We the passengers are pressed together in the bus, like fishes compressed into a can of sardines. Just outside the bus, the motor Park touts are haggling at the top of their voices. It’s barely 7 am but beads of sweats already rolls down their temples.
In the bus, everyone is quiet. The usual temporary serenity that envelops passengers who are congregated in the bus at the beginning of a trip. The type of serenity that gives way to the progress of the journey where some form of familiarity sets in.
A beggar limps towards the bus, towards us. The typical Hausa beggar. Dirty. Old. Deformed. Not very deformed. The one-bad-leg type of deformed. Reddened teeth, well, the few of whatever is left of his teeth. He’s clutching a stick he supports himself with.
He comes by the window of the car and begs. He speaks Hausa at first. As if realising he’s speaking to a different audience, he switches to Yoruba. Horrible Yoruba, but Yoruba still.
“ S’aanu fun mi “, he says, one arm stretched and the other gripping the stick he supports himself with. Everyone is emotionless. I am too. Maybe because I’ve seen too many of his type that I have become uncompassionate. He stays still, arm-stretched. Everyone continues with whatever they were doing before he came by. As a matter of fact, there is not a moment of pause when he comes by. Nothing changes. He draws just the same attention as the bird flying over a hundred feet above. He stays for a little more time, repeating the same lines—
“S’aanu fun mi”.
After a moment or more, he moves away, limping to the next bus and probably repeating the same lines. While he leaves, I watch his expression trying to catch the disappointment in it— If any. There is none. A soul so used to rejection it no longer hurts. He limps to the next bus, with the expression he limped to my bus with.
I look around. I’m the only one paying attention to him. Everyone else is doing something normal people do while boarded in a bus.
A while later, a lady walks by. She’s wearing a faded T-shirt. So faded you could barely see whatever words designed on the shirt. The only thing more faded than the T-shirt she’s wearing is the wrapper she straps her baby with. Yes, she has a baby strapped to her back. I don’t know if it’s a male or a female. It’s hair is short and coerce, either because it’s part of the black genetic feature or due to non-maintenance.
She walks over to our bus. Just before she gets to us I know what she’s coming for. I know because from the appearance, you know she needs help. So haggard she looks that she doesn’t have to beg for humans to offer her something. For humanity. For her child. For the shame of how rough she is. Surely however, she comes to ask. For the child. For her stomach. For the soreness of her feet.
“Madam, please I don’t know if you have small change make I use buy slippers wear.”
It is then I glance south. She’s indeed without any pair of shoes to shield her feet from the coldness of the ground.
She goes from window to window. Repeating the same plea. Her voice getting more sober with each person she walks to. She gets to me. I wish she doesn’t, but she does. In my pocket was nothing but a plastic debit card. I have the means but the content is stored away in some safe in a bank. I swallow hard. I look at her, and my eyes sway to the child strapped at her back. Our eyes meet. My eyes and it— the child, they meet. The innocence in them strips me bare. A lump grows in my throat and I shiver a bit. I want to say I don’t have but I can’t. I shake my head slowly. She nods. Just as she walks away, she says something that breaks my heart into many tiny bits.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you oga.”
Such politeness even in disappointment. She walks away, but unlike the beggar, she doesn’t walk to another bus. She walks away, into the morning.
Twenty minutes pass. The driver walks into his space in front, almost set to go. We are all fully geared to take flight. Just before the engines start, I hear a voice from just outside the window at the other side of me—
“Can we please close our eyes for prayers.”
A moment later everywhere is quiet. A man, probably the official pastor of the park, thunders some prayers into the bus. For protection. For safety. For surety against the evils of the road— Accidents. Robbers. Policemen. Mechanical faults. Bla bla. The passengers chorus a resounding “Amen!” to all his prayers. Me too. I don’t believe they work, but somehow the harmony with which everyone choruses amen sweeps me along.
Less than two minutes later, he’s done. I feel a bit better. Everyone greets him thank you. He turns to walk away, but just before he leaves, like a side statement, like an afterthought, he mouths—
“Just in case you have something for the evangelist.”
He says it so subtly I think I’m the only one who hears it. He turns to walk away, but he infact doesn’t walk away. He’s not facing us anymore, but you can tell his entire consciousness is pointed towards us.
“Just in case you have something for the evangelist.” He says as he turns away.
A moment passes, nothing. Just while I’m switching my attention towards something else— something random, like the beggar limping to another bus, I hear someone yell—
My attention flips back to the bus just at the same time his’ flips back to the bus. A woman stretches a note to him. Another woman stretches another note to him. A man sitting close to the window squeezes a note into his hand. And another. And another. He smiles, thanks them, and leaves. Not the park, but to another bus.