by Chantelle Makenwa Chiwetalu
She wonders how the conductor will look dead. Bruised, battered eyes the size of coconuts. No, eye. She has never seen anyone with two swollen eyes. As she gets on the bus, she wonders what will happen if the passengers gang up on him. Will he laugh stupidly? What words will he say? How many blows before his heart gives out? She has just read Copacabana. Petina Gappah is a genius, really.
At Mkpokiti, a yellow man in a green shirt and blue shorts gets in. His toes are pretty. She discreetly moves her right leg so she can see them better. There is perfection in every line, every curve. His nails are pink crescents topped with white. She stares at hers. Unremarkable. Dark. In need of a pedicure. She detects a curious smell about him, and realises it is his hair gel. It smells like a mixture of sulphur ointment and vanilla. They struggle against each other; sometimes, the sweet clarity of vanilla wins and sometimes the rotten-egg pungency of sulphur dominates with a vengeance. She imagines both in a Coldstone cup, the biggest size, cream and white with sprinkles of wavy brown hair. She imagines her annoying roommate eating it, smacking her lips.
The man gets down at Okpara Square. There is a small garden outside Enugu State House of Assembly. On a bench, bold and white is written, ‘don’t enter our flower.’ She wonders, as she has several times, who wrote this, and if no literate person who works at the House has seen it. It is probably the gardeners. She imagines them clustered approvingly as one of them, armed with purpose, dips a brush in white paint and begins to write a lopsided D.
They are at a red light. She stares outside. The driver of the car on the left looks imperilled by his seatbelt. It divides his overgrown taut-drum belly in half. The vest he’s wearing says Fitness for Days. He reaches under to scratch his crotch and then leans towards the glove box to retrieve a corn cob. She looks away.
They arrive New Market at 6:18pm. When she hands the conductor a 100 naira note, he sniffs and asks where she boarded the bus. ‘UNEC,’ she says. He makes to give her a 20 naira note but pauses and says, ‘UNEC? You don’t have change.’ She gives him one last look after she alights, imagines a tyre around his neck. She crosses to the other side of the road and takes a bus going back to UNEC. She does this all the time, takes the round-and-round-Enugu bus route to free her head and kill time. Her phone buzzes. A message from Nnamdi:
Babes, was looking at my table today and realised how we cud put it to gud use. I can almost hear you—
‘Just negodu this idiot!’ The driver exclaims. He is talking about a driver who has recklessly overtaken him. He hisses. The conductor lets out a stream of invectives. He is short and slight, this one. A tire would slip right down his shoulders to land at his feet.
Twenty minutes later, she is at UNEC gate. Near Chapel of Redemption, a car pulls up and the driver winds down. He asks where she is going and she says ‘don’t worry, have a nice evening sir.’ He mutters something about girls that are faster than their shadows. When she continues walking, he tells her that her behind is the size of a saucer. She bursts into laughter, quickening her footsteps.
The Prayer Secretary welcomes her with a smile when she gets to Freedom Square, asks her how her day went. She says fine. He says good, please lead us in the opening prayer. She stops, only for a moment, and then she smiles and says okay and smiles again. She picks her words carefully: appreciation and magnification, the plea for forgiveness, requests. Amen.
When the vice president raises the prayer point, ‘anything that is hindering my service to God this year, scatter by fire,’ she imagines Nnamdi splattering apart, his body parts plopping upon one another: kidney on lung, small intestines a ropey bed for his heart, ribs broken like tiny ivory tusks swimming in his stomach’s remains. She imagines his thumbs, his dirty, dirty thumbs that type dirty, dirty things, landing on the earth, their pads up in eerie approval.