Fiction: No Escape

in BDCommunitylast month

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When the young lady seated beside him turned and spat into the bus conductor’s face, Ben did not react. He did not even reach up to wipe the few droplets that touched his cheek.

He was tired.

Ben was only 29 years old but living, schooling and working in Lagos for 20 of those years had sapped him of all vitality. For years he learned to flow Lagos- style. He lived fast, always walking at a brisk pace or even trotting, chasing buses, chasing jobs, chasing everything. Most of his adult life was spent being animated, angry, impatient, irritated… always on the move.

Yet it seemed to him that the city took more than it gave, like a parasitic entity. It was growing: ‘Africa’s Greatest Metropolis’, the foreign tabloids called it. But the people that really made up the city – the average bus-hoppers, pure-water-sachet guzzlers, busy-express-crossers – only got ‘less’ every day. They gave their very lives in the pursuit of living while Lagos grew, and yet barely anyone would notice if they disappeared in busloads.

Such was life in Gidi for the average man. He was merely fuel for its growth. Manure, even.

That morning, Ben woke up at 5am in the usual state of mind; bone-weary but still resigned to starting his day. The sky was tinged with light when he entered the bus, glad to get a front seat and a slim seatmate – a young woman who seemed fragile enough to be lifted in one hand. Yet, sometime between when he boarded the bus and when the driver took an unfamiliar shortcut that left them stuck in unmoving traffic, a switch went off in him, and he was suddenly fatigued.

The opposite lane beside theirs was mostly free, cars whizzing along with sharp whines. But they were stuck fast in theirs, bumpers almost kissing as the vehicles waited to roar to life again. Idly, Ben wondered why no driver in their lane was tempted to illegally slip into the moving lane, but he felt no urge to suggest it to his bus driver.

Ben just felt very, very… very tired.

“Your head no correct! Shey it’s because I look small in your eyes you think you can insult me? It’s not everyone you can talk to anyhow!”

His seatmate raged on, and he looked on in wonder. She had changed too, from a docile petite lady to a raging tiger who was half twisted backward so she could pour invectives – and spit – at the irate conductor.

He listened to the bus conductor hurl his own responses and threats, while the driver mumbled complaints in a low monotone. “If una do too much, I go just tell everybody to get down now.”

“Na wa o! This kind of early morning fight. Don’t you guys get tired?”

“You no see say this stupid girl spit for my body ni? Na only one thing make me no tear am slap now! Only one
thing!”

“Abeg make person hear word for this bus o!” CLAP! CLAP!! CLAP!!! “Make we hear word jare!

“Ahn Ahn! Madam, why you dey clap for my ear! Wetin concern you for their quarrel now?”

“Ehn ehn! Oga, no carry your aggro put for my body o. I no dey talk to you, you hear me so? Mind yourself!”

The bus was full, and when Ben turned around to look at the people making all the noise, perched on their rickety seats, they all looked angry. He turned away to lean against his seat’s headrest. Usually, he would be yelling along with the other passengers, veins straining in frustration, angry at the delay in getting to work.

But he was so tired. And in his tiredness, he suddenly SAW.

“Almost everyone in Lagos is angry,” he muttered sadly to himself. “Every day.”

And why not? Lagos was busy draining them all.

The weather was hot, with air only moving as it pulsed from angry mouths. The oily heat pressed in on them though the bus’s doors and windows were slid open. The other buses and vehicles stuck in the traffic jam with them rattled and revved, breathing fumes as though they were angry too. And the people, the angry people, took in the fumes and grew hotter and hotter until… all it took was a spark and they would breathe fire at one another.

This was their life, every morning, every day. It was enough to make anyone frustrated. And there was no escape.

He shuddered, goosebumps rising on his arms as the words rang through his mind. It suddenly felt as though the bus was tight, too tight, so he turned to the driver and said, “Oga, try enter that moving lane na.”

The driver looked at him and then looked at the other lane. Ben frowned as a look of surprise flitted across the man’s face.

“Ahhh why I stay here since na?”

The driver twisted the steering wheel with wiry arms, positioning the bus to move onto the other lane before moving it forward. Ben felt his chest loosen as the air shifted and the bus began to move into the other lane, edging into the freedom on the other side…

Ben flinched as the young lady seated beside him turned and spat into the bus conductor’s face.

“Your head no correct! Shey it’s because I look small in your eyes you think you can insult me? It’s not everyone you can talk to anyhow!”

“If una do too much, I go just tell everybody to get down now,” the driver mumbled.

Ben sat, frozen in confusion as the other passengers raged, using words he KNEW he’d already heard. He craned his neck to the back and then to the side. They were stuck in their unmoving lane, hot air pressing in on them…

“Oga driver, I tell you to move before!”

The driver turned and glowered at him. “Move go where? You no see traffic for front?”

Ben pointed at the other fast-moving lane with a hand that shook a little. “Enter that lane na!”

As his eyes followed the finger, surprise flitted across the driver’s face… again.

Ahhh why I stay here since na?”

The steering wheel moved with effort as the driver began to turn the bus into the other lane and Ben held his breath until…

Ben flinched as the young lady seated beside him turned and spat into the bus conductor’s face.

“Your head no correct! Shey it’s because I look small in your eyes you think you can insult me? It’s not everyone…”

Jesus!” Ben interrupted in a strangled shout, struggling with the dirty seat belt across his chest. “Wetin dey happen? Jesus!”

“Ahn Ahn, bros, everything dey okay so?”

It was the driver who asked, staring at Ben warily. When he turned around, everyone else in the bus was looking at him, their expressions ranging from amusement to suspicion. He tried to calm himself but his words came out in a rush.

“I don’t know what’s happening but we are not moving, we cannot move, I told the driver to enter the other free lane but the bus cannot enter…”

The driver and a few passengers turned to look at the other lane. When their brows rose in collective surprise, Ben almost screamed.

“See free road sha.”

“Why we no see am since?”

“Ahhh why I stay here since na?” the driver asked, twisting the steering wheel.

“No, wait, wait…” Ben began to say as the bus lurched.

Ben flinched as the young lady seated beside him turned and spat into the bus conductor’s face.

“Your head no correct! Shey it’s because I look small in your eyes…”

Without a word, Ben yanked his seat belt off and tumbled out of the idling bus, breathing hard. Curious and surprised gazes followed him as he hurried around the front of the bus, almost tripping over his own feet.

“Ahh Bros where you dey go?” the conductor of his bus yelled, peering at him over the bus’s roof. The other passengers peered out of the small windows, puzzled. “Abi this one smoke something this early morning?”

Ben ignored them, focused on his destination – the clear lane on the other side, where cars were whizzing past. His breath came faster as he reached the division between both lanes and paused to check for oncoming traffic. Then he stepped forward and…

He seemed to be rising, an empty pure water sachet floating past him as though caught on the same breeze. His mouth was open in a shout but he made no sound as he tumbled over once and regained his balance. And then he saw.

On one side, Lagos went on, alive, cars honking and moving, people walking fast as they hurried to work. And then on the other side, the lane his bus was caught in, Lagos lay unmoving. But that wasn’t all it was doing.

He could see far ahead and the vehicles on that lane were not just unmoving, they were silent, broken down. Tyres were flat, metal was rusted and grass grew from the macadam and invaded the vehicles. Crawling vines twined around the occupants of the vehicles as some of them weakly moved, still going through the motions of daily

Lagos life – talking, fighting, yawning. The cars further ahead were filled with the bleached bones of those who had stayed on the lane for too long, and would forever.

Busloads and carfuls of people caught in a trap while Lagos …fed on them.

Ben’s terror heightened as he turned to look at the bus he had fled from. There was no vehicle behind it, and he could see the familiar passengers within – the grumpy driver, the petite seatmate, the angry conductor – talking, fighting, moving, unaware that already the living greenery was moving around the bus’s tyres, caressing the windows, reaching for those it would feed on within the metal coffin…

How long had the bus been there already? Ben's thoughts roiled, wild. How long had they sat down there, thinking they were moving? A day? A week? A year? Would anyone miss them? Would anyone notice that Lagos had consumed them?

And then he was falling and screaming and making no sound and then…

Ben did not flinch as the young lady seated beside him turned and spat into the bus conductor’s face.

“Your head no correct! Shey it’s because I look small in your eyes… Ahh. Wetin dey do this Bros? Bros, you dey okay so?”

No, Ben didn’t flinch. Ben was slumped in his seat as though asleep. But beneath his closed eyelids, his eyes were rolled up and his mind was broken because he had seen the real face of Lagos. And if anyone had leaned in to listen closely, they would have heard him mutter two words over and over.

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I moved to Lagos two years ago. It's not really easy adjusting considering where I am coming from.
It's not easy staying here, you might just end up being angry sd frustrated sometimes.