Lola Opatayo

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"The Madman Who Sits on the Bridge"

The man sat close to the end of the bridge as usual, staring idly at the passing vehicles. His short dreadlocks were matted with dust, grease and any other thing his head came in contact with.

His lips were chapped and pale, his face was black with grime and a lone fly danced undisturbed around his bulbous nose. His clothing was a combination of several rags acquired with discovery so that he looked heavy. A light drizzle began and as if on cue, he lay on the concrete mumbling to himself.
His name was unknown, he was simply called “the madman who sits on the bridge” and everyone kept their distance from him. Some mentally ill people are friendly; they entertain the people around them, dancing and singing or teasing them and they are in turn rewarded with food or money. Others chase people of the opposite sex in an awkwardly flirtatious manner. Others are almost imbecilic and morose keeping to themselves, these ones usually suffer physically assault from people who thus express their disgust with them. And then some are hostile, openly attacking anyone who confronts them or approaches them unsolicited. “The madman who sits on the bridge” was in this category, he had been known to attack children and women, barging at them with his cane. So people had grown indifferent to him and even now as he lay in the rain, they felt no sympathy for him, the demons that plagued him had probably placed an invisible tarpaulin over him for all they knew.

Only the passengers in the passing vehicles felt a slight sympathy for him wondering what could have made him so. They soon turned their attention away from him back to their predicament; the rain had caused a slower movement of vehicles and they had begun to feel impatient wondering how long it would be before they got out of the holdup. In a yellow and black rickety bus, the passengers were grumbling.
“The annoying thing is that when you get ahead, you’ll see nothing that could have caused this holdup!” A middle aged man said with a frown, shaking his legs impatiently.
“The government just needs to create better roads, after all we are paying our taxes. Instead they just gather to share the national revenue amongst themselves.” Another man said angrily then called out to a teenage boy who carried a basket of cold drinks on his shoulder. “Hey! Give me a bottle of La Casera!”
Patience sat uncomfortably in her seat shifting from side to side. Her monthly period had come a day earlier and she was not wearing a sanitary pad. She could feel herself getting more wet and became anxious, her cream patterned gown would not hide anything. Her destination was close by and she was beginning to consider alighting from the bus and walking as fast as she could before the whole world knew that the red robot had come visiting. She felt another drop of blood and said desperately, “Conductor, let me get down!”
She came down gingerly as if afraid to agitate her contracting uterus and then began walking briskly all the while praying under her breath that she would make it home on time. Ahead of her she saw “the madman who sits on the bridge” and halted briefly then carried on hoping that he was asleep and planning to keep a safe distance from him. She got to him and stayed as far away from him as possible, walking as fast as her legs could carry her when suddenly she felt her knees go weak and she fell. She lay on the ground for a few seconds then slowly dragged herself up and dusted off the damp earth then picked up her handbag.
“The madman who sits on the bridge” got up and began walking towards her.
Something was wrong. Kabiru the conductor had been staring outside the bus mesmerized by the jiggling of the fair woman’s ample backside. When she fell he had hoped that her flared skirt would fly up her thighs but was disappointed so he anticipated her rise so that he could watch her wonderful movements again. When she eventually got up she began to walk awkwardly; her gait was unsteady, almost as if she was sleepwalking. He looked on as the madman passed by her and then watched curiously as the woman began to follow him. He was about to speak up when a passenger said:
“Is that lady following the madman? It looks like she is!” the man who had talked about the roads said.
“I was about to say the same thing, I saw her fall down and when she got up she began to follow him.” Kabiru replied eagerly.
“The man has charmed her!” the driver declared as everyone in the bus looked on, shocked at what they were seeing. “Kabiru get down and mobilize other people to catch him, no one knows what he intends to do with her.” the driver ordered.
Kabiru promptly alighted from the bus and walked towards a group of men who sat under a vulcanizer’s shed behind the bridge.
The madman was grateful for the rain, it had caused the holdup. No one had fallen prey to him in the past week and he had bills to pay, but this woman looked well-to-do, her bag alone could fetch him three thousand naira. The hair on the back of his head suddenly rose, something was wrong.
“Hey you!” someone called out to him. He was surprised, no one dared to approach him, he had built his reputation as a hostile madman to serve his purpose. He walked on deciding that whoever it was must have been calling someone else.
“Hey, we’re calling you! Madman! You’re pretending as if you can’t hear us?” someone else said. The madman looked back and he saw that they knew, he was in big trouble. They would deal mercilessly with him. He took to his heels and ran, Patience ran wildly after him, oblivious to what she was doing or the people who were running after them. The men outran her, chasing the madman frantically until they caught him and toppled him to the ground, beating him mercilessly.  Someone caught Patience and held her firmly while the men ordered the madman to loose his spell on her.
After he chanted some incantations, she went limp then opened her eyes looking around dazed.
“What happened?” she asked looking at the battered madman whose face was bleeding in several places. He had been stripped naked and by his side were two smart phones, a cutlass, knife, rope and charms.
“Just thank your lucky stars!” Someone said to her explaining what had happened.
“Go and bring that bad tire!” a portly man ordered as the madman began to plead.
“Please, it’s poverty that led me to it!” He cried.
“So you’re the only poor man? Don’t worry, he who does what no one else has done will suffer what no one else has.” The erstwhile madman pleaded, tears mixed with his blood running down his face.
“Let him go!” A policeman ordered, he was accompanied by four other policemen. They had been alerted by some members of the community who knew what the “madman’s” end would be at the hands of the irate mob. They reluctantly let him go, certain that the man would be released as soon as a huge bribe was paid.
The vehicles were still moving slowly, even though it had now stopped raining.
“That woman should be grateful, others were not so fortunate.” Someone said in the yellow rickety bus.
“The human heart is so dark! How can anyone be willing to go so low just to make money?” A middle-aged woman asked.
“We can never understand it. Let’s just pray that we will never encounter such people.” An elderly woman concluded, sinking her yellow teeth into a large kolanut.

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