A lot of things happened during my first (NYSC) year in Lagos. Situations I’d like to call “Initiation Rites”. These were the times I was dipped into Lagos experiences, after which I would say: I came, I saw and I’m now a Lagosian. One of those events was when I fell into the unfortunate hands of mobile robbers, popularly known as “One Chance”.
It was 11:00 p.m. I had just arrived Lagos via a local transport company whose bus kept getting into one problem or the other. I remember the last text my sister sent me after I told her I touched ground: “Be careful”. No problem, I said to myself. I got this.
During the trip there was this dude in the bus who kept chatting me up, and I was glad we dropped together at the Ojota bus stop; at least he would help me with my bag of potatoes and another big bag (I still haven’t mastered the art of traveling light, *sigh*).
At 2300hours, Ojota was pretty empty and we couldn’t get a bus to Mile Two. After about 15 minutes we were getting desperate, and so when the next bus sped to the bus stop with the tall conductor hanging from the bus and screaming “Oshodi: N300! Mile Two: N400!!” everybody ran frantically towards the bus, not minding the trippled price.
I on the other hand, had alot to carry, so obviously I wasn’t going to make it to the bus. My “new friend”, however, in a bid to please me, grabbed my sack of potatoes and sprinted after the bus. “Lets enter this bus!” he shouted, and he took a clean leap into the moving vehicle, securing a seat for himself. The bus kept moving, but he screamed at the conductor who then stopped the driver with the Yoruba command “on wole!”. He stood up from his own seat, and gave me his place in the bus. I sat down, too tired to complain about the price.
When the bus got to Oshodi, several passengers dropped. Amongst them was my “new friend”, who did not leave without taking my phone number and promising to call me so we could “hook up” during weekends. As we moved on, the guy to my left kept complaining about the price and was telling the conductor to “please gimme my change, you people think we have money”. Even as I noticed him looking at me from the side of my eye, I didn’t respond.
At that point in time, the only thing on my mind was how to get home, prepare for work the next day and hit the sack. So when the conductor spoke a few sentences in Yoruba and the elderly woman behind me started shouting, I had no idea what was going on until the guy on my left – the same guy who was complaining about the transport fare – grabbed my blouse by the neck, and demanded for my bag.
I had entered “One Chance”.
The guy took my bag and started searching for valuables. The supposed passenger seated in front turned around and took my phone from me. I was in total shock and didn’t say a thing, until I noticed that my brother-in-law’s laptop (which I agreed to carry for him from Jos) had been discovered and was kept aside. Yeeeh!
My fingers neck and ears were checked for jewelry. The following conversation followed in Pidgin:
Thief: “Where is your gold?
Me: “Which gold? See me na, I no wear gold…” (In fact I didn’t even wear any jewelry for the trip).
Thief: “Dont worry just show me your gold, I will give it back to you.” (Yeah, right.)
Me: “I say I no get gold, see na…”
The guy dug further into my bag. He found my official phone and gave it to the guy in front, who apparently was Big Bawse. I noticed that the conductor was busy collecting phones from other passengers and handing them to Big Bawse in the front seat.
After my wallet had been searched and emptied, the next thing that came out of my bag was the box of a new DKNY wrist watch I just got from a friend as a gift. If I remember correctly, the tag read the equivalent of N10,000. Oh no! The following conversation ensued:
Thief: “Na where you get this watch?”
Me: “Na for road I buy am” (I instantly became street smart)
Thief: “How much?”
Me: “N1,500″. (I could get used to this….)
The guy kept the box aside and kept searching my bag.
Big Bawse tapped me and placed something in my palm… It was my official SIM card! I quickly took it and said to him while pointing at the load of phones in his lap … “Please, my MTN SIM is also there…” If he was going to be nice to me then maybe he could squeeze in the extra favour, haha!. He kept mute and turned back.
Everything was happening so fast! The bus driver was shouting “keep your head down!” , “Close your eyes!” and believe it or not, I automatically obeyed until I thought to myself: “This is stupid”. I turned back to my ‘neighbour’ – the thief beside me – and decided to milk some sympathy:
“Guy, abeg, gimme that laptop, no be my own”
No reply. The searching went on.
Please na, I take God beg you – carry everything, but gimme the laptop”. I tapped him on the knee while I spoke.
Nothing. Oh well, I tried.
He picked up my brand new wrist watch out of its box, observed it in the light of the bus and dropped it again. He did this a third time and then put it back into my bag. wow.
Suddenly the car screeched and came to a halt. “Oya come down!” the conductor yelled.
I was shaking as I got down from the bus, but still had the sense to motion to them to pass me my bag of potatoes (after this 16 hour trip you wouldn’t have expected me to leave it behind would you?). Mr. Conductor handed the sack to me and before I could blink, the bus was gone leaving myself, two or three ladies, and an elderly couple. the yoruba woman was still shouting in tongues and I found myself crying “thank you Jesus”
A group of agbero boys ran towards us and started shouting “wetin, wetin?”. In a bout of fear, the young ladies took off in a 100m dash. The best I could do was drag my two big bags and attempt to run from another set of mobsters…. darn the sack of potatoes!
Yeah, they were area boys, but they wanted to help, so they forced me to stop hobbling and asked what the matter was. As I was crying and narrating, they actually sympathized with me, interjecting with “chai”, “eya” and “we for run follow am” in-between.
Since I didn’t have a phone, one of the guys offered me his to contact my sister. I checked the time and noticed it was only 11:30 just thirty minutes after I had arrived Lagos, and this experience felt like forever. The phone rang twice before my sister picked it up; I was worried that she would ignore the unregistered number.
“Kemen, call me back, I entered once chance”
She called back and we tried to find a way to get me home. while she ended the call to see to it, one of the area boys suggested I stand by the express road and flag down a car to hitch a ride. I vehemently refused: “You want me to enter another one chance?” I sobbed – hell no!
Eventually another bus came along and the gentlemen (yes, there is a gentleman in every agbero boy) helped me put my stuff and the bus and explain to the driver what happened. everyone in the bus stared at me wide-eyed… I had become a celebrity overnight (or was it over 30minutes).
To cut the long story short, I arrived home at about 1:00 am
The next day at work everyone was like “Hey girl, hope you had fun, and what goodies did you bring for us?”
“Yeah, sure I had fun.” I replied. It was an attempt to escape their sympathy leading to self – pity.
The whole week was a mess for me: retrieving my lines, not having a phone, not having money and losing my brother’s laptop in the process. Lets not even talk about the the trauma I had when going into buses on the way home from work – I could feel my eyes bulging out in fear as I boarded the buses. I’m sure the conductors thought I was suffering from some kind of illness!
I had been initiated into Lagos Life. I became more cautious about the buses I boarded and I observed the passengers and conductor even before I considered going in. I wanted to make sure this would not happen to me again.
Now that I look back, it could’ve been worse: there were no guns or knives, I wasn’t molested or kicked out of the bus like they usually do. They were not ritualists, they didn’t take my wrist watch, returned one of my SIM cards and even gave me N100 as transport fare(imagine their generosity!). Others have not been so lucky.
many other initiation rites have taken place, and I’m looking forward to more but not so unfortunate events. in the meantime, I’m getting street smart, more of a Lagosian and learning to keep my head up in the city called “Lasgidi”.