My Lagos Traffic Story: Growing up with my mother, she taught me one mandatory rule and failure to abide by this rule earned me excruciating punishments.
‘Do not concern yourself with matters that do not involve you’.
I shudder at the memories of the admonishment I received each time I broke her rule. The most traumatising being the day she hit me across the face in our area, ruining my well-built rep.
One Monday morning, we both stepped out of the house on our way to Oshodi. We boarded a bus going to Oshodi and I busied myself with reading from Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy. This was my coping mechanism for situations where there’s the temptation not to mind my business. My mum made calls to her friends and business associates to while away time. After her calls, she looked out the window, also obeying her rule.
After we got off at Oshodi, we waited under the black and ‘gold-embellished sign for a bus to take us to Mushin. That was when I saw my mum break her rule for the first time. A kid, hawking sliced watermelon crossed the road without looking out for buses. My mother’s loud call for the kid to watch out for oncoming buses both shocked and baffled me. I didn’t say or think much of the incidence until we boarded a bus going to Mushin.
A woman with a baby strapped to her back sat in front of us on the bus. She entered the bus with such force that her baby’s head almost hit the seat, made of hard wood and rusted iron. My mother’s hand shot out instinctively in trying to protect the baby’s head. She warned the mother to be careful with the baby, again, breaking her own commandment. At this point, I began to ruminate over the two instances. I must have taken the rule verbatim. 20 minutes into the journey, the woman with the baby had to get off to give way to an alighting passenger.
Again, she wasn’t aware of how her force of entry and exit was affecting her baby. My mother, alongside other passengers, chided the woman. I stopped reading my book and looked up to watch the scene. These were the Lagosians venerated for their lack of public empathy. This was my mother breaking her well-established rule, again.
Our journey back home held, even more, drama in store. The driver had taken a route that led straight to the last bus stop. It was obvious that he had assumed that all his passengers would get off there. Meanwhile, his conductors at the park had called in passengers said to alight at Abule Egba. One of these passengers called out to him that she was alighting at Abule Egba but he turned a deaf ear.
The other passenger, an old man with visible signs of arthritis, called out to him a second time. Then all hell let loose. The driver shouted at the old man and declared that he had no intention of stopping at Abule Egba junction. Almost all the passengers shouted back at the driver in a tempo so high he shut his mouth.
One woman, her voice the loudest, rebuked the driver for speaking ill to an old man. My own mother asked the driver wryly if he didn’t have old relatives in his hometown.These were not the Nigerians accused of extreme selfishness. I chuckled as the passengers defended the Abule Egba ones among them. They needn’t browbeat the driver any further before he changed his course.
I marvelled at the humanity on display and I tried to analyse my mother’s actions in the course of our journey. Perhaps, these instances were the exceptions to that rule. Maybe she wanted me to find out that her rule meant “mind your business till minding it would cause another harm“.
After the old man and the woman got off at Abule Egba, we sped past a trailer on the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway. It dragged its pitiful self along the road because one of its tires was flat. It produced a surprisingly harmonious beat while it tried to get to its destination. I could only see the hidden similitude in the trailer and my people. I saw it in the way we strive to move on despite the crippling circumstances that surround us and try to pull us under. We produce melodious sounds that signify our persistence, strength and hope in a better future.