Woman, your child is wailing and your vegetables are dying. I can see you but you can’t see me. For
N 15,000, the Nigerian Police Force permitted me to tint my windows and increase the degree of our separation. Yet, we are all together. Fear has made me a lonely sojourner. I am afraid of my own shadow in my own country. Yes, I am afraid of that fellow countryman who could mistake me for the cause of his troubles.
My fear is of a boy in that area or a policeman in that jurisdiction who realize they are disenfranchised and disillusioned at that ill-fated time when violence roars out its hole. We live in fear of each other. Even our leaders live atop rocks, behind high walls, prisonlike barbed wire fences—cocooned by AK47-totting-trigger-happy-guards. Fear can be as debilitating as any dictator. Ask our laudable looters why they moved from Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock.
Your child’s mouth is wide open. You wiggle to seek and give comfort. None seems available in the jam-packed metal scrap called molue you transit in. In this blurry journey, you seek food and future but neither is within reach. The bus windows are broken for they can’t be rolled up, a situation akin to our GDP. The child won’t stop crying and the rain won’t stop falling. You can’t breast feed in the overcrowded bus and our rulers can’t feed us despite the excess crude oil revenues. Life here is crude. Your breasts are trapped by the vegetables you cradle and we are strapped under the dining-table of our looting leaders.
I can’t take my eyes off you or your child; we are co-travellers in this slippery journey to the Island of Hope. Our separation is slim as we ride on the Third Mainland Bridge. The lagoon looms on both sides. And your child is hungry. This journey is blurry. The rain won’t go away, not even to an ancient lullaby.
It’s a cold rain; something touched me as I purchased a newspaper from a wet paper-vendor to see who has fallen out of favour with our First Lady. I am dry but everything is blurry as I read about bank robbers in executive suits. The future of our country is on my mind. The future of the day is on your mind. Your child is still crying. There is a resigned restlessness in your eyes. Your vegetables are losing their freshness; their market value is dropping like bank stocks.
I am stuck, like you, on this journey. But my mind speeds round the world. I am in America—car-seats that protect their children’s journey and future fill my mind. Do you know the child on your bare back deserves his own protective cushioned seat? To breathe and to grow in? Somewhere else in the world, it’s unlawful to transport a child in a vehicle without a child’s car-seat. I chuckle at that reality, your vehicle is not moving and lawlessness is our penal code. But a dangerous truth lurks ahead; your child’s future is tip-toeing on needle points.
As co-traveller, you stare at my window and the reflection of your sorrowful face stares back. You are mesmerized by the road’s increasing flood level, and our leaders’ increasing fraud.
The molue’s wipers are stagnant like our national progress. Your driver’s vision is blurrier than our blatantly morose rulers’—it has to be, the rain is relentless and his reign is rudderless. The green of your vegetables and the white of my shirt have blurred into the colour of fire in my eyes.
Metal to metal, multiple accidents abound. It is to be expected when a drop of rain greets the snake’s back. No road signs or speed limits on this bridge. Third Mainland Bridge is a dark tunnel above the sea. It is a long suicide stretch of tarmac. Travellers get stuck on this bridge and are robbed blind by homeless urchins and heartless policemen. Our government has no rescue squad. Our rescue squad has no government. Therefore we have no government to rescue us.
Molue metamorphosis. Mangled metal. Morning madness. Everything is upside down, patapata. Passengers are crawling out of crevices of splintered metal. Where are you, co-traveller? Which market were you taking your child and vegetables to? Did you know a hundred journeys to your market on this road would never equal a day’s profit from bunkered barrels in the Niger Delta? Answer me, please. Can you hear me from under there?
The distant siren is not a paramedic’s ambulance; it is a part of the outriders that caused your mishap.
The true owners of our roads are here now, wailing sirens and cracking whips in a crazy convoy transporting our country’s careless citizens to the meetings of non-performing committees. The leaders are drunk with power; the drivers are loaded with paraga. They won’t hear your cry for help, the sirens have gone insane. And the child has become quiet. We the dregs of the society have been pushed to the edge of the bridge. Let’s pray we don’t tilt into the lagoon. Woman your child is quiet.
Expressionist painter and writer, Ehikhamenor, delivers a trashing grade to a nation seeking a centenarian evaluation.