There is a little city that sprawls from the eastern horizons of the country. It dwells in middle of fertile greens and blooms in the graceful steps of its countrymen. Look it up in memoirs and journals, it has been described as a city filled with life. The mornings will breeze in through first windows, caressing them with cloud of mists which will later the following afternoon acquire a hardened surface- not just from the glaring sun, the dusts raised by locomotives passing through the able bodied railway that tends to divide this populace into two equal axis or even the stinking gutters with wide open mouths and formidable contents. The tiny streets were long mapped out and developed by the administration of a late premiere. Old looking archaic structures ceased to shoot into the sky- just a few storey short here and there. They were looking pale and rusty on partitions, there paints suffered from the devilish economy of the past government. A honk of speeding automobile will collide with the bossy voices of food hawkers providing on their heads an entire range of local made morning recipes which those boys at Uzoakoli Park were known to indulge in. A cat will stumble against a gathering of used and disgusting tins and will sprint into oblivion when some irritating tins will make in gravity for the gravel floor, still enjoying the sweet morning’s easiness.
Eze lived in this world. He loved its morning, disliked the noon’s sun staring down blankly at his head and craved for the nights- always swelling up with activities belonging to fun. He resided at 14 Uwalaka Street, Uzoakoli road. An area piled up on sides by provision stores, churches, a lonely mosque, club buildings, a single motel, a chain of palm wine joints and a petrol station with a small mall. A gang had cuddled its counters a week ago. Each of the buildings chained another by a fence.
He was a dark young man with shoulders broad somewhat, eyes clear as sparkle, hair lying on scalp- relaxed and gelled in a very dark color of black. It was always shinning under the sun. The scrawl of a cat stumbling against a waste bin bellying up used can foods had awoken him into this cold morning. Still sleepy, he gradually peeled himself out of his bed of soft comfort and paced to the open window breezing in cold air. His eyes continued straining and finally adjusted to the brightness outside the open window. He caught a glimpse of the bright rising sun smiling from the east and when he looked down on the street, he saw a bunch of figures- a very dark girl with a bulging rear side and a collection of lazy touts playing and taunting her massive hip. She was bending and scooping tea with a red jug and serving a mechanic in an orange coverall. The bunch continued spelling out insults and admiring her lustfully. Eze sighed aloud, rubbed the sleep away from his eyes and blinded the window. Taking notice of a bag of fresh green on his side table, he went for it. He ripped it open and poured some on his left palm, grinding it soft. He rolled up and sparked it with a faulty lighter after a fuss of seconds. The ‘spliff’ hissed, beckoning flames to it and revealing a streak of smoke gathering before his face. He took a long drag, swallowed some and exhaled a cloud into his room. He was himself again, drowning in this special feeling. He continued sucking on its wet tip until the ‘spliff’ died and the ashes flew around the room. He checked his mobile phone for the time. It was 7 0’clock. Seven! He mustn’t be late. Today was Monday so he shan’t be late.
In a few minutes, he was perfecting the lining on his smooth hair with a long brown comb and staring admiringly at the other half of him in the mirror. Fine boy fine boy, he chuckled while praising himself. He sat on his bed and adjusted his yellow and green striped socks then went about the room in search of another pair of shoe. He found it lying tumbled under the bed. He wore it and stood up. He stared more at the mirror and walked briskly front and back in front of his reflection before making for his door.
An SUV Land Rover carrying a happy family sped along the street, another followed in its tail and another and another. He locked the door behind, clambering down the short step and taking to his heels – his steps were not reluctant in any way. Eze continued on foot, turning right into Abiriba Street and disappearing into Clinical Industries and Pharmacy where he worked as an assistant manager. His office was on the last floor facing the city. How difficult it seemed living in this little city. How expensive it is. How challenging. He thought of his life in this city with tiny streets and an unsettling attitude of some of its people and a flashing thought jerked his mind to write a stunning piece on the city’s topography, its terraces, its horizons and the busy, rushing life of the people of Umuahia.
From his quiet space in his office, he stared out the window, amazed at the embodiment, the chattering, the bubbling, the edging of the city center market, the flyover climbing above Aba road and descending at a spot where a collection of Fulani traders gathered and sold gold and silver jewelries and a scribbled information of No time for dullness painted in graffiti above the flyover. He wanted more of this city. He struck himself on and on about leaving his job to go trample the busy filled tiny streets. He would procure palm wine firstly at the edge of bonny street and would stride to Lagos Street; crossing a railway and entering Orlu Street where a newspaper stand fed the minds of elderly arguementators and patriotic citizens. He would then settle at an open space and watch the city get lit with serious life. He loved it. He admired the way the stores flung open into seemingly unending chaos of rushing and bustling. It was chaotic and mad for his understanding. He stood up his chair going about to inspect workers downstairs.
One step in front of the other, hip vibrating, Maureen walked into a restaurant along the wide express of Bank Road. The door handler closed the door as she stepped in. “welcome to Hoofers restaurant madam”, he said smiling. She waved at him and continued walking. She walked until she passed a cluster of round tables on each side till she got to the bar.” Smirnoff ice please,” she called softly, climbing a tall revolving stool facing the bar. The bartender came and smiled at her cunningly. It was a fake smile. Even a kid could see through it. As he smiled, his brown teeth exposed. His cheeks formed short lines. He shut his smile automatically and felt for a chilled transparent bottle of Smirnoff in the Coca-cola refrigerator. He poured some into a glass cup and a cube of ice dissolved at its bottom. She took it from the smooth brown bar and tasted it. She smacked her lips. She took it again. She hissed and gazed upon the ceiling decorated with white lights and oscillating ceiling fans. She undoubtedly was on a brink of getting loose. She scrolled through her mobile phone, found a contact and dialed it with an uneasy feeling in her throat. Tring tring! Tring Tring! She removed it from her ear, stared at the smiling face of a dark man and wondered what lurked behind this smile. Tring Tring! The ringing continued and a female automated voice notified no answer.
The eyes of men never left her. An elderly man, supposedly a chief in red cap had bumped into a pillar while walking and looking in her direction. This never seemed new to her. It’s not every day you see a lady in red sashaying through Umuahia. Her fashion style was British; her tone angelic, her smile was what words couldn’t describe. Her perfume poured out a whiffing sweetness and despite the commotion she caused in the minds of men, she never craved for any man unless it was a bachelor living at 14 Uwalaka Street. The eagerness in her couldn’t be eluded while describing her. A four inch leather shoe carried her elegantly above her swirling gown coloring a seductive tone of red. She was covering her eyes with a dark shade and she flipped her hair side to side on occasions. She drank in silence chasing away time. “Another please!” The bar man came again and poured more drink and dropped a cubed ice into it.
“Madam you okay?” he asked with impulse.
“Yes, yes thank you. I’m fine thank you.”
“Okay madam,” he said returning to some people lounging at another side.
The evening was being summoned into the city. It slowly approached the contours of this city. The sun was shining weak. Soon, it would retire to the west giving space for a soon crescent moon. But now time remained natural as a daily routine of the city was soon to change into an uproar bombardment of night life.
Eze caught a taxi in front of the building complex at the street of Abiriba and made for his home at Uwalaka Street – where everything seemed right. He waited for night to come and to go spend it with his friend, a girl classmate back from London who had just returned to see the land of her father. His receiver rang bare seconds after he sat on a chair in his room.
“Hello,” he replied. “Yes yes, I’m home now. I was terribly busy today that I couldn’t even answer my phone”.
“I missed you,” came in a mild female voice massaging his ears.
“Like wise. I’ll be out in a bit. I need to see the night for what it really is. Care to burst out with me?” She said yes and they said their goodbyes till later seven.
He had had his evening bath of cold water concentrated with some sips of antiseptic. He felt the dryness and the chill tingling all over his body.
An arm embracing an arm, two figures; one dark and handsome and another complexioned fair, with high hills and a red flowing gown emerged from a door at Uwalaka Street. They walked out of the neighborhood and joined the half empty street. Hey taxi, hailed the man carrying on his side a woman with such elegance and beauty as no eye on this street has seen. The cab man pulled and parked. Her gown was carried tightly by her busty breasts and her smile depicted the fact that only a ripe pocket could harness the tenderness in her soft slim palms. She carried with her a black purse. She was the most beautiful girl Eze had ever seen. He opened a door and let her hop in the taxi. He followed in her stead and closed the door behind him, sitting down at the back near his friend. The cab jerked as the engine cranked up, started and began moving away with such slow motion as the sorts in Hollywood movies. Maureen clung to him especially the way her dress did. Her hair rested on his neck. The scent of it intoxicated Eze who had long anticipated any move similar to this one. It happened this night and her hope more would unfold.
The disheveled pale faced driver asked the terms and Eze replied ‘’ Isi- Gate. Please take us to Gate”
A plastic bag flew into the distance as the wheels of a yellow car halted at a place where second hand wares were marketed at night and Eze and Maureen where the persons that steeped down from it. Shoes and trousers and every sort of clothing were the things that spread on the vertical steels that firmed on the wheelbarrows while others were arranged on the tarpaulins on the made roads. Torch lights swung in the air. And some arms carried lanterns to secure their goods while some ran their little patched up generators. They walked past them. It was 7.30 pm. Desperate market women had longed emerged into the streets in bid to sell their home made food: Okpa , roasted corn, pears, canteens opened and people breezed in and out and a sign before them carried a dirty scribbled sign of ’Food Is Ready’. The place was bursting was intense life. People walked about here and there. Some c wielded bags and some hung frails of faces and some lucky others carried on their arms their lover as if to show all Dick , Tom and Harry not to near to avoid their head getting severed from their necks. Eze walked to a side were his usual suya occupied only at nights. Why is suya even sold at night? Maureen mused.
“I saw that in a post on facebook,” she said staring and smiling into his face.
“Yeah” he said. “I’ve hardly given it a thought. But still, it looks mysterious which is why I admire it. I’m a mystical person myself and I live and rant on in this world full of mysteries. It keeps me in line”
Maureen was silent. She slanted her neck and drowned her eyes into his eyes, gasping for breath and sulking in happiness. Eze noticed such affection and pulled her close to his chest and gave a thumb up to his suya friend, smiling. The man was wearing a blue Fulani kaftan which descended to his feet and his hands turned and expertly sliced the red meat into little dicey sizes.
“How much own sir?” he asked looking up from his meat filled table and smiling at Eze.
“Hope you’ll eat?” asked Eze.
“Why not,” she said. “It has been long since I last tasted these.” She reached for a brown timber toothpick and thrust it into a lump and threw it into her wide mouth. She chewed slowly on it and she sucked the salty sweet taste of beef. Her eyes became wide-eyed. The two men stopped and watched her mandible work, excitingly.
“Madam you too much oh,” said the suya man.
“That’s my African queen,” Eze added while his black hands clapped softly in the air.
Suya man placed the pieces of sliced red meat into the newspaper and folded them making them elongate horizontally on the meat table. Eze paid and walked out- a folded paper in a hand and a beautiful Maureen in another. They walked across the road, dodging hasty trailers and rushing automobiles. They crossed the railway line where women now occupied and sold foodstuff. In the day it seemed empty and deserted but now it knew life, it knew hustle, it knew the hasty feet of all the people living in this city.
The duo stopped at a crowd listening to a salesman speaking blaringly into his microphone. The trader held in his hands a costume of wares and dancing to a speaker he kept at a safe distance. Beware of pick-pockets said Eze rubbing Maureen’s back. She affirmed, nodded and they began stealing away to the narrow street. In just a little time, they arrived at a two storey building which idly sat at the unfolding plains of the upper lands. The road hilled up a little as their feet walked into it. The sign pointing into the street glittered green as a passing saloon car illuminated it. It proclaimed boldly WARRI STREET. The narrow street blew its whistle of noises, captivating an entire range of people ricocheting back and front from here to Isi-Gate. Eze ceased walking. He took her by the hand and told her he wanted to show her the aerial view of this city. They began striding out of Warri Street, into an old storey building.
Potential and kinetic lights shone. And they flickered. Images trampled around, some scampered in haste, some kept running into slow moving cars and angry Lorries. Keke-men were all stepping out there yellow tricycles and athletically returning into it. Their engines steamed. The clanging sounds of pistons ran around.
“Look here!” Eze jumped into the silence and pointed at a traffic jam descending beyond Aba road.
“What a chaotic scene”. Maureen said bursting into a happy face.” Even the luxury cars and the gigantic automobiles are all halting and resuming. The entire place is populated. Is this how it happens all night?
“The roads are not wide enough. It is the major reason for the congestion you are seeing now”
They paused talking for a minute and let the blares of car honks occupy the silence. Lights still flickering, intensifying, and they continued talking.
“This is nothing compared to the streets of Eko. Waking up by 4:00am means you’ll get to your office at 8:00am. The place is just something else.”
Eze stopped talking and listened. He had never been to Eko. All his life he dreamt of going to the big city but to no avail. So he listened to her talk about the people of Eko, the lifestyle of the Yoruba people, their numerous parties, their native soups and the tall buildings which he usually saw on TV.
“I might not know Lagos, “he said finally “but this little city I know. These people are always in a hurry. They care less about protocols. All they know is go, go, go”. He squeezed his face and wrapped his hands about his chest. Maureen came once again closer. She hugged him. And she said, in a try to lure him out of this misery that she knew a place along B.C.A road where good wine and good food where sold. Eze’s face rekindled, life breezed upon it, smiling, he asked her where.
“DE LATINOS,” she said.
“How do you know of such place? You just came back from overseas a week ago.”
“Little wonder,” she said in an accent which he never knew existed.
Eze put one arm on his waist and another on the rail of the balcony upstairs. The zephyr continued caressing their faces and opening Maureen’s expensive Brazilian wig. It was smooth, long and fluffy. He saw her face clearly as her hair flew backwards under the beaming light staring notoriously at them. Her made lashes flashed at him, continuously, and he wanted to kiss her under the electric light. Her eyes were like that of his sister living with his mother in the village. Sparkling and dazzling like the bright stars above the stars. Always beaming with smiles and showing glistening teeth.
Uncle owns the place, ya know? He’s always upgrading all month and he stocks the wine room with new brands of wine I’m not casual with. Last week he opened a session where African salad is prepared and served at the request of consumers. The place regularly booms life. I’d like to take you there as my payment for tonight’s tour. What do you say my beloved Eze. Let’s catch a ride and roll to the place.”
He hesitated, stared out into the open and replied an okay. Although he loved this view, he admired the city lights and the way various faces paced around in its made roads and streets drained out by turbid smelling gutters. The irritating ooze was harnessing the sense of appetite away from one’s grasp.
They marched away out of the green sign of WARRI STREET and rejoined the agitating people walking crowdedly in the main road. They climbed onto a flyover, walking gracefully and slowly, and came down at a place where Fulani merchants sold jewelries in the hot noon and also a place with small gathering of beauty specialists. They occasionally came in singles or doubles or most times in large numbers – carrying with them natural looks and thereafter they would all amble on to their homes looking so synthetic from face to toe. Their eyes will be seductive and their faces will be so smooth and without flaw. Their red moist lips will protrude out of their faces and will curl in a shape of the letter O. Most times, they will be dressed in skin tight trousers and on some other days they would put on denim jean shorts that only covered their waists. The rest of the flesh will be exposed to all eyes to gaze upon. Those ladies were something else, recollected Eze.
Umudike junction! Olokoro! Ubakala junction! The names of places will be echoing in the night.
“Bros you de go Ubakala Junction?” interrogated a rusty looking rider. Scars were drawn on his chocolate face to show how many fights he had been in. A white singlet covered his body and below his waist drooled and overused jean trouser. A song by the popular Flavour Nabalia blared from the speakers of his pimped yellow Keke-Napep flashing lights all angles. Eze was still holding her hand when a taxi started pulling up. He called it. The driver stopped and they got in and began heading for the place. Still holding her close to his side, they looked out of the taxi rolled down window and their eyes wandered from place to place in search of something, anything to occupy the shrieking silence . The bald fat driver inserted a local record in the record player and a song which they both didn’t know pumped noisily. It became immediately, a mixture of an unknown irritating track in frequency with the dead engine of this Golf 1 Volks Wagen. The man throttled on.
“This is Umuahia Tower,” Eze mentioned and pointed to a tower probably 15 feet high and plastered with brown fine bricks. It proclaimed THIS IS UMUAHIA. The letters of Umuahia were spelt largely in caps lingering down towards the base of the monument forming a somewhat T shape. The carpet grass felt green in the humid lights growing from the grassy feet of the base and illuminating the sky.
“This is a beautiful spot Eze,”
“This exact one is short sef. You’d have to reserve your praises until you see the one at express. That one is very tall and has more beauty compared to this one.” He fondled for his mobile phone and slid it out from his pocket. And he scrolled and scrolled until he saw an image he battled the screen for. A tower, a very long one , not less than 20 feet stood in the middle of three vast roads, photographed under a blazing sun and portraying a desperate color of milk.
“Wow!” Maureen said and she smiled and her head nodded a few times. And she said to Eze to take notice of the curvatures and the black metallic banner and the cement barricade encircling it and the flood lights seeing it and all the added decorations around it. Blissful was no much a word to describe it. They were all fine, artistic, impeccable designs. “Although this city is nothing but little, it still adores the monumental sections and practices of our Beloved Africa.”
Eze adjusted in his seat and shook his head.
“We don reach oga,” said the driver. He pulled over smoothly. He turned the ignition off and the deafening music and noises from his car stopped abruptly.
“Collect your money,” Eze said.
And the man turned back and snatched the fare and stated hurrying “here no good, here no good. Come down sharperly sharperly. Police dey here. Close the door, close the door abeg!”
They jumped down and banged the door. The noise of the car came again. Fumes poured from the exhaust. “What a man!” Maureen said at last, jeering at the driver and pointing her four fingers at him. The man stepped hard on the gas. The taxi screeched and dusts rose followed behind it as it sped away. A white bus carrying black men in yellow taskforce uniform followed the taxi in a chase and the place rested in a sudden chatter.
The place was rich. As they approached on foot to the front of De Latinos lounge, bar and night club, the colors of red, green, yellow and white brushed against each other in ambush. Red will pop-up and green and yellow and white and red once again. The place looked electrifying, and cool. The lights came again; red – green – yellow – white and red again. Eze and Maureen walked past it and they were inside the fine halls of De Latinos. And they paced around, searching for things that were fine, things to fill the warmth of their mind. They admired the decorations and the walls, the fine crafted baskets handing as important, dangling on the orange colored square pillars. Eze’s eyes pulsated in admiration and smiles were on his face. The lights continued to appease the eyes. A high life band played. Eze stared in their direction and saw their native green and white uniform. The drummer drummed and the guitar man stroked. The piano man’s fingers massaged the keys of his fine piano, melodious music, and then came the silk voice of the lead singer, stealing the attention of the people in the house. The drummer’s stick flipped in the air and the Dada drummer caught it and continued to beat the drum. Music was everywhere. Vibrations traveled from all around the happy room. He listened to the song. He knew it, probably from somewhere. It was a song by Osita Qsadebe. His feet stamped the floor and Maureen started shaking her wonderful hip. Her waist vibrated and Eze’s mind began having imaginations. The soft silky voice still traveled around the atmosphere. Eze was defeated and he continued to nod at every movement and the decorations and the red costly bottles of wine peeking out through the glassy bar and the people dressed in original leather shoes and fine sewed native wares. The scent of cigarette burnt in the air. Also, the stench of beer and alcohol was everywhere. He caught every detail of this place and he shredded a smile at Maureen, commending her and saying the place was a wonder.
“I knew you’d be impressed. The place is very nice, sure?”
“I refuse to disagree. It’s not what I expected. I’ll tell you that this is one of the best places in this city. It is very good”
They looked from place to place, scanning for a table with their eyes. “Here I see one,” said Eze and he led Maureen to the east partition. They settled neatly and were soon comfortable. Then, he said to her in igbo language, “I have a friend in Aba who writes well. His perspective about this place would have been different. He would have started taking some details about it already, if he were here”. Still sitting down at the table, a waiter walked to them wielding a menu as she came. Maureen collected it and turned the pages.
“What would you like” she asked. As she spoke, she glanced at the pages and continued flipping.
“I’ll be damned if you guys have the local wine,” he said jokingly.
“It is, I’d say”
“I find that hard to believe. How does the taste go?”
“It’s still fresh and natural. Not in any way distilled. And trust my uncle, the drinks will be steaming ice and sweating cold”.
“Let me see that” said Eze and he collected the menu from her hand. Staring at it, he picked a local dish and gave it back to patient waiter. The waiter left and came back with drinks while they awaited the food.
More people were streaming in from the entrance, dancing and cracking odd jokes. The music jammed on. Some smoked and drank in pairs while a few alone. The place was lit alive with cheerful noises. This is where the city people came to quench their sorrows. They would bustle their asses to work on weekdays and during the evenings of each fading day, they would converge in places such as this and spend their monies on good wine and good women. It was clear they loved this life. They loved the gifts this city had to offer.
The fun grew in notes of the stringing instrumentals and the floors clapped after it. Dancers were all in a single line and going round and round. Everywhere, people were dancing. And people continued whining and laughing and jeering and mocking. In the middle, people continued playing and drinking their wines and smoking their sticks. Until some started staggering and muttering gibberish sentences and until the wines started finishing and didn’t get replaced, neither until the early morning chills in with the easiness on its wings will the people of this little city of the east retire to their homes to live life the way people in the wide country do.
From Eze’s table and the happiness flowing on his face and that of Maureen, he brought out his phone and clicked on WORD. The application opened and he typed in these words which have been lurking deep in his mind: It grows into something. Knock! Knock! Knock! It jams. The people answer to its call. It grows to become wild, an uproar growing into something they knew always. The door is locked. The handle is broken. It remains still till first light. A bright light travels from the east. It fades in an evening. The place becomes lit with light and life and a busy people of Umuahia.
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