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Journeying Round the Country

Ifèsinàchi Nwàdike




darkness is a deep-black pitch

the colour of silence, nirvana, uncertainty –

amalgam of peace & fear

as you journey through Nigerian roads

 

the roads speak in lonely parables

easing out of the cosmetic darkness of Lagos

with dotted lights like a sparkle of fireflies

& face Ibadan: a corroding blackness that wraps Nigeria up:

no streetlights to guide travelers on the highways

 

“that tree looks like a crucified man”, said a co-passenger

in a flush of despair, reliving the horrors of a night travel

in a haunted nation, plagued by herdsmen,

bandits, Boko Haram, kidnappers, unknown gunmen, politicians –

ruffians of the night

terrors of the day

killers on the way

 

towards Ore, Satan's bush path, another passenger cried out:

“driver abeg I wan shit”

“if I stop make I die,” the driver retorts

we gasp in laughter & the pain of knowing,

knowing we signed the ruffians’ writ of life or death…

 

“hollam o, I warn una for park” added the assistant driver

“I no fit hollam reach Abuja o, stop o” she cried out

“eh? stop where?” chorused other passengers in fright

as if she had announced an imminent doom

“e be like say you be their agent” cried an old man

his face contorted at the thoughts of dying unfortunately on the road

after more than 70 years of surviving Nigeria

 

II

the face of the night is black with rage

oncoming cars return lights here & there

save for the scattered passage of stubborn civilization

the road sings a song of desertion

& betrayal of human use by day

 

the silence in the bus screams of our dance with danger

a dance that must be danced, so we go hard into the night

with windows shut, to keep Satan from reaching into aisle

& grabbing a handful for a feast in his kingdom

 

a Nollywood film is on the screen

but nobody pays heed to the poor actors

for vigilance on this path is perpetual

ruffians walk this road

ruffians run this road

 

my stomach rumbles in protest

I am shocked at the failed fortifications

of a 400mg of flagyl & tetracycline

I turn to the other pressed lady, my comrade-in-shit

she's quiet now, & I felt the guilt of experiencing her burden

 

off Auchi road, facing Akure

the shrubs brush the body of the machine

the quick ruffles & snatches & scratches

alert me to her speed

 

sleep began to knock heads about

snores begin their ascents like wild crackles of fire

the rotund man beside me is gone. he’s not snoring yet

but his bogus breadbasket bequeathed him the striking pose of a politician –

politicians are ruffians, ruffians are rogues

rogues are bandits, bandits are killers

there could be bandits on the way

there are bandits on the way

 

III

Uncertainty is the child this night gestates

the bus burrows into the blackness

Akure is wet with rains

the croak of frogs fill our ears

the chirp of roosting birds, crickets & other denizens of the night call to us

 

the bus is jerking and swerving to the dictates of the potholes

a youngster is watching Cocomelon on YouTube

with her mother's iPad, unaware of the tension

that garrisons her mother's heavy breathing

& our constant attention to the bushes

like white tourists in Kenya

marveling at the rustic beauty of African villages

 

It's 11:13pm, Naza calls from Enugu

“fine,” I tell her, but she was unconvinced

because a night’s journey here

is like making a death wish,

like pre-informing your loved ones of your death

& going ahead to die

“okay, we are negotiating with kidnappers”

I say. we laugh & wish it away

she blows me a kiss & hangs up

her silent supplications for my safety hanging in the air

 

a man is covering his face with a sweat shirt

to shield his eyes from the television lights

he’s sleeping, but he strikes the pose of a jihadist, a bandit –

bandits are boko haram

boko haram are known gunmen

known gunmen are unknown gunmen

there could be gunmen on these paths

there are gunmen on these paths

 

IV

the night holds a thousand secrets

& the trees know them by names

when the wind makes the branches nod

it is to shake them off the burden

trapped in the silence of their failure at verbal communication

if the trees could talk

the night would reveal the monsters

 

dawn looks like night

but it wears a lighter face

as Akure opens into the tail of Kogi

& we are vomited into the greens of Lokoja

so we behold dawn in fullness

but the roads are empty of feet & tyres

the town is still asleep

& we can hear our tyres against the tarmac

the throttling, gear change & humming

& the engine revving

humidity is fading behind the mountains like love growing weak

& heaven appears to perch on them –

the assuredness of a big, watchful eyes

compensate for the insecurity

“you people play too much in Africa,” my mind mocks me

 

the pressed lady is fast asleep

my stomach is calm

our oppressors sympathized with us: embarrassment

is not an option, it realized

“Welcome to Abuja,” the sign says.




 

Ifèsinàchi Nwàdiké holds a BA and MA in English & Literature from Imo State University and University of Ibadan respectively. He is a rapper, singer, actor, presenter, essayist, playwright, and poet. His debut poetry collection, How Morning Remembers the Night was First Runner Up, Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize, 2020 and was Longlisted for the inaugural Pan-African Writers Association Poetry Prize, 2022. His essay “The Ludicrousness of Ungodly Things” (Kalahari 2021) was listed in Afrocritik’s 20 Remarkable Essays of 2021.

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