It had been aeons. My heart longed eating roads, miles after miles, with bumps and potholes like slices of yam with scrambled egg, or ketchup, or my blood. It yearned a lot: the raw madness of impatience on congested lanes, the constant motor gallops that make my body vibrate in a way that I like and serendipitously exercise my bones, the serene savannahs that steal my imagination, thrill and disappoint—like relics of ghastly motor accidents appearing every now and then—at the same time by ending too soon, and the resurge of hibernated bustles. I longed to see Ibadan, the city of “rust and gold”, and lust, and wildness, and warmth, and, peculiarly, exotic wines. So I set forth, as Wole Soyinka advised, just at dawn. Uncle is immodestly oenophile like a French; he initiated me prematurely. I craved a wasteful reunion with his overwhelming cellar.
Ibadan is a quintessential paradox: rust and gold. Cocoa House, etcetera used to be gold, Agodi is gold like Bodija, my destination. Gold ought to be more charming but rust, in this case, is about all: not only the rusted zinc roofs of decrepit compounds that house cohabiting generations and histories but the essential garrulousness, the egregious pugnacity, audacity to do unthinkable stuffs like indulging thief at the expense of owner without an iota of compunction. (Wait. Don’t you wonder yet.) This is the question folklore says the pristine Ibadan would put to you if you dared call out a thief: “why did you keep your property vulnerably?”—a deafening pronouncement of sheer brazenness. What is more, political wildness, proclivity for street fights—or, if euphemism wasn’t evocative, ingrained thug instinct—and the attendant incessant fracas. The uncouth, nonchalant accent that pronounces chicken as shicken, man as mon, peculiar mess as penkelemes, etcetera. And the overarching endlessness, especially of the geography. But rusted and wild, after all, is how we prefer Ibadan.
Rusts welcomed me before noon with traffic congestion that occurred between Muslim and Olorunsogo. But the driver was stubborn, ruthless on his rickety bus such that the delay could only be mild. I met Ibadan with a surprise: people went about normally—no face masks, no social distancing and what have you—as if covid-19 wasn’t real and I couldn’t stop wondering why it wasn’t spreading fastest here. I met Bodija poised with the usual mien of haughtiness clouded by an irresistible serenity. I met Uncle wining already and did not hesitate to join him after we had greeted distantly in order to play safe instead of hugging each other tightly like we used to do, like we yearned to do.
My phone ranged, however, before I finished my first bottle. It’s Yemi. We haven’t seen physically since the lockdown started. She’s already at my place for a surprise visit. She planned to spend the night before departing for Abuja the next evening for an urgent official assignment. She dropped a WhatsApp message after the call: “you know I can’t leave for Abuja until you’ve pounded and left yourself inside me. Be safe but return quickly. I yearn to eat you raw.” Her words carried loads of emotions and suggested heavy mental pictures that quickened my pulse. I felt it consummately but Lagos is not the next house, so what now?
I hurried back to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway under a ruthless sun only to meet a terrific traffic jam upon the smouldering asphalt road. It began from Challenge and extended beyond Toll Gate. It held me for almost two hours, but I wasn’t really perturbed eventually. It’s only 4:30pm when I came out of it. I’d make it home before blackout, I thought and kept eating the steaming road eagerly.
The rest of the journey was smooth before we reached Mowe-Ibafo, where there’s another entanglement. We surmounted that too and I arrived Oshodi, Lagos at 7:30pm. I called Yemi that I would be home in the next thirty minutes. She was elated and could not wait any more to see me. I couldn’t wait to meet and devour her too. That mutual spontaneity caused the only energy left in me. “Jakande Gate”, I waved down the next bus.
It was a dry-cleaner van with very sparse ventilation, but I couldn’t wait to select. I just wanted to be home quickly. Home, however, appeared to be scared of my return. It seemed it never wanted me back again or at any time soon. I felt it feared I had contracted the virus. It’s serious, as the distance between Oshodi and Jakande Gate widened unbelievably—albeit stagnantly. The narrow roads of Aswani literally became another Lago-Ibadan Express way. Isolo grew wider than the entire Lagos. I couldn’t tell how, but it felt as if I was travelling from Nigeria to Australia. The traffic jam was otherworldly and I did not know when I burst, wondered agitatedly aloud: “what the hell! Where the fuck is everybody going right now?”
My co-commuters were dumbfounded and perhaps scared. They thought, certainly, I was high on Colorado weed. They stared at me scornfully and pitifully and despite the proximity of our seats, I instantly felt isolated. I was left to answer myself: everyone equally certainly had lots of longings, so we all took back to life aggressively following the ease of lockdown.
I checked time and it said some few minutes to ten. I couldn’t hear from Yemi any more, my phone had died. I was really tired. My marrow was seething, my stomach churning violently. I felt like I would soon suffocate. I was experiencing life in Bessie Head’s words: “a hell in which each burns until it’s time to close shop”. I was burning fast.
Then I mentally rehashed my journey and strangely began to feel emptied into the roads like oceans and rivers into estuaries. Absolute peripeteia: I felt consumed and wasted—bits by bits like metal against chisel—to the ravenous appetite of the conquered kilometres, to every mile—smouldering asphalt—unfolding and closing to crunch and savour me in instalments. I was drained, even of appetite albeit I was famished like inferno, and I could not imagine lustfully any longer. Yemi, a bird, would have grown tired and be roosting already.
It was 11:30pm when I arrived at the bus stop next to my house. I met it still bustling as if the covid-19 midnight curfew was more than thirty minutes away. People really had longings. I alighted or dragged myself down the coffin of a bus with legs as heavy as fresh timbres. I suffered acute muscular cramps on both legs and stood still for minutes. But when I noticed some sinister parades, I remembered the signatures of Lagos nights and dragged myself into my apartment.
Inside, she slept disappointedly on the couch at living room. Her glamorously broad caramel face glistened effortlessly as I switched on the light. She wore a transparent, mini-gown pyjamas, no undies, and slept face-up. I saw everything: her full chest, always-erect nipples—her flawless thick thighs laid apart—and her clean, immaculately shaved crotch in which I’d have dipped my head ravenously upfront. But nothing moved me again; I had become a log.
I despondently remembered Ibadan and began to regret my losses. The image of poor erosion, gathering booties but waiting to enjoy none as it hurries into a dam, unsuspectingly into permanent interception, came upon my mind. I felt deprived by road like a caged bird but sang no threnody because it’s self-inflicted and I resent pitying myself. No lizard enters a house unless there’s a crack already in the wall, I realised my mind was complicit like Nigerian government against poverty, against corruption, against insecurity and against bad roads that cause traffic congestions. It had always played me, and I think like all, into thinking I was gaining the flying time by each conquered mile, hence the initial illusion and innocent euphoria. So I wonder no more why roads do not die; they are estuaries of lives.
I grew melancholic, likened my plight to how I felt the millions of people that recently died without finishing must had felt before parting reluctantly. Nothing, including hereafter, aside from now felt certain again. I resolved to rather double-up my pace, to rather renew my obsession with my life’s work.
I must finish here. As I fell, dirty like that, clumsily into the rug in order to sleep off with my disillusionment like those who die without finishing, Bob Marley’s Iron Lion Zion with its infectious horns came to steal my mind entirely:
“I’m on the rock
and then I check a stock
I’ve to run like a fugitive
to save the life I live…”
About the Author
Bayo Aderoju is a playwright, poet, essayist and fiction writer from Nigeria. He holds a first class B.A. in English. His works appear or forthcoming on Praxis Magazine, Spillwords, African Writers, Palette Poetry and so on. He spends most of his time in his head, but you can sometimes find him on Facebook @Bayo Aderoju.