“Move!” the fat, almost round in shape, lady yelled as she entered into the coaster bus, beckoning flippantly.
In obedience, I adjusted my sitting position, making room for her overly large frame. She attempted sitting down. The bus moved, and by virtue of its motion, she fell back to the seat, exerting her weight on me. Her left elbow hit me on the face, in effect. Yet she said not a word in apology.
Coaster bus drivers were fond of doing what the driver had just done. They would stop at bus stops, their bus conductors would shout out to potential passengers, and passengers at the bus stops, heading to work, would rush in. Some of these passengers would hang at the door if the vacant seats get filled up, because they do not want to get to work late and simply cannot wait for an emptier bus to arrive. But the coaster bus drivers would not allow all the passengers to settle down properly before depressing the accelerator. Passengers, who do not get seats on time, would then have to cling to something to prevent themselves from falling, as the coaster bus accelerates. Or they would fall on someone else, as was done by the fat lady beside me.
It greatly upset me that she behaved as though nothing had happened after elbowing my face. I looked her in the face. She stared back at me, with a rather blank stare, and still failed to say anything. She seemed to be unaware of what she had done. This enraged me. I gritted my teeth in anger, clenched my fists, and then brought out my John Maxwell book from the mono-strap bag I had with me.
Yet I had always thought about the issue of apologies. I had always wondered why people love apologies so much, wondered if apologies ever really solve anything. My face hurt and an apology would certainly not make the pain go away. But something within me still anticipated an apology from the fat lady, who seemed to not recognize her impudence. I figured it is the need to be heard, the display of seeming penitence from an offender, the upper-handedness that ensues from being apologized to, that makes people love apologies so much. That seemed to be the reason why I wanted one anyway.
“Owo da. My money,” the bus conductor said, as the bus approached Iyana-Iba bus stop, close to the Lagos State University. He started collecting fares from people in the front rows. The bus had just passed the Lagos State University main gate. And I had boarded the bus from Badagry to alight at Mile Two.
In the meantime, the fat lady began to pick her nose with her index finger. She inserted her index finger into her nostril, whirled it around, and scooped out dried mucus. She then rubbed her index finger against her thumb, smearing the dried mucus on both surfaces. The sight of this disgusted me. I strongly believed women were supposed to have a double standard regarding cleanliness. And there was a woman violating every rule of feminine cleanliness. I looked toward the left, through the window I was sitting by, avoiding the irritating sight beside me.
Then it was my turn to pay my bus fare. But there was no particular order for paying per se; the payment of fare was not exactly seat by seat. I brought out a two hundred naira note and handed it over to the bus conductor. He collected my money and added it to the naira wad he had in his right hand. He was to give me change worth fifty naira. The fat lady also paid her fare. She too had some change to collect from the bus conductor.
After paying her fare, she put her index finger into her mouth. It was the same index finger she had used to pick her nose. Noticing this, I heaved a sigh and shuddered. She began to bite her finger nails. After biting the tip of a finger nail, she would spit the nail fragment into the air. She did this quite a number times and one rather unruly fragment of finger nail, flying in the wrong direction, landed on my trouser, my lap that is. This made me feel uneasy.
“Madam!” I exclaimed.
“Sorry,” she said curtly, but continued biting her nails, moving from index finger to middle finger and then to her pinkie.
It surprised me that a word of apology could come out of her mouth, even though her apology was not heartfelt. I used my John Maxwell book to push the finger nail fragment away from my lap. I turned my face to the left, again, looking outside the window.
Breeze swept my face as I looked through the window. I love sitting close to the window because it affords me the opportunity to observe the activities that transpire on the sidewalks, by the roads, and to observe the latest cars Lagosians drive.
It was during one of such moments I first saw a Honda Element. Friends of mine had raved about the car when it initially came out but I had not seen one, until one morning when I rode to work—in a coaster bus. I fell in love with the car, thereupon, so much that I resolved it was going to be my first car. Though that is, of course, subject to change.
The coaster bus approached Iyana Iba junction. A go-slow was fast building up. That was very typical of the Ojo-Badagry road, which we were currently plying. I grimaced. I detested hold-ups and go-slows on Lagos roads. Carbon monoxide from the exhausts of vehicles would unavoidably inundate the atmosphere, giving one a headache in effect. Besides, I could not fathom why there would be a go-slow by eight in the morning; that early in the morning. On a regular day, I would have left home much earlier. But I had informed my boss, at work, that I would be turning in late that day.
While I grieved the potential of getting caught up in a traffic jam, the fat lady cried, “Conductor! Give me my change now.” Her voice was loud when she said this. She was to alight at Barracks bus stop, not too far from where we were. Her change was about a hundred naira. Her bus stop was minutes away, given the go-slow on the road.
“Madam, please wait. Let me collect money from passengers at the back. I don’t have any change yet,” replied the bus conductor, softly.
The fat lady contorted her face after the bus conductor said this. Her scowl made her look funny. She folded her arms, seemingly infuriated. Her elbows were yet again on my body, making me feel uncomfortable. I wondered why I sat beside her. I would have changed my seat but all the seats in the bus were occupied.
“Give me my change now,” the fat lady insisted on second thought. “You bus conductors are all thieves. You want me to forget my change, eh? Your plan will not work today. You have failed.”
My frustration doubled as she began to nag the conductor for her change. Her voice was more amplified, irritatingly so. And, to add to that, her left elbow was still causing me much discomfort.
“Madam,” I said again. “Please your elbow is disturbing me.”
“Sorry,” she said to me, yet again.
But she did not move her elbow a muscle. I put my left palm on my forehead. I had sat beside a mad person. There was no way she could have been normal. A man behind me censured her behaviour, upon noticing my frustration. But she still would not budge. She left her elbow where it was. It seemed as though she was sent to torment me that morning.
Nevertheless, her request for her change, thereon, was justified. Some Lagos bus conductors were really thieves. Oftentimes, they would deny one of one’s change by saying they do not have lower naira denominations to make change yet, and that one should wait a while. Then one may eventually forget to collect one’s change as one alights at one’s destination. I had been chiselled of nine hundred naira worth of change in such a manner. Perhaps the fat lady had had such a bad experience with bus conductors before that day, hence her attitude. However, she was not only being paranoid but all too vocal about it
She continued to rant about her change, raining invectives on the bus conductor. The engine of the bus produced jarring sounds like a steam engine. Some passengers chatted with each other amidst the cacophony, adding to the noise. The resultant effect was a dissonance, propagated by the sum total of all the unpleasant sounds from several corners of the vehicle. Yet none of the sounds compared to the fat lady beside me who kept yelling, “My change! Idiot! May God punish you!”
Momentarily, a woman wearing a hijab, two rows behind, said, “Madam, it is alright. You’re not the only one in this bus. He will give you your change. Please keep quiet.”
That was necessary or so I thought. Perhaps I would have blurted that out, at some point, if nobody eventually said anything to caution the fat lady. Or perhaps I may not have, because I would not want to instigate a word battle with such a woman, who, I was quite sure, was insane. I knew better than to stir up strive with a contentious woman in a bus. She would tear me into shreds with her razor-sharp vituperations.
Moreover, real men were not supposed to talk too much, as Nigerian society would have it. Men, based on what was supposedly acceptable, were to be more pensive than women. Women were to be the talkative lot. Any man who exchanged words with another person was simply called a woman, and men hated such emasculation.
The fat lady, as was expected, replied the lady wearing the hijab. “Are you talking to me?” she asked.
“Yes, you are not the only one in the bus. The conductor will give you your change. Do exercise some patience.”
“May thunder strike you dead for what you just said,” the fat lady retorted, forcibly, immediately after the lady with the hijab utter her last word.
This made heads turn in the vehicle. “Is this lady normal?” the lady with the hijab said, to the person beside her.
“It is you that is not normal. Your generations, in fact, are not normal,” replied the fat lady in answer to the question, which obviously was not directed to her.
At this point, everyone in the bus reproved the fat lady. They expressed their discontent over her attitude. “Conductor, please give this crazy woman her change, so she can shut up,” someone suggested from behind.
The fat lady continued talking, bickering, cussing out everyone in the bus, and spreading her fingers wide to tell everyone waka. Her body trembled like a chicken whose head had been cut off while she was at this. The bus had, all of a sudden, become a theatre of some sort, with a rather queer character beside me.
But I felt for the fat lady. After all, it could not have been her fault that she was mentally deranged. I had finally concluded that she insane. She had to be to behave the way she did.
Without further ado, thereafter, the bus conductor handed over a hundred naira to the fat lady. She became somewhat tranquil after this. It was as though she had been doused with ice water. She opened her brown leather bag and inserted her change into a small purse she had therein. I nodded my head, surprised by the instantaneous change of attitude. She noticed this and stared at me transitorily. Secretly, I hoped I had not stirred up the hornet’s nest by nodding my head. Fortunately, I had not, as she said not a word to me in defence.
About five minutes later, we had reached Barracks bus stop. Traffic moved rather faster than I thought it would. The fat lady alighted. Someone at the front row uttered something about how peaceful the bus had become because she alighted. I laughed. Perhaps I am supposed to be the one saying that, I thought. Yet I watched the fat lady walk across the road. Briefly, I wondered what her life must be like. Was she married? It occurred to me that maybe she had been hurting before entering the bus, hence her attitude. But I would never know for certain.
The bus stayed at Barracks bus stop for a while, in order to fill the vacant seats. A teenager entered to sit beside me, or perhaps a young adult. But his face looked rather young. When the bus finally proceeded forward, I hoped he did not have an agenda, to frustrate me, like the fat lady.
Rather fortunately, he did not. The bus was peaceful till we got to Mile Two, where I was to alight, and I got to read a couple of pages of my John Maxwell book.