There were too many barricades along the cross-country roads, at least after every fifty-something miles or thereabout we were waved down by a band of men clad in their sombre uniforms and lopsided berets. They all interrogated us in the same manner, asked us to show the same thing over and over again. Wey your particulars and driver license? Fire extinguisher nko… when we had thrust all our rumpled papers… Oya oga find us holiday something or Happy-Sunday something (even when there were no holidays and it was a Wednesday morning!)… I was reluctant to part with anymore naira notes… Sonate was apprehensive. She worried that the word might have snaked its way through the Eastern region, along the borders of the south, that a couple in a midnight-blue Volkswagen were on the run. We both decided to travel through the country-side even though the roads were rather too bumpy and the dust that swivelled around us and filmed the shield like a ochre see-through blanket made Sonate sneeze and snort.
We both enjoyed these narrow roads bordered with mud huts and thatched roofs. I relished the rustic landscape; admired the bursts of evergreens that swept pass my eyes and the hills that disappeared halfway into heaven. She seemed to marvel at the women with the wrappers hanging loosely around their waists and walked around with their breasts bare like men. She had once said, with that childish lilt in her voice that I was so fond of, that she wished she were born in a place like this where she would have been free to run around in her underpants and climb trees and wrestle with all the boys. I traced the curve of her smile with my index finger, indulged her light-winged fantasies of how in this place people where not driven by unquenchable thirst and lust and greed for more and more. I had that naive glow in my eyes once upon a time, believed in soppy love songs and wrote flowery poetry… kai I even read Mills & Boons novels and fantasised about happily ever afters… no be my fault sha…
I had been driving for close to five hours now; just as the Delta sun, red as the tip of a candle flame and casting such a striking semblance to the earth that it seemed that one was staring at its mirror image, had begun to rise. I knew it was time to go when I heard the delicious cackles escape from the women and girls with clay pots balanced atop their head, hips swaying in a provocative manner, all headed towards one direction. The paths behinds the crumbling walls of the community primary school we had parked a couple of yards away from must have led to streams I thought to myself. In the unbroken silence of dawn I could even hear the rushing and gushing of water in a near distance. My Sonate was still sound asleep despite the rumbling of the engine and the rising and falling of the car as we travelled along another hilly road. The crisp morning breeze from the rolled-down windows tossed her cropped hair across her face and thus hid most of her face so I leaned out and tucked it behind her earlobe. As I watched the shadow of leaves dance across the tiny wrinkle on her nose, the mouth in a perpetual pout and the cleft in her chin, I felt something flutter in my belly. I swallowed hard. Despite the bad boy guise and confident swagger I had recently adorned, I was still a bolo; still very mushy in the inside like an éclair. Watching her reminded me of the stir I had felt when I had first cuddled Oyiza’s baby boy. Not like I ever needed much motivation to cry, I did this without shame every time I saw Gone with the Wind and I Am Sam even when Yetunde was right beside me. This child reminded me of what it was to bear witness to a miracle; the beauty of innocence and purity and all those other things T.K would have liked to call arrant bullshit.
And this girl, despite the glazed and wanderlust spirit that often possessed her and the unmistakable taint of sadness her eyes always bore, made so much sense when she was sleeping. Even with the windswept hair and the drool of saliva at the corner of her mouth, I still thought of Sonate as a miracle. Yetunde had left me sometime in April, just as the crisp brown leaves from the Almond tree came undone and the first showers drenched the earth. It was a time of new seasons but not a season of better things to come. Because just before the skies begun to grey and the rain beat against my pane like pellets, she packed up her bags and never looked back.
I used to tell my guys that Yetunde was my last bus-stop; that I was not going to board any more danfos or hitch any rides. In the reflection of her eyes I travelled back and forth through time and space. I was opportune to envisage the kind of love Papa and mummy had shared in the times of Bobby Benson and towering afros. Oyiza used to say that their love was so strong that Papa had passed away shortly after mummy’s tragic death in that ghastly motor accident. They were like ying and yang; where he had more she had less, and what she had in abundance he was lacking. Together they formed a perfect arc. This was why when she stopped breathing, he simply stopped living. Yetunde and I must have been a reincarnation of them I often thought to myself when we lay side by side on my slender mattress that often felt so much like lying down on the bare concrete floors. But this time we would write our own destinies and no tragic accidents could pull us apart. And when I was not looking at things in retrospect, I envisaged me sharing every great achievement, all my simply moments with you the mother of my unborn child. I dreamed of us buying our own bungalow with its own little garden for you to grow your own tomatoes and okras and ugu leaves. Yetunde. My Yetunde. I would have bore your last name; Yes, I loved you that fiercely. I’m sure our lives must have been the muse that inspired hearts of men to write songs like why do fools fall in love…
Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car meddled low in the background. You’ve got a fast car; I’ve got a ticket to get out us out of here. This was another song that told the story of my life at this very moment and then again not quite. It was now that I begun to understand why that the Yoruba called this Volkswagen ajapa not because of its hunchback like the shell of a tortoise but rather the pace at which it crawled down the roads. Sonate did not have any ticket to get us anywhere, the only certainty we had was that if we made it beyond these borders we could start our lives again as new people. Who would have ever imagined that an art teacher and the daughter of one of the most influential men along the length and breadth of the country would be on the run together?
Precisely six months ago my name was simply Kure Malu. I was the guy who wore the same horn-rimmed spectacles since King’s College and probably taught your children at All Saints Nursery and Primary School paper Mache and the art of weaving cane baskets. I was one of those seemingly crazy people who enjoyed what they did even though their pay checks could not buy them convertibles or travel to exotic lands on holidays. Yet I was okay being me, painting landscapes bordered by pretty sunsets in my spare time or learning how to play the guitar that I never seemed to get better at. I liked to wear my flannel shirts and the only pair of jeans I ever owned. I was going to marry my girl. I was content. If I were American I’d have been a republican. My name was simply Kure Malu.