I could vividly recall that faithful day as I waited for my bus to depart for Sukka, a small but industrial town in O’gu, famous for its cottage industries especially shoe making. The fifteen-seat minibus was sparsely occupied and the driver wasn’t going to depart until it was full, until we begged for space, until his mental quota was achieved, and until his bills, rent, food, children school fees, were paid. Time was on my side because it was going to be a long journey. In the meantime, my eyes feasted on the vicinity, on the boisterous activities and madness of the motor park.
The poorly concreted ground was muddy and littered with empty sachets, torn nylon bags, leaves and scraps. This attracted all kinds of domestic animals, insects and flies. They feared no one. Not even the desperate-looking ticket touts and conductors. They besieged the motor park like protesting workers, scrambled for every rubbish on the ground and perched on people’s breakfast. As if the government’s economic austerity measures were robbing off on them, tired of waiting on their owners who had even less to eat.
It had rained cats and dogs the previous night. Commercial vehicles of varying degrees of roadworthiness cluttered the massive motor park. Thick dark smoke that pumped from the exhaust pipes of their running engines, polluted the atmosphere as though the clang on climate change was a mystic sound gonged by sleep-deprived scientists. From the mass of passengers alighting and boarding vehicles, I imagined an exodus of refugees fleeing carnage of their cities, towns and villages perpetuated by senseless government forces firing sporadically at opposition militias. Ticket touts, like ravaging wolves, pounced on potential passengers as if the motor park was their birthright. As if it was hereditary, as if they were lords. With impunity they hustled for ticket sales mindless of their harassing strategies like dragging passengers on their cloths to listen to them. While some conductors loaded their vehicles with luggage, others argued with passengers. They argued about the fare, about the increased fuel price, about stubborn women, about the government, about religion, lazy men, “children of nowadays”, about armed bandits terrorizing motorists and about the inefficiencies of the security forces protecting them.
There were more beggars than the numerous rickety buses. Some were blind, lame, deaf and dumb. Some begged like a Prime Minister fighting for his political life. While other begged with walking sticks, from wheelbarrows and from the muddy ground. If there was an academy of hawkers, I thought the motor park was one. They hawked their tray and wheelbarrow-laden goods as if there was no tomorrow. As if tomorrow was a dream, and as though the certainty of waking up tomorrow was a figment of their imaginations. They hawked with all their hearts and strength.
I saw a man answering the call of nature on the boundary of a mammoth heap of rubbish. It was as high as the length of three men standing on one another. It was the motor park’s waste depot. He was in haste. The trajectory of his urine dangled to and fro. A bus was honing furiously. The conductor was cursing and swearing. I think his bus was about to depart without him. Many others approached to answer theirs too. I think the women went behind the heap.
Within the madness of the motor park, there she was, sitting on the muddy ground with her baby sucking her saggy breast. She was calm and though she wasn’t physically begging, her demeanor and the wretchedness of her cloths, hair, body and the baby made her look like a beggar. She didn’t appear to possess the strength of a ticket tout, or that of a conductor, or of other beggars or any of those ubiquitous hawkers. It seemed her natural beauty had gone, evaporated by the hardship written all over her face. The sight of her broke my heart because she wasn’t just poor her eyes silently cried for help. Her gaze was lost in the madness of the motor park. It appeared to me that money wasn’t her major problem. However, one thing was sure, she needed love. I could only imagine her story.
I imagined she once dreamed a dream, to shine and to be somebody. To be beautiful, adored and cherished. To marry, have a family and to be fulfilled in life. Like a thief, poverty had stolen her dreams, her joy and her self-esteem. It disrespected her. It dishonoured her. A hen or a tuber of yam looked more valuable than her.
She was poor, and it amazed me how poverty had clothed her. It had stolen her voice, her rights and her decency. As I looked into her eyes, imagining her story I could only imagine regrets, pain and “what if”. I travelled through her deep thoughts in my imagination and almost lost my way back.
Everybody saw her wrapped on the muddy ground like a snail – police officers, ticket touts, conductors, drivers, hawkers and motor park officials. But they saw through her. It appeared they had bigger issues to worry about.
Through her eyes I imagined seeing twenty eagle eyes closely watching her. Waiting for the dark night to veil the day. It was their cover. Turn by turn. There was no rush. She was their property. Their pleasure. Poverty had stolen her rights, her voice and her privacy.
If only she was a politician, if only she was a Hollywood superstar, if only a celebrity could adopt her son, if only her son could live in a white house, things might have been different. Poverty had stolen her beauty.
Nevertheless, in her wretchedness, I saw hope – the human essence that things can change.
© Nonso Chukwunonye (June 2009)
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