It’s 10.55am, just a little over ten minutes before you mark your second hour at this particular motor park, and still the bus shows no signs of taking off any time soon. Slowly squeezing ticket in hand, you begin to wonder when you’ll eventually get to your destination, which at maximum speed would involve nothing less than seven hours of your day, not including the urgent need to top up the fuel tank at intervals, the ‘statutory’ gauging of the stomach midway through the journey, and responses to the cries of incontinent passengers (which of course depends on the driver’s degree of sympathy). You put all these into consideration, and concede that your plans of exploring your destination town (it would be your first time there) in the later hours of the day are all but quashed.
In your mind, you begin to adduce several reasons for your current plight. You ask yourself why you didn’t heed your father’s advice to disentangle yourself from your bedsheets before 6am, so that you would find yourself with eager passengers and an alert driver on the first bus. You also wish your conservative father had accepted the political appointment which his childhood friend (a legislator) had tried to shore up for him; it would have flight tickets by now rather than bus tickets, eye-catching flight attendants rather than multiple-scarred bus conductors. You then ask yourself why you didn’t explore the option of a roadside bus; those ones charge for less and the bus actually moves, albeit several stops. But then, your mind goes back to the day you first mooted the idea to your father three years ago. You still remember the grim expression to his face, and the authority with which the words ”Not in my house!” spewed from his lips.
An hour passes. Your ticket finds itself somewhere in your left hand, showing signs of extensive squeezing. Part of you wants to hand it over, ask for your money back and set out in search of another bus, but your mind recalls the caveat boldly crested on almost every ticket: ”No refund after payment”. You also consider what time it is in the day and the rigours involved in getting another bus, and decide that your patience is not exactly a matter of choice. While you wait, a blind deaf-mute, led by a companion, approaches your side of the bus, bowl in hand. Your mood at the time, coupled with the lack of a really low naira denomination, means that you pass up the opportunity to show some generosity. Further contributing to the lack of serenity in the park are the shouts of hawkers calling for the purchase of their wares, from drinks which for all you know are largely diluted, to snacks whose expiry dates you can’t be sure of, to motivational books whose titles make you want to ask the seller if he ever applies the principles therein. It takes another 30 minutes before the bus is finally ready to move, but not before a ‘mobile preacher’ shares some scripture, says a few words of prayer and encourages the passengers to support the ministry with their ‘widow’s mite.’
You’d think that the movement of the bus finally offers some respite, but you are proven wrong soon enough. In the first place, your position in the bus offers you no room to stretch your legs, which means you’re in for a really long ride. While you begin to wish your legs were a few inches shorter, the woman next to you chooses to feed herself on garlic. Garlic! You resign yourself to keeping your nose close to the window for the rest of the journey, trying as much as possible to resist turning right. Another passenger who’s sitting next to the driver is making what you suspect to be a business transaction over the phone, in an indigenous language which you don’t understand and which, thanks to his tone and his high pitch, you immediately lose interest in learning. You feel your pockets for your music player, only to find out that you accidentally locked it away in the box at the boot. Yea, that big box which incurred extra charges. You decide to distract yourself with the dark-skinned lady behind you, but she’s reading a novel with her ears plugged and, judging from her response to your pleasantries, she’s in no mood for conversation. You heave a sigh, which goes deeper when you observe two lovebirds sitting two rows behind. With the level of coziness on display and the way they leaned into each other, you could swear that these two would definitely make out as the journey progressed.
No, the bus never gets quiet enough for you to delve into deep thinking as you would have liked. At intervals, different discussions and arguments spring up, from which European football club has the most fans, to the present state of Nollywood, to what measures should be taken to tackle insecurity in the country. The attention of everyone on the bus is soon captured however, when a male passenger implores the driver to stop so he can relieve himself in a nearby bush. Reactions duly follow, some in sympathy and others in derision, but no one appears to dance to his tune. It appears Mr. Incontinent had consumed some African salad at the park before the journey began. You wonder why he would go on to consume something so sensitive at a place where the quality of its preparation is not guaranteed. Well he holds it in long enough to avoid embarrassment, for in a matter of minutes, the bus makes its ‘statutory’ stop at a mall in the town which stands as the journey’s midway point. Relief for him, as he dashes to the nearest restroom, and relief for you too, as you can afford to stretch your legs and also pacify your stomach enzymes.
After a period of a little over 30 minutes, everyone is back on the bus, and ultimately on the road for the second part of the journey. Now the road is not so smooth, and it appears that the driver had a little too much to drink. Cries of ”weli ya nwanyo” and other calls for restraint in other languages (including pidgin) rent the air, but these seem to spur the driver on to even more recklessness. Abuse and counter-abuse ensue between driver and passenger, and someone maximizes the opportunity to chip in a fart or two. The day is gradually aging, and then you are treated to panic calls from your parents, the destination relative and your significant other, each anxious to know where you are. The bus eventually stops at a designated park by 7pm. You alight from the bus with hurting knees, just in time to see your box tossed out of the boot in a manner devoid of care. You shrug and tend to the box, and only get to your exact destination an hour, five calls and an exploitative taxi driver later. You are welcomed by the anxious waiting arms of your destination relative, and the story seems to end happily.
Two weeks pass, within which you’ve gained a few pounds. It’s now time to go back home to your immediate family, and it’s you yet again at the park, ticket slowly getting squeezed in your left hand, seated next to a woman eating sardines, and slowly preparing your mind for what lies ahead.