The Policeman shouts as he shines his large flashlight at our oncoming vehicle. The bus driver nearly loses his hand on the wheel as he brings the bus to a screeching halt.
My heart skips a beat and I hear a few others next to me gasp in fear. The woman beside me has a baby on her lap and she cries softly for her father in heaven. I can’t make out the face of the policeman because the night is pitch black and there are no streetlights. He advances towards the driver’s window. He flashes his torchlight at the driver and the light-beam shine throughout the bus. Now I see that he’s not alone, he has a partner with him. His partner is short and stocky with a pot belly but Mr. Flashlight is tall and thin.
Perspiration breaks out of our driver’s forehead but he swallows silently and stays put.
“G-Good evening, Officer” he stutters and he squints because of the blinding light pointed at his face.
“Your papers!” Mr. Flashlight bellows.
He has two tribal marks on each of his cheeks and his long rifle hangs across his shoulder. His partner doesn’t have a gun but a large metal baton that I consider to be as big as my mother’s twenty year old pestle.
Our bus driver opens his glove compartment and frantically searches for his papers. I hold my breath and swallow hard, the muslim on my right-hand side begins to pick at his tesbil. The bus is pin-drop silent and the hairs on my arms have begun to stand like soldiers in awe of their commander.
With trembling hands our bus driver hands him the papers, I know for sure that they are incomplete because which Lagos bus driver has his papers complete?
Mr. Flashlight drags the papers and peers through them for a second
“E don expire, come down! Everybody!” Mr. Flashlight bellows out in all one breath.
He brandishes his torch throughout the bus. I yelp and my heart starts thumping fast, as if a rock band is playing in it. The baby of the woman next to me starts crying as the fat and short policeman slides the bus door open.
We start filing out, our bags in our hands and we arrange ourselves by the roadside like Mr. Flashlight has ordered us to. Our bus driver is out of the bus now and he’s pleading with the policeman, trying to give him owo eyin– bribe.
“Search them!” Mr. Flashlight orders his partner.
It’s obvious he’s the oga now and Mr. Fat and Short begins searching us one after the other. It’s obvious that they want grease for their fat greedy pockets but nobody talks or even says anything. We are all mute like voiceless ghosts. I want to talk and shout and scream at them for being thieves in uniform, extorting innocent Nigerians that are struggling to keep their heads above water. But I’m trembling already from the thought that I will get shot, a bullet through my head and choke on my blood. So I keep shut. Nothing will be done anyways, my family would just cry.
Mr. Fat and Short continues to search us and our bus driver continues to beg and negotiate with Mr. Flashlight.
“Hundred thousand!” I overhear Mr. Flashlight say in his thick Yoruba accent, and lift his hands in the air as if to indicate that that was final.
As he raised his hands I saw his rifle shift and the nuzzle tilt towards the driver’s head. I was watching our driver beg Mr. Flashlight when I felt a hand drag my bag. It was my turn already. The people before me had their belongings strewn all over the grass and they tried to gather it together, some with tears in their eyes, the woman’s baby still crying loudly, Mr. Flashlight still pointing the gun at our driver’s head.
Mr. Fat and Short tugs at my bag again and I let go. I don’t know exactly what he is searching my bag for, but he unzips the bag in a rush and starts searching frantically like he is looking for hard drugs or something. In a second all my belongings are on the floor too and he throws the empty bag at me. I am angry… but quiet. Burning with rage, but mute. Fear is the language of law enforcement in Nigeria.
Mr. Fat and Short moves to the elderly woman behind me. She is handing over her small handbag to him when a deafening shot rings out. It is all too much noise at once; a gunshot, a ton of screams, a loud groan, and a baby’s awful cry. Everyone scatters in a second, even Mr. Fat and Short. I find myself running towards the noise. I find Mr. Flashlight staring wide eyed; his rifle still pointed at where the bus driver had stood- right in front of the bus, the headlights still shining on Mr. Flashlight. Mr. Fat and Short has reappeared now, clutching his baton tightly and wide eyed too. My lips tremble and I feel like vomiting because it has all happened so fast.
One second ago he was negotiating a bribe with the tall and thin Mr. Flashlight and the next he is sprawled on the floor, bullet in head, choking on his blood.