One Sunday morning at about 5 o’clock, I got to the bus terminus and the bus about to leave had just three passengers’ seats left to be taken.
The Ojota bus terminus was on a land area of about two acres and had two entry points – one at the Ogudu Road at the eastern side of the park and the other at Ikorodu Road at the southern end of the park. The rugged gates are rarely shut as commercial vehicles come in and leave all round the clock. The terminus was organized according to destinations – Ibadan park, Ekiti park, Ondo park to mention just a few. I entered through the Ikorodu gate and went to the Ibadan park.
The bus loading Iwo Road was an old Toyota Hiace ‘92 model. The seats of the bus had been so battered from wear and tear that the foam cushion of the seats were peeking out of the upholster cover from many spots like the patched, but still torn trousers of one of the paupers begging for alms at the Ikorodu Road entrance of the park. There was a girl with a friendly face sitting in the seat by the door and I chose the seat next to her and we waited for two passengers to arrive.
I thought about home and school. My dad had died five weeks earlier and I had to come home from school for the burial ceremony which took place on Saturday. I was going back to school sooner than I would have gone because I was going to have a mid-semester test the following day.
Dr. Aladeoku was a very mean law teacher and was not very popular with the students. I should say he was witty but also extra-sensitive to innocuous things. A loud sneeze from a student could irritate him in class. Two conversing students during his lecture could easily infuriate him. A noise from the back of the class could send him off the hook. But whenever he had the kind of decorum he wanted, his class was interesting.
‘My test is on Monday 7th February 2005. If your father is going die, make sure that he does not die on that day. If you are going to bury your grandmother, kindly inform your family of this date. If your in-law’s birthday is on the way, make sure it is not this day. I don’t want stories,’ he would say.
Once you missed his test, the mark was gone, I heard. I was not going to miss the test to confirm the authenticity of the statement. His test days were sacrosanct. Every third year law student knew.
He gave the date of the test six weeks ahead. The same thing he did in the first semester. The test was fifty percent of the forty marks of the continuous assessment. The law of commercial transactions was not one of my favorite courses but I knew I would pass at least with a C. So the test was very important to me to get the minimum of a C without stress.
The friendly face girl beside me interrupted my thought, ‘Hello, may I see your newspaper please?’ She requested, with a voice any rational guy would want to hear again. She made the first move. I liked the ones that made the first move; they are usually interesting. I chose the seat well, I thought.
Yes. From my experience, relationships with girls that made the first move to engage you would blow your mind. The downside was that more often than not, they were usually the ones who made the first move to break up.
‘Sure, you can see it but you can’t touch it’, I teased and she smiled. Before I gave it to her, I quickly removed my first semester result slip which I had kept in between the newspaper, but not without the girl noticing the slip.
‘You are a student of UI too?’ She asked.
‘Yes’ I replied.
‘Are you?’ I also asked. Of course she was. The result slip had served its purpose.
She was dark in complexion and I have no doubt she was my spec. She was slim and the height of about 5 ft 3; the type you could easily sweep off her feet and kiss. As soon as I sat beside her I did my mental evaluation as I always do if I was close to a prospective new girlfriend. She had the oval shape face I liked. Although she had tucked in her bottom into the battered seat of the bus; what was left of what I saw was enough for me to conclude on the rest that had disappeared into the seat. The lower backside was my type. Not too flat not too protruding. Same goes for the upper front side, what I saw was not padded. I had been a victim of padded bras in the past so I knew enough about them. This was the real thing, no fraudulent inducement. They were neither too big nor too small; they were just the way I liked them.
I reckoned she must have guessed that I was a student from the kind of luggage I carried and she wanted to draw me into a conversation. We began to chat and were soon engrossed in getting acquainted. The remaining two passengers arrived before sunrise. The bus rolled out of the park and we headed for Ibadan.
Ibadan is an hour journey from Lagos when there was no season film traffic on the road. In our part of the world, an hour’s journey was no small journey. Passengers usually take the opportunity to engage in all kinds of activities – sell, advertise, pray and preach. It was not uncommon to have passengers pray for a safe journey or to use the opportunity of the journey to preach the gospel according to their faiths.
A man from behind me cleared his throat of some disturbing sputum. He raised his voice and started to pray. His voice was unique and sounded as if it was coming from a base saxophone. As it was the usual traveling tradition, most of us irrespective of our religious beliefs joined him by responding with choruses of ‘Amen’. We all wanted an accident-free trip. After the prayer I continued to chat with the dream girl beside me; she told me her name was Bukola.
The man who prayed was not done yet; he started singing. His lovely baritone voice reverberated to the ends of bus. One could not but be inspired by his voice. Before one could say ‘Ibadan’ more than half of the passengers had joined him in singing. It was a mini-praise revival and our bus was a moving church. Passengers of other vehicles who were not so lucky to have an inspired man of God directly sent from heaven in their buses looked on with envy as buses overtook each other like they would give anything to have a seat on our bus. Too bad for them, none of us would trade his place for anyone of theirs. After about fifteen minutes of praise worship the man brought it to an end.
He was not done. He was chewing something in his mouth. It was not clear what it was. He raised his voice again and started to preach. Bukola and I continued to chat. But the man’s voice was so loud that it kept distracting us. He was sitting directly behind us. Excluding the seats at the front beside the driver, the bus had four seats – three sitters which were the first three seats and a four sitter at the back. We were in the second seat and the preacher was in the third seat in the middle of two other passengers – a male passenger to his right was asleep and a female to the left participated in the evangelical stints of the preacher.
‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand, ye sons of the earth…’
His voice was so high-pitched that you could not but listen to what he was saying. He was not shouting, he was talking with minimum effort. It was like he had swallowed a loudspeaker. It did not appear that he was disturbing other people, so I did not want to complain. Anyway, it was not expected of a young lad like me to tell a middle-aged preacher to watch his voice. I kept quiet and suffered in silence. I turned to look at his face and I saw some passengers do the same. He had a voice one would want to match with a face. He wore brown guinea brocade sewed in the babariga style which suggested he might be coming from a weekend party. He had a thin neck and some strands of a day or two’s growth were visible on his face. Apart from that, one could describe him as a handsome man. Even though he was not standing, one could easily assume he was above six feet in height. The man sitting beside him to the right was fast asleep. He had been sleeping since I came on the bus. He slept all through the praise revival. I continued to chat with Bukola but the man’s voice kept distorting our discussion. I was getting irritated. This preacher was not allowing me to get the full attention of Bukola.
‘You must be born again; otherwise you shall go to hell fire. Hell fire, the final home of adulterers and the eternal place of agony for fornicators…’
Perhaps, because I was brought up in a staunch Christian home, the subject of “being born again” often pricked at my conscience and most of the times, I asked myself, ‘When will you be born again, guy?’ And the answer was always ‘when the time is right.’ I guessed the same thing was happening to Bukola. As far as I was concerned the preacher was simply out to ensure that whatever we had going was going to stop. He was already getting to Bukola. His message appeared to be directed to us. We were the only young couple sitting together and it was obvious we got acquainted on the bus.
‘Where do you live in Lagos?’ Bukola asked and nudged me, bringing me back to our discussion. She was trying very hard not to concentrate on the preacher’s words, I figured.
‘Mushin,’ I replied.
‘You adulterers, you fornicators, you fornicators, you fornicators tomorrow may be too late…’
Whatever I’ve got going with Bukola, this preacher man was spoiling it for me. Why does he have to choose the topic of fornication at that particular time? Abi which kain winch be this? I thought. He was laying unnecessary emphasis on the subject. I turned and looked at him. He stared straight into my eyes as he was preaching. As if to say, ‘yes, I’m, talking about you two.’ Preaching alone was enough to injure our romantic mood; preaching fornication was simply rubbing pepper into our injuries. Bukola was not talking anymore. She looked like she was going to confess her sins any moment. Nobody could do any side talk anymore, except sleep. That was even difficult for passengers like us who were so close to the preacher.
‘If you are not a Christian and you are not born again, now is the time to repent and accept Jesus as your lord and personal savior. Without Jesus nobody can see God…’
Someone from the back seat, who was undoubtedly a Muslim interjected and said aloud, something in Arabic and the few Muslims in the bus chorused in response. There was a momentary pause from the preacher.
Some part of me was delighted. First, because the preaching had moved away from fornication. Second, because it might turn out to be a very interesting and memorable journey. But the other part of me was conscious of the fact that it might turn out to be a serious conflict between religious extremists and the journey might not be pleasant anymore.
‘Salvation is better than any desire. Five minutes from now may be too late because we don’t even know if this bus is going to have an accident…’ He had not finished whatever he wanted to say when voices rose to challenge and curse him.
‘It is you that will not go back home to your children and wife in Jesus name. Stupid preacher,’ one woman countered him audibly amongst many other inaudible voices.
When the voices calmed down, the preacher continued, ‘No weapon fashioned against me shall prosper in the name of Jesus…’
I got the feeling from the preacher’s voice like, ‘yes, I have their whole attention.’ The man beside him was still sleeping. I wondered how the man was able to sleep with that kind of loud-speaker voice beside him. Perhaps, he was tired from partying. It was a Sunday morning and people usually have lots of dancing and partying to do on weekends. He could be tired from the fatigue of such weekend exercise, I reckoned. That appeared to be the reasonable explanation for the imperturbable way he was sleeping. If I was beside the preacher, I would not be able to close an eyelid; not with the preacher’s thunder voice boring straight into my ears.
‘Jesus said no one knows when the son of man shall come, except my father in heaven, for this reason, brethren, forsake your sins because you can die any minute…’ some passengers gave several kinds of mumblings and hisses to what he said. He continued, ‘I’m not afraid to die because I know I have Jesus…’
The talk of death was not going down well with most of the passengers, including me. The Lagos/Ibadan expressway was notorious for high number of tragic accidents annually. To have a prophet of doom in the bus was not within contemplation when we boarded the bus. This one was an unusual fellow. Most preachers usually preach about wealth, riches and that the solution to poverty was through the salvation of Christ. At the end of the ministration, some would give out invitations to their churches and a small marked envelope for you to support the gospel of Christ. You could reject the envelope if you so wanted, it was a voluntary act. It was doing business with Jesus and no one did business with Jesus and lost. You could support the gospel with anything; nothing was too small, nothing was too big. The envelope was to be returned immediately; it was not expected to be empty.
‘If anybody should die now…’ He was rudely interrupted by a man who had not talked since the journey began,’Hey, Mr. Preacher, if you wan die go hell fire we fit allow you jump from this bus. Ah han wetin? Just dey talk die die since. See hin neck like giraffe own. Oyinoshi!’
The man was sitting in the seat behind the driver in front of us, he attempted to stand up from where he was sitting, but he was held back by other passengers around him. I smiled at the move and wondered what he would have done if he was not restrained. The preacher did not flinch. He was unruffled and allowed the man to finish with his disruption then continued with his preaching. He was a very patient man and a master of his art.
‘There is a woman in this bus …’ I paid attention again, it was hard not to.
‘This woman quarreled with her husband and now she wants to do something evil. The Lord is now calling on you to stop now or you shall reap what you are about to sow before you sow it. Nobody sows orange and reaps okra. Who is this woman?’
I was sure, like me, most passengers were surprised about the new dimension the preacher was taking. It was not as if prophets were uncommon in the buses, but this one was quite peculiar. He was saying something very precise and dramatic.
‘The woman should raise up her hand now so that I may pray for her…’
Everyone was silent.
‘Let the woman raise up her hand now or forever put it down and face the wrath of the almighty God. The spirit of the Lord is warning. Whoever it is should speak now or the anger of the Holy Ghost will visit this bus…’
Even the passengers who had raised their voices against the enigmatic preacher were looking on with curiosity. All the men in the bus were looking at the women; the women were looking at themselves. I looked at Bukola and she stared back at me. ‘What are you staring at? I’m not married.’
I smiled at the comment and said, ‘I just wanted to be sure.’
‘I am just going to pray for you and the Lord will forgive all your sins. As the heaven is distant to the earth, so is the extent of God’s mercy to those who fear him, you this woman don’t bring the wrath of God upon this…’
The preacher had barely finished the sentence when a deer ran across the road, directly in front of our bus, the driver swerved the bus towards the bushes then back to the road applying the brakes skillfully. Some passengers screamed in fear. Some shouted, ‘stop the bus! Stop the bus, stop the bus!’
The driver did not stop the bus, he only slowed down. I’d heard that animals ran across the road at night, but this was broad daylight and seemed to be a corollary of the preacher’s prophesy. I had never seen a live deer before.
While everyone was screaming, a woman sitting in the back seat whose voice surmounted those of others or perhaps, other voices gave way to hers because of what she was saying, was screaming at the top her voice, ‘Na me o! Na me o! God forgive me! Allah please forgive me!’ The woman was saying amidst tears.
The woman who had previously cursed the preacher started shouting, raising her voice above others, ‘So it is true eh?” you witch, daughter of a witch, you want to kill us, abi?. Oloriburuku ma leleyi ke. Ma woju e shondo. God will not allow you.’
Some other passengers began to accuse the woman of various offences. Some passengers were pacifying the others, and some were just too stunned to talk. I fell into the last category; I was so scared I couldn’t even scream. Bukola had then clutched unto me like a child unto her mother. The passenger behind the driver who had initially insulted the preacher was bleeding slightly in the forehead and the passengers beside him attended to him.
‘What kind of evil bus have we boarded today?’ A woman in the seat in front of ours was crying and saying in between tears as she helped to attend to the injured passenger.
For me the situation had ceased to be funny after the deer incident.
Eventually, the preacher raised his voice again and asked the woman what she did. The preacher talked as if nothing had happened and like the only solution was the confession of the mysterious woman. He wore an expression like he knew things we did not know. Perhaps he did. If he was afraid, he did not show it. The woman began to explain in Pidgin English. While the woman was explaining, I noticed that at last, the man beside the preacher had now woken up as a result of the minor mishap we had and was now stretching and yawning. Apparently he didn’t know what was going on. But whatever it was, it seemed he was then ready to know.
The woman explained amidst tears and narrated her story. Her husband wanted to take a second wife and she was strongly against it. She had suffered with her husband from the days he had nothing, when they could not afford two meals in a day. She did not want another woman to come and reap the benefits of her labor. She was concerned with the future of her children. All her pleadings to her husband were not successful. Her family was against her and her husband’s family was against her. Her religion did not support her wish. Everything was against her. She was helpless. Since there was nothing else she could do to prevent the second marriage, she decided to go to a herbalist who would help her with some powerful charms to separate her husband and the prospective second wife permanently. She brought out the charms prepared by the herbalist. It was wrapped in some animal skin. As she brought it out, the closest passengers to her recoiled away from her like they saw a spitting serpent.
The man who had just woken up beside the preacher appeared to be looking on with surprise at what was unfolding, like he could not believe what he was seeing. He looked back and interrupted the woman, ‘Excuse me Madam.’
Perhaps, when he saw that the preacher was in control and he was at a loss, faced the preacher and asked, ‘Femi, what’s going on?’ I saw some passengers hissed in irritation as the man interrupted the proceedings. I heard someone say silently, ‘Let the woman finish her story.’ The sleeping man would have none of that; he wanted to know what was going on.
‘Femi what is going on?’ He insisted and repeated the question. The preacher answered, ‘I’m just feeding this people with the words of life and this particular woman, the Lord has personally sent me to…’
The sleeping man cut him short with a wave of his hand, a sarcastic laugh and with his next question.
‘Yes.’ The preacher answered.
‘Yes?’ The preacher answered again with a straight face.
‘How many times did I call you?’
‘No. Two times. I called you two times. You have started again, abi? How many bottles of beer did you drink at that party?’
The preacher stammered and answered, ‘I didn’t count. I… Em, em… But they could not be much.’
‘Not much, eh? But it was enough to make you preach in a commercial bus.’
The sleeping man shook his head in a manner that suggested something like, ‘I can’t believe this.’
He laughed softly, shaking his head. He put his head down on our seat, probably drifted into sleep again. The confessing woman wiped away her tears and kept quiet. She put her charm back into the knot of her wrapper.
The vehicle was as silent as a grave yard. I looked at Bukola’s face, then unto some passenger’s face, and then to our most esteemed preacher. The expression on most passengers face could not exactly be described. There was relief visible all over the face of Bukola; not because of the humor of the situation but because of the irony of the situation, I reckoned.
While we were digesting what just transpired, the preacher vomited on the floor of the bus in between his legs in three spurts. He retched a couple of times but it seemed he was done. For those who were close to him like me and Bukola, it was really disgusting. The bus stank with the smell of alcohol mixed with what could best be described as rotten food. The sleeping man raised his ahead and he and the preacher were left to deal with the vomit as they were offered toilet papers. The driver had to park along the expressway just before the toll gate at Challenge for same to be cleaned properly. We boarded the bus again and the rest of the journey was uneventful.
Everyone kept to himself save for me and Bukola. She then had this permanent grin on her face since the sleeping man talked. She leaned on me for comfort as the bus sped on. I kept thinking about the preacher’s revelation of the woman who confessed about her husband taking a second wife. Was it just a coincidence? The preacher must be one of those people who are psychic, I concluded.
When we got to our destination at Iwo Road Bus terminus, we were alighting one after the other, a man while he was about to alight from the bus said to the preacher who seemed to have sobered down, ‘May God forgive you.’
‘Amen,’ the preacher answered and retched. The man quickly alighted from the bus before the preacher would vomit again.