This story shows in a little way the kind of emotional stress involved in commuting within Lagos.
Everyone knows and tells stories of the challenges in living in Lagos. As for me, I have had particularly interesting experiences involving commuting via public transport. Yes, the traffic locks up from time to time, the drivers recommended to go in for psychiatric tests are far less than the ones driving loose, and the bus conductors are a peculiar harassing human breed. These conductors wield more power than the commuters. It’s one of those upside-down models where the seller controls the buyer. It is mostly an unfair duel when you engage one of those guys except you’re a diehard Lagos person. Again, going around Lagos in a private car would shield one from some of these public transport issues but of course, there are many times you’re happy to not be burdened with driving a car on a Lagos road. I would share you the experiences of one such morning.
Early mornings in December are usually cold but not that day. I lazily opened one eye allowing the light to stream in before forcing the other to do same. It was not as if morning was unwelcome, it was just that the night brought a soothing to calm the soul and one could only wish for it to last longer. And it became increasingly so as the December solstice approached. Making the effort to rise out of sleep, out of bed has been a lot of work these past few days. Aches and pains all over, I mean the day job hasn’t been that tedious recently. Was I just suffering from the burnout aftermath or had I just plain reached a significant milestone in laziness? The standing fan had worked its spinning blades all night and somehow had vibrated till it was turned away from my cot to the window as if it was shy. No matter I say it does its job well blowing around the musty air in my room. Working from 8 or 9pm daily till the whining hours of breaking dawn requires a lot of dedication.
No matter, I had to get up to resume on the day’s track. I couldn’t spare a lot of time meditating that morning without being late. I had gotten into a cycle of lateness and I needed to break out of it fast. I marched out of the house eager and confident. The temperature was right, not hot nor cold, not dry. It was that kind of day that the air is just cool to the skin and you would be refreshed by large helpings in the lungs.
The shirt carefully pressed with my last spray starch- I needed to refill, replace that, it was in its last stage of use after a year of consistent wear and very bad care. The trousers were sweet from my marina clothes seller. The boot-cut was significant and it flapped so because the tailor made a bust bad job of turning it up higher than my ankle so the trouser legs generally flapped left and right as I walked forward. My shoes were as black as yesterday’s polish afforded. On a typical day, I had to engage at least four transport vehicles to work, three if I got a free ride from my neighbor’s driver as he took the children to school. I missed him that morning and decided to go for a bike ride to my first stop.
I ended up trekking the ten minutes distance to junction because I chose not to flag down the okada riders. The ones I saw that morning were those I wasn’t comfortable with. Yes, the road was dusty and my backpack was heavy but I tried to ignore the mocking voices. Oh, isn’t it stupid? Why wouldn’t you just save your energy and just go on an okada? “Why didn’t I just wave one of those guys down as they passed by?” I shrugged it off in defiance. My pride was still intact when I got to the bus-stop but my breath and energy struggled to catch up.
Luckily, I didn’t wait too long before the right bus came along. It had ample space and it just felt convenient to go in this one. The bus was headed to Oshodi Isale as advertised by the driver. He had no conductor. An elderly man got down in a disgruntled manner, not a strange scene in Lagos. “Town planning,” I announced and climbed in next to a boy in school uniform. A gentleman also got in after me and the driver drove onto the expressway. I was well prepared for and had reserved the change. I saw a tweet once that this change problem also existed in London with over 500 commuters unable to get onto buses daily. Hmm…multiply that by 10 or 100 for Lagos.
“Please, your money.” I was singing a tune under my breath when the driver looked up into the rearview mirror and asked us to pay up. I brought out a fifty naira note and the man sitting beside me asked for it so he could use it as his change. “I’m collecting twenty naira change because I’m stopping at town planning.” He handed the money back quietly and waited for the boy next to me collect his fare. The bus was to Oshodi and I usually paid thirty naira since my stop was only midway.
“Please, twenty naira change o,” I said aloud to catch the attention of the driver who had stashed the fares he received into the dashboard’s pigeon hole. “My twenty naira change, please.” I repeated when the man didn’t act like he heard. “I’m going to drop at town planning.”
“No!” the bus driver retorted. He was elderly, had a calmness in his voice associated with some education. He seemed the kind of man who probably purchased the bus to double as personal and to make some change along the way. Many people do that in Lagos.
“Are you saying you won’t stop at that bus stop or is my fare fifty naira?”
“Which town planning?” the man asked, irritation not hidden at all. “No, there’s no change! I’m not stopping at town planning! Who asked you to enter? I never asked you to enter my bus!”
What followed next totally blocked out the music in my head.
“The town planning on the way to the Oshodi you’re going now.” I answered surprised at the sudden aggression.
“Oga, I’m sure I didn’t ask you to enter. I’m not carrying any bus stop along the way. I only called Oshodi Isale!”
I was too shocked to answer for some seconds. “What, wait is it that you will not stop there or you want to charge fifty naira?” this time I spelt it out trying to understand it all.
“I didn’t tell you to enter my bus! See now, you’re clamoring for twenty naira change, twenty naira change.” The man half-turned in his seat to mock this troubled guy. “I don’t want your change wahala abeg. There is no change!” He sat upright in his seat.
“But I said so now. I told you I was going to town planning before I entered your bus! Abi did I not say so?” I asked the boy. He only smiled by half and nodded. “Please answer well now so he can know.” I gestured toward the driver but the boy only shook his head. In a few moments, I had moved from the emotions of happiness to shock, embarrassment and now a thorough anger based on the incredulity of the whole situation. The worst thing was that the man kept talking and asserting his decision not to produce my change.
“Oga, it’s too bad o. I’m asking for my change, I have a right to ask for my change now even if it’s twenty naira.”
“I don’t care how much your change is. I told you I don’t have change, period! I can even give you your money back if that’s what you want.”
“Wow, I would appreciate that a lot, sir! And I would pray for you!”
The other folks in the bus were really stayed quiet as they savored the violence of our words. They smiled and laughed quietly but no one attempted to mediate.
“I don’t need your prayer! You pray for yourself!”
Finally, I could afford to laugh in triumph. The man made to quiet down after that. “Please let’s not quarrel, I don’t want wahala. The problem is I don’t have any change.” Wasn’t that easy enough? I shook my head and wondered at the drama.
“I hear. Just drop me at the bus stop abeg.” I expended so much emotional energy because of twenty naira. My pulse and heartbeat had gone up many notches as I raised my voice in defense of my dignity. Well, the twenty naira could go. I stepped away from the bus and tried to pick another song.
Time was sure running out as clock-in at work approached. That trek from home to the bus-stop ate up part of my commute time. All could be salvaged if the trip from Ilupeju to Stadium went smoothly. I got a bus on time “Costain, Orile!” “Costain, Orile!” “Stadium,” I shouted. The conductor stopped the driver and waited for me to get in. I negotiated for eighty naira and he agreed. The singing continued in my head but maybe it came back too early. That morning’s chore was yet to be done.
We had only gotten to two bus-stops away when the driver shouted to the conductor “No carry stadium under bridge o! I no dey pass under o!” The guy synched up instantly to the chagrin of all. This was the same guy who had convinced me his route would be through under bridge when I got onto the bus. One, two passengers got down from the bus. I couldn’t imagine trekking another five, ten minutes again so I also alighted from the bus.
“Owo da?” the guy held out his hand. I had a 500-naira note in my hand but made to look for a 30 naira to give him. I thought that fair because we weren’t even halfway (arithmetic would be forty naira) so I judged thirty naira fair. “Fifty naira ni owo mi! My money na fifty naira!” I was still trying to explain in the best Yoruba I could muster when the conductor snatched the 500 naira from me and proceeded to sort out my balance. “What, how can you collect fifty naira less than halfway?” My protest was weak because he had my money. Tears. A grown man? Because of change? Yes, I was highly embarrassed. The injustice blatant, the open insult, the raised voice, my frayed nerves. I thought I had gotten over that morning’s transportation troubles. I got out of the last bus battle victorious but this one was obviously different. I stood there holding the change he squashed into my hand feeling very displaced. It was that kind of blessed day when everyone has a case against you, when the world seems bent on bullying you. I must have been weird standing there after the conductor had dealt with me. I waited content to allow the elements to do their worst. It’s that kind of resignation you have when you’ve run from the first drizzles of rain and gotten under a shade only to have it destroyed. You just allow the rain and wind and the sand to pelt and drench you as you walk away towards your destination without any care, without seeking another shelter.
Another bus came. Stadium this time was one hundred naira. I didn’t bother. I mean I didn’t negotiate or anything. No use. I just got on meekly and came back at the same bus stop I had avoided. I got down and walked the ten minutes to the next bus stop. My last bus finally came by, two of them actually. I chose the one closest. My logic was tired and I just wanted to be served without asking for the options on the menu. No, thanks. I would have anything available. Anything.
Clock-in at office that day? 8:45am. No, I didn’t tell the manager of my adventure. I slunk to my desk and sighed.