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THE FISH


It all began with the fish. My parents came to visit me unannounced; it was more of a guilt visit, something like an apology. They had been enjoying themselves immensely because both of my older siblings have left home; Funke is married and Ade has gone off to Abuja to work. I thought they would be lonelier now that they were home alone but I was wrong. Instead, we seemed to have been some hindrance in their storybook love life. They were wearing the same dress prints, smiling at each other severally and I even caught them holdings hands twice while looking around my flat; ultimate lack of decorum.

“Where is Tope’s room?” They ask after my friend whom they knew since we were kids. They were not happy that I was leaving the hostel in my second year but they were consoled that I was going to rent a flat with Tope Adenle, someone they knew and an unknown third flatmate but he had to be good since he was Tope’s friend. The Adenle’s had been friends of the family for about twenty years, since their dad and mine worked on a project together. The friendship blossomed when they realised that there were other common friends between both families, like Tope and myself.

“His room is the one beside the kitchen, and the third is for Femi.” Femi Jeje, my second flatmate, my parents had not met him because this was the first time they were visiting me in my new apartment, although we moved in only two months ago. However, knowing my parents, they would have come to inspect, critic and pay for the flat with us. My new parents just sent money and believed their twenty two year old was old enough to make good decisions especially since it involved Tope Adenle. I was not complaining about the newfound freedom though, just wondering about my parents’ preoccupation with each other. They looked through the flat quickly and made a few comments, they especially wished they had met Tope and Femi at home, they also felt we could do more with the living room. I was not listening, they were doing the inspection hurriedly, otherwise my mother with her keen sense of smell and discerning eye for secrets would have noticed the packs of cigarettes we kept in the corner of the kitchen. They finished their tour.

“We brought you stew and some food stuff” my mum said “we know you won’t cook, but who knows when you may need it? And we also brought you fish.” They knew I loved fish, not just any fish but catfish, they brought me four large ones in a big plastic bag filled with water. That was the best part of their visit. We said our goodbyes and my parents departed leaving gifts for my flatmates.

sweet fish

My friends were excited about the fish, not so much because they had the same affinity I had for the taste but because of the spectacle the fish created when we put them in the bath in the central bathroom with enough water for them to swim at liberty. The next day, I decided to cook one of the fish; it was a disaster – too much salt, fresh blood still dripping from cooked fish and an altogether awful taste. My appetite for fish came to a halting low, even the memory of my mother’s special fish peppersoup could not wipe out the effect of this catastrophic episode. However, watching the fishes still pure magic; we would sit in the bathroom for hours, smoking and gisting while we watched the fish swim, twill, and jump in the water. Although they had a largely boring routine of swimming back and forth endlessly in our bath, the different ways they turned at the curves, the flicking of their tails and the seamless fin movements excited us nonetheless.

Eventually, one of the fish became slower, they had no food. Others began to nibble at the parts of the weak fish and in about two days, much of its tail and fins was bloodied from bites by fellow fish. Natural selection was happening in our bathroom. Since my catastrophic cooking experience, we had decided to wait for Omotola to help us with cooking the fish. Omotola was Tope’s girlfriend; lithe, beautiful and amiable. Everybody loved her and either loved Tope for making a good catch, or hated him because they were jealous she was with him. We tried to keep the predator fish away from the weak and prayed that Omotola would visit soon; she usually comes from her school about one hour away by road when school is on break or on some randomly chosen weekends. We pressured Tope to persuade her to come earlier than planned but he explained that just like us, Omotola is in second year and classes are really tough. We resigned to waiting.

While our fish were becoming carnivores, I noticed a change in my friends. They stopped sleeping at home and seemed quite jittery and on guard. I thought they were just being more serious with studies; however I became quite suspicious when they returned home in the mornings to ask if anything went wrong during the night. Were they expecting things to go wrong? I decide to ask them “what are you guys always up to, why don’t you sleep at home?”

Tope answered first “we need to study, not everybody is a genius like you John”

“But the exams are still far away”

“Early to bed, early to rise man. We need to prepare well”

“Good luck to you guys, but are you always in class alone?”

“Of course not, Deji, Ade, Emeka and some other guys all come around”

“Good luck once again” I decided to let it go.

The next day, I saw Emeka at our popular hangout in school; I decided to ask him about their midnight candles. He was surprised “I don’t come to school in the evenings, I love my sleep.”

Puzzled, I thought they were always in class with Emeka, but then it could be another Emeka. It was too flimsy to worry about anyway; late nights don’t automatically translate to better grades. I was about stepping out when I bumped into Richard, another of our friends; he pulled me aside and spoke in stealthy tones “are you going to be at the meeting tonight?”

“What meeting?”

“Be serious John, it is important, and they said there is an impending hit” his voice was becoming lower.

“What are you talking about?”

Then he was jolted from the inside; sudden realisation “Oh sorry, was just kidding with you, I need to get some things quick, see you later” and he hurried away.

I waved him off, it was probably stressed talk, I continued out of the cafe. I had only walked about fifty meters when I heard my name “John” I looked back, it was Maxwell. I thought he wanted to ask for loose change. Maxwell is the official campus urchin; he has been implicated in all of the major offences on campus – stealing money, cars, dealing drugs, prostitution, blackmail and extortion but has never been caught. We all kept him at arm’s length, gave him some money whenever he asked and definitely kept a rapport with him because for some strange reason, the women like Maxwell.

“Wait up, John”

“Hey, Max, how are you doing? I need to get going, will see you some other time.” I did not have time for loose talk.

“Wait up” he insisted. Then he pulled me by the arm towards the side of the road. “I was listening when Richard was talking to you in the cafe.”

Friendship

“Oh, don’t mind him, guess he was stressed.”

“He was not stressed, he actually made a terrible mistake.” In very low tones, Maxwell proceeded to tell me how my flatmates were cultists together with Richard, how they had planned some recently fatal and popular attacks on campus.

“That was why they moved away from campus.” He continued. I was dumbfounded.

“Have they been sleeping at home recently?”

“No, not at all” I replied.

“There is going to be a reprisal attack, the rival gang is planning to hit them back. That is why they have not been sleeping at home.” The information was becoming too much for me but I continued to listen. “The attacks are usually terrible, anybody those guys meet in the marked house gets burned. Do you know what that means? ”

“Eh burned…eh… or what?”I was stuttering

“Killed man, killed!” Maxwell repeated it whispering softly.

Shocked to my bones, I thanked Maxwell, told him I would be fine. I rushed home with thoughts flipping in my brain and filling my bladder up. As I was about to urinate, I looked at the fish in the bath and did not see aquatic vertebrates, instead I saw myself with bleeding tails and fins, and my friends – Tope and Femi nibbling at my skin, peeling it off and feeding on me. I showed the first sign of weakness, like the weak fish was slow; I did not belong.

I decided to run, fight back, belong or find a solution. In my confusion, I picked up the extra keys that nobody knew I had and decided to search Tope and Femi’s rooms. Halfway through my search, in Femi’s room, tucked in the closet towards the back, behind a pile of stationary books, I saw shiny cold metal – two revolvers! For a moment, I was paralysed; I was shivering but my limbs were too heavy to be lifted. Slowly, I gathered myself, crawled out of the room, locked it and sat down to devise a plan.

In the late afternoon, they came home, we talked about the day and they thought I was edgy and nervous. I told them I had a terrible headache. Femi told me Omotola would come by the next day for a short visit; I should remember to tell her to cook the fish. They left for the night again; they needed to study hard. That night, I slept over at the neighbour’s house with half-opened eyes.

Omotola arrived at noon the next day, Femi and Tope had not returned from class. I welcomed her with an exchange of the usual student banter; the bad and good professors, the trendy things on both campuses and much later; studies. She was quick to ask for our famous fish, “Where are the poor things? Femi told me they are the new source of entertainment for the house.”

“They are doing well.” I led her to the bath to see our friends.

“Wow, they are lovely. But that one is injured, oh my, so sorry” she was pointing at me – the injured fish. “We have to cook it first, before it dies.”

“No” I replied. “We’ll cook the healthy ones first; let’s give the poor guy a chance to heal.”

“Ok” she agreed. She was not one to argue.

I caught the healthy ones for her and she began cooking; in seconds, the sweet aroma was all over the apartment. After she finished, I gave her the key to Femi’s room, “Sorry, I forgot all the while, Femi left his keys, said he left something for you in the closet, behind the books.”

“Ok, thanks. I’ll just go find it.” She took the key and headed for the room. I waited in agitation, it seemed as if she had gone in for an eternity, but my watch told me fifteen minutes. I was about to knock on the door and encourage her to look behind the closet when she screamed and ran out. She fell into my arms; shivering, babbling and crying all at once. I held her close, patting and petting; it felt good. After about five minutes of quivering, she started chanting “guns, guns, guns….”

guns

“Calm down, relax, you’ll be fine….” I kept on imploring. She looked up at me as if she wanted to ask me questions; her eyes read “do you know about this?” Before I could muster a word, she broke free from my clasp, picked her bag and ran out of the house. I did not run after her, instead, I picked up the extra key and locked up Femi’s room like nothing happened.

My friends returned home later in the evening. We talked about the regular, “why didn’t you come to school?” Tope asked.

“I had a terrible headache.” Then Femi asked after Omotola, “she has not come, I replied.”

“She probably won’t come again, it’s getting late. I’ll call her later.” Femi explained.

While we were talking, the door bell rang. My friends scampered into their rooms, I wanted to rush after them then I called out “No, it’s nothing, it’s the bell.” Tope peeped through his bedroom door and shouted at me, “go and open the door!” he seemed to be holding something behind his back and suddenly my friend looked different; bigger and stronger, I felt something akin to fear.

I walked to the door and opened it, it was a man; burly, average height, in short sleeve shirt and cotton trousers. “It’s the police, C-I-D” he said in a deep throaty voice. I was still fumbling with a reply when he pushed past me and entered the house, in very swift movement, five similar men entered after him. As they approached the bedroom area, a shot rang out, heavy and tingling to the ears. I ran outside and laid flat on my face, clasping my ears with my hands.

The drama lasted about twenty five minutes and starred five shots in all. The first burly man came out first, then my friends in toll, handcuffed.  From my disadvantaged view on the ground,only my ears were injured after the episode. All the shooters either played with the guns or did not have enough lessons. When they passed by me, he pointed to the last man and said “take this one also.” But the last man did not arrest me, he only nudged me by my side with his shoes, “get up; we’ll pick you up later” he shouted.  The police always have reasons for not arresting their informants, especially those with timely prompts.

I brushed myself off after they left, walked into the house and put on some music. I dished myself some of the wonderful fish Omotola cooked before she left. It all began with the fish; the cooked ones. The way they preyed on the vulnerable, and their overly strong predisposition towards survival at the expense of the weak. These fish helped me save my life.

After my delicious fish meal, I walked to the bathroom and peeped at myself; swimming alone in the clear water. Time to heal.

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THE WELL


The well

Two days ago, I went to the well early in the morning to fetch at the start of the day. I looked down into the well and realised something was different; usually the water body takes a circular form after the concrete rings that were used to construct the well. Instead of the beautiful, round and clear circular water body, our water looked like an apple with a small part of it bitten off. The small bite was represented by the sand that was gradually encroaching into the water body. Though wet, the sand was solid, standing at about six inches above the water itself and sloping down irregularly to join the water. While fetching you must be careful to throw the fetcher into the water part and not the sand part of the apple. If you hit the sand, you risk a chance of contaminating the water for the next thirty minutes or thereabout. It is the beginning of the year; we are in the dry season! I looked up at the cashew tree that has a symbiotic relationship with our well; it gets water for its roots while it shelters the well with its generous branches. The flowers of the great tree were sprouting; it will soon be seed time.

Then I remembered it was the same way last year, exactly the same. I deduced my first lesson; life is a circle. Each beginning awaits its end as surely as each end awaits another beginning. Hence it is common for events in life to reoccur in exact same manners since life is a series of ends and beginnings. Also, contrary to popular saying, there are two constant things in life, not one. Not change alone. They are beginnings and ends or ends and beginnings in whatever order. Remember, they form change!

In the dry season

My second set of lessons came in torrents as I fetched the first bucket out of the well. I imagined the usually round water body was our lives. It is no longer complete since we have started to use it. The encroaching solid sand is the past and the depleted water body is the future. We are young and strong, thus barring unforeseen events, our future is colossal compared to our past. The future represents the big, liquid, clear and unformed water body while the past appropriates the formed, solid, cloggy and small clump of sand. The past is gradually eating into the future, either we fetch the water or not the sand keeps growing. The future is unformed; I could still manipulate it to my advantage. If I throw the fetcher carelessly, it will fall on the sand. I should not allow my past to cloud my future! The sand stands higher and easier to reach than the water, I should reach deeper for better results by looking far into the future. Above all, make good use of the future, it is steadily being depleted!

My third lesson came out of an event in the past. The sand was growing and the water was reducing, then suddenly, it rained! The sand disappeared and the water became a big circle once again but it was dirty. Eventually after two days, it cleared out and was as clean as ever. The rain is none other than the grace of God; it can wipe out the past and renew a future without recourse. However when that grace comes with the blessings, do not rush. The two days of dirty water provide a time of rethink. This period ensures that when the sand starts forming again, when we look in retrospect, we are merrier. We dip into our clean circle after these two days knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. At those times when we follow unsure paths, lets pause and ask for the GRACE.

The well of knowledge.

I learnt my last lesson on returning to the well two days later. The sand had disappeared and the water was a big circle again but it had not yet rained. I realised water had sprung out of the well! Moreover it happened because nobody fetched the water for a day. Definitely we all have a spring inside us; we can renew ourselves from the inside. The time, the day without fetchers; those are the moments we spend alone musing over past actions and strategising on future ones. In essence, those periods are powerful. The periods you spend with yourself in constructive thinking. They renew the future and deplete the past, they give us more alternatives. Please, no matter how little, spend time alone.

After all of these, I renamed our well the well of knowledge!!!

THE DIPLOMAT


Susan is always good company, we would talk and talk about everything in the world and always find common ground. It was not polite conversation; we had our differences a lot of times but they were fewer than our agreements. It was all the more interesting considering the fact that she was North American, had only been in Nigeria for two weeks and we met her ten days ago. We talked about everything. She was also beautiful with a great sense of humour; I guess that made it very easy to talk to her. A good ability to flirt also spiced our conversations appropriately. When I told her I liked her hair whenever it was wet and often requested that she wash it for me, she called me a kinky guy “Guess you just wanna see me in the shower”

“That’s a little more than I asked for but I wouldn’t mind, might as well wash it myself”

“Pick a date”

“Tomorrow”

“Naaaa, you got it wrong, if you want it, you have to want it today”

“But there’s no shower here” we were on our way to a distant village hospital and won’t be back at the hotel we were staying with the other members of the intervention group till much later in the evening. We are both doctors working for an international Non Governmental Organisation on an emergency mission for the measles epidemic in Northern Nigeria.

“Guess you just can’t have it then”

our lonely roads

“Cheat”. We would laugh and switch to some other topic; sports, business or world politics- we had endless fora.

But we never really talked about Nigeria. I would have asked but I guess I was just waiting for her to gather material; two weeks can be a short time. And because we both laughed a lot when we talked, I assumed she was enjoying Nigeria. However, I decided to discuss the country today.

We were sitting at the back of a SUV with the windows down and a lot of breeze was blowing around as the driver maintained a hundred kilometres per hour speed. We were at the height of the dry season and the Northern Nigeria sun was about 40 degrees overhead, the breeze was hot and dry but thankfully not dusty because of the well paved road. If the driver had to decelerate to about fifty kilometres per hour for any reason, we would start to sweat not minding our loose fitting clothes. She was wearing an all cotton grey pair of trousers, a similar tee shirt and sandals. I was dressed in cream cotton trousers, a striped short sleeved shirt with sandals too. Our raffia hats sat beside us; our ready shelter outside the vehicle.  It was then I decided to create a distraction from our sizzling flesh.

“What do you think about Nigeria”? I asked.

She paused and looked at me; her face read “I’ve been waiting for that”

Then she launched into a tirade “Your weather is hell, your food is nice, much less populated than the figures say……….”

“Wait, slowly. Let’s take it one by one. ” I stopped her before she could raise her voice. Instead of starting a long lecture about the densely populated South as against the North where we were presently or the comfortable Jos climate, I decided to allow her to talk.

“First, talk about the people” I told her.

“They are ok, but they seem very disrespectful especially towards themselves”. She raised a hand before I could interject “Like when we are at the restaurant and they keep shouting at the waiters and waitresses- bring me food, bring me food!” she demonstrates, raising her hand motioning for someone to come over in a condescending manner.

I was confused and lost for words, how could I possibly explain to this young woman that though she has visited about six states in Nigeria; she did not know Nigeria. Also, the restaurants are the not the place to judge a people as loquacious or rude.

“That is not right, that applies to only a few people. Just a handful in a bag of grain!”

friends of the hot sun

“No, I have other examples; I see some of the Nigerian staff talk to the drivers. They do the same when they want to buy things along the road – just order the hawkers around and shout at them without restraint.”

“Ok, now you are talking about haves and have nots.” I had to change the direction of my defence “That is a common phenomenon in the society of haves and have nots.” I decided to take my argument a step further- ingratiate a little. “That might not happen where you come from because over there unlike here, basic things like education, houses and food are not privileges.”

She seemed to pause and listen, then I continued “here, because only the privileged gets things done, he tends to lord himself over the others.”

“No” she disagreed instantly “I have been to nine African countries, eight of them much worse economically than Nigeria and not in any one of them did I see such a display of arrogance.”

I was at a loss for a reply, my exposition on the development of an egalitarian society had plunged me into deep waters. I had never been out of Nigeria, a fact that I had revealed to her in one of our friendlier discussions. How would I tell if people in the Kalahari stand on anthills and blow horns at waiters before getting served.

“I still don’t think it’s a Nigerian thing” I had to stand my ground.

Before she could reply, the driver saved me. He announced from his seat that he wanted to buy fuel. She didn’t hear him so she asks me “what did he say?”

“We need to buy fuel”

“Why do you guys call it phooel?” “It is pronounced phiil” she retorted with a funny look.

I laughed and replied “Why do you guys call it gas? After all it’s liquid.” She laughed and I was happy I had doused the tension. It will not augur well for work if we had differences and lingering arguments. However, I would have loved to tell that if a people were more than a tenth of a billion, then, they deserved to have their own diction; suitable and well adapted to their natural tongues.

We bought the “phooel” and continued our journey, the ten minute stop had taken its toll on us despite our loose clothing. We both fanned ourselves with loose sheets of paper and I complained about the heat. She looked at me and asked “Why are you complaining? Is your skin not made for this weather?!”

I turned, a wry smile “Do you go about with these kinds of clothes in winter?”

She laughed; a short one, from realisation rather than amusement. Guess it struck her that the eagle and the ostrich are both birds regardless of differing habitats. Somehow, they must share similar problems.

A strange quiet settled on the vehicle, our discussion had become a competition. Although, nobody was keeping scores but obviously the last exchange favoured me. I had to break the silence, we still had about two months to spend together on this project, and artificial reticence will definitely be a handicap. I waved the driver down, I had to buy something.

“I need to recharge my phone”

“No problem, I hope I can get some mangoes meanwhile” She had developed a strong liking for the fleshy fruit; she said it was really expensive back home. It is like apples for us.

“Sure”

We got her mangoes first, well picked greenish yellow beauties. She was all smiles, till I bought my recharge card. I paid and collected the card but on second thoughts I returned the card to the vendor “scratch it for me” I said.

She looked at me and said “I have heard all about these things, is that what you do when you don’t want to buy duds?”

“No, I have never bought a fake card before, just don’t want to get my nails dirty” I am sure my expression said “Where did that come from?”

She smiled, somewhat apologetically, I felt like knocking myself. I didn’t want her to apologise, I did not want to build a wall of formalities between us. I finished my transaction hoping we would not drift further apart. We proceeded to the vehicle; she clutched her mangoes while I fiddled with my phone. Not exchanging a word, we continued our journey in the quiet we thought we left behind.

Thankfully, we reached our destination in about five minutes, work began. We spent the next five hours diagnosing infirmities, providing solutions, administering vaccines and recording figures. It was a very busy albeit fulfilling day. Our health station was packed with people and we were happy our reports would show better response to the aid our organisation provided.

work station

The wonderful work day provided great conversation during the journey back. We found solace in science, discussing the different patients we managed and their various presentations. All our previous squabbles were buried and forgotten, or so I thought.

We were about fifteen minutes drive from our hotel when she turned, looked at me and called my name “Tope”, sounds like “Toppy”  she was poised to give a speech “I was in Congo sixteen months ago for a similar project, it was a very wonderful place, the forest of green trees was dense and the earth was red.”

I kept wondering about the geography lesson but I decided not to interrupt, she continued “there were no paved roads and flashy vehicles, there was only one doctor in the whole province, and it was one of my best experiences in Africa. Here, it is much different, this is not the Africa I envisaged” she was shaking her head and providing some emphasis “no, not at all”, a befitting end to a great speech.

She looked at me expecting a reply – a rebuttal or an agreement; I didn’t know which of them she expected most.

I threw my head back and laughed a deep throaty laugh, I allowed the ripples to rock my body and the sound to rock the vehicle. She joined me for a little time, nodding as she giggled “it’s true, it’s true.” I stopped before she felt derided. Then she asked me why I was laughing, “nothing” I said “I just think it is very amusing”.

I realised it was better to just laugh. I would not ask her which part of Congo she went to or why her African experience would only be fulfilled if there were primitive living conditions. Moreover, I could not tell the answer to her question; it was the first time I was happy, indeed overjoyed that Nigeria disappointed somebody. I laughed again, shorter this time, then, thought of our SUV as the restaurant and the young woman opposite me – the customer, screaming at me; the waiter. She did not realise she was screaming at me, above the din of the powerful engine of our transport and the hot air blowing past, I could hear her screaming at me exactly the way Nigerians scream at waiters!

I could not correct her; I did not want to destroy the bilateral agreements. Is that not why we all keep quiet and employ diplomacy? I would not like to jeopardise the possibility of receiving this kind of aid in the future by being tactless. It was a well paying job and the interview was gruelling. I switched the discussion back to the more agreeable vaccines.

Susan and I enjoyed a great work relationship for the next two months. Evidently, I never asked her to describe a people again, science and her hair made interesting enough topics for conversation. I never got to see her hair in the shower too, guess I was too diplomatic.

It has been years since that day but anytime I enter a restaurant, I remember to shout at the waiters “BRING ME FOOD!”

Proudly Nigerian!!!

RAYS OF HOPE


Up Nepa

Dare is my friend and we share an apartment. The power supply in our neighbourhood is erratic-averaging about twelve hours per week – and we have adapted accordingly. We use two power generators; one replaces the other when we notice a strain on any. We generate our own electricity for about twelve hours every day; from 7pm in the evenings till 7am in the mornings. The period varies depending on how early we get back from work. On weekends the generators work for almost 24 hours. The perpetual hums of the generators have become a part of our life, a rhythm – like the songs of birds, feet crushing fallen leaves in dry season or the movement of the winds! As such, a regular and expected event; when absent, it feels like the world is coming to an end.

A Nigerian's best friend

Last Friday, we got back from work and met the lights on; it was a very strange sight. More so, because we never have power at night, the few hours we have all week is always during the day. We only get to know through the neighbours or sometimes when we meet almost cold water in the refrigerator. Dare, always the cautious party was particularly scared of this august visit of electricity.

“Put off the television, make sure the stabilizers are on delay, better still let’s use the generators as usual” he shouted out instructions without making any effort to carry them out. It was a frantic effort, a show of concern and frustration. It is common knowledge that when you have power excessively and at strange times, the consequences are grave. We had a bad experience two months ago – five light bulbs and four electrical appliances were blown up SWAT style.

“Relax, who knows? Maybe things are just getting better” I tried to calm him down, we could sure use the extra money we will save from burning fuel on the generators and probably help the world by releasing less carbon into the atmosphere. A Nobel Prize might be in the offing; Al Gore did it!

“Don’t start, you know I don’t believe in the things are getting better stories” Dare replied. I call him the Nigerian pessimist.

“Ok, but let’s enjoy it while it lasts this evening” I was in no mood to argue.

Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

“It’s just painful, you guys see a flash of light in months and you go on about things getting better or electricity breathing a new life ” the Nigerian pessimist pressing on “wait till you see what your fellow ray of hopers will say at the meeting point tomorrow.”

Ray of hopers; that is what he calls those of us who say things are or will get better. And the meeting point is the place where we all meet. An apt name for our local tavern, however it has become more than a tavern to some of us – a group of young working bachelors who live in the neighbourhood, we pride ourselves in being intellectuals. We gather at the meeting point every weekend to discuss issues; topics range from football to politics but Nigerian situations always have the greatest audience. We argue all day over drinks, shouting and criticising the government endlessly. An external observer will most likely see us as a bunch of self righteous, educated, proud and boisterous crowd, those especially likely to stay at home when others carry placards to protest about the very issues they argue over every day.

“Let’s wait till tomorrow” I wanted to reserve my rebuttal till we get to the meeting point where my dependable ray of hopers will be there to support.

Dare would have continued despite my attempts at dropping the gauntlet but I was saved by the commencement of one of our favourite sports shows. Arguments forgotten or rather postponed, we settled down to watch the show.

Midway through the show, electricity went off unceremoniously. Rather than the event generating “I told you sos”, we both heaved a sigh of relief, grateful it was not ceremonious. We hurriedly put on our generator, continued with our sports show and life returned to normal – the birds were humming again. Our lives had been unexpectedly interrupted by electricity for four hours.

Saturday arrived in a few hours and we all gathered at the meeting point. As usual, we started with a lighter issue; how cleavage was turning to boobage. The contributions were loud and varied, opinions widely differing. Our usual divides were obliterated on this issue. While some felt it was a form of harassment for women to put the precious orbs in unhindered public view, others felt everybody had the right to wear whatever they wished.

The tavern

“Keep your eyes away!” Emeka the major proponent of the rights movement shouted.

“Why? If you leave it open, then you want it to be seen and eventually touched” Chris replied.

The argument continued with similar exchange flying in different directions. After minutes of unresolved altercation, we sheathed our swords in ribaldry.

Inevitably, we moved on to the issues of national concern. We had hardly started deliberating when a member of the quorum, an accountant, a valid intellectual and respected discussant started “Did anybody notice for how long we had electricity yesterday?”

beer

Nobody answered –it was rhetoric – but he had our ears, he was that respected. He continued “it just stayed on like it was never going to go off; surely things are getting better, that was massive improvement!”Instantly, others started commenting in similar terms, they were happy and thankful for the four hours of electricity we had yesterday.

I looked at Dare across the table; he caught my eyes and his expression undoubtedly “I told you so”. But he was wrong because the opinions flying around were not only from ray of hopers. Even sceptics like him commented alike.

I smiled and withdrew from the crowd, mentally not physically, I became an external observer. In my observations, the appreciative crowd looked very stupid having forgotten what happened two months ago, and has been perpetual. Moreover, it is foolish to describe four hours as long with emphasis! Then, I thought again, were Dare and I being unappreciative?

Is there any?

The power company would surely crawl before it flies. Perhaps, tomorrow we would have power for twelve hours and in a fortnight for twenty four hours. The butterfly was once a caterpillar and airplanes used to be kites. However, all issues of concern in Nigeria; corruption, electoral reform, effective education and their numerous peers are usually discussed across generations – often with nostalgia for the better yesterdays. They affect our mores and values as they are passed from fathers to sons in literature and verbally. Comparably, our dear power authority has been alternating between crawling and bedridden for decades. Despite the incessant mention these matters generate, we never achieve improvement, at least enough to change our stories!

I thought about my country; a place where the inadequate is enough, enough is luxury and luxury lives in the imagination. I ordered beer, then more beer and for the first time, I got drunk at the meeting point.

ALONE


He is going to the city. A place he loathes but loves to hear about. He treats it like a mad man on the street; it thrills to watch him but you don’t want to take him home. His friend Adamu who owns the provision store at the village market usually visits the city for his supplies. Adamu is full of stories about the city-roads that pass above large bodies of water, roads that pass above other roads, and buildings that aspire to reach God, cars that dash around in endless streams. The tales are endless; women who roam the streets almost naked and city dwellers who seem to ignore such abomination. He will only visit the city to see his son. He does not yearn for the seemingly good things of the civilised world. He is all that city is not; a yokel.

On reaching the city, he looked around with bated breath. Adamu had not described half of it. There were roads for cars and roads for his feet, little trees joined the streetlights to guide the roads in unending columns. The most amazing were the people, they brushed past him, and they rushed on in all directions, none observing the other. Everybody seemed to be going about some very important business, he wondered at what could be so important! Then, still engrossed in his scrutiny, he heard rumblings, he looked around searching for the source but it appeared to be coming from inside him. The sounds were accompanied by slight abdominal pains. He knew what that meant-time to void. He looked at the piece of paper he held in his hand, it displayed the address to his son’s residence. He was supposed to ask for directions but who could he ask; these people? This bizarre crowd! He became extremely confused, he summoned courage and motioned to a young man walking by his side “please”, he started shyly but before he could continue, the lad increased his pace and walked briskly on without answering.

His babariga was becoming soaked with perspiration; his brow was wet even though the weather was chilly. The contents of his bowel were seeking an exit, he reduced his pace. Sometimes he stopped altogether especially when the stream of faeces knocks at the door of his anus. Relief came in pulses but such period only preceded greater discomfort.  He examined his surrounding, people everywhere, no secluded spots, no open unoccupied spaces and no grounds where he could squat and answer God’s call. He stood still, forlorn, alone in the crowd! In a moment, he thought about his village where God’s land extended in endless stretches, always ready to receive the natural manure whenever the urge beckoned. Moreover, the people, his people, they would have come to his aid if they ever noticed that he was in distress. They would have noticed. Where he came from, people were never alone, they cared for one another. Each man had a brother in the next and each woman could count a fellow female as her sister. One big family.

The reverie had to end, his bowel was in turmoil. He looked for the hero inside him since he was devoid of choices. He bent down slowly and eased out the laces from his rubber shoes, he used them to tie both legs of his trousers just above the ankles. He used tight knots. Then, he stood and let go. It was accompanied by sweet relief and thunderous clatter. He was done in a moment. He turned and looked all around him. Nobody noticed!!

Hello world!


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