I haven’t used public transportation in Lagos State since 1995 when I was 9 years old, in the dark days before Mum married Otunba. Now, because of Yvonne, I am sitting in a bus, one of those abominable danfos, wondering what I’m doing there, wishing I could be anywhere else in the world but there and that’s when it hits me. I was already annoyed by the two fat women who have crushed me so tight between them that one of my legs is beginning to cramp. Two middle aged women who, just to irritate me, have discovered that they know each other and are now, in the cause of aggressive gossip, shooting tiny high-velocity globules of spit at each other across my apparently inconsequential bodily presence. I was already annoyed by the conductor who has refused to give me change after receiving 500 naira for a 70 naira trip. Each time I ask for the change, and I have asked four times in ten minutes, he responds like the insolent illiterate he is. “Oga, relax na. Wetin?” I was already annoyed by Yvonne, whose idea this silly bus ride was, because she said how could I call myself an urban writer, how could I write about the lives of everyday Lagos people, when I hadn’t been on a danfo in 16 years. She thought that would be quite fraudulent and I, the wonderful artistic me thought “Oh. She’s right you know. It is a great idea.” After all, you’re supposed to write what you know. So, I took her advice. And here I am.
I am silently hating Yvonne when it hits. The smell. A truly repulsive, horrifyingly obnoxious smell. Like all smells, I catch a small whiff of it at first. It’s like a little whisper. I wrinkle my nose and think, ew. But slowly, as the body of gas begins to bloom, gather weight, and diffuse, the whiff becomes a wave. A wave of smell so nauseating I feel quite light-headed. I pinch my nose shut and I am absolutely sure I will throw up because it smells like all the nasty things in the world combined. There are shades of indigestion, rotten eggs, rotten fish, faeces, and all kinds of dead, decaying things that my mind refuses to identify for fear that the result will be vomit. I look around. The stench is so powerfully revolting and yet so stunning in the complex array of stinks it torments us with. Whoever produced something so awful must be singularly gifted.
I believe it’s coming from somewhere in front of us. And I don’t care if it’s from that man who’s been eating non-stop since we left CMS or from that woman who’s sitting down beside him covering her nose with a handkerchief and staring at the man with undisguised animosity, I just need to get out of this bus!