Part 3: The Bus Ride
After spending a week training students in Nwofe, Russell and I decided to head to the nearest town for the weekend to unwind and have some well-earned fun. We found a rickety old bus and headed for the State Capital of Abakaliki.
As we had been warned never to travel at night in Nigeria without a police escort, we had tried to travel as early in the evening as possible. But the tardy public transport system had caused darkness to come well before we reached our required destination. We therefore rode nervously for two reasons. The first was that we had heard many stories of armed criminals doing their business on barren stretches of rural roadways. The second reason was that I could see the road moving through the bottom side of the bus. The main shell of the bus was loose on one side and it was shaking about all around us.
After about half the journey, the bus abruptly stopped and the engine turned off. There were no other cars on the road and the six other passengers who were sharing the bus with us did not look surprised by the unscheduled stop.
To our surprise again, the driver got out of the bus and started walking back down the road from which we had come. We had no idea what we were meant to do. Follow or stay? Like sheep we quickly decided to stay on the bus with the other passengers. Safety in numbers – yeah right.
“No fuel,” said one of the Nigerian passengers, who had noticed our worried, whiter than usual, faces.
“Oh great,” I replied. “Great,” I said again with no apparent self-control.
Russell asked another passenger where the driver had gone and we were told he had gone to find fuel. It was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere. The logic was unfathomable. We tried to dilute our growing trepidation the best we could by making stupid jokes about the situation we found ourselves in.
“It’s nice to get out into the country,” I said. Russell bobbed his head in agreement and looked at his watch.
After ten minutes or so of waiting and wondering if we would have to sleep right there on the bus, Russell asked a passenger, “How are we supposed to get out of here?”
The passenger mused upon this question for an inordinate amount of time— and then finally, and very slowly, delivered his well-analysed response.
“In a miraculous way,” he replied, with all sincerity.
Russell made a hysterical short-lived laugh and his widening eyes revealed a temporary plunge into psychological abnormality.
We waited there silently for another hour until a vehicle pulled up beside us with headlights on full, lighting up our bus as if a UFO’s unearthly beam of light had snared us. Russell and I were alarmed because we had heard stories about armed ‘highway men’ who preyed on unescorted buses like the one we were on.
Luckily, it turned out to be neither a Nigerian Dick Turpin nor a saucer from outer space, but another bus and from it stepped a man who I instantly recognised as the man who had previously been driving our bus. He ushered us to get on the functioning bus that had picked him up and off we went for the second part of our troubled journey to Abakaliki. When we arrived we were too tired to have any fun and fell asleep after drinking our first and last beer of the evening.
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By Jason J.R. Gaskell, Msc.