In a sense, it was my fault. I must have hit the snooze button on my alarm like ten times before I finally convinced myself that I did not have malaria and so did not have a valid excuse not to get the hell up and go to work.
Enter Power Ranger mode. Showered, dressed in less than ten minutes. Decided to switch hand-bags. Dumped the contents of the black one into the brown one. Snatched my laptop, pocketed my phone and then out the door. Luckily, I got a bus almost as soon as I got to the bus-stop. Sigh. Seemed like I would be on time after all.
Five minutes into the journey, the conductor asks for the customary 100 naira fare. I open my bag and without looking in, begin feeling around for my wallet. No show. Irritated, I look in. Sunglasses, check. Make-up, check. Notebook, check. Earphones, check. Pen, check. Handkerchief, check. WHERE THE HELL IS MY WALLET?
My heart had started a weird rhythm in my chest by now. Thud. Thud. It was my worst nightmare come true. Images of conductors tearing people’s clothes and beating them for not paying the correct fare flashed before me. I opened my laptop bag, rummaged in it, just in case. Nope! No money. OMG! I was at least a fifteen minute drive away from home by now. Checked my watch, 7:05. I figured if I took a bike back home to get my wallet, I could still make it to work before 9 am. GULP!
“Please, I’d like to stop here.” I said in my smallest, most proper, please-don’t-beat-me voice.
“Why?” The conductor asked grumpy-like. “Where your money?”
“Sorry, I forgot my wallet at home. I need to come down.”
The conductor shakes his head impatiently. “When next you see me, pay me.”
“But I no go remember you.” I switch to pidgin at his smile.
“Me, I remember you.”
“But I still no get money reach work from Marina.”
“Where you dey go?”
“Bar Beach-Eko Hotel.”
He hands me two fifty-naira notes. I’m stupefied. As I alight, I thank him. He waves me off gruffly. I don’t think he expects to see me ever again. I doubt if I will. He just, in local parlance, dashed me, a complete stranger, 200 naira. I don’t know how much conductors make but I know that this is a sacrifice on his part. For a stranger?
And then, my incredulity haunts me. It’s easy for me to think uncharitably about conductors and all the other people I automatically consider inferior because I have an education and go to work in an air-conditioned office. Hawkers, okada riders, bus drivers. It’s easy to think of them as robbers, ingrates, insane etc. Why am I so shocked by a conductor doing something nice? Why?! Isn’t he human? Isn’t he capable of kindness? He’s someone’s husband, father, son, brother, isn’t he?
I’m ashamed of myself and the stereotypes I’ve consciously/unconsciously allowed to inhabit my mind.
I’ve learnt something today though. First, to double-check that I have my wallet before I leave home next time. 🙂 Second, that there are good people (strangers) out there. The world isn’t out to “get me”. Lol! Third, I’ve learnt, most importantly, to take each person on his/her own terms and ignore the stereotypes. It’s hard, right, but it’s the way it should be.
And finally, to all the people out there like this conductor, unsung heroes who unwittingly shatter stereotypes, God Bless You.
p.s. This happened in Lagos, Nigeria. I know, right?
p.p.s. if you have or have heard of, a similar story, do share.