It was with excitement that I threw some clothes into my backpack and headed for the road on a rickety bus. Even so vehicles in this part of the world are never in perfect condition.
The harsh morning sun, mingled with sweaty smelling bodies, incessant and high pitched conversations sprinkled with farts that smelled like rotten eggs was an indicator that the journey would be a long one.
Waved down by a short bald man, wearing spectacles and a yellow shirt, the bus stopped to pick him. He’d be the last passenger for the bus to be full. He stood with a beautiful tall dark woman. She had an easy smile and was probably in her twenties. They held hands and their faces were covered with open affection as they spoke. The driver pulled open the door for the Short Bald Man and as he jumped in, with the door firmly closed, he turned to the open window and spoke to the woman.
‘I love you.’ This loud proclamation of love was met with a shy smile from the woman. This affirmed my suspicion that they were lovers.
‘I love you too.’
The bus grew silent as the duo professed love for each other. I suspect the passengers may have found this too forward. Around these parts, people are never quick to professing love in public. In whispers, yes, in private – absolutely, but almost never in public.
‘Make sure you buy Gala on the way so you don’t get too hungry.’
‘I will, love.’ He replied.
Slowly the bus driver drove away and they waved frantically at each other, blowing kisses. An hour into the journey, whoever was farting, hadn’t found it worthy to stop. So it was a relief when the engine of the bus became overheated. The driver pulled over to could fix the problem. It was at that point the Short Bald Man hopped down the bus and walked down the road, assumedly to a shop that sold beverages and snacks. Fifteen minutes later, it was time to leave and the Short Bald Man was yet to be back. They had unflattering things to say as they spoke freely in pidgin.
‘Wia Mr lover man?’ Questioned a random person.
‘Him go buy Gala.’ Someone at the back seat answered. For some reason, he found his own statement amusing, so he laughed.
‘Woman wrappa!’ Exclaimed another man.
‘That geh say make him buy Gala,’ said a light skinned woman with black patches on her face induced by bleaching.
‘Maybe nain wife, abi na geh friend?’ No one provided an answer to this question. Those who merely listened were thoroughly entertained that they laughed hard. As they glimpsed the bald man’s yellow shirt, they beckoned to him to hurry up. When he got into the bus, the gossiping ceased and the journey began again. But not after I had bought an egg and consumed it, ready to retaliate with my own farts.
The journey after then was slow and boring as the Short Bald Man munched on his Gala and Pepsi. The hours dragged as we sped past towns, houses, people, trees and forests. And as we did, I raised one half of my buttock at intervals and break wind.
After five hours of traveling, we needed a break. We stopped by a busy road to buy things through the windows. It wasn’t necessary to alight from the bus; the hawkers ran with their wares to our bus and other buses around. Some held hot balls of akara in tiny transparent bags, yams the size of saucers fried in deep vegetable oil, roast corn, bananas, groundnuts, plantain chips and drinks. Barely ten minutes of hands exchanging foods and money, it was time to continue the journey.
Six hours later, we arrived Ibadan. The ancient city with rusted roofs. It was now dark. Exhausted, I called Josh, a friend of mine, to take me where he had made a hotel reservation. While I waited, I drank the night and the sounds of the west; the unending impatience of honking drivers, loud chattering and the energy in the air. If for a moment, I had mildly forgotten where I was, I was reminded by two men dressed in Yoruba attires shouting and threatening each other on who was driving on the wrong lane.
Josh eventually arrived and we headed to the hotel on a bike – both of us. It is a normal thing to see three persons, sometimes total strangers I was told, mount a bike, if they are both heading in the same direction. The bike raced through the city taking a right turn here, a dark snaky route there, and there we were, ready to end the day. I thought. But surprisingly the gates were locked and it was just after 10pm! I turned in shock to ask Josh what was happening, but couldn’t see his face because it was so dark.
‘Well, it’s a special kind of a hotel. It served the missionaries as hostels. They keep to the rules till now.’ He seemed to have read my mind. Though old, the structure had enjoyed a recent painting that took away a bit of the decadent look. That much was obvious. We tried to shake the heavy metal gate to get the attention of the Gatekeeper, but no luck. We picked up stones, which we used to knock the gate to prevent our knuckles from hurting. After ten minutes of doing this, the night seemed to have turned ominous. There were no passersby and the sounds of nature punctuated the air.
For what seemed like thirty minutes, we tried to get the attention of the Gatekeeper, whose sleeping quarters we could see, even from where we stood.
‘I’m tired. Let’s jump the gate.’ I said.
‘No, it’s not a good idea.’
‘If you have any better ideas, then get to it. Standing here in the dark is not helping.’ Josh threw more stones over the gate, hoping that the slightest noise would rouse the sleeping Gatekeeper.
‘Look I’m going to jump but you can keep knocking if you want, after I’m gone.’
‘What if we are caught?’ Josh asked.
‘Then I will explain things to them.’
He wasn’t buying the idea, so I began the climb, taking one tentative step after the other. Luckily it wasn’t a modern gate. There were spaces in between the rods of the gate, which I took advantage of to gain balance. Left with no choice, Josh assisted and gently pushed, as I threw my leg over the gate and descended gently to the ground on the other side. He didn’t need help getting over the gate and within a minute, we were on the other side of the premises unnoticed. It seemed everyone was asleep.
We took a short walk towards the main building. But even the receptionist had retired for the night. Quiet and dimly lit, there wasn’t much to see as Josh handed my keys to me, he had them with him. We both left for our rooms.
The enormity of last night, only sank in the next day as we prepare to leave for a literary event. The reason I had taken hours, endured farts from a stranger and jumped a gate. I saw the hotel clearly this time. Apart from the old bathroom model, old air conditioner, room size, bed frames and structure, everything else was modern. Oh, and not forgetting the gate.
As we approached the gate, the Gatekeeper appeared to be having a good morning because he was whistling. There wasn’t any resentment as I smiled warmly saying ‘good morning.’ I had him to thank for making the Pastoral Institute, as I was told was the name of the hotel, a place I’ll never forget.
Debbie Iorliam is a model, award winning poet, screenwriter and a short story writer. She is a fellow of the Ebedi Writers’ Residency. She lives in Nectar in hibernation, where she writes imaginative tales that no eyes have seen.