‘The harmattan wind is fierce’, today, Hadiza murmured to herself as she hoisted her baby onto her back and made her way towards the main park where the buses that plied the Nyaya-wuse route lined up side by side like sprinters getting ready for a relay race.
Conductors jogged around the standing passengers and shouted the destination of their buses in varying pitches of voice until the air was filled with a clash of choruses that reminded Hadiza of the choir leader she had once seen on a Christmas carol program who probably thought that conducting lay in the frenzy of hands and head instead of harmony with the choir itself. Needless to say, the singing had been torture to listen to.
One of the conductors literally bore upon her, his face all sweaty and eager as he shouted the destination into her face; lugbe! Lugbe!
She shot him a dirty look as Hakeem stirred on her back, awakened from his slumber. He was the kind of baby who didn’t take too lightly to being woken up before he pleased and he showed that displeasure by letting out an unearthly bawl.
She let out a sign of exasperation as she started rocking on her heels to keep him quiet. Seconds passed as the baby hiccupped into silence while she looked around for the right bus. Hadiza was very particular about the buses she got on so when she saw a bus that was almost new drive into the park, she moved towards it.
She quickly hopped on, automatically ducking under the arch of the door to avoid hitting Luke’s head. She had seen a baby die once that way, his mother forgetting to stoop low, the sickening sound of bone against metal, the baby’s small tender head burst wide open and rivulets of blood and brain all over the road side.
The distraught mother had torn off her wrapper and had run about wildly in her underwear, madness in her eyes as she evaded the hands of sympathizers on the scene.
Hadiza settled in as much as she could sandwiched between a buxom lady with beady eyes sunk in folds of flesh and a lanky gentlemen with a well worn suit and a folder that looked like it had seen better days. She breathed a prayer of protection as the bus took off at hurtling speed, stopping only when there was a vacuum for passengers.
As the bus sped past the developing scenery of Nyaya, Hadiza let her mind wander back to the argument she had had with her husband Kabir just a few hours earlier.
She had gone to Kabir to talk to him about giving her money for a few household items. It had been weeks since he gave her any money at all. Promises were all he seemed to be good at giving her these days.
She had walked into the room and found him in a heated debate with three of his friends. She tagged them his ‘political friends’. Kabir had always been politically inclined but with the onset of the elections in the country he seemed to take on a more obsessed view of politics especially with the new set of friends he had acquired.
‘The northerners are the best rulers! Walahi! If they are at the helm of power at least there will be a chance for the kingdom of Islam to advance!’
‘They don’t care about your Islam!’ She had retorted making her presence known to them.
‘All they care about is getting enough cash from the national coffers for at least ten of their generations to come! ‘
Faheed, the one she considered to be something of a fanatic among the rest shot her a look filled with hatred. He felt that Kabir gave his pretty university educated wife too much freedom to speak and had constantly told him so in her presence. Today was no different.
‘Kabir! How many times have I told you that you should control your wife? She is not to talk where men are talking!’
Hadiza was far from fazed. She was placidly unperturbed. She was used to expressions of outrage to her rather forthright manner of speech and being raised by a western minded father who was a professor did nothing to help the matter. She was hardly what you would tag a conventional Muslim.
Kabir merely shrugged and looked up at her.
‘What do you want?’
‘Money,’ she said pointedly. ‘I’ve gone through the last of Luke’s diapers and we don’t have any foodstuff in the house.’ Of course you haven’t been home in two weeks so you wouldn’t notice.’
Kabir shrugged again and Hadiza became infuriated.
Kabir the shrugging tree, that’s what she called him.
She had formed the habit of attaching names to the actions or features of people around her and once she gave a name, it stuck in her head so that even when she was talking about them, she called them by those names.
Now, not many things infuriated Hadiza but Kabir’s habit of shrugging was among the few things that did.
‘I don’t have much money,’ Kabir said shrugging again.
Hadiza had managed to rein in her temper by sheer will. When kabir had married her and whisked her away to Abuja, he had painted grandiose dreams of a lavish life in a beautiful home of their own and the delightful pitter patter of tiny feet.
Instead, she got a small boys quarters with an outdoor kitchen and bathroom in the outskirts of Abuja and had found out that the ‘end of discussion’ brand of car that he used to drive down to Kaduna to see her with belonged to Faheed. Pride stopped her from going back home after all; her father had advised not to her to rush into the marriage. But she was in love and she was horny and being pregnant before marriage had seemed to be the best way to force her father’s hand.
‘How much do you have she asked in a voice trembling with controlled rage.
One thousand Naira?’ he replied casually with a more dramatic shrug in tow.
Kabir’s political friends had gone silent. Even Faheed who would have sniggered shuffled his feet in discomfort.
‘For the diapers and household items?’ She queried dangerously.
Kabir shrugged again.
Hadiza ground her teeth together and stretched out her hand.
‘Give it to me.’ Kabir obliged and she had walked out of the room, the pride that made her back ramrod straight oozing out with each step so that by the time she got outside the house, she was stooped over with humiliation.
Now in the bus she sighed and stared around the bus, looking intently at the faces of the passengers on her row and giving each one a name that came to her mind. She decided to knight the fat woman sitting on her right ‘bun cheeks’ and the gaunt man on her left ‘Sir worn-a-weary.’ Just as her eyes travelled to the man on her extreme left, he stood up and began to speak in a strong loud voice.
‘Breathen! The Holy Spirit has laid it upon my heart to talk to all of you in this bus today.’
Hadiza looked at him keenly as he continued talking. He was a young man in his early twenties with a kind face. It is his eyelashes that caught her attention though. They were the thickest and the longest she had ever seen and she wondered how many women would kill for eyelashes like that. She instantly dubbed him ‘luscious lashes.’
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die for you so that you might be set free from sin. There is no life outside Jesus Christ because he is the one who shed his blood for all the sins you have committed so that you might have a relationship with God himself. All that he asks of you is that you repent of your sins and take the free gift of salvation he offers you. He can give you a new life if only you repent and let him teach you how to live right.’
Hadiza was bored instantly. The other passengers on the bus looked equally droned out. She had heard these bus evangelists preach so many times that she could almost predict what would come out next.
‘Is there anyone here who thinks that their lives are perfect?’
The question snagged her attention.
‘Perfect?’ ‘Her life?’ She giggled involuntarily.
Luscious lashes turned in her direction and looked straight at her.
‘Is your life perfect he asked,’ his kind face crinkling up in an encouraging smile.
There was a lump in her throat as she looked into his eyes. He seemed to know her, seemed to know that her life was a study in chaos and she had to quell the desire to suddenly tell him everything. Her frustrations and snuffed out dreams…everything.
‘God isn’t promising you a perfect life,’ luscious lashes continued, but he is promising you a life fulfilled life in him. All you have to do is believe in him.’
Hadiza felt something drop on the back of her hands and looked down. There on the back of her hands were two teardrops. She touched her face and was amazed to find out that she was crying. Luscious lashes stretched his hand over to her.
‘Do you want to come to God?’
She couldn’t respond. Her tears were everywhere. In her nose, her mouth, her eyes…she was leaking tears for heaven’s sake but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t stop them so she nodded; passionately.
The man leaned forward, ignoring the harrumph of protest from ‘bun cheeks’ and grasped Hadiza’s hands.
‘Say this after me,’ he commanded softly.
‘Lord Jesus, I believe you saved me from sin and eternal damnation with your blood. I want to live the life you have given me to your glory. Come into my heart and be my King, be my guide and my friend. Wash me in your saving blood I pray in Jesus name, Amen’
Hadiza blabbed the words after him, gripping his hands back with such fierceness that it scared her. When she was done, her fingers loosened their grip and she threw a look of gratitude towards him. She felt grateful and even if she didn’t understand why, she knew that she had every reason at that moment to be grateful.
Luscious lashes nodded in response and sat back down in his seat.
Hadiza was recovering from her crying bout with shuddering sighs when a voice boomed in her ear.
‘Get out of the bus!’
She turned to look behind her so fast that her head spun. What was she thinking? She thought to herself.
She was in the back seat for heaven’s sake. She turned to look front when she heard the same voice again.
‘The bus…get out of the bus!’
Was she going crazy? She looked in luscious lashes’ direction and found him watching her intently. As their gazes met, he nodded then he turned and shouted to the conductor,
‘Before market dey!’ the conductor hollered to the driver.
As the bus slowed down Hadiza pulled herself up from the tiny space between ‘sweet buns’ and ‘Sir worn-a- weary’ and jumped down just after luscious lashes who stretched out his hand to help her down.
She was unstrapping the baby from her back when she heard the voice again
‘Walk the back the way you came, fast,’ the voice came again.
She threw a startled glance at luscious lashes.
‘Did you hear that? ‘
He nodded. Both of them begun to walk off the way the bus had come as fast as they could. They had taken all but ten steps when the bus which had just pulled away from them and was picking up speed exploded. There was a screech of metals as the cars behind the bus swerved in an attempt to avoid the burning vehicle and careened into other cars on the next lane. Soon the landscape was a blend of crumbled cars, black acrid smoke, shattered glass and anguished screams.