Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

24 Jul Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

One Hundred Minutes of Hell

You think: it is a hundred naira—losing it will not kill you. Careless human you are, there is a chance you’ll lose it anyway, maybe as you withdraw your phone for a call, or maybe you’d buy a few slices of suya you’d regret. You will find a way; you’re quite creative, effective at losing money.

But in the meantime the money has become a symbol; you’ve managed to make it a totem of a polite tyranny. The politeness that makes you accept another helping because your host smiles; the politeness that urges you to accept a ride when you were about to disappear into the shadows for a leak are part of this system of social governance. The world, your world is full of polite dictatorships.

Today, you think you can start a secession.

You recall a Stephen King story—  “That Feeling You Can Only Say What It Is In French”— concerning déjà vu, where Hell is presented as a place where actions are repeated ad infinitum, so you convince yourself incidents like this would happen ad nauseam if you let them. It doesn’t help that the couple in the story were also on a trip.

It is lunacy, this philosophical extrapolation to an existential Hell from a hundred bucks. But you do not care.

A fellow commuter’s phone rings; it is Beyonce singing If I Were A Boy. This is enough for you to ascribe a cosmic, if not divine, angle to the event. The first drops of sweat form on your forehead— though you are wearing a polo with a t-shirt underneath, and the sun remains intent on perpetuating a heated evil, you feel these drops are signs of internal turmoil.

How did you get here?

Step by step: the trip was about to resume after a passenger’s relief from an errant bladder, when the lady seated beside you decided she wanted a bottle of water. A hawker brought the item. The hawker shilly-shallies and then confesses she has no change for the purchase. The driver threatens to move amid the frenzied handwringing from buyer and seller. Peace, be still: you produce the note that now has philosophic proportions. She mutters a thank you. You nod, believing the gratitude is for the time-saving gesture. She smiles, believing she has just thanked you for your generosity.

Of course it wouldn’t matter if that was your intention. It just wasn’t. And it takes minutes before you realise you have tacitly agreed to her politely unstated terms.

As trees move furiously past and vehicle consumes miles and miles of potholed asphalt, the opportunity to ask for your money recedes while your desire for it, for freedom, for rebellion increases.

There is a traffic jam ahead. You wonder if this is a chance to ask for what’s yours. But you have a rethink: the discussion, the interrogation may be loud enough for the other passengers who thought you an avatar of chivalry to hear and to their collective chagrin. The others not privy to the tacit pact may assume you are just a lustful man troubling a young lady.

The jam passes. A phone call later, you note the caller ID— ‘Priceless U’. You consider this naming so unimaginative.

How do you accost her you wonder; how do you speak to her in a voice audible enough yet incoherent to others in the bus? Do you ask her straight up like she is a renowned debtor? Do you speak obliquely about Greece’s debt and plot a fantastic route to you and her? All those years spent envying and ignoring Barry White’s baritone has come to haunt you— you see you really should have practised.

While you are recreating scenarios, another call comes in. Her responses tell you you had better speak or forever hold your peace:

“I don reach. Where I go stop?”

When she drops the call, you clear your uncongested throat.

“So do you have 400 naira?”

The basic arithmetic of figuring an easy way to recapture the money doesn’t free you from the embarrassment you feel when the question leaves your mouth. But you keep a straight face.

Your heart breaks as she responds in a voice so soft it could belong to a kid. You look at her for the first time and realise she is, in fact, very young. She was probably going to tell her friends about a Good Samaritan. Not anymore, you have made that much certain.

You have to call upon the basic arithmetic again when she doesn’t have the exact amount. You press on toward that higher freedom and devise a way that entails both your fares are paid together with you contributing a hundred naira less than announced by the driver in what now looks like eons ago.

Sorting it out takes a while; the triumph is fleeting, the embarrassment stays.

Never mind it was an existential Hell, you console yourself with scripture: “If your eye causes you to be in danger of Hell, pluck it out...”

Much later you check up the actual verse:

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.                                        

You think: close enough.