A Long Way Home

I watch the bus make its last turn and come to a halt. The ride may have been a long uncomfortable one, but the early flutters of hope has my heart thumping in anticipation. The streets are full of people—old and young alike; some heaving bags out of boots, welcoming their loved ones with warm hugs; others chatting as they walk past. Rows of shops now replace a long line of familiar trees, sporting pepper soup restaurants with the promise of assorted meat, brightly coloured second-hand clothes on mannequins, beer parlors packed full with bawdy men and football viewing centres. From a speaker belts singing sensation P-Squares’ Busy Body that has people stop to do a quick jiggle before moving on.

A hand pokes my back and I turn to see a frail old woman. Her eyes are dark and lifeless, her hair matted. There are lines on her face, bags underneath those eyes, from fatigue or old age, I can’t say. She mutters something, and I lean forward to get a better idea of what she wants. Ego. Money, she wants money. I rummage through my purse, pull out a hand full of notes and place it in bony fingers.

The image of those eyes stays with me after she is gone as mine takes in everything around one last time. I can feel the life seeping out of me too.

After driving for another three minutes, the endless tarred road finally gives way for the muddy soil that is earth. During the rainy season, it is prudent to get off the bike to avoid falling, but this is the harmattan, the biting cold only caused the unoiled skin to flake and bothered the nose with dust. My choice of transportation is safe today. Finally I get to my destination. The big white house towered above many others in my neighborhood. Although its walls could use a repaint, the flaked paintings and moss by the base gives it some character. It is a 30 years old house after all.

I push open the metal gate and the accompanying creak which we termed asiri draws the smile out of my tired muscles. The first to welcome the newest arrival is our year old dog, Rainbow. I let him run circles round my legs for a few seconds before stepping into the living room. Almost immediately my Nana’s arms envelopes me. She smells of ude aki, a local oil extracted from palm kernels, and something organic. It’s the distinct, comforting smell of old age I have come to love.

“Nne nno,” she says. Her small arms rub down my back and she plants a dry kiss on my fore head.

The rooms haven’t changed much. New couches now replaced the old torn ones that the little children used to hide their paper toys—I remember being the architect of one such tear. The ceiling fans are still bad from the lightning that passed through the house some five years ago. Perhaps it will never be repaired. The terrazzo floors covered in ancient African patterns helped in cooling the house on hot days. A mat lies on the far end to the wall— it’s for Mama they will say, her old bones craves solidity of the hard floor to a plump mattress. I place my bag of goodies on the dining table and make my way to the third floor—this is the part of the house I share with my nuclear family.

Standing at the doorway, my eyes take in the wide windows that uses up three-fourth of the wall space. It allows for an ample dose of light to come in unfiltered, but it also allows for any tree lurker to get an ample dose of view… unfiltered. Everyone who was a local had a farm and owned trees. Farming was the main occupation around here until people began moving to the cities in search of greener pastures. Our Aged is left to till the soil, harvesting yam, cocoyam and vegetables at a subsistence level.

“Mama, where is everybody?” I ask in our dialect when I make my way back down.

Nne okwa olili.” They have gone visiting.

It is not uncommon to find the house empty at this hour. Christmas for us meant different things at every point in our lives. For the little children, it is a break from school and homework, a time to play on wide expanse of land, hunt chickens and lizards and just be kids. Sadly there have been no more swimming in the Ezu River—not for 10 years now since the introduction of pipe borne water for the community. For the youths it is the time for integrating with other members of the community over football matches hosted by the local churches and village chiefs. It is generally expected that some people of marriageable age will meet their life partners, and so everyone is to come home, put on their best acts and mingle. And our mothers and fathers take these visits as a time to recline and feel young again. They’d visit old friends from their youthful days in their homes sipping on glasses of red and white wine–their replacement for gourds of palm wine—reminiscing on the good old days and talking of how things have changed for this generation in a bad way.

I avoid the main road as I take my walk, preferring the winding narrow path hidden by lush green bushes of fallow land. There is still here the enormous Dogoyaro tree, a medicinal plant used in curing various illnesses, and around the middle trunk, a white cloth that has gone brown with age. I veer right as I reach the three forked road, remembering that going forward will bring me face-to-face with the desolate shrine ascribed to the tree god.

The air is sweet and fresh here so I stop to sit on a tree stump and take a deep breath. I feel life seeping into my bones again. I wonder if someday my little village will become a commercial city as the mechanical fingers of modernization makes its way into our lives, peeling off a piece of us each day. I am young, vibrant, energetic and marriageable. I will love to come home as often as I can make it, but life in the city leaves little time for pleasure. This place right here is a haven; a sanctuary away from the madness of the real world. Someday I will die in that other land and my body will return to this soil, where I will be laid to rest with the bones of my Fathers.

This is what the eastern village south of the capital represents: a place of shelter from the world in life and a cradle of rest in death. It may look nothing like the Bahamas, nor offer expensive spa treatment, but this here for us is Earth filling our senses with purity as nature’s gentle arms nestles us in a warm, peaceful embrace.

Journey_home.jpg

 

September 2014.

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26 thoughts on “A Long Way Home

  1. livelytwist June 14, 2015 / 3:20 pm

    Lovely, packed with nostalgia. It’s comforting to have a sanctuary in life and death ….
    I fear that I am too much of city girl to survive more than a day in your village- well, with internet access and other comforts, I could last longer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju June 14, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      Mtn is everywhere you go. And if it fails, there’s Airtel and Glo and Etisalat 😀 You’ll be fine girl.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brookie June 14, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Beautiful writing. The description is so vivid I feel like I am seeing and feeling everything through the eyes of the speaker.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tolawrites June 13, 2015 / 8:56 pm

    Beautiful.
    Sometimes I wish I have a village to go to but no, that village is a city.

    Like

    • uju June 14, 2015 / 5:57 am

      I always wonder what that will be like– coming home one day to find a tarred road running through the front of my home (I hear there are plans for that) and all I feel is an impending sense of grief.

      So sorry about that, Tola. Perhaps it’s less of a burden if your home has always been a city. I do hope you have somewhere you escape to when urban life feels like a hand squeezing tight too.
      Do you have any such place?

      Liked by 1 person

      • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 7:22 am

        Yeah, I do and that’s the corner of my room. I guess that’s why I value loneliness cos aside being alone and lost in my world, there seem no other escape route.
        I remember I used to have this beautiful garden I used to go to when I was in Aberdeen, the cool, calm and clean river that runs through it, the beautiful flowers with various designs, the songs from the birds, the sparkling green environment, it was a place of both inspiration and personal growth for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • uju June 14, 2015 / 9:14 am

          So you escape into your mind– guess that’s good as any place.
          The garden sounds really beautiful. Powerful description 🙂 Maybe someday you’ll be able to recreate that environment again. I imagine you’re in Nigeria now?

          Liked by 1 person

          • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 9:28 am

            Yeah! That’s the right word for it. I do escape into my mind and believe me, its cool cos I get to control the environment and influence it but the sad part is that I always have to wake up to reality and face it… Lol.
            Thanks, the garden is beyond beautiful. Even when I relocated, I do go back there once a while, I just love everything about it. Yeah, I’m in Nigeria now, I’m back to the famous city.

            Liked by 1 person

        • uju June 14, 2015 / 3:42 pm

          You keep taking those moments to live in your head when you can. Sometimes it’ll be the only thing keeping you from imploding in the mad pace that’s this city.

          Welcome home 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 3:50 pm

            Thanks, I will. I’m guessing you’re in this same popular city called Lagos. (The only city that have both a local and an English name)

            Like

          • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 4:00 pm

            OK, that’s good. You sure don’t need any further description of the life here but hope you’re enjoying it.

            Liked by 1 person

              • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 10:08 pm

                Do more than survive, enjoy it. Even those in the village will like to come live the city life with us.

                Like

                • uju June 14, 2015 / 10:10 pm

                  ahh we can swap places once in a while then. Sometimes it’s necessary to get out of this monotony called life– it probably won’t matter if it’s the city or village at this point, just that your ‘routine’ is altered.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • tolawrites June 14, 2015 / 10:16 pm

                  Yeah, routine needs to be altered, man is not a machine and there is always the law of diminishing returns at work in all we do

                  Liked by 1 person

  4. ideadibia June 13, 2015 / 10:25 am

    Makes me want to go home immediately, I’ve missed plucking fruits of the Udara tree.

    (There’s a missing ‘of’ before pipe-borne water in that sentence 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju June 13, 2015 / 7:01 pm

      I’m not a big fan of Udara but u wouldn’t mind looking at another German mango tree. Oh Lord, I miss going to the village 😦

      **Good eyes. I’ll fix it once I’m on PC. Thanks 🙂

      Like

  5. George June 13, 2015 / 3:43 am

    Your prose reads like poetry. Beautifully written, uju.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju June 13, 2015 / 10:14 am

      Thanks George.
      I wonder, do you have somewhere that feels like a sanctuary for you?

      Like

      • George June 13, 2015 / 1:50 pm

        An empty church. I love the solemn feeling of peace that surrounds me. It can be any church but if I’m the only one in there I feel at peace. The home where I grew up was always a sanctuary but since I’m older, the places and people who were once there for me are gone. Now that place is very different and no one remains so I felt happy for you as I read your words, knowing you had a pace to return to and feel alive but sad when you looked down the road and thought your home might look different in the future. I understand that. I pray it remains the same for you and you can always find your sanctuary there. But people are so much a part of that sanctuary, aren’t they. They know you in ways others may not. Which is why being with my family is my sanctuary now, wherever we might be. Sometime I go back to where I grew up and just walk or ride around remembering the people and happiness I found there. Hold onto your special special place as long as possible, uju. You are very fortunate that the place and people you love remain a part of your life.

        Like

        • uju June 14, 2015 / 5:48 am

          You’re right, George. The environment and the people who fill it all make a place feel like home 🙂

          Like

    • uju June 13, 2015 / 10:13 am

      Thank you! You’d be surprised how long it took me to master description (I should thank the Blogging U team on WP).

      Liked by 1 person

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