“Which kine wahala be dis?!” he wailed. “Where you wan make I fine change nau?? I just dey start work!”
“My friend,” my uncle growled, insistently shoving the crisp N1000 note in the conductor’s face, “na wetin I get be this. To find change na your own problem.”
The conductor was furious, having announced to the point of annoying everyone that “IF YOU NO GET SHANGE, NO ENTER OH!!” Everyone else on the bus had complied, but this man was giving him N1000 for a N50 journey!
I wanted to speak up, but his firm grip on my hands stopped me. I knew for certain that my uncle had wads of N50 notes on him, so why hadn’t he just given one?
“You won’t understand now, but someday you will,” he explained when he finally let me ask him, which was when we had alighted that hot Lagos afternoon. I sighed, knowing I’d never figure out this man or the world he lived in.
Coming from an era I suppose much older than A.D., my mother had made sure we welcomed him as family. Ever since his arrival at our home a year ago…wow, was it just one year?! It felt like twenty: time dragged around him! The man had a way of blighting whatever came within his crosshairs, never failing to complain about how these ‘modern times’ were spoiling everyone. Funny enough, mum and dad seemed to be ignorant of his wahala, and kind of flowed with him. I seemed to be the only one aware of his ‘issues’. That was with good reason – he was the one who warned me to never wear the same colour of shirt with any boy on any day “if you value your life”, and that wasn’t even the most absurd ‘rule’ he’d ever given me.
“You curtsy with your left knee in front. Only witches do so with their right, as a signal to one another in a public place. Sho ti gbǫ?![i]”
“Ha, shǫmǫdę ni ę?![ii] You never wake up to wee wee during the night! Do you know the beings that walk up and down during that period?!”
“You mean you’ve been brushing your teeth all this time without salt?!”
The man seemed to have one for everything! I’d always suspected there was something about him that was…‘stuck’. I still wondered why my mum had forced me to go with him on his errand today – if I’d known he’d be lapping me all through our journey, I’d have protested more! He scared my eighteen-year old brain sometimes!
The errand turned out to be errands, taking longer than I’d expected, and I vowed to get back at whoever knew but had kept this little bit of info back. I rejoiced when we were finally done. Thankfully, we would soon be home, where I could hide from him successfully. Just 2 more buses…
As we took our seat on the first bus, I looked up and suddenly saw a very real look of fear in my uncle’s eyes. They darted every in the bus, frantic! But just when I was about to inquire, the look of fear gave way to relief, and he smiled and nodded, muttering something to himself that sounded like “ǫpę o[iii]”.
I turned my eyes in the direction of what brought him this release, and I saw it. I say ‘it’, because what I saw could not be described as a ‘woman’. ‘She’ waded like a duck that had rehearsed the steps, had sunshades too big for her head-size, lipstick everywhere, mascara thick to the point of a unibrow, a trouser that was sure to be tight for even a primary school girl, and stretching against her peeking boobs was an even smaller…top? No, I couldn’t call it that, for it bore a striking resemblance to my nightgown at home. On top of all this, she seemed to be one of those ladies who obviously didn’t comprehend, like my mum had taught me, that ‘underwear’ meant it was supposed to go under your wear, with her black bra and pant straps fighting for exposure. “This wan no get mirror for house?” a real woman sitting beside us wondered to herself. It was a legit wonder. Why had this sight brought relief to my uncle?
“Listen to me,” my uncle abruptly whispered, interrupting my ponderings. “I’m explaining this now, because ‘someday’ may turn out to be ‘never’. In EVARY bus,” he went on, changing the ‘e’ to ‘a’ whenever he wanted to stress it, “there must ALWAYS be AT LEAST one disobedient person who doesn’t have exact change, NO MATTER WHAT! If not…” my uncle preached.
While he preached, I noticed the young conductor of our bus suddenly light up on sighting the ‘masquerade’. A hilarious episode ensued…well, maybe it wasn’t that hilarious; I couldn’t really tell, for my ears were getting filled by the ‘caring’ brother of my mother, as if the wax that was there was not enough.
“Hear me now:” my uncle was busy warning me in fierce whispers as the bus trudged on, his nostrils flaring and sweating as if his entire life depended on how seriously I took this new directive. “If you enter a bus or taxi, and EVERYBODY HAS EXACT CHANGE…wo! If the distance is longer than from under-bridge to Ojuelegba, ko sare bǫlę o [iv]!! YOU DON HEAR?! Get down, FAST! If you like, no get down, but sha don’t blame anybody when you land for hospital.”
There’re rules for buses too?! “But what if… –”
“Shut up! Obey your uncle! These are instructions that have saved my life time and again! It’s for your good oh!” It now clicked why he hadn’t given that N50 on our way from CMS – he was ‘instructed’ not to. Now the man had to go and spook me by making it a matter of life and death. Where do you get these instructions from sef?!
The bus reached our destination, and we crossed the road to where we would enter the final bus home. I was so happy, because I knew we had ample time to get home and not miss my favorite cartoons. I briefly wondered if I should still love cartoons at this age; well, they do say girls mature fast, it’s the reason I pride myself as having the mind of an eighteen-year old while being only fourteen.
Okay okay: thirteen plus.
Maybe I was just acting my age. Sha, what I knew was that I’d sort that debate later, after I’d escaped my uncle’s clutches. What I did not know was that ‘the gods’ had another plan…
We entered the first bus that approached, and we were the last one passenger. The driver announced that he wasn’t stopping again till we reached the park, our final destination. No one complained. However, barely a minute later of driving, it began:
“DRIVER!” my uncle bellowed out of nowhere. “I won get down, NOW!”
“Ah an? Oga, shebi I ter you say no bus-stop tea we rich park? Me no get 20 thaazand for awon LASTMA oh!”
“I must get down NOW! Because this danfo no complete! I no won dey this bus when e get accident!”
“Blood of Gezus!” one woman reacted on everyone’s behalf. But before anyone needed to ask, his eyes narrowed, and I already knew: here came another rule.
“In EVARY bus, there must always be at least one foolish girl dressed like a mad woman. If you enter a bus and there is no such person, e no complete oh! Ko sare bǫlę o[v]!! Because that bus go get accident!” I begged the earth to swallow me there and then.
“Blooooood of Gezus! Tufiakwa! Why you go talk that kine tin?? You be mad man?!” the woman raged, and a few others joined in to deride him, while the rest laughed at themselves for getting riled up on a false alarm. My uncle stood his ground, insisting to get down immediately. The earth rejected my pleas.
Yet another rule for me to cram. Was he right, on any of them? I dunno…my only concern now was my cartoons, though a part of me already forecasted the bitter reality…
The driver, seeing that my uncle and the woman were jointly heating up everyone’s blood, wisely decided to sharply stop. We got down, to the chagrin of the driver and the utter venom of the passengers prophesying doom on whatever bus he entered from now till eternity. My uncle fired some salvos of his own, and the bus zoomed off, though he didn’t collect his change. “My life is more important than mere money,” he assured me, before becoming sorrowful a bit. “Why would some people willingly choose to have accident?! Chai! This life is…” he mused on, but I wasn’t listening. How could I, when I was too busy being afraid whether this hitherto unknown strain of crazy in our family tree had somehow found its way into my DNA…
“Ę ti de?[vi]” my mother inquired on seeing the both of us shuffle into the parlour listlessly.
I didn’t answer mummy, but just visited the fridge to lower myself back to room temp. Not only had we rejected countless buses under the scorching heat, waiting an hour for a bus that had a half-naked girl in it to show up, but thanks to him, I also missed my shows! I was sooooo pissed! Surprisingly, it was then I finally understood why mummy didn’t answer daddy sometimes when she was visibly upset and he’d keep inquiring “What’s wrong?” – the raw anger I felt made me now empathize with her, strangely.
“The gods once again protected us from ill-fate today,” my uncle answered wearily, but with a tone of reverence in his voice. I mentally rolled my eyes, but I was actually shocked – my mother would’ve flipped had I answered that way. She was the one who nearly went berserk when ordinary hot water scalded me a month ago; why wasn’t she fainting on hearing ‘accident’? It was at that moment it dawned on me that she also somehow knew, like I’d suspected, that not everything was okay with her brother upstairs. Or maybe she’d known all along – I really was realizing a lot today.
She looked in my direction and saw exasperation. “Blessed be the gods, then,” she answered almost comically, confirming my suspicions.
“Yes…blessed be they for their continual guidance,” he responded, still reverent. I briskly walked to my room and locked the door, before another instruction got divined.