It is a Tuesday morning and I am up and about my business of staying alive which includes going into the university in Awka where I’ve been trying to be a student for a little over two years now.
The air in this town is tense and smells like blood. I don’t know if it’s my nostrils but I see people’s faces and the fear resident on their foreheads. There is a little stretch in their ears, as if itching to hear a gunshot or a sound announcing chaos.
Tuesday is the new Monday here and Tuesdays have taken over the rush of Monday mornings. The Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB), a self-determination group has set Mondays aside, in civil disobedience to the government who has their leader in detention.
The road is littered with cars, lorries and shuttles. Each proving their urgency with their horns. I cross over to the other side of Aroma Junction to transport myself to the university. The sun is in its full glory and the scorch leaves no room for hesitation. Get a shade or get a tan.
There are women at the bus-stop sighing and covering their faces with handkerchiefs and jotters in a bid to excuse their skins from the heat of the sun. There’s another woman on the left. Her skin shines almost like the sun but she lifts her brown bag holding it against the rays of the sun. I find it funny because she keeps changing hands. Her left hand held it longer than the right on two occasions as she changed standing positions intermittently. I missed the first bus watching her perform this ritual of “sunscape”.
The second shuttle came and I knew it was my ride because of the driver’s sheer thoughtfulness of playing Oliver the Coque’s popular song “Ibiri kam biri”. A musical rendition of the Igbo philosophy of live and let live. I hopped in and allowed the music speak to me. My nods and body movements weren’t enough to distract my fellow passengers when we sighted a full herd of cattle traversing the road with Federal arrogance.
It made me postpone the thrill of this music to pay attention to the tattles and stories of these passengers. The driver pleaded with the passengers not to talk about the terror of herdsmen. He said that these are scary times and a DSS official might be in our midst.
I understood his fear because my mother calls me almost every other day reminding me of my importance in her life before she begs me to choose my words when in public spaces. She repeats this every day because she knows how I can be when discussing the issues that plague Nigeria. Fear inspires docility but courage is the first wife of rebellion. I married rebellion a long time ago and our marriage has been smooth and is blessed with ancestral protection.
I tell the driver to allow passengers who gave him their monies to talk about whatever they want. He turned and met my gaze. The look on my face inspired calm in him. He turned down the volume of the music and the woman in front said what everybody knew but with a personal story of loss. She told us how she came back to Benue last year from Onitsha Market where she buys wares that she sells in Gboko and met her house in disarray. Hands hanging over heads in utter disbelief that her husband and her daughter had been reduced to mere memories by herders.
The bus held its breath.
She pauses when we got to the military check point and looked out the window to the soldiers armed with guns, knives and a fear of unknown gunmen. We moved past and she sighed and snapped her fingers in abhorrence to Nigeria. She hasn’t healed. Nobody heals from the avoidable death of a loved one.
We drove through the first gate and the green grasses in front of the university were being served as breakfast to cows. The first gate of the university had been overtaken by a staggering number of cows and their rope-like herders whose stench I could perceive from where I sat in the bus across the road.
That woman at any sight of cows will be reminded of the day she left Benue a wife and came home a widow. She will, in the coming years, always tell this story with metastasizing pain and tears that will taste the same like the first day.
I went silent as I stared at the woman and tried to understand how her life has changed since then and now. I wondered what she is doing in Awka now, how the terror of Fulani-herdsmen has disrupted the order of her life and how she now walks around this new place with this hurt. I thought of how everybody she has come across must have encountered that hurt. In different ways.
She stopped at the second gate and I told her not to pay. I wanted to pay her bus fare but she smiled and handed the driver her fare as she alighted. I didn’t stop looking at her until she faded from sight.
The bus was quiet as though we were honouring the dead man and his daughter with our silence. I have never understood silence so I shattered it by telling them that if they keep silent outside of this bus it could be them or their loved ones someday. They responded with God forbid as expected.
It is existential irresponsibility that convinces an adult that he doesn’t have a role to play even if God is the protagonist.
Eke 10/5/21 — Osuchukwu is a writer, social commentator and critic