I hurriedly left the house again, a habit which has characterized my exit from the house in recent times. Unable to visit a friend the day before, I concluded that nothing would stop me from fulfilling my promise this afternoon.
It was about to rain and the wind spoke expressly that the downpour would be heavy. I defied all temptations to stop my journey since this visit was a test of my friendship. My friend, Odafe, would always query that if I regarded him as a friend, I would visit him more frequently than the way I did. I rarely visited him.
Getting to the road, I jumped into a bus, still in a hurry. The driver had his hat turned backwards like those black American gangsters, his motor boy popularly called conductor was nowhere different from his boss as he had an earring stuck to his left ear. The leather cover of the seat of the bus was very much intact; the car stereo was oozing out little tweets as if trying to whisper to the driver. The chauffeur nodded his head rhythmically to this hissing sound. The phrase ‘No food for lazy man’ was written boldly on the uppermost part of the windscreen.
I sat comfortably at the back seat between an elderly man and a beautiful young girl. I intentionally refused to exchange greetings with them because I thought I didn’t have the time. I looped them off. My journey was going on fine and smooth as if I was in my future dream car; Lamborghini Bugatti or the self-acclaimed Toyota highlander, except for the fact that I felt the absence of an intricate part of the vehicle– the shock absolver– as I was lifting at every rising of the partially completed Benin/Lagos road. And just then, the rain began to pour down heavily.
Not until I heard the coarse voice of the conductor asking for his fare, I would still be in my dream state. Immediately, as if it was reflexed, I dashed my hands to the back of my trousers. Behold! My wallet was found wanting. My heart made a big throb; the young girl beside me would have heard the throb if not for the earphone plugged to her ears. No wallet means no money, I thought. I had initially made a vow not to put cash anywhere except in my wallet. A previous experience had made me practiced such.
The conductor noticed the change in my facial expression; an expression which seemed like someone who instantaneously received the call of nature at the middle of a final year examination.
The bus had already gone too far, hence, I could not alight without paying. I thought of varying options on how to get myself off this psychological fisticuffs. There was now uneasy silence in the bus, as I was the only passenger who had not paid his fare. I had no other option but to begin to plead for assistance. But, how would I get financial aid from these persons I initially had no time to exchange greetings with?
I started with the elderly man. I had this impression that he would understand my plight more than the female teenager.
“Good afternoon sir” I greeted, slightly bending my shoulder as if trying to prostrate. I made my voice sound very nice and consciously exposed my tooth just to further express a superficial humility. I added the ‘sir’ title in order to evoke the grace of his church-mind as my friend Victor usually puts it. Victor never fails to add the church-mind phrase whenever he needed a favor from me. The phrase was like my Achilles heel. I hoped this elderly man uses his church-mind, that is, if he has one.
“Thank you”, he said, answering my greeting with absolute absentmindedness. And just then, he fixed his gaze outside the vehicle trying to observe the rain.
“Please sir, I need a little help from you, I forgot my wallet in the house” I added.
This time, I caught his attention. His eyes were now locked in mine. His hairs were dark, too dark to be natural, the color were obviously from synthetic hair dyes used to conceal his grey hairs and the vanity of his age. Maybe he was a civil servant and was trying to avoid early retirement.
“You liar and thieves! You enter the bus to beg; you better go and look for something to occupy yourself with, jobless thieves”.
Ha! He shouted as if he had recognized my face from an initial crime scene. All the passengers in the bus had turned to see this ‘jobless thief’.
“Conductor, make sure this boy pays you his fares, if not seize his trousers”. He added.
My trousers? Why not my shirt or my phone! I wondered. He had not just also called me a thief but a jobless one! This man was a typical misanthrope.
The rain poured down more heavily accompanied with thunder and lightning as if trying to confirm this man’s allegation. The chauffeur drove slowly.
A passenger sitting in front just beside the driver added his worsening remark, “these young boys may be agents of those fetish native doctors who make rituals, after giving them your money you wouldn’t know where your misfortunes start coming from. You will just end up broke”. As he said this, he tried to wind up the windscreen to prevent the rain from reaching him.
“Why would someone enter a bus without checking his pockets?” added another passenger, a woman. She had also told the driver to completely wind up his glass because the rain was hitting her. This woman was fat, very fat that she encroached into the seating portion of other commuters, this made them complain about the seat being very tight for them. In fact a young boy had threatened not to pay his fares because his buttock was not touching the seat. He was suspended between two passengers.
I was shocked and terrified by their comments. Although some persons actually do these things they complained about; they should not be too quick to generalize. I almost got annoyed by their remarks but since I needed a helping hand, I remained mute and played it cool. I smiled with mixed feelings at their ignorance. Took a deep breath and then turned to the girl beside me.
“Good afternoon” I said with a large smile, trying very hard to prevent the insult just loaded on me from affecting my cheerful expression. She had her ear-phone tucked in her auricles, hence she couldn’t hear any of the initial comments of those unkind passengers.
Removing her earphone, she asked:
“You said what?”
Her voice sounded like those Automated Teller Machine saying, ‘Please wait while your transaction is processing’. Sharp, smooth and tiny! With this tiny voice, I presume, she was just a teenager.
I gave a broader smile and stuttered, “good afternoon”.
She replied shabbily. Maybe she thought I was trying to generate a talk with her because of her beauty. Her distended jaw and pointed nose made her attractive. She was not from around here, maybe a hybrid between an Iranian mother and a Nigerian father—I thought.
I knew I had to get the money from her or face the wrath of the conductor whose mind had been poisoned by those callous passengers.
I explained my situation to her, the unkind elderly man watched and listened attentively as I started and ended my gist. He had not been so attentive when I initially asked him for help.
“Don’t give him any money there,” the man shouted referring to me. “Do you know him before?” The man added.
“I don’t need to know him,” she quipped without hesitation.
The old man retorted: “He is a thief, a liar and a beggar, a stubborn child who has no respect. He couldn’t even greet when he entered the bus”. He carelessly engaged his oral gear.
I waited patiently for the man to end his long speech, I wanted to reply his unkind words. I initially held my peace because I respected his concealed grey hairs, but the way he was going, he may eventually make me lose my trousers as he had initially proposed.
Before I could reply the man, the girl said, “He needs help, he may be saying the truth after all, let me help him, his face looks innocent and by the way, he has a very nice smile”.
She gave me a shiny N200 note. She was very bold to have complimented me that way. My smile was in the broadest form as far as I could imagine. The word ‘thank you’ came out with great speed, frequency and emotion. The man’s face was now looking pale. He had lost the battle.
The conductor collected the currency from me and said, “Na your girlfriend save you so oh”. The girl smiled lightly at his remark. I smiled too. Yet I frowned that I smiled at what he said.
I didn’t meet Odafe in the house. I had to enter the heavy rain back home. Getting home, I saw my wallet on my reading table, as if trying to say, “I called at you when you were about to leave but you didn’t hear me”.
I hurriedly opened it but there was no money in it. Ha!
I then carefully checked the trousers I wore to visit my friend. There, the ever eluding N500 seated comfortably. Although my wallet was not with me but my money was. I was made to beg in the midst of abundance. Make haste slowly.