The sun shines hot and bright over Ebonyi.
When they say the sun rises in the east, it is no joke, it literally does. As early as 7:00am, the it shines as bright and is as hot as the midday peak harmattan sun. I am naturally a lover of early morning sun, the kind that warms you up and gets your blood flowing as it enriches you with the right amount of vitamin D that can only be gotten from the sun that comes out before noon. But this one in Ebonyi has no vitamins, whether D or Double D. It is not to be trifled with; It holds more promises of a stroke than any health benefits .
The indigenes, their skin the colour of the bottom of a cooking pot, barely notice the scorching nature of the sun. They. It makes me wonder at the nature of things and about an individual’s ability to adapt to an environment so much so that they become a part of it, like a chameleon blending into its environment. The chameleon takes up the colour of the area surrounding it so it doesn’t stand out. So it can blend in. So it can survive. In the end, man’s ability to adapt has become one of our most important characteristics. We need to be able to change enough to fit into the natural order of the place we have found ourselves. Without that, we would not survive.
Beyond their ability to adapt and survive, the people of Abakaliki are fascinating in many ways. For one, the way they pronounce the state capital, Abakaliki. You can hear it shrieked by the conductors of the buses that ply the routes to the capital from nearby towns and local government areas.
“Abakaliki!” They scream.
The third to the fifth syllable of this melodious word takes on a different form, completely alien from the initial first and second syllables in the mouth of these conductors, sounding like the click from the South African Xhosa tribe. It is a high, guttural sound that rose even higher with the fourth syllable and stretched nearly to infinity with the last. It is always interesting to hear, and oddly musical. And I chuckle to myself every time I hear it like someone has just tickled me below my chin.
The other fascinating thing about this place is the sheer number of mad people, and I am talking clinically insane, I-walk-aimlessly-along-the-road-and-eat-garbage kind of mad people. I know it sounds morbid, but they are everywhere. On three different occasions, I’ve had to dash into random stores to escape a mad person that had started following me in the market. I ran inside the store so the owner would deal with getting rid of them for me. Needless to say, I came out with merchandise I absolutely had no plan on buying. Twice, I ended up with half a dozen four-inch nails which are still wrapped up in a corner of my room gradually rusting away.
With time, I’ve learned to navigate my way past them, though mostly by avoiding them. If I see one on one side of the road, I cross to the other side. I don’t think I need to tell you that sometimes I still meet another on that side as well. Most times I just hold my breath and pray to pass by unnoticed (I have heard a lot of stories of mad people attacking indiscriminately and this feeds my fear of getting chased or beaten by a mad person).
Once, on my way out of the market, I had just climbed an okada to take me home when a mob of okada riders began beating a mad man with sticks and throwing stones at him. The blood gathered on his lower lip as he tried to dodge the stones while holding his torn trousers from falling to the ground. When I asked what happened, I was told the mad man had just moments before attacked a girl as she was about to climb an okada at the very spot I had. He had picked up a stone and had hit her over the head with it for no apparent reason. And that would not be his first time of unprovoked violence. A long time ago, he had pushed a pedestrian into a trailer as it sped down the highway.
As they told me the story, all I could think was:
But there are good things too. Most of which is tied to my being a National Youth Service Corps member and a writer.
As a corps member, nothing beats the smiles and the expression of awe the indigenes give you. The look that says, “I respect you. I envy you. I want to be like you”.
And then, as a writer, everything that I find wrong and horrible about what I feel is the backward state of the east becomes good; even the bad things. Everything is a story I want to write about or a feeling I need to express on paper.
The searing heat from the sun has burned words in my head that I can’t shake away. The people become characters that stay with me long after I meet them. My nights are crammed with dreams that are a re-enactment of my day; begging to be brought forth into prose.
The air here is mostly still. Once in a while, a light breeze will rustle the leaves on the trees and move around gently kissing sweaty faces. But the heat is embedded even inside the air. There is always this choking feeling like your lungs are not getting enough clean air.
So I write about the whistling of the leaves on the palm trees as the occasional, gentle breeze moved through them. Or the red earth that is hard and cracked like the back of a palm kernel.
I create stories about the people; going about their daily lives, speaking a language that rolls from their tongues with such ease and grace but remains indecipherable to me, and about their skin the colour of charcoal; darker than a moonless, starless night.
Each day here leaves me full and bursting. Some days I never want to leave my room because I know my brain will only soak up more than there is space left for. Lately, every pore in my body seems to be trying to help out my brain. But I am like a sponge: A bursting wineskin.
When I am done – full and overflowing – I will explode, into a million wonderful colours and lights of prose, dotting endless pages of leather-bound journals like the numerous stars that decorate the Abakaliki night sky.
Ronke is first and foremost a writer. Creative writing is to her what art is to any artist; a means of self expression. She studied Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan.