“Chairman stay your lane!”
The hoarse shout sounded like the annoyed grunt of a scratched CD player and was from someone somewhere behind me. I knew that texture of voice. It was the air from withered lungs passing on smoke-cased wind pipes and throat adjusted to the constant routine of shouting. It was the texture of voice I automatically block out, because its bearer is usually pumping with aggression and deadened by cannabis. That day’s was not much different, I think.
Three thumps on our car, rigorious directions with his right hand pointing us to the far side of the left lane. Hairs dyed fulvous brown by tenant dirt, clumped curls glistening with droplets of sweat, stubborn lone strands reaching out to the burnt ebony of his armpit… I thought it would make a phenomenal painting. Sweat rivulets drew my eyes lower to where they pooled, gathering current enough to cross over the jagged skin of a horizontal scar fat as my pinkie in thin streams… I thought they told a story then wished I could paint the entirety.
“Chairman stay your lane!”
He was off to the car beside us, performing the ritual again, only this time pointing the driver with his left hand to the far right of the road. His right hand wasn’t hanging limply down though; it was half raised, bent at the elbow, poised to direct the next car in his zigzag traffic conduction. I noticed then that the movement of cars as he directed had created a third lane in the middle and wondered who we were making way for; hissing at the thought that it was some tout ‘chairman’ or some scumbag grassroot embezzletician.
It was neither.
Bearing yellow anad black, the commercial bus jerked forward, then halted as the driver shouted to the driver of the SUV behind us that his rearview mirror was in the way. A jewelled hand sneaked out to hastily pull the mirror in, and the bus jerked forward again.
The jerk and brake is a dance.
The thought had just flitted past my subconscious when I noticed the sound I had abrogated to one of the cd-selling roadside shops was actually coming from the bus. As it had gotten nearer, so had the bawdy music of some baritone downing drums of alcohol and planning to fuck the brains out of some buxom woman in something so short he could swear he was seeing her pussy. Nothing new there! I rolled my eyes and wondered if celebrity thugs could ever sing about more than women, fights, money, booze and parties.
The bus pulled nearer and I saw the photo of a fine faced young male before the eyes behind my glasses saw the words in some ugly font that wrote the word “Obituary”. For some seconds my brain struggled. Pitching the young face in the poster against the concept of death and decay in my mind took some mental redefining, but it got done. I was going to strain my eyes for the smaller letters below the picture, hoping they contained an explanation of how he died; but looking lower I encountered sparsely clothed males holding various gin and whisky bottles at different degrees of elevation to their mouths. They were all young, mourning their friend or colleague, and on the way to ‘highness’. They were blocking the lower part of the poster, so I strained my ears instead to catch their conversation.
You see, the dead young face had been a 25 year old garage tout who had died in a fight. He had not been the only one to die in the fight. Infact, the corpse of another young dead was just some cars behind in the same convoy. Matter of fact, some of the barely clothed people sitting around the box had been in that same fight. No, most of them had not known what the fight was about at the time they had smashed their fists into people’s faces or bottles against the walls and into people’s faces. They had just been drinking and noticed ‘their’ people being assaulted and joined in the furore. After the craze had cleared though, they had been told the fight had been over some change that some Baba Isale had reportedly “dropped” and which some people had wanted to keep all to themselves. The roughly nailed unscraped, unpolished wooden box jutting like a tail behind the bus was the coffin. They had been lucky to get that much to bury their friend in because someone’s elder brother was a carpenter and on a contract that had left him enough scraps he could convert into a coffin. I sat there, Intellectual Highness, watching the crowd of similar buses minus the coffin trail the narrow path in the middle.
The best they can be.
Somewhere in all that I realised they were mourning as they knew how to. Listening to bawdy songs, downing ethanol-filled drinks, keeping mute as they thought about the life of their friend and looking to the floor as they perhaps imagined how it would be when it was their turn. I shook my head, some of them would die that night; they just didn’t know it yet. I knew it though, because the ingredients were complete: alcohol, aggression, anger, numbers… money, slurs and females- the usual igniters- were sure to be thrown in as the sun set.
They reminded me of the burial parties in Soyinka’s Interpreters. In The Interpreters Soyinka narrates two burial parties: one solemn and of a poor man, the other fanciful and of an important man. The burial party of the two thugs seemed in between. They had ‘nothing’, but they weren’t solemn. They had power, brute strength in the air surrounding them which they were willing to exercise in defence of their nothingness. That made them a “force”. So we cleared the road for them not in silent bow to their importance like the poor party did in The Interpreters, but in acknowledgement that they felt they had nothing to lose if anything happened and things went south.
Eyes on their party, I felt sad. I plugged my earpiece in, turned up the volume and let Enya wash over me. I stole my pad out of my backpack and wrote this; knowing it would either be too late or irrelevant. They would be dead or not reading this or not doing anything that says how wrong it all is.
They mourned. Now I mourn them. Young, yet dying with each tick of the clock with nothing to live for.