I woke up on that July morning last year, a cold and gloomy Sunday, even before my alarm did me the honour. I methodically carried out my morning routine as though my rote, and it wasn’t long before I was dressed and ready for my day. I stepped out of the house, and by 5am, I was at Allen Roundabout. Church Service was usually two fold, one by 7am and another by 9: 30am. I had some assignments to take care of before going to church, and so I knew I had ample time.
Bizarrely, on this particular Sunday morning, I was the only pedestrian I could see at Allen roundabout. Usually, this usually well-lit area was bustling with people – ladies of the ever popular red light districts, bored looking security men who had obviously finished their night beats, and Saturday night revelers, all huddled up at the bus stop, clearly anxious to get on home. Don’t get me wrong; the area was still brightly lit with streetlights and there were cab drivers slouched behind their wheels, drowsily waiting for fares.
Still, compared with the usual bustle, Allen roundabout seemed very deserted.
As I walked along, my ever present ear piece was connected to my ear, linking me to the lyrical styling of Donald Lawrence. In spite of the music resounding in my ears, I suddenly thought I heard a voice call out my name. I didn’t stop or turn to investigate; I had stuff to do. I glanced at the road and raised my hand to gesture to a bus that was slowly trundling toward me. It cruised to a halt at the wave of my hand. I walked over to it and peered in through the wide windows. There were three people inside it, besides the driver, who looked fagged out from whatever night they’d had.
I turned the handle of the front passenger door, but the door wouldn’t budge.
“Oga, enter back,” the driver grunted. “That door dey bad.”
The conductor slid the back door open and I climbed in and sat on the seat directly behind the driver. The conductor jammed the door shut and the drive engaged the gear. The bus moved a short distance and was about to pick up steam when the driver slowed because he was being waved at by another passenger. The passenger walked toward the bus, and astonishingly, the driver leaned forward to open the front passenger door for him. He climbed in and sat beside the driver.
As the driver began moving again, the annoyance I felt upon seeing him admit the new passenger into the seat beside him was shortcircuited into a cold feeling inside me. I felt a chill frisson its way up my spine, and I instantly knew that something wasn’t right. There were three tired passengers behind me, men who I’d observed before looking too tired to focus on anything around them. But right then, I could feel multiple gazes boring into my back. I could hear feet shuffling behind me and my heart started racing as I imagined slumbering zombies awakening.
I swallowed hard down suddenly dry throat as I prayed for us to get to the next bus stop so I could get down, even though it wasn’t my stop. I began wishing, with all the fervor of a four-year-old wanting a visit to Father Christmas, for nothing to happen until we got to the next bus stop. And for me to be able to get off without incident.
But you know what they say. Man proposes, Devil disposes (right?).
Just as the next bus stop loomed a few yards ahead, I began saying, “Conductor, I will –”
I never got to tell the conductor what I wanted. I was suddenly grabbed by my neck from behind, while some hands went straight for my pockets. I stiffened my body and tried to shove around, to see who was attacking me. But a slew of blinding blows were lashed across my head, causing an explosion of stars and darkness to overcome my vision. I was shoved back and forth, and then abruptly dragged to the floor of the bus. The way these guys were mauling me in the tight confines of the bus, it was obvious they were pros.
Curled up right there on the ground, I got kicked and hit repeatedly, while a barrage of questions rained down on me. Who you be? Wia you dey come from? Who send you? Wia you dey come from by this time?
I tried to answer, God knows I tried. But these crazy bastards didn’t really seem interested in getting any answers. They’d wrenched my belongings from me, leaving me lying there on the floor of the bus like a used baby diaper. Pain pounded all over my body as I watched them go through my things. One of them had my phone out and was cackling at the screen as he said, “Money dey here o!” Another had ransacked my bag and retrieved my ATM cards. “Wetin be your pin?” another, upon seeing the ATM cards, thundered at me, and following the question with a slap on my head.
The shockwave from the slap forced a mumble of numbers from my mouth.
“Eh? Wetin you talk? Tell us your pin and we go free you!”
“You think say na only you know God?” another one sneered as he glanced at my bible. “We sef get morning mass to go.”
I mumbled another set of numbers, hoping they’d really keep their word and let me go.
The bus slowed down and I felt a leap of hope, that they were about to release me. But the door only opened for one of them to alight. And then the bus moved on again. My heart sank as I realized that the one who had come down was the one with the ATM card; he was going to verify the information I’d given them.
I was still wincing with pain when a phone rang. One of them answered it, listened for a brief moment and shouted in anger, “Ehn?! So na fake! Bobo yii omoale niyen sha!” He swiveled to me, and I saw a gun spring into his hand. Spit flew from his angered mouth as he snarled, “So you give us fake pin, abi? You go die today!”
And then they pounced on me again, subjecting me to further beating for wasting their time. During the attack, one of them grabbed one of my legs and growled to another, “Wia that your syringe, make I inject am? He think say na play we dey do for hia ni!”
I screamed my pin out at them then. My asthma had set in, and I was choking and gasping for air, croaking for my inhaler. They weren’t listening to me. They kept hitting and kicking at me while I screamed repeatedly the same set of numbers over and over. They stopped to communicate the new piece of information to the one at the ATM machine. And before long, my phone had started beeping with multiple text messages as the hoodlum raided my account.
These bastards were repossessing my blood and sweat, and here I was, entirely unable to do anything about that.
After they had looted my treasury to their fill, the bus finally pulled to a stop at a deserted junction, and they pitched me forward, out into the street. I was sprawled down there for a moment, battered, bruised, and decidedly broke. The only possession they’d left me with was my KJV bible. I moved my body, pained as I felt, until I was sitting up.
And just then, as though to seal my disconsolation, the heavens opened and a light downpour began falling down on the earth, on me. Feeling a sharp tug of misery wrench through my heart, I dropped my head down and wondered with a loud sigh, “Why always me?”
Written by B. O. Okoji