Lagos Palava

Lagos Palava | Evidence Egwuono | Nigeria

When she noticed the giant-sized hole in her pocket, she knew. She heard voices snicker at her, voices only she could hear. Abruptly, Frank’s playful warnings about village people and the evil they wrought flitted through her mind. They must have got my address finally, she thought as she unzipped her bag. She peered into the black leather purse. It was not there.

It was a hot afternoon. The sun shone too brightly as characteristic of a typical afternoon in Lagos. Sometimes, one wondered if the sun had a personal vendetta against Lagosians. Sachet water hawkers filled the busy Ojuelegba bridge like grains of sand. It was one of those days people drank water like camels preparing for their voyage to the Sahara desert. As the bus was stuck in the never-ending Lagos traffic, different hawkers rushed at the bus, displaying their wares, and force-feeding the vehicle.

It felt hotter in the danfo she boarded. Body odour, bad breath, and sporadic farts from passengers combined to form an indestructible bond, hurtling out the oxygen that had struggled to enter through the tiny windows of the bus. She felt choked. Worse still, she was sandwiched between a plump woman and a man who carried such a weighty creature in between his legs that he sat with both legs widely apart. Once, she had asked the plump woman to make space for her. The woman, unanswering, picked her up with her eyes and threw her on the floor. “Where do you want me to move to?” She had asked while letting out a contemptuous hiss.

“Make una dey bring out una money o, I no fit shout. An’ no gimme big moni o, I no get change,” a man hanging by the entrance of the bus said. In reality, he was yelling at the passengers. He was the bus conductor. The white torn singlets he was wearing had turned ash from exhaust fumes, sweat, and many days of being unwashed, weeks perhaps. He expectorated and while the phlegm lingered in his mouth, he appeared to be considering whether to spit it out or swallow it. He chose the latter. She had seen enough of this to be fazed by the man’s act. Lagos conductors, they were like that. Sometimes, she wondered whether people like him were humans or monkeys draped in human clothes.

“Na one thousand naira I get o,” a voice from the front row replied. He had grey hairs on his head. The sour conductor howled at him. “I teach you before u enter say a no geh change nau, this baba.” The man did not respond to him and this seemed to have made the conductor furious “All dis old old people no dey hear word sef? Abi baba you deaf? Naso Dem go dey do like awon ajeh. Later nau iffa say make he comot for my bus all dis one go dey say person wicked….” The man didn’t wait for more insults to be hurled at him. He replied the conductor, with flared nostrils and bulging eyes. “Omo ode! It’s me you’re talking to in that manner? You uncouth hooligan with no smidgen of wisdom and speck of intelligence… I blame the stupid mother that birthed you….” The conductor had not seemed to understand a word the man was saying but only replied when he heard ‘mother’.

Pandemonium occupied the front seat in the bus. The enraged man and the conductor lashed out at each other, shouting at the top of their voices. Other passengers, seeking ways to release their bottled-up frustrations joined in the insult tirade, cussing and invoking different gods to punish the driver, the conductor, and the bus while blaming the country and her leaders for the hostility they were faced with. Someone shouted “na NEPA cause am,” and the others took it up, including them in their insult rain. The driver’s appeal for all to be quiet was ignored, or wasn’t heard. Two children frightened by the whole event began crying, but their voices were swallowed up. And, their mother seemed too engrossed in the heated banter to have noticed them. A man perched close to the entrance rose. He was draped in a white gown and a cap, and was holding a Quran. “My fellow brothers and sisters, this is not the life prophet Mohammed SAW instructed us to live…” But the enraged conductor had snatched his Quran and tossed it out the window. “This place no be ile keun and if you no kip quiet, na you I go fling comot next.” The man sat without uttering a word.

All the time, she continued ransacking her bag ignoring the whispers around her. She brought out the contents in her bag: a pocket-sized notepad, a white handkerchief, the pink purse she kept her wipes, lipstick, and powder, and the other purse she had kept it. She brought out the insides of the bag and flapped gently. Pieces of paper flew out. She knew her cousin, a 5-year-old would be responsible but whatever did it matter now? She needed to find it, and quick.

After moments of tongue-wagging teeth sucking and saliva exchange, all was still. The man with grey hairs had stomped out of the bus without paying while cussing the conductor’s progenitors. One couldn’t tell whether he had put up a show because he felt insulted or because he didn’t have any money to pay. Lagosians were great thespians. When he alighted, he wiped his face with his hands and whistled happily away as though nothing had happened. The other commuters who had begun to have parched throats and croaked voices had decided that there was no point in continuing another man’s fight. Each instead began to nurse their wounds. It was only then the owner of the two terrified kids saw, and began pacifying her children.

The bus conductor resumed his duty of howling at each passenger as he collected his money as though they were deaf and if he spoke they wouldn’t hear him. “Madam, ya money na 300,” he said to the plump woman beside her. Annoyance registered on her face. “You told me 150, and that’s what I’ll pay. Not one naira more.” The conductor laughed boisterously, exposing his tobacco-stained dentition. Then facing the woman, he said: “Na me say make you fat like cow?” The woman clapped her hands and laughed derisively, then she faced the conductor, ready to break a neck. “Eh, what did you just say? It’s your useless slattern mother that is as fat as a cow…Oloriburuku! I want to alight now. I can’t put up with this madness!” “But you neva pay me my money,” the conductor said matter-of-factly. “Take your stupid money,” she hissed as she threw a tattered 200 naira note at him, “and let me get down now!” The bus stopped and the woman alighted, making sure to push the conductor off the bus with her buttocks.

She had checked her bag for the umpteenth time but still hadn’t found it. Her bus stop lay wearily ahead of her now. She dug her hands into her pocket again, hoping to find it there. The hole reminded her of her lot. Her armpits began to itch while beads of sweat lined her forehead. How could she not have noticed the pocket was torn? Before leaving home, she had huddled naira notes into her pocket to serve whatever cost would arise. They were mostly smaller denominations and they couldn’t have slipped away without her noticing.

Knowing eyes had rested on her. She knew it was him. “Anty, you neva pay me my money,” the bus conductor spoke for the first time. The whole shouting saga must have tired him out, or so she thought. “Yes, I know. I haven’t found my money and still am searching for it,” she said calmly, eyes buried in her bag. Perhaps he might empathize with me if I spoke calmly, she thought. She was in the wrong. Contrarily, her tone must have irked the conductor, for he raised his voice at her this time. “ You dey fine money? How that one take consain me? If you know wetin good for you bring my money come out o before….”

The air was crisp and the sky had darkened. She stood transfixed, relishing the freshness of the air and the harmattan wind which brought cool breeze that dried the sweats on her skin. The sun threatening to roast their skins only a while ago had been completely swallowed up by dark pregnant clouds of rain. It barely rained during the harmattan season; this was new.

She watched the danfo disappear in the distance and exhaled exaggeratedly. Just before the conductor could unleash his venomous insults, she had found the money lying cozily where she sat. She couldn’t have been happier! With disappointment registered on his face, the conductor snatched the money from her while giving her a look that unmistakably said “na God save you.” She had got down, grateful that she hadn’t caused a scene.

As she crossed to the other side of the road, she replayed everything that transpired in her head and smiled. I sure would narrate this experience to Frank, she thought as she strutted ahead smilingly. She had once again escaped Lagos Palava, albeit by whiskers.

Evidence Egwuono is a lover of everything Godly. She also enjoys reading and sharing reviews on African Literature. When she’s not reading, she’s either thinking of writing or writing.

Country of Origin: Nigeria

Social media handles: evidence_egwuono

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    • One of the write ups Israel didn’t skim, by a renowned personality and writer. Every paragraph left me yearning for the next. Lagos Palava, a must read!

  1. This was quite captivating. Held my attention from start to finish. Also, detailed as I could picture the happenings that occurred in the story.

  2. You penned down your details like a true Lagosian. Even more, every Lagosian can relate to this scene. Keep writing!

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