Mowbray Station

Nwabi is still chatting on her cellphone. I am beginning to wonder if it’s a boyfriend and I’ve misread the whole situation. But then she says, “Ag shame, Busi. Just tell him to get lost…” I could shout for joy! It’s a girlfriend. For a second I feel sorry for the guy who Busi is going to dump, but only for a second.

Then I notice an odd couple down the carriage. A young guy, about my age, is leading an elderly blind woman. They walk to the middle of the carriage and then stop. It is getting stuffy on the train and there is a strong smell of fried chicken and sweaty bodies. As the train leaves Mowbray station it groans under the weight of the added passengers, like it is announcing: “I can’t take much more…I can’t take much more.”

Nwabisa is smiling as she chats on her cell. She looks towards me. “Yes, he is,” she tells her friend, then, “talk to you later or I’ll text you.”

I feel self-conscious and wonder if she just announced to her friend that I am cute, or boring? She hangs up and then says, gesturing at her phone, “My friend, Busi.” I nod and smile, wondering what they were having such a long conversation about.

But before I can ask her anything about her friend a wailing rings throughout the carriage. Everyone goes quiet. It is the blind woman and the young guy. They are singing a hymn. It sounds like cat’s fighting. “Oh God! Not this again…” I am embarrassed and angry that we will have to listen to this terrible noise all the way to the concert and that it will ruin everything. “Why do they think we will give them anything for that noise!”

Now the couple are moving towards us. He has a hat held out for coins. They are standing right beside us now. The woman is singing so loudly and badly I want to disappear out of the window. “Just ignore them,” I say to Nwabi. But she glares at me. She takes out some coins from her purse and drops them in the guy’s enamel cup.

Then she turns to me. She’s angry, “People do what they have to do to survive. Anyway, what’s wrong with singing hymns?”

I have offended her again. But I can’t stop now. I try to make it right. “Ja, so maybe it’s not so bad. But what really is bad is those preachers who get on the train. The ones who shout and spit and roll their eyes like they are crazy, and tell you that you will go to hell and burn in the fire …|”

Nwabisa looks at me closely. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. So I go on. “It’s not that their message is nonsense. But they think the Bible is right and every other religion is wrong. They say things like ‘Turn to the Lord! Adulterors and fornicators’ and they especially pick on young people. They preach all about don’t have sex and don’t drink. They judge the young people on the train, morning, noon and night. The one guy was swaying and I could smell the liquor on him.”

There is silence and then Nwabisa says. “You mean they judge you like you are judging them right now. Is there no such thing as freedom of speech!” I have struck a nerve now. I mean who really likes those preachers yelling and screaming? Who wouldn’t move to another carriage if they could?

“I know for a fact,” she says, “that not all preachers are hypocrites. My dad was one, and he helped lots of people, until he was stabbed by some young boys on his way home one night. He was a good man and a great dad.”

I can’t believe it. Of all the professions her dad had to be a preacher. Luck is not with me today. That’s for sure. She says nothing further and her eyes are filled with tears. Is it because she misses her dad or that she is just disappointed that I could be so unkind?

“I am an idiot. I am sorry.” I stammer.

Tell us what you think: Will Nwabi accept Khaya’s apology?