A blissful morning, cold too. One which we all wake up to willingly or in some cases forcefully by the noise coming from the ever busy train station. A day that has long started before you thought of stretching out of bed. This is the city that never sleeps…Welcome to Lagos.
Being someone who when woken, uses the first ten minutes of the new day to thank Abba for life and then result into thinking if really I needed this kind of stress at this stage of my life- The graduate stage. My routine (thinking) was however short-lived as the once good but at that point lousy song ‘SpongeBob Squarepant’ blasted from my phone ripping apart the peace and quiet of the morning to shreds, jolted me back to present times as I had a call to answer. Yes, that’s was my ringtone. Grudgingly, I picked up the phone to see who the caller was- ‘DAD’, my composure changed, face changed, smile came on board like I won a lottery ticket. This was because my dad calls me only at such early hours when it involves stories that touch, from the pocket angle- Money. Joyfully, I answered the call, pleasantries were exchanged, then to the subject matter, to my utter dismay, it wasn’t money talk “At this stage, what can be more important than credit alert draining my 200% overcharged phone battery” I muttered under my breath. Basically, he said “I called to inform you your maternal grandfather (mom’s dad) is dead and we would all be going, your sister and you inclusive to the village in Akwa Ibom so prepare your….” That’s all I could get from the over ten minutes’ conversation till date as my mind completely zoned out at the mention of ‘village’
For what it’s worth, I’ve never been to a village before, since I came off age, although hearing grandpa was dead stung me, because I really wanted to get to know him more since I grew up and my mom said we were fond of each other when I was still little (Rest on sir). But what scared me the most were the stories I’ve heard of village experiences from friends who have been there especially the South-South or Middle-Belt region. You don’t believe me? For example, a friend went to the village for some days, when she came back, she told me she was almost turned, instead of her to say “pour the water for me” she said “pour me water”. Now that’s enough to make one concerned.
The call ended, my mood shrunk. I decided to use my last days in the city of Èkó to mull over my options, drawing out possible tactics (Defensive and attacking tactics) to employ that would hinder my going on what I called ‘A sojourn to the unknown’, but all these prove abortive. When it dawned on me I was actually going with the family to the village was when I got back home and right there in front of our house was a tailor’s shop, my dad already kept the tailor on standby (“It’s all over Jackie, don’t cry, don’t beg, it’s all over, I screamed internally”). However, I cheered myself up, saying I was just being paranoid and finally I could meet the entire family of whom up until then, their stories were all I knew about them, not their faces.
I really felt like a coach (Maybe Mourinho, but definitely! not LVG) hyping his players saying south side (Akwa Ibom) might not be all that bad, it could be fun and could be like a modern CITY. If only I’d opened my eyes at that point to see her (Akwa Ibom) choking with laughter, using her side eyes to look at me with a nasty smirk on her face, sipping her steamy coffee, I wouldn’t have played my penalty to throw in….
“Hello, my name is Emman, this is my south side story….”
I thought this day would never come, apparently, it came faster than I’d expected. The curtain was raised with a little drama from my dad waking us up earlier than the first cock who is responsible for taking the first cock crow wakes up and yet, he still said we were running late. ‘How can one be running late by 5am, Usain Bolt doesn’t even run by such time’ I wondered as I tried to drag my body around to wash up and get set. Grudgingly we got set, packed our luggage, all ready to leave. Being the lone striker in the house, I always went the extra mile in remembering to pack what they always forget to pack – Food! (how could you forget such? It’s like going to the farm without a cutlass or hoe, literally). Without saying much, I packed the food and went further to get some extra snacks for myself. Since I was serving as the interim first child of the family, I jumped in the front seat, “today I’m your wife” I said to myself, smiling sheepishly with a side eye looking at my dad who was visible annoyed we were dragging behind. After a short prayer, the engine roared to life, a new adventure was upon us, would it be comical or horror? Only time would tell.
The journey had begun, everyone doing what they know how to do best in situations like this, my sister obeying the laws of nature right from when the engine came to life – Sleep (Such an obedient chap she is), me on the other hand, administering justice to somethings that littered themselves in the car- Food (They won’t eat themselves) and my dad, eyes fixed on the road, head moving to the rhythm of the music playing from the stereo. That isn’t what caught my attention, he was equally smiling to himself like I do when I see fried plantain, I felt it was weird to see him smile like that so I started pondering on possible reasons that could make him smile that way. Then it struck me…. I took a look at his speedometer and I was shook, we literally weren’t on a road trip, it felt like someone using us to play GTA just activated the cheat code ‘come fly with me’ because we were flying. The speedometer read 160 kilometres per hour. The last time he was that fast, someone was holding on to everything possible in this car, screaming ‘daddy please be careful, the whole family is in this car’ you guessed right, that was my mom. Now she went a day ahead of us, my dad decided its time to reveal his hidden identity; he is Vin Diesel’s distant cousin.
Twelve hours gone, and we finally saw a slogan ‘welcome to the promised land’ (no wonder it’s that far, these ones must be Israelites) Finally we were in Akwa Ibom, now heading for our lodge in Eket. We got there, my mom was with two of her younger ones. Greetings and introductions were done. I thought the day was over, then my aunt (used to call her woman of action) came to me and said ‘you would have to sew an attire oo, since you’re the kids of the first child and grandpa’s first grandchildren’ I thought to myself ‘ordinary cloth, get on with It already, I’m hungry!’ Then the tailor came and started telling me ‘oga, abeg open your leg so that I go fit measure the wrapper length well well’ (what?! Wrap… what?!) Then it came crashing down on me that she said attire, meaning I’m required to wear the Ibibio attire which is a shirt and a big wrapper (big enough to sew a shirt and trouser with some to spare for blouse) tied around my waist. In summary, that didn’t go down well with all the Yoruba veins in my body, and fortunately for me, my dad was having none of it so it was cancelled…
* * *
Next day, we moved, primary objective; village, but first we had to see someone at its border…… All of a sudden, network disappeared, not even emergency call was possible, this brought back annoying memories of my time in Iwo, Osun state (apparently, I had a throwback and that was a Thursday- #ThrowbackThursday. How sweet!) I then realized, again…. I was scammed into thinking; the network was ‘Everywhere you go’.
Now at the border leading into the village (village name: Etebi; I don’t know the meaning, don’t ask), we stopped at a house, it might interest you to know that Nollywood lied in making us believe all houses in villages were made of mud bricks and thatch roofs. This was a modern house, with electricity and pipe borne water supply. We got down from the vehicle, as we walked towards the front door, I noticed a woman (not old at all if you ask me), happier than everyone in the compound, shouting everywhere, this made me curious as to what was going on because she was running towards me! She threw herself on me, all smiles as she kept shouting some things but all I could pick and understand was “AHH, EMMAN, AHH EMMAN, EMMAN” I thought to myself that it was too early for me to get lost in this place, so I asked my mom, who she was and what she was saying, little did I know I was in for a shocker…She (the forty-year-old looking woman) is my maternal grandma (last time I saw her I was still carrying food pack to school) and what she was shouting out was the dialect. Also I finally found the birth place of my name “Emman” (for those asking its simply Emmanuel without the ‘uel’) obviously, she created the name because she was pronouncing it without stress, and because the stories said so.
We then progressed onto our primary target; the village, we arrived at the family house where the burial preparations were ongoing. I knew I felt my phone vibrate, I brought it out and to my utmost surprise, there was network! Let me rephrase, 3G! messages were dropping. There was network deep inside the village and not at the border (what a wawuu). We got down and started offloading the food stuffs from the trunk amidst prying eyes of the villagers, I could say the whole village was staring and this gave me a mixed feeling that was both scary and filled with a sense of importance (yes! The city container has landed). On getting into the house, I noticed everyone was shouting at each other, ‘ahh… (then dialect follows)’ it wasn’t long before my mom joined in on this charade of shouting. The funny part was they carried the shout to the side of an original Yoruba man- my dad. He was just smiling, nodding his head and shaking their hands acting like he got everything under control. Being his birthday mate, I could see it in his eyes, he was also screaming internally like me asking what was going on. It didn’t take long before we found out they were actually greeting and communicating. Wait … I mean, everywhere is peaceful, everyone looking at one another and then BOOM! Shouting starts and that is how they communicate? At that point I knew I was in to see more wonders of the world that Guinness world record had nothing on.
Everyone kept looking at my sister and I, particularly me, after my mom said somethings in her dialect (which I suppose was funny because all their teeth were out) they just kept shouting and smiling “Emman…this…. Emman…. that…” This made me ask myself ‘Guy, I hope you didn’t disgrace yourself when you were little’. That aside, while all the pleasantries were being exchanged, one of the relatives, let us call him ‘John Bull’. John Bull tried to pull a fast “now you see me, now you don’t” move on two packs of bottle water, but thankfully my Sherlock Holmes instinct are always on guard. I saw him make the move and I quickly reported (as a detective that is the right thing to do, don’t be too smart; juju is real) to the nearest higher authority- my aunt. As usual, she went to hassle him (aunt that never slack) and got the packs back. (whew! Emman saves the day!)
Fast forward to the next day (the night before the burial) according to tradition, this was party night, also known as friend’s night. This was when all 10 children (yes 10!) of grandpa would host their friends in the large family compound, for them to wine and dine like Vikings and dance like MJ. If one has 10 kids then definitely the entire villagers are friends with them; this was the scene in the compound that night, the whole villagers, both great and small were all in that compound in their various age groups, eating, dancing and drinking palm wine. Now this was the real palm wine, the one that didn’t go to school and hasn’t come in contact with his wayward friend- Science, who would end up mixing him. The odour alone was enough to make a Coca-Cola addict like myself drunk, and my age mates were drinking this like water, women inclusive. Everyone was hopping (I guess, somehow they are related to officer hops) around without stress. Yeah, they call it dancing. Where was I when all these was happening outside? I respected myself so I was watching all the happenings from one of the room’s window in the house; my supposed ‘agbero’ lifestyle was nothing compared to theirs, not at all. Also I was waiting patiently for the food I’ve heard so much about so I could lose my home training- pounded yam with Edikaikong soup. The party went on into the night, we didn’t see the last of it because we retired to our no network zone to rest. Tomorrow is a big day.
* * *
The burial day was finally upon us, everyone dressed with the intention of shooting on sight, no prisoners are meant to be taken. This especially was my mom’s aim as I was following her everywhere with camera. Grandpa was laid to rest, then the main event began, food time. Tuface song came to life ‘after the show, na the party oh’. Within a spilt seconds everywhere became rowdy, everyone shouting (as usual), jumping and running around. No it wasn’t a race for fun, it was a race for food. Meals and souvenirs were being distributed, seeing the energy they were all putting into the hustle, I had another mini-flashback to my hay and glory days in Iwo, during convocation ceremonies, when my gang and I hustled for drinks, food and souvenirs with such reckless abandon. One of the teenagers there, I saw him with my two eyes as he collected souvenirs and food not once, not twice but three good times and he still came up to me and started saying, in the little English he knew, he had not been given anything…. The audacity! I was literally turned into an errand boy, the only difference was I was an errand boy with class, because I had white lace on (skraa!) I distributed foods, drinks, souvenirs to relatives that I have never seen and to those that had stories to tell me from the days I ate sand because it was sweet. Long story short, I ended up not eating that day…. I’m not even angry (sarcasm fam, sarcasm). All was finally done, food has finished (ain’t no party without food no?) hence, party was over. ‘To your tent oh Israel’
At last, the day to leave everything that has gone south and retrace ourselves back to the centre (Abuja) came. Grandpa had been laid to rest, leaving us with only memories of the good things he did while here on earth which we would cherish and always hold on to. Everyone was happy, pictures were taken, everyone was going away with various souvenirs. Did I get some? Yes, I sure did get some, thick boil-looking bumps on my body given to me by able-bodied, dwarf looking, fragile yet heartless-courageous men, whom you all in the city call ‘Mosquitoes’. First of all, these are men! Men that would greet you politely, ask about your day, about the family before digging deep (and they don’t even attend Redeem church for those asking) into your skin to get some of those red blood cells in your body that to them, looks like raw sauce…. No ketchup.
As the sojourn back home began, I started reminiscing on the kind of unity I saw in Etebi, the unity (they all knew each other), innocent and sincere smiles like they have nothing to worry about. This is the Nigeria we all pray for I thought as I slipped into oblivion, only to wake up hours later with a great smile on my face, as I saw familiar grounds. A four-lane road, designed with street lights and colourful flowers, beautiful structures scattered all around and a beautiful city gate……Welcome to Abuja. Since we are back in the city, allow me to reintroduce myself ….
“Hello, my name is Nuel. This is my south side story”