Nigeria's Leading Fictional Story Blog - SMS, NYSC, Danfo, Green bar soap, Bus-stop, Oga, Brother, Shebi, Anambra, Igbo, Motorcycle, Lagos Traffic.
When Ogadi received the much anticipated SMS that evening, he was giddy with elation and felt quite like foam frothing over the top of a beer bottle. He'd completed the NYSC exercise for nearly a year and a half and still hadn't gotten lucky with employers. His finances were a mess; he'd been living on the little he'd saved off his NYSC allowance but even that was gone. Now, he merely thrived on stipends from his proletarian parents - his father a mere artisan who crafted wicker baskets and his mother an itinerant trader who sold these meshes.
And now, he hoped, his fate would change for the better. He'd been shortlisted for an interview at the fancy Kingsway hotel. Hotelier jobs weren't exactly convenient as they involved oscillating between day and night shifts, but at this point, Ogadi couldn't be perturbed by that tiny detail. The thought of having something, anything at all, in his typically flat bank account gave him a sense of fulfillment. He wouldn't feel so worthless anymore as he'd be able to contribute to the family's upkeep. Chinenye wouldn't complain about transport fare when he asked her over for a tryst or a quickie. He'd be able to take her to Sanusi's suya stand every once in a while and he wouldn't harbor fears about losing her to some other guy with deep pockets.
He dabbed his face with the damp towel and mopped the rest of his body clean. The clock chimed to announce that it had reached another hour mark and Ogadi's eyes darted to it - 8:00 am. He was running late. He muttered a curse under his breath, something about thunder striking dead a useless man who spent too much time in the bathroom like a woman. Theirs was a public bathroom and the tenants took turns using it. The interview was for 9:00 am, and if one reckoned without the typical Lagos traffic, getting to Obalende would take around fifty to sixty minutes; minutes that were quickly slipping out of his grasp. He hurried into the white shirt and black pants that he'd ironed crisp the night before. The clothes still had the musky scent of the green bar soap he'd used to wash them. He haphazardly knotted a black tie around his neck and pulled on his cheap suede shoes whose fabric had peeled off in a significant number of places. And then, he found his mother's pocket-sized mirror and examined his reflection in it. He didn't look too bad, almost dapper. He just really hoped he wouldn't become tongue-tied when the questions were flung at him in the interviewer's office - whoever that would be.
Johnson walked past him in the dim corridor as he locked up. "Neighbor sorry o! Hope you're not angry? I was doing double." He pretended not to hear him, or to notice his oversize shirt and baggy trousers that looked like they would billow and flap in the slightest of winds. Later, as he circumvented the sooty cupboards, charcoal-blackened pots and dangling cobwebs in the passage, he convinced himself, and God, that he would pay his first tithe when he got the job. Outside, in the open sunlight, he squinted to acquaint his eyes with the sudden gleam. And then, almost immediately, he regretted rubbing on his lotion; it accelerated the perspiration. He could already feel the wet trickle that trailed down his arm from his armpit. He knew it was only a matter of time before his underarm would take on a wet, darker shade than the rest of his white shirt. He walked across the plank that sat idly across the gutter with the murky water and stood by the side of the dirt-road. Unless there was an unusual event, his parents wouldn't be back until evening, and so he wouldn't have to plead with the motorcyclist to stop by his father's shed so he could drop off the keys. He found one soon.
"Bus-stop," he said. "Fifty naira," shouted the rider. They haggled for a bit and soon he was grasping the metal bars behind his seat to steady himself on the speeding motorcycle as it bumped and jounced incessantly. If he would die in his youth, he very well knew it wouldn't be by a motorcycle accident. He tapped the man on the shoulder and spoke at the top of his voice. "Oga, please slow down o." Over and above the noise from the motorcycle, he heard the man grunt a response through his red helmet, but the speed remained the same. When eventually, they arrived at the freeway that was brimming with yellow buses that had conductors hanging from the sides, he stared as he paid the man off.
The road was a chaotic mass of litters and sauntering humans. The stench of urine that assailed him as he looked around for an Obalende-bound bus was by no means unfamiliar; he'd been here a number of times. A female hawker with an infant strapped firmly to her back shoved a sausage pack in his face. "Fine bros, follow me buy gala abeg. (Please buy gala rom me).” For a moment, he considered buying one, and then he wasn't so sure his transport fare would suffice to get him back home, especially since the bus-drivers habitually increased transport prices at sundown.
A bus pulled in a short distance from him and the conductor called out “Obalende”. Immediately the place was a flurry of activity as a few hundred sweating people scampered to get in. He'd heard it too late and so he missed it. But he geared up towards the next by pushing through to the front of the crowd. He saw the rickety bus coming from afar and inched closer toward the road, totally oblivious of its destination. But alas, he was in luck. His gamble paid off and soon he was seated on the squeaky wooden bench with the metal fixtures. Complacency pummeled him and he couldn't help a smirk. Soon the bus was mobile and the conductor was making his rounds, asking for transport fares. As he struggled to reach into his back pocket, he wished he'd kept his wallet in his shirt pocket, because the bus was awfully tight; so tight that he could hardly move his shoulders. He was seated at the back, beside the rather small window with the cracked glass that emitted a low grating noise as the wind gushed in through what little space there was.
Each time he boarded a bus, he often chose to seat by the window because that portion was always better ventilated, but a good number of times, he had to either lean forward or sideways because the roof was mostly too low. Today he was leaning forward, not because of the roof, but because the bulk of the portly woman beside him made it impossible for both of them to lean back on the backrest simultaneously. It was either one or the other, and so, he would lean forward until perhaps she grew tired and decided to change positions. Beneath the woman's light-green vest, that was really a banner advertising The Light of Heaven Ministries, he saw that she had on a matching native blouse and wrapper that smelled of camphor, as though it had been dug out of an old trunk. He let off a sigh of relief as, eventually, his fingers succeeded in retrieving the wallet. Then, he dug out a two hundred naira note from it and pressed it into the conductor's outstretched hand. The woman gave a pale smile.
"Brother, our church is holding a three-day fire for fire crusade from next week Friday to Sunday, " she said, readjusting her headscarf before it toppled off her head to reveal disheveled hair that was probably the prescribed coif at her church.
Then, she fumbled in her handbag for a tract. She produced three from the sheaf. "Take, brother. Shebi (I guess) you will come? Invite your friends too." For lack of suitable words to say, Ogadi asked, "Where's the venue?" "Ah! That's even where I am going now. Obalende. We have Thursday revival program today. You will like it if you come. Just come with white handkerchief and olive oil so that our pastor will bless it for you, then you will see the wonders of God in your life." Ogadi's expression became an uneasy simper. He could tell the woman was Igbo, like himself. Her accent gave her away; the way she pronounced the words, the way she interchanged 'r' and 'l' and said livival, bress and rife. His guess was she hailed from Anambra State.
"Ok, mah. I will try," he said, although he very well knew he wouldn't. He'd never really been enthusiastic about religion, and he certainly wouldn't spend the dime he didn't have on transportation to Obalende for a church crusade. The woman gave him a knowing smile, as though she'd encountered his type several times before in her evangelism, and then she turned to the two men that were seated to her right, and repeated the same process. One was extremely dark and his face was expressionless. He sat by the window on the right. Ogadi checked his watch - 8: 31am. He really wanted to wish the bus would go faster but he imagined it would fall apart, the individual parts flying in different directions if it did, and especially if the driver didn't spot a pothole quickly enough. And so he kept mute and leaned forward to rest his head on the backrest of the chair before him - all its occupants had already assumed the same posture and so he had no trouble relaxing. A short while later, he caught himself dozing. He struggled to stay awake, vigorously rubbing his sleep-stained eyelids with his palms but alas, nature came out victorious.
A coarse male voice bellowed "shut up there" and gradually, Ogadi became alert once again. He raised his head to see who it was. He wasn't sure how much time he'd spent sleeping, but now something didn't quite feel right. Then he saw it. They were on an unfamiliar route - perhaps the driver had come this way to bypass some heavy traffic or the other. But something still felt out of place. The bus was unusually quiet. He looked at the podgy woman but she paid him no heed. She seemed engrossed in meditation, her eyes half closed, her chin quivering in a funny manner, as though she was terrified of something she'd witnessed - an apparition, perhaps. He squirmed a little in an attempt to catch her attention but she barely noticed him. And then he leaned forward to see if he could catch the attention of the dark-skinned man. Of their own accord, his eyes saw the black metal before he caught the man's gaze. It was poking the second man's side menacingly and the man was sitting straight up, stiffly, as though terrified that the gun would go off if he breathed too suddenly. Then slowly, the voices reached him - low, horrified whispers, chaotic murmuring, prayers. At the front of the bus, someone was reciting "la inla, inahinla" repeatedly, in low undertones.
Fear gripped him with fierce hands. The grip so tight that for a moment, he struggled to breathe. He leaned back in his seat as recognition dawned on him. The next moment, his life was flashing before his mind's eye, kaleidoscopically, as though he were someone else standing aloof and watching images from his life's flick as they were being projected against the white background in a cinema. He recalled, with regret, some of his life choices - the occasional sex with Chinenye, the frequent masturbation. He'd always thought to himself that if he was conscious in his dying moments, he would ask God for forgiveness - a last-ditch effort to make heaven - but now he wasn't so sure God would listen. He'd had lots of opportunities but not once had he wholeheartedly grabbed one. And now, he would be murdered in cold blood - he was sure of this because all he had left was three hundred naira; what armed robber would accept such meagre sum after all the time invested in preparations prior to the robbery? At best, they would shoot him in the leg. He wondered how he'd gotten here, why he'd gotten here, why he'd boarded this bus. He'd heard stories like this but he'd never once considered the possibility that it could happen to him - things like this happened to other people.
Someone's "blood of Jesus" came off too loud now, perhaps unconsciously, and the dark-skinned man roared, "Who be that idiot? (Whos is that idot?)" For a split second, the bus became a graveyard, except for the revving of the engine. And then, the loud sound of combustion startled everyone into a frenzy until they realized what it was that had produced the noise. The conductor hissed loudly and pointed at the bespectacled young man that sat opposite him. "Na this woman wrapper wey sit down for here (It was this Casanova siting here)," he said. He hit the man's head lightly with the base of his gun. "Woman no shout, you dey shout. You no dey shame? You get wife? (The women did not shout, but you did. Aren’t you ashamed? Are you married?)" "Yes sir?" "Na you marry her or na she marry you? (Did you marry her or did she marry you?)" The man remained silent, still visibly shaky, as though he suffered from a terrible cold, and the conductor began to roar with laughter.
"Na this kind man dey lie down make woman climb am. See your eyes. Why you dey blink too much now? (This is the kind of man that lis down and lets a woman mount him. Look at your eye. Awhy are you blinking so much?)" He beckoned to the dark-skinned man. "Guy, if you see how this man just dey swallow hot spit since. Make we drop am before he shit for here o! (My man, the way this man is swallowing hot saliva…we had better drop him before he dies on us)" The dark-skinned man looked disinterested and merely parted his awfully black, parched lips to reveal yellowed teeth that appeared immaculate against his sun-blackened face. Ogadi could make out the conductor. He was seated on a low platform with his back to the front passenger seat - a position that very easily afforded him a good vantage point. His rusty black gun drilled fear into the people that sat closest to him, especially the lanky man with the gold-rimmed spectacles; an understandable response since the muzzle of the gun never once faced away from his chest, even when the conductor swayed the gun slightly and asked, "You like the smell?"
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