Just last December, I was sitting in a steel box with wheels, it was spurting toxic fumes and driven by the only person I imagined could understand its mechanism. I always wondered how those fabricated buses managed to move – a mix of wood and steel, how was it even possibly described as an automobile? I felt unsafe inside them but necessity took precedence over rationality.
I adjusted in my seat again, my backside hurting from the wooden bench held together by a steel frame. The passenger beside the one next to me, an old man I thought to be in his fifties, had bumped his hand across my shoulder again. I had to convince myself he bumped his hand across my shoulder for the fourth time because I could not reconcile with the fact that he was rubbing against my shoulder from where he sat, trying to get my attention. I scooted forward in annoyance.
It was 8:00am, and I was still at Ajah when I was to be at Ogba exactly 9:00am, and not a minute later. My nerves already sensed the trouble brewing. The night before, my “madam” had finished adjustments on a customer’s dress that was returned for minor adjustments, and I was to deliver before her flight at 12pm because the tailor, Aunty Amaka, came down with diarrhea. I would have left earlier if my alarm was set for 6am and not 6pm, and so when I jumped awake at 7:30am, and tossed a bucket of water over my head, I knew trouble awaited. I was glad she had not called me yet.
The phone in my hand rang 5 minutes after that thought and I wished I had not rejoiced too soon. Amidst the arguments of closed borders and rice prices, I was able to pick up the call. I couldn’t get a greeting out before the question I was dreading came, “Where are you now?”
It sounded like an accusation from the back speaker of the phone pressed firmly to my ear. From Ajah to Ogba was exactly 52km, according to Google Maps. I was in traffic and I knew the 1 hour 52 minutes it was suggesting was impossible, not when I was in a steel automobile that kept stopping to pick and drop off passengers, and sputtered a cough – more like a groan for mercy – anytime it was restarted. I hoped we wouldn’t have to change buses while we struggled for our change to complete the trip.
“Lekki”, the white lie was out before I could consider it. At least I was 13km away from Lekki. Ajah was even considered as Lekki and it was Lekki-Epe expressway after all.
“That’s perfect, I don’t want any delays and I need to do a last-minute shopping, you’ll meet my brother at Lekki Phase 1, give it to him. He’ll be on his way now. He would call you,” she ran through like a commentator at a marathon and hung up immediately.
I was nowhere close to Lekki. I groaned. What was I to say when he called? I started a fervent prayer for the traffic to disperse, the kind you prayed when pressed to pee in traffic. 15 minutes past the bridge and the traffic lightened, I could have given a cry of victory.
The phone rang again, it was the brother and he was waiting at Chicken Republic in Lekki. I didn’t have time to lie about my whereabout before the line was rudely cut short by a commotion in the bus. The conductor, a smallish man with trousers that hung below his waist exposing “Avengers” boxers and a lethal mouth spewing venom, was at it again and it seemed the passenger intended to match him down. I felt a twinge of pity for the unlucky lady that sat beneath his armpit as he flailed his arms in demonstration. Bending my head against the seat in front, I fished for my phone in my bag, only music could get me through this trip.
When one sleeps in a bus, there’s always an unknown force that reaches through your subconscious and jerks you to reality once you’re close to your destination. It was on this force I had hoped when my eye lids got heavy and I lost the reigns of control over them. Groggily, I yawned, we had reached a traffic light under a pedestrian bridge, I thought we were close by, maybe at Ikate, then I sighted the Mobil building on my left. I had passed my bus stop; the force had betrayed me. I shouted to the conductor to let me down while the traffic light was still red.
“This nor be bus top o! nor be Ogba you talk before, you dey sleep you nor know where you dey go abi…” I tuned out the rest of his yelling, I just wanted to get down as soon as possible. I felt a light tap from behind and I turned, it was that old man again this time he asked for my number in a whispered tone, a sleazy smile on his lips. I glared at him like he was the reason I fell asleep and hissed. A young man behind me snickered. The bus stopped and as I tried to get down, I sighted him again, this time, sheepishly rubbing his palms together in a pleading gesture ridiculous for his age. How terrible was my luck this morning?
The phone rang, as I mounted the pedestrian bridge, “Madam, where are you?” her brother sounded impatient.
“I’m sorry, I’m close,” I yelled over the sound of moving traffic as I ascended the pedestrian bridge. I couldn’t hear anything else but the sound on the other end of the line suggested he said something else before the line disconnected. I boarded another bus on the other side towards my destination, this time I was wide awake, alert with nerves. We finally got to the bus top and I tried to get down but the bag that held the dress was stuck in the door contraption. I gave it a slight tug, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Madam you dey waste my time,” the conductor yelled at me. I tried again, still stuck. I had been sitting close to the door, so it had to be when the conductor had pulled it open that the bag got stuck, but he was paying me no mind as he called for other passengers. When none approached, he took the handle from me and pulled hard, it came off but with a “rip” sound that echoed through my subconscious and jolted all my nerves, sending my heart rate to overdrive.
I stood on the side of the road with passersby going about their daily businesses, having no inclination of how the world had stopped for me as I dared a peek at the dress in the cloth bag the asoebi had come in, hoping it was the bag that ripped. My hand shook as I held out a portion of the dress, and the gaping shorn hole stared back at me, daring me to shed the tears that had already gathered in my ducts.
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