He and his mother had always sat in the front seats when she accompanied him to military school in Zaria.
All through the journey from Ibadan to Zaria, his mother would hold his hand and he would look out of the window, Ogbomoso, to Jebba, to Kutiwenji, the Machuchi, breathing in the changing air and the landscape changing, and the people changing, growing leaner and more dignified, calmer and more reposed. It was years later, reading the memoirs of a colonial officer, that he realized that he had seen the north like a white man, looking for differences: thinner noses, taller grass, different God.
Even at sixteen, he had known it was partly rubbish, the dross of an empire, the dregs of a martial philosophy that had led countless Africans fight for ‘King and Country’. But there had been something seductive about it, something about these military principles, stated like the first principles that governed the world: honour, chivalry, duty.
Evening was falling. The bus was filling. A couple boarded, the man’s frayed Bible held to his chest, the woman in a skirt that covered her ankles, her earlobes smooth and unpierced, her neck and wrists bare of jewellery. A man was moving from bus to bus. peering inside and then darting to the next one. He disappeared into one of luxurious buses, behemoth American import as large as whales. A moment later, like Jonah spat out, the man came rushing down.
Their trail had been picked up from the guns abandoned in the bush, their movement traced to this motor park. Were they so important? Would the Colonel expend so much energy to find him and Yemi? The man was only a few buses away. Chike recognised the brown singlet he had spent the morning walking behind.
When had Fineboy picked up his name? He was knocking on the side of the bus now.
‘You know him?’ the driver asked.
‘Brother Chike. please. I need to talk to you.
Brother. Such respect. The boy had put his hand through
the window, stopping just short of touching his arm.
‘I know him,’ he said, opening the bus door.
‘Na why you dey answer this boy?’
‘Don’t let anyone take my seat,’ Chike said to Yemi
Chike climbed down and faced him.
’Yes. What do you want?’
‘Please can we move away?’
There was a carcass of a lorry stripped to its frame, resting on its side and waiting for the resurrection to rise again. A rubbish heap grew like a shrub beside it, emptying the area of passers-by. Fineboy led him there.
‘I need to get out of Yenagoa tonight.’
Excerpted from Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo, first published by Faber &Faber Ltd, London, in 2017.