Time was when jumping buses was normal. One took bikes, tricycles and weather-beaten yellow buses to every destination. Engaging the services of taxis was a luxury because pockets were shallow, every kobo had to be accounted for. But time…time soon took care of the transition and the Danfo-hopping plebeian could get her own private means of transportation. Nothing fancy, just something decent enough to signify progress and put a permanent end to contending with sweaty bodies and aggressive commuters for limited spaces in public transportation. Now, she could have her privacy; play the kind of music she wanted and not have to endure the cacophony that bus drivers mistook for good music.
The more comfortable life of owning one’s car also comes with one or two downsides—less exercise, for one. Life is summed up by dashing behind the wheel to get ahead in rush hour traffic, sitting for hours in front of the laptop at the office and hopping into the car once again for the homeward journey. A scaringly sedentary lifestyle. So when her car had to go for repairs last week, it was an opportunity to get some exercise by way of exploring the public transport system she had not been a part of for so long.
First, the back roads pedestrians could only ply via motorcycles posed a challenge. She was wary of falling, a proposition that is always a possibility in a city riddled with reckless Okada drivers, especially the Abokis who had a penchant for riding at devil-may-care speed. But, she had little choice and in between subtle admonitions, the first part of the journey ended without incident.
As she suspected, the 14-seater bus that would convey passengers for the most part of the rest of the journey home was barely big enough to accommodate four per seat and so it was a cramped situation where arms rubbed against one another and at least one person had to lean forward to give others a fighting chance to rest their backs. She knew that came with the territory, so it wasn’t a that much of a big deal.
The trip started well and some point, she began to imagine it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to drop the car sometimes (even when nothing was wrong with it) and “hitch a ride with the masses”, after all, driving wasn’t exactly a tea party in a city like Lagos. The three to four-hour road congestion that was a staple of the overcrowded state had the potential to drive the most happy-go-lucky individual into depression; but like almost all trips in commercial buses go, there had to be a drama of some sort and this was not about to be an exception.
After a while, traffic eased to a near-halt. At first, it wasn’t so bad—the usual slow, but considerable movement—until things got worse. They would spend 15 minutes motionless before the traffic deigned to inch two metres. Passengers shifted in their seats and swiped sweat off their brows, hisses came out of one or two people. The journey that had started with the prospects of hitting a new record of an early arrival for the rush-hour period had devolved into the road nightmare every commuter dreads.
Then the worst happened. After a prolonged “mannequin challenge,” the driver opted to save some gas by switching off the ignition. No one raised an eyebrow because, well, they weren’t moving anyway. After what seemed like an eternity, traffic eased up again and stationary cars roared into life. All eyes were on the driver to move as fast as he could before they got stuck again, but silence followed. Their bus wouldn’t start. Motorists who had hitherto been behind now left fumes in their faces.
She couldn’t believe it—the road was now free and they were stuck here, in a bus that wouldn’t respond to attempts to kickstart it. The men shook tired heads while the women hissed and berated the driver for “killing” the ignition when he knew it wouldn’t start.
A resolution was reached, some people had to alight to push the bus.
She looked at herself; weary and stiff from the uncomfortable tight seating arrangement and she knew there was no way she would one of those who would embark on that mini exercise. Some of the other frustrated passengers got to work and the bus roared back to life.
But there was an encore. This time around, the driver did not switch off the engine, but the gridlock-overwhelmed vehicle had probably had enough and it baulked once more. A female passenger ranted and raved at the driver, livid that they had been delayed yet again. And yet again, some passengers had to push it to start.
She remembered her modest automobile. She missed it now and admitted to herself that the life of jumping buses wasn’t hers anymore. Driving was tough, but being stuck in an airless bus in the middle of nowhere was far tougher. She was suddenly grateful this wasn’t her life anymore.
As she trudged home eventually, after another hour of bus and tricycle chasing, she knew she had learned a lesson. And when she got into the familiar ambience of her own car the following morning, she said a little prayer. Life was nothing near rosy, but she had come a long way from where she was.
She would never forget that.