The Real Change
"Yaba, Ojuelegba; Yaba, Ojuelegba," the stern-looking bus conductor called out repeatedly at passersby, his potential passengers. "Yaba, Yaba. Ojuelegba. Ojuelegba. Enter with your N100 change oo; Ogbeni, this one no get change o. N1000, N500 no enter o," The conductor's throaty voice floated aimlessly in the air like a strand of wool.
He was a young man in his early twenties, although he had three missing front teeth; and I wondered with what teeth he would eat kola nuts if he lived beyond sixty years. I also wondered why the demons on Lagos roads took pleasure in stealing the teeth of bus conductors, particularly. Are there bus conductors in Lagos with complete sets of teeth?
"Ogbeni, shey you get change?" the bus conductor turned to me as I approached his motionless Danfo.
"I get change," I answered, hopping into the bus. The scent of Indian hemp filled my nostrils; obviously it came from the tattered singlet of the bus conductor. Luckily, I occupied the only vacant seat left in the bus. It was close to the door, close to the clinging conductor. The passengers felt quite relieved because the driver would move now; for, driven by the urgue to make full profit, he had refused to move with a single empty seat.
A few seconds afterward, the yellow bus sneezed violently and the journey to Ojuelegba started. And, soon, the mild rush of the Saturday wind blew across the stuffy bus, into my ears, into my mouth. And my eyes brightened like the proverbial man who went deficating in the forest and found a bag of money on his way back. I was enjoying this splendid sensation when a chubby-looking man who sat beside the bus driver broke the silence.
"My friend," said he smilingly, his gaze was fixed at the bus driver. "all those who stole our monies, monies meant for the purchase of arms to fight Boko Haram, will rot in jail." He flipped the newspaper on his laps. "Dansuki and co. will rot in jail. This is APC government; it is no longer business as usual."
"Please, my brother, make them go jail now. Buhari go jail all of them." Another passenger cried from the back seat. "PDP thief thief don end. Change don come."
"Abeg make we hear word jor," an angry woman roared. "Which kind yeye change don come? Shey Buhari government don rescue the Chibok girls ni abi shey Buhari don defeat Boko Haram ni? No change anywhere. Don't let anybody deceive you."
"Madam, you're obviously among the ignorant, those whom we call the wailing wailers." The newspaper-wielding man in the front seat adjusted himself, turning back his huge head. "Can't you see the significant improvement in the power sector since Buhari assumed power? Didn't you hear stories of politicians returning stolen monies? Didn't you see how Buhari's body language has put everything in shape? You said the Chibok girls have not been rescued, I agree. But our gallant soldiers, under President Buhari, have regained all the territories captured by Boko Haram. If you can't see the fragrant wind of change, then you're frankly blind."
"But oga, you don't have to insult this woman na. She just expressed her opinion now. If na ya wife nko? You this man sef." Another man replied, his Igbo accent was strong. Very strong.
"Leave am alone, let am insult me na. The change his yeye APC has brought is to remove freedom of expression, to disgrace court orders. See Nnamdi Kanu. See Olisa Metuh. See people way Buhari is persecuting because he no get tolerance for opposition. Shame on your change. The only change your APC has bring is no freedom of speech and inconclusive elections. How many APC people does Jonathan arresting during his tenure?"
"Metuh is a thief; let him clear his name. Kanu is a terrorist. Let him clear his name. Change is here, no room for complacency. Madam, open your eyes. If Jonathan refused to arrest anybody, it was because his hands are not clean. Imagine, can you say Jonathan knows nothing about Dansuki loot?" The man beside the driver was getting furious.
"Oga, I don dey watch you since. No deceive us. No change anywhere. Buhari say him go give N5000 to unemployed youths, way the money? Buhari say him go make 1 naira equal to 1 dollar; now 1 dollar don climb go reach N300? Abi na the 50kobo reduction for the price of fuel you call change?" the Igbo-accented man laughed. "Abeg leave thrash for LAWMA."
Everyone on the lurching bus rang out in wild laughter. The bus conductor laughed too - the door of his missing teeth revealing his blackened, serrated tongue. Does he sniff snuff too? God knows. He however quenched the thick tension in the air when he asked that every passenger should gather their fare.
"Aja six nbo leyin, gbera. Aja nine nbo ni waju, gbera. Abeg, money line by line. Me I no hear Oyinbo o. No change o."
We obliged and a few minutes afterwards the whole fare had found itself in the conductor's pockets. By now, I wished the argument would continue but I was disappointed. Everyone on the bus was quiet except, of course, for the horn of the bus which blarred at the slightest provocation. At last we arrived Yaba.
"Yaba, Yaba. Maa nogerelanule! Gbera!"
"Owa o. Yaba wa o." the chubby man in the front seat signalled. "Conductor, I want to collect change. You'll give me N100 change."
"Oga, but I tell you say no change before you enter. Oniwahala leleyi o." The conductor dipped his left hand into his front pocket and brought out a crisp N100 note. "Take your change, Oga. Make you carry your wahala go."
"Excuse me sir," a teenager who sat to my left called out to the alighting man. "Excuse me sir, excuse me sir. I heard you talking about change since morning and I have decided not to make any comment until now. There is no change anywhere. The real and only change is that which the bus conductor or vendor or trader gives you after making your payment and you put in your pockets."
The alighting man stood dumbfounded, wishing he had never asked the bus conductor for his N100 change.
Ademule David is a student of human society and crime; he writes from Lagos.
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