Jesus, if I survive this, I won’t board the night bus again.

These were the words I muttered as the driver of the twelve-seater bus I was in swerved in between two oil tankers on a pitch dark highway riddled with potholes.

“Driver take it easy,” “Driver sufre, driver abeg o! Na one life we get,” the passengers hollered.

By this time, I had said enough Hail Marys to last a lifetime and had moved on to the Blood of Jesus. Shey, if I had paid attention to Bible classes, I’d have known scripture verses to quote for God to spare me tonight.

The driver turned a deaf ear to us, more like he said, “Make una no worry na me get this road; I don dey drive for 20 years, I know my work, all the while taking a swig from his concoction bottle. God knows what he had mixed in the bottle. My guess would be herbal roots, alcohol, and a little incantation. Such tinctures were for men. He was a middle-aged man, lively, and had turned the volume up on the radio. I barely paid attention to what the OAP with a thick Efik accent was saying.

We were a company of ten passengers; I satisfied myself with observing the other passengers. An acquaintance once told me I give serial killer vibes the way I oozed this oddly quiet methodical attitude.  Two old women were discussing corn, comparing the seeds in their hands. I’m sure the elderly man in this bus would give pharma companies a run for their tranquiliser money. I watched for his occasional grunting and rise and fall of his chest to confirm he was alive. Two young men were arguing about Chelsea, Abrahimovic’s recent exit, and his rumoured sponsorship of Russia in its war against Ukraine. There were two female corpers on headphones quietly punching away at their phones. Nowadays, all youths do is press their phones from morning ‘til night. My mother always said that. In my defence, I only pressed my phone at night when I couldn’t sleep. I would never say that out loud, though. It’s pointless trying to win an argument with your mother. I don’t want to be rendered homeless, thank-you-very-much.

Don’t ask me how I remember these details because I don’t know. On most days, my memory had a capacity of 2 MB, but today was different. Maybe fear had sharpened it, making me treasure my supposed last moments.

Amid all this chaos, I remember when our biology teacher taught us about Charles Darwin’s evolution theory Survival of the Fittest. She was a tall, loud woman with a sharp tongue and comedic persona who would only come to work once a week.

Was I fit enough to survive this?

I cast my mind back to my sporting activities in primary school. I never came in first place; I just couldn’t run fast enough. If it came to running for my life, would I make it? I knew certainly I would pass those old women at least; that was some consolation. The only sport I ever managed to excel in—and by excel, I mean third position—was the long jump. Maybe because many students didn’t like long jump; it wasn’t part of the popular athletic sports.

Most bad things happen at night. My earliest encounter with death was at night. Ten-year-old me was bitten by a snake. The snake was not poisonous, so it was mainly a night of panic and close monitoring in the hospital. Surprisingly, I wasn’t scolded by my father for going off to play on my own in the dark. The next time I made an acquaintance with the afterlife was when I was almost knocked over by a car in broad daylight.

I am a chronic overthinker.

The driver that time didn’t fail to yell curses at me while admonishing me to look properly next time before crossing the road. Perhaps he was right. I’ve been reckless most of my life. I have never feared death; maybe I’m a cat with nine lives.

God, I sound so smug.

I wonder if tonight, the angel of death might decide to take a drink from my colourful blood using this driver man as his vessel. I had evaded him long enough.

It’s weird how time can pass so slowly when you’re praying you won’t end up fighting for your life. We are two hours away from our destination, Obudu. It is a nine-hour journey from Calabar. I boarded the battered white bus with God is Marvelous Motors plastered across its torso at 2:30 PM. We set off around 3P, after some Man of God had preached loudly for a few seconds shy of five minutes about “Salvation and the Love of God” ending his sermon with a two minute Sow a Seed offering for his ambulatory ministry. I tuned out for the most part and didn’t donate to his ministry. I’d seen enough of his type.

My mum (God bless her) had earlier tried to persuade me not to travel that day, saying she had some ominous dream, but true to my nature, I dissuaded her and laughed it off. I told her I had a potential job opportunity at said destination. If she was so worried, she should say a Novena or two for me. Believe me, I was not embarking on this journey because I had any pressing engagement in Obudu. I got on this bus because I needed to clear my head. I just wanted to travel. Don’t scoff. Don’t judge me. Trust me; I needed to clear my head for very important reasons.

Okay, maybe you shouldn’t trust me, but still hear me out.

My name is Amenze. It means River Water That Calms Chaos, but I tell people I’m Eze. For the longest time, I’ve felt numb, as if I was a mere passenger in the vehicle of my life. I have yearned to feel what other people feel—joy, peace, anger, pain—but the only thing that ever gets me kicking is danger and fear; an adrenaline rush or a close brush with death. I numbed pain since the day I lost my father. I was only nine. Harrowing screams and cries rocked my world on the day of his internment. That day, he lay cold and listless in a white casket adorned in an oversized black suit. He appeared much darker and surprisingly younger with cotton balls stuffed in his nose, but most importantly, he looked at peace. I didn’t shed a single tear; I should have cried, yet I looked at him and felt empty. Nothing.

This chronicles the genesis of the recklessness that is my life. This story is whatever you make it out to be.

I’m jolted back into reality by a loud blast coming from in front of us.

“Ah, driver, na gun be that?” one of the old women asked. He didn’t respond as he promptly killed the engine. This time, he appeared less cocky. Something was different. I tried to decipher whether it was fright or shock on his face as he peered outside his window, but it was too dark to tell. He retreated his head back into the car like a snail withdrawing into its shell and keyed the ignition, but the bus didn’t come to life. He tried it three more times, but the vehicle merely coughed like an old man on his deathbed. The driver turned to us and muttered, “Make una no vex fuel don finish.”

This is going to be a long night.

The two young men on the bus had visibly become angry as they charged at the driver with rancor. “How you go talk say fuel done finish?! Why you no buy fuel since?”

Was that a blast or a gunshot?

If it was a gunshot, worst-case scenario we would be robbed at gunpoint, and if it was a blast, another vehicle probably on the same route as us had undeniably experienced some malfunction.

By this time, the little child on the bus had burst into tears crying to his mother, “Mummy I want bikit, mimi bikit and water,” he clamoured.

Children can really choose the worst of times to show themselves. Because here we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and this toddler’s concern is biscuit and water?

Anyway, the driver got down from the vehicle, rummaging through the boot, from which he brought out a grease-stained container. Then one of the young men offered to accompany the driver to get fuel, and so they set off into the darkness.

I retrieved my phone from the back pocket of my jeans; the time was 11:30 PM and my battery was two percent.

My village people have decided to teach me a lesson today for sure.

Unlocking the phone, I made my way to WhatsApp to text my younger brother, who I assume had dumped his phone somewhere or was fast asleep. I always chided him that it was called a mobile phone because you ought to take it everywhere you go, but he never listens to me.

The vehicle I boarded just ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. My battery is low, so you may not be able to reach me. Take care of Mum.  I wanted to tell him I loved him, but I decided against it. I can’t be caught not putting up a brave front. After all, I was Eze: a king. I could not afford to show any weakness.

I ought to have also texted my ex, who promised to house me during my short stay, but for some reason, I didn’t. Yes, some of us are still friends with our exes, or not.

The elderly man was still fast asleep and the child had been pacified with some sweets by his mother. The rest of us waited in the darkness. It was calm until we heard someone bark at us from outside the vehicle.

All of you come down!” It was a short boy; he couldn’t be more than 15 years old, but his face said otherwise. In a few seconds, we were surrounded by four of his comrades as he barked his earlier command to us, firing a gunshot into the air. We rushed out frantically out of the bus, almost knocking down the old women and elderly man as they made their way rather slowly out of the vehicle.

“Lie down flat!” his comrades instructed us. They reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. The 15-year-old leader instructed one of his boys to search us individually and two others in his gang to search our bus.

This boy was surely overzealous with his job because tell me, why he was caressing and groping the bodies of the women he searched? When it was my turn, he did the same thing. I tried to be calm; he closed my eyes and prayed for it to be over soon. He instructed me to take off my wristwatch. I looked him dead in the eye as I said, “I cannot give you that.” The next thing I felt was a thunderous slap on my face that sent me to the ground. I tasted blood on my lips. Blood tastes like rusted iron.

Again, he bellowed, “Comot that wristwatch.”

“I no dey comot the watch,” I say, my voice weaker this time but filled with resolve. I would not give him this wristwatch. Call me reckless or stupid; I don’t care. This watch belonged to my father, the only thing left of him that I possess. Even if it didn’t tell me the time, each time I wore it, I felt safe. Sane and less empty.

“You dey follow me talk?!” he roared as he gutted me with a pen knife. He thrust the knife twice into my belly as I fell to my knees and unto the Earth. I did not see my life flash before my eyes or any of the nonsense they write in books. I felt pain, actual seething pain, and for a moment, clarity as I drowned in a pool of my blood.

I woke up to the kola nut stench breath of our tranquiliser old man. “We don reach Obudu,” he told me.