It’s Day 6 and 314 kilometres have brought us to Benin, the first stop on our road trip.
I have passed through Benin many times by road, on my way to Port Harcourt or Onitsha or Asaba, so it’s not entirely new to me. What is new is the experience of stopping and getting off the bus to speak to the members of a local community. We stopped by at Ikpe Waterside and had the privilege of speaking with Mr Okuna, whose father was the founder of the community.
Mr Okuna and two other companions had invaluable insights to share with the group. He answered questions about language, the Nigerian Civil War, the creation and partitioning of states, and was extremely generous with his knowledge and experiences.
In Evbuarhue, not far from Ikpe Waterside, I saw a sight that inspired the first of what I’ve decided to call ‘Verbal Snapshots’, which will be short fictionalized accounts of people, places and events I see in the course of our travels.
Verbal Snapshot #1: Water Pump
Evbuarhue, Edo State
This woman has barely a moment to spare for the unfamiliar faces gathered in front of the village elder’s house. The lines of her face are set; they will not be moved. Her feet are bare and sure, and silent against the sandy ground as she marches on. The sun is setting, but there’s just enough light to paint her skin with the illusion of bronze. Tucked between a forearm and a hip sits the bowl she will use to water her home. She is going to the village pump.
Behind the woman, her little son follows, sometimes running, sometimes walking, but all the while unable to keep up. Still, the child squeals with such delight, like there’s something immensely pleasurable about the inadequacy of his feet compared to his mother’s. Like he does not realize that if Mother never stops walking he will never catch up. Like he does not think it even possible that Mother might dare to consider thinking about walking and walking and never stopping so he never reaches her and the joke, whatever it is, stays stuck in his feet and in his belly until it becomes the weight that holds him down while life punches.
The sun is going down, and home will not water itself. Mother’s face is set. She will not be moved. Not even by little feet and the one they carry.
She reaches the water pump and she stops. And for yet another day, life is what it has always been.