Sunday, October 4, 2009

crossing the niger (4)



crossing the niger

the taxi, its nature true of all beasts of burden &
conveyance however long of leg & wind requires a break in
a protracted journey. the carburetor cough, the ragged
revving of acceleration, like the belabored breathing of an
exhausted runner, telltales the need for rest. its driver &
passengers (me among them) too are travelweary; show the
collective strain of an unrelenting sprint, a random obstacle
course of gaping pot-holes, figure-eighting oncoming
maniac-driven vehicles which thread needle-eye openings
between to & fro traffic; have held for hours the unison
leftward oblique of anxious body posture, bodies leaning,
eyes straining to see around go-slowing lorries, rightward
leftward curves to see over the hills & through every
manner of blindspot. seven psychic pairs of hands to aid
the steering; seven extra pairs of eyes for the driver who
seems compelled by some demon to overtake anything
ahead on faith, to devour vast stretches of road at the speed
of light. we pull into the rest stop at lokoja, at the foot of
the bridge across the niger. my travel companions
disembark, & disappear into the raggedly rugged array of
scrap wood & zinc-roofed restaurants; settle heavily in
front of plate of rice & beans, eba & egusi soup, pounded
yam & bush meat. the air is pungent with palm oil. i
override my urge for food & drink & cast my eyes upon the
river. i am drawn by its languid motion & am compelled
down a footpath around & behind the restaurant…

“oga wetin? eat, now!” the driver, watching me, calls.
“i’m coming,” i say,
“kilon┼če e? were oyinbo!”

i walk with vague purpose along the banks of this ancient
river thinking of all the rivers i’ve crossed in the blur of a
lifetime. there is always one more river, no matter how
deep or wide the last. i respect all rivers; become involved
on planes personal with those i touch physically. each
private mountain scaled has had its companion river. &
rivers, like oceans seem to suck all of my personal water
out of me, leaving me vampire-drained. obversely
inebriated, psychically disoriented, & hopelessly addicted
to large bodies of water. knowing the consequences i seek
out a place to sit, & find one on a mossy finger of rock,
bent at the knuckle, exploring the sensuous wet riverine
depths. removing my shoes, & rolling up my trousers, i sit
myself down, my feet submerged in the swirling eddies of
red & gold. giving myself over to its wet, noisy kisses,
oblivious to the sinister suck at my toes, ankles, & calves,
the steady seepage of feeling out through the walls of my
skin at points of contact, i am reeling…

wet dreams. selfwaters merge with godwaters dissolves
time dissolve the walls door & windows between one
hundred & thirty one days seven thousand eight hundred &
sixty hours four hundred seventy one thousand six hundred
seconds such a swift temporal blink so complete a
transformation the boy the youth the man merely
characters encountered when i dream there is no one
outside to confirm their existence make flesh their
reflections breathe into them ... there was one once (who
was she?)… naked as a man with a few clothes can be
…skills/talents/abilities without reference less revered
applies to uses not intended (by whom? by me/i/) … living
an unctuous obsequious poem singing rhyming clowning
for rapt audiences of children laughing bose querulous
olukemi precocious wale sullen mansa stubborn yewande
& others (where are their names?) amusing them/myself
while mothers market fathers work me earning a now &
then meal & a bottle of beer a lift into town or a word to a
friend who knows someone who has a brother in the
ministry at the television house whose legs are long who is
family firm sure things relax take it easy… lectures in the
beer parlors (is that me talking?) pounding home the
vagaries of america's many-headed hydra of racism
reaganomics realpolitik ruthless rushream of cashflow
dirty collared hucksters porkbarrel perverts haute haughty
heterophobes…masking desperation in beer life of the
parlor big joe (small joe?) must be a professor from who
knows where university truth wrapped in fraud…playing
postman carrying my curriculum vitae twenty-five copies
for unilag thirty copies for unibadan forty for unife
traveling to iwo ilesa ijebu ode ekpoma clerk loses fifty
copies of c.v. at ilesa finds it for five naria dash to ile ife
dean keeps me waiting three hours queries my credentials
degrees never heard of my secondary school, it’s not in
nigeria sir oh i see why did u come to nigeria u weren’t
recruited aren’t u too young to be a principal perfect for
ibadan but well u see we want a ph.d although there aren’t
many if any on the faculty with yr experience or yr
specialized training my hand’s are tied iwo loses my
twenty-five c.v. copies five naria is not enough to find them
asuu goes on strike moratorium on hiring shoes worn out
business suit frayed unsuited for tropical heat ten kobo is
all that remains of settling stake sell my camera fade from
social contacts hide in a half life of three months move to
the boy’s quarters in bashorun cook with kerosene make a
fable out of abjectivity a shelter in which to live move now
like an
elephant in tight shoes… down but not out destiny
here in
the bosom of nigeria am made of strong stuff will
not quit
runaway be deflected owe it to myself-friends
real friends
found in the salt of nigerian soil shelter in the
time of
trouble rocks in a weary land ajax & linda poured
balm
over & bandaged my broken heart watched over me
with
angel eyes frank oyenuga fountain of encouragement
zenobia soft severity looking glass clear chief bessie taiwo
sister intimate motherwarm held my hand shoveled food in
my stomach starch in my backbone john nwankwo gave
help when there was no help steadfast staunch regenerative
force olu akinkoye brother lost & found hundredfold giving
bola & lolita gave me shelter taught me a lesson in trust
sofie
& yemi sympathetic soothing caring a welcome place
to hide
to share chris chidebe provided cover from
embarrassment
a place to anonymously plan muyiwa ogunaike
faithful
companion helped me trace ibadan’s underbelly yaya
abubakar gave hope to hold on to lent powerful influence
with interest secured the future…debts too great to ever
repay except in kind & by an infinite number of cheerful
installments to nigeria my cross my crown

“oga, oga, chei! oga! wake –o…! why u do dis t’ing?”

the driver’s face forms from many droplets of a dream;
focuses into a mask of annoyance. “oh! sorry-o; must have
dozed off. is it time to go?”the driver hissed in that way that
only africans can, lips open, teeth clenched; sucking in air
mixed with bubbles of spit back across the cuspids forcing a
passage between the teeth & the soft inner tissue of the
cheeks. the sound & the meaning is unmistakable. he turns
angrily & runwalks up the footpath towards the taxi. fully
awake now i hurriedly pick myself up, grab my shoes &
follow – the fool might leave me if i dawdle. the engine is
running when i reach the cab. the other passengers look at
me strangely but say nothing. my stomach growls in
english, the price of indulging a turbulent spirit. on the road
again, we are quickly semi-airborne, flying across the niger
without ceremony. but for me a personal ritual is complete,
& with that inner calm & glow that follows yet’ another
initiation i allow myself to be carried north to kaduna &
then, perhaps to zaria & employment without a backward
glance. i feel, really feel for the first time on this continent
like a prodigal, bereft, bruised, but undaunted, coming
home.

© Joseph McNair; 1984-2009

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