Theme Layout

Boxed or Wide or Framed

Theme Translation

Display Featured Slider

Featured Slider Styles

Display Trending Posts


Display Instagram Footer

userId: 2262549106, accessToken: '2262549106.1677ed0.760f3d756da04b01ada6b337010cb095',

Dark or Light Style

Observations of a Young Nigerian Female . Powered by Blogger.

About Me

My photo
I am young, "normal" and I like to write. People say I eat too much, people don't know what they are saying.

Search This Blog


Douglas Road (Series): Nnamdi .G. Nwaigwe - Final Part


On my first visit to Douglas road, I slipped a small knife into my pocket. Just in case. I had finally secured accommodation in the hostel, where I would be sharing a small room with five other students, so I needed to get a few things. The shops in the purlieus of the school ripped off students with high prices; Douglas road and its eclectic stores offered a more affordable alternative.
Growing up, I had gotten into minor misunderstandings that required fleeting fisticuffs, but I had never drawn blood from anyone. Now, sitting in one of those long Tata buses provided by the state government to ease transportation, I wondered whether I could really use the knife in my bag. During one of my many interactions with Nenye, she had informed me that the criminals on Douglas road operated in groups. Sometimes, the seemingly innocent passers-by you ran to for help were members of the gang. I imagined myself surrounded by an armed gang of three. Of what use would the knife in my pocket be, this small knife from Uzoma’s small kitchen?
The bus powered down Aba road, past the cluster of petrol stations on both sides of the road. It slowed down as it approached a place I would later learn was Wetheral junction, where the traffic warders and the traffic lights passed contradictory instructions to motorists, some of whom waited in pretend-obedience to the instructions until an opportunity to bolt past the junction came by.
While we waited for the traffic warder to wave us on, a familiar noise caught my attention. I looked out the window. At the other side of the road, in front of a petrol station where buses load to Aba, two men grabbed each other by the collar, hateful words and spittle flying off their mouths. Out of the nearby hawkers and passers-by, a small crowd brewed, but there was no attempt to separate the two men. On the faces of the gathering crowd were looks of delight and anticipation; few people even threw in words of encouragement. The two men tightened their grips on each other’s collar, the veins on their sweaty hands, powered by rage, swelled to turgidity.
From their charged argument, I gleaned that one of them was a driver and the other a lout who had helped him load his bus. The disagreement was over how much the driver would settle the lout with for helping him load his bus.  It was difficult, from their appearances, to tell the driver apart from the lout – they both looked dishevelled and shabby. Perhaps the driver was one of those lucky few who had louted their ways to finally owning a bus, or driving one for someone. Such drivers always have issues with the louts. One who cuts people’s necks with a machete does not allow someone else hold a machete behind him.
I would miss the action at this point as the traffic warder waved us on. The bus jolted into motion and edged towards the junction. The smaller cars and kekes surged ahead in a scramble to get ahead of the bus before it crossed onto Douglas road, where the road would become narrow, thereby condemning them to the discomfort of enduring a forced convoy with the bus.
Douglas was not different from other roads I’d seen. It easily reminded me of Azikiwe road in Aba, except that Azikiwe was without roadside traders and pedestrians who spilled onto the road, almost dividing it by half. It was difficult to accept that, on a busy road like this, people would look on while another person got robbed in daylight. For no clear reason, I thought of the knife in my pocket.
This would never happen in Aba, where daylight stealing was the quickest ticket to the other side of life. My elder brother often spoke of Owerri with contempt. He said it was a city of weaklings and mugus, where men, instead of working to earn a living, gathered by roadside newspaper stands to read news headlines and argue all day.
According to Uzoma’s description – a long stretch of shops in a one storey building by your left – we just passed New Market. I looked at the bland stretch of stores and suppressed a laughter, which ended as a mischievous smile on my face. There was nothing new about the market! Painted an unattractive fading ash, it stretched to a decent distance, housing over a hundred shops which sold everything from motor parts to building materials, mobile phones and its accessories; to electronics, curtains and household items.
“Don’t buy anything at New Market o,” Uzoma had warned. “Go to Eke Onunwa, you will get everything you need there.” And, seeing the questioning look on my face, and how my slightly dilated eyes urged him to continue, he had added, “It is opposite St Paul’s Cathedral – you’ll see the tower of the church once you get to Douglas by Mbaise road. When you get to St Paul’s, ask anyone for directions.”
As I nodded and turned to leave the room, he advised that I ask an elderly person, to avoid being the answer to the prayers of fraudsters. I went downstairs, wondering why he could not save the confusing, long-winding explanation and accompany me to the market, why his department had chosen that Saturday for practical. I knew a girl would be coming, and the practical would be in his room, on his fourteen-inch mattress, but I could not ask him.
I got off the bus at Douglas by Mbaise road and, true to Uzoma’s descriptions, the tower of what must be the St Paul’s Cathedral beckoned on me from a walkable distance. I wanted to take note of my surroundings, but the junction was a surging human tide, it was difficult to stand at a place for ten seconds and not be hurried off the road by an impatient bus orkeke driver, or be scorned by angry passers-by who peppered you with curious, distasteful looks.
Above, far beyond the towers of the church, the cloud turned a moody grey. I waddled through the sights and sounds of Douglas road, towards the unremarkable tower of the church. I had not walked up to a minute when I saw a small crowd gathered by the roadside, steps ahead of me. They were likely watching a magician perform, or one of those vendors selling a concoction that cures every conceivable ailment, I thought.
When I measured up to the crowd, I saw who had so captured their attention. She was neither an herbalist nor a magician (at least not in the way I know them). Standing before the human half-moon was a petite woman, dressed in blue silk blouse tucked into a generously long black skirt that pooled around her feet, covering her legs and whatever footwear she had on. Her hair was turbaned away in a black head-tie. I immediately knew she was a preacher. Or, going by current trends, a prophetess. Her clear, high-pitched voice was captivating; it rendered the microphone in her hand useless. Before her, a young man knelt, head bowed, palms held open, close to his chest, the posture of one poised to receive blessings from above.
“Do I know you before? Have we met before now?” the high-pitched voice cut through the din of the afternoon, ringing loud and sharp.
The young man shook his head, nervously. “Speak, let them hear!” She brought the mic down, close to his lips.
“No. I have not met you before!”
“Good,” she said, punctuating it with a sharp nod. She lifted her face and looked from one side of the crowd to the other, as though searching for any suggestion of doubt. Satisfied about the togetherness of the audience, she returned to the kneeling man.
I dithered, unsure of whether to go or stay a bit longer and observe the essence of the show playing out before me. Gatherings like this invited pickpockets, I reminded myself. Sometimes, especially in cases of magical displays, the organizers would connive with pickpockets who worked people’s pockets when they feel the crowd has been mesmerized by the performance. I instinctively felt my trouser pocket for my phone. It was there.
“I will call out your phone number now, and that of anyone here that I choose to, to let you know that I am sent by The God of Elijah, and that the words I release are not mine, but His!”
My interest ratcheted. I inched closer to the front in search of a better position. More people joined the crowd, spilling onto the road, contributing to the unmoving traffic, daring the darkening sky.
My new position – just vacated by someone, closer to the front – offered a good view of the kneeling man’s and the prophetess’ faces. Perfect. I needed to observe them closely to be sure they were not partners in crime. I’d heard stories of pastors who called out names and phone numbers of supposed strangers in their congregation to prove they were sent by God, but I’d conveniently dismissed them as some pre-conceived trick. Now I have an opportunity to discover how they pull it off. Ultimately, I wished to have my name and phone number called out too.
The prophetess broke into a song, informing God that the hour has come for Him to show Himself. Her right hand held the microphone to her mouth; her left hand, at full stretch, pointed to the heavens. The veins on her neck swelled as she sang and made a little dance before the kneeling man. Then she stopped abruptly. “The hour has come,” she announced, looking up to the sky. “Your name is Chiemezie. And you are from Mbano.” She looked down to him. The kneeling man’s head jerked up and down in rapid, frantic nods as he mouthed barely audible Yes! Yes! Yes!
The prophetess nodded. It’s working for her, I thought.
“There are five of you in the family – two boys, three girls – and you’re the second child.”
Another set of rapid nods followed. He splayed out his hands to maintain balance as his hurting knees protested against carrying the weight of his body for too long.
“Your phone number is 07096788438.” The numbers rolled of her tongue as though they were hers. Done, she took two steps backward and looked at the man’s face, as though daring him to disown the number.
The man nodded several times, his face a dark mix of confusion and surprise. “You’re right. That’s my phone number…”
His confirmation brought murmurs, exchange of curious looks, yelps of reverence and encouragement. The prophetess asked the man to sit on the bare floor while she handed him his prophecy. His problem, she began, was from his maternal uncle in the village who had vowed to make his life miserable… I didn’t wait to listen further. The narrative had become tedious, and the sky has worn a mournful look with deep-throated grumblings.
I shoved my way through the thicket of enthralled bodies and their concomitant combo of nauseating odour, blurting hurried, unfelt apologies for every rib shoved too strongly, for every foot stepped on. Out in the open, I dragged in a lungful of air to neutralize the bad odour I had accumulated a while ago. I continued towards the church tower, faster this time; I had wasted time watching the diminutive prophetess mesmerize her audience and the cloud kept getting darker.
The church tower, painted a fading white, loomed bigger and taller as I drew nearer. On the road, people moved with an unusual sense of urgency, probably because of the brooding sky. I imagined what Douglas Road would look like when it rained. The road looked good, and the gutters were not completely blocked. Unlike Aba, where many gutters had been filled with garbage and pressed down by human and vehicular movement, such that they had seamlessly become an unfortunate extension of the road, solid and all.
But like the roads leading to the major markets in Aba, this part of Douglas Road, close to St. Paul’s, was littered with beggars and roadside traders. An assortment ofwares were displayed on the floor, in stationary wheelbarrows, on the roof of cars, etc. From an unseen speaker, a voice croaked the advertisement for an herbal mixture that cures malaria, syphilis, gonorrhoea, staphylococcus, weak erection, low sperm count, etc.
Just ahead of me were three wheelbarrows filled camphor, air-fresheners, detergents and soaps. I decided to begin my shopping there. I will need camphor for my cupboard and travel bag, to ward off cockroaches and maybe rats. I stopped by one of the wheelbarrows.
“Bros welcome,” the seller greeted. “Which one?”
“Camphor is how much, the big one.”
“Two hundred naira,” he said, holding up a packet of camphor so I would see the contents: four pieces of egg-shaped camphor.
“Since when did it become two hundred naira? Or is it because I called them big ones?”I hadn’t bought a packet of camphor before, I didn’t know how much it was sold, but I decided to bargain because bargaining was a part of buying and selling.
His lips parted in a fleeting smile.“No. We used to sell one-fifty, but things are costly now because of dollar…”
“Taa!” I shushed him up, offering a warm smile so he won’t feel slighted. “What do you know about the exchange rate? And what concerns your camphor with the dollar rate?”
He laughed. “Bros everything is affected by dollar these days o! We used to buy a packet for one-twenty and sell one-fifty, but now we buy one-eighty and sell two hundred. It’s Buhari.”
“No wahala. Give me two packets.” I had no time for haggling. Prices of basic commodities were getting unbelievably higher.
As he struggled to extract a polythene bag from the bundle in his pocket, placing a hand on his pocket to ease the process, I remembered that Uzoma had said something about needing an air-freshener, but I wasn’t sure whether he later got one. I considered calling him or just getting one anyway, since I would also be needing it. I decided to call him. If he was still with the girl, I’d be delighted to disrupt him, however briefly. I slipped my hand into my pocket to get my phone, mischievously excited about the prospect of interrupting his practical.
A danger alarm went off somewhere inside me as my fingers felt only the cool, silky lining of my pocket.  The alarm, mild at first, soon rattled my whole being. My heartbeat shot up. I felt my left pocket, there was nothing there, not even the small knife from Uzoma’s kitchen! Startled, I felt my back pockets in quick nervous movements. Nothing, not even my wallet!
“Jesus!” I exclaimed loudly, terrified, drawing the attention of the other two sellers and some people nearby who only looked briefly.
“Chairman, wetin happen?” the camphor seller asked, his face a mixture of worry and concern.
“I think I’ve been robbed,” I said, still clutching at the tenuous straw of a vanishing hope, hoping it wasn’t what I feared.
He let the packaged camphor drop from his hand, onto the other wares in the wheelbarrow. Whether this was in empathy for my plight or in disappointment for the sale he just lost, it was difficult to tell. And what difference would it have made?
“What are you still searching for? Dem don obtain you!” one of the other sellers said loudly, almost triumphantly, his enormous lips coming apart in a wide, unnecessary grin. “Abi you get invisible pocket?” Through eyes that had begun to mist over, I shot him a hateful look.
“I’m sorry bro,” said the camphor seller. He had clearly accepted his fate, which was nothing compared to mine.
“I don’t even have transport money to go back home,” I said, hoping someone would offer to assist me in some way.
“Na wa o!” said the camphor seller, scratching his right jaw. I got the message – help won’t be coming from him.
A few passers-by stopped briefly to ask what had happened. They soon continued on their way, saying sorry and shaking their heads and cursing the thief.
Realizing I was obstructing the camphor seller’s ware – a major pet peeve among roadside sellers – I drifted away, back down the road I’d come from, towards the vast nothingness that I alone could feel.
The disturbing image of a winding, infinite carpet rolled away in my mind – the agonizingly long distance from where I stood to Uzoma’s house, a distance I will have to trek unless a miracle happens. My steps became languid. I told myself I wasn’t trekking home; it wasn’t an option for me. I had to get help, I must get help! Seek and ye shall find…
In the utter chaos that was Douglas road by evening, I scanned the faces of the people around me and those hurrying in the opposite direction, looking out for traces of kindness, for a possible source of sympathy. They all looked exhausted and in need of help that I almost felt it would be wickedness – if not mockery – to ask anything of them.
Someone tapped my shoulder, twice. I turned. The face, I’d seen it some minutes ago, for some hateful, forgettable seconds, when its bearer had asked whether I had an invisible pocket. Now the face was garbed in remorse, the eyes bearing unspoken apology. In my pool of dejection, hate could not rise.
“Which side you dey go?” he asked. Even his voice was not left out in the epiphany. A subtler, more compassionate voice came out from where the harsh, uncaring voice had come out earlier.
“Poly,” I mumbled, hoping for the best.
“OK.” He slipped out a dirty MTN wallet from his pocket, tore it open and fished out a two hundred naira note. “Manage this. It should take you home.” He handed the money over to me, shifted the weight of his body from one foot to the other, turned and disappeared into the surging human tide before I could find the right words to express my gratitude.
It had been coming for a while, the tears, but I had successfully blinked them back. But this time, as I walked down to the bus-stop in utter despair, overcome by this unexpected show of empathy, shaken by its raw selflessness, I let it flow freely, streaming down my cheeks, salting the corners of my puckered lips.

You Might Also Like

No comments

Post a Comment

I am a young, Nigerian female who does not possess the abilities and genetic disposition to reserve her comments.

Follow @young_nigerian_female