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.