Joseph Onuchukwu describes what you feel when you ride a bus in Nigeria’s boisterous city, Lagos, in this rib-cracking and jaw dropping piece. Read on.
That morning, the sun stretched across my face and I immediately levered myself out of bed. The clock was striking seven. I dragged myself to the bathroom, my shadow dancing across the white-tiled floor as it followed me. In no time, I was refreshed and ready for my first job hunt. I came to Lagos for the first time the previous night.
I arrived at the popular Alafia bus stop at 7:30 am. The bus stop was a confirmation that Lagos was indeed Nigeria’s busiest city, if not Africa’s. The bus stop was heavily populated. Lagos smelled of stress, determination and hunger.
Different buses passed by, each calling out their various destinations. I was going to Mile 2.
The first bus that passed was going to Orile, which was less than half my journey. The second was to stop before Mile 2. Three other buses came and none was going to Mile 2.
A bus stopped, and a man, who people referred to as a conductor, was shouting
“Mile 2, Mile 2, Mile 2!”
Before I could adjust my tie, and check the money I had on me, the bus was full already.
“E be like say you just land here. You gat sharp to stay Lagos o,” A young man said to me with a mocking smile.
I looked at my watch; it was 8:02 am. The bus stop was becoming more and more crowded. Everyone seemed to be very busy, each knowing what they were doing except for the group of boys smoking at one shop on my left. I stood for almost an hour that I died on my feet.
Finally, a bus stopped and before it could complete the “Mile 2” I was already inside the bus. I smiled like a proud village warrior who just retained his crown after another contest. Our bus sped off as soon as it was full and the grasses beside it bowed to its breeze. I was at the back seat, at the extreme left too. The road was littered with uniformed students. I learnt they attended public schools. Some dressed smartly, but most were rough and dirty.
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Inside the bus, we sat in fours. The bus smelled of cigarettes, grease, alcoholic drinks, weeds, and some smell I couldn’t figure out. In all, the smell was obnoxious. Above all the smell was the smell was grease. Even the smell of the fading perfume the man beside me wore didn’t come close. The bus was made up of four long seats after that of the driver’s. I sat with three people; two girls and a man. The man was sitting directly beside me while the two girls sat close to each other.
I grasped for air. It was so hot and crowded inside. I opened the window a little and felt a bit comfortable.
The cry of a baby at the very front sit alerted everyone. It was so loud and painful.
“Madam, you don give am food?”
“You never give an breast this morning?”
“You no carry bottled milk come?”
“Why your pikin dey cry na?”
The young mother endured torrent of enquires. Obviously frustrated, she answered none. She succeeded in calming her baby too.
Lagos conductors were as quick as lightening, especially the young ones. Ours was almost as fast as Usain Bolt. He caught up with the bus each time he stopped to call for passengers. Aside his pace, he was also a stubborn man. He was short and very thin. He was bald with moustache, thick and dirty moustaches. Those moustaches could serve as abode to lice. He was as stubborn as a mule. The LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority) he fought and exchanged vulgar words with, allowed him because of the driver, a calm, civil man I suspected to be a sexagenarian.
The stench of the conductor, both from his dirty clothes and mouth, made me pity the woman he faced. Far from him, I felt nauseated. What irritated my nostrils the most was the mixture of perfumes everyone wore.
“Oga for front, your money” The conductor commanded, closing the door with his left hand after a fight with one agbero.
“Madam, your money ”
“Where you dey stop? Mile 2? Your money na 300”
“Shebi you no deaf when I dey shout say make una enter with una change” He yelled, widening his eyes as he threw my one thousand naira note at me.
I never knew Lagos bus conductors were disrespectful. I felt insulted.
He did same to the man in front of me. The man was on a suit that seemed quite expensive.
“Hogwash! I say hogwash!! ” The man shouted.
Everyone burst into laughter. The man beside me held his head and collapsed into laughter. As if the man had cracked a professional joke, everyone laughed like hyenas. The girls on my seat covered their faces with their palms, laughing. The man, who looked grouchy as if he had woken on his bed’s wrong side, continued.
“I think you should visit the sanatorium. You’re such a nincompoop”
“Oga, come down abeg. Come down from my bus” The conductor threatened, obviously irritated by the man’s use of words.
“I must alight at Mile 2. I’m not leaving this bus. What nonsense! ” The man replied, wearing a very serious face.
He seemed to care less about the people who felt entertained. He kept his serious face and didn’t even crack a smile on it.
I looked outside and saw something like rainbow that glided across the sky. But, it wasn’t rainbow. It was my imagination. The sun that morning was a shy one. It kept playing hide and seek behind the moving clouds. Lagos was beautiful indeed.
“Orile? ” The conductor asked with an authoritative voice.
“Owa o” One passenger shouted.
“Is there o” A young man said with a fine accent.
“Is there bawo? ”
“But, conductor I was just trying to tell you I’m going to alight there”
“Make una no go use una English buy motor o, awon oloshi ”
Everyone laughed out loud. It was a very hilarious scenario. I was entertained by the conductor’s choice of words. He spoke the pidgin language without stress. He spoke it without thinking of the next words or articulation. His accent was even more amusing.
We stopped at the bus stop and three passengers came out, three more came in too. Our new passengers were all girls. Two came together, one came alone. The two that entered together talked, made fun and laughed about everything they remembered. But, it was one that did most of the talking. In their personalities, although they were friends, they were as different as night and day. While one was gabby, the other which I considered more beautiful, was so taciturn and calm. The boisterous and expressive one gossiped about every moving human. She also jokingly predicted their future. She made the bus so lively, albeit noisy too.
We got stuck in a gridlock; it was 9:20 am at that time. My face was covered with beads of sweat. It skipped my mind to purchase a face towel before I entered the bus. I initially had that in mind. Through the window, I saw bikes slicing dangerously in between narrow divides of cars and buses that were caught in the traffic.
“Oga, answer me o. You never still pay me, and I no get change for that your one thousand naira” The conductor said to me, exposing his ugly dentition.
I wished I could speak pidgin. All my life, I grew up communicating with the country’s official language; English language. I kept quiet, loss for words.
“Do you have 500 naira note with you?” The man beside me asked compassionately.
“No, I only have one thousand naira note on me Sir” I replied in hushed tones.
“Oya, conductor commot him money from the change wey you suppose to give me”
“Okay. So, I no go balance you again o”
“I talk say you go balance me before? Abeg, dey your lane jare”
“I just dey talk na, before one professor go kon dey scatter grammar for here now ”
I smiled silently and thanked the man, while others who understood him fell into laughter including our quiet driver. The man, who nicknamed a talking dictionary, just looked at the conductor, adjusted his glasses until it sat askew on the bridge of his nose and continued staring at his phone.
The conductor started collecting money from the new passengers, each of them giving him their fares like students submitting assignments.
“Conductor, wait o. My money! My money! ” A lady, who was as skinny as Dija, one of the Mavin crews, screamed.
“Madam, come down abeg. That one no concern me at all,” the conductor answered inconsiderately.
Everyone shouted at the conductor. One even joked: “Maybe, na your wickedness make you lose this your front teeth”
Another said: “Person loss money you dey talk anyhow. Na this money wey you wan collect from her go improve your life? Abeg, forget, I go pay for her”
“Ah! Oga, thank you o. Na God go bless you. Ese gaan! ”
Many hilarious comments, no insults, were thrown at the conductor, who by then had lost his voice. The gap of his humongous jaws was nearly as wide as the door of the bus, the driver’s door of course.
I couldn’t hold it anymore. I held my stomach and collapsed into laughter. The man beside me laughed too.
“Abeg, who I dey hold change o. We go soon reach Mile 2” He asked, this time he was polite.
So he can behave well if he wants to, I thought. Three people answered him.
“I go collect 50 naira change”
“My own na 100 naira o, na from the last bus stop I enter”
“That woman wey just come down, na me give her 200 naira change so you go give me back”
He shuffled the money in his hands like the popular card game and handed money to them.
“Oya everybody come down”
“Alaba! Alaba!! Alaba!!! ” He screamed, calling on new set of passengers heading the opposite direction.
I thanked the man that paid my fare. I also envied him, the effortlessness with which he spoke both pidgin and English language.
I could hear the conductor telling his driver how different the last sets of passengers were from the previous one. It was such an eventful ride.
What made it more eventful was the loss of my phone. I couldn’t find the phone I bought three months again. I was lucky it was the popular, cheap Nokia phone.
I was in no mood to even think of where it possibly could be. My head was burning. I needed to drink something. I was famished and needed to eat. My face was sticky too, I needed a face towel. Oh no, Lagos is a country. A big country.