Reasonable miles away from Ọnịcha (wrongly spelt onitsha) – the busiest city in Anambra State of Nigeria and the largest emporium in West Africa, Ọnụ had left his hometown for an all-day journey. His last destination was to be Sagamu, the small town in the Gateway Ogun State that opens into Lagos – that busiest city where every Nigerian has ‘someone’ and where very few Nigerians are yet to visit.
At the famous Upper Iweka in Ọnịcha (wrongly spelt onitsha), Ọnụ had alighted from the commercial bus that ferried him from his Hometown. He was a Youth Corps member but was completely on mufti. He disliked wearing the Youth Corps uniform save when performing a function in his area of service. He had returned home to participate in a very important ceremony that wouldn’t have taken place without his presence, being one of the first sons in his extended family.
Nwanyimma, an Igbo woman from Owere, Imo State was the Local Government Inspector (“LGI” as the corps members popularly abbreviated) in-charge of the Youth Corps Members in the Local government Area where Ọnụ served the country. Nwanyimma had warned that any Corps member who happened to travel outside the State without her permission will risk losing his/her ‘allowee’ for that month plus other discomforts as punishments.
Secondary schools were on Easter vacation and corps members weren’t teaching as they did when schools were in session. Yet Nwanyimma would not entertain that as any excuse for one to travel outside the State. She had given the reason of Community Development Services (CDS) program as one of the main reasons why the National Youth Service Corps scheme was brought into place in 1973, and every corps member knew it was true. And so, she used that as her greatest ‘whip of threat’ and ‘justification of her threat’ when she wanted to drive her message straight and sharp. And it was effective. Those corps member who ‘knew someone’ (ịma mmadu; “I.M” as Nigerians abbreviated) in the office or who are richer than the allowee they received, ignored the threat. They traveled very far outside the State as they liked and still went unpunished. And one shouldn’t forget that that’s “Nigeria on the smaller realm”.
Ọnụ had approached Nwanyimma to explain why he must travel home. He tried whipping up the ‘Nwanne-nwanne’ sentiments by speaking in Igbo, knowing Nwanyimma to be Igbo not minding she rarely spoke Igbo even with Igbo Youth Corps members unlike other Yoruba LGIs who cared no hoot about you being Yoruba or not while they questioned you in their offices.
“Kilo oruke ee? Eheen, Kilo fe?”, they will often ask you.
“Mummy, e nwee nnukwu ife a na-eme be anyị. O kwesii na m ga-anọ ya tupuu a na-eme nya bụ ife”, Ọnụ had told Nwanyimma, speaking softly and courteously while leaning to her expansive office table.
That pet name “Mummy” has since the year 2000s become a seductive way of appealing to powerful women in Nigerian offices. In fact, it took its root from the Anglican and Pentecostal churches in Nigeria where the wives of bishops, clergymen and pastors are addressed thus as to help in easily reaching the powerful men of God – or as someone called some of them “gods of men”. Ọnụ would later read the female Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie tell a story on the same growing “Mummy syndrome” in her latest novel, AMERICANAH.
The relatively not-tall Nwanyimma – like all diminutive powerful persons are wont to – returned rather harsh: “What do you mean? What’s the ‘ife’ that can’t be done in your place without you? Abeg, you better leave my office because I’m not permitting anybody like I initially said. Can’t you see the queue behind you? Everyone wants to travel”.
Ọnụ, a fearless imp as always, was not to be cowered too quickly nor be discouraged from pursuing something he’s bent on pursuing. He smiled and leaned closer to ‘Mummy’ to explain what that ‘ife’ really implies.
Nwanyimma, having been cleared on the ‘ife’ she inquired, loosened up her tightened face and said; “sorry about that. But make sure you don’t stay beyond the date I permitted you”.
“Oo Mummy! I will definitely come back the day you asked me to come back”, Ọnụ returned in Igbo never minding the other Yoruba on-lookers who were rather not smiling. Clearly, their faces had read: “Omo Igbo, Omo Igbo! Na so dem dey favor their own person”.
Ọnụ went to the other smaller table to append his signature in a log-book and then left.
At Upper Iweka in Ọnịcha, cars were speeding and honking their horns. Okada riders dotted the whole scene while running amok with their motorcycles and the sight wasn’t pleasant not minding that the State governor is making frantic efforts to return that area to something good-looking. Ọnụ knew that environment so well having partly lived in Awada, Ọnịcha. He knew he needed not to stand too long at that spot he stood before his mouth will be filled with long stories he’ll never fathom how they managed to happen. So, he finally decided to take Okada straight away to Asaba – the small Igbo town across the Niger River – a big river that served as a boundary between Ọnịcha and Asaba. But he did so after he had ruminated on whether to wait in one of the commercial buses or to save time by taking a bike.
In Asaba, Ọnụ managed to put on his Youth Corps cap just in case anything happens, but most importantly, to see if he can get a free ride – like he had on some occasions – from Asaba to Sagamu, a journey of many miles that costs between 1,500naira and 3,000naira depending on the kind of bus one entered. This time, such luck wasn’t forth-coming. So, he quietly entered the luxurious bus boldly written “IFESINACHI MOTORS LTD” on its sides. He sat just immediately behind the driver’s seat by the left side of the bus as if he had a ‘special reason’ for doing so. It would later be true that he had a ‘special reason’ for that very sitting position he took. The ignition of the long vehicle had been left on.
“La Casera, Viju Milk, bottled water, Gala” were shouted by both the teenage and middle-aged hawkers at the Asaba tollgate where Ọnụ’s vehicle stood. Bullet energy drink, Malt, Fanta, Coke, Sprite, etc were also on sale by those other hawkers who upped their business by availing themselves a wheel-barrow with which they carried a big cooler where the drinks are frozen with mounds of ice blocks they had put in it.
The night before, Ọnụ had eaten aggressively after he went without food from morning till evening while attending to guests and performing other traditional functions required of him. His sisters had pitifully and caringly beckoned him; “Nnaa, you have not eaten since today. Biko, come and eat something. We’d not want you suffer ulcer. Bikokwa!”
Considering Ọnụ’s hunger, they served him a bowl of softly-made semovita (popularly shortened by Nigerians as “Semo”) and a delicious Ụgụ soup. He ate to his fill – like there’d not be any tomorrow. But the next day was to be another day and it came. And Ọnụ had left Home for Sagamu.
As he waited for the IFESINACHI’s commercial vehicle to speed off down to Sagamu, he finally chose to buy a Bullet drink after pondering on whether or not to do so. He was allergic to drinking while traveling. However, he felt he needed more energy after being sapped the other day. And Bullet drink is an energy drink with good quantity of caffeine for energy.
Few hours later, somewhere between Edo State and Ondo State, Ọnụ tried brightening his face as not to let his neighbor understand his calamity. He was actually close to ‘hellfire’. But he was the only one who knew he was there. And it’s definitely not something he can easily explain or tell others too quickly.
From reggae to Afro-juju to Makossa, Ọnụ’s tummy sang, danced and paced while he bore the brunt painfully and patiently. He had seriously thought of getting the driver stop the long vehicle without attracting many eyes and ears. But unfortunately, the stern-looking driver was not that friendly a person, so he chose to endure some more.
“Driver, driver! Biko, biko…”, Ọnụ had called on the stern-looking figure steering the wheels of the long vehicle. The man couldn’t even allow him finish up and yelled; “Ọ gịnị? What is it?”
“I’m almost dead here. Please, can you stop for me to unwind? I’m so pressed that I can’t endure any further”, Ọnụ confessed without giving any damn about who listens or watches his facial expression. His endurance had snapped and he had sacrificed his pride, ego and ‘education’ begging a driver to allow him time enter the nearest bush and ‘free’ himself from the shackles of ‘biological hellfire’.
The call of Nature to ‘long visits’ was not something anyone could simply endure. Even the prettiest of ladies has had to choose being embarrassed over enduring that call of Nature. Even the richest of men has had to do same. No mortal has had to suppress it unlike the other call of Nature for ‘shorter visits’. That was Ọnụ’s lot that day.
Past Ore in Ondo State, Ọnụ was again at the border to ‘hell’. And he knew it was going to be very terrible begging the driver to have mercy on him the second time. His fellow passengers in the bus will surely have a lot to say if that should happen again. He thought of his ego, pride and education. Was he going to endure those silly-mouthed women who would scornfully ask him; “Nnaa, wetin you chop last night sote you wan go poo-poo again?”
Was he going to endure the harshness of those desperate businessmen from Anambra State struggling to meet up with one business transaction or the other at Alaba and Trade fair Markets in Lagos when they’d bark; “Bịa driver, save our time. We have businesses we’re already late to. One passenger can’t be keeping all of us stranded here”.
Ọnụ’s mind was going to burst from these thoughts and imaginations as he chose to endure further. The ‘thing’ was almost forcing its way through his anal hole, and that would even be worse.
Terrible! He was sweating.
He took his face outside the window to receive the turbulent fresh air, as if the turbulence of the fresh air will block that ‘thing’ threatening to soil his pant and trouser. Ọnụ was dying slowly in pains and sorrows, yet his neighbor, a lady, was in a better world sleeping away and having sweet dreams.
At Asaba tollgate, the lady had asked to join him when he told her that no one has had to take the seat before she came, and he obliged. The lady was not very pretty facially but she was okay. Above all, her curves and contours were such that could light up erotic fires in a man looking at them imaginatively. She was averagely tall with large mounds of breasts firmly hanging on her chest. Flat was tummy. Hips were aggressively well curved at their sides. She looked hour-glassy in shape. Or as they say “coca-cola-bottle shaped”. Ọnụ had fantasized all that vanity before his ordeal began. But by the time the vehicle stopped the first time to allow him go into the bush to unwind, he’d totally forgotten the presence of the young lady beside him. The lady, in question, had been mature and caring. She had joined Ọnụ to appeal to the driver initially to halt the vehicle. She even helped Ọnụ with a tissue roll from her big black handbag while he alighted for the bush.
But by the time Ọnụ returned from the bush, he was filled with shame to continue a discussion with the lady. But the lady was too mature unlike most other Nigerian ladies who behave like they’ve never farted before or like they’ve never visited latrines all their lives. And so, she initiated a discussion between the two of them.
“Are you okay now?”, she asked.
“Yes, I am, my dear. Thanks for your help”, Ọnụ had answered absent-mindedly. And he wouldn’t want the chat to continue further till he was done with his private shame.
Still somewhere past Ore in Ondo State, Ọnụ had no help coming to him and none of the questions he asked himself seemed to have a satisfactory answer. Beside his neighbor was a fat tall man sitting on an attachment seat in the aisle of the vehicle between the passengers on both sides. The man was clearly playing the role of a ‘conductor’ but he was too decently dressed for that. Ọnụ felt like asking him for help.
“Oga, do you know any means I can use in getting a Tetracycline? I’m badly pressed again. Honestly, I’m dying here”, Ọnụ respectfully asked with his voice and face cold.
“Oh! Dear. I don’t have a Tetracycline but I have some other drug that can help one to stop purging. I deal on natural roots and herbs”.
He brought out a small plastic green bottle that contained mainly powdered ‘akụ ilu’ (bitter kola) mixed with one or two other substances. Ọnụ washed his hands with his bottled water, poured the content to his left palm and quickly licked a reasonable amount. The traditional medicine dealer had assured him that that disturbing ‘urge to purge’ would subside after about 15 to 20 minutes. Ọnụ even wanted it to stop in seconds if possible. The medicine was very effective and Ọnụ felt relaxed for the first time in hours since they left Asaba.
“How much for the drug, Sir?”, Ọnụ asked.
“Give me 500naira”, the traditional medicine dealer answered.
“Haba! Oga! That’s too much for this little bottle of drug nah”, Ọnụ complained without remembering how desperate he was to have a remedy even if it meant paying 1,000naira then. The man smiled and insisted on what he said. Ọnụ gave him the money anyway. But he settled to compare the price of a card of Tetracycline which was sold at 80naira with the traditional drug he has in his hand sold at 500naira. The gap was just too much even when they perform same functions. He shook his head and muttered; “when you are desperate to solve your problems, people will definitely take advantage of you and you will have no option than to allow them”.
It was 10pm and everywhere was dark in Ọnụ’s compound in Sagamu but the electric bulbs outside illumined the environment. Ọnụ has had a cool bath and had laid on his mattress and thought about the long, tortuous and hellish journey. Yanni’s “Reflections of Passion” was softly playing from Ọnụ’s Audio CD speakers. He thought of the nice lady and the erotic fantasies of her body. He had missed collecting her contact and regretted the distraction that obstructed that idea. He again thought of his long ordeal back in the vehicle, cold shiver ran down his spine and he shook his head. He thought of how those other passengers must have watched his ass while he quickly walked into the thick bush to defecate. He felt ashamed once more in the privacy of his room. More fearfully, he thought of what could have been his lot if a big black snake had bitten his ass while he squatted to defecate in the thick forest-like bush. What if another dangerous animal had seen him? He thought. What if a ghost had appeared before him as he squatted demanding why he’d be desecrating a foreign land with his excreta? He thought. What if he had quickly ran out of the bush amidst all that to save his life, with his trouser and pant clutched in his hand? What would have been the reaction of other passengers and on-lookers? He thought too.
Certainly, he would have made a story other passengers will tell their friends when they get home. And the story would have been: “A Corps Member ran out of a bush in Ondo State half-naked where he had gone to defecate”.
He imagined the shame; shut his eyes tightly until the specter faded away from his imagination. He then brought out his phone to place a call to his Siblings.