It wasn’t long after I got on the bus at Obalende that I realised the driver was one of those mad ones. As soon as the bus was filled he leaned on his horn and swerved into the road. And from then on he drove at a terrifying speed when the roads were free, slamming on the brakes when he had to slow down or stop, constantly tooting his horn, running into potholes like they didn’t exist and switching lanes without warning. The bus conductor, hanging from the doorway of the bus, seemed to be enjoying himself; he shouted greetings and taunts at every other danfo* we passed. The radio was playing loud fuji music that instructed men on how to hold on to their Nigerian women – apparently it came down to money and good sex. (This is me saying it the nice way; the singer’s language was much more colourful.) None of the other weary passengers seemed to mind all of this very much. Apart from the occasional half-hearted ‘e ni suru o’*, we were all stone faced and stoic, holding on to edges of our seats. We carried on this way, our driver angering other road users and drawing curses all the way but causing no death or bodily harm.
We got into Victoria Island and approached the toll plaza just before Lekki Roundabout. In the distance we could see the long lines of cars, trucks and buses easing slowly toward the tolling booths. I took it for granted that our driver would find the shortest of these queues and quickly join our bus to it from behind, like any normal human being would.
Between each line of vehicles there were empty strips of road wide enough to fit a bus like ours. It was into one of these spaces that the driver directed the bus. He was going so fast I thought he would crash into the traffic cone ahead, and then into the culvert and caution sign that separated the toll booth from the road. But he screeched to a stop just in time, stepping on the brakes and sending us jerking forward. Somebody cursed the driver and his mother.
So there we were, stuck between two lanes of vehicles. The plan, I assumed, was that the driver would appeal to the other drivers to make room for us; either that or our driver would try to squeeze in. Knowing the temperament of the typical Lagos driver, and with the other drivers having just witnessed our driver’s stunt, I knew we would have a hard time getting on the queue. And we did. The driver beside us on our right had set his face in an immovable mask and was pretending not to see our bus.
But our driver had a plan.
He signalled to the conductor who hopped off his perch in the doorway – his shorts were riding low and exposing the top halves of each ashy buttock – and sauntered into the space between Mask Face beside us and the car in front of him. Mask Face didn’t do anything; I think he was trying to figure out what the plan was. So was I.
As the vehicle in front of Mask Face rolled forward, leaving a few metres of asphalt behind it, the conductor spread his arms wide and started to dance, turning around and wiggling his narrow behind at Mask Face’s bonnet. Mask Face’s face wasn’t so masky anymore. He slapped his horn and leaned on it even as the conductor danced some more. Of course, Mask Face couldn’t run our conductor over. He sat there furious and impotent, blaring his horn as our driver eased his danfo into the widening space in front of him.
The conductor gave Mask Face a cheerful wave and hopped back on the bus as we drove toward the booth, mission accomplished.
Just another day in the life.
* Minibuses commonly used in Lagos as public transportation
* ‘Have patience.’