A week off Twitter: A picture worth dying for?

LagosDolphinStreaksLast week, on Sunday night, I turned off Twitter from my phone. There was no apparent reason. No spiritual recoil, or any of those mildly esoteric pangs people give as explanations for their self-cleansing exercises. There was no reason to turn off Twitter from my life. It was the same spontaneity that got me to walk off the street into a barber’s shop to cut off my cornrows, which I’d been growing for nearly a year. I just did.

Five minutes after I first turned off the little bird icon form my iPhone, Twitter was turned off from all my devices. I had also decided to take it out of my life for a week. I slept.

When I woke up in the morning, it was beautiful. I felt free! Because there was no compulsive anxiety to check up what was going on in the world, I was able to look up, and fill my morning with things I had recently forgotten to do because I spent the free time on Twitter. The morning drive to work was great. I was able to look up and watch the road, look into people’s cars, and converse with my driver – these were all mundane things, but they somehow felt new and exciting. I felt new.

Because I had more time to look out of the car, I was able to see things I had become blind to because my commute time was Twitter time. I saw pictures. And I took many. I had always carried my camera along with me, but now I was also able to look up and see the pictures I always wanted to take. That was how I saw the picture I wanted to take most.

It was a drive up the Dolphin Bridge, off Osbourn Road, Ikoyi, where I saw what was nearly the entire length of Third Mainland Bridge snaking over the lagoon. It looked naked and beautiful. I asked the driver to slow down. I stared for a minute, before deciding I was doing a panoramic shot at night. I also decided to do a long exposure shot over the bridge if my tripod got to me on time. The next afternoon, my tripod arrived.

It was about 8:15pm when I left the office with my creative lead, who is also my trusty sidekick. My driver had left earlier, do we were going to have to manage the shoot on our own. We drove up the bridge, just below where we could see the whole length of Third Mainland Bridge, parked and setup the tripod. The plan had been to take the bridge as a shiny snake of light over the lagoon, illuminated by the rush hour traffic. It was a beautiful shot in my head. That night, Third Mainland Bridge disappointed. There was no traffic.

It was pointless trying the shot, so I decided to do the long exposure. The traffic on Osbourne road wasn’t ‘great’ but it was enough for a decent shot. I picked up the camera and adjusted the shutter settings, trudging up the bridge. My ‘assistant’, M, drove. The instruction to M was to stay in the car, with the lights on and engines running while I took the shots. No worries, I said, I will show him the pictures after I was done. He drove up and parked the car to the left side, across from me.

My big mistake was showing the first shot to my sidekick. It was a minute long, and the light streaks looked fantastic. So I showed it to him. He was so excited, he dashed over to the side of the bridge to take shots with his iPhone. He was so excited, he was completely lost to the night. Every new shot I took got him even more excited, he had completely forgotten he was supposed to stay in the car.

I was about to take what I expected would be my best shot when I saw them. Three ‘boys’; two lean stragglers and a stocky leader, sprinting up the bridge from the direction of Dolphin Estate. The sprinting leader was carrying what appeared in the lighted night to be a large machete.

The beauty of long exposure shots is getting as many moving lights as one can and exposing these over time till the light was painted over the path of the moving object. The shots I was taking needed about 30 seconds to paint. I had waited to shoot when there I saw a decent number of cars coming in – I was releasing the shutter just when I saw the oncoming area boys. They were roughly a minute away from us and the best decision, I think, would have been to grab everything at that moment and make a run for the car. It was probably the decision I should have taken, but the stubborn bug in me kept me rooted to the roadside where I erected my tripod. I counted the seconds I needed to complete the shot in my head and turned to my assistant, who was completely unaware of the danger. I did not have to scare him, but I needed him to act sharply. In the calmest voice I could muster, I said (or commanded as I was later told) “M, get in the car, now!”

It took two seconds for him to realize the danger, and another three for him to dash across the road and literally fly into the car. A moment later, my shot was done and I swept the camera with the tripod still attached and dashed into the car. We are still arguing if M forgot to engage the gear before revving, or if he was revving to scare our attackers, but whatever the case was, it worked and the stocky area boy, who had gotten to the car by the time I got in, was shocked enough to leave his raised machete suspended in the air. The cries of “stop there” were already echoing in my ears as I had dashed into the car, but there was no stopping. M remembered the gear a second after his loud rev, and screeched away.

I half expected our attackers to throw a machete at us, but I didn’t hear the loud crash as we sped away. I knew we were lucky. Later that night, I counted the gizmos that could have been lost if that attack was a robbery, and had succeeded. All I could be was thankful. A self righteous bit of me stared accusingly at the part of me which stopped and waited till the last shot had been completed, before running to safety. That part of me is probably Teka’s dad.

In that one week spent off Twitter, I found very interesting things to do, which I had forgotten. Looking up from the connected life has helped me connect back to the things I loved doing before the social network took over. I have written a lot, I’ve read even more. Most importantly, I’ve been able to look up and see great pictures I had missed everyday as I traversed Lagos. In the coming days, I will be sharing many of the beautiful pictures I’ve took (and I’m still taking) from the streets of Lagos, but I couldn’t wait to share these sunsets.

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I have since turned my Twitter back on. After one week off, I have been able to see Twitter without feeling the need to dive in headlong. I know it takes a lot more than a week off to cure an addiction, but I hope I have learned to look up long enough to see that indeed, there’s beauty in the world. The real world.