18 Park Road Aba 4
The driver was a middle aged man. He was tall and slim and looked boyish. He smoked his cigarettes leaning on the bonnet of his Peugeot J5 mini-bus, while a member of National Transportation Workers Union called out for his passengers. It was his turn to load passengers and his vehicle will be the only one loading for Aba. I was early. Two passengers who had come earlier had taken the two front seats. I took the window seat on the next row, which was directly behind the driver’s seat.
Ojuelegba never slept. I have just made it for the rumoured Aba Early Morning ‘J5’. While we waited, you could see that, there were different sorts of businesses going on at quick pace, all over the station. Beside us was a line of rickety cabs, making frequent to-and-fro dashes across the bridge, into the island to Obalende, another insomniac station. There was the suya spot, roast corn, roast plantain, and roast yam spot, fried plantain, fried yam, moi moi and akara spot. Sachet water, paracetamol and some pornographic magazines were also on the hawk. Petty traders took turns to do their businesses in a relay of day shifts to night shifts. Every one of them coveted and struggled for the spot, which brought them good sales, the night before.
There wasn’t electricity supply in the surroundings, but Ojuelegba’s hot embers glowed in the dark. Loud music blared from torn, dirty, dark speakers. Bus conductors doubled their efforts to shout destinations and call out for passengers. Darkness reduced visibility and the functioning of other senses. There was also so much smoke. Open fires from old tyres, flagrant fragrances from burning kerosene and diesel, which repelled mosquitoes. Multiple little fire embers, flash their red coals from corn and plantain roasters, and suya barbecue spots. These glowed and ebbed in celebratory intermittency. Incense sticks, cigarettes, weed, and twigs, also were sending their clinched fists of spiral black smoke into the night. Their resistance banners of dark smoke stilled the night air.
Along came the rattles and chatters of clinks and clangs, with high angry decibels, exploded by the hammers and crowbars of vulcanisers’ wheels and wielders’ cylinders. Alas, someday, they will march in protest and tear down the official curtains and the banners of the system that has made them ache in perpetuity. On their way, they would drive away the money changers, and rip the veil, just in time, they will glow, as the pentecost groans and orgasms their redemption, riding on the quake and wave, of their indomitable human spirits.
It was still dark but you could still see people trickling in from the four sides of the cross roads into the station. This would have been largely true until you noticed that a reasonable amount of men who left the station towards Lawanson Road into Ayilara Street were almost equal in number as those who came from Lawanson Road into the station. These were not passengers. They were the Okokomotopak ‘bloom of the park’ station-rats, they are ‘street’, crime recruiting reserves, or petty thieves. Like the old days, they leave the station to go to the next yard.
There is a very strong rumour, that the man they call Pastor, who sells Indian hemp was stealing the vintage brains of his customers. They are now sapped, and diffused with ordinary cells. They say they see him there and that he is now in his village, where he ascended his grandfathers title Onwukwe as the Egwuatughi-Eziokwu of Ihie Ngwa. They also say, the uncle who quickly stands while pretending he never fell, was also seen. He held a live wrap in two of his right fingers, moving them away from his bumped up scared lips, while sipping back an escaping heavy dark smoke. He quickly hunched his nostrils with those lips, while exhaling and exhausting a pure light and feathery smoke. They say, he was sitting in front of the yard, that he now collects rents at one of the aunties yard. They say the uncle with the artillery shock was now a member of the volunteer neighbourhood vigilante group there. They also say the aunties there are not prostitutes, because they do not live in brothels.
The last uncle who left the station went straight into Lawanson Road. He tended to wait a little longer at the first crossroads before he was pulled to the left.
In front of him was the lonely wide open road of Lawanson. The has heard that the last rootless black fly, that launched into it was never seen again nor did it ever land. He peered ahead into the dark and confirmed for the umpteen time that he will need somebody to hold his hand, to guide him and to guard him. This was Lagos, this is street and this is the one area, where under the illumination of the daylight, human beings walk on this street with the help of cars, and the strike of a civil war rebel, still weighs heavy upon him.
On his right is the mirrors of the ECWA Church. The mirrors don’t judge him, however they are getting quite dusty now, yet more effort is invested in repainting the vintage wooden frames, to repent the ageing, of the original mahogany tree. Who knows who he is, whether or not he is, and if he is asked to identify and love who he is or what it is, he is, whether he could do that? The dusts make things even worse! This is not the best he knows can be, but this is the best he can and if he can live today, he surely will see tomorrow. And the nuances of the conflict’s various cranial, and dishevelling elements, with its compressed and ever brewing hangovers, have constantly left him with an overburdening aftertaste, sully mouth and an indelible debris of coloured eyes and bad behaviour. He was pulled into the left, accustomed and doing it with guilt. God is the rightful judge. He wept and demanded that the fair game should begin after those wood restorers on the other side of Ayilara have made sure that the house is rewired and the mirror dusted. And like they say, Let all men be liars.
On Ayilara, the aunties stood still, erect, on the right side, facing the left side of the street. The street shown in wet redness and in cheer of celebrity welcome entry. One auntie carried a massive white pillow, another, some cotton soft airy mattress, another a tray with a big jar of clean water and an empty cup. They wore long sky blue skirts and white blouses. Their faces looked purposeful and determined, dead with ageless reserves and deposits of the meaning of empathy.
In his tear drenched face, the sounds of Ojuelegba resonated. It came back to him, as the motions of the pentecost rode the human spirits. In the numbness of his terrestrial awareness and the biting chill of the morning dew in his eye wide shutters, opens the mile thick door, of calm and clarity. Then, they all froze, moved gently by the passing breeze, his world in a castle, on a tray, left the night before on the seat of a swing, under the ancestral tree. You follow on as you are now led by the rueful cherub of your asphyxiated drowning brain cells. Drinking from the empty cup, the clean water from the big jar on the tray, you are stirred and stroked to the long blue skies and the light white clouds of your surrendered self. The aunties then step forward into the deep blood red carpet, lay you detoxed and distressed, to pass you up unto the deeper truth and down the higher deadness, you have cum and the pulsating rest.
You now understand the sounds of the Ojuelegba Pentecost in your own mother tongue. Your mouth quivers in gibberish and you begin to speak in the new tongue. I am somebody. I am a human being. I am beautiful. I am human. I am beautiful. They come to you, and you hear them speaking in various tongues, of all the people, where you had cried, searched for employment, sojourned and walked the streets, praising God. He, now, wiping your own sweat and wiping your own tear drenched face, praising God, in your own decipherable mother tongue, saying You have lived today, you will see tomorrow.
The bus conductor woke me up. I looked around. The bus was now full, filled with passengers, light travellers like me, all quiet and beaming with a sense of gratitude for the moment. I felt for my money. I had thoughtfully put it in the left pocket of my tight jeans trousers which I leaned tightly on the body of the bus. I took a quick glance at the passenger on my right hand side. I wondered how long I had dosed. I felt the money in my pocket, which brought my glance back to the left hand side and down to my pocket. I pulled the money out and handed it over to the conductor. I glanced at my wrist watch as I was returning my hands back to its position. It was fifteen minutes, I had dosed for fifteen minutes.
Listening and Creative Communication Artist
BA Fine Art (Painting) University of Benin 1986