The Meddler's Right

by - September 21, 2017

Chronicles of Paulinus

There's this annoying thing about prying; mostly when it's premised on fault-finding. It makes me sick in the pit of my stomach. It makes me insecure like we're always surrounded by swarms of busybodies who feel religiously obliged to meddle in others' affairs even when it mattered little to them. I wouldn't have had any idea of this had it been I didn't travel today, and that is the story I’m about to tell you.
 In our bus was this woman, strangely seated in a way that demeaned her to a static, embodied mass of neurones - impassive. She folded her arms over her handbag, clutching it like a stubborn toddler who would slip through her at the slightest release of her hand. She appeared reticent until few minutes after our departure when she bellowed, 'let us pray'. Without waiting for the passengers, who appeared consumed in their varied engagements, to give their consent she launched her prayer with a command: 'men removes caps, women covers headscarf.' The grammatical mutilation whacked my ears with such a bang that left them tingling for an unknown duration. Then the prayer started.

For Christ sake, we'd Muslims in the bus even the supposed Christians did not share almost the same faith with her. She didn't know that, or, maybe she did only that she seemed to have convinced herself that she had to 'convict' us all for Christ. We started growing weary of the lingering prayer; gradually annoyance was swelling into fury. The prayer lingered for an hour and some minutes. I know this coz I was constantly eying my wristwatch. At long last, she stopped. There was a muffled puff of respite from some of us who were gradually becoming aware of the impending discomfort that would come from crumpling our legs in the tiny spaces that were callously crammed with luggage.  

Everyone sat relaxed - so I suppose - seeing the way some brought out their expensive phones to flash at their presumably poor neighbours (since they appeared 'phoneless'.) I was among them - the 'phone-flashers'. But that was another twist in the journey I didn’t see coming. I was about sniff through the endlessly disgusting excreta of peeping and meddling. 

I was sincerely feeling bored. I had voraciously consumed Chimamanda Adichie's Dear Ijeawele which I bought the previous day from Booksellers Ibadan for companionship during the six hours nerve-wracking journey. I took a dulling overdose of sleep and while waking up, I looked, looked, and looked until my eyes seared with 'over-looking'. So I got sincerely bored. 

I flicked my phone to life and opened my Whatsapp. I saw streams of unread messages. I started scrolling; replying those that needed a reply and skipping those that needed my generous snubbing. Unfortunately, as I’ll later know, the woman who prayed in the bus was seated shoulder-to-shoulder beside me, gawking at my messages with such ravenous stare that enraged me. I couldn't type a letter without her swooping down those probing eyes.

'This thing is of the kingdom of hellfire to lead you people to hell,' she said, sanctimoniously. 

I fired a defiant glance at her but she was unflinching. She seemed like one in her early fifties, I should respect her, so said the unwritten code of social norms. 
I went back online trying so hard to repress the heart-rending urge to throw a bad word. 

'Close that nonsense and if you must read take this my bible and read instead.' She stretched out her Bible, 'King James' boldly written on raised print. It was well-worn indicating overuse or outright carelessness.  

'Ma'am I'm not disturbing you I guess?' I said, ignoring the raised Bible before me. ‘Besides I’ve an e-bible in my phone.’

'Close it I say, you young people can't here fiiim, who tell you e-bible is Bible?' her voice was now trailed with a command.

'Ma'am please I've heard what you said but I still have the choice to accept or to refuse your advice,' I feigned undaunted even when my mouth had started getting the rancid taste of adrenalin. 

'I am an evangelist and I go tell the right thing to you. For now, you go obey me and when you go out do what you like,' she covered my phone with her left hand, wrinkles and veins jutting out angrily on the back of her palm.

Her voice swallowed the creaking noise of the engine and eventually drew the attention of other passengers. The man behind me - with an intimidating moustache - said, 'don't you see she's old enough to be your mother?' In a matter of minutes, everyone leveraged on the fact that she’s elderly and pounced abusive words on me to obey her. I became the little devil in the bus. It made me think: should I accept her opinion on the basis of age and not reason. I didn't see any reason we should consider rightness or wrongness upon one's age. For goodness sake, her opinion was a mockery of wisdom which is often associated with old age by our society. Even my father had told me that a traveller is wiser than a grey-haired man. 

I swallowed my bitter anger; it stiffened my heart and for what seemed like a speck of eternity I imagined reason being slaughtered on the table of public opinion. I felt embarrassed but mostly annoyed that our society had made reason no more than a subservient of age. Stepping outside the bus and inhaling the dusty air of Onitsha  I said, 'I must write this experience.' And that is what you’ve just read. 

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