I am in the bus among the myriad of other vehicles slowly crawling along Badagry Expressway toward CMS. It’s not one of those smaller buses, I am in a big Molue with hard wood backed and metal framed seats. The engine sounds like a fifteen year old Alsatian attempting a menacing growl while suffering from the late stages of whooping cough. It will seem to die out, then when the bare bodied driver puts foot to the gas, it gurgles back to life. This bus is large enough to give the conductor the right to cram us five passengers deep in a seat. It is warm and I’m already perspiring, the beads of sweat on my forehead have gathered into rivulets and coursed down to form a thin pool in the hollow of my neck.

This is Lagos and in Nigeria we have high tolerance for suffering so I’m not crying. I rather switch seats into a more comfortable position when an elderly lady with an afro of greasy grey hair disembarks at Mile 2. I plug in my ear piece, set my ‘Soul’ playlist and settle down. I watch the sidewalk keenly with hawk eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of my friend.
 J. Festus is a nice person. He is my friend although he has no knowledge of my existence. I know him because his name along with his staff number, 003115, is clearly stitched above the ragged monochrome epaulets of his white and leaf green NURTW polyester uniform.

He is the highlight of my morning bus rides to Orile bus stop. I usually spot him before my bus gets to the stretch of sidewalk that he usually prowls. I admired and befriended him the second consecutive morning I found him at about the same Coker bus stop shaking down a bus conductor for the daily N200. He never led the charges but was very committed to the mission of revenue collection. He contributes to the Lagos the mega city project by putting up the appearance of a tough lieutenant and echoing all the threats uttered by their black faced mustachioed ring leader. Tax has to be raised even if a few side mirrors have to break.

He would stutter, stamp his feet and make menacing faces. This never quite hides or takes away the possibility that he could flee if the altercation progresses from verbal to physical. His hesitant body language suggests that he would. I have observed him several times.

When he is not contributing his coarse Yoruba bawls to shake down defaulting motorists, he does a gangster lean on the concrete PHCN pole beside the Julius Berger “JB” sign plate on the edge of the bridge. I have never seen him squat or sit on the concrete bareer like his colleagues usually do. In his heart he wants to be the bad guy, the standup guy, the boss and has to live the part. Or so I think.

I am a people watcher and after a couple of J. Festus sightings I have come to some conclusions about him. I may be wrong but I’ve noticed that he’s neither physically strong nor particularly brave. I have seen a fire in him. I have perceived his ambition to be that which he naturally is not as a result of his circumstances. I admire and respect that! Asides from the money he makes to assuage his physiological needs of Ewa goin and Orijin for breakfast, I see he feels the need to contribute to a worthy cause and establish his niche on this highway. Maybe he wants to be the NURTW chairman someday.

Yesterday I did not see him when I passed and that was unusual. He is usually as true as time. He had never missed a day before. Is he sick? I wonder. Has he travelled? I doubt. Is he dead? Under my breath, I pray he isn’t. My friend’s welfare had occurred to me a couple more times during the past day but my own personal worries had soon relegated the thought. But this morning he sprints back into my consciousness the moment I catch sight of the electronic billboard at Festac 1st Gate. So I lean away from the stifling body odour of the middle age man who has just boarded and chosen to sit next to me despite all the empty sits. I ignore his sweaty garlicky ooze as I point out hawk eyes to keenly observe the side walk. I hope to catch the blunt features and squinty eyes of J. Festus, 003115.

I wonder whether the J in his name stands for James, Jeremiah or Japhet like Omojuwa’s. I am fast losing hope when we go past his usual lamp post and he isn’t there but I heave a sigh when I find him munching an egg roll and moving his oily lips in animated conversation with the girl hawker as she counts out his change. I heave a huge sigh of relief because my friend is fine. I wonder where he went yesterday. I admire him because he personifies bravery, commitment and ambition at the grass roots. To me he is a model of sorts.

I am reminded by a lesson in an improbable place that there are role models on every level.

NOTICE TO NURTW TAX COLLECTORS AND AREA BOYS: Abeg this tory na gbobo. Na mistake if the matter resemble person, or area, or waka when dey happen. Make una no vex, na play I dey.

Kuby Uyanga was seven years old when his father paid him five naira to read and accurately re-tell the story in an illustrated book. His lust for silver coins motivated him to convincingly complete the task. He made sure to recount the story properly so those silver pieces of metal joy could jingle in his pocket. A spark for story telling had been ignited. Over twenty years later — seven spent studying and practicing Structural Engineering, have not succeeded in extinguishing the ensuing combustion. Today he writes stories, screenplays and copy professionally. He also moonlights as an actor in Lagos. View all posts by Kuby Uyanga

Originally published at on January 4, 2016.

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