Thursday, March 24, 2016

Danfo Chronicles – The Best Laid Plans

* For Atoke and Abe (@saintabadini), for unwittingly providing the motivation for this post. Thank you.

I was returning from work one fine evening when I boarded a bus from Yaba that looked innocent enough. As the bus went down Herbert Macaulay I was thinking the usual things I think when I first get on a bus: gauging the driver’s speed and demeanour, trying to sense if this was a normal human being behind the wheel or one of those demon-possessed drivers, and whether it was time to start singing ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’. I examined the bus, or at least as much as I could from my place on the second row: side mirrors, check; rear-view, check; door that looked steady enough to not fall off its hinges any minute, check. All gravy.

Moments after we got on Third Mainland Bridge the bus engine started to sputter. The driver eased over to the outer lane and the bus began to slow down. The driver and conductor started a conversation:

‘Na fuel don finish so?’

‘No be fuel. Engine go soon pick.’

‘You sure say no be fuel?’

‘I say no be fuel!’

The bus went slower and slower.


Alas, no amount of nos could keep the bus moving. We were halfway across the bridge when it came to a jerky stop. The driver turned the key in the ignition. The engine wheezed but wouldn’t come to life. He did this five times before he was ready to admit:

‘E be like say na fuel o.’

Well done, Captain Obvious.

I turned to look behind me at the speeding vehicles. The conductor had got off the bus and was waving oncoming traffic onto other lanes. I shuddered and turned to face forward again.

‘No mind these stupid danfo people. Dem dey drive dey make money, yet dem no go buy fuel. Na water una wan take drive?’

‘This is how they have wasted my time. The whole of today, from one danfo to another, all of them, time-wasters!’

The driver shouted something to his conductor in Yoruba. The man sitting to my right chuckled and interpreted: ‘E say na person come thief the fuel wey dey him bus before.’

‘No be only thief. We resemble small pikin wey dem go dey lie give anyhow?’

The driver turned the handle of his door and let go of it. I watched with alarm as the door swung open and into the road.

‘Driver, hold your door! It’s entering the road!’

The driver pulled the door ajar and shimmied out of his seat. He went to the back of the bus and opened the boot, and then the latch covering the engine.

‘Wetin you dey open engine for, this man?’ This from the woman sitting in the passenger seat. ‘Abeg, come give us our money!’

Really, on Third Mainland? And you’ll do what with the money? Fly?

The driver replaced the engine latch and shut the boot, and he and his conductor stood behind the bus trying to flag down another danfo.

‘What are you people doing?’ the man beside me called to them. ‘Who wan stop for you on top Third Mainland?’

I sat biting my lip and glancing nervously behind me, trying not to imagine a speeding vehicle ramming us from behind.

After a few minutes of futile waving the driver walked back to the front of the bus and opened the door, again leaving it to swing into the road.

‘Oh, God, this man! Hold that your door!’

‘E be like say dem dey follow this driver from village.’

The driver held the door against his body with one hand and, with the other gripping the door frame, he began to push. I turned around to see the conductor pushing from behind. I winced as a vehicle coming fast behind us swung into the next lane with seconds to spare.

The driver said something in Yoruba, and again the man to my right interpreted: ‘He said you people should come down and push.’

I pictured me pushing a danfo bus on Third Mainland, or anywhere even, and I couldn’t help myself. I closed my eyes and laughed till I was wiping tears. The Interpreter joined in, but he and two other men got down to push. As they pushed the bus began creeping onto the next lane, and I stopped laughing long enough to scream to the driver to keep his bus on its lane.

The bus was inching forward, pushed by five men, when another danfo, spotting us from a distance, started to slow down behind us. The other bus flashed its headlights and the message was clear.

‘Enter bus, enter bus!’ the conductor screamed.

The other danfo was now right behind us, and the men who had been pushing hurried back onto the bus. The other danfo bumped us from behind and kept moving, taking us ahead of it, with our driver keeping us in lane using the steering wheel. I looked behind but couldn’t make out the face of our rescuer, only white teeth.

The other bus pushed us all the way to Adeniji Bus Stop where it left us and sped on ahead. But instead of putting us on another bus or giving us a refund, the conductor grabbed a five-litre keg and got off the bus before it had even come to a stop. He hopped onto an okada without breaking stride, and we watched as he disappeared down the road into Adeniji.

‘Him don go buy fuel be that’, the man to my left said with a sigh. The woman in the passenger seat got off the bus with a huff and soon boarded another one.

Moments later, a man with the soiled clothes and unkempt hair of a vagrant appeared at the door of the bus. He placed a slip of paper that looked like the receipt for a lotto ticket on the bus’s front bench, right in front of the man seated to my right. And then, muttering something reproving, he wandered off to stand a few metres from the bus. I looked at the unkempt man, and then at the man to my right. He looked back at me, his face mirroring mine.

‘Wait, so he just came and dropped that paper and walked away?’ I asked. The man’s answer was to glance back at the unkempt man, and then shift on the seat, closer to me and away from the slip of paper. I laughed, but this time I laughed alone.

The conductor returned minutes later with his five litres of fuel. He poured it into the tank as the man to my left said, ‘That’s how they will be buying kobo-kobo fuel. Very soon now they will go and stop other people again on Third Mainland.’

When the driver turned the key this time the engine roared to life. We continued on our way, and I expected to be at Obalende in another two minutes.

As we approached Sura Junction, I noticed the driver muttering something, saw the index finger of his right hand swinging between the road to the right, which led off from Sura Junction, and the road continuing straight ahead, which led to Obalende, like he was contemplating which to take. Everyone knows that going by Sura Junction would almost certainly mean getting stuck in traffic in the narrow streets of Obalende, before reaching Obalende Bus Stop.

‘Driver, no take Sura o,’ the man to my left said.

The driver said nothing.

‘This man, abeg follow straight.’

He kept swinging his index finger


We reached Sura Junction and the driver turned right. Into Sura.

It took what felt like a full minute. And then, from the man to my left:

‘This driver, God will delay your destiny the way you have delayed us today.’

The driver was calm when he spoke: ‘It is your destiny that will delay. In fact, your destiny have die.’

And so on and so forth.