I am at Abuja and I haven’t met a soul. When I drift to Lagos I’ll be a star; I’ll stand on raised platforms and own the stage; I’ll howl my heart’s hunger and win applause. Just wait.
Now I’m in this city I do not know, and shadows of relatives and friends too long forgotten and too suddenly remembered recoil at my nostalgia.
“When are you going back?” he asks squinting and smiling. I see devious calculation on his face, the fruit of recent gossip, but I choose to be nice.
I’m at Abuja; I’ll be nice. There is no point giving myself airs and estranging the tight circle that I have now.
So I smile too, a very slow, very deliberate smile, and I say, “I don’t know.”
I’d like to meet the president and Ben Bruce, or be invited to a party where I just accidentally run into someone famous and start out on my true journey. This is the city, isn’t it? This is the place they bake us, incubate us, make us, spew us out polished.
This is the city, isn’t it?
But I don’t know a soul. I walk the cobblestones and watch power wheel past in posh cars, desperation walking close by me and ordinary people riding tricycles, taxis, or backseats of power cars. I am here where there is no medicine for poverty. I’ve practically seen money attired in a zillion unprecedented ways to my knowledge and imagination but I haven’t seen a currency say “hello.”
“How long are you staying?” he asks again after two days, a little interest thinly disguised on his face.
My smile is lightning quick, eager to keep the few friends I’ve managed to make.
“I don’t know.”
I’m thinking about music, I’m thinking about life, I’m thinking about people taking tours cross-country, eating continental dishes, wearing Burberry and Victoria Beckham, snubbing me on Facebook. I’m thinking about the friends I really wanted to make, the friends that really didn’t want to be made by me and the fact that though all I have in my heart is love they seem to be saying: “we love you too but it isn’t enough.” They’ve all walked away – childhood playmates, teenager friends, more privileged age mates, cousins, boyfriends, lovers, mentors…
I run up the stairs to USLA11, Garki International Market, holding the madam’s handbag, careful to keep my stride exactly two steps behind hers, careful to demure all my book learning and get along with the tailors, careful to look unperturbed when she’d scream directives at me, careful to do the things I didn’t come here to do. What do I know about this city?
It’s the end I think, the place where Nigeria walls you in or shuts you out, the place where your dreams come to stagger in awe of how reality doesn’t really need you.
I’m not a woman of God, sir, I’m not a rich man’s daughter or a richer man’s wife. I have no pedigree, you see.
I’m not the kind of writer that’s dined with the famous, the made, the elite comer-uppers, no sir. I’m the kind of writer that tries to hide the fact that I love to read from madam’s ferocious scrutiny, the one with the shape-shifting voice, the one with the insomniac dreams, the one with the daytime gnawing and clawing my face must never show, the one who feels like running away and shutting myself in before the world walls me out – the fantasy-inebriated Nigerian who doesn’t know Abuja.
My voice is slow because my life is slow – when hunger happens to me I see it grow, I feel it crawl, walk, run, sprint, and I feel it slowly. When loss happens, it is slow, I’m not the type to help it erase its impact with anesthetic indulgences or supercilious distractions: I feel my neurons sending the message, I feel my brain processing it, I feel the nerves in my gut, the pores in my eyes, everything, and the water I remember sipping, sipping out of me deliberately, meaningfully. I have never been in a city before; I’m not the kind of Nigerian that knows Abuja.
When shall I see Eko? When will I too exult in Ibadan of the seven hills? When will I smell Owerri, Calabar, Benin, Warri,…? Where will my drifting take me next?
I try to keep my pace right, hang my head down right, look scared right, look dull right and change my beautiful blue shirt for the distended cotton polo madam “dashed” me. And I put a smile on it too.
This is Abuja of the crafts masters: the place that makes us, bakes, burns us and flings us back home – unless of course you have a surname.
Do I? ♦
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© Le Coffee Spot 2017.