He wasn’t a fan of confrontations. He was the kind of kid to leave to sit on the sidelines whenever his mates were having a row, the kind to approach from a distance only when the fight was over. So when the nurse (she was dressed like one, after all) seated beside him in the bus shouted at him for hitting her with his head while asleep, all he could do was mumble something that sounded like an apology. She seemed so aggressive, he thought; how ironic for someone in her line of work. He was tired. It was Lagos in 2004, so the roads were barely motorable and the buses were extremely rickety; the kinds found in the junkyards of America, refurbished, and then sold as tokunbo. He was on his way from school at Egbeda to his house at Anthony. His brother was obviously uncomfortable, repeatedly moving from left to right, seeking comfort, which meant he was left bumping up and down on his brother’s laps just like the bus was bumping up and down the potholes to Oshodi. He used to call the traffic unbearable, but his father told him that for something to be unbearable, it meant that thing could not be endured. Now he calls the traffic barely-bearable. He wasn’t very happy. He knew that for a twelve year old, not being happy wasn’t a normal thing; and that knowing that he wasn’t happy wasn’t very normal either. His friends in school were always so peachy and always had so much to say, but he had never been much of a talker. Not since he had told his father about what his uncle did and he didn’t believe him, anyway.
“Deolu,” his brother called, “Are you sleeping again?” Deolu looked back and smiled, he turned forward again. He had been learning to smile in front of a mirror for years, and had perfected the art. He remembered his mother’s smile. So effortless. Everything about her was
effortless, even her beauty. He still wished from time to time he had taken after her, and not his very Yorùbá looking father. Always getting the short end of the stick was something he’d been trying to get used to. He felt a sharp pain by his left side and turned back swiftly, almost hitting the nurse who was trying to pick something off the floor. She hissed. “I wasn’t sleeping na,” he said to his brother. His brother wasn’t a fan of his. To be honest, no one was a fan of his. He had friends, sure, but he was always alone. He had never been his favourite’s favourite, so he simply stopped having favourites. People liked him though. He was always smiling, they said. They loved how jovial he always seemed to be.
His uncle. He remembered his uncle. He had read in a novel years ago about a woman who simply forgot about her own “tragic event” and had developed multiple personalities because of her forgetfulness. He didn’t want those, so he thought of his uncle often. Deolu thought of the day he walked in on his uncle naked, dressing up in front of the bedside mirror in the room that was his and his brother’s, but had been forfeited to his uncle for his short stay in Nigeria. He, being a confused child, got aroused as Uncle Yomi looked so much like the men in the videos his brother used to watch. Uncle Yomi noticed and laughed. He still remembers the way his mouth moved when he laughed, how his fingernails looked so long and white when he pointed. How his crow’s foot shifted upwards and how deep his voice sounded when he urged him to come closer.
“Mi o de Underbrigde mo, Bolade le ti ma so,” the conductor said. Everyone in the bus, including his brother began shouting about how the conductor had called Underbridge when he was loading. Everyone was so aggressive in Lagos. Where did they find the energy? A fistfight
began to erupt between the conductor and the nurse. The driver looked back and attempted to break the fight. Deolu noticed the distracted driver swerve towards the oncoming traffic. It was too late to say anything. Deolu smiled.
The boy beside her hit her with his head again. She had had a terrible day at the hospital. First, Nkechi came in with news of her engagement; who would have thought green-toothed Nkechi would get married before her. Then she found out her boyfriend of two weeks, Adamu, wasn’t actually a millionaire, but a common driver. Her, she had slept with a driver, again! Now this boy in smelly and dirty school uniform was trying to give her headache with his own box head. She shouted at him, and he apologised. Men, all they knew how to do was apologise. Offend, then apologise. Sin, then apologise. That stick between their two legs can’t make them think properly. She hated all of them. From Adamu, her dubious lover, to her father, who used to touch her. All of them. So so I’m sorry all the time, dem no no pass sorry. And she should have known, what kind of millionaire wears torn leather slippers and lets his brother sit in the back while he drives. Just like Chibu used to do that time.
“Abeg close that door,” she said to the conductor. Her purse dropped, and as she bent to pick it the foolish boy almost hit her again, she hissed. “I go slap this boy today,” she thought. All these dirty buttey children that don’t know how to act in buses. When she was his age, she used to stand in molues. That’s what they should bring these children up with. Spoilt children.
“Mi o de Underbrigde mo, Bolade le ti ma so,” the conductor shouted aggressively. These men have started again. She shouted back at the conductor, and when it seemed like he wasn’t going to change his mind, she grabbed on to his shirt and slapped his chest. Two punches on her breast, someone was trying to pull them apart. A loud noise, glass in her face as the conductor let go. What was happening?
He used to come home from school himself when he was twelve; but his father pampered Deolu. The boy’s school uniform was so dirty, and he probably couldn’t wash it himself. So lazy. He didn’t know how to do anything. The ugly nurse should have slapped him for hitting her with his big head. The seat was so uncomfortable, Deolu smelled, and so did the nurse by his left and the conductor by his right. What it took them to wash their clothes, take their baths and buy hundred Naira deodorant, he didn’t know. People just liked being dirty. Deolu’s bed sheet looked like it had been run over by a coal train. So dirty. Everything was just so wrong about the Deolu boy, but his father still loved the pig more.
The nurse said something, and a strange odour wafted towards his nose. He asked if Deolu was sleeping again, the foolish boy smiled. He pinched him. Who is smiling with this one? Always disgracing someone in buses every day. It was as sure as Nigeria winning tomorrow’s match against Mali. Saturday was the final. Tunisia was going to play Morocco on Valentine’s Day, and he hadn’t bought Sewa a present. He had been saving for a perfume and the type of chocolates Uncle Yomi used to bring from London. The chemist opposite his JAMB
lesson centre had some. He still didn’t have enough money, so he would simply lie to Popsy that they told them to pay PTA fees at lesson. Not like the man would know what it means, or even hear him, anyway.
All these for Sewa, beautiful Sewa, Sewa that wouldn’t let him touch her. He had told his friends that had done it before; he didn’t want to be known as the seventeen-year-old virgin. His birthday had just passed, and he thought Sewa would give him herself as his present, but the foolish girl said she wasn’t ready. Well, the perfume and chocolates were expensive; she’d definitely be ready this time. “Mi o de Underbrigde mo, Bolade le ti ma so,” the conductor shouted. Not again, these conductors did this every time and they always seemed to get away with it. “E ba mi gbe change mi oo, mo gbodo gba change,” he shouted back. He’d add the change to his Valentine’s Day savings.
The smelly ugly nurse suddenly leaped towards him and dragged the conductor, the smell intensified; the three smelly demons had squeezed him together. A loud noise. “God, what is that strange smell?” he thought as his eye caught the conductor falling.
What foolish door should he close? Did her father put the door there for him? She dey crase? Well, he didn’t have her time; Salewa was waiting for him at home. Kabiru had given him the news at Sogunle, and he couldn’t wait for the bus to turn back.
“Mi o de Underbrigde mo, Bolade le ti ma so,” he told them. As expected, the passengers started to complain. They had no choice, they sha could not collect their money back. The ugly yellow nurse was still shouting; he hummed an Osupa track to himself. Next thing he felt was the witch dragging and slapping him, she had big breasts; he punched and pulled them. Baba Bose was trying to break the fight. Loud noise. He was on the floor. He should have closed the door.