Short Story: I Need To Eat!

by Daniel Nkado

This happened on Thursday morning. I needed to pick a package at Yaba— a pile of data forms for the office—before heading to work. A colleague had advised I pass through Oshodi-Under-Bridge so as to bypass the huge Anthony-Onipan traffic.

‘It was something close to what we experience on Third Mainland Bridge every day,’ she’d explained when I asked her how serious the traffic normally is.

The Oshodi bus I entered stopped a long distance away from the shade of the mighty Oshodi Bridge. People groaned, asking the driver why he’d stopped there. The conductor’s voice was high. ‘Everybody come down!’

‘Please where can I get a bus to Onipan?’ I asked calmly.

E bole jor!’ he barked back at me.

I hurried down the bus, as if afraid.

I might actually have been.

While we were coming to Oshodi, he’d pushed down a lady who defiled his warning screams of ‘500, 1000, e ma wole o!’ and got into the bus with a 1000 naira note.

The small, brown-gowned lady had sat on the row in my front. The bus got full and the conductor swung into the bus. ‘Owo da nbe!

He was tall and dark, with smoke-blackened lips. The dirty-blue singlet he wore exposed a big scar on his arm. There was one on his face too. He obviously has done a lot of fighting in his life.

I had noticed the girl’s unease as the conductor’s hand approached her. Everyone was readily extending their N50 and N100 while she kept her hands to her bag. The conductor had to move his fingers in an urging manner and say, ‘Owo da nbe’, again before she raised the N1000 note to him.

It was crisp new, the kind market women in my town called mint and always liked to have.

Seeing the note, the conductor turned away sharply as though it was something dangerous, something that could attack him. He hit on the bus top and the driver stopped. He barked at the lady to come down. She was slow and he had to use a small push to finally get her down as the bus has started to move already.

I had wanted to ask the girl to sit that I’d pay for her, but on quickly processing the thought, gladly enough on time, I recalled that aside the N50 in my hand ready for the conductor, the other denomination with me is the same as the one that had elicited the reaction from the conductor.

If he could do that to a lady, how much me, a guy. I’ve always liked the non-discriminatory attitude of Lagos conductors though. Everybody is treated equally, whether rich or poor, male or female, Christian or Muslim. The only thing that matters is your owo.

It was a young man in work-ready shirt and trousers I met in front of Access Bank that finally pointed to me where I can get the buses that go to Onipan.

‘They used to stay just there,’ he said, pointing straight. ‘But since the fight, the police has moved them further down.’

It was then that I finally realized the difference. This wasn’t the Oshodi, Under Bridge I know and have been to before.

The ant-colony-like bustle was gone. Everywhere looked quiet, not anything like Oshodi. People moved in an ordered straight line, more like students marching into the class from the assembly ground. The cluster of buses that used to paint the entire left side yellow was gone. Only a few buses stood at the extreme left, lanky-looking men standing beside their open doors and calling out to passengers.

Finally I saw the uniformed guys that had brought the difference. They were many, armed with either guns or canes. Their patrol van stood at the dominant centre of the space, a small distance away from the Black Maria.

Passing the tall vehicle, I saw it was already loaded with people, or people’s eyes because that’s all I could see from the holes. They were the unfortunate street boys the police men had gathered. They are going to pay dearly to regain back their freedom.

Further down the road, I finally saw the buses that were for me. A cluster of yellow creatures, their operators calling out to people.

I stopped at the door of the nearest one. It stood quite a distance away from others. And with the closeness advantage, people entered it more.

‘Driver, do you have a thousand naira change?’ I asked, ready to jump in at a yes and continue walking down at a no.

The driver, a middle-aged dark man, didn’t answer me. His hands were firm on his steering as he continued to shout, ‘Ilupeju-Onipan!’ eyes moving in all directions.

I had to repeat my question before he turned briefly at me and said, ‘Enter’, said so quickly it fastened to his passenger-calling scream like one word. ‘Enter-Ilupeju-Onipan!’

And so I joined the bus. Only a few seats were empty. I wondered why he had no conductor.

Soon an officer approached the bus. ‘Move down!’ He struck at the vehicle with his cane. ‘Move down!’

The crushing noise of the stick on metal made me stir.

But the driver made no attempt to move. He screamed louder, ‘Ilupeju-Onipan!’ head rotating faster as he struggled to see his bus fill.

Now only about three seats were empty. The police man walked to him. ‘I say you should move this bus down!’

‘Officer, wait. Ilupeju-Onipan! Fifty naira Ilupeju-Onipan!’

The uniformed man drew back and raised his cane. ‘I say move down!’

The driver turned back into his vehicle. A lady was coming in now. ‘Awoyokun?’ she asked.

‘Awoyokun, enter with your fifty naira.’

That was when the first strike landed on him. I winced at the tawan sound the narrow stick made on his back. But the driver didn’t look back. Another passenger has stopped in front of the bus door.

‘Driver, First Bank?’ the tall man in suit asked.

‘First Bank, enter with your Fifty naira change.’

Piawan! The cane landed on him again. ‘I say move down!’ the officer yelled.

Still the driver didn’t look. An elderly woman was joining the bus to fill the last space now.

‘Wait o!’ the old woman called, scrabbling into the bus, slow and careful.

E rora, ma – take it easy, ma,’ the driver said to her.

The officer struck him again.

Finally all the seats were occupied and I could see the satisfaction that glistened in the driver’s eyes. He turned to the whipping man. ‘Officer, I need to eat na. I need to eat.’

He excited the engine and we wobbled off.

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