I walked on in the cool morning, it had rained the night before, so the air had the washed clean quality to it. The grasses were still wet with the rain but mercifully the ground was not muddy, or at least it was in a few places. The ground I walked on was an old disused road, but obviously one of the high quality ones made by old governments, because it was still mostly motorable even though it was mostly old trucks and the occassional old motorbike that trundled along it these days. One truck passed me, carrying a lorry load of sand, three labourers sat on the sand watching me as they went by.
What is there to achieve walking down a bush road on a cool morning? I asked myself over and over again. It was not a desire for fitness. I have never been an athlete and thus never had more than a passive interest in fitness fads. I did take up jogging a few times, but I never lasted more than a few weeks before my weak lungs gave out. Besides I don’t have much body fat to begin with, much to the consternation of my mom. I imagined her at that instant, inspecting me all over with a grimace, and complaining that I am not eating properly and I would soon dry up and be blown away by the wind because of malnutrition. Trying to convince her otherwise got me nowhere, it only earned me the “when will you marry” conversation. What was it with the “when will you marry” conversation that pissed me off anyway? I knew no matter how much I tried to stall, it would happen eventually. Wola my ex girlfriend once told me it was a sign that I love being in my own head too much. Maybe that was why I was walking this cool morning, to get away, to connect with the still small voice, to be in solitude. Wola would have laughed and said “you don’t need walking to have solitude, you have always been alone, loving only the company of the thoughts in your own head. You always managed find a way to be alone even in the noisiest of dins.
I had been taken aback that day when she said that , as if she discovered that the chink in my armour was pride after all but the girl, mind reader that she was added, “your self absorption is not pride, pride is a sign that you are aware of the existence of other people in relation to yourself, you you are too self absorbed and aloof to to be proud. Then with that merry twinkle in her eyes she said “that is why I am sure you cannot cheat on me, you are too self absorbed, to share yourself with two people at a time.” it turned out she was right of course, I never did get the inclination to cheat on her.
The road itself as if recognizing the ease of how I had branched that moment into an unexpected insight of why I broke up with my estranged girl friend, (which I didn’t bother to ask her at the time) branched into a dirt track. I turned into the dirt track why did I do that rather than continue on the tarred road? it wasn’t curiosity, because I could see that the dirt road, was as well worn and wide as the tarred road, and had large tyre tracks, meaning whatever curiosities I expected to see had already been seen by a few trucks and more than a few farmers. I walked along the road, turning a corner and getting to a small bamboo forest. I recalled something I had read about bamboos, that they grow so fast that you can actually hear them growing. I stopped for a moment in the forest, hoping I would be able to hear the amazing sound of a bamboo tree growing. I was disappointed.Perhaps these bamboos were shy in front of strangers, or they did not eat the kind of foods those ones in the books ate and thus couldn’t grow as fast.
I walked on. The dirt road, branched into a small footpath, I took that path, walking through a clump of bushes and past cassava patches. The weather changed as midmorning approached, I looked up at the sun, it had not come out yet, it hid behind some bluish clouds, its golden rays giving the clouds a yellowish fringe. Like a reluctant employee or perhaps tired of the complaints it has been forced to endure from Nigerians over the past few months, it continued to hide behind its cloud cover. I gazed up at it trying to see if I could use it to guess what the time was on the clock, but I couldn’t. That made me wonder how people coped with telling the time before clocks were invented. Then it occurred to me immediately. People weren’t bothered about telling time exactly before clocks. It was remarkably similar to the discussions I had with the father of a male friend recently, where he told me that he saw his wife, (my friend’s mother) with no makeup on before he decided to date her, not like “children of nowadays” who wake up to the Miss World they married and discover that she is about as naturally attractive as their eighty year old grandmother. Of course I pointed out that his generation was lucky that make up wasn’t that popular in his generation and it wasn’t my generation’s fault that we were born into a time when the “natural” standard of beauty has been enhanced by make up anyway. I then added (in polite language of course) that dating someone because of how she looks with make up on is like, trying to tell the time with clocks. It was artificial as shit but it works better all the same.
A greeting brought me out of my reverie, it was a middle aged man on the road to his farm, He smiled at me as I answered his greeting politely. But no other words were exchanged as we passed each other on the narrow path. I stopped for a moment and watched him go, he had on an old grimy T-shirt and a pair of jeans cut at the knees and caked with mud, with a pair of worn rubber boots crisscrossed with stitches. An hoe was slung over a shoulder and he held a cutlass in the other hand. He looked like one of those men who had thick calluses on their hands from years of farming, and callused feet from sores caused by wearing rubber boots and walking long distances to their farms. Yet he whistled a cheerful tune to himself as he strode along, I felt a pang of guilt, with my clean and casual shoes, I felt I was doing for leisure, the kind of things that defined the reality of people like him. He turned a corner and disappeared. I continued my walk.
I might walked ten metres or a hundred or a thousand, I had no way of telling, when I heard this shrill cry from behind the bushes in front of me. My first reaction was that I had finally stumbled on a kidnapper’s den in the bush or maybe about to meet one of those spirits you inevitably think about when you read D.O. Fagunwa’s books. I turned a corner around a clump of bushes and was disappointed to find instead of a kidnappers’ den or a gathering of spirits, a settlement of haphazardly built mud houses and the shrill cry I heard came from one of two naked children playing in the sand, beyond them a teenage girl fetched water from a well, the two children looked up as I passed, but I ignored them, a bit disappointed that I didn’t stumble unto the plot of a major crime, which would have made a major story. In front of another of the houses, two young men and an old woman were in a conversation, they stopped as I passed, but I did not greet them.
“Uncle! Uncle!!” The voice called, I stopped and looked back, it was one of the young men who were talking to the old woman earlier “oh! I thought you were angry with someone” he said as he caught up to me “You passed by us without greeting us earlier” he spoke in pidgin, I tried to place his origins from his accent, and I figured out he was from the northern part of the country. On another day it would have been interesting to ask him what he came all the way from his town in the north to do here, in the middle of nowhere in the south. Instead I answered “I’m sorry for not greeting you earlier” not at all feeling sorry “I was carried away”. He continued in pidgin “your face is not familiar to me, and I know almost everyone here, perhaps you are looking for a someone?” I could not tell him of course that I wasn’t looking for anyone I was just out ,for leisurely stroll especially on a Saturday morning when there are businesses or parties to prepare for, makes for a strange predilection in a place like Nigeria. Or worse, he could think I am a spy come to survey his area for my robber mates especially as I had passed without greeting him and his neighbors earlier. So I said ” Yes one of my friends live around here, but I don’t know where exactly” he sized me up and said ” it must be in the estate,” and he proceeded to give me directions to the estate. I thanked him for his time, shook his hand with as much warmth as I could muster and continued walking. A few minutes later I saw the estate but beyond it a path that led to more bushes and trees beckoned. I walked on.