As I alighted at Old Market road, I was greeted by the aroma of dried leaves and damp grandiflora. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the scenery and the laid back nature of living in Aba.
The smell of fresh roast corn and the sounds of young boys on the opposite side of the road as they gathered for a local soccer match at the nearby Primary School Field filled the air.Young girls with pointy breasts went across the road to fetch buckets of water at one of the newly built general water supply outlets.
After a few minutes of travel, I got to my Uncle Chuks’ residence. Uncle Chuks is my father’s immediate younger brother and he lives on Ngwa Rd in a vintage type bungalow. I got word that he had left for his shop where he sold spare parts at the Main Market and decided to go meet him there.
Aba Main Market welcomed me properly and in style- with grease-soaked darkened floors, walls inscribed with white painted texts, blue and green wooden doors and sweat dripping from the chin of traders who parade the market space conversing in Igbo in a cheerful manner. It wasn’t long till I was being hounded on every side, with traders calling out to me: “Nna bia gote!” ” Nna come and buy Ford parts!” I smiled and walked past as I headed for my uncles store.
Uncle’s store had “Chuks The No 1 Nissan Spare Parts Dealer in Aba” written boldly in white paint that appeared to have been washed away by years of rain. As I trudged in, he welcomed me and offered me a steamy wrap of okpa and a chilled bottle of coke that was shaped differently from the ones I was used to having in Lagos. “Junior when did you enter AB City?” He started and before long, we were in conversation that lasted for over 2 hours and included topics ranging from politics, lack of stable electricity in Aba, why he would never leave Aba, family troubles and unsettled land matters back in our hometown.
“Uncle, Aba is your own version of Lagos” I said to him as I shrugged, drained from the lengthy chit-chat that had me side-eyeing him half of the time and almost falling asleep.
Later on, Uncle’s store keeper Ikemefuna walked towards us with a towering, chubby man that seemed to be in his early fifties. His speech was crass and rather unpolished and he appeared to be frustrated. Apparently, he had to restore the entire engine of his vehicle and it cost over 100,000 Naira. Reluctantly, he agreed to pay the hefty sum and later he wove his way through the crowded market place mumbling a few words. That single purchase was a winning ticket for Uncle Chuks as he had apparently made a profit of over 70,000 Naira from the sale of the engine. He called Ikemefuna and handed him 7,000 Naira as he was the one who beckoned on the man to purchase from his store. Not long after, Uncle’s friend, Mr Nwokedoziri stopped by and took a seat beside him as he flung open the pages of the Complete Sports Newspaper that had long laid idle on the floor.
“Nna, market di ezigbo bad! Odi terrible! Ihe Dollar ah Na-eme ehn!” “This dollar is too high” he continued. My uncle lifted his face and wiped his mouth of the palm oil he was using to bathe his roast yam. “Isi gini! My brother odiro easy, our economy is deteriorating.” Uncle Chuks spoke pretty good English. I remember my father told me how their father sent him to England for his masters only to get deported two months later due to mixing up with the wrong people.
He continued, “I’ve not been making sales at all, it’s affecting everybody. The young, old, rich and poor. I mean, look at my young nephew here, he just complained bitterly how expensive it was coming down from Lagos.” I shrugged as I threw my face to the opposite direction. I wasn’t willing to be the centre of the discussion. They went on and on, bashing the government and counting their losses.
As I looked farther away, in thought away from the chatter, I realized how ungrateful we could be as humans, and how we willingly join in the ‘’things are too difficult’’ gang. Judging from my uncle’s plight, he had literally made just a profit he never imagined nor experienced even when the exchange rate was lower – selling more than double his cost price – and he still found it easy to lament. He drew the line when he went on to say ‘’I wonder why God is letting me suffer, I haven’t seen profit in over two weeks.’’ I turned over to him and mouthed a few words that created a friction between I and Uncle Chuks that is still yet to be resolved today.
My sojourn then took me to the Saint Saviours Chapel on Ngwa road. I couldn’t but notice the accelerated movement of the all-female choir, adorned in blood-red suits and matching red hats. They hurried towards the stage and as the lead singer hit the opening note; it was business as usual. I expected nothing less. The music was groovy, traditional with the signature soprano, shaky, vibrato-caressed Igbo accented voice. I loved it; I danced and danced and smiled broadly until they left the stage and took their seats.
The reverend’s sermon was centered on the power of negative confession. His exact words were – “You are a result of your confession. There is power in the tongue and we should work towards confessing positively.” I turned over quickly to where Uncle Chuks sat, he had followed me reluctantly, and looked at him as if to say ‘’You see my point?’’
Looking back, my trip to Aba was an emotional rollercoaster. I got to relinquish the love my late father showered on me while he was alive, and relive all the moments I spent in Aba with him. How he would delicately whisk us into his Honda Jeep like a crate of eggs from Lagos, and we would dance to the groovy sounds of Oriental brothers and Chimuanya whilst munching on juicy bananas and freshly boiled groundnut.
He would make us laugh till our sides hurt, nag about buying Mr Biggs and still buy it for my siblings and I until we would later sleep off and find ourselves in Aba at my Grandparents residence. My father would take us round the city and point out landmarks to me, as I would stick my head out the window and bask in the moment. “Will you put your head back in the car?!” He would shout at me as I’d look at him in the eye and sink back into the seat of the Jeep.
Aba also reminded me of the countless awe-inspiring memories we accumulated from staying at my Grandparents’ – The fresh salad prepared by Grandma, watching Enyimba Football Club Live at the Aba Stadium, Grandpa’s war tales and how he’d sink his teeth into the back of my palm as a sign of endearment. There is no such true love and security as one that a father has and provides for his seed. I could breathe in every single memory as I walked down Ngwa Road and kicked the red dust up and away from my rubber slippers.
My dear friends, I thought about you guys and felt the need to give you some words of wisdom from my experience. I think it’s of essence to cherish every moment spent with our loved ones. The line between life and death is almost fickle; Today a person is alive and breathing, the next day they may be gone. Honestly, our current situation in the country is appalling but we must confess positive, celebrate victories and accomplishments, cheer ourselves on and most importantly, give thanks to God.
Like Uncle Chuks used to say, just like Aba, you’ll get better like fine wine.