A DAY IN LAGOS TRAFFIC

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LAGOS

Sitting beside the smelly bus driver, I observed the traffic through the cracked windscreen. The vehicles were assorted- old, new and the rickety, all  stretched out along the pothole-filled road while moving at a snail’s pace. It was almost a beautiful sight, and even though I was too frustrated to dwell much on the aesthetic perspective to it, I could not help but notice the yellow buses. I just was fascinated by those buses! Ever since my relocation to the city, I always observed how the yellow buses typically define the roads here. They make up a major means of transportation in Lagos and as a matter of fact I was commuting to work in one of them…

This was Lagos; the fast-paced city with crawling traffic! It was early morning rush hour on a Monday morning, the worst time to be on any road and more so a Lagos road. Already the sun was out and the heat radiating from it caused many in the bus to sweat profusely. Of interesting note was the man sitting by my right; he was completely distressed as he fanned himself furiously with a newspaper. He appeared to be some kind of executive considering the fancy suit he wore. And despite looking very good in the cloth, he cursed incessantly while struggling to remove it. But cramped  in the bus as we were, all his efforts were futile. All he could do was keep fanning himself while sweating and cursing. Luckily for us the traffic finally eased up a bit just as the breeze came through the windows. This breeze did not come alone however because it came accompanied by dust and exhaust fumes of different kinds. We all hissed simultaneously, some with relief while others were simply  disgusted by  the dust. A few windows were slammed shot behind me in desperate efforts to  to wade off the fumes. Meanwhile, I finally heaved a long sigh, exhaling the driver’s odour had been  hitting directly at my brain. I could not wait to get off the bus! Just unfortunate it was still a long journey no thanks to another traffic jam we soon came upon another traffic jam.

This commute was supposed to last [at most] thirty minutes. Sadly, I already spent nearly an hour and  was nowhere near my destination. It had been a slow ride during which I had witnessed different kinds drama. For one, there was the bus conductor who exchanged angry words with two passengers over change. While we were boarding at the garage, the ugly, hairy bus conductor had loudly announced in his loutish manner that  bus fare was a hundred and fifty naira each. He forewarned every passenger to  ensure they had the exact denominations to pay with as he did not have assorted denominations for change. But  despite this announcement, everyone did not take him seriously. Two of the passengers he fought actually gave him a thousand naira note each; this greatly pissed him off. Consequently,  an argument ensued and soon escalated to a heated quarrel that almost saw the two passengers thrown off the vehicle. But at the end they managed to sort out the disagreement just shortly before we encountered our very first traffic jam right after Dopemu bus stop…

Prior to moving to Nigeria’s big apple, I heard several stories, some of them even scary. These stories agreed that Lagos was indeed a place to achieve one’s dreams, yet it was also a highly chaotic place. I had even sworn  (at some point in my life)  that nothing would ever bring me here. Funny how quickly I moved as soon as I got a job. I came ready to face/conquer.  But the situation I met upon arrival was almost discouraging. Having been used to the calm of a University Community most of my life, being here was like my first taste of the Nigerian reality.The traffic was my biggest challenge. I encountered it every morning on my way to work on while on my way back home. And even though I often deprived myself of needful sleep in order to beat it, I usually always got late to work and got reprimanded for it. The Lagos traffic was many bad uncomfortable things jammed into one- one must have to struggle to board the bus and in most case these buses were cramped and utterly uncomfortable. Let me not forget the different kinds of pollution- smelly drivers, dust, fumes and of course the noise. Sad!

Interestingly, despite the many things wrong with taking a bus ride in the city, I did enjoy being in Lagos traffic. It was a good way to observe the city because each time as I sat by the window, I always observed the different faces of the humans of Lagos. There were the kids on their way to school, the embittered house girl knocking their  heads as she tugged them along the road. There were also the many workers stranded at bus stops as they waited for the BRT buses going to the Island. And of course there were the  yellow buses and their drivers…those deserve an entire story dedicated to them alone. Meanwhile, there are many more interesting things to observe while in a Lagos traffic. For any fashion-inclined person, the traffic would be a good place to feed one’s eyes to different kinds of fashion statements. I for one have beheld all sorts, from the beautiful, simple to the wacky and outright outrageous.

Meanwhile, on a more serious note I also observed the level of poverty in the city. There were the many road hawkers who were present wherever there was a traffic jam. The heat of the sun never deterred them. Instead, they ran after vehicles, thrusting their goods in your face as though forcing you to buy it by all means. The disheartening aspect of the scenario is that most of these hawkers are young people of secondary schools ages. They couldn’t stay in school because they are poor. I couldn’t help but imagine the possibility of them hawking by the road side for the rest of their lives…Perhaps the hawkers’ plight was nothing compared to the two beggars I always saw at a particular spot each morning. Their location was shortly before the Ikeja Along bus stop, around an elaborately-constructed roundabout where vehicles went in different directions. There was always a terrible traffic jam at this spot, and these beggars (male and before) got to utilize the opportunity to attract enough sympathy and often money. They suffered the same polio related deformity which crippled them, but for some reason they always avoided each other. I couldn’t help but wonder why this was; could it be class or just competition? I mean, the female beggar was in a wheelchair while her male counterpart wasn’t. Moreover, she was pretty and interestingly dressed okay unlike the man who was always in the same cloth. But while their levels were apparently not the same, the male beggar always had upper hand attracting alms because of his ability to meander through the vehicles, unhindered by any wheelchair. The female would simply sit in her wheelchair aloof, with her stern-looking  countenance… I was busy observing her face that morning when I heard a passenger screaming.

“Ikeja Along dey nah!” she shouted at the driver who was almost about driving past the bus stop. I looked at the driver and could instantly see that he was intentionally trying to ignore the lady. He didn’t want to stop over at this particular bus stop because coming out from it could be pretty hectic no thanks to the gridlock they always stretched from it every time.  But left with no choice, he cursed under his smelly breath and finally maneuvered the bus  off the road, parking it. Angry, he shouted at the passenger to hurry off the bus, turning towards me as he did even as I finally grabbed my face towel and quickly held it across my nostrils. He took note of what I was doing and had stared at me viciously, but I looked right ahead at the road through the very dirty windscreen. It was apparent he had neither taken a shower that morning nor brushed his mouth. He probably even slept in his yellow bus at the garage in order to load the first set of commuters by 5 O’clock that morning. For him, life was always on the road. I  understood his struggles, but what I could not understand was why my oxygen had to be polluted by him…

-Emmanuel Benson is an aspiring Nigerian novelist. Thanks a lot for reading.

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