The rain hammered all as it lashed out at those below. There were collections of water everywhere. The gutters were filled with filth; pure water (sachet) leathers, biscuit wraps, and almost all the imaginable dirt one could think of. However, there was a journey to be undertaken. Destination was the target and no flood, or anything else would stop the objective. After what seemed like a millennium of minutes stemming into hours, a bus drove into the park. All the waiting passengers ran into it. It was a traveling company’s park. It turned out this bus was not a registered bus of the company. It seemed it had been picked from a private commercial driver to compensate for the absence of the registered vehicles. Not long after this, a registered vehicle came. An official tout or agbero (as they were called here) for this park ordered all the passengers to come down and enter the more recent entrant. A quick comparison between the two vehicles found the passengers protesting and staying put. This infuriated the tout who threatened hell. Not even his dark face laced with a deep gash and an ugly frown were enough. No effect so he resorted to being physical. For preliminaries, he shouted and challenged the driver. The driver quietly called him and told him to change the entire load in the boot. Now, changing the load here was not a charitable deed and so the tout instantly calmed down and told the driver that he would forgive him, just for that day. He collected the money for his job and bid the fine vehicle farewell.
I smiled a satisfaction. I hated traveling in the rain. However, I preferred it to standing in the rain. I closed my eyes to pray. A lady once told me the story of a girl and her mother. The girl was going for a picnic with her friends. Her mother bade her farewell and prayed God go with her. The girl angrily replied her mother that there was no space in the car for God. She continued that if God wanted to come compulsorily, he could come in the boot. She then set out for the trip with her friends, and had a ghastly accident. The car was totally smashed and squeezed. Miraculously though, nothing happened to the boot. Every single thing in the boot, including crates of raw eggs, remained unbroken and intact. The story was enough to remind me of prayer each journey. Yes, and of course, with the state of bad roads, one had to pray as a matter of ‘can’t help’. One had to either pray for journey mercies or for the grace not to see any accident or gory sight on the road. I crossed myself and picked the former as my intention, forsaking the alternate.
This bus was spacious and I picked the topic of the luxury (quite uncommon) to my neighbor friend. We laughed. He mentioned that we would be arriving in about four hours. Assessing the vehicle again, I told him three.
An hour later, we had not reached the boundary of the next state. This was a distance from Makurdi that took only thirty minutes. We were going at snail speed. Cars passed; buses, bikes and even trucks! Some passengers had the temptation of dropping and jogging ahead of the bus. I had a feeling even they would arrive our destination before this bus. We moved as more vehicles overtook. Everyone insulted the driver. The vehicle we left in the park, that hadn’t even been boarded then, soon overtook us. Rain and storms of insults came from all corners. Appointments had to be met! The driver noticed the tension. He was visibly shaken and sought the passengers’ understanding in words drowned by the general uproar. An angry hand struck the driver. It was now leaving the realm of words. People began to stretch closer to express their minds with their hands. Just lightly at first though. Then a man with a monstrous big hand removed a weapon or something to threaten the driver. Just as he lifted it, the driver braked and the noise changed from insults to exclamations.
I saw two people in the bush; legs spread lying on the grass. Like a bolt it dawned on me, a fresh accident. The car that had just overtaken us! A head-on collision and death on the spot for twelve! Twelve people in all – mostly students, as uniforms proclaimed. We stopped. Curiosity reigned – not for me and two other women. Next, prayers and in abundance, tears. The driver was the first to return. Wet eyed, he commented on the rain and bad roads – reasons for his slow driving, or so he claimed. A lady chided him to take heart and wipe his tears. He did his best composing himself and horned. It was the sign to tell the passengers that the time for the ‘entertainment’ relief was over. More importantly, time to go. As all trooped back to the car, faces told the whole stories.
As the driver drove, silence and gratitude reigned, not an emotion more.
August 9th, 2007