Danfo Buses by Teju Cole

“My Smelling Mouth Problem” by Igoni Barrett is a strange story and is written in a peculiarly Nigerian English that sounds more lyrical when it is read than when heard.

“My Smelling Mouth Problem” is a love story between man and a city. The 22-year old LASPOTECH student from Port Harcourt clearly has a fondness for Lagos. The only thing that gets in the way of this love is the nightmare on four wheels called Danfo buses.

Here is why.

“Every time I enter Danfo,” the character explains, “I must open my mouth.” In Danfo, the privately owned commercial buses that ply the city’s roads, he either has to call out his stop, yell if the driver fails to stop, quarrel with a thieving conductor, or jostle with fellow passengers for extra space in the horridly cramped bus. These are all actions requiring speech, which for a man in his condition, is something fraught with danger.

It would seem as though sitting by the window would help, but no. Passengers are too tightly packed. When he speaks, as he inevitably has to do, there is no way to avoid offending others with his bad breath. He then has to endure evil looks from fellow commuters. Invariably, a commuter or two would ask whether someone had farted. “Either the person beside me will look me with bad eye, or the person at my back will say, who has messed?” Nothing fun about having your mouth and your anus mixed up by strangers in a space as intimate as a bus.

At that moment, what he dreads the most happens. The condition of his breath becomes a matter around which the community of commuters gather. “All the whole bus will gather together and advice me to be brushing my teeth. I am sick and tired of this embarrassment.” Danfo buses had turned the ritual of going to school and returning home—a rather banal aspect of city life—into a nightmare. It had turned a city he seemed to like a lot into a place of shame and suffering. If only he could find a city bus that allowed him to fulfill his desire to be mute in the midst of many.  But isn’t that a mere dream?

Salvation came from the most unlike quarters—the visionary governor of Lagos, who instituted the BRT bus system. When BRT buses came around, our man was ecstatic. “Joy gripped me,” he says. He said his goodbyes to Danfo and embraced the new ones.  They are cheaper, newer, faster, roomier, and safer than Danfo. But that is not why he loves it. ” I only enter BRT bus,” he explains, “where I don’t have to open my mouth.”

In BRT buses, there is a certain kind of order that makes speech unnecessary, that elevates one to a silence that saves from the shame of a body’s defect. For this character, at least, BRT buses offer a new way of inhabiting and moving through the chaos of sounds and bodies that define the city.

After all, what is a city if not a lover that gives us the promise of embrace no matter how flawed our bodies might be?

 

Thanks to Teju Cole for the image.

Love is power or something like that igoni barrettWondering where to find “My Smelling Mouth Problem” ? It’s in Barrett’s recently published collection of stories titled Love is Power Or Something Like That

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

5 Responses to “A Smelly Mouth, A bus, and A Lagos Love Story—Notes On A Short Story by Igoni Barrett” Subscribe

  1. Femi Morgan 2013/10/05 at 00:13 #

    Is the book published yet-in Nigeria?

  2. Livia 2014/10/25 at 09:47 #

    yes it is. Published by Farafina/kachifo.

  3. Ashesi 2015/09/19 at 10:00 #

    when was it published?

  4. Ainehi Edoro 2015/09/21 at 08:24 #

    Hi Ashesi. In 2013.

  5. Richard 2015/11/17 at 00:34 #

    Right away I am going to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast coming again to read other news.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Ikhide Ikheloa Expresses Concerns Over the 2017 Kaduna Book and Arts Festival

ikhide kabafest

The inaugural edition of The Kaduna Book and Arts Festival was announced a week ago. Read here if you missed […]

On Fragility and the Dynamics of Gay Love in Fiction | Interview with Arinze Ifeakandu, 2017 Caine Prize Shortlistee | By Ebenezer Agu

1462871_239347839556725_921861327_n

Arinze Ifeakandu is the first writer published by Brittle Paper before his shortlisting to be recognized by the Caine Prize. We […]

An Almost Year for the Caine Prize: 6 Records That Were Not Broken | By Nkiacha Atemnkeng

caine-prize

In 2017, several Caine Prize records almost got broken. But one did get broken. Sixty-five-year-old Sudanese Bushra al-Fadil is the […]

Ngugi’s Tribute to Memory | Review of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Birth of a Dream Weaver | By Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún

brittle paper book review (2)

Title: Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer’s Awakening Author: Ngugi wa Thiong’o Publisher: The New Press Year: 2016 Where […]

A Tenderer Blessing | By Otosirieze Obi-Young | Fiction

otosirieze

  THE university campus in Nsukka was full of ixora, and it was beside one of the trimmed hedges in […]

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing Is Mandatory Reading for Stanford University Freshers

gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s multigenerational novel Homegoing is now mandatory reading for freshers at her alma mater, Stanford University. The heavy-hitting first […]