The weight of the six packs of printer paper in the large plastic bag I am carrying is mere moments away from severing all the fingers on my right hand. Sighing deeply, I move the heavy bag over to my left hand to give my poor fingers a much needed break.
“Oh na na! What’s my name? Oh na na! What’s my name?”
Once upon a time, that was my favorite song- which is why I had selected it for my ringtone. Recently however, the song automatically elicits feelings of pure unadulterated dread. Without even looking at the display screen I know that it’s my boss calling.
I make a mental note to select a special ringtone that’s more appropriate for her. I wonder if I can download Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, dont kill my vibe” ringtone for free. Or maybe Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You.”
I pick up the phone, “Hello, Ma?”
“Eno?” My boss’ voice comes through the receiver. Her voice is sharp and her words are stilted. I can already tell that she is annoyed. But she is always annoyed.
“Where are you?” She inquires, irritation spilling through in her every word, “How long does it take to go and buy paper and come back to the office?”
I roll my eyes. I’m the one standing at an overcrowded bus stop near Udua Watt, only the rowdiest market in Calabar. I’m the one enduring being pushed and shoved and bumped in the head with sacks of rice, boxes of electronics and basins of groundnuts. I’m the one cutting off the circulation in my hands with an impossibly heavy bag full of printing paper- All under a sun so boiling hot and angry that I wonder who stole its piece of meat this afternoon. Yet she gets to be irritated?
It takes everything in me not to match the irritation in her words, syllable for syllable. “I’m waiting for the bus, Ma. I have bought it.”
There is a beat of silence. She is clearly not satisfied by my response and is waiting for further explanation.
I have nothing more to offer her, so I maintain my silence.
“Hmmmm… Just hurry up and come back, Eno. It should not take this long to buy ordinary paper, ah ah! I need you to come back here right now!”
I roll my eyes again. She does not pay me enough for this.
She is still going, “I need you to pull files for me. Hurry up.”
She cannot pull files herself if I am not there? I shake my head in an I-have-seen-and-heard-it-all-and-I-am-tired-of-this-damn-job kind of way.
“I am waiting for the bus, Ma. I have bought it.” I repeat dryly.
She sighs. And hangs up.
My boss gave me this phone so that she could reach me whenever she needed to. I am doing my attachment at her law office. But I am also the receptionist cum typist cum errand girl. It is not part of my job description, but this afternoon, I am out buying paper for the office.
I was ecstatic when she gave me the phone. It was a blessing. Or it seemed like a blessing. On the salary she pays me, I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself. Granted, it was not a brand new phone. It was a phone that had belonged to either her or her husband and was no longer of any use to them. Still, it was a Blackberry and I didn’t have to pay for it.
But I have always known that blessings can be curses as well.
Having this Blackberry is a blessing because my boss and I can communicate more easily and can reach each other even when both or one of us is not in the office.
Ok, here’s the part that is a curse- My boss and I can communicate more easily and can reach each other even when both or one of us is not in the office.
Finally, the bus heading towards Edibe Edibe Road where the office is is boarding. I groan inwardly. I hate having to take these buses. But it’s a necessary evil. Whenever I have to run office errands, the bus is the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
The bus arrives full. Full to the brim. But yet, I know that somehow, there will be room for at least another 20 people.
You would think that we were struggling to enter the gates of heaven. I have now mastered the art of boarding these buses though. I just do a semi-jump, making sure that both of my feet are off the ground. And then I relax and wait while the force of people struggling to make it into the bus carries me forward and deposits me inside the bus.
The bus is stuffed and smells like some combination of fresh fish and Izal.
I take a quick look round at the other passengers. There is a woman cradling a baby in her arms and a bag of oranges under her arm. There is an elderly woman chewing on either groundnuts, kola nuts or tobacco. I watch as she reaches into her bra and pulls out Naira notes to pay the conductor. The act reminds me of my grandmother and brings a smile to my face. There is a policeman. A reverend sister. A newspaper vendor. A bunch of students.
By the time the bus rolls out of the car park, I am squashed between two people. I know for a fact, that there is legislation in this country which specifies that every single time that I, Eno Udofot, get on a bus it is imperative and mandated by the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that I end up, seated or standing between:
1. Two obese people;
2. Two people with body odor;
3. Two people with bad breath who will absolutely fall to the ground and begin to convulse if they do not engage me in some lengthy conversation about stuff I really don’t care about; OR
4. Some combination of the above.
True to form, today, I am wedged between a big fat woman with an even bigger and fatter black bag in her lap. I cannot see what is in her bag, but my nostrils tell me that her bag is responsible for the fresh fishy smell permeating every nook and cranny of this bus. On my other side is a young man in sunglasses. Immediately, the bus starts moving, he asks my name. And of course, the obligatory bad breath hits me like a ton of bricks.
I want to ask him if he gargles with feces every morning. But I restrain myself.
Five minutes into the ride, Mr. Sunglasses is now enthralling me with stories of his visits to Dubai and his remarkable accomplishments in his electronics sales business.
I want to ask him, why a successful business man like himself is here on this public bus with the rest of us lowly Nigerians who are just suffering and smiling and trying to make it through another day. But again, I restrain myself.
When he starts to tell me excitedly about his big plans to expand his business to Ghana, I want to tell him to “Say it and not spray it.” But yet again, I restrain myself.
Eventually, I cannot take it anymore. I decided to take out my phone and pretend to make a phone call. Or pretend that I am busy reading and replying to text messages. I am hopeful that if I pretend to busy myself Mr. Sunglasses just might let me be.
I reach into my right pocket to retrieve my phone… And then I reach into my left pocket… And then I reach into my right pocket again. And then I give myself a thorough pat down. I look through my plastic bag and feel around in all the pockets on my top and in my pants.
My blackberry is gone! Correction- my Boss’s blackberry is gone.
I am finished.
Someone on this bus has stolen the Blackberry. It takes fifteen seconds for this information to register. Even though I already know that the phone has been stolen and I know that I have already checked all of my pockets a dozen times in the past five seconds, I check them again. And again. I turn my pockets inside out. Half hoping that the phone will magically appear in one of my pockets. But like I knew it would not be, it isn’t there. It is gone.
I start mental calculations of how many months it will take, how many deductions my boss will make from money I am yet to earn, before I am able to pay off the cost of this Blackberry. I am getting a headache just thinking about it. I should have put my phone in my bra like my grandmother and the tobacco chewing Mama on the bus. The panic starts to rise like bile in my throat.
I look around the bus wildly. I try not to yell but I fail miserably, “WHO TOOK MY PHONE?!”
There is a long empty silence.
Just in case these people don’t realize that I mean business, I switch to Efik and I yell even louder this time, “WHOOOOO TOOK MY PHONE?!!!”
Immediately, there is a buzz of responding chatter.
“Abasi mbok! Owo eyip mkpo?”
“Where did you keep it?”
“You sure say you no leave am for house?”
“Chei, una don tiff this small girl phone?”
At this point, I am shaking with anger. I struggle through the overcrowded bus. I’m not sure how I do it, but somehow, I have made my way to the front of the bus and I am speaking animatedly to the conductor, explaining that my phone has been stolen, that it is actually my boss’s phone, that my boss will finally have a reason to kill me, that someone on this bus must have the phone and that I cannot get off this bus until I have my phone in my hand. In fact, NO ONE can get off this bus until I have my phone in my hand.
The conductor shakes his head in an I-have-seen-and-heard-it-all-and-I-am-tired-of-this-damn-job way and I half expect him to dismiss me and my wahala. But to my surprise he doesn’t.
“Na who carry the girl phone?” The conductor inquires of no one in particular. “Return am o. Ah ah.”
There is a chorus of, “Yes. Return it. Return am. E no good. It’s not fair. Haba. Nsuto mkpo?”
One of the students adds warningly, “Police dey here o. Police go arrest you if you no return am now. You go go station o.”
Yes! Oh, yes. There is a police officer on the bus. I look over at him. He is at the back of the bus, “Officer, abeg help me question these people.”
I look pointedly at Mr. Sunglasses. All that talk about his electronics business was a ruse to distract me while he picked my pocket. I am certain of it.
The police officer shakes his head in the same I-have-seen-and-heard-it-all-and-I-am-tired-of-this-damn-job manner. But I don’t care.
“Officer, abeg, question people.” I persist. “Search them. I need my phone, abeg.”
I just need him to search Mr. Sunglasses for me. I am positive that he took it. Unless it is the Reverend sister. I don’t even feel guilty thinking it. I don’t care that she is a Reverend sister. She was standing close enough to me.
The Officer looks at me with irritation, “Na wa o. I dey off duty. Why you no hol’ ya phone well?”
“Officer, abeg, help me. Please, Let us search. The people wey stand next to me fit remove am and I no go know.”
I look pointedly at Mr. Sunglasses again.
The Police man gets my hint and makes his way towards the number one suspect.
“Na you tiff the phone?” He asks Mr. Sunglasses.
Mr. Sunglasses falters suspiciously, “I didn’t… I… ummm… I no take her phone o.”
I begin tapping my foot impatiently. Search him already. As if he would actually own up to having stolen the phone.
The police officer continues his questioning, “But na you stand beside am…”
“In this crowded bus? Everybody is beside everybody.”
He has a point but I do not care.
Finally, the police man begins to pat him down. Thoroughly. As if he is a middle eastern passenger trying to board a flight. And promptly, the officer retrieves a phone from Mr. Sunglasses back pocket.
As the policeman holds the phone high up in the air and waves it around for all aboard to see, a wave of excitement sweeps across the bus.
“My phone!” I exclaim with relief and glee.
“No! That’s my phone!” Mr. Sunglasses announces defensively.
Everyone looks to me expectantly for confirmation.
I take a better look at the phone. It is a Nokia. Not my phone.
“Oh! That’s not my phone.” I say in disappointment.
One of the students calls from the front of the bus, “Bros, why you no use your own phone call the girl number na?”
That is a fantastic idea.
I turn to Mr. Sunglasses .
He looks away in irritation. Well warranted irritation, I must admit.
I plead with him, “Please, Sorry. Please. Can you call my phone?”
He shakes his head with disgust, but ultimately, he obliges me.
“What’s your number?” he asks.
I rattle off the digits and he dials them on his key pad.
There is dead silence on the bus as Mr. Sunglasses makes the call. I wait with baited breath. The silence stretches out for what seems like an eternity.
And then finally, I hear it. Rihanna is singing, “Oh na na… What’s my name? Oh na na… What’s my name?” And it’s coming from… underneath the policeman’s cap?
There is a stunned look on just about everyone’s face.
Mr. Sunglasses snatches the policeman’s cap off his head. And sure enough, there it is. My blackberry is right there, nestled on the man’s head. The policeman’s head. A policeman?
Wonders shall never ever EVER end.
Article Culled From: Koko’s Blog
This article was written by a fabulous writer called Koko Akan.
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