Another heavily-laden lorry drawls past. I think it is the sixth that I have counted in ten minutes. I think this one is carrying baskets of tomatoes or bags of onions, or tubers of yam. Or something else. But certainly, not cattle nor sugarcane like the previous ones. The driver keeps honking the horn either to keep himself from drifting into sleep or to ward off lesser elements that might want to challenge his claim to the fast lane. I am beginning to think that it is something both animate and inanimate things have in common: class consciousness. The Director bullies the Manager who bullies the Supervisor who bullies the Skilled Labourer who bullies the Unskilled Labourer. The trailer bullies the van which bullies the car which bullies the motorbike which bullies the bicycles which bullies the pedestrians.
I have formed the habit of coming out to Nnamdi Azikiwe Way which runs through the west end of Kaduna, to sit all by myself on the terrace in front of the defunct Textiles Workers’ & Garments Zonal Secretariat. I go out there to listen to the chaos in my soul; to the croaking of horny frogs in the drainage channel by the shoulder of the bypass; to the mechanical sounds of everything that drives on wheels.
It is over a decade now since I first sat out here. I was seeing X off to the bypass to catch a taxi to her place. But then an issue had come up which we needed to thrash immediately. And since there was no fun in standing by the roadside and being blinded by the headlights of moving vehicles, we decided to sit on the terrace. And then it became a ritual. We would come down here with bottles of soft drink or packs of biscuit to conclude some issue or to just cling to each other in the cold night. At first X had thought it meaningless and a waste of precious time to just sit on this terrace and watch vehicles speed or crawl along the bypass. The same way she had found it weird when I suggested we strolled down to the bridge to lean on the rails and gaze at the misty river as the moon and stars danced in its ripples. But I taught her. I taught her how to see aspects of life in some of these things. How the road is the life and the vehicles are humans. Some people run on this road, some others crawl, and some others break down along the line. X learned…
Another lorry speeds past, the hum of its engine diffusing in the cold night air. It is difficult to tell the colours of vehicles, except when two or three of them drive close together, so that the lights from one shines on the other. But for much part of the night, the expressway is freer as vehicles just whizz past individually, silhouetted against the pale silvery sky. A yellow taxi slows down and finally stops by the road side. The driver turns down the ignition and then steps out to urinate into the drainage channel, coughing spasmodically and spitting out thick lumps of mucus into the ditch. I watch on with infantile curiosity, hoping that an approaching vehicle would shine light on him.
I like to gaze from the left, from where headlights approach and to where taillights recede, and sweep the view to the distant right, towards the River Kaduna Bridge. I like how the road reminds me of traveling; of people and places; of experiences. I like how the road drenches me with sweet nostalgia. Nostalgia!
But nostalgia can be tormenting too. The longer one leaves a place or a thing, the more even the most trivial of issues begin to take up unimaginable significance. One remembers vividly the smell of the backyard, the exact shape of the tree in the front of the house, the distinct clatter of the roof of the town hall. One remembers the windy footpath that leads to the stream or to the farm. All these come to the mind with strange clarity. One thinks of the town crier and his peculiar gait, the talkative woman in the next compound, the drunk who always sings at the top of his voice in the middle of the night, and even one’s enemy. Yes. One remembers one’s enemy, but no longer as an enemy because time and space will have blurred the dividing line. One remembers one’s love too. One remembered the object of one’s love, from the first moment of meeting to the last moment before parting. One remembers the smell of the other’s hair or body or breath, their skin texture and the sound of their voices. And in cold nights, when the rest of the world goes to sleep, one might lay on one’s back for hours, staring into darkness, while the provocative silence almost drives one mad. Sometimes, one’s spirit travels back to those nights when the duo clung together and whispered to each other through the night. But then sooner or later the inevitable happens: one is catapulted back to the present, to the cold and lonely room. And when that happens, it is difficult to hold back the sad smile and the countless sighs and, perhaps, quiet tear drops.
It is true that it can be a long road especially when you are all alone. But these days, sitting out by the bypass some at twilight is what I do alone until whenever I will find another crazy soul that will be willing to play such melancholic game with me.
Catch Me Here