Walking On Red Lines [Valentine Series: Part 9]

“Yaba! Yaba! Yaba! Yaba, #100! Enter with your change o! #500, #1000, ma wole o!” 

A frail, haggard-looking young man with a hoarse voice that bears witness to years of substance abuse and living in the trenches, shouts in front of a decrepit bus that is better off sold as scraps.

But none of that is of any concern to Ivie, whose primary goal at that moment is to get to Shola, the boyfriend she’s been dating for about four months on Facebook.

Where Ivie is concerned, she came all the way from Asaba to be with Shola, Shola lived in Yaba and the bus was going to get her to Yaba, end of story. Whether the bus is on the verge of rapture or the young man who ushers people into the bus, popularly known as the conductor, is about to die, that is of no business to Ivie. 

Today is the 14th of February and Ivie must be with Shola.

Ivie hops into the first row of the passengers’ area, going for the window. This is her first time in Lagos, she needed to see as much as she’s heard of this crazy city.

There are only two passengers on the bus, the old man who sits beside the driver who appears to be asleep and the woman with a boy of about five, behind her. 

“Una doh o!” She greets cheerfully, the way passengers do in Asaba when they enter a vehicle, but no one responds. 

With a shrug, she turns to the window, welding her oblong head to the hot glass of the window as she looks everywhere and nowhere. This part of Lagos is called Oyingbo and looks just as difficult as the name – Too many people, too many vehicles, a narrow road and a market overflowing into the narrow road … 

What a struggle! 

Ivie snickers, wondering for the millionth time since she arrived, why her aunty, despite all her earnings, lived in such a place. Still, she had nothing to worry about. Oritsegbugbemi, her cousin, had promised to take her around happening places on the popular Lagos Island. As long as Gbugbemi kept her word, she was fine.

Ivie turns away from the window to find the bus already full, with the frail conductor shouting incoherent words, in Yoruba, to the driver. The driver turns the ignition to start the bus and the conductor jumps on. When the driver sets the bus in motion, a loud roar fills the bus even as smoke fills the heavens. Ivie’s heart jumps to her mouth, causing her to salivate in loving anticipation. 

She was going to see Shola! Her beautiful man! Her tall, dark and handsome Prince! The absolute love of her life! 

The plan was to see his area, meet his friends, then take him out to splurge; even though he was going to foot the bill. Shola worked with KPMG, that was how they had even met. Her dream was to someday work in KPMG after graduating from the university and she had said as much on social media. Then Shola followed her and after she had checked him out and saw that he worked in KPMG, she followed back and the rest, as they say, was history.

It didn’t hurt that Shola was also fine, single and loaded. These factors had contributed greatly to his prospect. His dark complexion, tall height with a lean build and full beards had fit perfectly in her physical requirement in a guy. She was quite down to earth, fair, scanty hair and on the round side, had always looked out for men who would compliment her; so they could have the perfect caramel-skin looking babies with great genes! 

But what she really really liked about Shola was his generosity. He had really spent money on her in the short time they knew each other; sending her money without even asking so she could take herself out, feed herself and change her wardrobe. Then there was his keen interest in Ivie’s growth and development. Imagine, just a few weeks ago there had been an opening at KPMG and he had immediately asked her to send her CV. 

Although for her to “secure” an interview amongst the crowd, she was forced to cough out a million naira, which she sent to Shola to help her settle HR and whoever was in charge of employment; and Shola, being the man of excellence that he was, had pushed until indeed she had been called for an interview. 

Now she had come to surprise her love with the gift of herself, as Shola had been so swarmed with work lately, he had been scarce. There was also the fact that she wanted to learn more about the company’s culture  …

“Hanty, owo yi da? Where is your money?” A hoarse voice intrudes into her thoughts.

Ivie turns just in time to see the red-eyed conductor about to poke her with black, dirty fingers. Cringing she quickly passes her #100 naira note to him.

Is this how they do in Lagos? Na wa o!

The conductor turns to the elderly woman who had entered after her and when the woman hands him a  #1000 note, Ivie watches, with intrigue, as the conductor lets out a litany of curse words in broken English then begins to rap in Yoruba.

An exchange soon ensues between the parties involved and Ivie finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a soap opera. Soon, other passengers join the conversation, either supporting the woman or calling for peace, and Ivie finds herself totally enthralled. 

If this is Lagos, then I must live here! What a lively city!

She laughs, oblivious to the fact that, while everyone is engrossed in the ongoing drama, the five-year-old boy behind her is doing something that will make her regret her wish. 

Not so long after, they arrive at Yaba, which she confirms when the driver parks along the road and the conductor shouts, “Gbogbo ero! Everybody!” Like Gbugbemi had explained they would. 

But when she tries to stand, she finds that she is unable to.

“Hanty, e bole! Na last bus stop be this!” The conductor shouts even as the driver turns to look at her.

“I no fit!” She shrieks, confused at the source of her immobility and soon realizing the problem is from her hair. 

Apparently, a number of strands of the thigh-length braids she is rocking had been tightly tied to something behind her.

“Ah, aunty, it is your hair o! It is tied to the chair!” The last two men at the back row on their way out of the bus, cry in great amusement even as the conductor gets in to see the problem.

“Oh my God! How can this happen!” Ivie tries to stand but finds herself being pulled back to the chair.

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Hanty, who do this to you? See as them tie your bumbum hair to our shair!” The conductor barks out a loud laugh, exposing a complete set of brown teeth.

“Wo, oga mi, e park dada,  this hanty don gokpa for our shair o!” He says to the driver who immediately starts the bus then finds a good place to park.

“Please help me!” She twists and turns, her eyes already starting to water as the two young men, previously on their way out, join the conductor to begin the job of untangling the hair from whatever it is secured to.

“Aunty, stop moving abeg so we can do this thing sharp sharp,” one man barks at her.

“Next time, no plait this kyn hair again! Wetin you carry for head sef?” The second man supports.

“Hehehehe, hanty dey find beauty! Beauty won kan kill you for Lagos! You go pay for this extra service wey we dey do o!” The conductor shouts, laughing even as the other men join in.

“Na that small boy wey sit for your back, na him do you this thing o! That boy go give women wahala for future o!” One of the men says and all of them burst into laughter again.

Ivie can only wish for the ground to open and swallow her whole. In all her life she has never been the recipient of public disgrace before.

Soon the driver joins the commotion, along with other road users with everyone shouting their suggestions, laughing, some even taking pictures … But as soon as somebody shouts that they cut the hair to save time, everybody agrees in unison.

“No! No! Please don’t cut my hair o!” Ivie starts to twist and turn again but the driver silences her.

“Wo, wetin be no? Na you dey feed me for Lagos ni? I for don carry passenger go Oyingbo dey return if not for you. Ejoor, ejoor, no do pass yourself o! Who get blade or scissors? Hanty yi, ko gbadun!”

“Hanty, bring money make I go buy!” The conductor barks but Ivie is so distraught, she covers her face and starts to cry.

“Awwwwnn, see now, she don dey cry,” a man from the crowd says, patting her back. “Oya, take money, go blade make this fine aunty dey go her house.” He turns to the conductor.

“Don worry Hanty, your hair go still fine. Na only the mouth we go cut. Next time no do this kyn hair dey sit in front of pikin,” a woman’s voice adds.

And truly, after the blade arrives, in less than five minutes Ivie is freed from the chair with more than half of her hair, a mess on the floor of the bus.

Ivie just stares at the mess, feeling overwhelmed.

“Hanty, carry your hair o! Me, I no dey pack hair o, I no be eardresser,” the conductor laughs but is quickly shunned by others.

As soon as Ivie gets out of the bus, her eyes puffy, ears ringing from the noise she had endured and her voice gruff from all the talking and crying, she tracks a bike-man, tells him the address of her destination and jumps on to surprise number two.

The house the bike drives her to is a far cry from what Shola had shown her in pictures, Shola himself, nowhere to be found. 

His neighbours could only confirm that he had lived there but had moved out almost a year ago.

Ivie is totally gobsmacked. 

She tries to call Shola, but the number is unreachable. Her Shola, the second primary reason she had come to Lagos, was non-existent. She was no longer sure if the KPMG interview was even legit … her one million – borrowed money – had just disappeared down the drain. She had indeed become a victim of an internet scam!

Shola collapses onto the cemented ground of the compound, wailing. She had just been served hot and spicy disappointment for breakfast and her system was finding it difficult to digest it.

What should she do? Who should she call? Shola doesn’t know what next to do. 

Life was cruel. Breakfast on valentine’s day? What a cruel way to serve!

By Kene Nwabuoku

Kene Nwabuoku is a writer and medical radiographer with a passion for storytelling. She believes that stories are not just for entertainment and relaxation, but are powerful tools to shape the minds, behaviors and the way people interact with the world around them. She is an ardent preacher of the “good life”, spreading joy, hope and positivity and empowering young people to live purposefully. Kene is a graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos where she obtained a BSc in Medical Radiography and also an alumnus of the London School of Journalism, where she recently obtained a diploma in Short Story Writing.

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