One love, one heart, let’s get together and
The bus’ speakers kept on churning out reggae hit after reggae hit. Some passengers dozed, a few read-newspapers, novels, anything. The rest stayed awake and just stared.
Reginald was one of them.
He’d taken a window seat; he always took them whenever he travelled, preferably the last seat, in line with the driver’s own. Once here, he was always at peace. Strange huh? He would stare out the window, sometimes without even realizing he was doing so, most of the time without even seeing anything; his eyesight would just glaze over unless something flashed before him. In this manner, he would get to his destination. Yeah, he would rouse himself whenever they left the lonely roads and entered civilization, and he would purchase some things if he wanted to (he almost always made all his purchases at the bus station, and rarely needed to make any more purchases at all), otherwise, he was always in this trance-like state. He never got into any discussions on the bus; he’d heard stories of things that had happened to those who did. Yes, there was no way to find out if they were true, but he didn’t want any first-hand experience.
He was no lab rat.
It was a fine Thursday morning; mighty fine for travelling. It was almost ten o’clock and the sun was bright and warm while the air was cool and soothing at the same time.
A combination made in heaven. Literally.
The bus was blessedly cool and quiet, just the way he liked it. There was no over-active chatterbox eager to start the most mundane of arguments, or tell unnecessary stories. Reginald was content with the bus, content and comfortable.
Reginald was a thirty-five year old stock-broker, about five feet ten, and quite plump. Not really plump, but quite. Not too fat, not too slim, juuuuust right said Goldilocks. He’d been called away from work on an emergency; his father had been hospitalized. Cardiac arrest. According to his younger sister, it had been a particularly bad one, but the doctor said his father was stable now. He’d insisted on this journey even though the doctor had said that it was fine, he could come over during the weekend, no sweat, his mother and two sisters would take care of him. But he had to go; this was his father for God’s sake.
And he was the only son.
And so he’d bent his boss’ hand a little, promising to be back by Monday in time for work.
His family lived in Imo State while he was based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He could’ve driven himself, but his car had developed a faulty radiator the day before and was at the mechanic’s workshop. He really hoped they would only fix the radiator and not decide to exchange another part of his car, say, his carburettor, for a bad one. Or even steal something, like his CD player. He’d be mad.
So here he was, Reginald, in the back seat of the bus, eyes taking in the greenish-brownish-blackish-bluish blur that was the scenery.
And the bus driver took them all closer to doom.
They were still in Rivers State, just past a town called ISIOKPO. In a couple of minutes they would be in the last big town, ELELE, before driving into Imo State. Nothing but foliage before Elele. Reginald let his mind wander. He’d just broken up with his girlfriend, Tina. It had happened three days ago. He’d gotten fed up with her and her demands; she just couldn’t seem to think for herself. It was as if she’d been going through life looking for her brain, and she had found it in Reginald. He practically told her what to wear almost everyday. Tiring.
She was just another pretty face, and right now Reginald didn’t need just a pretty face. He was sick and tired of girls like that. He preferred brains, although any girl with that, and a pretty face, was gonna be a God-send. And girls like that were scarce, like natural resources.
Was he hurting?
Not really. They had been together less than a year. Nine months to be exact. Quite long…but in the end, Reginald felt like he’d been hanging onto a thin unravelling rope with his feet dangling over a black chasm.
He didn’t want to fall.
Time to move on.
Well, there was this girl…
The town of Elele came into view in a disjointed manner; first a sign-post, old and rusty, with the blue letters barely visible against the dirty-white background, which said ‘WELCOME TO ELELE’, a few houses built apart, as though they were scared to get close for fear of contacting a disease. And then the people. And then more houses, and more people. Reginald looked forward, out the windshield. Up ahead was the Elele roundabout, and on its right was a petrol station, old but still standing for as long as he could remember. Up there, there would be bananas and groundnuts for sale, with water, bread and the like, though he knew the driver wouldn’t stop for them to make a purchase. Slow down, maybe, probably.
The sleeping passengers were waking up one after the other. Soon the bus was filled with passengers wide-awake, looking out the windows. As soon as the bus got to the roundabout and began to turn right onto the road that would take them to Owerri, the capital city of Imo state, the hawkers swarmed the bus, now slowing – the driver must’ve been good-hearted or hungry – thrusting their goods at the bus; you would’ve thought they wanted to pass them through the bus, to the passengers inside. Probably would’ve done so, if there was a way, and provided there was a way for them to get their money back. Passengers slid back the windows, and the shouts of the hawkers
“-buy banana buy-”
“-groundnut twenty twenty naira Aunty”
“-eh, abi you want bread?”
“-comot for road make I sell something”
drifted in. Reginald kept his window closed. He wasn’t hungry.
After a brief spell, the bus picked up speed, leaving the hawkers behind.
Reginald saw a sign on the receding roundabout. It said, ‘OWERRI’, and beneath this, ‘54km’.
Soon the town was left behind.
The bus came to the first check-point after Elele. A thick log of wood had been placed half-way, blocking their lane. Another log had been placed in front of the first one, on the other half of the road, creating a snake-like passage. Soldiers sat on benches in the shade thrown by a tree, some stood and checked vehicles; nothing much really. Just a cursory glance inside the bus; it was the truck drivers, reckless looking drivers and vehicles with excessive cargo that were stopped and thoroughly checked. Money switched hands regularly at these spots.
Man must survive, eh?
The soldiers couldn’t bloody well live on salaries alone.
Reginald counted seven soldiers in full military gear- were they expecting a war? Well, one was never too careful. There had been tales of armed robbery on this road, pretty daring ones. No one was taking any chances, it seemed. Soldiers included.
Once past this check-point, the journey was relatively smooth once again. UB40 crooned ‘Red Red Wine’ on the radio, and some passengers had fallen asleep again. The sun had retreated behind a cloud, but there seemed to be no threat of rain. The air was still cool and fresh. Everything was alright.
Not for long.
The stretch of road between Elele and Imo State is bordered mostly by forest, even up to a town called Obinze in Imo State. Yes there are a few small villages, but most are lost to sight; you’ll never know people stayed this far till you saw them with bicycles, carrying fire-wood or palm fronds for their animals or any other thing, or you saw them walking-WALKING!-with farm produce in a basin balanced on their heads. But it was still predominantly forest on both sides of the road. A lonely road.
And so, when they saw it, everyone was confused, those that were awake that is. It was just another check-point, with the usual soldiers’ bench and the logs of wood on the road, and the shade; four sticks supporting a thatch roof.
But one thing though, the place was deserted.
It appeared desolate and hurriedly abandoned. Some people would say it was a good thing, no soldier would take money from the driver, but still…Reginald had a bad feeling about the place. He brought his head up from against the window, looked out the windshield. The road was deserted. Seemed normal, but to Reginald, it felt as if all form of life had deserted. The bus slowly wound it way past the check-point, its engine the only sound in that cut through the afternoon air, and Reginald looked behind him, through the back windshield.
His mouth went dry.
Nothing was behind him. Just trees on either side of the road.
Damn it. He was sure he’d seen a car or two behind him the last time he’d checked. Or had they gone through another road? He didn’t think so. There was no other road in these parts, and the next bush path was a couple of kilometres in front of them. So where-
The air suddenly became very hot, so hot that he began to sweat immediately; the air changed suddenly, almost immediately and became so cold it was almost freezing. The bus wove and wobbled like a drunken husband.
And then, there was no air at all.
The bus was full of choking sounds, as people struggled for air. Reginald’s hands flew to his throat and his countenance was that of confusion and pain and fear as he sucked in…nothing.
Oh God, help me.
Spots were dancing in his vision; he felt like he wanted to claw his throat open and let air rush in through it. He clawed the window open, stuck his head out, and sucked in…
Oh shit, he thought, is the world coming to an end?
His vision was dimming and regaining focus, in sync with his heartbeat. He couldn’t really see a thing; the scenery had become a swirling vortex of green and grey. He was losing it, losing his life, he would not get to Owerri, suck it…nothing, he would never see his Dad again never see his family again ever Oh God he was dying dying he was
One last time.
Reginald, hands weak, tasked his lungs and diaphragm one more time, and sucked in…
Heavenly, blessed air.
Reginald sucked in greedily, filling his lungs with God’s gift of air. Gasping, he fell back in his seat, eyes closed, chest heaving. Damn, he’d just snatched his life from the jaws of death. All around him he could hear people gasping for air, breathing greedily, like it was in short supply. A phrase popped in his head.
You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.
True, true. He saw that now.
And then, from the front seat, he heard someone shout “JESUS!!!”
Three ladies screamed simultaneously.
Reginald opened his eyes and looked out the windshield.
When he did, he damn near fainted.