A trip to Kaduna

by 'Dare Akinwale

I want to take a trip. In my mind, to places in a city l left three years ago.

I want to visit that big compound at the end of the street where I lived, in Abakpa, where the ancient locomotive chugged loudly in the morning, as I walked out to buy breakfast.

My regular breakfast was kosi or akara. I always called it akara, because I thought kosi was too bland a word to capture the delicious essence of the hot spongy brown akara. I remember how the lady would serve it out of the hot oil and package my usual fifty or sixty naira worth of akara into old newspapers and nylon bags. I was a regular customer, and I had earned her respect because of my almost daily patronage. Sometimes, I was rewarded with some extra balls of akara, other days, I was offered koko or pap for free to accompany my akara. I always refused and she would always laugh. I usually bought bread from the Mallam in the neighbouring kiosk, thirty-five naira soft round bread with dried coconut sprinkled on top, which I used to make ‘akara sandwiches’ and drink black sweetened coffee. It was such a regular ritual that the mornings I did not go out like that, my roommates would ask me if anything was wrong, if I was sick, or if I had run out of money. But some mornings, she did not come, and I would drink only coffee before going to work.

Work was the College of Agriculture and Animal Science at Mando, where I taught ND students a few hours everyday, except Wednesday. It was my place of primary assignment as I served the nation as a corper. Not financially rewarding – I was earning a tithe of what my fellow corpers in banks were earning – but it was an experience I enjoyed, teaching students and discovering abilities in myself, listening to them express their appreciation and frustrations.

Lunch was usually a luxury, and on the few days when I took it, it varied from rice and beans or eba and egusi in one of the many bukas within Kawo and Kasuwa, to fura de nunu, to biscuits washed down with a tankard of kunu. After a modest siesta or quiet time spent reading a novel, I would go to Alliance Francaise on Umaru Gwandu road for my French lessons.

French lessons, interesting classmates, beautiful girls, potential girlfriends, occasional parties, dinners and other attractions of that institution kept me pleasantly engaged three evenings of the week.

Other evenings or after French lessons, I would make my way to the Asaa Pyramid Hotel where I would browse the net for jobs or watch football with my raucous crowd of friends and fellow corpers and join them in making self-assured analyses and predictions on the football matches of the premiership or European championships. Some days, I would spend the night in their house, after gisting into the late hours of the night about any topic the wind blew our way. I remembered how we shared our disappointment over the stellar performance of the Super Eagles during the world cup in South Africa, and consoled ourselves with rice and dodo later that evening in a nearby restaurant.

There were many evenings when I was alone. Strolling around the circular fence of the State House of Assembly in Abakpa and thinking about the future that has become today. Sometimes I would wander off into the quiet streets near the Corporate Affairs Commission, and get lost and find my way back again to my street where I would stop at the Mai Shayi’s Indomie joint to order my regular take-away pack of Indomie noodles. The man appreciated my special appetite; he prepared it the way I liked it, with maggi, little oil and plenty of pepper and two fried eggs to grace it. Many nights, I ordered suya too to accompany the indomie. Then I went home and ate it while watching Grey’s Anatomy or 24 or a movie on  the TV or my laptop.

Some days I had my friends come visit me, like Frances, the prettiest girl on our NYSC camp, who had a streak of white hair she was very proud of. She lived at the southern end of the city, and usually planned her visits, days in advance. We never ran out of things to gist about, until time ran out on us and I had to accompany her to the bus stop. Until recently, Kaduna was the last place I saw her in the flesh, like many other friends, now we just chat on BB and exchange hollow promises to visit each other very soon.

I want to take a trip back to Kaduna, to revisit the memories of those sweet, free and heady days. But there are people who tell me it’s not the same city I left three years ago. They remind me of the riots after the elections that claimed many lives; and the killings, bomb blasts and boko haram. I hear it’s not safe any more, like many cities in the north, where distrust and suspicion has turned many friends into potential enemies.

I want to visit the cities of the north and collect memories, stories and experiences. I want to tour those hot climes and fulfill a childhood the childhood promise I made to travel to all the northern capitals. But even my friends living there do not advise me to come. They say it’s too dangerous, that it’s no time for a stranger to come visiting.

I hope we don’t have to wait for too long before every where in Nigeria is safe again from the threat of bombing, religious and inter-tribal conflicts. Because in addition to the many lives we’ve lost because of this problem, we’re being robbed gradually of our freedom to go anywhere, when ever we want to.

I pray that freedom may not be something we would only remember in stories of past years.