Makurdi, the Unfortunate Ones – Lyambee Sade Aorobee
When you think of Makurdi, think first of fruiting palm kernel trees, frothing palm wine, and ochre burnt bricks. Or think of the Mai-Ruwa pushing his water merchandise through the corrugated nooks of Wurukum. You, my friend, must also think of the Idoma women limping from the pains of cracked soles as they cross Naka Road under slumping sacks of rice to the threshing mill in Mobile Barracks.
I found, when I first came to this town, that the beggars and almajiris here are brash and bold. They snort at measly alms and hurl invectives when denied leftovers. They are violent sometimes. In the Benue Links motor park and Wadata Market which they frequent, these filthy child beggars throw themselves at alighting passengers and passersby. Sometimes – they pick things from the ground, like sugarcane stumps and iron fillings, gon-goni tomatoes or Geisha.
Wadata Market is like a multi-coloured collage. Or a paper montage. Too many things merged in one piece, yet writhing with life: a sea of bobbing heads, mounds of second-hand clothes in colourful heaps, and rude motorcycles weaving through the throng of traders. Years and years of economic osmosis; scrambling masses in clusters jam-packed inside the few molues, hoping on and off the moving beast, touts calling: Northbank! Northbank! BSU Gates! Ostrich! The university undergraduates flirt with Bajaj motorcycles and C1. They ride these metallic beasts standing, their testicles swinging and beating against trouser and wind.
In Makurdi, I usually urinate from the window of my room because of what happened one day. I woke up one night needing to pee badly and ran to the yard, into the cluster of stunted palm kernel trees. As I squatted, loosening the rope of my trousers, someone almost knocked me down and scampered over the fence. I tried to run away but I was right in the middle of peeing and could not stop it. I shove in my half-erect penis into a trouser leg, and the pee trickled down my thighs, wetting my trousers. I was already in the room when I noticed this: that I have not only peed on myself, but have also pinched a little flesh off my penis as I zipped the fly of my trousers. It hurt badly.
In the morning, I noticed that when the thieves could not move the desired object of theft, they tried to spoil it before going. Like my goat, Bambi. Out of exasperation, the wretched thieves who couldn’t haul the stalwart beast over the fence blinded its eye with a nail; two quick jabs to the eyeball. The goat gave a shout of joy, and managed a vicious bite. Startled, the thieves bolted, hacking off both rear mirrors of my Uncle’s Peugeot parked in the compound. They were hopeless those thieves.
In this nervous city, waiting to be provoked by the slightest tic, the cult boys are like a gumboil to be caressed with the tip of the tongue. These marijuana-addled bums in the neighbourhood of Northbank have taken monopoly of some dress colour codes; so it has become a norm that terrible violence awaits any sassy passer-by who by chance wears a dress with as much as a red, yellow strip. Unless you are zooming off on a motorcycle or a car, you will suffer for their hand o, you will suffer very well, I tell you. But then, the victims of this terrorism are university undergrads, loafers who are perceived as rivalry cult boys. However, one cannot fathom the extent to which cheap weed has muddled the hollow skulls of these miscreants. So, my friend, to preserve life and limb, it is best to avoid such areas if you happen to be wearing a yellow or red clothing at that intersection of the street.
Makurdi is quiet some times, and it is easy to breathe here. The minutes merge seamlessly into hours like a loop, especially during the heat waves. In rainy weather, the streets turn to red slop and grass grow in small clumps.
First, the waters flow solemnly; streamlets trickling in from creeks and swamps. Then the deluges: two successive showers, and the rice shoots are tugged from their roots. The bamboo stalks, tall as they are, sway and crumble. The day dawns with the cries of a woman whose baby has been drowned. Or lost belongings buried in the rubble. In the rice plains, a disheartened farmer walks, hands folded at the back, surveying the extent of damage. He picks a shoot and stares long at it, stoops to replant it, but on second thought flings it away.
The Fulani herdsmen would shift north, into Taraba, their cows mooning for greener pastures. Homeless peasants would start trickling into the granite corridors of International Market for shelter.
Enthusiastic photographers invade the camp, clicking away at glum faces, and consequently, horrid images start to flood the media. First, it is the picture of a toothless old woman flanked by two relatives who carry her to the camp on the back. In another, a vivid Polaroid, an emaciated child raises skinny hands to grab a pitcher of water.
Then the government would come to their aid: beans and bread, soap and rice, mosquito nets and wrappas for all. Naira for every pockets, shelter and aid. Political aspirants too would weasel their way into the hearts of gullible people, with bags of Premium Parboiled Rice and cartons of Indomie Instant Noodles, making sure to rear their head and smile elegantly into the camera lens. Hon. Kpojime J.P for the people!
Lyambee Sade Aorabee is a record producer and creative nonfiction writer from Jalingo, Nigeria.