I walked to the pedestrian stop to have my bag checked. The security man, visibly old but mentally alert asked me if I had registered my device before, which I replied in the affirmative. I zipped the black bag closed, wiped off the dirt that had gathered from placing it on the floor and stepped out the gate. The skies were dark with a few stars. I slowed my steps as my eyes picked up a familiar yet disappointing scene. The queue was long as usual, and I wasn’t in the mood to stand for more than half an hour after an exhausting twelve-hour shift.
Minutes later, I was sandwiched between two men headed for Orali where I lived. There was nothing comfortable about public transportation in this town. Taking a cab meant paying fares, but that wasn’t a problem for me for two reasons: one being that I had a seat guaranteed despite the discomfort due to a higher number of bodies to seat ratio; the other being my slim physique.
As the cab moved quickly along the concrete road, the driver nearly screeched to a halt, swerving as though to avoid someone who had appeared before him. Surprised to find no one had crossed the road at that instant, I looked around trying to satisfy my curiosity and in a few seconds before it went out of view, a duck limped slowly to the edge of the road. Suicidal animals weren’t a common sight, but, this one certainly had a death wish.
Two days ago, the cab I took had attempted to avoid it. It wasn’t hard figuring out it was the same duck. Feathers of leaf-green and sky-blue were spread around its timid frame like swatches on a canvas. Its eyes bore no emotion, reminiscent of the security man at the gate. One webbed feet was clearly asymmetric with the other, and its gait could make a man ruminate about a life out of control.
After my third night shift at the factory, I walked quickly towards the bus stop. Cabs were even harder to find early in the morning, so I had to make the bus. Things would have been a lot different if I could use any clocking device. Unfortunately, my profile was set up on only one which turned to be two minutes later than others, meaning I was always behind in a queue of impatient technicians eager to dash for the bus shamelessly as though life depended on getting a seat.
As we entered the queue in an orderly fashion, I cursed under my breath as workers pressed against my back to get through the tiny space between standing passengers (let’s call them ‘standers’) “abeg make una shift”, the ‘checker’ growled with a commanding tone as he urged the sandwiched standers to move towards the back. I didn’t open my mouth in shock like I did the first time I heard this. A thirty-one seater bus had been assigned to our production line consisting of over two hundred personnel. How is this not shocking? I thought to myself. “Ah. Engineer, let me help you with your bag”, a technician offered. Recognizing him from the factory, I gave him my bag and expressed my gratitude for relieving me of my burden. Every time I missed a chance to sit, I would sigh to let go of my frustration and brace myself for a trip of endurance. This evening, someone broke that habit. A casual worker had been left out with a few of his colleagues. I felt a tinge of sadness every time I saw these people. They were temporary hires with minimum wages and hence couldn’t afford a cab. They were not allowed to take seats until every worker had been seated, and they were forcefully denied entry if the bus had too many bodies.
A few days later, I was headed to my parents’. I visited twice every month when I was off duty, partly because they were located in an urban setting, and partly because I couldn’t stand the deafening silence in my single-room apartment. Negotiating with the okada rider (men who offered paid transportation on motorcycles) had become a pain in the past few weeks. A fuel scarcity had been artificially created (a recurring theme at the end of every year) and the price of everything had gone up as they did in a country relying on marketing crude oil to sustain its feverish economy.
Wondering to myself if I had convinced the rider to take a smaller fee, a mobile police officer walked brazenly across to our lane and flagged us down. The event that followed would be the hardest I would ever bear witness in my adult life.
I couldn’t remember his name, but his southern accent hugged his every word like a monkey on a tree branch. He bore an unfriendly look as he demanded that the rider – a man in his forties – pay an illegal fee that made me shudder. It was exactly the amount I was to pay for my trip of seven minutes. The rider lamented, claiming that he couldn’t pay that amount and tried to negotiate a smaller fee. The policeman, armed with a Kalashnikov ordered me to step down as he grabbed the steering with his other hand. This scene was played out repeatedly every time the rider begged, until he had no choice but to pay. As we took off once again, the discussion I was having before the roadblock died instantly. The rider kept shaking his head in disbelief and utter disappointment. It had been eighteen months since the Inspector-General of Police abolished illegal roadblocks, yet these men continued to harass transport workers unchallenged. I arrived at my stop, stepped down and dissuaded the rider from returning my balance.
Walking down the dirty street, I couldn’t help but wonder about the limping duck. It endures a pain no one notices, yet it continues to cross the road hoping to get to the other side unscathed. I didn’t see the duck after that day. I didn’t want to think about what had happened to it, or how the rider and the casual worker shared so much in comparison, but I was grateful; for underneath all the frustration of being a hopeless stander or sitting in a sandwiched car, I never forgot how I sat depressed at my parents’ wondering what it would be like to return home after a busy day at work.