Some journeys end in destinations. Other journeys continue almost without end. Like daytime that sees no nighttime. The world keeps on spinning. Trees grow and die and little boys turn to wrinkled hobbling old men. The journey goes on without end.
It took Otis Lovejoy another day before arriving at the small town called Futa Mallon which he called home. The same place his father and his father’s father too had called home. They could trace their ancestry back to the 1700’s when the white man had conquered their land with rifles and cannons in one hand and the Holy Bible in the other. His father wasn’t an atheist but he had no truck with the one called Jehovah. It was the one grip he often had with their mother. Mother had been raised a Catholic and wanted her sons to follow in the white man’s way of religion. Father opted they went to school to get an education and do whatever they cared with their lives. As for going to church he would have cared less if they hung behind the parish shooting bottle rockets and causing a stir amongst the parishioners inside. He in fact loved hearing when they did such. Mother never hesitated to take a belt to Otis and his brother Joshua.
His flight arrived an hour before midnight in Abuja airport. The motor parks were closed by then and won’t open till 5:30 a.m. He had no choice but to find a motel to stay for the night. He had a cell phone but his father didn’t have one. There was a house phone but his father had long discontinued from paying the bill. The phone had sat like a piece of junk in the living room for years. A relic of its time his father was unwilling to get rid of.
That was the problem with his father, thought Otis as he laid his head on the twin pillow of the bed in the motel room he had paid for. His father seldom threw things away. Always hanging on to some broken piece of heirloom, memorabilia, or mementos of his past and never making room for anything new. Come to think of it now it seemed his father too was as much afraid of the future as he. He hadn’t gotten over the pain of been back in his country. Stepping out of the airport he familiarized himself with the sight and sound of everything he loved and despised of been back home. He was accosted by northerners as he exchanged some American Dollars for Naira before looking for a taxi to take him to any nearby motel that was cheap.
The alarm in his cell phone woke him up at 7:35 a.m. Otis came sharp awake. He could hear raucous traffic from the streets pouring through the window. Sometime at night the electricity had gone off. His face was a pool of sweat; the pillow under his head bore this evidence. Otis sighed and cursed his luck as he got up grudgingly and sat by the bed’s edge. Hard to believe nothing in the country had changed since he left. Outside the sun was creeping into the sky.
He got up, took off his clothes, and went into the bathroom with towel and toiletries bag in his hand. He couldn’t believe the face that stared back at him in the medicine cabinet mirror. It was the face of a stranger. Haggard and weary. His hair was scraggy. He had left his beard a week more than was appropriate. His eyes appeared bloodshot and cold. He lathered his chin before applying his straight razor to his face. Minutes later he was looking his better self. But nothing he could do about his eyes. They were the eyes of a penitent convict just released from prison after years of hard labor. Disillusioned and grave. There was so much darkness in those pair of eyes.
Otis had his bath and was hungry by the time he wore a fresh pair of clothes and checked to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything and then left the room with his bags intact. He boarded a taxi that dropped him at Minna Transit bus stop. He ate fried plantain and beans at a Buka restaurant before crossing the street to find a bus going toward Futa Mallon. The park was laden with noise and chaos of travelers, market women, traders, beggars, street urchins, hustlers, taxi drivers, and just about anyone else who had no business there but simply had to be there. Vehicles pulled in and out of the park minutes after each other; the stench of the place was overwhelming. Otis paid for a taxi’s front seat and waited for other travelers to fill the vehicle before the driver eased out of the premises.
The sun hammered down on the earth. Otis fell in and out of sleep as the taxi drove along the open highway. On both sides of the road were rugged hills and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. Cluster of clouds hung over their heads like halo. Once in a while they drove past Fulani men herding group of cattle into the hinterland. The heat in the vehicle was sweltering; the wind blowing through the windows was soothing.
Otis had traveled this road plenty of times. He knew it even if it was dark and he was walking home dragging his luggage behind. They would pass two more towns before reaching his destination. The country seemed to return to uncharted terrain the more the taxi drove. It was like returning to the birth of the world. Everything here was past tense; the future was another lifetime away.