There is an attitude that is a must-have for Lagosians, indeed all Nigerians, a characteristic that is a necessary acquisition for the purpose of survival in the uncaring streets of Lagos. Some people are born with it, others acquire it.
What I’m talking about is the aptitude of being ‘sharp’. Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘being clever but possibly dishonest.’ I checked the definition; it has the word ‘disapproving’ attached to the definition in brackets. In other words, it recognizes it as an unsavoury term.
Naija Book of Lexicons (seeing as we have our very own Nigerian English) begs to differ. It defines being ‘sharp’ as a survival tactic that is a necessary part of everyday living. Its stamp of approval is the reason we have yahoo-yahoo guys and 419-ners giving us such a distinctive, world-class recognition in the international community.
It’s all well and good to be sharp (Lord knows I’ve gotten away with a few shady maneuvers myself in this Lagos), but when you break that sacred 11th commandment ‘Thou shalt not get caught’, it is my contention that you concede graciously to the fact that you have been nabbed. The more gracious you give in to defeat, the less calamitous the consequence is bound to be. That’s what I believe. And that’s why I thank God everyday for my boyish looks. This my toothpaste-ad smile (Close-up, una dey hear?) has gotten me out of a scrape or two. Hey, don’t hate. It’s good genes. Take your bad belle to Baba god. He’s the One who blessed me.
Again, I digress.
My problem however is with those people who have been caught, and they know they have been caught, and they know that the person who caught them knows they have been caught. Yet, they want to argue their rights, and tell the catcher that the sky is not blue, but in fact, a fantastic shade of emerald and orange.
No one tries to pull off this kind of stunt as often as I’ve witnessed than the Babas and Mamas of Yorubaland. <dodges slap> Calm down! <dodges another slap> Calm down nah! Haba! This is just my own viewpoint. I’m not done with my story yet.
So, I was in this bus (Yes, Oluwanonso, it’s another bus story; you can like to park well now). And our destination was Oshodi from the general direction of Ojuelegba, with innumerable bus stops dotting the way. And usually, as the case may be, not all the bus stops have the same fare as the journey to the final bus stop. In other words, while someone dropping at, say, Onipanu would pay N50, someone else going all the way to Oshodi would most likely pay N100. I’m not taking into cognizance the extenuating circumstances like fuel scarcity, a gridlock of traffic or a disproportional ratio of too many passengers to too few buses. In those cases, you’ll find the conductors hiking up bus fares with the same alacrity that a sex-starved girl would hike up her skirts and tell her lover to get started.
Usually, when I’m in such buses that have these stops to make, I’m almost always ready to see if I can shortchange the conductor by paying the fare of half-a-stop, instead of for the full trip to my actual destination. Okay, you can stop with the self-righteous glaring. All of una, you, you and you, una dey do bad thing too. So, no Judgie Judginson here please. Anyway, before I do this, I always – ALWAYS – study the conductor to determine how intelligent or dumb, and how forgetful or mindful he might be. If he strikes me as a crackerjack, the kind of person who would see me still sitting in the bus, enjoying the ride, when the bus stop I’d paid for had long since been passed, and he’d say, “Come, yellow, how much you give me?”; if I get that kind of vibe from him, then omo mehn, here’s your money. Take the full owoda. I can’t fit to shout.
But if he’s slow or seems like the preoccupied or frazzled kind, then . . . <laughs> Sometimes, I even get away with not paying shi-shi.
Now, on this day I was talking about, we were heading to Oshodi. Don’t worry, I paid my full fare. I wasn’t in the mood to dupe anybody. But that was just me.
There, however, was this elderly man who, apparently, had given the conductor N100. His stop was Anthony. That distance required a fare of N150. The conductor was this vibrant young man who harangued everybody from the passengers to the agberos along the way. The guy had a foul Yoruba comeback for every occasion. And the kind of memory that matched the face of every passenger in the bus to his or her fare and destination.
So, it was to his eternal shock and outrage when he glanced around as the bus rumbled on and spotted the elderly man who was supposed to have gotten down at the junction we’d just departed from.
“Baba,” he began with his characteristic querulousness, “where you dey go?”
“Anthony,” the man answered curtly.
“How much you come give me?” the conductor fired; he was on the scent of a scoundrel.
“How much I give you?” the man snapped back.
“How much you give me?”
“How much I give you?”
Really, Baba? That’s your game plan here? I thought as I observed the unfolding altercation, along with my fellow passengers.
“No be 100 nera you give me? Eh? No be 100 nera you give me?” The conductor was warming up for a fight.
“Ehen? Where you come carry me from?”
“No be Costain I carry you?”
“You sure say na Costain?”
“Ehen nah! No be Costain? Abeg, baba, your money never complete.”
“Wetin you talk?” The man bristled, as though the conductor had insulted the noble line of his ancestry.
“I say your money never complete! E remain 50 nera!”
Now, this was where a right-thinking individual would accept that he’d been bested and do one of two things: either hand over the remaining money he owes or ask with some humility for the conductor’s compassion.
But this Baba obviously hadn’t read that manual on Public Transport Etiquette 101. No, he most certainly hadn’t. he leaped to his feet, never mind that the bus was still in motion, and lambasted the conductor with a flurry of angry words peppered with ‘you dey craze’ and a whole lot of Yoruba swearwords.
The conductor, who neither had any respect for the man’s age nor was impressed by his indignation, started running his mouth back at the man. In the midst of his tirade, he shoved the open door of the bus forward until it slammed shut, and then he spat at the Baba, “Shey you wan come down for Anthony! Make we see nah! Gimme my money joor and no dey pour spit for my face!”
LOL! It was hot and the shouting match was giving me a slight headache, but I was loving the entertainment. Again, that was just me.
Most of the other passengers, however, were also shouting – at the conductor.
“Come, this boy, you are very insulting . . .!”
“Pity the man sef, haba . . .!”
“You no know say na old man you dey talk to . . .!”
“Give me my change joor! You never give me change, you dey shout for common fifty naira . . .!”
And riding the waves of all the support, the Baba continued to huff and puff.
You see, that’s the thing with some of these elderly men and women. The cantankerous lot. And I have witnessed a fair share of them in action. Those of them who think that because of their advanced age, they can get away with anything, even when it’s glaringly obvious that they are wrong. They just seem to believe that the grey hairs and wrinkles gives them a pass.
Everyone in that bus knew the man was wrong, yet they expected the conductor to give in. Why, because the man was a Baba? If it was a young Peruvian-weave-on wearing girl or a trendy Blackberry-wielding guy who dared to commit such an offense, the tune wouldn’t be the same.
Anyway, the conductor still wouldn’t budge. Not one inch. In the face of the combined wrath of the passengers, he was dashing ‘Your mama’, ‘Your papa’, ‘Oloshi’, ‘Oloriburuku’ to each and every one of them. The panadol they were drinking for the Baba’s headache was not solving anything. If anything, it incensed the conductor the more, and when we got to Anthony (seeing as the Baba was the only person whose stop it was), he refused to open the door.
Passengers screamed their indignation.
Baba tirelessly hurled his rage at the conductor.
“Driver! Driver! Come and warn this your conductor . . .!”
For where? The driver remained uncharacteristically silent, determined to stay far away from the altercation.
Finally, do you know what made the conductor relent?
When a passenger, in a fit of frustration, dug out a N50 from his wallet and handed it to him. Baba’s debt was paid. Glory Hallelujah! The door was opened. Go now, Baba, and sin no more.
And our journey continued on under the hot Lagos sun.