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By Cheluchi Onyemelukwe (Nigeria)


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Not again, I thought to myself as I squirmed in the bus seat.

I could hear my stomach rumble slightly like thunder before the start of a rain storm-a most ominous sign. I quickly remembered the number of bananas I had eaten the day before, and I groaned inwardly. God, I pleaded, please let this not be diarrhea. But it kept growling and I knew I was in for a bad time. My stomach upset, mostly after a large meal of bananas, have been a source of concern and embarrassment to me time and again. But sitting in a bus traveling from Enugu to Lagos and only just approaching Ore was not the place to start having diarrhea, particularly when the bus did not have a toilet.

My stomach roiled and churned until I was almost shivering with the tension. I rummaged frantically in my bag for the tetracycline capsules that I always kept handy but none was there. For some inexplicable reason, I had not taken any when I left the house in the morning and had not stopped to buy any, something I rarely fail to do when traveling long distance like this.

"Ah, ah, ah," I muttered in agony, squirming uncomfortably as the discomfort worsened. The man seated next to me turned to me with a question on his face. He was potbellied and hairy, one of those people who refuse to shave. I looked out of the window. The last thing I wanted was to talk. Oh, why did I eat all those bananas yesterday? God, please let this thing go away. Mercifully, my prayers were answered, at least briefly. My stomach settled down. As soon as we get to the eating places at Ore, I promised myself, I will buy some tetracycline capsules and perhaps run into some place for a quick one.

This had happened to me before. Once, I had to run out of the Ogbete market in the middle of shopping, jump on a commercial cyclist and beg the okada man (commercial cyclist) to rush me home. I remember the befuddled look of the cyclist as I urged him to drive faster, counting out his money with trembling fingers so that I would not be delayed once I got home. Unfortunately, I did not have the exact amount, and he left with my change. But I, or rather my stomach, could not wait another second to be emptied.

Another time, I was traveling from Port Harcourt to Enugu. A sudden stomach upset virtually made me jump out of the bus as the driver was filling his tank at the petrol station. I left with the conductor shouting at me, "This girl where you dey go? We no go wait for you o!"

As if my stomach was waiting for me. If I had stayed a moment longer, no doubt that all the passengers would smell something horrible and then perhaps they would have pushed me out of the vehicle. Fortunately, I found relief at a friend’s house not too far from there. She was happy to see me although the first thing I said was, "Where is your toilet?"

I had never used a public toilet. As a child growing up, my mother taught me to avoid public toilets as they were germ and disease centers. But, I could not rule it out on this particular occasion. Between the distress I was undergoing at the moment and the prospect of catching a disease, there seemed no choice. Using the public toilet was the only option I would have at Ore. With all those food shops about, and passengers milling around waiting to leave as soon as their buses were ready to go, it would be difficult to look for a safe bush to relieve myself.

My fears were justified. There were many people hovering around everywhere at Ore. Some were buying gari and plantains to take home to Lagos. Others were drinking soft drinks and pure water waiting for their buses to continue the journey to Lagos. I quickly ran to buy some tissue paper and then to the toilet area. Just the stench on getting close to the area was enough to keep the urine in your bladder and the excrement in your intestines. Apparently, cleaning the place was nobody’s business. But that was not enough to deter me. I was in a most desperate condition.

I had to wait for a toilet to become free. When I finally got into one, I saw clearly the wisdom in my mother’s words, "Never use a public toilet." It was a little dark in there. Not much sunlight came in, but I could see a little of the tiny shack which was the toilet. It was a pit toilet, the type with a simple hole in the middle of the wooden floor. There was excrement all over the edges of the pit. Some people had obviously not taken time to make sure that what they passed went only into the hole. There was a broom and some water in a bucket standing at the corner, but it was clear that not many people bothered to use them. The wooden walls too seemed to be smeared with filth. Perhaps some people had come in without tissue paper.

The thought came into my head to run out of the place. And it seemed like my stomach had stopped its nervous dancing. However, recalling how long the journey to Lagos still was and that there would perhaps be no other toilets, I forced myself to go close to the round hole whose mouth was smeared with yellowish and dark brownish mess.

I stood with my legs wide apart, making sure that none of the excrement around the hole could get to my shoes. I pulled down my skirt, held the top and the bottom together to avoid any mistaken contact with all the germs in the place. I could not hold my nose since both hands were holding my skirt, so in between trying to hold my breath, I breathed in all the odours the place could offer.

Not much came out when I finally got to the act which brought me into the filthy pit toilet. Still, I got something out and I was relieved. I did not wash the place with the broom and water. It would have meant washing other people’s mess. I could not do that, especially not when I had been careful to pass mine down into the hole. I was a little embarrassed though when another woman who had been waiting outside went into the toilet. I hoped she did not get a good look at me.

As soon as I came out, I bought some ‘pure water’ and washed my hands. I could not find any tetracycline capsules to buy. Perhaps, that was to the good. It probably would have been fake.

Soon we were on our way to Lagos. I prayed that the stop at Ore had been sufficient to ease my stomach. But, about thirty minutes or so after we had left Ore, the queasiness started again. I fidgeted with the discomfort and even some fear. What could I do? I prayed, "God, please allow me to get to Lagos without another incident and I will never eat bananas ever." That was one prayer that was destined to go unanswered. I fancied that some of the mess was coming out and I guess I squirmed even more than usual because my seatmate turned and asked me in a more insistent voice: "Madam, what is the matter?"

I reluctantly told him about my stomach trouble.

He looked at me with incredulity. "But what is the problem? Get up and tell the driver you want to stop and he will let you out to do the thing."

When he saw I wasn’t getting up even though my discomfort was obviously not diminishing, he stood up and went to the front to tell the driver. I heard the conductor grumble, "Wetin the person eat now? E wan delay us now."

The bus stopped. Someone at the back shouted, "Driver, what is the problem? Why are you stopping?"

Others shouted too. I thought embarrassment would kill me as I started walking to the door. I imagined that all eyes were boring into my back. I could imagine my neighbour trying to explain that I had running stomach and that I needed to relieve myself. How embarrassing.

I heard someone asking as I left the bus, "What did she eat? She must be one of those people who must eat everything they see vendors selling on the road: chicken and ogazi eggs, snails, fried meat? Now she wants to shit and delay us."

It was even more awkward looking for a secure and not too open spot in the bush beside the road to stoop and empty my bowels while the conductor stood behind me telling me not to go too far inside.

He told me in a very insolent voice, "Make sure you look well, well. Make snake no bite you o."

I took his advice and looked carefully before stooping. After all, I did not want a viper stinging my buttocks. The bush would have been a more relaxed atmosphere than the horrible toilet at Ore if it were not that at least sixty people were in the bus waiting for me to hurry and come out so that the journey would continue.

The impudent conductor stood outside the bus waiting for me, at least that was where I saw him when I walked back to the bus. I could not tell if he had been looking at me while I pulled down my skirt and passed the little stool that deigned to come out. But, I felt relieved and that was perhaps sufficient reward for my embarrassment. I did not look at him as I entered the bus. I avoided looking at anyone as I walked to my seat. I hoped this would be the last time I would need to get out of the bus for this messy affair.

I grimaced shamefacedly as I sat down beside my helpful neighbour. He looked sympathetic.

"When I was traveling from Lagos to Enugu sometime last year, the same thing happened to me," he said. "I took the night bus. At about one in the morning, my stomach started to trouble me. I told the driver I needed to get down because my stomach was troubling me. He refused to stop. He said armed robbers could attack us. I begged him. I told him I would be quick. Still, he refused. He told me I could do it there. I came out and stood in the aisle beside my seat and did it on a newspaper. I threw it out afterwards."

I looked at him in shock. He did it in the bus with all those people who were traveling with him? "You did it, with other people in the bus?" I asked.

"They shouted. But, I ignored them. What could I do? Shit in my pants?"

I looked at him in amazement. I knew the pressing need to get the stuff out. But in a bus, with other people looking on? I glanced at his potbelly and tried to imagine him pulling down his trousers down his buttocks. It was difficult not to laugh.

I had to stop four more times. My running stomach would simply not let up. The last time, just as we were entering Abeokuta, someone shouted, "Ah, ah. Are we going to Lagos today?" My neighbour urged me to ignore them. He had been stopping the driver each time I needed to "do it."

The conductor said, "I no know wetin you eat but I hope say you go fit hold the thing now make we reach Lagos."

I made no reply. I only vowed silently in my heart never to eat bananas or fail to take my tetracycline capsules before travelling by bus next time.

I thanked my neighbour when we got into Lagos. I was feeling better.

I hailed a taxi at the bus park in Jibowu. But as soon as we set off, my stomachache came back with a vengeance. With the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, and no pit toilet or bush in sight, it looked like, just as my helpful neighbour in the bus had done, I would be forced to ease myself, not on a newspaper though but in my pants. Would the driver throw me out when he perceives the stink?


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