I’m on my way to work one morning, reading on my phone as the danfo rattles along. The bus pulls over to pick up an elderly woman in Ankara. She takes a seat at the back of the bus. I’m on the same seat; there is a man between us. A few minutes after the bus rejoins traffic the woman clears her throat and begins.
— My brothers and sisters, shall we bow our heads as we pray.
I roll my eyes. I’m not a fan of preachers in public transportation; or of the people who take it upon themselves to play Danfo DeeJay, assaulting the busload of people with loud music from their phones; or of the ones who make endless phone calls, screaming out their business for the world to hear.
It’s the usual sermon – sin, hell fire, God don’t like ugly. The Preacher takes out a sheaf of tracts from her bag and passes them around. I tuck mine under my armpit and go back to reading, trying to drown out her words with those on my screen.
We’re pulling up to a bus stop just as The Preacher seems to be rounding up. At the bus stop a few passengers get off and others get on. As soon as we’re on our way again The Preacher resumes preaching, doing a recap of all she’s said before, for the benefit of the newcomers. She hands out tracts to them as she speaks.
Finally, The Preacher is done and she says a short prayer in closing. I am grateful for the restored quiet and I hunker down to enjoy my reading. But then The Preacher begins singing out loud, one chorus after the other, after the other: Take Glory Father, Baba Ese o Baba, Heavenly Race.
I put my phone in my bag and stare out the window.
We’re stuck in traffic at Falomo Roundabout when I notice The Preacher has stopped singing. I glance at her, and she’s looking at the young twenty-something female seated to her other side. There are three of us at the back of the bus now, the young man seated between me and The Preacher having gotten off at some point. The Preacher leans close to the girl beside her.
— Aunty, don’t be angry o…
The girl gives her a questioning look.
— I want to talk to you about this your hair.
I look at the girl’s hair. It’s a long, flowing weave in brown; the inexpensive synthetic kind.
— Where did you fix it?
— In Yaba.
The girl looks somewhat pleased as she says this.
The Preacher’s sigh is ominous, heavy with unspoken meaning. When the girl does not prod, The Preacher looks at her again.
— Don’t be angry, but I have to tell you, it is not good. This is another person’s hair that you are carrying on your head. Who knows what they have used it for, before they start selling it to people.
The girl keeps a straight face and says nothing. I wonder if The Preacher would have given me the same sermon if I’d been wearing extensions or one of my infamous wigs today. My hair is cut low, unrelaxed, so apparently I pass.
— You should use your own hair that God gave you, you will look very fine, better than this sef. All sorts of spirits in this world… we need to be careful so we don’t go and carry trouble with our own hands.
— I have heard. Thank you, ma.
The girl says this with no malice, and I admire her graciousness.
— You are welcome, my dear. God bless you.
The Preacher resumes singing as the bus inches along in the go-slow. Under the bridge at Falomo, the bus stops to pick up passengers. The Preacher stops singing, perks up. She reaches into her bag for more tracts, and she hands them to the two teenagers who have just entered.
— My daughters, take. Take and read and be blessed.
The girls take the tracts.
— Remember to be reading your Bibles. No boyfriend o; no sinning o.
The girls look slightly confused but they nod.
— Yes, ma.