One Tuesday afternoon last December, I set out from my apartment in Yaba with two items on my to-do list:

  1. Attend an apartment inspection at Meiran. “3 to 3:30,” says the agent.
  2. Reach Ikeja by 6pm for an award ceremony.

My plan is foolproof. I’ll zip over to Meiran, a place whose existence I had been unaware of until a Jiji search, the night before, presented it as a relocation option. I’ll arrive there by 3pm, dawdle till 5pm, manoeuvre expertly to Ikeja, and then be home well before 10pm, my bedtime.

I should state that:

  1. I possess a laughable sense of direction, even with “clear” directions and a map.
  2. I leave my house once every 3 months, usually in an Uber that delivers me to my destination.

On this day, however, I needed to kick it old school. Get to Oshodi somehow. Find a bus going to Toll Gate. Drop at Meiran. The mystery of getting to Ikeja from there would be solved later.

Part 1: Ọbaníbàshírí

“Is this Oshodi?” I ask.

“Yes,” says a fellow passenger.

Well, that was quick. Now I have to find a bus going to Toll Gate. A friendly agbero provides directions. “Mama, just follow the railway, then you turn. You go see bus wey dey go Alagbado/Meiran.”

This is one of the dangers of not knowing how to get to where you’re going in Lagos. Alagbado? Nobody mentioned Alagbado.

I follow the railway, turn and emerge beside an expressway. I remember to clutch my bag tightly under my arm and I act like I know where I am going, just so no one suspects me of foolishness.

A conductor’s call rings out. Tollgate! Iyana Ipaja-Meiran-Ijaiye-Tollgate!

I should leap into action and hop nimbly onto the bus, but I hang back. It is one of those massive buses that resemble BRTs in size but lacks its comfort. Hoping for an alternative, I attempt to ask for directions but the agbero I approach points wordlessly towards the same non-BRT. I give up and advance, like a ram resigned to slaughter. I hand over the fare and climb inside.

There are a few vacant seats left. I spot one near the back door; its next to a light-skinned lady with braided hair and sharp eyes. It is now a few minutes past 1pm. I hope it is one of those days where passengers are scarce so I am saved from being embarrassingly early.

I’m out of luck. All the seats are soon taken but people continue to pile in, crowding the aisle. They grab the bus’s broken railings attached to the ripped roof; they lean against the seats’ steel frames to steady themselves. A small old man in an oversized shirt perches next to me but I stab courtesy in the heart by fixing my eyes squarely on my phone. He settles into a standing spot and begins to hassle the driver. “Óyá o, ẹ jẹ́ ká ma lọ o.”

He wants the driver to move. Other passengers murmur in agreement. Encouraged by the approval of strangers, he repeats his demands five more times, and then the bus grumbles to a start.

This is when it begins.

My view is severely obstructed by the line of humans in the aisle so I don’t immediately see him. I only hear a loud, faintly hoarse voice, speaking the first notes of a prayer. As soon as I hear the first “Ní orúkọ Jésù” I mentally slot him into a well-known category of people you meet in public buses: the volunteer evangelist who spends the whole journey praying, threatening you to “repent before it is too late”. But he belongs to a different group: the travelling salesman.

The size of, population in, and travel distance of Lagos public buses make them perfect for travelling salesmen. You can identify them by their dusty strapped sandals, spacious black trousers that graze the ground, brightly coloured shirts emblazoned with names like “Good Health Global Enterprises International Limited”, and leather bags from which they withdraw ointments, powders and juices that they swear can do everything, from curing a common cold to granting immortality.

In no time, the bus is reverberating with such intense amens and hallelujahs that it is possible that I have invaded a moving crusade. These type of prayers are usually granted grudging responses, when they are not ignored altogether. But today’s crowd is different; they are invested and emotional.

The prayer ends and the man switches seamlessly into an introduction that comes with a twist. He announces a giveaway. Anyone who can correctly provide the crowd with his full name will get ₦200. I scoff, thinking this move is arrogant. Not for long. I am humbled when a woman hanging in the aisle volunteers. In a shy voice laced with pride, she reveals his name. He is Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí.

Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí rewards her appropriately, then veers into a detailed explanation of his ancestry. His mother is from Ẹ̀gbá. His father is Tapa. He was born in Yórùbáland. He went to school in Yórùbáland. He will die in Yórùbáland.

The man has flair. He reels off his phone number and home address, boasting that he has no reason to hide. His voice lifts and drops in the right places. He picks his words and works the crowd, earning a smattering of laughter and chuckles. This is a solo spectacle and Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí is the showman. I strain for a glimpse of the man.

He is tall, dark, beefy, and clad in a slightly faded ankara outfit. A thin gold chain with a crucifix hangs from his neck. His rectangular head spots a weathered face and cropped black hair. His eyes are reddish-brown, perhaps from close encounters with holy spirits and his teeth are covered with a dim yellow sheen. He has something for us today, an incredibly important product that is not available anywhere else but right here. It is known simply as Ọbaníbàshírí. The Lord is the One that Covers Secrets. My interest is piqued, but I can’t get carried away: we are now well into the journey and the conductor is calling out bus stops. I keep one ear perked for my stop; with the other, I listen to Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí explain Ọbaníbàshírí.

Disappointment, rejection, wrong timing, promise-and-fail, one-chance, village people; this product, which we have the good fortune to encounter today, will keep them all at bay. It is for those who are tired of constant let-downs, those who are prepared to reach new financial heights, those who are ready to win in life. Ọbaníbàshírí is a special, limited-edition remedy for bad-luck, and it will only set you back ₦200.

All you need is a bottle of Mirinda or Fanta at any temperature. Not Coca-Cola, 7up, Sprite, Maltina, or—God forbid, seriously—plain old water. Without this item, one might face seven years of non-stop misfortune or some other dire consequence. So, go out, buy a bottle of compulsorily orange-coloured beverage, open it indoors, pour the medicine into the bottle. Let it sit for three days. After those 72 hours have passed, gulp the whole thing and permanently banish misery from your life.

Before my eyes, Ọbaníbàshírí, sometimes in twos and threes, began moving into pockets and handbags. It was just another transaction, no different from buying gala and plantain chips in traffic. The lady next to me had been watching wordlessly. Now, she taps a passenger in front of us and mumbles something while handing over ₦200. I catch a glimpse of Ọbaníbàshírí as she conceals it in her bag; it’s a tangle of stringy green herbs tied loosely in a small clear nylon.

I’m not immune to what some call pseudo-spiritualism. I read tarot cards. I know my Mayan Kin number. Two years ago, I found a website where I typed in the time and place of my earthly arrival, and, in return, I received a circular birth chart bearing the position of the planets in my 12 celestial houses. So, I do understand the need for something to hold on to, an anchor of faith, a personal placebo. Still, I’m stunned at the openness of the transaction, the lack of discretion.

With the medicine comes a black-and-white leaflet advertising Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí’s church, presumably for the benefit of the chronically unfortunate souls requiring intensive treatment. As I am too shy to ask my neighbour to share her copy of the leaflet with me, I briefly consider paying ₦200 as investigative expense. Unfortunately, my own superstition holds me back. Compelling as he is, I do not like the idea of Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí touching my money. There is something abrasive hiding beneath his smooth tone, a rough edge that makes me want to leap out the window. I keep my purse closed; the salesman moves on.

Over the next 30 minutes, Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí advertises cures for bad dreams, evil spells and career regression. Two rows ahead, a lean woman in a plain grey kampala buys everything. Her hair peeks from underneath her scarf in black curly plaits. Her earlobes are unpierced. And as she waves her wrist around, earnestly demanding for change, I see a Redeemed Christian Church of God wristband hanging from one hand.

Part 2: Debbie

I arrive at Meiran at five minutes past 2pm, reluctantly getting off the bus just as Ọbalọ́lẹ̀rí is doling out instructions on how to prepare a love potion. A small coconut, a brown egg from a locally-breed hen, a boiling pot of water…

I call the agent and he informs me in no uncertain terms that I will have to wait until our previously agreed time. Well, na me fuck up. I sit idly at the bus stop for the next hour, munching boli I have acquired from a buxom woman by the roadside. At 3:05 pm, I call the agent again. He picks on the third ring.

“Hello, hello. Yes, it’s you I’m waiting for. Start coming to Molegede Bus Stop!”

I spit furiously into the phone.

“Why you no tell me since say I go still come Molegede?! You told me to call you when I get to Meiran! I have been sitting here for an hour waiting for you!”

“Sorry, sorry. Oya start coming. I’m waiting for you!”

He hangs up as I am about to ask him how to get to Molegede Bus Stop. I try to figure out the route myself. I scamper for 10 minutes, crossing to the other side of the express, then back. Sensing my discomposure, a passer-by, an angel, pauses to ask the nature of my problem. I get pointed in the right direction. I hop inside a keke.

My housing agent is a lean, full-bearded guy wearing a sweatshirt from an American university on a hot Tuesday afternoon in Lagos. His skinny jeans are ripped at the knees. He welcomes me into a small shop, then, speaking loudly, orders two wraps of semo and a plate of vegetable soup from the canteen next door. He gobbles down the meal, assuring me between mouthfuls that we will leave soon. With his clean hand, he extends a scrap of paper in my direction, saying, “5k for inspection and the form”.

I hold the form limply in my hand, not bothering to hide the irritation spreading across my face. I watch a speck of orange soup land on the agent’s beard and begin to suspect that this journey has been a waste of my time and money.

My suspicion is confirmed when we finally get around to the proposed house. My time has been wasted and several minutes have passed since 5pm when I board an Ikeja-bound danfo at the Ile Epo bus stop.


I like to sit by the window of the last row whenever I am forced to use the danfo as a means of transportation. It is out of the way and offers a view. The only con is that it leaves no space between your nose and the elbow of the person next to you. This is an important detail because it is partly why I find myself staring into the phone my neighbour is holding. She has the WhatsApp app opened, and I am an accidental spy because when you’re in a bus and the person next to you is on their phone, you look. It is one of the cardinal rules of public transportation.

Of course, the rule is only in effect for the first few seconds, after which, you are obligated to avert your eyes. This is exactly what I would have done…if my brain hadn’t registered the words “I love you”.

I adjust to see my neighbour’s screen better.

 “I am really sorry.”

“Please let’s work this out as a couple.

“I love you.

The timestamps suggest that these messages were sent at 22:36 pm. Some altercation occurred last night. A wave of curiosity hits me and I will my neighbour to scroll higher so I can capture the genesis of the gist. Instead, she shifts and I quickly move my gaze out the window. Two seconds later, my eyes are back on the screen as a fresh set of responses are delivered.

Good morning

Sorry I missed your call
I slept off

I bite back on the urge to offer my unsolicited opinion. I ignore the messages, hunting instead for the contact name. Debbie. She angles the phone away. My body is awash with shame but my neck has developed a mind of its own.

“Oh thank God.

“I am really sorry”

“We are a couple. Please let’s work this out”

“I can’t focus”

While I wait for Debbie to respond, I scan my neighbour from under my lashes. Dark t-shirt, grey sweatpants, hair short and loose under a black face cap, small eyes, small nose, small lips…

My inspection is interrupted by the conductor’s harsh announcement. Courtesy of the driver’s executive decision, the bus is re-routing. All passengers who are not headed to Ikeja, the last bus stop, that is, are advised to alight now. They’ll be handed the rest of their fare and/or assisted in joining another bus going their along-the-way destinations.

Grumbling and mumbling, the passengers come down one by one. I find myself the bus’s sole passenger.

Part 3: Ọjà

I arrive at the ceremony a few minutes after 7pm, sweaty and out of breath. I have walk-jogged down Adeniyi Jones while mentally berating myself for showing up over an hour late, which turns out to be a useless activity since the event hasn’t started at all. Half an hour later, the host offers a clarifying statement concerning the delay while delivering her opening remarks.

“Nobody was here at 6,” she says.

Minutes past 8pm, we arrive at Item 7. I ingest a plate of Chinese rice and sautéed chicken before embarking on the homeward stretch of my journey. It takes some trial and error but I eventually land at Ojota. There I settle into a korope, have a brief spat with the driver over the fare, and finally begin the commute to Yaba. It is now 150 minutes before midnight.

As the mini-bus pulls into a stop to pick up more passengers, a man dashes in and hurriedly parks his body next to me.

“Abeg, make I siddon for back, person dey chase me!”

I eye the newcomer sharply, vexed by his rude interruption of my erstwhile sleepy solitude. Who in the world wears shorts with a button-down shirt AND       dress shoes, all in different colours? Why is he grinning as if someone just whispered a joke in his ear? Was he doused with cold water? Is that why he’s shivering and bobbing his knees like that? And, oh my God, what could possibly be inside that bend-down-Gucci sling bag he is clutching?

The bus zooms off. A beat passes before the conductor addresses the man. “Shey na you those police dey chase?”

“Yes o! I dey inside keke and na so police stop our driver. Be like say na one of those boys wey dey carry ‘things’, but you sabi say as dem stop us, dem go wan pack everybody wey dey inside.”

There is a faint trace of amusement in his voice as he speaks—like he knows a punchline nobody else is aware of. One of the passengers queries him, voice loaded with barely concealed distrust.

“Why you con dey run? Shey you carry drug ni?”

“No o!”

Two stops later, the man is out of the bus.  The suspicious passenger finally confronts the driver. He explodes into vicious Yórùbá. “Ẹ mọ̀ pé ǹkan tẹ she kò make sense!” he says. “Ọjà ni bọ̀bọ́ yẹn gbé sínu bag ẹ̀ now! Tí àwọn police bá dé, gbogbo wa ni wọ́n ma arrest!”

My groggy brain roughly translates the outburst. “Do you know what you did made no sense? That man was carrying ‘market’ in his bag! If the police had caught up, they would have arrested all of us!”

The driver nods, clearly hoping it is enough to appease the passenger who feels he came too close to sleeping in a police cell. In the back seat, I just blink. E

Zulaikhah Oyíndàmọ́lá Àgòrò is a publishing manager at AFREADA. Her work has appeared in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, and BellaNaija. She is currently working on her debut novel.