the dashboard. His chair covers are Rossoneri, red and black. I’m just trying to get to the office, but I’m also curious.
“You must really like AC Milan,” I say.
“Ah, I love AC Milan, die!” he says as a statement of faith. It’s followed by a brief moment of disappointment when he grabs his shirt under his hoodie and says, “Even the jers —” before he realises that he’s not wearing his jersey. “I no wear am today.”
“When did you first fall in love with AC?” I ask.
“Milan v. Barca; 1994.”
Barcelona walked onto the pitch that Wednesday night as favourites, but AC Milan thrashed them four-nil.
“In 2003, I went to the cyber cafe and registered as an AC Milan fan,” he said.
We’re halfway through the trip, and after one call he’s received ends with a quick “mo ń drive lọ́wọ́, let me call you back,” I ask him.
“What’s your favourite Milan match ever?”
“Ahh, Milan v. Liverpool, return leg,” he says.
“Ahh, 2007 revenge!” I remember the match.
AC Milan won the Champions League Final in Athens – two typical Inzaghi goals to one against Liverpool – but that night truly began two years prior in Istanbul.
The 2005 AC Milan side was incredible — Maldini, Seedorf, Kaka, the ruthless Gattuso. Of course, Pirlo was there that night in Istanbul, and so was Shevchenko. But My Uber driver, Gbemi, was in Lagos.
“That night, I bet ₦15k — in 2005 o! See ehn; I don’t used to do online betting o, I want to be seeing the person that want to collect my money with my eyes.” He grips the steering tighter and leans forward. I can’t tell if it’s because of the point he’s trying to make or because he’s about to switch lanes on the 3rd Mainland Bridge.
In the first minute, thirty-six-year-old Maldini scores the first goal. Crespo scores the second with an assist from Shevy a few minutes before halftime at the Atatürk Istanbul Stadium.
In Lagos, “I give them money make them buy chicken.” He’s giddy again as if it’s the end of that first half in ‘05 again, and Crespo has just scored another goal from an insane Kaka assist in the forty-fourth minute, five minutes after he scored the last. AC Milan were three goals up against Liverpool.
“Them done kill the chicken. Enjoyment done start,” he says.
Then the second half began.
Gerrard’s fifty-fourth-minute header was the first knock. Then Šmicer’s second goal came two minutes later with a shot from outside the box. The door was now open for Liverpool.
Alonso’s rebound after his saved penalty levelled the match by the one-hour mark – three-three! Liverpool were back in it!
That match went into penalties. The early premonition came when Pirlo missed his penalty, but it was Shevchenko’s miss that was the final nail in AC Milan’s Coffin. Liverpool had staged a miraculous comeback and won the Champions League! Liverpool defeated AC Milan and Gbemi.
“I just lie down for road,” he says. “I say, God, take betting away from me. Since that day, I never bet again.”
“Which area were you staying at the time,” I ask.
“Ebute Metta there o,” he says, as we branch off the Yaba exit of 3rd Mainland Bridge.
“Haha, me too.”
“Yes, I used to live in that Jakande Estate near Apapa Road. The first block on the top floor.”
“I can’t remember the name of the block because I was small, but we stayed opposite the *Abidemis, and —”
“Bukky!” he yells the name of the first child of the Abidemis.
“Ah yes." Then I remember. "Bukky died last week,” I blurt out. “She was buried this morning.”
There’s a moment of shock-induced silence, followed by a loud “Jesus Christ!”
He parks his car by the side of the road after we descend from the bridge. His hands are trembling. He’s trying to dial someone —the name reads Bayo, Bukky’s younger brother.
“No no no no no no!”
The number is not connecting.
“How did she die?”
“She was sick.”
He starts mapping out our entire block; I lived opposite the Abidemis’ door; a retired old couple stayed on the first floor under us, a lawyer on the ground floor.
“The only people I remember are the old couple who lived under our flat,” I say. “And I remember them because they were always coming to complain that our playing was disturbing them. We left in ‘96.”
“Ah, Bukky!” he screams. She was a teenager in 1996; I was just entering primary school.
“She was forty-one,” I say.
We’re quiet for a few moments.
“Small world, eh?” I say.
“Ah, this match that we were talking about, I watched it at the back of your block.”
I remember the block only from the perspective of my room window – a clothing line, an uncompleted building where people gathered to watch big matches on a small screen.
“Just park there,” I say as we pull up at my stop.
A bell rings on his app; it’s a notification about another trip request. “I want to call my mum first and tell her,” he says, “she still lives there.”
Last Christmas, Bukky got a carton of frozen fish as a gift, then she grilled it all and shared it with her neighbours in front of her mini-flat in Ikorodu. That was the Bukky I knew and a few memories from the nineties, but not much else. She was like a second-degree connection that'd grown to feel like an eighth. I'd heard about her passing, just as he had, except mine was from my dad, not a stranger.
“What do you remember about her,” I ask, just before I step out of his car.
“She was so stubborn,” he says, “and she was so beautiful.”
Peter, for looking at it with football eyes.
Tim Urban, for the headline inspiration from his totally unrelated You Won’t Believe My Morning.
Update on this tweet:
85 people have now said, “okay Fu’ad, let’s do thissss.” When this number gets to 200, I’ll turn it on. Get in line.
Loved this. So random and honest.
I could feel the emotions in the driver's exclamations. So sad though. I wonder if there's a back story to the driver and Bukky