THE EARLY TRAVELLER

The early traveller picked his steps with such sharp precision as he made his way to the park that he left no one in doubt that he was treading a very familiar path, because only a person conversant with the park could be able to find his way without any mistake in the early morning darkness the way he did. He knew exactly when to turn right and when to avoid a plank that was carefully placed on a pile of poo. He also knew where the road sloped down and when to lift his leg up so that he didn’t step on the food waste deposited by the hawkers the day before. He got there just at the exact moment that the first driver was bringing in the bus from wherever it was that he kept it from the reach of the men of the night. He exchanged greetings with the old driver who now made his way to an inner room where drivers do many things that only fellow drivers knew of. The early traveller, though not an initiate into the drivers’ cult knew the driver was going to take a little nap before the journey kicked off. As the driver left, a young man that the early traveller referred to as kekere came in to clean the bus.

Even in the darkness, the traveller could tell from the haste and lackadaisical approach with which kekere cleaned the vehicle that it was short of a sincere cleaning, it was more of a garage routine so that the bus driver could have a ready reply for any wanton passenger who would dare accuse him of not putting his vehicle in a conducive shape for the day’s journey despite the large amount of money he made off them. Many passengers loved to complain about how much they paid as fare and reminded the driver of this at any slight provocation. Despite the cleaning which kekere did every passenger would still have to clean his seat and be able to pack off a mass of waste under his seat that could be exchanged in barter for a day’s meal. The early traveller knew so much about all these kind of things, he was more like one of them now and could offer a word of defence for the reason the transport people did what they did. Initially, he was on the side of his fellow travellers but with the experience he had garnered in countless journeys he couldn’t help becoming a renegade now in support of the transporters. As he replayed the drivers’ usual defence, which he had heard over and over again, in his mind he let out a giggle. A Yoruba proverb crossed his mind; he couldn’t help but appreciate the ingenuity of his forebear who reasoned out that when a leaf had stayed with the soap for long it had no option than to become as soapy as the soap itself. True.

Without checking his watch the early traveller could tell that a full hour had passed between the time he was last conscious and now that a new passenger arose him from his sleep. He also knew what was coming next and armed himself accordingly, what he was about to do had become like a prey’s instinct to him.
“Oga, na where this moto dey go?” the new passenger asked.
“Na Ilorin hin dey go,” was his drowsy reply. He already knew the routine.
“Na you dey drive?” was the next question from the inquisitive passenger. “Noooo, no be me and na 1, 500 be the bus money,” he had given more answers than required but he knew that a question about the transport fare would come in next. It was the way of travellers. He could always correctly predict the next question, for travellers were highly predictable; he was one himself only that he was in a higher class. All he needed to do was to reach into his heart and pick what question he would have asked next and then proceed, before the question is voiced out by his questioner, to give the answer. It always worked, throwing the questioners into some form of surprise and resentment. It hinted his questioners that he wasn’t in the mood for any cross-examination.

The new-comer took her seat next to the early traveller on the bench which served as the waiting lounge for travellers. The sun was already making its way out of its hiding place though still not fully waken in its glory; but a bit of its light could be accessed and it afforded the traveller the luxury of seeing the new comer while she too was able to see the man that had offered her cold help. It was cold help because his responses were devoid of emotions or clarity, something he wanted to be done with quickly so he could be left alone. It made the woman feel she was a pest and a nuisance. He only reeled off the answers like a little child pouring out a poem that he had hurriedly crammed for the school’s end of year party. Still his assistance was helpful. She could tell that the man was not interested in any discussion of any sort and so decided to also keep to herself.

The next passenger arrived within the space of about twenty minutes after the woman. At this point the early traveller had gone to take a seat at the back of the bus. He pretended to be asleep and heard as the new passenger went through the routine of questions with the woman she met, he was happy he wasn’t going through this the second time. He had taught himself to do it once per journey. The first one was highly inexcusable since the new passenger would not stop short at waking up anyone at sight to get the needed information. And maybe, the early traveller thought, this was the reason why the drivers always took their naps in the inner room, away from the disturbances of travellers. The early traveller always made the first passenger after him a disciple who would in turn satisfy the appetite of the next inquisitive passenger and the baton usually passed down that way to the very last person. The woman was however happy to have a companion, and as women were, they got along as if they had known each other for many years.
“My sister, na that yeye man wey dey sleep there tell me oooo, but e be like say him done drunk.”
“Why you dey call am yeye man, no be him help you with tory?” the new woman asked.
“Na him, but he too dey do oversabi, I no know him kind sha.”
The early traveller knew more than to startle them out of this useless market-gossip on a young day, so like the wise tortoise he simply kept on with the pretence that he was far away in dreamland. It wasn’t the first time someone in the park would refer to him in such a scathing manner. He quietly and sleepily took the insult in good faith.

The early traveller was awakened by the noise of a blaring horn that came from another bus just entering into the park. Without taking a full break from his make-believe sleep he could tell that it was Bobo J. That was his way of telling the world that the King of the Road, as he loved to show, was now around. The early traveller with his eyes fully closed could give a vivid description of the newcomer’s bus. Boldly written across the back screen was the word – ‘Folorunsho’ and it was done in very catchy calligraphy. Every passenger bus in the park usually had a catch phrase, some sort of totem that summarised the owner’s belief and disposition. ‘Folorunsho’ can be interpreted to mean God is my protector. It didn’t come as a surprise that that was Bobo J’s sign as he was a driver who believed in speed. Wherever it was he was going he wanted to get there fast, so it was just normal that such an impetuous and reckless driver would outsource his security entirely to the Almighty. The bus the early traveller was going with had its own appellation as ‘There is no competition in destiny’ and seemed to be a perfect answer to those who felt the old man that drove this bus was rather sluggish. No one knew why the old man settled for the English subtitle of his thought – maybe he wanted something everyone would understand.

It had also bothered the mind of the early traveller for long that of all the drivers in the park it was only the old driver that had an English inscription on his bus. While all the other younger men who could still manage to mutter some few things in English language had settled for their indigenous language, the old man who couldn’t correctly pronounce an English word settled for an English inscription. The early traveller thought inferiority complex might be responsible for this. The same inferiority complex that made some illiterate parents go for laughable English names they didn’t know the meaning of and which the English themselves didn’t bear while the more educated ones continued to give lovely indigenous names to their kids.

Not too long after Bobo J made his entry with his ‘Folorunsho,’ other buses began to make their way into the garage in preparation for the day’s business. And one could see them with their different slogans like – ‘Ola egbon [1],’ ‘K’iku mapa alaanu mi, [2]’and longer ones like, ‘E ma gbin igi oro, ewe
ng bo, [3]’ and ‘B’eni tiri ola o ri be ni ng mu babalawo d’ifa ororun. [4]’ One other thing that seemed evident in most of those slogans was the suspicion that these drivers, or was it the whole of humanity, had for fellow sons and daughters of Adam, ‘omo Adamo.’ So, one saw such motor aliases as, ‘Eniyansoro [5],’ ‘Oju lari ore o d’enu [6],’ ‘Eni mo fe ni momo, mi o mo eni to femi. [7]’

The sight of the different buses with their philosophical titles reminded the early traveller of a funny story he heard in his neighbourhood. He had not come across the dramatis personae of the gossip but he believed it to be the truth and nothing but the whole truth. It was said that two men had played a popular lottery, baba ijebu and won money prizes for themselves. One of them, a young man in his twenties won a large sum of money with which he bought a bus and inscribed on it – ‘ma f’eyi sopin Oluwa [8]’ which was some form of prayer to the Heavenly Lord that more blessings should flow in. The other, a man in his late fifties won just a paltry sum and had to borrow more money from friends before he could raise enough money to buy a keke napep tricycle. The main tip in the gossip was that the old man still went ahead and wrote on his prized possession – ‘Were n’ise Oluwa [9]’ which suggested that God showed up in his affairs earlier than he expected. Different strokes for different folks.

The early traveller’s bus was already filled up by this time and they were ready to begin their journey. All the passengers got into the bus, took their seats and the journey began in earnest. The driver requested for prayer to be said as a way of setting their journey in motion. One young man from the middle row removed the Nike fez cap on his head and proceeded on a rather long prayer voyage well spiced with scriptural verses. When he had finished, people started to comment.
“Bros, as I see you outside wey you dey romance that girl nobody fit talk say you sabi God not to talk of to sabi pray like that,” said a man in the first roll. The prayer warrior didn’t reply. Another added,
“Bros, you sabi pray pass the pastor of my church sef,” and this made the whole bus to erupt in a mock laughter. The mockery was evident and to put an end to the ongoing show of disdain for his prayer skills, the prayer warrior offered a line of defence which had taken the form of a cliché for people who had walked the ignoble path he just took,
“Na God know person wey dey serve him ooo and I know say I dey serve God.”

For about one hour before the bus began its journey, the prayer warrior who came in company of a young lady he later claimed was his sister was engrossed in hot romance with the said lady. He pecked, kissed and fondled the lady. Some sort of departure gift for a partner in crime that would be gone for a while and whose services would be greatly missed. None of those in the bus who saw them could swear by his grandfather’s grave that he was sure they didn’t do the main thing. People only stared as much as decorum would allow them. He must have thought that the dim light prevented people from seeing him but was shocked to know that there were people who could see through thick darkness if they cared to and such people, busybodies, were in abundance in the bus.

There was silence for a long time as everyone kept thinking of the prayer warrior and his deed in darkness just brought to light. The driver wasn’t happy with the cloud of guilt-filled silence that hung over his bus and moved to do something about it. He used one hand in directing the steering wheel and with the other he groped the upper cabin of his bus as he searched for something. What he was searching for turned out to be a music cassette. He slotted in the first one he laid his hands on. As the melodious tunes of guitars and drums made their way out into the hearing of all in the bus one could feel the return of calm and the uneasy burden of guilt swept off. The cassette continued playing and everyone listened on, but the calm mood was soon interrupted by a scuffle that ensued as the driver made an attempt to turn into a lane which seemed to move faster than the one on which he was. Everyone was lost in the song coming from the driver’s cassette player and did not see the beginning of the matter and so could not tell whether the old driver was right or wrong. The person on the lane in which the old driver wanted to get into blurted out,
“Baba e ti ya were ooo [10]”
The old driver replied with such speed that one would think he was reading from a ready script,
“Baba baba e ni were, omo osi. [11]”
The young man gave into the bully and let the old driver have his way.

It was as if a seed of war had been sown by the encounter the old driver had with the young man because a mini war soon broke out among the passengers in the bus. It was the row immediately before the one the early traveller sat on. A woman who came in with a child of about six years old and had carried her on her laps since the journey began decided to make the child sit. This brought the number of seated people to five instead of the usual four-on-a-row. The others would have none of that and they spoke out. One said,
“Madam, abeg carry that ya child for ya lap ooo.”
The combatant mother of the child was ready for them,
“Nawah for una sha, una no get small pikin for house, wetin this small girl do una? Bad belle them.”

While the altercation lasted, the woman with the child shouted on top of her voice in a manner that one would think her opponents were several miles away, she displayed such prowess and dexterity in this pugnacious art that one could tell for sure that she was a veteran.
“Nobody talk say make ya pikin no sit down, but you no go fit use your own sand sand spoil our garri na,” said another.
“Why you no pay for her when you want make she comfort well, eheenn?”
The argument continued until the old driver could no longer bear it and had to tell the woman to carry the child on her lap.
“I no surprise for you, agbaya, na why you never retire from driving be that, shior,” she said as she took the child and placed her back on her laps.

That ended it for the others but not for her; she went on a long journey of raining curses on her enemies and the supporters of her enemies. No one paid her any attention. The solitude of her monologue wore her out and she gave in to a deep sleep afterwards.

The driver who had not even bothered to recognise her presence was happy that she was finally asleep. He thought within himself that the cantankerous woman must be a source of concern to her husband. He searched his upper cabin once again for a replacement of the cassette that just wound up. He got another one and slotted it in and the bus burst into fresh jubilation even before the musician sang. Whether it was due to the fact that their public enemy number one was asleep or that they all knew who the musician was, no one could tell for sure. It was one of the evergreen numbers of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey. Different discussion groups had quickly formed and it seemed that the early traveller was the only one not yet enrolled in any. He loved to be left alone and to wander endlessly in his own mind. The discussion attained a new height when the song got to a particular point; it was like a fire which soul had been revived by the sudden inclusion of kerosene:
‘Gbogbo okunrin to l’aya s’ile, / All married men
to tun loni girl friends, / who still have girlfriends
b’aya t’ile ba gbo boba ti b’inu, / If your wife finds out and is angry
oye ko l’ogbon agba fun ni, / Try to outwit her
boba l’ogbon agba bi o ba gbo, / If that doesn’t work out
oye ko l’ogboju fun. Ani nitori kini? Then, shun her. Why?
Nitoriwipe, awa okunrin le l’aya mefa koburu, / Because, a man can marry six wives, no problem.
okunrin kanso l’Oba Oluwa mi yan f’obinrin. / But God chose one man for a woman.

“That’s why I love this man, he is always saying the truth,” said one man.
“This Obey man na yeye man ooo,” replied another woman who was on the row before the early traveller’s.
“Real yeye man,” was the affirmation from the cantankerous mother of the little child who had just woken up from her vacation-sleep not too long ago. Even the Biblical Eutycus who slept off during Paul’s preaching session and fell down from the roof top could not afford a long sleep in such a noisy bus. And with that, the women who had had a misunderstanding earlier and had shunned one another since then were re-united. The arguments went back and front until another man in the front row interrupted them,
“I hope you people know that this man was a faithful husband of one, he was only singing what you people wanted to hear.”
“No mind them, person wey dey advise una say make una marry hundred na him dem talk say get just one wife, tory don finish.”

The arguments were yet to die down when a loud horn blared beside the bus; it was Bobo J’s ‘Folorunsho’ and that birthed another argument,
“No be the bus wey we leave for park be this?”
“Na him na, this old papa wey drive us too slow.”
“This our driver na snail ooo.”
“How I come take enter this kind bus, na this boy bus I go dey enter next time.” The old driver heard them all but refused to reply them. He believed in silence as a recipe to be served one’s enemies and it seemed that his passengers took the dish with humility because every time he served them they accepted it like obedient babes. So, the journey continued once again and the music legend continued to entertain the travellers.

They travelled some thirty more minutes and came to a juncture where many vehicles had parked. The old driver gradually reduced his speed until he came to a final halt and turned off the engine. Without letting out any sound to his passengers they all disembarked and moved to have a look at what made people gather at that particular spot. As the early traveller made his way through the increasing number of people that now surrounded an object that ran off the road, he heard people talking about a mishap. He saw the vehicle and instantly knew it was Bobo J’s ‘Folorunsho.’ He saw people carrying off wounded passengers and made to find out what befell the driver. He heard before he got to the front row that everyone survived but the driver! He got to the front and had a view of Bobo J. drenched in blood and pinned to the driver’s seat by the tree branch that passed through his body like a spear thrown by a deft Celtic god.

The early traveller made a sharp turn. He couldn’t stand the sight of seeing Bobo J’s lifeless body. As he made his way back to the bus, his mind raced back to the events that confined him into embarking on very early journeys and for which he became known as the early traveller. It had been about five years ago when he was transferred from the Lagos office of his organisation to the Ilorin branch. He knew he could not relocate his entire family to his new station but would need to always shuttle between Ilorin and Lagos. During one of his first journeys he was unfortunate, as he loved to put it, that the bus he joined was Bobo J’s ‘Folorunsho.’ He was constantly in communication with his maker while the journey lasted because Bobo J went at death speed. The early traveller hated speed. He knew that speed would be the undoing of the young man. The early traveller knew that using banana leaves in mounting a palm tree wasn’t an act of faith in God but an easy ride to the world beyond. He made enquiries at the park and found out that Bobo J would be anything but the first driver to leave the park and so our man resolved to getting to the park early enough so as to make the first bus and thus escape boarding Bobo J’s ‘Folorunsho.’

He was still deep in thought when people started insinuating that Bobo J was still alive. He leapt for joy and made his way back to the spot where the body laid.
“Him body still hot well well, e be like say him never die,” was the response he got when he enquired as to the new development. Bobo J’s body had not cooled off as was usual among dead bodies and the absence of this change which the locals used in ascertaining death fuelled the good news. As efforts were made to determine the true state of things a man who claimed to be a doctor stepped out with his stethoscope and made some observations before confirming to the crowd that the young man was dead.
“Na wa oo, e mean say na hot death he die.”

Hot death was what the locals called the untimely death of a person accompanied by some signs such as the temperature of the corpse. They believed that people who went this way weren’t yet ripe for death and would continue to run through the earth, though invisible to the human eyes.

On hearing this, the early traveller sighed and looked into space as if he could catch a glimpse of the ever-speeding Bobo J whom his people said was now condemned to run through the earth until the time when he would be ripe to rest in peace.

______________________________________________________________________________

1. ‘The wealth of an older sibling’ or ‘thanks to an elder sibling’.
2. May death not kill my helper
3. Don’t plant evil seeds, younger ones are coming.
4. The unpredictability of each new day makes the herbalist consult his oracle daily.
5. Humans are wicked.
6. Looks are deceitful, there is no true friendship.
7. I only know those I love, I don’t know those who love me.
8. Do not make this the end, O Lord.
9. The ways of God are swift.
10. Baba, you are mad.
11. Your grandfather is the mad one, stupid child.

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7 Responses to THE EARLY TRAVELLER

  1. Bisayo says:

    I read this piece & I just had to pause&reflect! D race is indeed not to the swift.”If only we knew, we won’t rush off in & at life! Even after this comment, I’m still going to access my life and take the lead of the early traveller, people may tag you silly, or slow but if there’s purpose behind your action or ‘seemingly inaction”…hmmm!

  2. DL says:

    Nice plot buildup and I really hope there’s a second part to this

  3. Oseni Abdulwahab says:

    Great job…..mirrors the realities of life…. It’s quite engaging.
    keep it up.

  4. Life is not about how fast but how well u run the race.

  5. Bankole Awoyemi says:

    Nice piece. Good plot and a very good theme especially for this season. More grace to your elbow.

  6. Omotolani says:

    I scanned through d incomplete version posted some days back,didnt really get the gist. I knew am gonna have to do a thorough reading, i knew deir was more to it. I said it!! Love the flow of roles and the way the story kinda builds up…well done sir!

  7. I promised to e-mail you my review of The Early Traveller over the past weekend but I couldnt because I have been indisposed since. It is my resolve not to carry over any of my promises unfulfilled into 2012, nor enter the new year with any illness, that has supplied the strength to write this review tonight. As I said on FB, that piece is one of the best I have seen in 2011 and I am really contemplating borrow one or two characters from there to use in a long short story I am working on at the moment. Probably because I happen to have a piece in progress in that line, I saw through the work itself into the writers mind in bringing it to be. You managed to combine many strong points of literature in a short story and one of such that I really admire is the use of nameless characters. You focused more on the personalities of each character without resorting to “the-eye-of-God” which is what most writers resort to. The story was meant to be a narrative from the perspective of the early traveller and you kept true to that. Also, you managed to incorporate characters from different backgrounds and with different personalities to create a buffet party of people with literary complementarity, each character bringing out the best in the other despite the vast differences in their personalities. This is often easily achieved in novels, but doing it in a short story is a feat. Finally, I enjoyed how you managed to garnish the story with humour using indigenious languages and pidgin and yet able to pass across cogent moral lessons which I think you wanted the piece to preach. On the other hand, I feel you used the phrase “the early traveller” too many times.

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