The rain is falling like grains from above. You sit alone watching the Marcopolo bus. The skin is shimmering and a broad picture of a smiling man is advertising, ‘Glow with GLO.’ Your thoughts are lazy this morning, they are dragging slowly, flowing with the thick texture of cream. You grimace at how common the rain has become in Onitsha.
The first time the clouds turn grey in Kaura Namoda your heart leaps. By that time you have forgotten what it looks like, the rain. You stretch your arms into the openness and lose your head in the sweet wetness.
You have come to embrace the solid colours of dryness in the North. The mornings are yellow. The afternoons are silver. The nights are a warm blackness. The rain is an enemy in Onitsha. It turns the shops into a hearth of cold ash. No business, no money.
In Kaura Namoda, it is that friend you dream about his visit. When it comes, the thirsty soil can seep and waken, and farmers can dream of abundance.
‘Nri di oku di ebea!’
The food sellers will not stop their beckoning. You have not eaten but you’re not hungry. The type of days when feelings fill out your stomach and hunger becomes emotion. You love Okpa so much but you go to Kaura Namoda and discover Shala. Your friends cringe at your greediness, the way you crush the cubed delicacy; the way you eat it more than the owners. ‘Food d’ etat’ you think.
Abdullahi later introduces Fura de Nunu to you. At first, it tastes ordinary. A sour and dull mixture. But the second one he brings is from Funtua. It tastes nothing like the first; you scoop and scoop till the bowl is clear and a patch of milk paints your beards white.
That is how you become an inventor. Because you find harmony between Shala and fura de Nunu, something like the traveller’s gala and lacasera. Abdullahi joins you. Others join you. Shala and Fura de Nunu becomes a thing about a stranger who refuses to wear the tag of unfamiliarity. You are that boy who comes to the North and forgets his-self.
They are now loading the bus. Even though Bryson Tiller’s Exchange is humming in your ears, you can still hear the rattle of bolts and nuts. You are going to leave soon.
But your thoughts are still drifting away into nothing; everything nothing. When you close your eyes, you see your mother’s face and that imperious plea.
‘Chino, chelukwa, wait let us know what is happening. These people are serious this time….’
This is a heavy reminder. It simply means that you should draw the map of belonging and trace your self. You go to Zamfara for NYSC and do not return until after a year and half. You only return to collect your documents and run back.
People talk about you a lot. You impress ‘these people’ with the Hausa phrases you memorise. The first thing you say when you enter any odd place is ‘Salamalekun’ and wait for the brown teeths that shine in laughter.
Passengers are few today. You look at their faces for any sign but your faces resemble. Blank and empty. You think you are all people lost in wells of deep thoughts or people just wearing the same mask. You think they all know about it. The Kaduna declaration of fear.
But you are a boy who left a part of your soul in the North. You don’t want to say that you sold your soul to Kaura Namoda. Kaura gives you the space that Onitsha cannot afford. The broad streets and the white sands, the evenings that smell like suya; the staccato music of loudspeakers calling for prayers, but the space is just what you love.
Onitsha is too compact, sometimes it feels like you will choke, because you fight houses, people, vehicles and everything, for space. But Kaura Namoda is where you free yourself and dive into the spaces, so large that they make your flaws insignificant.
The engine is revving and so is your heart. The horn is sharp, and a man announces,
‘Kaduna and Kano enter bus’.
Your heart skips a beat.
You do not know what it will be like. If things fall apart, how will your friend Aliyu look at your face? Will he sneer and throw your name into the black list of ‘these people?’ Will he raise a machete and savour the way the blade glisten under the sun? Will he, Aliyu, that chooses your company over food, stare sinisterly into your eyes and say: We don’t want want your people anymore!
Gosh! You hate these images when they replay in your head.
The part of you that you left in Kaura Namoda is beckoning you. You love the scent of Kaura Namoda; you even smell like it. You are now learning that someone can feel away in his home and feel at home, away.
You stand up and your bus ticket falls to the ground. You pick your bag instead and slowly, you crawl out of Ezenwata Park. It is no longer raining except inside you. It is the precipitation of condensed emotions. When you reach home it will fall, not as rain but tears.
You are afraid to look back. You don’t want to see the bus leave without you. Onitsha is not what you want now, but it is home. Yesterday, you are arguing with your Uncle about returning to the North. You say,
‘I just love Kaura Namoda. Uncle you won’t understand’
He lowers his voice and says, ‘ Don’t you know that it is love that will kill you.’
Chikelu Chino writes from Onitsha, Nigeria. He read English and Literature in The University of Nigeria Nsukka. He is a consummate reader and a connoisseur of art. His stories have been published in African Writers, Brittle Paper, Muse, Canathan ane more. He is a winner of the MacGregor Richards Prize for Fiction