1. Conversations: Confident Lies and a Sheathed Hero
The woman, sitting next to me in the bus, asks me when the voter’s registration would be closed. If only she knows how unacquainted I am with such issues. It is so bad that I will lose a million naira wager, if I am asked to state the Deputy Governor of Lagos State. My lawyerly black and white must have inscribed in her thoughts that I am a lawyer. And lawyers are or ought to know it all. Even my thin-framed glasses adds to the delusion. Or maybe she is propelled by a longing to converse. But irrespective of her motives, I will not disappoint. A lie spoken with confidence is taken as truth, so I push up my glasses with my index finger, and I speak:
– It is still on.
– I thought they announced it was closed.
I rely on the generic clause as to why things do not go as planned. -This is Nigeria now; they would probably have extended it. Trust me, it is still on.
Then, she starts listing a thousand reasons why she was yet to register. I am not in interested in her reasons, I would rather be lost in my thoughts while staring out the window, seeing school children and office workers waiting at bus stops, but I have to be polite. I imitate my facial expression to match hers, which changes as she delved into several topics.
I do not know how long I kept up with this. Sometimes I get so lost in my deceit until the bus jerks me to the present, while navigating the wavy patterns of the numerous portholes. During one of these jerks, I hear her saying something about how the recent warfare in the North has made it uninhabitable. She believes all non-indigenes should relocate. I wonder whether I should unsheathe my heroic status with just a sentence: I actually school in Kano.
Most times, when people say how dangerous the North is, I say it dismissively that I school there. Their frozen look with their mouths opened wide is priceless. Later their faces thaw into concern and they pray for my safety. However, due to reasons unknown to me, I leave my heroic status sheathed.
The bus gets to her destination. She bids me goodbye.
2. The Berger of Beggars
The women sit by the roadside in straight rows. They mostly wear hijabs or scarves around their heads. Some of the women have one or two kids seated with them by the roadside. The sun, slowly staring from the clouds, is already melting their faces to sweat. When you pass by, they all stretch their hands towards you, begging for alms, like a mini Mexican wave.
There is a man at the other end of the road standing on his feet, but his head barely reaches the waist of pedestrians. He is wearing a redcap, praying for those who give him money. One of the touts calls him chief. He smiles.
Amidst all these, a preacher, holding a mic, stands before a mobile platform. He is preaching about prosperity. His wide mouth barely contains his jutting teeth, the spit pump out in their droves. The large groups of okadas, spilling out on both sides of the road, add to the surrounding din as they tout for passengers.
This is Berger, where I alighted. A short walk from here would lead me to the final bus I would take to Ikeja. I have to walk in the middle of the road because of the human and vehicle spillover on both sides. A honking car sometimes pushes one to jostle to the roadside.
3. The Terminus of Equality
At the bus terminus, I am not the only one waiting. Women and men of all shapes and sizes are also waiting. Everyone waiting is on their way to one business place or the other. A bus crawls towards us, a conductor walking alongside the bus, calls, ‘kejakejakeja’. Godot is finally here.
We rush towards the bus like it is our last chance at redemption, arms swimming against the current of people, in order to create a space for entry. In this struggle, there is no discrimination based on sex. All sexes are equal. Chivalry is dead. The struggle for space levels all. It is all Darwinian: only the weak gets evicted.
If you’re experienced enough, your size can be used to your advantage. The slim ones would squeeze through any tiny space, although they could be easily swiped off by the huge ones. The huge ones have the advantage of body size and strength, although they can hardly squeeze through tiny spaces.
While struggling in, I use one hand to guard my pocket. One cannot be too careful. It can also be an opportunity for the pick-pockets. Finally, I get a seat. I look at the extinct ones: a woman nurses her arm, shouts at someone inside the bus; another man taps his pocket, shock imprinted all over his face; there are those, whose eyes darting about, looking for the next bus. A woman had to drop because her son did not make the entry.
5. A Happy Conductor Is a Happy Bus
The radio in the bus is on. The presenters are saying something about a state of emergency. Angry callers call, firing government…
A woman from the back of the bus says she has only a thousand naira note—the bus fare is just a hundred naira. When conductors call their destination, they attach to their call ‘no change’. It is roughly interpreted to mean, do not pay with a note two times more than that of the fare. But passengers disobey, who would want an issue like that to bar one from entering a bus? So, the easiest way a passenger can annoy a conductor is to pay with a large denomination for a much lesser fare. That was what the woman did.
The creases on the conductor’s face rearranges to form a frown. His eyes pop out and become watery. He starts, why you no go get change etc.
The passengers assure him he would get change. They all pay with the right denomination.
The conductor’s grin widened as he has a pocketful of change. He is bursting with mirth, cracking jokes, making us laugh. We forget our troubles awhile.
A happy conductor is a happy bus, until a new set of passengers defies his no change order; or a LASTMA official implements a road traffic offence; or the bus driver hits a military car or some persons related.
6. Final Destination, for now
The bus dropped me close to Underbridge. I walk past boutiques, a woman sleeping on the roadside, a man in a threadbare suit with his arms outstretched, the LASTMA roundabout, LASUTH, Police College, women with typewriters hawking affidavits, before appearing at my place of attachment, the High Court of Justice, Ikeja.