A colleague dropped Amadi and I at Oshodi after one of those random hangouts with the guys. After waiting for what seemed like the better part of an hour, we found a bus going our way. It was a rickety old bus. The kind painted yellow with black stripes and multi coloured doors that were obviously pried from other rickety old buses. It looked like the bus would just stop dead in the middle of the road, do a three second pause and start somersaulting. We were reluctant to get on the bus at first, but as we both had “balls of steel” and neither of us was ready to sleep at Oshodi, we hopped on; literally. I was looking for a relatively good seat by the window or in front with the driver where I won’t have to dodge being showered with saliva from the mouths of yelling tattered Lagos conductors. And just has we finished performing stunts only worthy of A-list Hollywood stunt doubles to get on the bus, the bus slowed to a halt.
Agberos had accosted the bus and the usual agbero/driver/conductor drama ensued.
“ Ogbeni owo da?” (Mr where is the money?)
“ guy I just go borrow money collect this bus. Next time”.
This played out the same way for about five different groups of “agberos.” They would shout, the driver would shout back, they would threaten the conductor, the driver would plead, and then, they would let us go. I was beginning to think there was an unspoken agreement between this driver and these not-so-gentlemen of the bus stop because it was quite irregular for this lot to show compassion of any kind. I was wandering how he did it. I already started developing some sort of respect for the old grump behind the wheels. You had to have some sort of clout or a nice amount of “street credibility” for the touts to look the other way. I mean, how can you just come and carry “their” passengers, from “their” ten square feet of federal government road, the roads they inherited from their fathers, “ jagaban”, and not pay?! Twale! Respect!!
Then he came.
He was dark as coal, his dreads were tied in a thick knot, his eyes red as blood, and his gold tooth glowed in the night light. His bare chest carried scars that told stories of brawls with other men; men that wield broken bottles like light sabers. His tattered jeans told tales of countless nights under the bridge smoking herbs and trying to stay alive. From his countenance, it was obvious this barefooted thug was here to collect and nothing was going to stop him.
“Ogbeni owo mi da?”
“ guy I just go borrow money collect this bus.Next time”, the driver repeated his usual reply.
“O da bi pe o yin so oyinbo! Ogbeni owo mi da?!”(you are still speaking English! Mr man where is my money), the agbero yelled.
“I no get, ah!”, the driver yelled back.
“My money before I change am for you naw, abi eleyi ya were ni” he said in shock. He simply could not comprehend why the driver wouldn’t give him what was rightfully his. In one swift move the barefooted thug hopped into the bus and tried to grab the drivers rear view mirror. The driver with reflexes that could only be explained by spider senses removed his own rear view mirror and yelled “I no get money to give you! come down!!!”
“ogbeni me o like be o se ma se oh” (mr I don’t like he way you act oh)
“oya fun mi ni twenty naira, o sha mo bo se nlo” (okay give me twenty naira, you know how it goes) the thug pleaded, after finally realizing he wasn’t going to get anything from the driver by threatening him. He quickly resorted to diplomacy. The driver looked at him smiled and gave him a twenty naira note. They shook hands and exchanged looks, both men obviously finding some level of respect for each other.
The drive twisted the key in the ignition and stirred the bus away from the curb. I looked out the bus door that had been left ajar for other passengers to get on. A few meters away from our obviously unperturbed conduct still avidly shouting “one more chance”, I saw a shabbily decorated Christmas tree under a glossy banner that said welcome to 2017. I almost forgot a New Year came right after Christmas. I laughed at the sameness of everyday life in Lagos. I guess some things would never change.