by Oyin Oludipe
It began as jerks, turned into a tremor and then became a chorus of spasms.
Dead ancient omnibus.
It had set forth at the crack of dawn to weather the cracks of the road. A retinue of dust and smoke flatters the small triumph, till premonition waives the wheels’ decay. In a danfo demise, we hasten to perch.
And yet it is not enough. Not even the wayside collapse of a metal hulk, whose aching syllables float into vision in putrid clouds.
The driver’s tranquility intrigued me far more than the starved, rust-drunk dashboard, where a most compelling figurine hung a string of bottle covers around her neck, administered consolations, kept guard, and wrote down inventories of falling parts around the driver from leaping radio panels to the dropping gear knob. His bus was broken. He was not.
‘Useless man! Call your garage people for help now and waste us no time!’ The driver did not speak. Amid the rising protest of passengers, he did not flinch, neither did he heed advice. He only hovered round his lifeless wagon in silence, in sweat and, as though, in love.
‘But why won’t you leave this bus?’ I interrupt the romance. ‘Driver, why?’
He gazed at me and said, ‘Ogun na iron.’
‘Orisa kii gbe ‘oko. I cannot leave my provider by the road.’
CURIOSITY. PUZZLEMENT. A passenger’s assuaged nerve for deity and protégé; and intuitions dawn on me like the bragging morning sun. This was Ogun, iron god, deity of the road, deceased? Or, perhaps, ambushed, crippled by Road herself?
‘Look, if I were you, sir; I’d give Ogun what he wants so we can move on,’ I said.
But does Ogun want? This wielder of metal claims only, this primal officer of war, brash blacksmith and bard. Does he want? In a danfo demise, I await his revival.
Revival – and Ogun squelches along arid tar. His prance is neither music nor muse, but absolution, a titanic emblem of the resolution of will; but nothing was stranger than he who brandished his reins and rode him across the treacherous road. Nothing was firmer, not even the jealous passing winds who sought to crush the love between man and god.
We had travelled a mile or less when Ogun started to cough again. He spewed hot smoke and staggered to a halt, where no humans wander nor angels rage. A grim shrub face flanks us on both sides; and, although, Ogun wailed in thirst at the eternal bush, he stands in present reality at the barren edge of this corridor.
‘What is it now?’ someone cried.
‘Overheating,’ another said. ‘We need water.’
And then it came to me: Ogun wants! Water is opium of the marauding god, of the restless mobile deity. The driver had none of it. I was almost sure that he had no residue of saliva on his quivering lips. Even if he did, a hundred scabs of dead tar purged his cosmos of all saving wetness.
Twenty waterless minutes came and went. Fever drew her first breath upon the Road, upon the desolation; and the immersion was only a Stygian waft, only the subtle caress on her weary breasts. A famished bus remained the abiku at noon and bush flies flew fitfully and fed at its feet.
I had paced for an eternity by our crowded roadside when, at once, I stood enthralled. There beneath my eyes was a moist air. It coursed through brambles, tapering reeds to stride the trench until… stream!
Runnels of the undergrowth. I had found water; or, perhaps, it had found me. It had found us.
Ogun will live. Fever will die.
Danfo: colloquial term for yellow passenger bus in Nigeria and probably somewhere else in Africa.
Orisa:“A god does not inhabit the wilderness.”
Abiku: Stillborn infant.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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