(2010; Kwari, Takum, Taraba state)
It was the third week of December and my mind laid on an undecided dilemma, in which I had no hurry in making up my mind towards a fixed resolution. I had gotten so accustomed to life down here, enjoying every minute of love showered by the natives, who spared no time in treating me like a prince, and showering the hospitable tendencies they really had, around strangers and visitors from afar.
As I stepped out from my apartment that morning to head off to Takum and visit my serving friends, in the Executive Inn corpers lodge down town, the village children in their usual style of looking out for me, as I walked passed every morning, made their sounds from their houses as they heard their mothers offer their greetings. “Corper”, “corpers”, they shouted, in their amusing way of saying the word. I made a reciprocating wave towards them, boosting their tempo in continuing with their excited screams.
Although today’s hailing was somewhat unusual, and exceeding in its tender style, but then I understood their uplifted joy much more, as it showed most glaringly in their faces. They were indeed happy and surprised in seeing me around in the third week of December, as their hopes re-ignited to the promising possibility that I would be celebrating Christmas with them.
I mounted a commercial bike, and headed straight to town that morning; for in the midst of my love for the village and its natural climate, there was an aspect of the enlightened potential within me that needed to be satisfied, through contemporary socio-economic conversations with my corper buddies, down town. The harmattan air was most certainly fresh in its soothing manner of ushering one to the season, with its cool resting dew that had an amazing way of clouding the mountains with its fog.
At precisely 30 minutes in the smooth tarred road that led straight on, we entered Takum, and I quickly informed the biker to stop me at the corpers lodge, to reunite with my similar folks of national call. Entering the gate on arrival, I strolled in confidently, hoping then to see the likes of Jude at the immediate vertical corridor, but then to my most unlikely surprise I met a quiet presence.
Heaving a deep sigh of relief in meeting no usual jeers from Jude who always called me “the jungle corper”, I walked straight to Ben’s room, only to meet a similar shock, in finding the door locked tight with a large padlock. I stared down the corridors in utmost wonder, to find a long line of padlocks clutched tight to every door.
At that moment, a certain fear of loneliness gripped me. Was I the only corper in this town? I spoke quietly to myself, in a strange feeling of abandonment, as though I was an only soldier left behind in a war zone, after a fierce battle. As I gradually began gripping strands of reality, it slowly dawned on me, that in my solo play, and exploration in the jungle, I had failed to realize that my serving friends down town would sooner or later head back home, and evacuate their boring city of Takum in faraway Taraba state.
I immediately came to terms with reality, checking up my calendar to discover it was already 22nd December. I rushed to Chinedu Park immediately, to make reservations for the afternoon take off, only to be struck by yet another surprise of the day. The park was entirely filled up, with people struggling in with their luggage. I quickly demanded for a ticket from the man in charge, and he gave me one immediately, informing me I’d been booked for tomorrow’s bus, as the one for today was already filled up.
And so I left the park totally confused, as my world came crashing in with loneliness, in finding myself left behind in a strange place, in such times when being merry with family was certainly the best place to be. That night, I had no choice but to pass time in the open square nightclub, drinking a couple of beers that would help dilute my sober mood. Joe, on his part, together with my village buddies, Damu and Sammy, thought me merry and unusually excited in ordering and sharing drinks among them. But then, I saw the need in making the best of the moment, in the last day in the season I had to spend with them, and giving them the best consoling bribe they could only wish, when they surprisingly discover me gone the next day.
By daybreak, I saw myself gaining consciousness at about 10am, after I must have slumped on the bed like an unconscious man. I rushed out immediately after checking the time, to fetch some water from the well at the back, and take my bath as quickly as I could, as I prepared for my secret trip back home.
On lifting my travelling bag, as I locked the door, I quietly mounted a bike at the front of my house, riding speedily towards town, as I clutched on to my luggage, only to hear the loud wails from the children, as they saw me in my travelling state ride through the village.
But then, as I climbed onto the seat at precisely 3 O’clock the take off time, on the bus headed straight to Onitsha, I knew that this was definitely a decision I had to take, even as the children’s wailing tears echoed strongly within me and with love and collective plans by the village notwithstanding. I knew I had to get myself quickly on time where I belonged, celebrating joyfully through the streets of Warri, which was to be my final destination; where my long awaited arrival shall be graced with overwhelming tears of joy as I reunite with my family on Christmas Eve, dropping by just at the right time, and making their Christmas celebrations the best exceptional moment it could ever be.