“Ojodu Berger! Ojodu Berger. . . Berger straight!!! No change o, #500 #1000 change no dey ooo. Enter with your #150 change. . . “
The conductor boomed at the top of his voice, displaying a heavy throat and other jugular muscles best left for anatomy class. I entered the bus gently like a sincere brother of God even though I boiled within for the unnecessary #50 increase in the fare. I was consoled by the thought of cold water and other things awaiting me at home to step down; things that could be (note it, “could be”) quality sugar-not-needed kind of garri and golden brown groundnuts. Bottled groundnuts.
I sat quietly praying the bus gets full quickly before I toast to crisp from the heat, but my prayer wasn’t answered until 30minutes later. I kept my eyes on the prize still. Despite the conductor’s no-change warning, more than five persons each paid #500; an act that should irk him and make him want to explode. In contrast to expectation, he kept his cool and sort it out eventually. He seemed like an educated peaceful person. The journey began like it should until events began to take other dimensions.
I’d barely enjoyed the breeze influx for two minutes before the driver made a sudden stop, disrupting the flow and jerking us all forward beyond the limit we could tolerate. The conductor immediately apologised appropriately in good diction that mesmerised us all—the educated ones at least. We joined a slow moving traffic and the driver quickly took a detour, navigating through buildings and narrow streets only to join a worse situation at the front.
Just when we were getting relieved, a young woman began talks about the heavy jams typical of first Friday of every month and how a programme at the camp ground that same day wouldn’t help matters. Two other men counter-commented and before we knew it a debate began. The ruckus was so loud one would think there was a trophy for the best noise-maker. One of the men however took it so personally, giving us announcements not paid for: how Lagos is a city of traffic jams (as if we’re all dumb aliens), how he has been plying the routes for years (how that was our concern I know not), how those just leaving their workplace will suffer (obviously kwa!), bla bla and bla.
We all got tired of the rants but we kept quiet and left the dial untouched, even radios run out of charge over time. The woman beside him (let’s call her Mrs Koikoi) was however not as stoic as the rest of us; she simply told him a very brief—but deadly—”It’s okay” and the man kept quiet immediately.
Not for long. The panther returns.
“You’re very rude! Very very rude!!” He turned to Mrs Koikoi like a provoked mother hen, the “rude” well stressed and sounding like “ruuwdu”.
“How dare you insult me and talk to me like that?! How dare you?! Useless woman. . . you’re so rude—ruuwdu!”
Some minuscule but palpable spits came along with the “dare” and the direct recipient quickly but quietly wiped her face, complaining could make him turn fully to her and have her well sprinkled with saliva. Mrs Koikoi was still, more like allowing him expend his energy and make a fool of himself. He wasn’t finding it funny at all. “I’m a preacher of the gospel with a wife and five kids. . . ” he vented on. I couldn’t help it, I joined the whole bus in a fit of laughter that followed. Seriously, what is the relationship between his calling, marital status, “productivity” and whatever else he was thinking, with the matter on ground? How fufu take concern Beyoncé abeg?
Mrs Koikoi’s responses and gesticulations were well spelt, caustic, demoralizing and utterly dramatic; it was obvious she has experience at her advantage and she pretty well finished the father of five. With a preacher-ly elan, he delved into another language and the woman adroitly followed suit.
“So you’re an Igbo woman and you’re talking to me like that? *inserts thick Igbo words*. . . How dare you?! *more spits*”
She responded by launching into more of Igbo vocabularies at a rather great speed. I sat at my corner looking facially expressionless (thou shall not make fun of “elders”, remember?) but relishing every bit of the diatribe, even though I didn’t understand a word. I believed she wasn’t cursing us all, and that’s the most important at the moment.
The traffic eased up a bit. Preacherman alighted and went his way as the door was dragged open and some new passengers rushed in. Somehow within the rush, a hard blow landed fully (from the loud sound upon impact I could tell) on someone’s face and a thud, like someone fell into the gutter, followed. The conductor dealt the blow, the same conductor I thought was a gentle vegan. I guess that comes with the on-the-job experiences.
“Wèrè Olè! Oò smart tó o. . .”
“Mad thief! You’re not smart enough. . .”, the conductor shouted as the driver sped to cover up before another vehicle takes his space.
“Olè burúkú ni bòbó yen shá, ó fé yo owó mó woman yen lára ni o. . .”
“That guy is a notorious thief o, he tried picking that woman’s purse. . .”
Not long we were held-up again. The conductor drove the bus whenever the driver chooses to get down and rub his paunch, widdle, abuse erring drivers, or stroll. I jokingly called him “Screwdriver” to distinguish him from the driver, but the sobriquet stuck quickly as others started calling him Screwdriver. That was a mistake on my part, for the alias somehow implied that all the passengers—including me, unfortunately—are screws.
Damn! Scr*w us!!
The driver decided to be a good citizen and the Mandela of our time by keeping to the “right lane”—forgetting that a right lane in such situation is the widely chosen lane—while other vehicles squeezed along beside us, wasting extra one hour of our time with his decision.
While in the standstill, Screwdriver displayed himself as a multi-talented blend of many professions: a barrister or so when he refused a passenger that wanted to drop, a #50 refund because “the contract between them hasn’t ended. . . and a breech isn’t allowed”; a Monk when he chose to “meditate” and keep quiet, disregarding refund requests; a pastor when he began to quote scriptures on how the meek and gentle are blessed; a grammarian/linguist when he spoke Pidgin, English, Yoruba, Igbo and then managed to reply a lady “sparking” in I-haff-tould-yau-awreday type of accent—inside yellow Danfo bus o—with a forced Queens English. He was a comedian in all the roles.
I could sense the pretty fair lady behind me was suddenly and mysteriously very quiet and I had no idea why. She has a very “distinct” Hannah Montana kind of laughter so I noticed when she stopped contributing to the comedy on wheels. Just when she was beginning to feel glaringly uncomfortable which coincided with the moment I turned to her, she blurted out that she needed to pee. My question was answered. Waiting for her was never a problem since the bus wasn’t moving anyway, the problem was that she wore a trouser and the area wasn’t secluded. She got down and moved to a corner—a corner very visible to all—where she squatted and did her business, with confidence, much to the surprise of onlookers. Only God knows what they saw because I think I looked away, firmly holding on to the lesson though: when you’re out of options, say pressed, endeavour to locate chutzpah.
Screwdriver made the bus so alive throughout. I was marvelled by the way he spoke and his sound reasoning. I later found out he resulted to “conducting” and other menial jobs when he couldn’t get a job after he graduated; a revelation that underscores the national unemployment problems and made me quiver within for everyone in his shoes. My own dey my body.
Some hold-ups are just so frustrating; you’ll lose your temper and then look for it again yourself, else you’ll start behaving like a demented rhesus monkey. A journey of forty-five minutes or less took five hours plus; enough time to travel from Lagos to Kwara by bus and still
prepare beans take an hour nap upon arrival. It was however interesting, insightful, and revealing.
If I may add, I’ll suggest a talent hunt in buses. 🙂 *just saying. . . just saying*