Its 5:45 am on a cold Wednesday morning. All around you is the bustling activity that characterises most bus parks early in the morning. Usually this pandemonium endures up until say 10am and slowly tapers as the day wears on. You used to congratulate this particular transport line for their good customer service but this particular morning you are pissed at the young woman behind the desk. She appears oblivious to the fact that there is a queue three arms long and manages to sound flippant while chewing gum. You wonder to yourself how someone can be chewing gum at 6:00am and recall how your room mate in secondary school would retrieve gum that she stuck behind her ear before going to bed the previous night and resume chewing for the day. Just the thought of it sickens you as it did back then. Maybe this heavily-painted, sleepy eyed, sharp tongued ticket seller didn’t quite outgrow the bad habit hence the chewing this early in the day. You are grateful when it finally gets to your turn to pay for your bus ticket. You have learnt a valuable lesson that when travelling by road across Nigeria, the earlier you set out, the better for you. Shallow potholes have assumed life-threatening dimensions at night. Even gentlemen of the highway seem to favour this time of the day to carry out their assignments.
You make your way to an empty seat in the well-lit waiting area, sandwiched between a lady in curlers and a man sipping coffee. Since when did curlers become a fashion accessory that people now go about with all colours of plastic stuck in their hair? You stare at the 52 inch coloured screen on the wall opposite you. The volume is turned down but the bright pictures catch your attention. It’s a movie on Africa Magic. Despite the lack of volume, you cannot believe the scene that is unfolding before your very eyes. A lady enters the scene which happens to be a pristine looking kitchen, grabs a pack of juice from the fridge and pours some quantity into a glass; she proceeds to retrieve a tiny parcel from her bosom. She pours what appears to be white powder from the parcel into the glass of juice, stirs it with her index finger and finishes by licking her finger. Next we see her smiling into the living room depositing the glass on a tray in front of a male actor. The male actor takes a gulp and few seconds later doubles up in excruciating pain. The scene ends with the male actor lying out cold on the floor while his female counterpart is shedding (crocodile) tears. You wonder why she too is not dead. After all, she licked the finger with which she stirred the poisoned drink. You turn away in disgust, and crane your neck to take in the surroundings; the comings and goings. The man who ten minutes ago was sipping coffee is surprisingly snoozing away with his head drooping to the left and brushing your shoulder. You shift, he shifts. You wiggle, he snuggles closer. Finally you shove and he wakes up with a startle, apologises and stands up. He is clearly embarrassed. You check your wristwatch, its 6:30am. Just then your bus is announced over the speaker and you are thankful for little mercies. You make your way towards the loading area to board the bus finally.
Once settled in your seat, you bring out your blackberry device to call your boyfriend and let him know you will soon hit the road. As his caller tune gives way to his rich baritone, you close your eyes and let his voice wash over you. In a few hours you will be in his house in Lagos. In his arms! He tells you all the naughty things he’ll do to you once he sees you and that he can’t wait to see you. You giggle excitedly; you can hear your laughter ringing in your own ears. You steal a sideways look and discover that no one is paying any particular interest in you or your conversation. Your fellow passengers appear busy trying to get settled. Your boyfriend wishes you a safe trip and hangs up. You let your mind wander. The promise of the “naughty things” makes you wish you could bridge the distance immediately. You can feel his lips on yours as he gently probes the soft recesses of your mouth, passionately giving and taking in return. His hand on your breast is so real that you reach down as if to hold it there and with your eyes still closed you let out a low, soft moan. A female voice from the back of the bus cuts into your reverie:
“Brodas and Sistas, praise da Lord”
You snatch your hand from your chest and open your eyes, slowly re-acquainting yourself with your surroundings.
Brodas and Sistas, I say praise da Lord”
“Brodas and sisters before we embark on this journey, I want you all to commit this journey into the hands of the Almighty. Pray, pray, praaaaaaayyyyyyyy”
You watch as all the passengers lurch into a praying frenzy, shouting at the top of their voices simultaneously.
The woman proceeds to wrap up the prayers with a prayer of her own. You mentally note how she repeatedly “pleads the blood of Jesus on the vehicle, the highway, the driver, the passengers, the engine, even the steering….”
You wonder at the origin of the phrase “plead the blood of Jesus”. In fact you question the grammatical correctness of the statement, “I plead the blood of Jesus on ……” Then again, how can someone after pleading the blood of Jesus upon him/her self now pray against blood sucking demons on the highway? Is it not something akin to asking a cat to look after fish? You shake your head at your funny, yet twisted logic, reminding yourself of what someone once said that “you cannot practice religion or politics without some level of fanaticism”. A joke about the blood of Jesus being exhausted because it has been used every so often comes to mind too. This time you chuckle. Nobody seems to notice, they are singing praises. The driver starts the engine, the bus rolls out of the park kicking dust as it sets off from Warri.
One of the passengers begins playing music on his blackberry device. The voice of Terry G fills the bus as he “knacks you akpako”. From the rear of the bus comes another melody. This time you can tell that the phone is a Tecno. If Terry G was obtrusive, the ‘akanchawa’ emanating from this phone is offensively loud. Directly in front of you, the driver has just begun playing an audio CD titled “Comedy Clinic Ward” 5 by comedian Gordons. His coarse voice is belting out of the bus’ speakers. You reach into your handbag for your earpiece to plug your ears. Thankfully, one of the passengers who felt he had endured enough of the confusion speaks up. You can hear them arguing in the background as you proceed to listen to music from your ipod. After a while, you notice that the only external sound is the one coming from the bus stereo.
You are now at Ore, that town that is famous for bananas, plantain and the culinary delights of roadside “mama puts”. Your fellow passengers promptly disperse into the makeshift stalls that have been erected to offer shade and succour to hungry, thirsty travellers. You proceed to settle on a bench in one of the stalls after purchasing some bananas and groundnuts to go with it. It’s the only thing your stomach can contain without churning on this bumpy road trip. You spy one of your fellow passengers digging into a bowl of ‘banga soup and starch’. From your vantage point you can see a giant head of fish spilling out of the bowl. The man’s Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows morsel after morsel.
It is time to get on the bus to begin the second leg of the journey. It’s been little over an hour since you left the dusty town of Ore and joined the tarmac to Lagos.
“Driver, abeg stop”
You turn around and you discover that it is the ‘fish head’ passenger who’s talking
“Driver I say make you stop oh”
You notice that the driver is in no mood to stop. At least from the way he’s burning rubber.
“Driver abeg stop oooooohhhhhhhh”
“Wetin?” the driver queries
‘Fish head’ replies in a tiny voice, “I wan shit”.
The bus erupts in laughter. You shake your head wryly. This is the result of eating Mama Obukowho’s roadside ‘banga’ soup. You wonder when people would learn their lesson, maybe because you have learnt yours, painfully.
The man is whimpering now, he is almost shedding tears as he begs to be allowed to go and answer the call of nature. The other passengers feel duty bound to intervene since it is difficult to stand being in close quarters with someone in that kind of discomfort. Add the fact that there is the very real and present threat of the man doing his business right in the bus. The driver slows down and parks by the side of the road all the while raining abuses on the sobbing man. The sweating passenger quickly bounds out of the bus to a nearby bush.
From here on, the journey is pretty much uneventful. As soon as you sight the Redeemed Camp, you breathe a sigh of relief. As you board a cab at Ojota heading for Allen Avenue Ikeja, you take in the sights and sounds of Lagos. On your route, you notice a whole lot of changes since you were last here.
Later that night as you settle into your boyfriend’s arms for real and not in your dreams, you chuckle at the day’s events. He asks you what’s funny; you reply that it’s nothing of consequence. What else could matter at this moment with his deft fingers snaking up your thigh in search of your soft sweetness?