…And somehow the luxury bus came to a halt at Jambutu Bus Park Yola at 2pm. Jambutu Bus Park had the cloves of home and just like any other Bus park, it was a confluence of dirt and waste, filled up gutters and dirty potholes, buses in complete disarray, shouts, fights, scraggy looking hawkers. I was disappointed to still find traces of my previous existence here…it worried me; the thought that I had carried with me throughout the journey pieces of home. I boarded a Keke to the camp. There was this anxiety I would feel throughout the open journey –the luxury box had afforded a kind of safety, it was gigantic and closed, it kept us away from danger and also kept danger within us– I listened intently for danger, any red marker; shift, look or change in the tone of the driver’s voice while he talked on phone. Though he spoke Hausa, somehow I felt there could be a hint. I wouldn’t let them get me easily. I spent the whole of the 15mins journey assessing how I could overpower him, looking out for security posts. The general feeling was that of expectant violence, violence that could rupture in your face any moment…
“Driver, Driver! Stop stop! …Driver stop now!” The desperate voice of a lady dragged my attention away from the window pane where my eyes roamed in the blurry darkness. Inside the bus was dark but not pitch black, there was a gentle hue of darkness, and if the eye looked intently, it could make out the face. But I knew the driver wouldn’t stop, we were at Benue. Benue is a beautiful state, sedate, peaceful until it is not.
Suddenly she stopped banging the driver’s door and everywhere was silent again, the snores resumed. There was finality to her actions, a determination, even when a small bucket howled and the smell hit me… I didn’t feel sorry for her nor pity. It was a feeling of bravado, well done. She had realized this wasn’t home and we were strangers imprisoned in a tin tank and well this was the last she would see them or they would see her –if at all they could.
When we left Owerri, no when we left South East, I knew, without the driver telling us nor after consulting with Google Map…you’ll just feel it; that you’ve left home.
Probably leaving home started from the bus, from boarding a luxury bus from Onitsha, perhaps it started with the thought of actually leaving home? The faces you won’t get to see, the greetings; the ‘heys’ and the limp ‘boss howfar’ you never wait for its reply. Perhaps leaving home started with leaving without my cap, leaving my face bare, eager to meet people not from home? Perhaps the finality of leaving home lies in the near impossibility of returning home. Adamawa contained such impossibility. Adamawa I would get to understand and agree is a different country and Enugu is a border between Nigeria and other countries.
It was Night and I was yet to complete my registration. I sat patiently and calmly occasionally replying chats I had made up my mind to ignore, observing the crowd which by now had divested itself of excess weight. However, much to my chagrin, some elements and biological misconfiguration walked past the queue and straight to the registration officers and they began talking in a low tune and in their native language. They came for what we came for –camp registration. At home I wouldn’t have bothered, I would’ve adopted the street interpretation of “locus standi”; what more pain do I suffer than any other person who was jumped in the line? At home I would seat back and watch this and even smile at how easily people got worked up. “It is their right, the know people in the right place and we’re simply unfortunate” But somehow I got up, worked straight to the person in charge and spewed my mind perhaps in desperate urgency to prevent the foreplay of a wicked irony; to snatch this strange place from deteriorating to home. Perhaps I wanted to make it clear that; I have left home. It turned out, that those who tried using the backyard door were actually those who created the backyard door and then he was out for me –the Registration Officer.
When it got to my turn, he somehow invented a problem with my statement of result; “Look my friend, the signature in your statement of result is forged, call your school and have them issue you a new one and way-bill it, Air peace will charge like 7k” My face tore with disbelief; while I came by bus, now my document will enter plane? “Your father!” I cursed but not loudly, just loud enough for a smile to play on my lips. I looked at him like he was fish out of water…like o kwaala aka na tipper bu ajaa. Just one call and I will get through all this; he will even come to my hostel with the forms. I picked up my phone and I looked at the contact I was about to call, it dawned on me that this wasn’t home. At home, just one call can mar or make your life, just one call. I stood mummified, for the first time I began to take him in, his appearance, his demeanour, his English devoid of the Hausa accent. His face with side scars, like he was dragged out from his mother’s womb by the cheeks with a pitchfork. I had to do something, this wasn’t home, I had to act fast, he was out for me. So I did what I wouldn’t do at home. I lowered my voice, pride stepped down from my face and walked away angrily…”Sir I’m very sorry, I was arrogant pardon me, spending 24hrs on the road could get to you.” The words felt heavy the strolled and rocked the walls of my throat as the leapt forward…
At home I don’t eat bitter Kola, I never tried it. Bitter Kola is a bitter pill shaped like a walnut but with so many shades of bitter. But there I was 12hrs into the journey and my stomach mumbling incoherently, I peeled the back and took it in whole. Slowly I began to scrape it; scrape and suck, scrape and suck; this was the only way to cheat its bitterness. You don’t think about swallowing it whole or even chewing up everything at once. The thought of chewing it off completely and getting rid of it fast makes it worst. The first heavy bite will numb your tooth, another bite will make your gum feel like grinded bitter-leaf and another bite will melt the muscles of your tongue. You just had to find a way to cope, to eat it like you enjoy it, like you don’t want it to finish. That was how camp was… no not camp but my home for the 18days
What happened to the three days I let off? The three days where the days I tried to swallow camp whole, to rush it off immediately and get home. The three days were the day I let the home I left behind hang around and keep me company at night and to whisper to me of the bliss I would return to, that this was temporal. The three days were friends who called, who wished me well, the three days was my king breakfast I missed and thought about recreating, the three days contained two days of holding my shit unsure how to, where to and when to… This was important to me; it is the most important biological process I can think of –moving the bad, the toxic away from and out of your system and creating space for something new.
One late night, at the threshold of the third night, when the frustration had peaked, and the whole process was a violent depression, the type that leaves one drained, flat and weak and mumbling to oneself. And the voice came to seduce me once again…of home. I caught it, laid a pillow over it and watched it struggle…till she became quiet, till home became the long stretched road that was an end itself not a route to a journey or destination but an end to a destination.
I took a liking to the zinc-walled and fenced pit toilet, the concrete floor that was cold and smooth to the feet, the slimy wooden frames that served as soap dish to many odd atrocities in the guise of soaps. The large hole that could swallow whatever you gave it and belch so satisfactorily that it will leave you breathless. I found a favourite section/pit –Pit 3; it had a promise of a new home. That even at the close of camp, I made sure we had one last date. This time it was just the two of us, no queue, no hurrying, no loud and incongruous assault from Pit 1 and 2. We stayed together while the Governor (ably represented) gave his closing speech. We sat there calm and relaxed…till I left home. Home?
Choro…choro…! Tiny voice chased after our bus as it sped, I was curious. I peeped through the window and saw little children the colour of rust. They shouted and waved and smiled and shouted again, alerting a community of their like. They bundled towards our bus as fast as their tiny feet would let them, the little ones gave up almost immediately. I was curious, I wanted to satisfy whatever it is the sought with such intense energy and belief. I waved back at them, smiled harder. What does ‘Choro’ mean I asked my new neighbour/my seat partner (my friend I embarked this journey with) had got down at Jalingo Taraba, while we headed for Adamawa. He was an indigene of Adamawa. He corrected “Is not Choro but ‘Juro’ and it means water can or bottle.” I smiled at how ridiculous it sounded, all the energy and the excitement just for something so common? He looked at me and shook his head and it dawned on me; the solders at the check point didn’t ask for money but pressed for water, bottled Eva water.
“So what do they use it for?” I pressed on. He replied eagerly and with a smile, “They take it to school as their feeding bottle and sample it to their friends” I smiled. What do they care about what home means, about state, about country, about fight or herdsmen. This was their own home, their world –wrapped in rusty joy and a beautiful word –Juro…bouncing off a tin tank