Bus terminals, train stations, airports, seaports and subways all have something in common; people. But these people are quite different in ways we do not often take note of. Whenever I travel I try to make out time to observe people.
Sometimes I’m caught in my own world and will not notice the little girl tugging her mother’s skirt clutching a bag of popcorn on the other hand, tears dropping freely asking for attention while the mother is caught with figuring out what makes the eight month old in her arms cry ceaselessly, refusing to eat anything or how to attend to the needs of an overbearing four year old that choose the waiting wing to sort for a cuddle and a good night kiss at 1:30pm.
I get so busy with being me that I am oblivious to the existence of the father locking his wife and three kids in a gripping group hug because he will be away for quite a while.
Sometimes, the wisp of a perfume attack my nostrils causing my head to turn and notice the lady beside me. Her nails neatly polished, head covered with Brazilian hair, pink earphone buried in her ears, eyes fixed on her phone, fingers tapping at its screen responding to messages, and the occasional giggle actuating her dimples.
There are days I see the old couple who see me too and they would shrug their shoulder, bat their eyelids, nod their head so little that none would notice, followed by a simple smile. No words said. But we understand fully each other. They saying it is possible to love beyond 72 and my response, “I can see that.”
Other days, I do not notice the flight crew waiting like everyone else. Sharing familiar jokes, low high fives, soft laughter buried in hush tunes and the married Captain flirting with his hot air hostess. My eyes often wander to the flight schedules displayed on huge screens, the ETA, ETD and Destination of several flights would hunt me. Taunt me about the different directions we all seem to travel. Thoughts of stoways, No-shows,deportees, smugglers,drug pedlers, suicide bombers, hijackers and their ilk would flood my head. They could be anyone here, hidden in plain sight, hugging and kissing goodbye while their true intention remain locked deep in their hearts.
Some days while I go through security I observe the guard observe me. Hands covered in white gloves, frisk me and then wad his handheld scanner across my body or lead me into a full body scanner. I observe other people go through the same ritual. Occasionally a female will accuse a male guard of being too touchy and once I heard a man thank a female guard for the massage, with a mischievous grin spread on his face.
There are days when looking for my own luggage I do not care about those looking for theirs. My eyes would remain fixed at the baggage carousel , reading tags and frequently pull a random bag from the track because I thought it was mine. Some days I do not hear the grateful “thank you” from the owner. While on other times the accusing look on the owner’s eyes as he pluck his bags from my hands hunt me for days. And I wonder, “Do I really look like a thief? ”
Other days, the voice of the agbero yelling, “oga nah one chance remain” forces me to notice him. My head turn and I see him, he looks at me but doesn’t see me. His eyes fixed at the three friends dragging their huge bags while fighting off touts who do not even care what their destination is. I notice the agbero’s wornout T-shirt with the words “No Food For Lazy Man” boldly printed on it, his rugged jean and feet swallowed by slippers a size too small. I notice the sternest of his face, the tattoo running from his lips, just escaping his right eye. Tattoo drawn by broken bottle and clenched fist.
I notice the bus a few meters away and the army of hawkers swamp around it as bees hover over an honey comb. Forcing sachet water, Lacasera, Gala, boiled corn and other edibles through windows to hungry passengers sweating in an Air Conditionless bus, patience running low because the driver said 30 minutes ago he would be leaving the park 10 minutes later for the third time.
Some days I am not so much in a hurry, so I pay more attention to the ticket vendor. She would wordlessly collect cash, punch her keyboard, tear out tickets from the tiny printer, handover the tickets and remaining change when necessary, and mutter a thank you. She would raise her head, look at the never ending queue dwindle and sometimes all shades of exhaustion would be dabbed on her face because the queue is longer than the last time she checked. The words of angry customers filter into her ear, some say she lacks enthusiasm, accuse her of being too slow and recommend she be sacked.
Regularly in my struggle to scuttle into an over crowded train I do not notice the pickpocket who slips her hand with a stealth finesse a leopard cannot afford into an unsuspecting man’s pocket. Rid him of his wallet and cell phone, and subsequently force her way out of the coach to seek for the next victim to devour.
On some days I would watch a lone pedestrian walk on like the train is not fast enough, or maybe her purse is not large enough.
I would sit sometimes, my eyes roving. I take in the sight of the preacher, with a huge dog-eared bible under his left arm. Sharing the goodnews to travelers and later ask them to sow bountiful seed to secure their Journey mercy after baptising them with his spittle. I would smile and watch him move to the next vehicle, spreading the goodnews that will fill his pocket. Maybe he too needs salvation.
“We are all in transit,” I would tell myself. Going somewhere and sometimes we do not even know where the somewhere is. Sometimes we tag along, become travel buddy to others or we see them off to the airport and watch their flights taxi off the runaway. Other times, we are the ones leaving an old life behind to start something new. We forsake the safe and familiar for the new and mysterious. Our hearts pant heavily as we remember memories we will soon forget, lost in the continues movement of time.
Whenever I’m in an airport, a train station, a bus terminal, a seaport, I look at the people around me and wonder,
“Where do we go from here?”
Here being this life.