I have been in Lagos for six months, so I was already feeling like a proper “Omo Eko” as the people of Lagos are called.

Now, I look back and recall how in my first few weeks in Lagos, I used to wonder what sort of bizarre exhaustion would make anybody sleep in a Molue bus, which was the dominant means of transport in this overpopulated city.

But now I know better. I am now one of those who fall asleep in a Molue.  I have had to wake up at 4.30am in my cousins house in Akute, in neighbouring Ogun State to get to Victoria Island to hand out my  CVs. This is a journey that will normally not take an hour, but in traffic prone Lagos, you could spend four to five hours making that journey to the Island and the same time going back home. I have done these continuously in the last 10 days in a bid to break out of the overcrowded Nigerian job market, as  I drop my CVs in all the companies that will accept it on the Island where many of the companies and 95% of Nigerian banks have their Head Offices.

Over the period, I mastered the art and science of boarding a Molue in Lagos. A significant part of the learning process is knowing that Molue fares are not fixed. It changes based on weather, time and even season. You also have to get used to the language of Molue and respond accordingly especially when asked “Owo Da!”
There is also the science of buying from street hawkers while in a Molue, and this is what my tale is about. On my way back from one of my job search trips to the Island, to the popular and densely populated Oshodi, which was my first stop, I slept for most part of the ride.

I say most part, because some good hearted Nigerian, half way through the journey, decided I had slept too long and it won’t be fair for me to go past my bus stop. I actually smiled when he tapped me and asked in Pidgin English “Madam na Yana Oworo be dis oh, where you dey go?” With a fixed smile, I responded “Oshodi” but in my head, I was hurling a thousand insults at him for waking me up from my sweet sleep. Now, I would not be able to go back to sleep again.

So it was in annoyance that I endured the ride to Oshodi to get the bus that will take me to Akute. There were just a few buses heading to my next stop, quite a few compared to the waiting crowd. When you have few buses at a bus stop compared to passengers, which is usually the norm during rush hours, you adopt what in Lagos is called “Ben Johnson.” It simply means that you have to be ready to do a 100m dash in order to get into a bus.

I finally got into one and sat by a lady who looked like she had a day straight from hell, I noticed the mood, so I made a point to keep to myself all through the ride because I was in no better frame of mind.

In Lagos, Molue’s usually do not stop, they keep moving slowly while passengers struggle to jump in and pick up speed as the bus gets filled. And so as the Molue I was in performed the same routine, the lady beside me decided she needed a soft drink, probably to wash off the day’s stress. She yelled to the hawker closest to the molue “Madam give me one Lacasera and bring 100 naira change!” because she had 200 naira with her and the drink cost a hundred.

The hawker ran after the Molue, and handed over the bottle of drink, the lady accepted and held out the 200 naira note “give me 100 naira” she repeated. Usually in Lagos, you do not give a hawker the money for his item until you get your product and whatever “Change” you are due. If you hand over the cash before getting your change, the street hawker will most likely walk away with the “Change.”

So as my lady in distress held onto his 200 naira asking for his Change, the hawker ran after the Molue trying to hand over the 100 naira change and also trying to grab the 200 naira from the lady.  At this point, the Molue was already getting filled to capacity and was beginning to pick up speed.  

The hawker on realizing the Molue was gaining speed held on to the offered end of the 200 naira note, while at the same time running after the molue with her wares on her head, but not relinquishing the 100 naira change as is the practice and screaming “give me my money na, efu mi owo!” while the lady beside me held on to the other end screaming “give me my 100 naira change!!”

Then it happened. The Molue seem to jerk forward at faster speed and the dragged 200 naira note tore into two halves, a half with the seller and the other half with the buyer. But the Molue just sped on as if nothing has happened, while everyone in the molue that had been passively listening and watching the exchange, including me, let out a unified “Ahhhhh!”

No one said anything more, including me.  I was waiting for someone to maybe ask the driver to stop and see if the issue can be resolved but everyone just looked away.

I looked at the lady beside me. She was looking worse than when we started out on the trip. She stared at what was left of her 200 naira note in one hand and the bottle of drink in the other.

She let out a sigh that seemed to come from deep within her soul, angrily opened the bottle of drink and took a long swallow. By the time she was done, she had tears in her eyes. Or maybe I thought I saw tears. It was quite dark at that point and I couldn’t tell for sure. I desperately prayed for her, that the torn 200 naira was not the last money she had on her or else.

Molue conductors do not take kindly to passenger’s who are not able to respond appropriately when they ask the question “Owo da?” 

Amadin Cynthia Uyiosa.
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