40% of the 783 million people living in sub-sahara Africa doesn’t have access to drinkable water-UN
“Kofa”, the boy who looked like the head of the gang, said to me, as he bathed us in the stream of his monster-torch light. At first I was not sure who they were. But from their appearance, its either they were the night-watch of the area, otherwise known as ‘yan-banga’ or they were robbers.
The fact that they laid us an ambush, made it obvious they were criminals. They obviously are ill-armed or so I thought, because the most sophisticated weapon they flashed us, was a dagger-knife. However still, those were not toys, and no guarantee that they can’t be used to cause harm. So we did not try playing hero when we commanded to lie down.
“Lai dan”, one of the boys shouted at us, as he kicked me from behind.
I heard Lisa, murmuring, “Jesus-Jesus”. I prayed too. I prayed that there was not going to be any attempt on rape.
“Mubarak”. One of the criminals called. He was the one ransacking our belongings. But it seem he had called from behind the car, at the boot. The boys are amateur, I thought, their looseness in concealing their identity made me think so.
“Wetin I this one?”. Mubarak asked me in a very weak English- weak even for pidgin.
“Na medisin”, I answered.
“Po wiya?”. I guessed he asked where we were heading with the Vaccines.
“Government clinic for Mukum”, I told him.
“Mokum?”, he echoed, eyeing his other two men.
We were allowed to go. The leader of the gang even dashed us money, part of what we supposed was their loot so far the day. I was surprised at the switch of events. But anyway, we got in our car, and continued the journey.
“The one wearing a cap”. Lisa was referring to the gang leader.
“He is Gowon’s elder brother. I saw him yesterday at the clinic”.
“Which Gowon? You mean Yakubu?”, I asked as if there is another Gowon in Mukum.
Yakubu is my most favorite student at the LEA primary school, Mukum. I nicknamed him Gowon, after the former Nigerian president. I never forget the role he played in bringing I and Lisa, closer than just-friends together. The thought always brought smiles down my lips.
Then, we had just bitten three weeks into our one-year national service as corpers, that I fell in love with Lisa. I had very strong feelings for her, and fears too-almost as strong. I knew she liked me, or so her gestures suggested. We live in the same quarters and shared some experiences that can only be possible, between friends. But there was ‘but’. But there was kunle.
Kunle was my night-mare. He served at the village clinic with Lisa, while I taught at the primary school with Mercy: being that we are only four corpers serving in Mukum. And building on the way the two got along and played with each other when everybody is there, its easy imagining how intimate they can get, when they retire to their place of primary assignment, where its just them two. With this, I had a reason to fear. If Lisa is already interested in Kunle, my chances then, are slimier than my luck, through which I am posted this far north.
Moreover, when we go about our boys-gossips, Kunle always recounted the several passes Lisa had made at him, raising the probability. All those while, I will just go quiet in the course of the conversation, as if to allow my heart swallow the pains.
One afternoon, Lisa had visited me at my post, the primary school. After she left, Yakubu had walked up to me. He told me he knew that I felt soyaya for Lisa, that he could see it in my eyes. I paused. This boy have watched too much of the Hausa love-films they played at the film house in the village center, I thought. At first, it was not a comfortable affair, discussing such an issue with a boy his age. But it was amusing altogether, and got easier too. I also discovered I had grown fond of the boy.
Among the things that endeared the boy to me, was that, he is the only boy, his age, at Mukum, that can try at making a sentence in English without Hausa. Not that he himself had much success with that, but at least, he is the only boy that can understand it, when you do. He has gone to the city before, precisely the state capital, to serve a family there as house help, therefore the source of his relative exposure. But one thing made me love him at first sight. He looked ‘photocopiedly’, like my kid brother, Chijoke. Only background, region and environment is the identification spot.
For one week, Gowon took his time off the Dandutse river, where his mates played after school, to visit Lisa at the clinic. He would feign headache, then sit in the customary long que at the clinic, spying on Lisa and Kunle.
Once Gowon got back from the clinic, he would visit me at the village’s guest inn, we use as quarters, built by a notable Son of that village. He would give the situation report. He would assure me that nothing is going on between the two. He tells me that, in fact, when they get down to work at the clinic, Lisa forgets of his presence. Once, he reported that Lisa even scolds him.
Somehow those childish assurances really gave me hope, even though they were coming from a 10 year-old. And almost every time the doctor-love reported, my mind would be made-up on proposing to her. The thing is I always procrastinated about the date, I always booked it for a tomorrow that never comes. Some times I will decide its today, but when she comes by, I discover I am not prepared.
It continued in that progression, till two months was burnt out of our total stay. I was writing a poem in my room, specifically about her. I had just finished writing and sat back to praise my art, when someone tapped me from behind. I startled and simultaneously shut the book as I stood. I looked like a child caught taking meat from the pot.
“I read it already”, she said mischievously. Then her countenance swiftly changed.
“Why didn’t you tell me”, she said, soberly-shy. And after a short moment of in-activity, fault from both party, not knowing what else to do, she hugged me. I hollowed my embrace, to allow her sink.
“I love you”, I whispered, as I closed my eyes to savor the sweet tingling sensation stirring in my belly. As I lightly shut my lids, I noticed a presence, behind her, staring from the window. It was Gowon. He nearly clapped. I motioned him not to try that-I was not yet ready to cut the transmission. I gave him a thumbs-up, still engulfed in the hug that was growing deeper. He thumb-up too. That is my boy, I had said, but within.
The vehicle abruptly stopped, jerking us forth. Its the fourth time its breaking down since we left Maidugiri.
“Oooohooom”, the driver murmured.
“What again”, Lisa said, stressing the words out of frustration. We have been stranded for the past three hours. And there is little hope that we will still make it to Mukum before day break.
“Mukum is still about 30 minutes from here”, Mr Nuhu, said, as he placed both hands akimbo, looking into the darkness ahead, as if he could see Mukum from where he stood, outside the car.
Three things are wrong with the car. These include the battery, the engine and the bad road. The road is simply terrible.
When we were first dispatched to Mukum, as our primary place of assignment, the vehicle that first brought us, suffered the same fate. We were later acquainted that eggs are not even sold in Mukum. Those who made the experiments, had mashed eggs to show for it. The near acrobatic dance of cars plying the rhythmically contorted road, we learnt, always turn out, too rocky for fragile loads.
Places like Mukum are not found on the map. They seem to disappear as one zooms out in geographical inclination. Traveling to Mukum, you discover eternity in the endless route that continues to open ahead. And as you continue to sink deeper and get lost into the open land-you think you are leaving Nigeria for some other neighboring country.
Like most Nigerian states, name them, Cross-river, Kano, Bayelsa, Adamawa, Bauchi, Sokoto, etc., all there is, in the state seem to be located at the capital. The rural local government areas are outlanded. And as you journey past the capital, you discover also, that the farther you go, the more illusive the fact of development becomes.
Even some human body parts are two; in Mukum, apart from the number of people, almost every other thing is either numbered one or zero. The bore-hole, the network mast, the primary school, the clinic, the provision stall, and the chief are one-one. Even, among the indigenes of the place, only one man is educated. Other things, roads, market, motor park, factory, are zero
Among the zeros is power supply. The village have never had electricity, though they have NEPA poles (pole wires seem to arrive years before power supply, in this part of the world).
Another dent on modern living in the locality is that despite the sparce of land and the population, its only one bore-hole that is utilized by the whole community, and I heard it was built by an individual, the same man who had done everything for Mukum.
But the most dangerous aspect of living in Mukum, as I discovered from the very first day, is that, its like one of those town where a genocide might happen, and never be recorded, because its geographically dis-connectted with the rest of the world. I mean, if there should be an urgent need for external intervention in the village, I tried to imagine how help can come within time. Mukum is like one of those villages, where beasts like HIV/AIDS have devoured beyond its registered power simply because its victims are almost cut of from the rest humanity.
But, Mukum is still enjoyable. The people, who treat corpers like they are emissaries from heaven; the local girls, who washed at the river naked; the children at the school, whose ignorance alone, is a comedy. Plus the fact that I am closer to Lisa than ever.