Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On the road again
The embers of a few fires leaked smoke into the hazy skein that already hung over the morning. I haven't seen Abuja at dawn for a while -much better than in the flinching sunlight, but there's no time to stay and look across Garki Market to the rock. I'm on the road again.I joined a bus at the old federal secretariat. The Nigerian Tourist Development Corporation representatives are shipping out en masse to the Osogbo festival and I'm along for the ride.
"We will be departing shortly" says the director of admin, acting up his role of pater familias. "We will be cruising at a speed of between 10 and 20 km through town, rising to to between 70 and 80 on the highway... Will someone please pray for us?" And we're off.
Every time I drive down airport road I've been concentrating on driving or in a rush so its nice to be in the back of a bus with time to look around.
I see the machines in a phalanx waiting at the city limits, more pouring out of the Lugbe slip road. We speed through Gagwalada, past the beggars on the bridge. A woman in a wheel chair and a man with no legs -hands covered by flip flops- peer over the edge at the weight of water flowing under. Past the shops with their Nanfang tyres wrapped up in shimmering silvered foil like sweets. Two children wrestle with a tyre iron, trying to prise apart a truck wheel, pop out the rusted rim to clatter on the oil-stained ground. A husk of a VW beetle looks on.
Past metal workers, sparks flying off an angle grinder in the hands of a teenager. The shards of steel cascade through his legs. I can see the strobe flash of an arc welder touching white hot liquid drops of metal to a joint. Iron Must Obey.
As the bus flies over the Murtala Mohammed Bridge -where I once saw information minister Frank Nweke Jr. direct traffic around an accident- some of the chatter has died away, the early morning catching up on the ticket-to-riders, their heads nodding sleep.
I open my eyes and Obajana is looming up ahead, the two columns of the cement works kiln look like a space city in the jungle. Last time I was down this way we played Johnny Cash's I Been Everywhere on the stereo. On the other side of the road the workers shacks have slumped further into each other, rotted a bit more.
I doze through Kabba, the furthest western point I know on this road. From here on in its all new. Last time I was here it was deserted; Thugs chased the voters away. They trashed the market and tipped ink on a school room floor. We saw where they'd squatted around stabbing their fingers in the pool like hyenas on a corpse.
The road seems a bit worse and the bush a bit thicker. By the road dense thickets of palm and banana trees in dark ravines cut out by filthy streams. Broad waxy-leafed mango trees shelter benches where people lie amongst their wizened roots.
The concrete houses with their poured and moulded stairs and balconies look like they've been delicately tipped out of a jelly mould. Some bits topple forward, some wobble back. Their ochre roofs of rusting tin make the town look like a heap of cardboard boxes, scattered n the floor. Here and there an old church, its mouldy plaster flaking off and turning green, stands out.
Osogbo is alive with bend down boutiques. A pyramid of shoes stands on a traffic island, next to little mounds of fabric puffed up like iced confections. Bags of eggs and bowls of ground nuts come through the window. The radio flickers into life and Yoruba music comes through. The riders on the bus start to nod their heads and point their fingers at the ceiling. We are here.

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