All it took was one defining moment in November and I made the spontaneous decision to finish the year in grand style. The plan was simple: first step, I would request for a 2-week leave in December, which might or might not include the 1-week end of the year break. This meant that I would have about half of the month to hatch my plan. Time is the most valuable currency. Next, I would announce and execute visits to family members and friends. From Lagos to Ogun to Oyo to Kwara, no one would suspect anything. It would look just like mere interstate trips and what they did not know, would not hurt them. From Kwara, I would say that I was going to visit someone I knew in Abuja. Technically, that would not be a lie if I got to know anyone in the bus I boarded from the park in Abuja. No hitches so far. Everything depended on the next stage of the plan – the actual journey – going as smoothly as the previous ones.
Night buses are usually risky; riskier when travelling along a deserted expressway; to a greater degree in December; to an even greater degree when travelling to the North from the South, across the big river; to the greatest arguable degree when travelling to the capital of the “Home of Peace”. While this might not be entirely true, perception easily becomes reality for a lot of people. My people have a prayer: “Ẹni tí a kò dá gbére fún, kò ní mọ ibi tí a lọ”, meaning “May those whom we did not bid farewell, know not where we travelled to,” probably until we invite them for our welcome party – and they get amen from even the most wayward wayfarers. They also say “Kò sí àjò kékeré,” meaning “There is no little journey” because the longest journey is an accumulation of short journeys. All journeys matter.
The bus seemed to be filled with non-English speakers – judging from the conversations around me – who all knew each other from somewhere. The driver was rough and reckless. In his defence, he had to be. The speed and manoeuvring reminded me of stories I heard while growing up about Anini, the fabled robber, who skilfully drove a very long distance in reverse gear. Although unsure of his belief, I christen this driver “Hanini,” in honour of that legend. Hanini had a pack of cigarettes across his dashboard and I had no problem with it. In fact, I would be willing to bet that he was approachable for a discussion, given the right subject. “The physiological effect of tobacco on the respiratory health of a long distance driver” was concise and less than 20 words, thus a good candidate for a thesis topic. The Federal Ministry of Health disclaimer printed at the bottom of the packet was another good talking point. And they would both be useful icebreakers if I was desperately trying to get thrown out of the bus in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, it would be worth the gamble to have a chat with him as soon as the bus stopped moving. I had found “someone I knew technically”, probably.
Inspired by the enveloping ambience, there was a theory I developed which may come in handy for any future elopement: “The farther the tribe from a water body, the stronger the perfumes and scents they make,” which is why desert tribes are popular for their perfumes. Meanwhile at my big age, I still did not know the original Yoruba word for perfume (“Lọ́fíndà” was adapted from lavender). To buttress my theory, the Yoruba ethnic group happens to reside just beside the Atlantic Ocean. If it was any consolation however, there is no Yoruba word for “dirty” either. (I choose to believe that “ìdọ̀tí” was adapted from the English word, and no one can convince me otherwise.) Travelling can truly unlock the philosopher levels in a person. The Hausas explain that phenomenon best: “Tafiya mabuɗin ilimi” – Sojourn is the key to knowledge.
Pareto, to me, serves as one of the most influential figures in history. For an individual, about 80% of the notable events of a particular year comes from about 20% of the given period, in accordance to his 80-20 principle. Whatever that meant, I knew that my 80% was far from complete and time was running out. So I decided to honour a colleague’s invitation to an upcoming event at his North-eastern family home in December. He also invited me to his alma mater. “Come to UniMaid where men are made,” he said. Quite catchy, I had to admit. I wanted to respond with “Come to UI where men are high” but I kept quiet to avoid the misconstruction, as a result, of my statement (and transcript) to a certain degree – it was not worth the graduated risk to my honour. I let him have that round because I knew it only took one “First and the Best” in the next round and it would be game over. Moreover, you sometimes needed to stoop in order to conquer, and – in the Roman spirit of “veni vidi vici” – I wanted firstly, to come, and to see the school for myself. Although, I had other motives for my expedition.
On getting to the UniMaid campus, I may scout for a unique maiden to bring back. But that was a side attraction to the whole plan. It would be enough as an accomplishment to have travelled all the way from Lagos to Borno – two states which, shared between themselves, were flanked to all our territorial neighbours – yet I had kept myself loyal and faithful like an honest citizen cum patriot that could arise but did not obey the call, having abstained from entering foreign forests, lands and waters. Not even a finger would breach the borders, defying Customs (and tradition), for when the time comes to kiss this Anglophone region goodbye, I would like to attempt doing it the French way – with a mask, however. Perhaps another time, with the right seal of physical, mental, and medical protection (and permit), I could go through and return – in and out – as many times as I have the wherewithal to, beaming proudly with undulating feelings, of pure delight and sheer stress like a cantilever jacking the load; with full satisfaction in the place I come from; along with neither the risk of a conception, let alone the incubation of a different personality – or multiple personalities – abroad, nor the risk of contracting a disease. I would want my first time to be magical, like spelling coconuts onto a beach with a single wand – swing-swung, like Ping-Pong, and yin-yang, and zigzag. Notwithstanding, that would be one steamy tropical night for the annals of history!
Hanini suddenly stopped the bus and my imaginative mind returned to the cold and dry dustiness engulfing us at the time. We had all heard the loud noise which I assumed to be thunder. When it sounded louder and rather unnatural the second time, I heard Hanini mutter some words of prayer and supplication to himself in a familiar language as I was seated directly behind him. Alas, my “technical acquaintance” was actually from the same ethnic group as I. It appears that fear can bring out the true colours in a person just like hot water does to teabags. Out of concern, I asked (in Yoruba) to know what was going on. He did not know exactly but he could make a good guess. I seriously hoped that his guess was wrong because the only thing left in the plan was for me to arrive safely at my destination, and that was the stage that could not afford any contingencies. Before I could say anything to keep him optimistic, he suddenly developed a spark which was infectious as he instantly fired up the engine, and lit his first cigarette of the night. In no time, the different fumes were jostling to choke my nostrils.
It was at that point I realised that – one way or the other – my year was going to end on a high.
Then I woke up. I checked my phone. The month is March. December is behind. December is ahead. So many Decembers still to come. But these embers are here already, smouldering right before me as I’m burning the stick at both ends, trying to reconcile. The ventilation around aids respiration, combustion, digestion and, very soon, exhaustion. Rolling next to me is my shadow, as I begin to tire; waiting patiently until it absorbs my light and leaves. I had better wrap things up quickly before I pass on the torch.
Goodnight and good year, guys…