“You’ve been in Lagos all these years, how could you let such a thing happen to you?”
That was what my uncle barked insensitively at me following this episode of my Lagos experience.
“This is Lagos. You should be more careful,” he finished.
Yes. This is Lagos.
But one can’t get careful enough, I’ve learned.
Three months, five years, twenty-five years… There’s no telling when or if the Fates will deliver you to the wrong place at the wrong time to experience the ugliness of this great, big metropolis.
The Fates delivered me to one such situation a few weeks ago.
It was a good morning… Well, not such a good morning, because I’d woken up from a night with no light. The air felt sticky and hot, this in spite of the fact that the rainy season was upon us.
The first thing I did the moment my eyes blinked open – as any right-thinking individual living in 2016 would do – was pat the bed around my head for my phone. I tapped the keypad and the screen light came on. Seeing the blinking red of the phone’s battery bar drew a groan from me. I cussed at PHCN, and at President Buhari and his hardministration. No light for days now! How did they expect Nigerians with their phones and their iPads and their laptops to survive, eh? Such inconsiderate leaders!
It was still 5am and the appointment I had to meet up with wasn’t until 7. I had time. So I remained luxuriating in bed, while I checked off my social media notifications that had accumulated while I’d been asleep. And then –
Turning off device!
With the audacity only a smartphone can muster, the screen went blank and I was left wondering for the umpteenth time if it wasn’t time for me to take more seriously plans to travel far, far away to any land where ‘Up NEPA!’ is not a thing.
I dropped the BlackBerry on the bed and rose to embrace my day. I was done with my toilette in minutes, and was dressing up as the shadows were pulled apart from the opalescent surface of the sky. It was about 6am now.
Dressed and ready to go, I stared sullenly at my dead phone. How was I going to pass through the tedium of being in a bus or waiting for my appointment to commence without the distraction of my Internet interactions or the possession of music through my ear phone?
You could take a book along with you.
Ah yes! I picked up George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, ignored the BlackBerry on the bed, picked out some naira notes from my wallet (I wasn’t in the mood to feel the weight of the wallet in my back pocket), picked up my keys and headed out. I was traveling light – just the book, my small Nokia phone and my keys.
I made my way out of the compound and began my commute with a bike that whisked me off to the junction. From there, I got on the first bus that transported me to the rousing bustle of Oshodi. And then, it was to get on another bus that would take me to Yaba. I got on this bus with only a fleeting observation of the small number of people in it – passengers with the same wooden faces as mine, that ‘I got up way too early, so driver, can we hurry it along’ attitude that most Lagos commuters adopt in the morning.
The driver seemed to be taking his cue from his passengers because he didn’t dilly-dally at the bus stop. The conductor hollered our destination a few more times, before getting into the bus and slapping the body of the bus as a signal for the driver to hit it.
I was at once relieved and displeased. It was good that we were getting a quick move-on, but there were too few passengers in the bus – a young male and matronly female beside me, two formerly-clad young women behind me, and two husky men in the back. There was no one in the front seat beside the driver. That meant we’d be making occasional stops along the way to pick up passengers. I wasn’t too cheered by that thought.
However, it seemed the driver also didn’t care for roadside pick-ups, because he barreled on along the road, past bus stops and waving hands. Barracks. Town planning. Satellite. He just kept driving.
Oh good, I thought with some satisfaction as I flipped page after page on the world of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms.
Ned Stark could feel the eyes of the dead. They were all listening, he knew. And winter was coming.
Yes, winter was coming for the Starks of Winterfell. It however had to make a stop first in Lagos.
The driver was driving down Ikorodu Road now, still relentlessly ignoring the commuters on the roadside, gesturing for the bus to stop and pick them up.
This driver is a man after my own heart, I thought.
The matronly woman on my left was clearly not lacking in compassion. “Draiva! You no go pick passenja?!” she called out in a voice that was breathless with an excess of adipose tissues.
The driver didn’t respond. The conductor didn’t interject. Silence was all the ‘shut up your mouth’ the woman needed to lapse back into quietude. The bus rumbled on.
Then we got to Obanikoro, and the driver pulled at the steering wheel, veering rightward.
“Driver, where you dey go?” one of the women behind me snapped. “Abeg I’m dropping at Onipan o!”
“Eh, no problem,” the driver replied. “Traffic dey that Palm Grove side. We go burst out for Shiloh.”
“But we didn’t see any traffic ahead of us na,” the woman persisted, clearly not trusting the driver’s judgment.
“Aunty, I tell you say traffic dey,” the driver snapped.
“No worry, we go drop you for Onipan,” the conductor turned to address her.
The woman didn’t respond, and we carried on with our journey in silence. I wasn’t really bothered by the driver’s detour into the back roads of Obanikoro; these commercial transporters do it every now and then, when there’s a threat of heavy traffic on Ikorodu Road. Even though, like the woman rightly pointed out, I hadn’t spied any clog of vehicles ahead of us, I was less inclined to make an issue out of it.
I wasn’t familiar with these back roads, and I wasn’t particularly interested in taking note of the environment we were cutting through. We would soon get back on familiar terrain. So what was the point?
“Driver, where are you going?”
That was the first hint of trouble.
The young man beside me was the one who posed the question; clearly, he was better acquainted with this side of Lagos than I was.
“Na new divert be this, oga,” the driver answered.
“But the road you were taking is free,” the man bridled. “There was no need to take this turn.”
“Oga, camdan –”
“I will not calm down!” the man snapped. Pounding the arm rest in front of him, he roared, “Driver, turn this bus around! What nonsense is this?”
“Hian! Where this driver dey carry us go?” the second woman hollered from behind.
“Driver, I’m stopping at Onipan o!” the other one reiterated. “If you carry me pass Onipan, you must refund me my money!”
“Driver, are you not listening to me!” the man beside me raged on. “I said turn this bus around!”
The command wasn’t a shout. It was softly said. And it didn’t come from the driver. It came from behind. There followed after it a choked scream, and I turned around. My blood ran cold when I saw that one of the two men who’d been seated without a word in the last seat had the blade of a cutlass pressed against the neck of one of the women in front of him. The other one sat beside him, unmoving. Quiet malevolence oozed from them.
“You go shout again?” the cutlass-wielding passenger asked.
The woman against whose neck the blade was pressed whimpered. The man beside me opened his mouth and closed it without saying a word. The chill continued invading my insides as I realized what was going on; we were clearly about to become victims of the crime of One Chance.
“You no sabi talk again, abi?” the conductor fired up, reaching his hand forward to slap the back of the male passenger’s head. The man winced and recoiled. “You dey blow English! Now, you no sabi talk again!”
Oh God, why? I thought as my heart began pounding furiously, the trials of Eddard Stark lying forgotten on my lap.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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