“You are a fantabulous fool!” roared the man in the tattered suit. “Not just that, but a demonic quagmire among superordinate humans.”
Ashaka opened his mouth to retaliate but got confused. The torrent of words hailed at him like missiles. A stale fishy stench emanated from the man’s body causing Ashaka to lean back away from him. Ashaka raked his eyes from the forest-like head of his attacker, the shaggy beard to the rat-eaten tips of his shoes and was forced to look at himself. He looked no better donned in a stained thread-bare singlet and rolled up pants that he had tied around the waist to keep from falling off; the clothes seemed appropriate for his work as a bus conductor.
“Have you no decorous words of apology brimming in the oceanic saliva of your foul smelling mouth?” his attacker continued. The veins on his neck threatened to pop at any second.
Someone poked him from behind as the sizeable crowd that had gathered around them waited for his response. He looked at his dented bumper and forced himself to remember that the man yelling in front of him was actually in the wrong. While he had parked his bus by the side of the street away from the main road, he had been surprised when the car in front of him reversed with an alarming speed and before he could move his bus, the car’s behind rammed into his. Ashaka had been more surprised when the man had come out of his car and instead of offering apologies or offering to pay for the damage he had caused, the man had launched into insults. He knew that if he let the man get away, his boss would take the money out of his monthly allowance.
Garbing himself with courage he stood on his toes and shouted back, “don’t talk to me like that…you…you carica papaya. You thinks is only you can speak big big grammar. I go school too so don’t talk like I doesn’t know something.”
The man roared with laughter. “What a cankerous fool!” he reiterated his wild eyes fixated on Ashaka. “Now, I won’t ask a lowly ignoramus like you to produce a single farthing to correct the damage you inflicted upon my only means of conveyance if only you will stop maculating the air with the stench of your unwashed mouth. Get out of my way.”
The man brushed past him, entered his car and drove off. His car shot down the road like a bolt of lightning; a surprise for it looked like its parts would fall apart at any moment. Ashaka was too stunned to move. Never in his life had he heard such words that would cause his entire body to shut down.
Someone behind him muttered, “which kain conductor be this sef? E no fit fight that man wey spoil him bus? Lazy conductor.”
Disappointed, people began to disperse like chickens let out of a coop until it was just him and an old woman left. The old woman, Mama Andy, sold bean cakes at the bus stop and many times, she fed Ashaka for free when he had no money. Mama Andy was well loved by the neighbours yet no one knew anything about her past since she moved into the neighbourhood a few years ago. She stood looking at the spot where the man’s battered Peugeot 504 had been and shook her head.
She raised rheumy eyes to Ashaka and said, “don’t mind professor. After his wife and children died in one of those plane crashes years ago, he went crazy. Too many many books. He read many many books to forget.”
“Mama, how you know?” Ashaka queried.
The woman looked at him and shook his head. It seemed that every wrinkle on her face was a story waiting to be told. She pressed something into Ashaka’s hand and muttered something then she walked away.
Ashaka opened his palm and looked down at the crumpled photograph that had many cracked lines of weariness criss-crossing it. Frozen forever in the photograph was a younger version of the strange man on well-cut hair with his arms around a young woman smiling into the camera and two little girls with pig tails and polka dots dresses.
He was not sure that he had heard Mama Andy’s muttering correctly but if he had, he was sorry that he had raised his voice at the man in the tattered suit.
He is my only child, she had said.