Writer, Poet, Social Commentator
A few months ago, we were bestowed with the tale of a certain bread hawker, whom the gods of the flour mill chose to smile upon. Her story had all the trappings of a modern day cinderella, except that her suitor was a woman. I guess that makes it all the more modern. 🙂
It was so easy then, to forget, all of a sudden, the precarious nature of bread hawking. One begins to view this job description, if it may pass as one, as more exotic than usual; a career that could lead to fame and wealth. Is that not what we all seek? Indeed, every day, millions of people wake up thinking, ‘is today that day’? ‘Is today the day that I leave this life of mine behind and begin the journey of my dreams’?
If I had ever forgotten the dangers of street hawking, I was harshly reminded of the perilous lives of these hawkers, last Wednesday the 13th of April. I can still see her perfect white teeth, this young lady who sold bread on the streets of Lagos, carrying on her head a pyramid of baked flour, in true Egyptian style, probably stacked on her head at the command of her ‘Mummy’.
My encounter with her was fleeting, only a few seconds, as my car narrowly missed her. She was trying to cross the road, impeded by the size of the load on her head, smiling or rather grinning. I could tell it was not her first time, this risky business; she would do it again if tomorrow comes. But it never came.
At six o’ clock in the evening, Lagos roads are insane. Everyone is either on the road or somewhere dreading the roads. The long ever-present traffic queues extend forever, creating an entirely sustainable financial ecosystem that feeds millions of families as they trade to the frustrated many, in Lagos. I am a bit lucky as my trip to and fro my workplace is, for most of my journey, against the general direction of the traffic and except for some nasty periods, I am usually not stuck. But for anyone who has been stuck in traffic before, you will agree that whenever you get the to the end of the traffic, which is usually caused by ‘nothing’, the road frees and everyone drives likes vampires trying to avoid the sun.
Wednesday was such a day.
We had just come out of a bottleneck along Oworonshoki, right under the pedestrian bridge. As usual, the commercial buses, in their bid to attract passengers coming off the bridge had blocked our access to the road until the only available passage was slimmer than a single lane. It was therefore not surprising that most drivers pushed their accelerators down hard, the moment they passed through the bottleneck. I was also racing out of the blocks beside a silver Volkswagen Golf to my left. A cursory look at the car, as I overtook, revealed four men in the vehicle; the driver and three passengers. The car to my right had turned off towards Gbagada. I headed towards the island. Looking ahead, I noticed a group of about five people waiting to cross the road and as I approached, one of them suddenly ran across the road.
I watched as the lady reached the other end of the road, safely. She was so far ahead that I didn’t need to slow down for her. I was already bracing myself for cars that would be speeding onto the express from the Gbagada exit, when I caught sight of her from the corner of my eye, with her pyramid of loaves, trying to run across the road. I say ‘trying’ because it was impossible to run under that weight. She was wearing a pink top. I am not sure if she had any form of tribal marks, as I passed by her too fast to be certain. I was only sure of one thing, she was grinning. Under the weight of her bread, her head stayed still and straight, she could not have seen the cars coming nor properly time her movement. She had only followed the lead of the lady who crossed earlier. Even in the split seconds that I glanced at her through the passenger side window, she just looked straight ahead, squatting slightly from the weight on her head, only managing to take long walking strides.
I swerved a little to the left, ensuring I stayed away from her and being careful not to run into any car on my left. Fortunately, the Golf was still little behind and I was safe. But I was furious and I wished I could stop the car and give her a talking. I looked into my mirror hoping to send her some stony gaze but instead what I saw I can never forget.
I have watched many movie scenes showing people being hit by vehicles and I always assumed they were exaggerated. I was wrong.
My rearview mirror was filled with slow moving images of the bread seller spinning in the air, as she was hit by the silver Golf. The impact was so hard that it damaged the front of the Golf. But the Golf did not stop. I watched as the Golf kept coming close to my now slow vehicle. I considered what to do. Do I accost the driver and make him stop? Do I reverse my vehicle to see if I can help? I really wanted to do something, but I did nothing. I drove away in shame.
Why? Fear took over my usual logic. What if I was accused of hitting her. What if the men in the car attacked me? What if I end up in some police drama?
Why didn’t the driver of the Golf stop? What if he was afraid? What if people attacked him and burnt him alive? What if the Police locked him up for manslaughter? What if the passengers threatened him?
Why was the lady crossing the road? Why was she hawking? What if she was the bread winner of her family? What if she had children to feed?
Why didn’t she take the pedestrian bridge? A new one was recently installed a few meters away from the accident. But how would she get that load of bread up and across the bridge?
I have been haunted by these questions the past few days. I keep seeing the bread seller in her pink top, grinning. My mind has been unable to recall if she ever landed on the ground. Every recollection of the incidence ends with her spinning in the air, never reaching the ground. Maybe it is some form of denial; some false hope that somehow she survived the hit.
I have been searching the internet, twitter and all other social media/news sites for any news or information about the incidence. I have found nothing; not even the slightest whiff of a story or a report. It feels as if it never happened. As if this unknown bread seller is not deserving of any mention, in life or in death. I have passed the same way a few times afterward, and I see nothing. Only my thumping heart reminds me.
Now every time I search the words ‘bread seller hit and run’, only the tale of one bread seller appears, and she is not dead.