The Morning Bus Ritual

He rested his thin frame covered in an oversized shirt and frazzled waistcoat against the door and stared into the bus without looking at any of the passengers. He punctuated his words by waving his well-worn bible over his head, a book he held with three fingers of his left hand. When the park became rowdy, he increased the pitch of his voice and ignored the ruckus behind him.

The bus conductors had lied to two intending passengers that they were all that was needed to complete the number required for the bus to move. They were handed tickets that looked like the label of Agege bread, after paying the one thousand five hundred Naira fare. The intending passengers did not know they were going to be ushered into the ‘next turn’. One of them, an Igbo lady, was screaming at the bus managers in her language, but the pastor did not let this disturb his assignment.

His English was ‘broken’. He stumbled through words like a kid who had to rush through a recital before losing her carefully memorized lines. He led two songs, remixing the lyrics as he coaxed the distracted passengers into reverence. By the time he started his round of fierce prayers, some of the passengers had joined him and I lowered my head on the seat in front of me. The driver eased the bus into reverse to lead us to the point where the bags were going to be inspected, and the man of God’s body clambered into the bus, bumping against the clean-shaven head of the bespectacled man who spoke Americanese with an Igbo accent. I expected the Americanah to protest but he was busy communing with his maker.

As the mini-revival went on, I mulled over this motor park fixture: A bible totting man leading passengers in a prayer of invocation for protection against the blood sucking demons—read pot holes and drunk drivers—on the road. I love prayers but this morning bus ritual often ends with the men of God asking for a mission offering, reducing a supposedly heartfelt activity to a mere business transaction. The priest invokes the deity on behalf of a people and collects an offering in return for the services rendered.

The man of God ended the prayers and backed out of the bus. He stopped on the tarmac, just at the foot of the door, his hands stretched inside, and announced, “If anyone wants to support this mission let him give...” Here we go, I thought. The young man beside me brought out a fifty Naira bill and stretched it towards the man. He did not move from the door where he stood, but held out his palms as he repeated his plea. The young man became agitated and muttered, “Don’t you want the money?”

I paid more attention to the man of God: clumsy movement, staring into the bus without looking at any of the passengers, hands searching for the source of the money being offered to him. In all my observation of the ritual, I did not notice the man was blind.

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Featured Image: Berger Motor Park Lagos. (Via Wikimedia User Group Nigeria, by Kaizen Photography.)

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