You’re in a danfo in Wednesday morning traffic. It’s one of those big but cramped twenty-two-seater buses, with a few people lapping. You’re reading on your phone, ignoring the argument between two passengers and the conductor about change. The driver parks beside the road and jumps out to look underneath the bus. You sigh. It's the second time he's done this since you got on the bus four stops away. As he disappears under the bus someone starts to shout fire fire.
Your head jerks up from your phone. People start to scream and there's a stampede for the door. It is a wide door but people take up too much space in a fearful scramble. You're seated on the third row out of four, across from the door but right by a window. The window! You turn to it, but even a small child wouldn’t fit through.
You remember the stories – of danfo engines catching fire and burning the slow passengers alive. (The survivors would have been the ones who ran first and asked questions later, the ones who didn't wait for the evidence of smoke.) You remember your own experiences – doors falling from their hinges as the buses sped by (once on friggin’ Third Mainland!); being driven through pouring rain with no windshield wipers. You join the rush.
You use your body like a ram and you push against the wall of flesh in front of you. You think about fire. It can come in one big explosion, or in a quiet whoosh, or silently, with only the smell of burning to announce it. However it comes, you want to be safely off the bus when it happens.
Your feet meet the ground and you've never been so grateful for roadside grass. You quickly put a safe distance between you and the bus. Only then do you turn to watch the inferno.
Except there’s none.
The driver shimmies out from under his bus, wiping his hands on his pants.
—Where una see fire?
You exchange questioning looks with the other passengers. The fog is starting to clear. You look under the bus, stretch your neck to see behind it. No smoke, no fire. You let out a shaky laugh, and then you can’t stop. The others are giving you strange looks so you cover your mouth. They are grumbling, dusting themselves off, examining scrapes and bruises; everyone wants to know who called out fire.
A young woman in an orange shirt gives a shamefaced smile as she looks away.
The conductor herds you back onto the bus with the others. You find a place on the same row as before, but a man has taken your former seat by the window. You note his smug smile, the smile of one whose calm paid off in the face of panic. You want to smack the smile off his face.
From behind you:
—Na wah o. Which kain nonsense be dis?
—Chai. Oga, sorry o. Your cloth tear?
—E tear now! See my trouser.
—Oga, na you leave your slippers inside bus run comot?
—My sister, wetin I for do na? I leave slippers o.
Two bus stops later the woman who raised the alarm gets off. As the bus eases back onto the road, the man with the torn trousers hisses.
—See the idiot, with im big mouth.
—No mind her. Since she enter bus na so so talk she dey talk.
—But why she go talk wetin she no see? She wan kill person?
A longer silence.
—See ehn, na fear dey kill person.