It’s 9.35am. From the look of things, I got here just in time. I grab one of the few tickets left for this particular bus. Thankfully, I’ve missed that conscience-pricking sermon, I saw that grim-faced motor park preacher stepping aside as I came towards the bus. It also appears that there will be no physically challenged persons hounding us here today, I just saw them leave, and it’s not like I have a low naira denomination to give out anyway. I slot into the third row, as my long limbs make it detrimental for me to sit at the back, no matter the distance. I have the Chief Organizing Tout to thank for creating the space. He has directed someone with a much smaller frame to give up the seat I am now going to occupy for the rest of the journey. When it comes to this transport company, I know better than to sit in the row directly behind the driver’s seat; all kinds of luggage get fixed there, making it difficult for anyone seated there to have room for those necessary body adjustments.
The female corps member sitting beside the driver (that cap gives her away) has just kissed her fiancé goodbye. Yes, I know the relationship has reached that stage, judging from her next action. She looks to ensure that he is out of sight and out of hearing, pulls the ring from that finger, slots it into her handbag and in a matter of seconds, she gets busy on the phone thus: “Hey baby, I am about to leave the park. I hope you don’t feel too lonely at the lodge. I’ll be with you soon. I miss you.” I sigh inwardly, and I begin to wonder if faithfulness is no longer required in relationships these days. I can only feel sorry for her fiancé, who is unaware that he is sharing his sweetheart with someone else. “Bachelorhood is the best mode of living, free from all that uncertainty and suspicion”, I tell myself, giving Corper Infidelity one scornful look which she’s all too engrossed in her Blackberry chat to notice.
I look around me and notice something just before the doors get shut; it’s a fourteen-seater bus, and seven of the passengers are male Northern teenagers who find it difficult even to communicate in pidgin English. None can blame me for the nervousness I begin to feel. For one moment I feel like returning my bus ticket. The discomfort that usually accompanies the creaking of my knees from long journeys and restricted body movement cannot compare to what I’m feeling now. Again, it’s not my fault, it’s what the situation in my country has caused. I pay attention to the short prayer said by someone at the back, enough attention to join in the chorused “Amen” before plugging my headphones back in so I could nod along to Wizkid’s “Bombay”.
The lady besides me receives a long phone call. She treats us to the indiscretion of placing the phone on loudspeaker mode, and in no time we all get to know that her church cell leader back home is not happy with her. She has joined a denomination different from the one she regularly worships at. Her explanation that her new work station is a remote area and her denomination can’t be found there falls on deaf ears. Brother Loyal demands that she establish that denomination there. Doesn’t she know who she is in Christ? Is she oblivious of the fact that she is part of one of the most popular Christian denominations on the continent, never mind that their Daddy is currently battling to save his marriage? She finally drops the phone and I get to look at her closely. She is light in complexioned, and the thick Eastern accent takes nothing away from her beauty. New grounds to explore, I tell myself, and I begin to fantasize until I see her pull a black nylon from her bag. It’s “Okpa di Oku”! Deal-breaker! I stealthily put my nose in the direction of the window as she eats the “okpa” with relish. She had better not open that mouth to speak to me, I say to myself. She would later place her head on my shoulder, but the attraction has long disappeared by then. I turn my focus to my writing pad. I am composing this insincere love note for Julie, whom I hope to have in my arms by nightfall. I hope she likes it, well she always loves my work. I can only wish the bus goes a little bit faster. I still want to meet the game by 4:00pm. It’s Louis Gan Vaal’s first home game since he signed those new players. It’s a must-win, we need to kick-start our season.
( In Anambra girl’s accent) I just don’t know why this my church cell leader cannot stop bugging me about this issue. So just because I can’t find my church in the town I’m travelling to and I want to make do with what’s available, I am committing apostasy? He apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Why all this denominational divide anyway? Is it not the same Jesus? Don’t we all share the same faith, apart from those Mary worshippers who bow to statues? Not that I’ve even gained much in that church. I have been born again for seven years now, I have been active in all the relevant units, and still my last name hasn’t changed. I have behaved myself, unlike that silly girl in front who is pulling her panties for two people at the same time. She will definitely give account on That Day. Maybe the Lord is telling me to try another congregation. Maybe the right man is there, not those brothers back home who don’t even recognize a good girl when they see one.
Lord, you told me in that singles’ program in March that my wedding must hold this year. Lord, the year is slowly drawing to a close, but I still hope in you. My Father, please lead me to Adam…..or is Adam already seated right next to me? Hmm, this dude is really cute, tall, clean-shaven. I can’t tell for sure how spiritually deep he is, but I saw him responding well to the prayers before we took off. I can hear muffled sounds of all that demonic music, but he will change that once I help him grow in You. He seems really nice too, he complimented my looks and gave me his shoulder to lean on, though his chest is where I really want to place my head. Such muscle tone…..but why is he not taking glances at me like when he first entered the bus? Is my accent too thick? Not my fault, biko. Or is it my breath? I knew I should have bought that Orbit bubble gum. It’s alright, he’ll come around. Lord please just keep us safe….and these Hausa boys look really suspicious, may whatever evil plan they have be thwarted in the name of Jesus!
Damn, I have to head to that rural dwelling again in the name of service year. Lord knows that I’m already fed up, well at least schools are on vacation. It’s such a boring place, the only good thing about doing my youth service there is Gabby, my fellow Batch A corps member. He is such a sweet guy, he touches me in all the right places, and he is “really big.” It’s a shame that we’ll have to part ways in a matter of months……I just can’t let him know about my future plans at the moment, it will break him, besides why spoil the fun? And yes, I know I shouldn’t be doing this to Bernard. He is caring and he is a really good person, plus, he is financially stable…..but I am a lady and, well, I have needs. It’s just for a little while; by February I’ll be back to my good and (relatively) faithful self….
This lady with her give-away accent probably doesn’t know that everybody can hear what she is discussing over the phone….all these church fanatics and their hypocrisy! Is it not the NCCF President at my Place of Primary Assignment that has turned his room into a chalet? He thinks we don’t notice how he sneaks in those dirty semi-literate native girls, all in the name of evening Bible study? Speaking of dirty, I don’t know how some men live with themselves….this man here with whom I’m having to share the front seat is killing me. I know the economy is hard, but a good deodorant shouldn’t be too expensive, right? All his sweat has rubbed off on me, I’ll need to re-spray myself when we stop somewhere. Alright, let my thoughts be clear, I still want to have a shot at Heaven just in case those Northerners sitting behind are really suicide bombers. Except for the one who looks darker than the Bagco sack he is carrying, I didn’t see them with any luggage, and the way they laugh among themselves raises even more suspicion.
(In Northerner’s accent, with mannerisms) Wallahi, if I nor die because of this journey, then I fit nor die again. Me and my Aboki dem don dey road since two days now, no better food, no better sleep. But wetin we go do? Na Hajia Rashidatu wey balance for back of driver naim carry us dey waka. Na only she wey we know. We, I nor get papa, we, I nor get mama, army and Boko Haram don shoot everybody throway.
I nor know why anywhere we enter, dem go jus dey look us like higher (hired) killers. Me, I nor shoot gun, me, I nor shoot bomb. Me and my bladas just wan go find work take survive for this side, dem don burn all our house for yonder. Hajia don tell us say if we do well, she, I go put us for school, but we go work first. Me, I fit do any kain work, so far say nor be to kill or to tiff. Me and my bladas, we nor get anything, we nor even get cloth, Hajia say she go buy am for us, Hajia get am for plenty money.
This kantri don make life hard for me and other people wey come from our side. Because say some people dey use Allah name do wicked, dem think say all of us na bad people. Police don stop this bus pass five times today because of say we, I dey inside. All this tiffy tiffy police and their twenty twenty naira, if na to pursue better armed robber dem nor go fit. I nor want to talk the one wey dem naked all of us for inside road yesterday. One day, I go be big man, and I go tell dem say nor be so. Me, I wan be Engineer. See as Garuba dey stretch hand for dat Oga earpiece, him think say Oga dey hear wetin him dey talk. Garuba too like music, even if he nor know wetin dem dey sing, him wan be Dee Jay. Ahmed own be say the girls for where we dey go, dem sabi cook and dem like to “chop abuna”, and na why we dey laugh, we, I nor plan to put any bomb. Insha Allah, me and my bladas go make am for plenty money for this place wey we wan go, and this kantri go better.
We have been stopped by the police to be searched at various checkpoints today, but this one is different. This is due to the nature of the road (if we can still call it one); half of the road has eroded to the point of becoming a long stretch of mud, and moving along that portion of the road means getting your vehicle stuck and sunk, so every road user has to slowly negotiate through the “good” side, which could actually become totally impassable on a rainy day. It’s the usual routine; stop, ask questions, look at some of us suspiciously and then politely demand “roger” from us. There’s a little twist on this occasion however; a truck conveying petrol is coming from the opposite direction at full speed. We see him from afar and show no concern, but when he comes closer without any signs of slowing down, we know that there is cause for worry. We suspect that his brakes may have let him down, and our driver tries to swerve, but when you’ve got a police van, a petrol-conveying truck and a commercial bus on a road such as this, it’s always a recipe for disaster. Those high-impact explosions you see in Hollywood blockbuster movies pale in comparison to what resulted from the collision.
Those in front have better luck; they feel the full impact of the resulting flames quickly enough, their end is relatively painless. We get to know what it feels like to have been burned at the stake in Medieval times. We get a real taste of what “highly inflammable” really means, this is the aspect of combustion which our Chemistry teachers never told us about. Our individual lives flash before us as our bodies undergo this involuntary cremation, as our tissues and bones go through this change in form. There they go; our dreams, our aspirations, our emotions, our worries, our potentials, all up in flames. There will be no marriage, no reunion, no cheering of our favourite teams, no better future. The Filipino hair, the Iphone6, the Alexander McQueen, these even seem to accelerate the burning. For some of us, this is a dress rehearsal for eternal damnation, if the words of those religious books are anything to go by.
Even if some of us survive the flames, we would still end up in the morgue anyway. The country we live in has made it so. It’s a country where fire service trucks never have water, where ambulances are regularly in bad condition. Why are we sharing the fate of barbecue chicken and grilled fish in the first place? Isn’t it because of these roads, yea, roads which our pot-bellied leaders will never develop because they can afford all price ranges of air travel? This road in particular lies in a state where the governor has done nothing for seven years, where he displays pictures of projects from other states as his own landmarks, where he erects a huge billboard showing Jesus endorsing him to run for Senate next year. What blasphemy!
Slowly – well, not so slowly – we burn, as a huge mass of roast flesh gradually replaces what consisted of able-bodied humans. If this is some form of human sacrifice to enhance the growth of the transport company, the deity would definitely have been well appeased. That passengers’ manifest we signed at the point of departure finally (and unfortunately) has some use. Media houses are going to have their hands full: this is front page material, after all, bad news sells papers. We make up the numbers for statistics to be recorded by the Federal Road Safety Corps, and our fate gives the living another reason to be scared in these “ember months”.
REMEMBER YOUR LOVED ONES! PLEASE DRIVE TO ARRIVE ALIVE!