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Maryland, Lagos

As usual, I closed from work that Wednesday. I hopped down the stairs and crossed to the other side of the road. In two minutes I was in front of an ATM machine down the street. The machine spoke to me; I checked my account balance and headed straight to the bus-stop. I looked forward to a safe journey home, a modest dinner, and a refreshing sleep at night. But something happened that evening after the bus moved.

Several minutes into the journey, the bus conductor began to ask for the bus fare. This he did with neither respect nor decorum. The way he treated other passengers in front of me earned him a spiteful and condescending frown from me. Who’s this rude and impatient fellow? I thought to myself. My confident countenance was buoyed by the fact that I was so sure I had the N500 note in my pocket to pay him – the money that also held promise for a decent dinner.

Still frowning, I dipped my hand into my pocket to fetch the note. It brought out nothing save a bruised N10 note. I thrust it into the other pocket, this well was dry too. In split seconds, my frown diffused into thin air. I had started to search my brown envelope for the money when the conductor came around the second time demanding his money, his tone getting worse with less patience. By now, my frown had melted away completely and my face told of deep anxiety. I searched my pack painstakingly and my fingers probed the corners of my pocket again and again. Same story. I had to face reality. Even if my money had been stolen or misplaced, it was definitely not on this bus. How was I to convince this red-eyed conductor to accept N10 for a N30 journey?

I quickly consulted a fellow passenger next to me for help, but he shook his head and soon hopped off the bus at his stop. I moved on to the next person, a guy like me. I tapped. I nudged, and made my humble petition in low tones, like a criminal nabbed red-handed in crime. But this fellow turned a deaf ear, nay, a blind eye to my plight and request. He looked straight out of the window, his eyes fixed on a distant object like someone in a trance. Shame engulfed me now. I felt desolate, deserted and betrayed. I withdrew. I decided to rise to the occasion and do like a man; to open up to the conductor.

With a steady voice that belied my anxiety I announced to him that I had just a third of the fare and if he so wished I could alight at the next bus-stop.

“Ehn!” he barked. His temple creased in mistrust and furious furrows formed on his forehead. He refused and demanded that I pay the full fare. I gave no response, the creased N10 note still in my hand and a defiant resolve painted on my face. As we travelled further, he probably saw the futility in holding a penniless and stubborn man for common N20. Then he beckoned to his driver to halt at the nearest bus-stop. The bus stopped.

I rose from my seat thinking he would spare the last N10 I had on me. That was wishful thinking. For when I got to the door, I met a wide, red palm stretched before me. I placed the money in his hand and hopped off the bus. I hopped into the uncertainties that held sway that evening! –GN!

Photo credit: Gbenga Awomodu