It had been raining all day the way an old goat pees, in fits and starts, with bleats of sunshine in between. This was a weekday in July 2007, the magical year I moved to Lagos, and only a few months into the nine-to-five that lured me over. The excitement of waking up every day at 5am and catching a jam-packed danfo bus for the two-hour commute had since curdled in my wannabe-writer’s heart. I was standing at Obalende bus stop that afternoon after work, with no bus in sight for the past 40 minutes and rumours of a citywide gridlock swirling around, when the rain started again, a sun shower, proof, they say, that a lion is being born.
Fare hikes were expected on days of heavy traffic, but this time the fare had tripled. Outraged howls rent the air
At last a minibus appeared, its overripe mango colour approaching like a sun ray. The crowd around me surged forward through the puddles and began yanking at the battered door, yelling at the conductor above the rattle of the engine to ask his destination, and then fighting to climb aboard even before the driver had applied the brakes. Rainfall swells the desperation in Lagos commuters. The strongest barged through the open door; a slim young man slithered in through a window; and the rest were pushed away, trampled aside. I was one of the strong that fortune favoured that afternoon.
The minibus was a 14-seater which had been gutted and redesigned to hold 20. Of the 50-plus people standing in the rain, 19 men and one young lady had got inside. Those left behind included a nursing mother and her bawling infant, a man with a withered leg, an elderly lady whose frailty would have opened doors for her on rainless days. In the endless dreary rains even notions of chivalry shrink away from the wet. Besides, these were just rain-slicked faces lacking in luck, their forlorn expressions no fault of ours.
The grouch-faced conductor called for his fare in a voice ready for trouble. Fare hikes were expected on days of heavy traffic, but this time the fare had tripled. Outraged howls rent the air, but the shirtless conductor retorted with the insouciance of a venture capitalist: “Pay or get out.” No one was willing to give up their seat, yet the price to stay on was steep. We abandoned our protest and began begging to pay double the usual fare, but the conductor wouldn’t budge. It was a seller’s market and he had us from hello.
Those passengers who didn’t hold enough cash to cover the inflated fare became the loudest about not getting off. It was one such voice that screamed at the conductor to let some people carry others in their lap. In that way the two could pool their resources and pay for the seat they shared. This proposal was forced through by strength of numbers, with the hopeful outside the bus joining their voices to those inside to drown out the conductor and driver’s dissent. And so the mother handed her baby to the young lady inside, and then leapt aboard to sit in a strange man’s lap. Five more people got on, including the limping man. But the elderly lady, so dignified in the wet, refused to impose herself on anyone despite several offers. I should have given up my seat to her, I thought after we drove off. But the rain.
My two-hour commute stretched to four hours that day. The bus stop rumours had been true, as the loudest ones sometimes are in this gossipy city, and we met an infernal go-slow on the flooded roads. It was there before us and would be there long after that overfull minibus of 27 lucky passengers had faded into memory. For at sunset the lionesses must stop giving birth, and every rainy season the heavens will open up to release a rainstorm that makes the goat young again.