Good week everybody and welcome everyone to a new, new day? Anyway no time for faffing about. This week’s post is inspired by some funny pictures I saw on a newspaper site online. The picture was of a lone unattached diesel locomotive engine with about thirty something people hanging unto its many sides. I smiled to myself as I remembered a similar incident I went through when I was still brash, younger and very very silly!
I think it was my third year in university, during the December period with the Christmas season drawing near. As is customary amongst the Igbos we, the whole family, were to travel to our hometown in the east for the holiday’s festivities. However as a big boy, I couldn’t be caught alive travelling with the rest of the family in 'daddy’s' car. I was going to go on my own with public transport days ahead of the rest of the family. Okay maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’d agreed with my partners in crime from other mothers to rendezvous early enough so we could frolic as much as we could before the radar of our parents’ watching eyes descended on us. Anyway I made my case to my father that I wanted to learn as much of our culture as I could as I needed it for a paper I was to turn in for my African literature class. An essential tool a child needs to get what he wants from his parents is knowing their likes and dislikes – my father, a professor, naturally had the quest for learning as his soft underbelly. I was given my transport fare and enough money for my research.
Despite just recovering from typhoid fever I’d caught in school, I began my research with my friends in a bar two days before my journey. By the time our pre research was done I had drunk, smoked – please don’t tell my mum! – and pepper souped my research money to down to less than half its original value. When the day of my travel arrived I realized that I would have to make adjustments as I did not have enough fuel to last me till my parents met up with me in the village. The thrifty side of me kicked in as I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford a straight taxi to my hometown from Enugu and still have enough to play with so I quickly hatched an alternative plan. I would take the cheapest means of transport, the train, to Umuahia and then take a shared taxi straight to my hometown – QED. I quickly went to the railway station and purchased tickets for the 9.00am express train from Kaduna up north and waited. I waited, and waited, and waited till the recalcitrant train trundled in at 8.00pm! The frustration I experienced waiting for the blasted train was nothing compared to the shock I felt on sighting the incoming vehicle. The said train was just one of the three trains that plied that route daily. The first two, for some reason, had broken down leaving the third with the singular burden of conveying the Christmas rush commuters and their goods to their final destination. There were people on all sides of the engine, between the carriages; even the guard van in the rear was not spared – and there was a rush by my fellow Enugu commuters, who had paid their fare, to get on as well. I struggled valiantly to get inside, and finally did but it was a fight in futility. Even the gangway was stacked almost to the ceiling with sacks and sacks of garri, rice and beans; and this was in every carriage! The stench was unbelievable, there was no breathable air and there was the constant screaming of babies as their mothers made futile attempts to calm them down. I jumped back out. It was when I looked up that I saw the perfect solution.
Up on the roof of some of the carriages were silhouetted figures seated against the night sky. They were turbaned from head to toe like live mummies and it made a lot of sense to join them up there since it was fast turning out to be my last option. After a quick assessment I noticed the first carriage had no one on it and, hoisting my travelling bag across my shoulder I clambered up the roof, looked around and settled for an overhead water tank. I fastened the clasp of my bag to one of the tank’s hooks and waited. It was a very nervous mixture of feelings for me; the excited anticipation of a school boy adventure I’d brag about to my friends for days to come, and the fear that it could be my last journey in this world. It didn’t help that a sage old man singled me out of all the silhouettes on the roof to plead with me to consider my loved ones at home and climb down from an impending death. It was a harrowing moment because I felt God was speaking to me through him. I couldn’t turn back – not now. I sat resolute, my heart thudding against my sides. The sharp blast of the train pierced the darkness – the die was cast. I looked back at my compatriots; if they could do it, then so could I – safety in numbers as they say. The train pulled away.
Almost as one every one of the shadowy figures lay back and immediately merged as one with the sloping arcs of the carriages’ roofs. I realised then that I was in the company of professionals. I was numb with fear! I couldn’t lie back with them for fear of falling off the roof so I curled on my side in a foetal ball hooking my arm round the tank hook I had secured my bag on. The cold harmattan wind cut through my flimsy calico shirt as the train began to gain speed leaving me wondering which would kill me first; pneumonia or smashing my head on the gravel rushing by far below. my first assailant was mercifully eliminated by the warm sooty diesel smoke that belched at me from the engine’s funnel ahead of me. I gratefully drank in the oily blackness as my body began to warm to its cloying heat. My gratitude was short-lived as a tree branch brushed against my hips! It didn’t help that it was just a nest of leaves that brushed against me because it only carried with it a foreboding that there were heavier branches to come. The old man’s pleas kept reverberating in my head. I resigned myself to my fate and hurriedly asked God for forgiveness in a desperate preparedness for what lay in the world beyond, in the knowledge that the next clatter could be my last. Strangely enough I never mustered the courage to think of the effect it would have on my family were I to die so ignobly. Would anyone ever find my body on that lonely track? Would it end in a sudden whoosh before the blinding flash deposited me at the pearly gates, under the huge book cowering before the stern Face?
It was with muted sobs that I greeted the sleepy lights of Umuahia five hours later as the horn heralded our arrival at the waking town. I knew then that there is an angel for every foolish child in this world – I was proof of it. The memories pictures evoke in us eh? Have a great week everyone!