Since I moved to the big city I had learnt to wake at exactly 4:20, it was necessary if I wanted to beat the mammoth third mainland-bridge traffic. I’d say my prayers, rub and shine then dissolve into the dense stream of chaos and anarchy. Living in this city taught me one thing, rage. It was the simplest form of communication the indigenes understood, and in the time I had spent here I had learnt to speak it well, although I was not fluent. Another common trait was the yelling. I was not going to adapt that culture so I purchased a pair of noise cancellation ear pods and mastered the art of lip reading. The last thing I learnt was to always be on guard, or as the locals put it “shine ya eyes”
Every morning I would stand at the bus top in the midst of chugging locomotive bodies accompanied by thick smoke from wobbly exhaust pipes with my two fingers gesturing towards prospective tricycle chauffeurs. A couple of minutes one slowed down at my feet, I never waited for him to stop before jumping into his vehicle. I asked how much seeing as I was the only passenger which I thought to be strange because it was a Monday morning, he muttered some words which from his lip movement looked like he said #100.
In my head I thought, “This guy just wants to cheat me sha… because of this early morning rush”. I did not argue, but started devising a scheme to repay his injustice. “Let’s all be mad together”, a devious smile grew wider across my face as my plot took shape in my head.
We reached the junction a couple of minutes later, and I executed the first part of my plan. I pulled out my wallet and handed him a crisp #1000 naira note. “YE” he shouted, not that I was surprised , the movement of his brows moving in sync with the beat pulsating beat against my eardrums. He looked at me and started waving the money in the air as he muttered some words I believed to be Yoruba and I could not translate, but it turned out that he was just shouting words rapidly. Taking out my ear pods was almost as annoying as taking my bath, but this was necessary if I wanted to get my change from this man.
“Oga why nah” he says to me, his tone now less aggressive.
“No bi #100 u talk “I reply, resentment hanging on every word.
“no nah …I bin ask you when you dey enta if you bin get change….say na only #100 I get for hand”
I felt ashamed for pouring my frustration on this man’s head and realized I should have perhaps listened to what he said before assuming that I was going to be cheated. I reached into my back pocket and produced a worn out #50 note which I handed to him with an apology, as he placed the 1k in my hand. I quickly apologized again before heading towards another junction where I would board a bus going to Ikeja. I strolled casually towards the bus top and decided to at least turn down the volume of the music seeping into my ears. As I neared the bus stop, I waited to listen to what the conductor said before entering the rickety contraption.
“One fiftyooo….enter with your change” he bellowed as loudly as his croaked voice would allow.
A few shouts and three passengers later the bus was, and as the driver fiddled with the ignition the conductor wrestled to shut the door. I was astonished at how free the road was and muttered a quick thank you to God for answering my prayers. As the danfo neared the junction the conductor stood, resting his back against the haphazard door that looked like it could it open at any moment “Money for front” he said as politely as he could. I opened my wallet to bring out my own money…when I heard a loud shout.
“Wetin day do una sef”? he asked the woman irritably who was now holding her bag closely to her chest, showing her his hands as he said “I no get change… una go find change yoursef”.
The conductor now looked to my row, and the man beside me produced a shiny #1000 note as his payment. His demeanor morphed into one of utter disgust fused with pain as stared at the varying high currency denominations in his hands. He slumped back into his corrugated seat, stuck his head outside the window and if had to guess I’d have say he was waiting for some loose change to fall from the sky.
His thought process was interrupted by the lady with the handbag asking for her change. The look in his bloodshot eyes should have been answer enough for her, instead she repeated the question again, with a much more demanding tone. This time he answered her using his limited vocabulary to conjure up insults on the woman. Like some kind of remainder, the other passengers seeing this began to attack him some of them demanding their change immediately while others just returned insults sprinkled in their dialects. Instinctively I turned up the volume on my phone, holding down the button till Jon’s voice was the only sound I could hear. Looking at the countenance of the conductor, I felt a sort of pity towards him. There had to be some passengers seated in the bus whom I believe had to have at least currency in lower denominations to offer, but instead decided to make their lives and that of the croaky voiced conductor a lot more difficult.
As the bus slowed down at the bustop I pulled out my wallet and produced 2 #50 notes, 2 #20notes and 1 #10 note and handed it over to the conductor. A part of me wishes I had stayed to take mental picture of the other passenger’s faces, but I would settle for the “thank you” offered to me by a now less edgy conductor.
Couple of weeks later, I was sitting at the back of the bus as I usually did, paying little attention to the world around me. As the vehicle neared its final bus top several of the passengers started fondling with their pockets and purses rummaging for whatever loose change they could find. As the conductor began the collection fares, one of the passengers handed him crisp #500 notes, indicating with five fingers that the fare was for five. I couldn’t help but smile at this unprecedented gesture, that there was maybe hope for us to change after all.