As soon as Lawrence had yelled, the stocky youth turned his gaze on him , his lips coming off his teeth in a snarl of fury, and at once, the stocky youth threw his firmly balled fist which connected with Lawrence’s face. The pain shot through Lawrence’s right eye, and breezed into his left eye, carrying with it a heavy blackness. The last words Lawrence was to hear were: “Brethren in the Lord, repent! A kingdom is upon us!” It was an oblivion; sweet oblivion!

*

A fog-laden climate took an aggressive hold of the rather over-populated district of Mushin, and threatened to keep workers indoors as it reduced visibility to less than a quarter of a mile. However, it was Monday, and calling their respective places of work to relate their abrupt absences on the premise of bad weather was quite a luxury the residents of Mushin couldn’t afford.

To live in Mushin was to know how to compete against others to survive. There were arguably about 350,000 adults living in Mushin, with less than one-sixth of that population having dead-end jobs to make ends meet. The rest of the adults were sitting idly, waiting patiently for a slouch that would take a day off because of a terrible fog: a slouch who would definitely lose his job.

Hence, it didn’t ruffle Lawrence Emodi, aged twenty-six, who was serving his nation as a primary school teacher in a community school in the district, as he was surrounded by a mob of men and women who were just as eager as he to get to the places they earned their living. He had seen a crowd just about this same size scurrying through alleys that led to the main road on one violently rainy morning.

Having on his brilliantly colourful T-shirt with rose impressions on it and black slacks which he had been putting on for the past two weeks without bothering to wash them (for Lawrence thought that black slacks were so handy that no one could tell when you didn’t wash them), Lawrence got to the T-junction at Isolo Road, surrounded by po-faced adults who had their gazes fixed to the left, the direction the next bus would come from.

Within a couple of minutes, having had his eyes towards his left since he came to the bus stop, Lawrence could see that a bus was nosing towards the junction. Even though the bus was still a couple of blocks away, squinting his eyes, Lawrence figured that there were a couple of empty seats. It was the roomy 46-seater bus which was unanimously dubbed ‘molue’ in Lagos colloquy. He glanced around him and saw the apprehension on the faces about. They had seen the same thing he saw, he knew. The bus had an aisle that ran close to four metres and that provided more room for people to stand, hanging on to the rail that was affixed to the roof of the bus.

However, with Mushin residents, it seemed that getting yourself a place to sit on a bus on a crowded Monday morning was a triumph so great that it was second to none, and they all looked to emerge victors. Once more, just as had always been the case since the very first day he had set out to get to work, Lawrence could see that to get himself seated on the bus was down to a battle of wits, and he was determined not to lose. He thanked high heavens that he hadn’t subconsciously slipped into his plain white T-shirt.

As the bus inched closer, Lawrence braced himself. He was standing behind two women — one who was plump, honey-skinned and middle-aged, and the other was fleshier, swarthy, and older. They could both be easily shoved aside, Lawrence thought to himself. Much to his disappointment, and to that of every other resident who had been waiting at the bus stop for the big yellow bus to get close enough, the driver pulled up a couple of steps away from the crowd, and would go no further. Sadly, the bus drivers in the district were insolently dramatic, and they wouldn’t care one bit if people fell into trenches or sprained their ankles in the horrific scramble the rest of the way to where the bus had stopped.

Lawrence found that he didn’t care too, and so, as soon as he figured what the driver had done, he pushed his way through the crowd and began to run with the few who could run as well. He got to the foot of the bus and was four persons away from climbing on — three men and a woman — with several other people behind him, trying desperately to shove him aside and take his place. The bus had exactly five vacant seats, and Lawrence was determined to sit. He spread his arm defensively in an effort to stop anyone from getting ahead of him as he waited for the woman to climb on. As soon as she got on, he pulled himself up, and during that effort, he felt a movement in his butt pocket where he had kept his wallet, and without minding the risk of falling, he ran his hand over his wallet and snatched it out, continuing the rest of the climb into the bus.

So, someone couldn’t keep their thieving paws to themselves and would probably get on this bus, Lawrence thought and winced. He made a mental note to be alert and sound the alarm if he did spot the thief because he was certain that the moron would definitely make a go for someone’s valuables if he did get on this bus. This would be doomsday for him, Lawrence thought and started down the aisle, taking in the look of the seated passengers. He saw a woman breastfeeding her baby, and a man staring with a leer in his eyes beside her, an elderly man and a youth sitting on the cushion on the right, and on the second row on the left, a woman who was picking her nose, and in an instant took out the finger with which she had picked her nose and licked it clean.

Lawrence felt a rush of bile run up his throat, and he immediately looked away. In the middle cushion, there sat a man who had on a blue T-shirt, a red hand-painted tie, black slacks, a hunger-beaten face, and under his sweat-sodden arm, this man clutched a Bible. Lawrence knew exactly what the man would be doing in the bus, and he pulled a face, thanking the gods that he had brought his headphones with him. At that instant, the preacher began, “So, brethren in the Lord, I admonish you, put away the old man, and take on the nature of Christ.”

The preacher went on speaking of the terrors of hell which were inevitable for sinners as Lawrence continued down the aisle, looking at the only vacant seat left on the bus. A woman was seated there, her threadbare frock visible, her hands shaking steadily, but it was her hair that displeased Lawrence the most. The hair was so unkempt-looking that Lawrence imagined that there were several eggs of lice hidden beneath it. Having no other alternative, Lawrence joined the woman on the cushion, making sure to avoid a body contact.

Other people who would unfortunately have no place to sit climbed onto the bus and began gripping the bar on the roof, and of the lot, Lawrence found the look of a stocky, short youth most intriguing. The youth had on a homburg hat, a black vest, and navy-blue shorts: a casual outfit that told Lawrence that this youth wasn’t headed for work like the majority of the people on the bus. The youth could be less than twenty-two, but not more. Albeit, it was those shifty, close-set, glittering, black eyes that Lawrence found most criminal about this youth, so he decided to keep watch.

The bus began to move, and within a couple of blocks covered, with the preacher hammering on afterlife, passengers being carefree about the preacher’s warning, and Lawrence watching the stocky youth who stood a gap away from him, Lawrence saw a movement just as he had anticipated. The youth was putting his hand into a woman’s handbag. And at once, Lawrence shouted, “Thief!”

As soon as Lawrence had yelled, the stocky youth turned his gaze on him, his lips coming off his teeth in a snarl of fury, and at once, the stocky youth threw his firmly balled fist which connected with Lawrence’s face. The pain shot through Lawrence’s right eye, and breezed into his left eye, carrying with it a heavy blackness. The last words Lawrence was to hear were: “Brethren in the Lord, repent! A kingdom is upon us!” It was an oblivion; sweet oblivion!

About the writer

Johnson Onyedikachi is a teenage Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He wrote in via johnsonshaqs@gmail.com

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