The bus windows are covered with curtains, but you violently pull them back. Nothing and nobody should stand in the way of a view of nature, and no one deserves to be obstructed from seeing the world outside, no, not even for the luxury of air conditioners. Then again, you need the view to clear your head; there had been a mix-up at the park over ticket prices and cash deposits, and the lady over the pay counter had thought it wise to resort to rudeness in the circumstances, forcing you to utter expletives in uncharacteristic fashion. It’s your first time at this transport company, and you know in your heart that they won’t get another chance at making a first impression. The fact that you have to settle for the back seat with your long limbs does not exactly assuage your feelings either.
You exchange pleasantries with the lady seated next to you. She is the reason for the fifteen-minute delay in departure (a relative had purchased the ticket for her), and you wonder how much longer you would have had to wait if she had decided to take more time in fixing her make-up and trying to look good for the chairs and window panes. Yes, she boards the bus, not affording her face so much as the privilege of lip gloss.
She looks sleep-deprived (probably watching Married Again on Zee TV the night before), and you make a comment on “how you love the dreamy look in her eyes”. You also treat her to statements on how you admire her natural look, and how you prefer girls who allow their hair fly (the truth being that she didn’t comb her hair.) You have not particularly been at the top of your flirting game lately, and your lines are relatively corny, but it’s not Scarlet Johansson who is seated beside you, and while the nature of a Negroid’s skin does not allow for blushing, the smiles on her face show that you may not have totally lost your touch after all.
You both get talking, and when you ask her if she lives in the city you both just departed, she replies with the words “I just came to see my uncle”. You chuckle inwardly, but the ‘mischief socket’ in your head is not switched on, so you refrain from asking her if it was actually her relative she came to visit, or just an older financially comfortable man with whom she was intimately acquainted. Of course, there is a difference between ‘uncle’ and ‘on-kuu’, but you don’t stress it. There’ll be other travel companions to tease in subsequent trips.
She also reveals that she hails from that state whose Governor just returned from the U.S. and put up photos of himself and Obama on the city’s billboards, and you automatically begin to feel sorry for her. There is a 240-second political discourse. You are slightly impressed; at least she knows the names of Eastern governors, knows about the dirty cities and poor roads in the East, and doesn’t make use of words like “difficant”. Her name is Nkechinyere, she says, and you are proud of her for saying it in full, not shortening it to Nikki. You find out that she also just graduated from a private university, you can virtually taste the euphoria in her expressions, and you decide to lay low and not blow her mind by revealing your line of work.
She possesses none of that wowing effect that makes up a siren’s personality, and you turn towards the window, your mind drifting to other things; Reuben Abati’s attention-starved phone, the hungry girl at KFC who referred to her benefactor as a “dead guy” in a tweet, the whole fuss about Feminism notwithstanding a poor understanding of the concept, and Arsenal’s perennial search for a world-class striker. She soon calls for your attention again though, citing problems with composing a text on her phone. You take the typing settings off dictionary mode (though you wonder what could be so hard with that), and she is grateful.
The hours roll by, and the journey takes its toll on the eyes of passengers. You stare at Nkechinyere, eager not to look for too long because your eyes make you look like a creep when you stare for extended periods, and her body language speaks of a little indecision as to a hidden desire. You then look away, and all of a sudden she places her head fully on your shoulder. It is broad enough; the push-ups which you have been doing for the past few days are beginning to show their effect. You stroke her hair as you try to stop the strands from entering your mouth, and save for a few jerks caused by potholes, she drifts away peacefully, smiling in her slumber.
She regains consciousness after three-quarters of an hour. You look around you, everyone seems to be asleep, and you begin to entertain ideas in your head. You bring your face towards hers, but you get no positive signal from her end, and you back off, dousing the tension with statements like “your lips seem dry”. She replies in unrelated fashion by talking about how she ‘sucks her tongue’, and you wonder why someone at that age would be going through that kind of fixation. Your eyes begin to feel like scales have fallen off them, and when you stare at her again, you wonder what attracted you in the first place.
The stereo, which had been playing typical Eastern gospel music at the early stages of the trip, soon switches to old R & B classics, and for a moment you wonder if all the transport companies just decide to purchase the same CD compilation. Elton John’s “Sacrifice” comes on, and you hear Nkechinyere murder it, Igbo choir style. You pray to God that she helps your ears by not singing to the next track, Lighthouse Family’s “Ocean Drive”. It seems that your prayers are answered, but you cringe again when she lends her voice to Celine Dion’s “I’m Alive”. Thanks to the melody in her vocals (or the lack thereof), your love for Shania Twain’s “Still The One” equally dies on the spot.
The bus soon stops at a petrol station which houses a medium-sized canteen. You step inside to eat, and during the course of the meal, you hear a waitress screaming at one of your female co-passengers for tying her hair in the canteen, though you just feel that the reaction would have been a lot different if the lady in question had actually purchased something, rather than just sit there. You feel like your breath has gone stale, and you walk to the adjoining shop to purchase a menthol-laced brand of bubble gum. The attendant is rude and impatient, and you catch her signature accent. You conclude that the prefix “Osa” must be part of her full name, and while you are not one to harbour stereotypes, you also feel that people like her do nothing to water down those unfavourable pre-conceived notions.
You get back inside the bus after half an hour has passed. A pot-bellied man seated on the same row as you brings out a large piece of fried fish which he probably purchased at the petrol station and begins to chew, unashamed and unaware of anybody else’s nasal sensitivities. You find yourself wishing that people could exercise a little more discretion on journeys like this, and you can’t help but feel for the light-complexioned lady sitting beside him. Beyond the fact that she was probably being tortured by his breath, her lips also look liked those of U.S singer Lana Del Rey, and you dream of finding out their texture, wishing it was she you had sat next to.
Your bus runs into a traffic jam. It has been caused by an accident involving an S.U.V and a large commercial bus, and judging from the blood on the road and the shattered windshields, you deduce that there must have been a number of fatalities. You co-passengers sigh and wail, but you just can’t seem to catch the commiserative vibe. You feel a little sense of guilt at not being able to really mourn, almost like a soul gone numb. You ponder; maybe it’s because you have seen too much blood on TV and the internet, or maybe it’s because you have heard too much bad news from around the country to appreciate the novelty of this autocrash. You also think about the state of Nigerian roads, the attitude of the country’s road users, and how the rate of accidents here towers above those of other countries, despite the deep inclination of Nigerians towards Religion.
“Miss Lana Del Rey lips” has dozed off again. You watch her bust go up and down underneath her black T-shirt as she deeply breathes in and out, and you almost get past the junction at which you are to alight, but for a speed bump which jolts you back to reality. You get off the bus to board a bike, and the short ride reinforces your preference of tricycles (Keke). You walk to your gate, try your old key and it opens. Your folks have not changed the locks since you left, and it’s a good sign that you are still welcome. Your dog barks, and when you see the way it runs towards you, it finally dawns on you that you are home.