She will not remember me. The girl, she will not remember me. But I will. I will remember her. I will remember her smooth clay-colored skin. I will remember her smile, her small beautiful smile; that smile small children have before life hits them with a missile and blows up all the innocence in them, that smile they have before they know what it means to be Christian or Muslim, friend or foe, Hausa or Yoruba. She has that smile and she is flashing it well. I am in love with her smile already. Honestly, I am in love with the girl already.
We are in a bus and we are travelling from the North to the South-West. Actually, we are going to Lagos; that’s the final destination. On the way, I will drop in Ogbomoso while the bus will drive two hours more to Ibadan and from there, some two more hours to Lagos – all things being equal. In total, the numbers of hours I will spend in this bus is 10 hours. After that, those going to Ibadan will spend some two more hours in the bus making 12 hours in total for them. And then, those going to Lagos will spend two more after then making 14 hours in total for them; that’s more than half a day…half a day on a bus with total strangers journeying from one corner of the country to another. Anyway, I am travelling to Ogbomoso so I have just 10 hours on this bus…if we go faster than usual, maybe 9 hours.
We set out. I do what you do when you are travelling. I call my mother.
“Inioluwa, bawo ni?”
“Mummy, I’m fine. I’m at the bus stop. We are about to start moving.”
“Okay,” she says and says some prayers. I say amen. “When will you get here?” she asks.
I take my phone off my ear to check the time and I say, “4pm,” hoping we will be faster than usual.
The bus stop is what you are imagining in your head. It is as crowded as you think, or maybe even more. There are the hawkers and the bread sellers. There are the drink sellers and those who really believe you – or maybe want you to – have some crazy diseases that only the liquid medicine they are selling can cure. This is a bus stop. A bus stop isn’t expected to be clean.
I have long legs so anytime I am travelling, I try to get the front seat. Believe me, there is enough space in the front to sit and stretch your legs. That space was created specifically for those of us with long legs. So, next time you are getting on a bus with your short legs, please do not take the front seat. Well, as expected, the front seats are all taken so I make for my other option, the last seat. I ask everybody around and I learn it is three on a seat. I smile; can’t imagine myself sitting on this seat with four other people on a 10hours journey.
I take my seat at the extreme of the seat by the window and bring out my phone. The time is almost 8am. I am about to start panicking that we won’t leave this place early enough to get to Ogbomoso early enough when a woman and her daughter walks in. She takes her seat beside me after I have informed her that there is no one beside me and her daughter stands in the space between us.
If you are going to be seated with someone for 10 hours, wouldn’t it be nice if you guys got along? So, I look at the woman and smile. Unfortunately, my smile goes unnoticed as she is talking to her daughter sharply in thick Hausa. The girl smiles at her mother and the woman shakes her.
The girl is beautiful. I guess I have said that enough but I just want you to keep her clay-colored skin in mind as you try and imagine her. She also has an innocent smile; do not forget that. She is still standing in between me and her mother and I am beginning to be worried when her mother says something in Hausa and the girl sits on her mother’s laps. I smile inwardly and turn to see what is going in front. The driver is just closing the door. He moves to his seat in front and starts the car. In a moment, we are moving. The 10hours journey has started.
Niger state is the biggest state in Nigeria, geographically. It is a large expanse of dry land. The color of the land is brown, nothing more. The dust here is more than I prepared for. If you are living in the South-West of Nigeria and do not know how to picture this in your head, picture a large green football field in the Harmattan. Yes, all that brown and dust. That is the everyday Niger and the rest of northern Nigeria. The state is beautiful. There is enough land to build massive infrastructure and to construct beautiful roads. There are huge roundabouts everywhere in Minna and there are rail tracks lining the whole state.
If you do not know how to appreciate this state, let me help you. Look up at the bulb in your room, is it lit? No? Sorry. Yes? Good. There are three major hydro-electric dams in Nigeria: Jebba dam, Kainji dam, and Shiroro dam. These dams are the reason you have power in your state…and all of them are in Niger state. Yeah, that state is that important you.
We are more than three hours into our journey and I am getting sleepy. The woman beside me is sleeping already. The girl is on her laps, her head on her mother’s chest. She is looking at me and I am looking at her. She is feeling sleepy too, I can see it. Her beautiful eyes have suddenly grown smaller and her lids are dropping. I have this strange feeling that she is watching me, waiting for me to sleep before she sleeps. So, I do not sleep.
For minutes, we watch ourselves, me and this beautiful girl. Sometimes I make a stupid face and she laughs. I do not why she is laughing. Maybe she is laughing because my stupid face is funny or because my stupid face is just stupid and she is laughing at how stupid grown-ups can be.
You cannot be seated with someone in the bus for hours and not talk. Five hours into our journey, we begin to interact. The woman is awake again and the girl is off her laps. She is standing close to my seat and I make space for her to sit. She looks at her mother who nods and then the girl squeezes herself between her mother and me.
“You’re going to Ibadan?”
“Oh…okay,” I say and swallow. They have close to ten hours more on this bus and I pity them. I pity the small girl sitting tightly in between us. I want to ask the mother if she can sit on my laps but I guess that will be too much so I make more space for the girl instead.
“You? Where are you going?” the mother asks.
“Ogbomoso,” I say.
“Ogbomoso, a town in Oyo state. It’s close to Ibadan.”
“Oh…ok,” she says. The girl looks up to her mother and the mother says something to her in Hausa. Then the girl looks at me and smiles. I want to ask if the girl understands English, if she can speak it. I want to explain to the mother how important English is to her survival in a diverse country like Nigeria, even if it is broken English. I want to say all this but I do not; the bus is slowing down.
It is 1:00 pm and we are now at Mokwa. The bus always stops at Mokwa for people to eat and stretch their legs. If you are going to be seated for 10hours journey, a 30mins delay wouldn’t hurt. The bus turns into a bus stop in Mokwa and we stop.
“Why are we stopping?” the woman asks me. The driver answers from the front, telling everyone to get off the bus and grab a drink. I am seated on the last seat so I have to wait for everyone to get off before I can think of getting off. The driver gets down and walks towards a canteen by the roadside. He says a few words and disappears behind the curtains at the entrance. We will not get back on the road for another thirty minutes.
While I was in the North, I was grateful English is our official language. My Yoruba was useless and I found it difficult to communicate. I could not make friends. There was a time I was in the market, taking a stroll when a girl walked up to me and said something to me in Hausa. Ba Hausa, I said. She would not believe it. Ba Hausa? She repeated in surprise. I nodded and shook her head and walked away. A beautiful girl walked away because I could not speak the common language. There was another time I was in a market and a guy approached me and spoke in Hausa.
“Ba Hausa,” I said.
“Well, what do you speak then?” he asked and I was shocked. I had never been so happy for hear anyone speak English.
“Wow! I’m Yoruba too. My name is Niyi,” he said and I could not believe it. I smiled sheepishly, thinking, This guy is a Yoruba. This guy is like me. This guy is my brother.
“Really?” I said in Yoruba and we got talking. He has been here for eighteen years. He came to the North while he was a teenager. Now, he is a man and is building a family. I ask if he wants to go bac home anytime soon. Niyi smiled and said, “This is home.”
THE LAST LAP.
Soon, we are back in our bus and we are going home. According to my Google Maps, I have four hours more before I get to Ogbomoso. Half of the bus the is sleeping now. There is nothing interesting here so I watch an episode of Blackish on my phone. The girl beside me is watching too. Her mother is sleeping again. I am halfway through my Blackish episode when someone gasp. The whole bus is awake. I look up and see the reason for the gasp. We are at Jebba.
There is a river that flows across Nigeria called River Niger. Remember primary school? River Niger and River Benue meet at Lokoja, remember? You do not have to go to Lokoja to see River Niger. From Jebba, you can see River Niger flowing like an endless line of water…and that’s actually what it is.
We are now at Jebba and everyone is amazed at this beauty. The mother is pointing to the river, telling her daughter to look. The girl cannot see very well because she is small and I am the one by the window so I carry her and put her on my laps. She looks at the river in amazement and points. River Niger is amazing. I do not know how to describe it. You cannot see the end of it. You just stand there and watch from Jebba as the river flows on and on and you cannot but marvel at what God is capable of.
If you stay a bit longer in Jebba, you will see the monument dedicated to Mungo Park, in remembrance of the shipwreck that took place there decades ago. Also, you will see the Juju rock which really looks as though it is made of juju.
But we are all in our bus so we drive on. The girl drops from my legs and goes to her mother. Everyone on the bus goes back to sleep; the boring part of the journey.
Once we enter Ilorin, I call my mother and tell her I am almost home. The woman looks at me and asks if this is Ogbomoso. I tell her it’s Ilorin and that we are forty-five minutes away from Ogbomoso. We drive through Ilorin and we begin our journey home. Soon, the driver announces that he is dropping us off at the first bus stop. No last bus stop, he claims and we do not complain. You do not complain after spending 10 hours in a bus.
The bus stops at Takie and I get off. I go to the boot and pick up my bags. The girl is kneeling on my chair, looking down at me. After taking my bags, I close the boot and look up to her. I smile and wave my hand. She waves back and then taps her mother who waves back with a smile. I am still waving as the driver enters and starts the car. I am still waving and the girl is still waving as the car takes a turn and disappears from my sight.
But she will not remember me, the girl. When they get to Lagos, she and her mother will go and have a bath and then sleep. Four days later, her mother will come back from work smiling.
“Halima, do you remember that boy that sat beside us in the bus?”
“What bus?” the girl will ask, licking ice cream.
“The bus from Niger, four days ago. Do you remember the boy? I saw someone that looked exactly like him today and he was carrying the same bag the boy that sat beside us was carrying.
“I can’t remember the bus, mom.”
“The boy, Halima, you sat on his laps while we watched River Niger,” the mother will say, trying to bring her daughter’s memory to life but the girl will only look more confused and ask instead,
“What’s the spelling of con-flu-en-ce?”
She will not remember. And you cannot blame her. She will not remember because that’s what kids do. They live the moment, they enjoy it and they let it go. This beautiful clay-colored girl will not remember me and here I am, in White House, 2:49am, writing a blog post about a girl that will not remember me. What can man do!
PS: I will be starting a new fiction series on this blog soon. It’s not going to be the usual thing we see around.
It is going to be fantasy and things are going to happen. People will fall in love and kiss, they will walk around at night and meet their death, rumors will be flying around and there will be a leader who thinks he is a descendant of Adolf Hitler. And yes, it is going to be set in Obafemi Awolowo University. I haven’t figured out the whole plot but it’s ringing in my head.Watch this space.
Bye for now.