The cool breeze stings his face as he leans against the half-opened side glass. His head vibrates gently against it and the bus glides onto the Third Mainland Bridge at 180. The greenery, hasty humans and houses blurs and merges into each other, creating an endless stream of hazy backdrop against which the bus speeds past. Then the backdrop breaks into a misty light blue. A perfect blue, yet odd. A sensual blue that kissed the lighter blue waters beneath the bridge. Haphazardly clustered communities of wooden houses and strewed about seaweeds float on the waters. They try vainly to obstruct the romance of the blues. Blues that were not there before. Actually, they were. He’d concentrated on the hazy backdrop and had not seen the blue skies hovering above it. Just as soon as the greenery and houses broke off suddenly, it eases into the picture, sweeping the misty blue out of sight.
He sees the greenery, – fewer now, – the trees, undulating earthen streets and the figures in their differing preoccupations and yet he sees nothing. They are before his eyes a mirror into his thoughts, into his recent face-off with Chinwe.
She had called to meet him this afternoon at an eatery on the Island, he had been early as usual and she had been thirty minutes late as usual. The plastic bottled Fanta he ordered was untouched. He made to unscrew it when she sauntered in, her high heels clanking the light beige tiled floor. She slumped into the opposite seat, greeting him with a side tilt of the head. She pushed her curls to the right and smiled, – a stolid smile, – and tapped her long, red manicured nails on the table. She withdrew them hurriedly and dipped them in her handbag. Objects crumpled and rustled as she fished within without looking. She brought out a cigarette stick and placed it at her lips.
“I don’t know you smoke.” He broke the silence as she lit the end of the stick. He always had to break the ice and grope for words to draw her out of her defences. A near futile attempt most times. The high concrete walls did a good job keeping her in their parameters and he only succeeded in getting monosyllabic responses, disyllabic at the worst.
“I do.” She said, took long puffs from the stick and resumed tapping her free hand on the table. The smoke came out of her sultry, heavily painted red lips and aquiline nose freely. He never knew she used red lipstick. It used to be…
“Sorry ma’am.” He raised his gaze from her and saw a guard kneeling slightly over her. She stared seductively into the guard’s eyes and smiled nonchalantly. “We do not allow smoking in here. This is a public space, ma’am.”
“Really?” She chuckled, took a long drag and blew in the guard’s face, forcing a cough out of the guard. She stamped the stick on the table and turned to him.
“You called to say you wanted to see me.” He began. She said nothing, only peering, searchingly, into his eyes. She twitched her lips mischievously and tapped, rhythmically. He shifted his gaze uncomfortably and saw the guard at his post, – the door, – still stifling a cough. He almost laughed but checked himself and faced her. She was still staring at him. He scratched his head and fiddled with his cartoon themed tie. “I must say, erm, I was quite shocked to receive your call. It was, erm, out of the blues, you know.”
He chuckled at his supposed joke and hurriedly suppressed it. He hated this; – the way she always made him hang at her mercies like a little dog panting and trying to get its owner’s attention and only receiving condescending glances. The way she could effortlessly toggle and twine his innards and brain leaving him feeling spent, worthless.
“I wasn’t expecting you to, not that you don’t call. You do, when you are free and I understand that. I just wasn’t…”
“I want a break.” She interrupted him.
The bus skids into a ditch and bounces out roughly. Sanmi comes out of his reverie to see the whole bus staring at him, except the young guy by the driver who had his Beats earphones plugged in. He shrugs.
“What? I didn’t put the potholes on the road. Did I?” He asks.
The passengers shake their heads and carve sympathetic expressions on their faces.
“Jehovah! Save your children from the hands of momentary madness!” A woman cries from behind. “Chei, na person pikin don dey go mad so?”
“Nigerians! Any little thing or behaviour that is out of usual is now termed madness, ehn? This country has a big problem, I tell you.” Another retorts. She sits on the same row as Sanmi and looks diplomatic with her plain ebony face, cornrows, casual spec and dark suit. Sort of like a barren tree devoid of sentimental or religious branches, or any branch at all.
“Before nko? After talking to himself, he would graduate into talking with invincible spirits and ghosts and roaming the streets of Lagos in torn clothes. When has he not gone mad?”
The passengers chorus “Eyah!” and lapse into their personal meditative contemplation, chitchats, group analysis and counter-analysis of the society, the continent and the world in general. He wonders why they had looked at him and talked about someone else. Was he supposed to know the person? He felt a little pained and jealous he could not relate with them. The passengers, in just a little time, brought together by the singular unplanned commonness of huddling together in the cramped interior of the same bus, had developed an affinity he could not manage, in an extended period, with one person in years. Two years with Chinwe and he still felt like he was just getting to know her and yet knew not how to begin knowing her.
“Madness is not good.” He blurts after a little while, hoping to strike up a bond with the passengers. They turn to him and shake their heads sympathetically. He turns to the window, confused. The backdrop was no longer there, funny he did not know how and when. High–rise buildings sandwiching smaller ones, illegal stalls and roadside markets, funny looking signage, estate buildings and dilapidated bungalows and tightly jammed houses fleet before his eyes. It hardly blurs as the bus sped intermittently and move slowly. Strange places he had not been or seen before, yet familiar devils, dance tauntingly before him, ushering him home.
Home! He made up his mind to call Chinwe when he gets home. Trudging out of the sliding glass door of the eatery and whizzing through the file of people at Obalende, he hoped the drive back to Ijaiye would clear his head and put him in a better frame to strategise on the right words and actions to win back his ex. Ex? No, technically not ex. They were just in transition and would be back together before anyone can say Jack. He’s closer to Ijaiye and his mind is still a mess, broken down and torn apart like a demon possessed home. Nothing makes sense to him and he could not think of anything sensible. Lines of thought forms and he follows them until they trail off into insensibilities and leave him stranded. Other lines of thought births, – tugs and pulls him and urges him to explore them, – only to follow the same course. Once or twice, the wandering souls come back and vie for centre stage, ending up in a knotty aggregation. Just as they had come, they untwine themselves and depart noiselessly and new thoughts crop up and end up in similar fashion.
“Last bus stop! All passengers come down!” The conductor broke his thought.
Last bus stop?
“Last bus stop? I am supposed to get down at Ijaiye.”
The passengers all come down, stealing momentary glances at him. The conductor stares at him, long and hard, and hiss coldly. “Ijaiye? Why you no talk na? You go enter another bus go back be that. Come down from my motor.”
He gets down from the bus and thinks everyone is staring at him and the noisy screeching and wheezing of the cars and buses mocks him. He shuffles uneasily on his feet and attempts to cross the three-lane road. He scuttles back hurriedly, fearful of the vehicles taking unrestrained advantage of the free Lagos-Abeokuta express road before rush hour force it into a messy mirage of metallic panels, burning rubbers, angry conductors and frustrated passengers alike. He waits patiently and the eyes remain on him, the mockery too. He turns slowly but no one is close by. No one is looking at him. The few nearby are preoccupied in their hustling but he feels the eyes on him. Mysterious eyes fixed on him, prying him open and mocking his unsettledness.
The road finally becomes free and he ventures onto it. He is barely midway when his phone rings. He brings it out of his pant pockets unconsciously. CHINWE displays on the caller ID. He beams anxiously as he places the phone at his ear.
“I knew you were going to call, erm, no, God! I didn’t know but I expected you to but you didn’t really have to, you know. I would have called you when I got home…”
A car horn blares. He turns just in time to see a Highlander Jeep screeching towards him at a distance. He stands rooted, staring at the oncoming vehicle blindly. It did not make sense to him; neither did the concerned admonitions from the pedestrians crowding the roadside. It all filters into his consciousness like a background romantic score accentuating the magical getaway he inhabits with Chinwe. She was telling him how she was sorry to have dropped the bomb on him thoughtlessly at the eatery. He was still the love of her life, did he know that? Moreover, she would never really dare to break his heart because he meant the world to her and so on, and so forth.
Sanmi opened his mouth and hot air escapes. Speechless, immovable, and the jeep approached on top speed. The driver tries to swerve away from his lane but oncoming cars on the other lanes and his failed brake cage him into an inevitable end. He curse and jams at his brake and thumps the horn savagely but Sanmi stands rooted to the spot, smiling sheepishly and smelling the exotic flowers in the garden of his renewed love. They are sweet and alluring and had a strange, yet, inviting smell lurking at the end. An obnoxious, indescribable smell he could not fathom, – the smell of death!
“Are you there?” Chinwe’s high-pitched voice filtered through the receiver. Sanmi starts.
“Yeah. I… What were you saying?”
The jeep close in, about five seconds… four, three, two, and one. He closes his eyes…