There are other advantages to sitting at that spot. One is that, since the back door that passengers are allowed to use is at the other side, not at the side of the driver, you don’t have to disembark or move each time a new passenger comes in. The other advantage is that you are at a nice position from which to view what is happening in other parts of the bus. With your feet slightly raised, a turn of the head a little to the right makes it easy for you to observe the passengers as they come in, and a shift of the body a little to the right, still maintaining that slight turn of the head, gives you the advantage of seeing most of the other passengers in the bus. At this spot, I was also able to observe the actions of the police who stopped our bus almost every ten minutes, and to hear the exchange with the driver as he tried to bargain his way into paying as little bribe as possible.
But that is not the story; the story is written on the faces and the bodies of the people who are normally my co-passengers. No, it is not the way the faces are set, or the ways they sit, although that – the way they sit – has a story all of its own. The story is in the way the expressions on their faces change each time we were stopped by the police or customs officers.
The buses are normally packed with goods bought by the traders, who are most often women. Under the seat, in what remains of the trunk after extra rows of seats have been added to the bus, on the laps of the women or between their legs. Several consumer goods – rice, t-shirts, denim trousers, an occasional bag of vegetable oil – are normally some of the goods packed under the seats, or are hugged closely by the women.
You see stories of apprehension, at seeing a customs officer who had never been seen on that road and so might be a hard person to bargain with; anger, at the odd driver who does not know how to deal with the police or the customs office; disbelief, at the crazy driver who is so greedy as to think that he could outsmart the customs officers or policemen at the checkpoints and thus provokes them to telling each and every passenger to disembark from the bus and ‘declare’ their goods; assumed expression of innocence, at the customs officer who asks them to explain how come they had this amount of this, and that amount of that; desperation, once the customs officer proceeds to seize the goods; and relief, once they are able to reach a bargain with the customs officer, and their goods are returned.
Whatever you think, each time you disembark from the bus you leave with a renewed feeling of respect for the stories their faces tell, and for those women who against all impositions of the Nigerian state, whether in the guise of obtuse policies or underpaid and/or venal agents, constitute a huge chunk of the flow of goods in the Nigerian economy.