He had a large wooden crucifix dangling from his collared neck. He’d boarded at the same time I did. He started with greeting the passengers familiarly as if he was the Omini-Scient, and as if he knew everyone. He said his name, but I didn’t get it that time, but I have a name for him now- Hustler. With a facetious smile, the overtly cheerful Reverend Gentleman asked everyone to close their eyes for prayer. I didn’t. He did not wait for any evident response from me or the other passengers before he commenced praying for everybody and the engine and the wheels, even the spare-wheels- as if Moluès ever carry spare wheels. He rounded off the prayer with the wish that our enemies die by fire in Jesus’s name, and he got a resounding “Amen!”. He next opened his tome of a badly dog-eared bible with a sticker on it proclaiming FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN MINISTRIES, and started to read aloud:
“…The kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent taketh it by force…” Yada yada yada… “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… Yakety yakety yak… Hallelujah”. And he got a Hallelujah response. I expected him, at that point, to demand (subtly) for the inevitable free-will offerings, but he had other plans obviously. He’d started to sing familiar gospel songs, many of my fellow passengers readily joined in. Soon the relatively smoothly coasting bus-ride had become a riotous orgy as the sound of Jesus-praising-and-Satan-condemning singing frenzy kept ascending in deafening crescendos. It was all so confusing and disorienting that I had joined in the hullabaloo, so did the bus driver and conductors.
Only one heavily-bearded Alfa kept his turbaned head and his cool in that bedlam. The kaftan-clad Muslim Cleric was standing by the only exit (which was also the only entry doorway) to the Moluè, bearing a red carry-all bag in one hand, and sliding the beads of his tasbir chaplet through the fingers of his other hand. I have been observing this man with some curiosity, since he boarded the bus at Anthony Oke. I was wondering what he had on his mind, or in that sinister-looking bag with indecipherable black Arabic scripts all over it’s red surface? What was he murmuring as he worked his lips and worked his string of prayer beads? Perhaps the doxology of 99 names of Allah (SWOT) or the Astagafir’llah chant for the remission of some private haram. I am sure other passengers were observing him as well as I was. He struck a curious figure: the six-feet of him, framed by the bus’s doorway- turban and beards and all. He could have been Mr. Bin Laden come back from the dead for all I know. Just after the rest of us have lost our senses to the cacophony of loud singing, thunderous feet-thumping, and bus-roof-raising hollering- I had lost interest in him, I am sure other folks did too, as we were caught in the rapturous holy rocking and rolling started by that Preacher Man. By the time the noise subsided, and the Preacher had begun to accept our free-will offerings, the Bin Laden look-alike had disappeared.
The bus had rolled into Iyáná-Iworo bus stop, and a XL Plus-size woman wanted to alight from the bus, but she couldn’t get over or past the bag that the Alfa had left behind, blocking the bus’s exit. She struggled like a fly caught in a spider’s web.
“Ah, Na whom get this bag o, ah? (Hissed) abeg Come and remove your… ehn… ehn… ehn this bag o! make I pass o! Ah! Omo-Condor, abi na whom get this bag shaa? I wan’ pass make I bolè ni ah”
The large woman was asking, punctuating her sentence with idiosyncrasies that gave her away as a Yoruba, couple with the heavy accent and ample behind.
“Chei! Wia is that Alfa, wey him stand for hia? na him wey get that bag o, for wia him come go na? Nna men all this aboki di kwa stupid o! (Hissed)”
Replied the Ibo-sounding red-lipsticked lady sitting to my left. On my own, I was wondering how could that “rag-head” have alighted from the bus leaving his ominous-looking bag, blocking the only exit of the cramped bus? One other fellow had verbally echoed my thoughts in a loud spine-chilling doomsday voice:
“Kai, kai! Make I no touch am for that bag fa! Wana kaya, akwei bokwo haram, walahi t’ Allahi, this na bokwo haram fa!”
The bus suddenly erupted, much like a dormant volcano, in frenetic surge of bodies: all 44-sitting-99-standing people moved all at the same instant. I made for the nearest window where an Emergency Exit would have been in a normal commuter bus. I wasn’t alone in that scrambling mad dash for safety. But I got knocked down and out by the flailing elbow of that Reverend Gentleman- his hand, still clutching the Naira notes he’d collected as free-will offering, if I had been in my hustler right frame of mind, I would have made a sweeping grab for the money- but Safety First was the code in a Life & Death situation. I landed on my back, a heavy darkness suddenly descended and hit me smack on the face, and I was cut-off from all sound and vision and breathe: I don’t know what happened next, it was a total blackout. I can remember the excruciating pains as a avalanche of seething bodies was pounding and grinding me into minced meat against the metal floor of the Moluè’s isle. I discovered I didn’t have enough adrenaline in my 75kg body mass to have metamorphosed into a Incredible Hulk, to push the mountain of flesh off me. Was it enough adrenaline? Or was it enough faith I lacked to have moved that mountain? I still don’t know, but I know for sure that I could have died of suffocation and splintered ribs, but death would have been merciful in comparison to the gripping fear and helplessness I felt. I couldn’t even cry out in pain, I couldn’t even bring myself to recite the “Hail Mary… pray for us sinners now, the hour of our death”. It was terrible. Hell couldn’t have been a worse off experience than what I went through in those few gruelsome seconds that felt like eternity.
I thought I was dying, or had died and was going to hell, when I’d begun to see some light at the end of what looked and felt like a long narrow tunnel, but just then, the smoldering darkness lifted: daylight returned and so did sound, and breathe of life, but my whole body was numb, especially my face. It was the mountain-size Yoruba woman who had fallen on top of me- we have been lying there in a “69” position- she on top, me under- her very large fleshy bottom had been pressing down on my face, shutting out the living daylight and sound of the world around me. If she’d farted that time, I guess my autopsy would have revealed “asphyxiation” or “poison gas” or a combination of the two as cause of death. Thank goodness, she didn’t let go of a stinker that time.
I realized that the panic had subsided. No bomb had gone off. The turbaned Alfa was back, explaining and unloading the contents of his sinister baggage: A kaftan, a hijab, a pile of unwashed boxer shots, a skull-cap a water kettle, and a prayer-mat, a bunch of chewing-sticks, packs of a camel brand of cigarettes a small transister radio, and some other inconsequential knick-knacks like a half-eaten gworro, and kilichi. He was gesturing and talking fast in a mix of Northern-Nigerian language and broken English. He really looked agitated and harassed. I’m sure he had innocently gotten off the bus to squat and pee at the roadside when the bus stopped to drop and pick up passengers at the bus stop, inadvertently setting off the alarm. Now he’s been made to declare his assets and clear himself. There were really no life-threatening items in that ominous red bag afteral. The dude look vulnerable now, and harmless from an objective viewpoint.
The panic was set off by a false alarm. This is not surprising in light of the bombings and going-ons in some other parts of the country. But it is very annoying to note that we Lagosians cannot conduct ourselves with decorum even in a panic situation. All this happened at a period when Lagos was under “code red” alert. The Boko Haram group had threatened to bomb the Third Mainland Bridge- the bridge connecting the Mainland to the Island of Lagos. The Third Mainland Bridge, spanning the expanse of the Lagos Lagoon which divides the beautiful and the Ugly, the rich and the poor, the uppity and the base, the sense and nonsense, the clean and the dirty of Lagos. Panic had gripped me as well as every Lagosian who ply The Third Mainland Bridge regularly. That incidence has been a wake-up-call to the government and people of Lagos State. Panic creates fear, fear makes cowards of people, and cowards die many times before they meet their maker. Lagos folks should shine their eyes well, well before they fly into panic and send a innocent man to an early grave unnecessarily like they almost did to me.