Last week, I was privileged, yes, privileged to be in the abroad…on holiday in London. (Things are tough o.)
Like the red-blooded Nigerian woman I am, I went shopping at the huge malls; I had a short list that I worked hard to follow. After checking and rechecking and discovering that my Naira was no match for the Pound Sterling calling my name on the shelves, I figured, shebi if I don’t have money, nothing stops me from looking?
So I went round, ogling items I couldn’t afford. Thoughts of school fees and other bills kept tugging at my heart… even if you have the money, school fees nko? You dey craze?
So, I respected myself.
Anyway, shopping done, it was late now, at about 7 pm… I was in an unfamiliar environment, dem talk say person no dey lost for strange place during the day. I made the mistake of navigating an unfamiliar terrain at night.
I didn’t know I was in trouble… after all, this is London. I can’t be lost, I told myself. It’s pretty basic. I knew my stop, I knew the bus number and I am an adult.
I took the bus back to my hosts’ home; may I say here that it was raining and that I was cold like I have never been in years. I was wet and tired after pounding the stores for a better part of the day.
Anyway, to be on a bus, you had to have the Oyster card which is a card with money on it. You tap the oyster in the bus and it gives off a green light to let you know your fare is paid and you can ride the bus.
Without your Oyster card, especially for visitors like me, it’s virtually impossible to move around London, either by bus or train, except, of course, you chose to walk, take a cab or Uber it.
My partner had given me directions, ‘Your stop is Inglemere,’ he’d told me but I was in a hurry to leave.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got that.
In my head, I heard Inglewood, so I wrote Inglewood…piece of cake…plus, after a few trips back and forth, I pretty much could identify the place.
My designated bus came and I gladly hopped on and found a seat, placing my numerous shopping bags between my legs and replacing my oyster in my bag.
I was hungry, very tired and shivering from the cold even though I had a jacket on.
Then a stop was announced…
‘Inglemere Road,’ the recorded announcer’s voice crackled.
‘Huh? I’m stopping at Inglewood road,’ I told myself; I checked with what I had written down.
It was dark, it was raining and the windows were frosted so I couldn’t even see the road for what it was but I didn’t get up. I sat there. If they said Inglemere, Inglewood must be close. Who knows, they may even have Ingleoaks. So, I sat…
Two stops… three stops… four stops and with no announcement of Inglewood, yours truly began to wonder; come o, we never went this far on the bus before, worrisahappening?
So I got up to ask the driver, ‘Hey man’, I said confidently, ‘did you follow another route? I should have got to my stop but…’
‘Where are you going?’ The black driver asked me like a brother.
‘Inglewood,’ I said sharply, so he could hear me above the hum of the engine and the beat of the rain.
He shook his head. “No Inglewood? Never heard it on this route.”
Iro ni o! You mean it’s the same route? No Inglewood stop?
“It must be Inglemere,” he said. “So you get off at the next stop and cross to the other side, get a 75 bus and stop at Inglemere road, that’s your stop.”
I got down, crossed, the road with the rain slapping me silly. I was also sure my host and partner would be frantic as to my whereabouts. They would soon be calling to know where I was. I couldn’t call because I had exhausted my phone credit and cash… shopping and calling to tell a friend the things my eyes were beholding…so you see.
Anyway, no calls came, not even a message asking if I was ok. I began to get angry; so, no one has noticed my absence? No one will come find me. At the bus stop, I burrowed into my bag to get my Oyster card in readiness for the next bus… behold, no oyster!
Haba, the oyster that I used just now, now?
I checked again…then I froze. You know that image that comes to mind when you know a nasty, impossible scenario had just occurred but your brain is too slow to pick it?
I checked a third, a fourth time. I emptied my bag on the floor of the bus stop. I emptied my shopping bags (I had bought bras and pants) in full public glare as this time, my fingers had curled and were grey from the cold…no Oyster Card, (it must have fallen off after I boarded the first bus).
I had no phone credit to call for help, no money to buy either oyster or phone credit and no idea where I was…I was lost!
Ok, so, you know the way Lagosians accost you and begin to relate their tales of woe…‘I was going to Egbeda, I forgot my wallet at home… please help me with just N200 to V/I, I have N500 already… aunty, please help your sister, I…’
You know how the rest of us just ignore their story and hurry along like we didn’t even hear them or understand what they are saying or jeer at their lies?
It happened to me.
I began to confess like a witch to the other passengers at the bus stop as I re-shook item after item looking for the lost Oyster Card. I took the wrong bus, I had my oyster with me, I missed my stop, I need help to get back home.
Ni London, ke?
My audience was about 12 and consisted of two old white ladies, one old Chinese lady, a young black lady with a body to die for and two lads and the rest were white men. First, I turned to the one I thought would be most sympathetic to my story, the black female and explained my plight to her.
After all my story, she didn’t even understand what I was saying. I suspect I was speaking in my native Egba dialect and thoroughly confused her.
“What do you want me to do for you?” She asked in phonay.
In my mind, I was like, so after all the explanation, you are still asking me? You can’t help a black sister? Can’t you see how I have scattered all my worldly goods and…
I turned to the white women…same story, only reducing the Egba inflection in my cry for help. I just need you swipe for me or…
They shook their heads and moved a wee bit away from me. They couldn’t move farther because it was raining and the bus stop provided some bit of shelter.
In fact, everyone had begun to move the moment I began stripping my bags, my jacket, my blouse…you know the kind of scattered look you wear when searching for an important lost item?
“Go to the oyster shop down the road,” the Chinese woman offered from the far end of the bus stop. Good advice but I didn’t even have the money or a card to top up, what would I do there?
Anyway, I went; I would tell them my story, maybe they would pity me, I mean, I am a fine Naija woman who is lost, abi?
The shop was closed. I had never willed my phone to ring the way I willed it that day… it didn’t ring o.
I was beaten in the rain; I checked my watch and it was 10 pm already.
Then bus 75 came and everyone clambered in swiping their Oyster Cards and finding warmth and a seat in the double-decker bus. I stood in my shoes and said to myself:
“PJ, you can either stand here and freeze or take your chance. What if your partner has fallen asleep, what you gonna do?”
I hopped on the bus and began my story again…I was heading to Inglemere and missed my stop and Oyster…
The bus driver was probably used to stories like this or maybe be he was also anxious to go home because I was ready to cry and beg and grovel and plead… I wasn’t ready to be left there alone at the bus stop.
‘Get in,’ he told me.