After work one day I got on a danfo bus from Yaba to Obalende. When it was time to pay I offered the worn N200 note that I’d gotten from the lunch lady that afternoon to the conductor. He took the money, eyeing it as he held it between his thumb and forefinger.
‘This money no good o,’ he growled, thrusting it back at me.
I took the note and examined it. Even though it had one or two tiny holes and a small strip of Cello tape fixing a tear on one corner, I thought it was passable. But I don’t know how to fight, so I quietly took a N1000 note from my wallet and gave it to the conductor who took it, grumbling about his not having change. I looked away. It wasn’t the conductor’s business that I had two N100 notes sitting pretty in my wallet. It was nobody’s business. I might not be good at fighting with my fists or with quick, cutting words, but even your mild passive-aggressive has many weapons in her arsenal.
After a while the conductor had a change of heart. He grudgingly asked for the rejected N200 and returned my N1000.
All was quiet until one passenger asked the conductor for his change and my N200 ended up in his hand. The guy took one look at the note and held it out to the conductor.
‘I can’t take this money,’ he said. ‘Be quick and change it; I’m coming down at Adeniji.’
‘There is no change o,’ the conductor said. ‘You go manage am like that.’
I felt a twinge of guilt, but I could see two N100 notes in the conductor’s hand. The man had seen this too.
‘No be 200 naira you hold for your hand so?’ he said. ‘My friend give me beta money before I reach my bus stop!’
The conductor spread out the notes in his hand and, all of a sudden, there was only one N100 note. ‘Where you see 200?’ He asked.
The passenger was incredulous, as was I. ‘I saw two hundred in your hand just now!’ he said.
The bus came to a rattling stop at Adeniji Bus Stop and the conductor opened the door. The passenger stayed on the bus, waving the N200 note at the conductor as he hovered over the laps of the woman beside him, as if trying to decide whether to sit on them. The woman was
‘Abeg carry your yansh, make I see road!’ she said.
The man carried his buttocks to his seat while I raised my handkerchief to my eyes and pretended to be wiping something. I wondered if the man sitting beside me remembered I’d been the giver of the contentious N200. I couldn’t let him see me laughing.
The driver turned to look at his conductor. ‘Wetin happen?’
‘Nothing do that money but he say he no want am,’ the conductor said.
The passenger waved the note in the driver's face. ‘See this money. If they give you you go take am?’
The driver barely glanced at the note. ‘Nothing wrong with this money jor. This man, you like trouble.’ He turned to the conductor, ‘You get another one?’
‘Another change no dey o,’ the conductor said.
‘Passenger, you go follow us reach Obalende be that,’ the driver said as he sped off.
The embattled passenger proceeded to make his case to the woman beside him. ‘See the money wey this conductor give me,’ he said, like a child reporting a bruise courtesy of an overly aggressive playmate.
The man beside me spoke up: ‘Ahn-ahn, that money is bad na. If na me sef I no go take am.’
The woman agreed in a quieter voice. ‘It’s true, that money is not good. Conductor, you suppose change am.’
‘And now that you don carry me pass Adeniji, you go give me money to come back,’ the passenger said, ‘or else you go see trouble today.’
‘See this one!’ the conductor said. ‘Na who you wan show trouble? See ehn, you must to show me that trouble o. Before I change this money you must to show me that trouble. Your mouth like crayfish.’
I kept my eyes and face straight.
By the time the bus reached Obalende it was mayhem, with the driver and conductor on one side and the passengers banded together on the other. As soon as the bus stopped I slipped out from amongst the screaming humans as they hurled insults and threats. I thought of that scene every single action movie seems to have: unflappable hero walks off in slow motion while the car or building she’s set fire to blows up behind her. I finally knew what that felt like.