Brain Surgery on the Highway & Other Manic Expressions is collection of eleven stories holding a satirical mirror to contemporary Nigerian and British life. In the title story, an itinerant medicine seller tries to separate passengers in a Molue bus from their money. In other parts of the book, a manic millionaire and a schizophrenic advertisement executive attempt to explain away life with mathematical theories;a psychopathic writer is creating a deadly reality show that is not meant for television; and in the wilderness of Brixton an unemployed man contemplating a sojourn abroad is drawn into a grim glimpse into the pitiful life of immigrants. From the first to last page the book is filled with emotional disasters.
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Brain Surgery on the Highway
About the Author
Rotimi ‘Timi’ Ogunjobi is publisher of both The Redbridge Review and Lagos Literary and Arts Journal. His many published books include non-fiction, novels, short story collections, plays and poetry.
He is a software engineer, technical author and President of Cognisci ISTD Foundation, an IT development NGO.
Lagos Literary and Arts Journal Imprint
© 2010 Rotimi Ogunjobi
Brain Surgery on the Highway
was previously published in Queens Quarterly (2002).
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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Published by xceedia (media and publishing)
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to places, events and persons, in the past, present or future exist only in your own mind; not mine.
These stories are from a time when the highways of Lagos were still ruled by dangerously decrepit buses known as the Molue
My shit is heavy.
Emeka was feeling so very excited. He had no idea how it had occurred, but there it was. He’d woken up that very morning to find out that he could read people’s mind. Not only could he listen into what people were thinking; he could also rummage into their past, and see far into their future. And that to Emeka was all so very cool.
Emeka was excited at the new opportunities that this situation had suddenly made possible. Fact was that he had gone to sleep just the previous day, unemployed and hopeless, but had woken up with the whole world in his hands. With this newly acquired supernatural power, the opportunities now abounded to become extremely rich. He could take a shot at becoming a business advisor, or a sure-fire stock market investment advisor, a gambler’s sidekick, or a professional fortune teller. The opportunities had indeed become limitless. However, Emeka realised that he needed to be more careful. If for example, the police learnt of this new power of his, he would be ceaselessly consulted to find criminals and missing things; and that certainly would not go down well with the persons of the underworld. It would indeed be a quick way to an early grave. Therefore Emeka thought it very wise to keep it all to himself as much as possible. It was quite a fantastic thing that had happened to him, but there was no point in allowing it all to make his life more complicated than it presently was.
At the moment, he was in a bus. He was in a big crowded Lagos Molue bus - a mental eavesdropper’s paradise. And the bus was filled with an assortment of people; some of whom you already know, most of whom you wouldn’t wish to know. There was a whole gallimaufry of characters: the good, the mad and the hungry. More worrying to Emeka however was that he could also feel a great deal of ghostly presence - emotions so heavy that they have been unable to disembark with their progenitors. He could actually see them as if they were real and solid. The confident repose of these congealed apparitions made Emeka uneasy. They jostled with one another for sitting space, and the entire bus was saturated with their countenances. Nevertheless, Emeka resolved to have a delightful time reading the thoughts of the many human passengers; and they were so lyrical.
‘Please pocket your bad temperament. No fighting. Hold your correct change. And dress well for the passenger beside you in this bus.’ So declared an informatory sticker sign placed in several locations inside the bus. Emeka sat back to enjoy what promised to be a very interesting adventure. Anything could happen on a Lagos Molue bus. You could get cured, get robbed, or get saved. A forced marriage was at this time in progress
‘I want my bloody change,’ a bellicose passenger was screaming at the half-naked bus conductor.
‘I don’t have any change to give you,’ replied the other with equal aggression.
‘Don’t mess with me, you bloody crook. I want my change.’
‘You must have been blind not to see the sign. Enter with your correct change - that is what it says,’ the conductor rudely educated.
‘Of course I can read, but it takes a prize idiot to put such a notice inside a bus. Tell me, how is anybody supposed to be able to read your stupid sign before entering your stupid bus? Tell me, you drug head.’
But the conductor roughly elbowed his way along the crowded aisle. He had more urgent business to pursue - such as seeking another fool needing change, so that he could join both together at the end of the trip to go away and find a solution to the bothersome change problem.
Emeka reflected philosophically on how this analogised real marriages - two people wanting change. And so they become wedded together by a catalysing event or entity; after which they spent time seeking means of resorting the change issue, so that each could afterward depart their separate ways.
My shit is heavy.
Nearer the back of the bus stood Bobo - the original Lagos dude. Bobo wore Hillier, Gucci, Rolex, Ray Bans, Versace and even designer underwear; but wouldn’t be caught dead pissing in a proper toilet. Bobo believed in a life of excitement - sanitation police to watch out for while painting a wall with urine, the chance of a good brawl to spice up the day, booze, girls, and parties forever. Amen.
Bobo was also smart enough never to board a Molue bus at a major terminus, and never when the bus is standing. As every intelligent person knew, to avoid paying the fare, you always boarded at one of the million random stop along the route, then you can at the worst engage in an argument with the conductor over how many times one is required to pay the fare. Now, this is Lagos. And the most important lesson to learn was never to part with money or anything for that matter without a fuss. Slip up on this, and all sort of people queue daily at your doorstep to use you as practice to gain self-confidence for the day. And Bobo was no fool. He’s a street-smart dude. Bobo greeted the red-eyed conductor with a cold blank stare.
‘Your money?’ the conductor demanded with a hand aggressively outstretched.
The silent eyeballing usually worked. But Bobo decided on this occasion not to push his luck too far. He reached into his pocket and found air. Seized by panic, he frantically searched all his other pockets to no avail. He had been robbed of his wallet.
The conductor was not impressed. He had of course seen better tricks than this and no chicanery was beyond his comprehension. The conductor was a street hoodlum on a sabbatical; a graduate of Hazard University, with a first class degree in Aggression. And at the end of the trip, Bobo was going to get one foot of his new Nike shoes confiscated by the bus conductor as punishment for having the audacity to attempt a free ride on his bus. Judgment day for Bobo. But no, this particular thinking was not coming from Bobo, Emeka decided.
My shit is heavy.
Dede Kwango was a security guard, and he was returning home from night shift duty. Still dressed up in his uniform, he was sprawled all over his immediate co-passenger, his brain pickled in gin. With eight children and an evil salary, Dede Kwango constantly strived to purge his consciousness of the rag-clad children moving towards certain kwashiorkor. The gin made everything possible.
‘Congratulations, Mr. Kwango, your wife has just given birth to twin daughters,’ the hospital nurse had cheerfully told him the previous afternoon.
‘Thank you very much,’ Dede Kwango had nervously stammered.
Indeed Dede Kwango had not known whether to weep or to be happy. Thank God however for the booze. It made the news easy to bear. The news had shrunk him all the way down to his testicles, and his spine felt like a rubber pole. Indeed it felt as if he had been kept erect only by his heavily starched uniform. But thank God also for the booze. Again newly fortified at a roadside liquor kiosk, he felt a lot better and in a different world where he was in better control - a world in which hard perspectives, hard realities evaporate into a fuzzy cloud. Here in the spirit world invincibility was taken for granted, because common sense and all pertaining to it had no place to stand and so were forever vanquished. All which remained were illusions, and they couldn’t hurt because they were not real. The booze always settled his problems.
He was feeling a lot more confident now. And sitting inside the bus on the way to visit his wife Stella in the maternity hospital, he was dreaming. Whether Dede Kwango was awake or asleep Emeka was not exactly sure, but Dede Kwango was dreaming anyway. He was dreaming of naked prostitutes swimming in a river of gin.
There were a couple of hustlers from up-country, seeking an opportunity to sell their bogus wares. One wove the spiel and the second hectored along to draw and maintain the interest of the other unsuspecting passengers.
‘Fellow travellers on this bus; I greet you and congratulate you because today is your lucky day. Today is the day that you will have the opportunity to free yourself forever from the many miseries of life. I used to live in much fear and poverty. Bad luck followed me everywhere, even to the toilet.’
‘That’s true; anyone can just see that by looking at you,’ the second was laughing. The first hustler feigned annoyance then continued.
‘Then one day, I had the greatest fortune of my life. I met a man; only he was no ordinary man as I later found out, but an angel sent to me. It was revealed to me by this angel that a great number of witches, wizards and demons were behind all my problems. This angel had been sent to release me from their bondage.’
‘And how did he achieve that?’ the second encouraged.
‘Fellow travellers on this bus, the angel gave me this necklace that you see me wearing. Since that time, my life has changed for the better. Peace came into my life and I have ceased to have money worries. Not only that. For as long as the chain remained on my neck, death could not touch me. That was the promise of the angel before he went away. But before he departed, he gave me seventy of these necklaces with the instructions that I sell them to seventy deserving people, pure in heart, for only seven hundred Naira each, and to give the money to seven motherless children’s homes. So if you happen to have such an amount on you presently, I urge you to consider that God has sent me to you to relieve you of all your suffering. Therefore do not let this opportunity pass you by. You have only seven minutes to do this, after which our paths may never cross again and if it does, it might be too late,’ the hustler admonished.
A Christian evangelist took the stage next - delivering a rather acerbic sermon, which rather unnerved many of the passengers.
‘You’ve got to be born again,’ he had concluded in summary. ‘You must be born again, else prepare to make Hell your permanent home for all eternity.’
Kwango, deep from within his soporific haze, wondered hopefully how this new profession of being born again could help his present circumstances.
‘You were insulting my Allah,’ a militant Moslem stood to accuse the Christian evangelist, with an angrily wielded finger. So began a lengthy religious war as the passengers took sides – each according to their different faith.
‘Now, now, I don’t want any fighting in my bus,’ the conductor loudly declared. ‘I don’t care how many times anyone may claim to have been born again, if you dare damage my bus, I want you to remember that it is appointed unto man to die once - Hebrews nine, twenty seven,’ he mimicked the evangelist.
Emeka presently didn’t anymore consider himself a believer in any kind of spiritual matters. The unrelenting pains of adversity had beaten all faith out of him. It had been two years since he left university, and all his shoes were worn to tatters from the endless pursuit of the persistently elusive job. He had wondered always, why God could have remained so cruel to him and in complete disregard of his needs both as a human being and as a praying believer. Thus he sat smugly looking on: an apostate content.
Emeka could also smell love wafting by - love thickening, love dispersing. There was the henpecked clerk who was thinking, and quite correctly, that his secretary wife was having an affair with her boss; and to top his indignation, she was permitting him no sex. At the end of the trip the conductor would marry him off to a real prostitute. A mutually satisfactory relationship would develop, and they would get married months later. And obladi oblada, life goes on. There were also these two love besotted young university students, but they weren’t going to make it to the end. The girl would soon get tired of waiting for her sweetheart to get a job, and settle for the more sensible option of becoming part of the harem of a rich illiterate businessman with six other wives. There was also lust - a lot of it. The air was thick with its mustiness. There was mental sexing. There was the desire to get rubbed and mauled incognito.
My shit is heavy.
Madness, Emeka decided, was the most palpable presence in the air. But there was this persistent impression desperately yearning to be heard above all else.
‘My name is Black; Larry Black.’ The voice appeared to be identifying himself for Emeka’s benefit. ‘I’m black and proud, man,’ it loudly asserted.
Emeka finally located Larry Black where he was sitting near the front and behind the bus driver. Larry Black had not been his real name of course, but that by which he had come to be known in his sojourn in America before Larry suffered an unfortunate deportation for vagrancy. But everything was now cool again; Larry Black had found a more purposeful meaning to life in his newly discovered negritude. He was now heavy into the music of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, U-Roy, I-Roy, and also a Rastafarian poet named Shango Baku He was also heavy into smoking the holy weed.
My shit is heavy. Larry was paraphrasing Baku in his head.
Those that look into my face see a thousand shapes of what they do not know. Yet they look and become afraid. Shocking is my image, shocking my thought, word and action. And this is not contrived. It is the effect of my presence that I have learned to measure for my own convenience that I might know where I am at within the shocking world.
In fact Larry was at the moment reading from a pamphlet titled - On The Dread Level. The pamphlet was like a catechism to Larry. This particular passage was like a mystical mantra, a psalm around which his convoluted existence revolved. Irie itations.
Over the past few months Larry had become completely convinced that he knew the cause of all the problems of the country, and indeed of the world. And he was this very day determined to solve them all once and for all. In the small plastic sack tucked between his legs were six packets of KNOCKOUT firecrackers. Larry was on his way to the Defence Headquarters at Race Course, and his plan this day was to blow the damned place to hell.
Nyabinghi. Death to the bloodsuckers. Death to warmongers.
Somewhere along the way however, Larry would detect in Dede Kwango an obvious military spy pretending to be drunk and asleep. Larry would thus become convinced that his cover has been blown by the SSS - the State Security Service. The Ess Ess gaddemn Ess. His mission has been discovered. Therefore he would need to affect a disguise to stay ahead of the pigs of Babylon. And thus, Larry would shed his clothes, grow real Rastafarian dreadlocks and thus perfectly disguised, Larry would joyfully ply the streets clean naked without a stitch on.
Heavy is my shit. Heavy is my shit. Selah.
Emeka was beginning to get worried. Not only had the thoughts begun to come to him in torrents now. Indeed he could no more make any sense of the mental Okra soup. He had also just discovered that not only were the ghosts laughing along with him, some of them were indeed laughing at him. A terrifying music was building up in intensity inside the bus. It was music of utter melancholy – a cacophony of sonatas in Woe Major. It contained full octaves of lugubrious notes. There was do for dolour, re for remorse, mi for misery, fa for famish, so for sorrow, la for lamentations, te for tedium; and a higher do for consonantal docility. There were maddening choruses; there were frantic librettos torn from troubled hearts. They lingered on Emeka’s sentience like starved leeches. Emeka could hear them all and he wished that he couldn’t.
The driver of the Molue was shirtless; though Emeka was more concerned that he couldn’t read the driver’s thoughts. The driver’s brain was missing. But never mind, he consoled himself, you don’t need a shirt or brain to drive a Lagos Molue bus. You only need to be an imbecile. The driver was a licensed imbecile.
Go on, bus! The bus conductor lustily encouraged.
It all began to come back to Emeka now. Only the previous evening, he had been returning home from yet another fruitless job search. The bus had been speeding. It had been going much too fast and there were not a few of the passengers who expressed their displeasure at this; only their complaints made the bus driver go even faster in anger at the affront. Emeka remembered the loud explosion, of a bursting tyre. He remembered the bus rolling over, tumbling on the road a couple of times, and right off the bridge into the dark water of the Osa lagoon beneath. Emeka wondered how he had escaped.
The ghosts were laughing aloud now. One of them playfully touched him and Emeka could feel the hard dead finger upon his skin. Emeka screamed. But as he was indeed one of the ghosts, none of the living passengers could hear him.
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