The goddess is back! She says to appreciate all of you that sent get-well-soon cards, feel good potions, those weird joysong crystals, plus plus.
We had several sessions over the weekend and although I wasn’t too physically fit, it was a totally feel good experience. You can be sure to expect great deliveries over the next few days (you’d just have to wait till i recover full health as well).
It’s a Monday morning and I’m glad to be here, so I’d love you to know that I love my job because you guys make it worth it.
I’d be beating a solidarity anthem on the gong. Bang! Bang! Bang! pan ran ran ran ran ran ran! All National Anthem like, because AfroSays:
“Conductor, fun mi ni change mi! Twenty Naira mi da?! Abole ni e ni??”
Some buccal jet spray squirted on my neck as the fat Yoruba woman screamed at the top of her voice, demanding the balance of her fare from belligerent bus conductor, accusing him of dishonest intentions.
I adjusted to a better position since there was plenty of room and I promptly wiped off the offending spray. The bus was quite empty because it was a public holiday evening, and apart from myself, there were only four other passengers, a quiet fellow sitting in front and the three market women we had picked up after I joined.
I stole a furtive look at the angry woman and my unsure eyes immediately began to take a tour of the vehicle. It was evening so I couldn’t see much, but this bus was in surprisingly good condition compared to the other ten-turned-fourteen seater commercial buses that plied Lagos metropolis; all the seats were cushioned and there were no holes in the floor to give me a good view of the tarred road. I had joined it on the expressway like the other woman because I was too much in a hurry to join the queue for the government-owned, mass transit buses.
“Ole! Fun mi ni change mi oh! Mo ti fe bole oh!”
I tried to ignore the woman but I was intensely irritated for even at the window edge of the seat, I could not escape the spray. The conductor was luckier though, his medium-length dreadlocks and upright collar got the worst of it so he probably didn’t any get skin contact. This time I was expecting some form of backlash because the woman had directly called him a thief but he still did not reply; his face was a blank sheet.
Although tirades like hers and name-callings too, were a consistent part of the commuting culture in this part of the world, the conductor, sometimes assisted by the driver, usually had a few retorts of his own. Such repartees usually resulted in a form of entertaining comedy where the passengers took on their two-man crew and the crew, in turn, would verbally assault the passengers with poverty punctuated one-liners and so so. Most of these exchanges usually resulted in even more hilarious criticisms of the government and everybody went home happy but the rest resulted in very bitter exchanges that often went physical. I was surprised at the quiescence of the well muscled thug; they usually were the more aggressive ones. His type usually would reply with a well aimed, highly disrespectful insult and then all the other market women would join in.
The woman had claimed that she was about to alight. That was probably a lie too because most Lagosians would say anything to collect their fare balances before the bus got to its final destination where the conductor would have a chance to magically disappear, but it got me wondering why the conductor wasn’t calling out bus stop names like he was supposed to.
“Driver! Temperance bus stop, o wa oh! ”
Another woman had called from the back that she wanted to get off at the next bus stop. The bus quieted down for a bit then the antagonist began yelling again. She obviously wasn’t getting off soon, she just wanted to secure her balance. Thank God I was getting off at Temperance too. I sat up as the bus drew nearer to our destination. Usually, it was illegal for commercial buses to ply the express way because the bus stops were on the service lane to the right, so I guessed that the bus was going to cut speed some distance before or after the bus stop area and we were going to jump down when the vehicle was in reasonably slow motion, but to my surprise, the black and white blocks that lined the culvert kept moving past us at the same speed.
“O wa oh! O wa oh! O wa oh!” we all called after each other in different tones like a Handel choral improvisation, but the driver didn’t seem to notice.
“Conductor, please I’d like to get down at Temperance.”
It was obvious that I was speaking to Casper, the friendly ghost, because this conductor didn’t hear what I said.
We did another beautiful Handel improvisation just in case the driver didn’t hear us, but he obviously wasn’t into classicals. I kept quiet because the other women kept shouting, especially the antagonist. They were screaming Yoruba profanities at the top of their lungs. I knew all the popular ones but I heard a few new interesting concepts. They kept at it as the bus sped past Temperance bus stop.
Soon enough, we were past four bus stops and on our way out of the city. The ladies were screaming Yoruba mysteries by now. I picked a few clues from their panic inspired gibberish that got me confused. They were begging, insulting, praying for and threatening our captors at the same time and in this tumultuous mix, the antagonist still found courage to ask for her twenty Naira balance. I knew we were in trouble so I just kept my mouth shut.
We kept moving for over an hour until we were out of city, on an interstate route that I wasn’t familiar with. The women had kept up their panic banter for a while until they got tired but the one that was owed would not relent; from time to time, she would insult the driver and the conductor and eventually she had words for everyone else in the bus. It’s been said that people have their different ways of dealing with crisis. I found hers kind quite unusual.
I must have drifted in and out of consciousness, maybe even slept with my eyes open, because I found myself coming to different states of awareness at different times. Sometimes I would suddenly find myself in a state of great terror, sometimes a state of deep resentment, sometimes I was very curious, other times I was just bored. It was getting really dark and our captors still hadn’t spoken a word to us or to themselves.
Another half hour passed in the same dull momentum and the strangely, the conductor began to sing to himself, some weird song in an even more weirder language. It lasted for a few minutes and it stopped. Of course he earned a few well-aimed insults in the process. Quite suddenly, the quiet fellow in the front suddenly lifted a gun to head of the driver and told him to turn into an un-tarred road that suddenly showed itself some distance ahead of us. The bus slowed a bit and made for the diversion. We then began another two-hour journey, but this time, it was very quiet.
There was no sign of human life on this road, just a long, dusty path of red earth in the middle of thick vegetation. At the end of the road, there was a large, dark body of water. The driver was instructed to park the vehicle. I’m not sure what was wrong with the woman who wanted her fare balance because she still wanted it. Nobody else said a word.
The gunman collected the car keys and alighted. The driver opened his door and immediately sprinted into the bushes. The muscular conductor slid the passenger door open, and alighted as well. He put his hand under the seat and brought out a cowry adorned leather sack. I wet myself.
I’m not sure what the other passengers thought but I would have preferred to be robbed and beaten than to be used an ATM machine. Lately, rumours had been circulating the city that people were being kidnapped for use in money making rituals. Some tabloids even ran stories of how such human sacrifices would perpetually vomit new Naira notes for their masters to fill up several life-size coffins.
The other two women began to cry but this crazy one wanted her twenty Naira back. The muscular man brought out a calabash and went on to scoop some water into it from the stream. He began to speak some strange words into it after which he instructed each of us to drink from it.
I was glad that I wasn’t the first in line to partake of the foul communion. He started with the other two, more lucid women who quickly complied when the gun was trained on them. The mouthy woman simply would not comply; she wanted her twenty Naira balance and couldn’t care less if the bullet was a cruise missile. Apparently, they couldn’t force her so they let her be.
I wasn’t as confident but I was too petrified to even lift my hands or open my mouth. I wasn’t sure of anything but I knew there were no immediate repercussions for refusing the mystic brew. They let me be too.
The two compliant women seemed to be calmer now. They were instructed to alight, which they did, and the muscular fellow led them into the bushes, collar still flying like it was all a joke. They man with a gun stared at myself and the mentally imbalanced lady for a while then turned his back to leave. He soon disappeared into the bushes as well, throwing the keys over as he did so.
In a less than two hours, we joined the interstate route again and I made a mental note of where we had exited from, there was a 60 km/h speed limit sign right in front of it; it would be a suitable landmark for future reference. There was also a u-turn gap ahead and as I navigated turned to the other side in a frenzied slalom, we spotted a dangerous looking man running towards us.
We almost hit the driver.
In three minutes, we were back to the speed sign from where we had come and the un-tarred road was missing; all we saw was thick vegetation. Fear would not allow us investigate so we pressed on further, looking for another non-existent divergence in case we were mistaken. The driver then took this opportunity to relay his side of the story to us.
He had picked up the kidnappers some minutes before he I joined the trip and the armed man joined him in front and almost immediately threated him with the gun as they had picked up pace. He had been given instructions to pick the first four passengers they could find and drive towards the interstate route after and the gun had been aimed at him, the whole trip.
In about an hour, we re-entered the city and we dropped off the ranting, crazy lady later with her ‘twenty Naira change’ and proceeded to the nearest police station to make an official police report.
I called my husband as soon as we got there and explained most of it. He would not believe my story; he knew that route well and there was no divergence. The police would not believe our story for the same reason; they sent us to the hospital to be tested for hallucinogens.