Every day I go to work on the bus with the other sleepers, workers whose days begin early, whose commutes are long. We sleep when we can. Some people complain about their working conditions. Some swear never to return to their offices again. But the next day we are up together before the sun. Look, there, even the bank executive sleeps in the back of his car while his driver faces down Lagos for him, like our driver who faces Lagos for us. For family. For nation. For love. For love, we are up for work before the sun.
And as often, home after it sets. At 4:30 in the afternoon I quickly shut down my workstation, gather my belongings, hurry down the stairs from my third floor office, and rush into the evening traffic on Idowu Taylor. At the Engineering bus stop the waiting crowd is eager to board the next available bus. If I don’t catch a bus by 4:40, it’s best to try IGI where I am likely to get a bus without struggling so bitterly. But today I am lucky; I get a spot at 4:37.
Maneuvering through the afternoon traffic, the driver takes a right turn, then a left, crosses the bridge at Muri Okunola Park, and takes the bus onto Awolowo Road. I am not comfortable with confinement. Neither am I patient. There is music on the stereo. The colors of the old bus – green on the bottom half, white on the top – continue to fade. Exhaust soot in every nook and cranny. Then I see her in front of me.
In front of me is a young woman, dark, in a made-in-Naija, Chelsea FC jersey. She is armed with a round wooden plank on which she has undoubtedly sold bread all day on the streets of Lagos. She has done this despite crackdowns on street vending. The bread seller is tired. She sleeps. Her head gyrates, springs sideways, back and forth, her neck elastic as an old spring. I am scared to the teeth that her neck will break, that her head will snap off and roll onto the floor. Occasionally, she shakes her head profusely like a fainting fowl, like the kameti Salah rams who butt heads and must retreat to shake off the pressure and clear their addled heads. Then she succumbs again to the demands of her day. And tomorrow? Tomorrow, like all of us, she will do it again.
Gbenga Awomodu is a freelance writer and editor based in Lagos, Nigeria. This story was originally published online on Pank Magazine’s Blog here.