It was usually impossible to get a commercial vehicle going straight to Ikeja from the estate. And so Chizi nearly fell into the road to stop the speeding yellow bus with outrageously blaring engine which conductor was yelling Ikeja! Ikeja!!
‘Madam, take am easy now!’ the black conductor in holes-ridden red T-shirt cautioned rudely as she squeezed past him to climb in, nearly squashing him against the door. She ignored him and took her seat on the only space left in the bus, which was the seat closest to the door, and then the car blared away.
On the way she kept her eyes glued to the streets, filling her sour mind with insightful thoughts formed from the pretentiously plain, calm scenario out there.The unending streets were streaming with people obviously so diverse in their various experiences with life’s benevolence; those moving along in comfortable vehicles, those trekking along with wares balanced heavily against their stiff necks, those squatted along the road edges with arms outstretched; and for a solemn moment, she wondered how many among them were actually free from the strains of life’s crushing burdens, how many of them were really living fulfilled lives devoid of head-splitting obstacles.
‘Madam’ the conductor called, touching her gently. Chizi turned and narrowed her gaze at him.
‘Abeg, your money’, he demanded, looking straight into her narrowed eyes.He was sitting on the metal slab in front of her seat row.
‘Ehen, na why you go touch me?’ she inquired sharply, running her eyes contemptuously down his lanky frame.
‘When I dey call you since, and you no answer’, the conductor replied innocently, and then, her countenance softened. She opened her bag and brought out a crisp one thousand naira note. The conductor made to collect it, and then withdrew his hand as soon as he saw how much it was.
‘Madam, I no get change’, he replied, looking away, and Chizi calmly slid her note back into her bag.
‘I no tell you make you enter with your change?’ he inquired with his fixed on the bag, as though wishing he could own the whole money.
‘You no tell me’, she shot back defiantly, fixing her eyes on his crust-filled neck. Just then she noticed how strangely black he was, and reasoned that his blackness couldn’t probably have been only as a result of the fierce sun, but also the several coats of unwashed dirt on his skin.
‘You go come down be that, because I no get change’. Chizi raised her eyes to the white, saliva-dripping mouth he was using to tell her that. He should be grateful that her kind was boarding his bus. She scrutinized him brusquely and drew her eyes back to the window. The conductor called on the driver to stop the bus for her to get down, but only got a rebounding rebuke in return, that he was greedy for giving his seat out to a passenger.
‘Nkan ti o daa fun e n’iyen.Oloju kokoro!’ the driver grumbled in drunken voice, and he was left with no option than going back to fight alone for his money.
The sight of the Ikeja overhead bridge, which was the last bus-stop and was only now a few metres away, incited a more vivid fear in the conductor that he might lose his money, and so he finally collected the large note from her. He dipped his hand into his pockets and brought out all the small notes in them. He then arranged them together and stretched it out to her to hold while he sought for the remaining change. But Chizi only kept her eyes glued to the window. And, as soon as the bus came to a stop, she alighted.
‘Learn how to talk to people. You no know who dey your back’ she cautioned him with her mouth pouted, and then began to walk away.
‘Madam, you don dash me?’ he inquired with eyes glistening with delight, and when she nodded in response without looking back, he rained prayers after her.
‘God bless you, you go born twins, your husband no go pursue you commot for house…’. And Chizi silently muttered ‘Amens’ as she went.
As soon as she was alone again on the busy tarmac road, the soothing lightness in her heart vanished, and she again began to feel the overwhelming weight of her depression. She looked around, there was an eatery at the junction in front of her. She walked quietly to it and peeped in. A good number of people were seated inside. ‘A good enough place for some distraction’, she thought pleasantly as she walked up to the waiter’s stand and ordered for a cake.
‘What size, ma?’ the waitress inquired.
‘Large. The largest size’. The waitress went inside and re-emerged with her order. She paid her money and carried the cake wrapped in a beautiful transparent plastic bag carefully to an empty table. She then drew out the chair and sat down. She unwrapped the cake, pushed its knife into it, cut out a big slice and began to chew it, scanning the room to see if people were watching her, and felt a pleasurable warmth coursing her spine on noticing the several surprise-widened eyes moping at her. After a few more slices, she got up and left.