All passengers must come together to stand against the evil forces of drivers and conductors. – Aristotle 24 AD
Now that I have apprised you with that illuminating aphorism from a wise man, let me begin my narration.
That afternoon last year December was the very hot kind. And I was not ensconced in the air-conditioned comfort of the office. Oh no. I was out and about, running work errands, and suffering under the blistering heat. It was that kind of hot day when you’ll be walking along the road, furiously hating the skies, the sun, the universe, and the Oga at the Top for creating them all, while at the same time, fervently praying for a longtime friend who’s behind the wheel of a Honda to pull up beside you, wind down his window and be like, “Ah, Walter… Long time no see… Where are you headed… Are you serious, that’s my route too… Sure, sure, hop in, I’ll drop you off…”
That kind of afternoon when I could feel my brain cells sizzling inside my head, and my face was so flushed it could roast suya.
I was on my way to the airport, from a branch office. And I’d just crossed the expressway from one side to the other. I was in Oshodi, enveloped by the cacophony of sounds that is unique to certain districts of the Lagos metropolis. There was noise everywhere – vehicle horns blaring, engines thrumming, LASTMA people screaming, agberos screaming louder, and conductors and drivers screaming the loudest. Everybody was angry. Everybody was in a haste. Lasgidi was fast-paced as ever.
I was walking along the road, listening for the conductor call of my destination. Since I was headed to the airport, my route was supposed to be –
My auditory nerves perked up when they picked up the sound, and my eyes followed after, trying to locate which bus it was coming from. There were too many of these yellow vehicles on the roadside, none of them entirely immobile. Their engines were idling, revving up as each bus dived into the line-up or leaped back into the traffic.
I finally located which conductor was hollering those words. Average height, stoutly-built, with an ebony-skinned face that was shiny with sweat. As I hurried to the bus to which he was gesturing passengers, I was sure my own face would be just as shiny, if not more, considering I’m light-skinned with very active oil glands.
I got into the relative coolness of the empty bus, and quickly scooted close to the window, behind the driver. I lifted my handkerchief, which was already damp from wiped-sweat-of-ages-past, to my face, and wiped some more. I let out a heavy sigh, and bit back on a chastisement to the driver to urge him to get a move on. Anything to get some breeze whipping in through the window and cooling my face and temperature.
“AIRPORT ROAD! AIRPORT ROAD!”
I paid little attention to the conductor, but I noted the measly number of passengers that clambered into the bus after me. There was no rush of people, no stampede of feet, or arms grasping for support and heaving bodies into the cramped spaces of the vehicle. It was after all just about 1pm. The middle of the day. The majority of the Lagosian workforce was still in their respective workplaces.
“AIRPORT ROAD! AIRPORT ROAD –”
“Haba now, driver! E never do?” a woman complained from behind me. “Abeg I have an appointment o.”
“Madam, wait fest make I carry passenga!” the driver returned from the front.
“Abeg carry this motor comot hia joor!” a man fired back sharply, slapping an open palm down on the seat before him.
“If you go forward, you go see other passengers for road nah,” the woman enjoined. “Make we dey go forward small-small.”
I sat stoically in my seat, not saying a word, as the other passengers murmured their contention. I usually do not like to be part of any ruckus in a bus, preferring instead to shut out everyone and wait patiently for the storm to pass; unless, of course, it’s an issue of my change, and a conductor who’s wasting time giving it to me. Na that time my mouth dey quick sharp!
Eventually, the driver relented, and revved his engine, a signal for the conductor to get back in so we could be on our way. And then, we were off. The wind sped in through the windows, and I took deep grateful inhalations, feeling it soothe my flushed face.
There are a number of stops that dot the route from Oshodi, along the airport road, to the final bus park. The two major bus stops are the ones called ‘Seven & Eight’ and ‘Junction’. Every time I ply this route, more passengers alight at these stops than at any other. And some times, especially when one or two passengers are left in the bus at ‘Junction’, the driver would make that his last stop, offload his passengers unto another bus going all the way, and reverse onto the other lane to return to Oshodi.
By the time we got to ‘Seven & Eight’, and every passenger but a young man and I had come down from the bus, I suspected this exchange would happen. I didn’t mind, just as long as they were going to transfer us to another vehicle.
I however wasn’t prepared for what happened when we got to ‘Junction’.
The driver pulled up, and the conductor got down before turning a characteristic belligerent expression to us. “Na hia be the final bus stop o,” he declared.
“Which one be na here be final bus stop?” I queried. “You no go put us inside another bus?”
“For wetin nah? I talk say na Junction I dey stop.”
“When!” I snapped.
“For Oshodi nah,” he replied. “I bin dey talk am. Airport road. Junction last bus stop!”
“But – but…” I spluttered.
“Oga abeg, make una con down!” the driver cut in. “My conductor bin talk am. Na hia we dey stop.”
“Nonsense!” I burst out. “I did not hear any such thing!”
Or maybe you were too preoccupied with your relief at getting away from the sun at Oshodi to hear it, that nasty little voice called reason cautioned inside me.
“Besides,” I railed on, ignoring him, Mr. Reason, “do you think that if I’d heard that this is your last bus stop, that I would have entered?!”
Perhaps, you’d have ignored it, and entered the bus, so you could cause the scene you seem about to cause. Mr. Reason again!
“This is rubbish! I’m not getting down!” I declared. “Either put me in another bus, or take us to our bus stops!”
Oh boy! Mr. Reason sighed, rolling his eyes.
The conductor started fuming. “Oga, all dis wan wey you dey speak na English –”
“I talk am say I no dey pass Junction. So abeg con down! Con down o! abi, oga, you no hear when I talk am?” he said, entreating the other passenger. “You no hear am?”
“Yes, I heard it,” the young man said slowly, nodding with reluctant acquiescence.
The bastard! I seethed inwardly, turning a betrayed look on him. The treacherous sonofabitch! How dare he take sides with them against us! Whatever happened to passenger loyalty?!
“Shebi you don hear am!” both conductor and driver chorused, pouncing on his concurrence. The guy was already shuffling forward from his seat to alight from the vehicle. “You see am? Abeg, oga, you sef, con down! We no dey go pass this junction abeg!”
I stared nonplussed for a moment, before grudgingly disembarking. I stepped down, and the sun – that jealous, abusive lover that I thought I’d ditched at Oshodi – embraced me immediately, shriveling the cool reprieve I’d sustained while I was in the bus. The flame rose to my cheeks again, and a fine sheen of perspiration began to dew across my forehead and temples.
I stared hopelessly around. There were no buses plying this side of the road. The road stretched endlessly toward my destination, its further end shimmering under the miragy heat of the afternoon sun.
The other man had already started forward on a trek up the road. I shot his departing back a glare, before heaving a sigh and walking after him.
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