That fateful Wednesday had begun like every other day. Waking up had being a prodigious task. I slept very late due to the ileya celebrations, which ended with a two-day public holiday. It had been four days of serious gallivanting and holidaying. Grudgingly, I struggled out of my bed as the sounds of the blaring of the speakers of the mosque not far away calling the Muslim faithfuls to the Morning Prayer assailed my hearing. How my alarm had failed me this morning was something I just couldn’t grasp. My body and soul jointly refused to respond to my usual morning rituals. If only the blasted public holidays hadn’t happened, I would have called in sick.
Soon however, I was dressed and out in the semi-darkness of the early morning, standing on the roadside, at a bus stop, along with hordes of other passengers. It seemed the holiday was still having its toll on the city, because there was a dearth in the number of buses plying the roads. A bus sparsely filled with a few passengers drove past, suddenly stopped and reversed. I quickly leaped into it, closely followed by another young man who was smartly dressed in a dark suit and was carrying a little brown hand-pack. We had earlier exchanged pleasantries and, from his accent and the questions he’d asked, I took him for a JJC, perhaps a job hunter on his way for an interview from the look of his dressing. He was keen to get to Obalende and asked that I guide him since I was headed towards Igbosere high court.
After I’d hopped into the bus, we were barely seated before the bus jerked and zoomed off, not letting several other passengers who seemed to be headed in our direction to board. A chorus of angry protests from the passengers left behind trailed the bus as the driver steered it on. I turned from them, ready to berate the driver for his hastiness, when I got a full view of my fellow occupants in the danfo.
A strange chill horripilated across my skin as I contemplated the other people who’d been in the bus before I got in. There were not a lot of them, actually about four of them. There was the well-dressed woman who sat directly behind the driver, and who seemed uneasy, with a dew of sweat visible on her face, even in the poor light of the early morning. And then there was another woman seated in front beside the driver, a pregnant woman who was oddly lanky and gaunt for someone who was pregnant. Then there were two men – the conductor and a second man seated on the first row beside the well-dressed woman. As I watched them, I noticed how their gazes darted about in a manner that made me begin to feel a prickle of dread. When the driver sped past the bus stop at Sabo, in spite of the fact that there were several passengers waiting there, the dread bloomed inside me and I felt my heart sinking with the realization that I was about to be a victim of the unholy ‘one chance’ conspiracy.
“Driver, I go drop for Adekunle bus stop o,” I suddenly called out in a voice that was croaky with fear. “I forget my document for house.”
“I thought you where going to be my guide to Obalende,” the JJC-in-suit, who was on my right, muttered to me in apparent surprise.
Nodding and shaking my head at the same time, I replied, “Yes, but I forgot my files at home and I need to get them.”
Just then, the driver pulled up on the road as the traffic light at Adekunle turned red.
”Conductor, emabinu, ema bole ibi ejoor,” I said in a cajoling tone, half-standing from my seat to indicate my intention to alight from the bus.
“Na your wahala be dat o,” the conductor snapped querulously. “I no go open till we reash bus stop,” he added insistently, blocking my progress from the bus with his frame.
My heart started thumping really fast as I contemplated my next line of action, while waiting for the light to turn green. When it did, the driver turned a gear and his vehicle leaped forward into an instant acceleration that shoved us about in the bus and made me, the JJC-in-suit and the well-dressed lady shout with pique.
But that was as far as our annoyance got. In a flash, my indignation dissolved into renewed fear as the other man in the first row pulled out a locally-fashioned pistol, turned around to divide a menacing look between us and placed the gun against his lips in a shushing gesture. The well-dressed woman whimpered. He glared at her. And I felt my Adam’s apple bob furiously as I swallowed hard.
Meanwhile, the ‘pregnant’ woman in front came alive, becoming un-pregnant and barking out instructions to her cohorts. They proceeded to rob the well-dressed lady, relieving her of her valuables as the bus driver took a detour from the Third Mainland Bridge and headed towards the Iyana Oworo axis.
I was frantically muttering my prayers, supplications I probably should have said before stepping out of my house, with my eyes shut and a sheen of sweat blooming on my face as though I’d just completed a long-distance run, while the robbery unfolded before me.
The man with the pistol then turned to the two of us behind him and growled, “Owo daa!” He accompanied his barked instruction with a hand thrust out at us, gesturing for our valuables.
I struggled to pull off my watch, intending to retrieve my wallet and phone next.
“No waste my time o,” he barked at me.
I gave a start before looking down at my hands to figure out why the watch wouldn’t come off my wrist. That was when I heard the loud boom and a choked, muffled scream in front of me. My hearing started buzzing, my vision darkened and a spray of moistness splattered on my face. Startled screams broke out in the confined space of the bus, and the vehicle swerved dangerously on the road as the driver, obviously rattled, tried to gain control of his wits.
I quickly removed my glasses to see it smeared with the unmistakable crimson colour of blood. “Blood Of Jeeezuuuz!” I yelled, while the buzzing sound resonated in my ear, half-deafening me.
The bus jerked to a stop, and both driver and conductor pulled open their doors, tumbling out amidst their cries of: “No kill me o… Emabinu… Na force dem force me join dia group o….!”
And that was when I noticed that the JJC-in-suit was wielding a police special in his hands, a weapon with which he’d arrested the attention of the robbers with, and one which he shot the armed one with.
“Come on, lie down there!” he was barking at them, while shoving the un-pregnant woman out from the front.
Even then, the pandemonium had increased as men from the RRS who were parked on the left hand lane of the bridge began hurrying over, and in their usual gra-gra, were screaming, “If you run, I shoot you!”
The JJC-in-suit calmly faced them off, speaking curtly as he introduced himself, “I have it under control, officers. My name is SP Abu Tanko, member of the Surveillance and Monitoring IG Squad.” He handed over an ID card as he said authoritatively, “I want to see the most superior officer on your squad.” And then he turned and gestured, saying, “Arrest everyone except these two people” – he patted my shoulder and that of the well-dressed lady – “the rest are armed robbers, and should be treated like so.”
I spared a look at the armed robber who was shot by Abu Tanko; he was still living, sprawled on his back across the seat, with his blood splashed all over his midsection. I could not believe he was shot at such point blank range, so close to me. I could still feel his blood on my face.
The well-dressed lady and I were made to sit down on the road embankments while Tanko was on the radio, speaking to someone and receiving instructions. I could see the RRS officers already having a field day with the thieving rascals. Soon, as the morning light brightened, a squad car pulled up beside Tanko. He motioned us over to the vehicle, asking that we go with him to a clinic for medical appraisal, as it seemed we were both in total shock, and then over to the Kam Salem Headquarters to give our statements on what had just happened. It was going to be a long morning. I was going to be late for work. And yet, I could not be more grateful for my deliverance from what might have been.
Written by B.O. Okoji