A Distant Yearning
I knew I was home when I found myself involuntarily assuming the role of the rope in a heated tag of war between two bus conductors. Each tugging hard at either ends of my wrists as my arms threatened to pop out of their sockets. For a while, we swayed violently from side to side and in that moment I assumed that from an outsider’s perspective it looked like one of those coordinated krump battle dances where they push and tag at one of their team members and sometimes thrust them forward so they slide on their head and come to a spinning halt on their opponent’s side to deliver that finisher move. I have to admit it felt nothing like it as each of the two men tried their hardest to get me on their end. My crisp white shirt creased beneath their tight sweaty grip. Passengers and curious passersby looked on with shameless relish. And just as the intensity mounted, the beefy looking conductor sporting a vest adorned in the colours of the national flag, barked in a husky voice,
“I found him first, if you don’t let go I will punch you so hard you’ll swallow your teeth”.
The skinny looking conductor with eyes turning a golden brown and yellowing teeth, totally unmoved by the threat, retorted,
“I’m not afraid of you, I’ve fought and won against men way bigger than you”
And at that, the passengers went crazy. Whistling and egging the two men on. “Basiyeni bamenyane!” Let them fight, one woman exclaimed from a nearby bus window. Evidently excited to be witnessing a fight, where the odds seemed stacked against the skinny conductor’s favour.
Before I could protest, I felt the grip on my right arm loosen and I watched as the skinny conductor scurried in the opposite direction to a group of women that were walking towards the buses. “Allo, sister! Mukwela?” Hey Sister! Are you boarding?, He hollered. They chatted for a bit which was the usual as the people would offer up a fare they were willing to pay and it would be up-to the conductor to either accept or negotiate something higher. It was rare that they would outrightly decline. Wasn’t long before two of the women started to walk away, a sure sign that negotiations had gone south. Relentless in his pursuit the conductor chased after them, pleading until they gave in and he walked them over to where the bus he was manning was parked. When the bus was finally full and started making it’s way out of the station. He poked his head out through the window and yelled mockingly with a satisfied grin on his face revealing his teeth.
“ You got lucky, don’t let me catch you next time”.
“You’re an imbecile!” the beefy conductor replied, obviously irritated as we walked to his bus. I must confess, I was a little disappointed at how short lived the whole incident had been. I hadn’t had that much attention in a while and to have two conductors passionately fight over me was the biggest compliment. I know the whole thing sounds rough and ridiculous, but when you’ve lived in a city where nobody waits for you or the bus doesn’t stop on the side of the road just to pick you up? the Zambian hostility which is really just misplaced passion starts to feel like a necessary part of the trade.
As the bus rode through the city, I stared out the window while I massaged my arms and joints which were now sore thanks to the ordeal. I watched as the sun, now an epic orb of crimson orange fire slowly disappeared amongst the protruding buildings that jutted out through the entire city like crooked teeth. Findeco house towered above us as we rode over the bridge. And my mind drifted.
I began to compare Lusaka with the London way of doing things; the hustle and bustle of it all. Living life in a hurry and always having to run after the train or bus if you happen to be a second late. Always at a quick pace even when you’re going nowhere. It’s almost impossible to take a stroll with someone because it quickly turns into a competition of who can out-walk the other. I reckon the only time anybody ever really gets to genuinely pause for more than 5 seconds is when they go to bed. Even then I’m convinced they are are pacing mentally. And that is why I’d happily settle for a tag of war with two mad men who see me as a prized possession. Somebody worth swallowing their teeth over in a rewarding altercation.