He cowers. His head is buried in his arms, face down, body tensed. This is it, and it is very different from what he had always imagined before now. Splendid vistae of tumbling waves, inconspicuous perturbations of the sea at its horizon, seamless deluge of flashbacks, of memories tucked away like a withered hand — these are his fancies for the last seconds of a man. But what does he get? Noise.
Just before the screams, he had attempted keeping his mind away from his troubles, to afford himself a respite of sorts, especially now that he was getting more distant from his nagging relatives. He had tried striking up a conversation with the lady in blue baseball cap, but she had seemed rather uninterested in chatters.
–Have you seen ‘The CEO?‘
–Oh, really? What do you think about it?
–Nothing? Like nothing?
She never raised her head for once, nor did she look into his eyes as she dished out the laconic responses, this lady in blue baseball cap. He let her be and sought for other means by which he might engage his mind.
Transparent kegs of red oil, suspended bush meat on bloodstained stakes, layers of yam tubers fastidiously superimposed on one another in fives — these were the things he dashed past, perhaps never to see again. More speed, then less speed as the bus approached a bend.
He saw it, an apparition of a person at the centre of the road flagging them down. The bus decelerated some more, but it was not just an apparition of a person anymore. Five men there were now, pointing guns at the bus from all sides, shouting. Heads turned, with eyes taking sweeping looks. Panic registered. Passengers screamed. This cacophony, a gallimaufry of the passengers’ terror-induced vociferations and the armed men’s urgent bellows, snapped him out of his reverie.
–Stop! I say stop!
–Blood of Jesus!
–Driver, reverse! Reverse!
–Stop! Stop or I shoot!
–Yeh! Ah, driver, please stop. Don’t let them shoot.
–Reverse, driver! Move this bus!
Rat-a-tat. A window shatters. Passengers cower, burying their faces in their laps, screeching. He buries his head in his arms, then buries his arms and head in an awkward space between his legs, for better fortification against stray bullets.
This is it, he thinks. This is how I am going to die: on the road, like a dog, a fleeing debtor. And this is not what my Bible tells me.
I shall not die but live to declare the words of the Lord, he reassures himself. No weapon fashioned against me shall prosper… A thousand may fall at my side, ten thousand at my right hand, but it shall not come nigh me.
The bus is on reverse. The driver’s face is turned backwards, as his hands maneuvre the wheels with incredible agility. Rat-a-tat. The bandits run after the bus, spraying bullets, but the gap widens nonetheless. The bus jerks, halts for a split-second, then surges forward with a suicidal speed, heading straight for the bandits. Rat-a-tat-tat. More windows shatter, more screams. Zoom!
At the sight of such madness, a loaded bus racing towards them at a breakneck speed, the five bandits vamoose the road, finding safety in the adjacent forest. The bus keeps on for five minutes. Seconds of pulsating silence pass. The driver sighs. Now out of harm’s way, passengers raise their heads and take in the situation. He raises his head too, but the lady in blue baseball cap does not.
The driver pulls up. Rattled, some women and children begin to weep. A man says he has never seen something like this all his life. Passengers alight, but the lady in blue baseball cap does not. Someone vomits, shivering like a diseased bird. A man rushes to the road side, urine leaking from his trousers. Another is rolling on the floor while he sings hymns of praise. The driver’s eyes are bloodshot as he paces around the bus, assessing the damage.
He takes a glance at this lady in blue baseball cap, wondering why she has refused to come down from the bus. He gets back in and taps her. She does not budge, then he sees the pool of blood. He screams. People gather. He comports himself and raises her head. Somewhere above her right ear, a bullet hole, tearing through the lower margin of the cap into her skull, oozes out blood in tiny projectiles. Someone pukes. Another starts wailing. He removes her cap and, for the first time, sees the lady’s full face. She is not gorgeous, not someone that can take his breath away. But her face, with the eyes closed in death, humbles him, reminds him of the evanescence and vanity of life. It could have been him, for she was sitting right by his side. He replaces the cap on her head.
–We have to report this to the police, a passenger says.
–Absolutely, another replies.
–I saw the thieves; they wore black masks, someone chips in.
–No. They wore blue-black masks.
–No. I was sitting by the window and I saw yellow masks. I could bet my left testicle on it.
–Enough, y’all! It could have been worse, the driver says. We thank God. Now, let’s get into the bus and report this to the nearest police station.
The driver starts the engine, but it only coughs, sputters and then stops. On Lagos-Ibadan expressway, by 11.09 PM, having just survived a sporadic gunfire, with a cold corpse donning a blue baseball cap to show for it, they are stranded.