by Nwachukwu Egbunike
It was a fine evening and I made my way to catch a taxi after a gruesome day in the office. As usual, I avoided the front seat because of the embarrassing situation of having to share the space with one other person. I made my way to the back only to be sandwiched between two people. Thank heavens there was only one fat woman! My co-passengers were of different sorts. The two in front were deep in a discussion on the usual topic, the ills of Nigeria.
Off and on they reeled out their analysis of the mess we are in, with the natural inclination to exaggerate to the point of pessimism. They were totally indifferent to the discomfort of the contraption called a taxi, which would be better described as a mass of metal on four wheels. The only thing that seemed to be in good working condition was the car radio, which was blaring. However, the loud noise did not inhibit the discussion. It was such a sight, that even the natives of Babel would look on with envy.
However, those at the back were of a different species. The fat lady was busy playing with her “toy” (a mobile phone). She was so engrossed in the task of punching it that, in my curiosity, I peered to see what she was doing as she was not answering any call. Madam was busy flashing! She would dial a number, only to cut it some few seconds after. She would then grin mischievously and start another game of flashing. Amazingly, her game yielded fruit as she started receiving calls. Her gesticulations would humble the Italians as she was more suited to conduct a choir. The drama from the woman did not end there. As soon as she was through with her calls, she descended furiously on her “mouth organ” which hitherto was concealed in her handbag. The rhythm she produced as she chewed the maize would compete favourably with the great symphonies of the classical musicians.
The driver suddenly veered off the road, and that caught the attention of other co-travellers. An abrupt silence fell on the once busy and noisy taxi. The driver had missed falling into a ditch by a hair’s breath. He rained abuses and insults on the Okada (motor bike), which suddenly appeared at the centre of the road. Our taxi driver was very generous in his choice of words; agaje ochi, oloribraku, olepoured out from his mouth with amazing fluency. Their silence only lasted for a few second, and then there was an out burst praises. The two passengers in front suddenly changed the direction of their discussion from the ills of Nigeria to the recklessness of Okada drivers.
I have not forgotten that I was sandwiched between two people. I have all this while made reference to the fat woman. The other passenger was a university student: that was not difficult to ascertain because among the various “talisman” he had on his neck, one was his student identity card and a USB flash disk. My dear akawo took his seat and switched from listening to the “jams” emitting from his ipod to reading. Before then he had been nodding like an agama lizard. Despite the fact that he had earphones on, the music was that loud that I noticed when he switched it off. Initially, I thought that he was engrossed in a prescribed text or some spiritual book. Not entirely my fault as most students hardly read anything else. However, on closer look, I found out that the guy was actually reading Fredrick Forsyth’s Icon.
I was amazed and from then on, the other passengers and the driver ceased to exist! It was like finding a rose in the middle of the Sahara. My reaction was based on the fact that I can’t remember the last time I saw a university student reading a book just for pleasure. Yes, some read recommended texts, while the others are content with only reading their notes and reproducing them during examination. The rest don’t bother to read at all, as they have perfected various means of cheating before, during and after examinations. Secondly, this guy was making proper use of time.
My astonishment was further increased when I discovered that the fellow was not even in the humanities. I made a grave mistake of asking him what other titles of the author he has read, and by the time he finished giving me a dossier, I was dazed. He did not stop there; he seemed to have read tons of fictional works despite the fact that he was an engineering student. Mind you, the works that he had perused are not the usual “inspirational books”, but he has fairly done justice to some of Achebe and Soyinka’s works. My friend went on to describe that he saves to buy at least one new book monthly. Unfortunately, he confessed the obvious, that he does not visit libraries because most serve as mere archives of antiquated materials.
Our chitchat was unceremoniously interrupted by the taxi-driver who demanded his fare. The student made the mistake of giving him a five hundred-naira note; this sent the driver raging. He shouted and abused not only the guy, but his parents and grandparents. In Ibadan, it is an unpardonable sin not to declare your ‘assets’, that is, informing the taxi (or bus) driver before boarding, about the currency denomination you intend to pay your fare with. It took the intervention of our big madam to bail the student from his predicament. She split the five hundred-naira note into smaller denominations for the poor fellow.
In the confusion, I almost forgot to alight, so as to catch another taxi to start the second part of my journey. What a trip and what a set of people!