ON THE ROAD TO PORT-HARCOURT

It was an exciting feeling to be going home, but then I couldn’t deny the feeling of depression that hovered over my mind. I had made not-so-shrewd a business decision that had reduced my living to the torturous one of a miser. I had long made grander plans for this day, but alas today has met me broke and sorry, all thanks to my idea of making some quick cash. A flight ticket would have been the thing, but considering that every of the naira notes on me had been ear-marked for their purposes, I had resigned to the sixteen-hour bus ride to Port-Harcourt. A flight ticket would have claimed a good chunk of the meagre cash.
The bus ticket safely stashed in my wallet, my duffel bag in the overhead baggage compartment and a long ride between me and home, I had the feeling that there stood nothing else than miles between me and home, a home I had longed to see for the past eleven months.
I recall how the sweat had stuck my shirt to my skin making me very uncomfortable even as I tried to settle in my aisle seat. To get to the bus station, I had had to endure a three hour ride in a taxicab where I was uncomfortably sandwiched between two fat women headed to the market to sell their vegetables whose tendrils tickled the back of my neck and my ears from the luggage compartment of the rickety Volkswagen wagon where they were haphazardly stacked in a loose pile. As I settled in my seat in the bus, I did a mental appraisal of my appearance; the rumpled haggardness of what had earlier been my smartly starched shirt and the dampness under my armpits, collar and back, stripped me of what confidence my reflection on my bedroom mirror had given me earlier that morning before I dashed off into the young day. I wished the confidence intact, for then i needed it in chatting up the up the lady that had the window seat beside me.
She had a very fair complexion that had such a healthy hue to it, the hair strands that escaped her white knitted beret shone with such a gloss as polished brass would. She was simply beautiful, that was the much I could recall, because I stole subtle side glances at her. She seemed not to notice me, not even a cursory salutation had parted her red-painted lips right from when I had snuggled into my seat beside her. When the journey had begun, and the bus snaked through the dusty streets of Kano, she had plugged her ears with her mp3 head-phones and stared blankly out the open window, nodding to a tempo my auditory organs couldn’t discern. Then the bus hit the interstate-highway, and she slid the window shut against the rushing wind without so much as a bit of consideration on my part. I thought, she noticed my subtle glances, and registered her discomfort. How embarrassed I remembered feeling.
Then I remembered the novel I had tossed into my knapsack that morning while I was hastily packing. I silently congratulated myself for having the good sense to remember such a vital commodity in my haste. I dug it out of my knapsack and gratefully lost myself through its pages into the world of imagery a world where men long dead still lived on, always ready to commune with the young at heart. It was a novel, ‘The Abbyssinian Boy’ by Onyeka Nwelue. The book gave me Onyeka’s outlook on India, its people and its politics, though I shuddered at the writer’s unrestrained use of profanity. It was one of the works I had read, vocal in words and yet bold in description. What I admired more was the photo of the young dreadlocked author I had seen in a newspaper column, I had silently wished my sandy hair would grow into something more trendy in look and outward in expression, that I wouldn’t have to scrape them off always and having to sport a shiny scalp that gleamed in the white fluorescence of public buildings.
They say “when you open a book, you discover you have wings” and then you fly to a world of imagery without borders and boundary where mountains, valleys, monuments and people are crafted and designed with the power of words. I couldn’t remember for how long I was riveted to the white pages of ‘The Abyssinian Boy’, but hunger gnawed angrily at my stomach, reminding me of a story I read about in my primary three class: it was the story of a Spartan boy who concealed a wolf in his garment in while talking to one of his school masters, the wolf had eaten its way through the boy’s stomach to his back from where it had escaped and the boy fell plump on the ground dead, all the while he had never even so much as winced at the pain. The hunger extradited me from the blissful world of letters, to the real world where I was in a bus bound for Port-Harcourt. I rummaged through my knapsack again, thankful that I had bought a sachet pack of sausage roll and a plastic bottle of chocolate-flavoured coconut milk which I hadn’t tasted before, but you know, poverty does some wonders to a man’s courage sometimes; I had decided to try the new beverage because it was cheaper than my regular brands of beverages. Dropping ‘the Abyssinian Boy’, I settled down for my first meal of the day, in a moving bus, at close to sun-down.
I munched the sausage roll. The filling tasted a bit too tangy, but I could endure it a little, for I needed something to fill the hollow in my stomach, I remember my aged grandfather once saying, “the most greedy idol known to man is his stomach. It demands sacrifices at least thrice everyday”. The sausage could as well have been a piece of rock. I took a swig from the beverage bottle; the rancidity hit my taste buds so hard that it immediately quelled what remained of the urge to eat. I could not take another of the beverage’s organoleptic assault, so I had no other choice but to throw it away, to throw away a fraction of the money that had trickled to a short supply.
The girl had fallen asleep, her headphones still plugged to her ears. I leaned tentatively across, trying not to get in contact with her body and slid the window slightly open. The wind that rushed in ruffled the loose strands of her beautiful black hair that escaped her white knitted beret, slapping them across her fair face, some finer strands even stuck to the lipstick on her painted lips, but she didn’t stir. Then I tossed the beverage bottle with its offensive contents out through the window, but alas, I had tossed and uncorked bottle of liquid against the wind.
The wind splattered the content of the bottle against the window-glass, her face, and a brown wet stain had appeared prominently on the breast of her white cotton blouse. That was when she jerked awake. You can imagine my embarrassment. I felt the earth could swallow me, I felt like time could be turned back, then I would have corked the bottle properly, then I could have bought a more agreeable beverage product, then I could have been more shrewd with my finances, then I wouldn’t have been broke to the point of living like a miser, then I would have easily afforded a plane ticket and would not have been caught in such situation I was faced with. I could have wished it all away, but I didn’t because I couldn’t.
“I…….I truly….. I’m sorry” I stuttered, and involuntarily started wiping the wetness off her face and her bosom with a handkerchief I had speedily extracted from my trouser pocket. I didn’t think, I was awash with remorse.
“Oh, it’s okay” she said in a calm voice that failed to belie her embarrassment. She protested at my show of remorse.
“It isn’t as bad as it appears, I’ll change into something clean when I can,” she added
‘’you’ll be needing another meal’’ she said, observing my half-eaten sausage roll that now lay on the floor. I opened my mouth and closed it, at a loss of what to say. You see, I had expected her to borrow ‘Amadioha’s’ thunderbolt and strike me where I sat, but she had shown concern for me, the miserable offender, throwing me off balance. If I had given any consideration to her observation, I didn’t have the money with which to buy any more sausage rolls. She dipped into her handbag, a brown conservative-looking leather handbag and brought out a transparent plastic pack. When she opened it, my mouth watered; it was rice and chicken garnished with peas, diced carrots and everything that makes a man seem like Pavlov’s dog.
“You are welcome to eat with me” she announced, handing me a spoon. I reluctantly was offering my refusal when she cut me halfway,
“ take it as a penance for ruining my new blouse’’ she said jokingly, halting any further refusals.
That was how we settled down to a proper meal, eating side by side in a moving bus, and then we talked and talked far into the journey. She was a new employee at the Corporate Affairs Commission and was going home for the Christmas holidays too. We grew weary, and dozed off to sleep; her head propped against my shoulder, and mine atop her head breathing in the perfumed sheen that escaped the entrapment of her beret.
The bus did eventually arrive the motor park at Port-Harcourt, we claimed our luggage, shook hands, and then she squeezed a scrap of paper into my palm before jumping into a chartered taxi. I waved until the taxi disappeared into a bend, then I remembered the scrap of paper, on it was hurriedly scribbled 23 Memphis Street. Please do visit, I’ll be expecting you soonest.
That was how I met Angela on the road to Port-Harcourt.

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