The Girl From Niger
The girl from Niger did not smile. She did not give me the look that most girls give me. That what exactly does this guy want look. She did not give me that look, which would have been a good thing if I did not know what she was thinking, if I did not see the kind of look she was giving me. She was giving a conclusive look, like she had tried me and had found me guilty, that I was not worth her acquittance. And really, who am I to think that I am worth the acquittance of the most beautiful of the girls I know from Niger? But then, how many girls do I know from Niger? One?
I did not plan my last trip to Niger. I just woke up and realized that I had to go. I had to go see my old man and I needed some quiet. I needed to read some books and I needed to be alone and without disturbance to read those books. I knew there was no way I could do all these in school. So I told all the stakeholders in my life that I was traveling and that I was going to the north. I received the usual responses. My siblings wished me well. My father said it was fine and that I should keep him posted on my plans. My mother was not so pleased. It’s election period, Inioluwa. I don’t think you should be going to the North during the election. I smiled and told her I would be fine. I told the girl. She took it the way I expected her to take it. Two weeks in a dry place can do some harm to a budding friendship, especially between two people who like each other. It’s just two weeks, I try to say. She is nodding. She is nodding but I know she is not happy when she asks on the day I am supposed to leave school if I cannot just go the next day. I have to go today. I am sorry.
There are two known ways to get to Niger from Ile Ife. You can go to Abuja first and from there, take a bus to Niger state. It is pretty close. That is what I am going to do next time. It is high time I saw that FCT. The other way, which I took, was to go to Ilorin and from there, go to Niger state. I took the second way because I wanted to drop by at Ogbomoso to drop and pick up a few things before going to the North.
I got to Ilorin on Friday morning, I think. Maraba is the destination. That is where I take the bus to Niger. On getting to the bus, I secured my bag and then went to find something to eat. There is something about the rice and beans they sell in Maraba. I don’t know what it is about it but there is something quite exquisite about it, like it was planned to be taken only before travels, never to be taken in the comfort of one’s house. The woman who sold to me was quite caring. Don’t you want more? Let me put fish too now? Niger is far o. Shey you know it is ten hours? You have to eat wella. Shey I should add water?
I tell her to add everything she wants to add because right now I am not thinking about the rice and beans or the journey. Instead, I am thinking about Ilorin and the history that state holds for me.
Some twenty years back, in October while the Harmattan was still mild and warming up and the Kwara sun and heat was in its full gear, I was born in a hospital in Ilorin. The name of my doctor was Dr. Arumaradu. I would never forget his name before after delivering me to planet earth, Arumaradu realized that his work was not done and he would have to see him again almost every two weeks for the next few years. And then he would see me one last time after I had been retrieved from the under of a bus with a broken hand and legs. He would look into my eyes and tell my parents to go home and sleep and that if I could survive that, nothing could kill me, not even the never-ending wheezing monster that came in the middle of the cold nights. That is my last memory of Dr. Arumaradu.
The woman puts all she wants to put in the food and gives me in a disposable pack. The car was about to start. I enter the car and find myself sitting between an angry man and a girl, the girl from Niger. She was a tall but small girl. She had the northern nose and her eyes were looking like they did not like being looked into. I looked into them and smiled. She did not return the smile. I try starting a conversation but the girl from Niger did not think that was a good idea. I felt bad so I told her why I was trying to talk.
“We are going to be seated together like this for the next ten hours. I can’t keep quiet for that long,” I said.
She half smiled. You know what that means? She smiled with half of her mouth, revealing half of her teeth. The horror of that! It’s worse than a grimace, than a smirk, than a frown. A half smile is what Judas must have given our Savior before the kiss – on the cheek!
Do you attend Unilorin?
I can’t hear you.
Are you from Niger? I asked
There is something about nodding, about shaking your head or moving your head when you are supposed to be talking. I know this because I am one of the many guys that employ the mystery of silent body language. And by body language, I mean talking through your body and not your mouth. I do not mean anything vulgar; repent! There are times when girls ask me questions and I nod, not because I am too tired to talk but because there is a message that a nod passes, a silent message that says…
Wow. That’s cool, I said and the moment it came out of me, I knew it was stupid. I am amazed because I am been filled by stereotypes, stereotypes about the humans who live in the North and how they live their lives and how they do not go to school and all. And for me to see this girl from Niger state going to school and not just going to school but traveling out of the North for miles to attend university, it feels strange, foreign, unusual, mysterious, mystical, strange.
History and International Relations.
What? I shout and then I begin to laugh. There is something in every man, some beeping machine that sounds aloud when you see that you and a girl have something in common, something on which you can build a conversation, a relationship, something which can be the cornerstone of the relationship. Anything. The machine in me beeped aloud like it was malfunctioning. What are the odds, really? That the girl I was sitting with which was from Niger state which I had never met before was also studying the course I was studying? And because I am interested in the girl and I am here to impress, I open my e-portal and show her that I am also studying the course. And that I am in my final year now. That is when I get the first smile.
We talk on. Well, it was not exactly talking. It was more of me talking and she nodding and smiling while I run my mouth like a broken tap. A conversation should be in two ways and after some time, I realized that she does not really want this conversation so I let her go. Soon, sleep takes over my role.
You want to sleep? I ask, looking her in the eyes.
She looks at me for a while, like a baby would look to her mother for breast milk, longingly and with a question in heart, and then nods. This girl does not trust me, at least not yet. She does not trust that I have pure intentions and that I am not in any way interested in taking her name to the Babalawo for money rituals. Perhaps she thinks that’s what I want to do. She thinks I am going to travel to Abeokuta with her name and knock on the old man’s door. The door is made of rock so when you knock, you don’t hear any sound but if you don’t knock, my brother you’d spend the rest of your life out that rock door waiting for the man to come.
He opens the door, the hairless man.
“My son. ”
“You have come again. You this generation and money. ”
“Money must be made, baba. ”
“Who is it this time around?”
“It’s a Hausa girl, a blunt Hausa girl.”
“Hausa girls? Good. Hausa girls always have bright glory.”
“Really, baba? I never knew..”
“Their stars are always bright. But how would you know when the bulk of them are not even allowed to school but are sent to some old circular men to marry”
The man beside me is angry. He is angrily playing Candy Crush, angrily crushing the candies.
The man’s hair was older than him. It was as though the hair felt the man was slowing him down and he just got angry and decided to move on without the man. He did move on and turned grey while the other parts of the man decided to stay with him. The skin decided to stay, still fresh like oil. The eyes stayed, partially. They turned yellow and askew but retained their sight. The nails stayed, they stayed completely with all their heart and all their mind. But the hair was rebellious and did not waste time in showing it. Poor man, young heart, old hair.
The Hausa girl is sleeping already and she is careful not to let her head fall on my shoulder. But then, sleep is a shameful thing. It has no respect for our principles. And soon, her head is moving close to my shoulder. Her eyes are shut, completely shut and, thankfully, her mouth is shut too. No sound is coming out of there. The only part of the body that is disobedient is the head as it is now resting on my shoulder and the owner of the head does not know. What do you do when a head is on your shoulder especially when you know that the owner of the head does not want it to be there. Me? I do nothing. I pick up my phone and write love poems, thinking about birds and flowers.
It is a shame that my journey to Niger state was uneventful. We got to the state and I got down from the car and went to pick my things in the booth. When I turned around to say bye to the girl from Niger, she was gone. There was no sign of her. It was like rapture happened and took her alone; like she never existed.
I will think of this girl. I will think of her blue raiment, of her hair which I never got to see, of her lips, her blackish lips, of her eyes with the black line beneath them, of her smile, of her conclusive gestures. I will lie down on my bed and think about this girl and wonder, what could have happened if I was another boy and she was another girl and we did not have so many differences…just what?
I am going to Ilorin tomorrow. From there, we will move on to Enugu. I will bring you stories. Sweet marine stories. I promise. You have to trust me, guys.
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