Looking out through the window, the land is flat and dry as far as my eyes can see. We are on our way to Sokoto, driving down the jagged road that leads to Kebbi state, in the company of Westlife. Their voices fill the van with warmth and nostalgia. Some of my co-travellers are singing their hearts out; others sleep. Outside, an egret stands with its head bent, basking in the morning sun. Its white feathers and small body are a contrast to the backdrop of tiny, brown sands that spread far, far into the skyline.
The road soon leads us past the sands to cornfields, and I think of Sanni, our former gateman at home. I wonder how many times he has journeyed across this path, going home from Lagos to his family in Kebbi state. I remember how he told me agriculture was how he, and many inhabitants of the state, earned their livelihood; how he had financial troubles at some point and left his hometown of Argungu; how he was now trying to save enough money from his Okada business in Lagos so he could return to Kebbi to continue farming.
I rewind the future. And in my mind, I claim the land for Sanni, far into the horizon, calling the things that be not as though they were.
Love songs, in the typical manner of love, have the habit of drawing people out of themselves, making them act in unusual and interesting manners to an observer. Innocent is in the passenger seat, lost in the music—head moving, fists pounding on the seat. He tries to modulate but his voice falls flat. It isn’t the first time I hear him attempt it and failing terribly, but this time, his voice cracks, softly, in a way I have never heard. I look at him, mouth agape in the middle of singing, a hand in the air—a child-like happiness, and I wonder if I will ever see him again in this regard. I smile, and tell my heart to never forget this moment.
These lives are slowly entering mine.
I keep staring out the window thinking of all the tenderness and promises the world offers, and how terribly cold it could get. The discomfort of sleeping on a moving bus, and the fear—especially the fear—that I will miss out on something, howbeit mundane, keep my eyes open. On occasion, however, I catch myself only looking through objects, seeing nothing, for I have, all my life, lived cycles of constantly dragging my mind back into my body: Be present here, I beg you. Be.
Westlife plays on, invading my memories.
It’s a keeping for the lonely
Since the day that you were gone
Why did you leave, Soledad
I lean my head against the van’s windshield, longing for a lover I do not have. A moment later, all eyes are open. There’s talk on politics and public relations and branding and national election. Mouths moving, hands gesticulating, heads nodding in assent and shaking in disagreement. We laugh, we shout, we tease, we argue, we laugh.
A moment later, some eyes are closed again, quiet returns. Outside, I see a black bird with a streak of white on its belly flying above us, and then slowly receding behind us, and then gone, like a forgotten memory. Life pulses through the quiet too.
*Cover image credit: Kenechukwu Nwatu