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Adewuyi Taiwo | This Country Eats Dreams

You were in a molue, a rickety, yellow bus with two black stripes, on a congested road back to your house one hot evening. It was in early February, prior to the first rainfall of the year, when the weather was so hot that chickens died in hundreds and a human being sweated like an ice block in the oven. You mopped your face with a white handkerchief that had changed to maroon.

The basket of fermenting tomatoes that the passenger beside you cradled to her chest was tormenting you with its foul odour, and that was not the only thing you could complain about. The woman’s large behind had left you little space to perch your backside on the worn leather seat, so now your spine had gone beyond aching terribly. You felt like you were paralyzed from the waist down.

But the paresthesia did not stop your mind from rewinding.

“How dare you trample on my dreams!” you wanted to scream at that good-looking, middle-aged man who had interviewed you earlier that day. The rain had poured before dawn so everything seemed to have a deeper colour when the sun took over.

“Mr Elliot, you are intelligent and eloquent. You also know how to naturally relate well with people. But it is quite unfortunate that we don’t have any position available for you in our establishment for now,” he announced, as though he expected you to accept defeat just like that. “We are very sorry for wasting your time.”

It was how he smiled while making his last statement that made you lunge for his expensive tie. His smile was the pitiless smile of a man used to burying dreams for a living. It was the smile of a man who knew that by his words he could be sentencing you to death by suicide, because in Lagos mainland, Nigeria, you either had a job or you asked a Dangote truck to run you over. But it was part of his job not to care, and over the years, he had sadistically reveled in the joy of causing sorrow to hapless graduates like you who were not born with a multinational company ready to be inherited at any time.

Using the tie to pull him closer, you tried to give him the best slap of his life but he reacted in time, catching your hand in midair, while his personal assistant pealed for security. You were bundled out of the organization like trash.

How would you tell your fiancée that your road to a promising future had met another dead end? She would nag at you while pretending to encourage you at the same time. Afterwards, she would threaten to leave you for a better man whose name always kept changing anytime you had an argument. Last night when you quarreled over the last piece of ponmo, boiled cow hide, that she had selfishly popped into her mouth at supper when you weren’t looking, she had called his name Desmond, not Abayomi, a Yoruba name, or Ibekwe, an Igbo name.

Even his profession had changed. He was now a neurosurgeon. Wasn’t he a young lecturer in the University of Boston? Two hours later, when the entire neighbourhood had gone to sleep in preparation for the next day, she was still reminding you of how she had been the one feeding herself and you, paying the monthly house rent and on top of all that, doing all the house chores because you were too busy trekking the city like, in her exact words, an Israelite in the wilderness, searching for a job.

You had met her at a funeral in Sagamu. Your cousin had casually introduced her to you, adding quite innocently at the end of his statement that you two would make a nice couple since you were both as thin as threads. Sometime later, you noticed that she kept staring at you whenever you cracked your jokes. Then due to a heavy downpour that night, she ended up sleeping at your place, and that was how she started performing wifely duties to you.

You managed a squalid house in the ghettos, where you lived in a small room that had wide cracks on the walls and a menagerie of pests and arthropods. Your nightly incense of burning mosquito repellent coils did little to ward off the battalions of bloodsuckers that flooded into the room through the rips in the window netting. The landlord would soon come to demand for the rent and you had already prepared a convincing lie that would make him feel like a wicked creature for bothering you with rent in your pitiful state. He had a tendency to sigh dramatically and shake his bald, deeply furrowed head after receiving a heavy dose of your lies. You liked his gullibility; or perhaps his fatherly understanding, because he sometimes offered you his meagre supper if he found your story more touching than the previous ones.

The box of matches you had left on the window had become sodden from the rain that seeped inside, so you could not make a fire to boil the noodles you wanted her to eat for supper. Seeing you frustrated, flicking matchstick after matchstick at the nylon of refuse beside your door, she inched closer to you, inadvertently brushing her pendulous breasts against your back. Your body became hard immediately.

 She collected the match box and with one deft swipe, ignited the stick.

That night, you found your arms around her and her head nestled against your chest. You blamed the cold night.

She kept visiting you often after that. Until one day when she brought her belongings permanently.

 You planned to have paid her bride price by now but your marital dream was another dream the country had eaten.

Abeg, I wan drop,” the conductor suddenly announced to the driver in pidgin English. He put his mouth close to your temple when he spoke, so that coming back to reality, you tried to figure out if a refuse dump would smell more tolerable than his mouth or not. Well, you thought it smelled worse. Turning around, you expertly spat into the maggot-rich drain at the side of the road.

Wetin?” the driver bellowed, irritably, nearly knocking off the tray of milk cheese on the head of a barely ten-year-old girl who had crossed the road carelessly. He turned back to fire some insults at the girl and her parents.

I no wan go again! Give me my money make I dey go my house!” the conductor shouted hoarsely.

The bus screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, almost causing an accident. In no time, the vehicles behind your bus started honking wildly. Curses followed afterwards. Meanwhile, your driver and his conductor were having their own insult contest inside the bus. The other passengers were either trying to placate them or join in. As a graduate, you tried to act civilized by ignoring the hullabaloo, and focusing rather on the blind beggar whose eyes were looking in your direction.

Of course, you knew he was not blind. He was only pretending. You saw a scrawny teenager take a note out of his pocket and drop it among the uncountable notes in the beggar’s cap. You wanted to yell at him to stop being stupid, that under the beggar’s tattered top were two big nylon bags of money. You had seen him put his hands inside them some minutes ago. But you kept quiet since you understood that everyone was just doing their best and their worst to make money. You still kept quiet when the teenager reached into a woman’s bag moments later and removed her purse. You did not call him a thief because if you did, the market thugs would put a tyre around his neck and burn him in the middle of the road.

The young girl, the beggar and the thief must have had dreams too. Eaten dreams.

The driver threw some crumpled notes at the conductor who grumbled as he picked them up. Without a second glance, he disappeared among the torrents of people. But before leaving, he licked his lips and pronounced a curse on everyone in the bus, that none of you would get home alive.

You watched him leave with a frown on your face. You could almost imagine his failed dreams. Although he swaggered across the road, you could notice the uncertainty in his steps. It was the uncertainty of a man who didn’t know where he was going in this country.

“Can we go now?” you asked the driver, leaning forward to see beyond the big basket of tomatoes and also to ease the paralyzing ache in your back. The driver blinked at you for a few seconds after you spoke because he knew that statement was a phonetical assault to prove your academic superiority.

“Yes, we can go now,” he responded, trying to sound British like you. He started the bus and the journey continued. Every now and then, the driver stole glances at you while you were mentally counting the notes the conductor had received. You didn’t know that he could also see that this country had eaten your dreams and left you dejected and clueless about your future. He knew you were a wanderer like the conductor, despite your impeccable English. He was a wanderer too. His dreams of going to school had been eaten by the country. But while you had English, he had a job.

You go fit be my conductor?” he suddenly asked you.

Immediately, you pictured yourself in a dirty singlet and tattered jeans screaming hoarsely the names of bus-stops, the upper part of your body bending out of the side window with your shirt tied around your sweating head like a scarf. You felt repulsed. God forbid!

Then the scene changed. You were counting the notes that the driver just gave you. The notes were old, torn, sellotaped, etc., but they were still money anyway. An amount like that would not change your story but it could save your day, for each day, until you could get a good job. It would help you fare better than you were now, feeding on the meager salary that your fiancée got as a teacher in a primary school owned by the proprietor’s late brother, that taught its few pupils inside an uncompleted house roofed with tarpaulin.

Of course, your fiancée would detest this conductor work. But you would rather break up with her than remain broke.

An unspoken conversation followed between you and the driver, between your eyes and his. He nodded, knowing.

 It was better to chew cheap food in a tiny shack at a motor park surrounded by fat flies than chew empty English words polished with the British accent.

At the last bus-stop, you took off your shirt and cleared your throat.


Image: Meta Llama AI remixed

Adewuyi Taiwo
Adewuyi Taiwo
Adewuyi Taiwo is a writer from Ibadan, Nigeria. He likes watching bats flying at sunset after a long day at work. His works have been published in the Eboquills anthology, Writers Space Africa, Kalahari review and elsewhere. | X: @TaiwoAdewuyi8

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