WE DON’T LIVE THERE ANYMORE
It seemed a thousand years ago when the people in Jos used to thank God it was Friday – not anymore. We now stagger into Friday like some fortuitous aliens not knowing where to dare tread or what it holds in store for us. Friday has overpowered our once sturdy hands longing for embraces, melodious sounds welcoming the bottles that glaze round wooden tables as we sat round in pairs drinking labour pangs away. That was the Friday of the traders from distant lands preying on our weekly pays after saying his prayers as we sauntered towards his wares speaking in tongues other than ours. But that was Fridays. That was Fridays. That was Fridays.
The usual Bauchi road traffic is again worsening the frustration of the already exasperated commuters with me stuck in like some cramped kid in a city storm escape. The Achabas and Kabu-Kabus are just impossible as they weave a snakelike path through the traffic at neck-break speeds. Here one there another then this one that almost buried itself under the bonnet of my car and then, as if heading for a deliberate crash into the car in front of mine.... ‘vrrrooooom’ he speeds pass and I am holding my breath in disbelieve if their second lives would be spared in the event of an accident! I shudder to think they have only one life like the rest of us and yet do these games. Well, I have long concluded they have two lives - when they lose one, they’ll just as casually pick up the spare one and life continues. There cannot be another explanation for their recklessness on the roads.
The dust from the road and the fumes from the exhausts of all sorts of contraptions masquerading as vehicles is something else and I am stuck right in the middle of it, in a hold up. I look at the car on my right hand and shake my head. I thought I had seen them all but surely, this beats them all.
The car (or do you have any name I could call it? Well, you seem to agree there is no other name to call it so we’ll just say ‘car’ right?). It is colourless even though it bears all hues and colours known to man. Every part of the car has a colour to itself, the bonnet is a combination of green and yellow. I peep into the car and can see the roof blue with a part of the already tattered upholstery above dropping like a veil on the driver’s head. The driver’s side door looks like a sort of rainbow of colours and the door behind the driver which obviously did not come with the car, is red. The side mirror is hanging by the wires and looks ready to drop, I don’t see a rear view mirror but it just might be in the car somewhere. The back of the car has transparent polythene held in place with cello tape instead of glass and the driver definitely is holding his door in place with one hand and driving with the other.
The traffic warden is winking at me and giving a salute, it won’t get him anything though. ‘He should just give my lane the clear to pass through this maze for goodness sake’, I muttered to myself. My patience is beginning to run thin! The traffic starts to move along and as I drive, I start to plan how to approach Ibrahim’s warehouse, it is important that he does not see me approach.
I drive past the house the Okafor’s use to live in and don’t believe my eyes. Mr Okafor was the first person to build a house with cement and concrete blocks on Bauchi road. Now the house is half gone and half burnt. Whatever happened to the Bauchi road of my childhood? Most of the buildings are either in a state of disrepair, destruction or abandonment and to think, years not too long ago; this was ‘the’ street! And the filth is best left to the imagination.
Taking a turn into Sarki Street is my best bet to avoid another hold up at the junction ahead. I snarled and came out at Gadan Bako, which happens to be the street right behind the warehouse and park. The ware house like most ware houses on Bauchi road is a big, old, long building with corrugated high roof with no ceiling. There are about twenty of such buildings in the Jos metropolis and fifteen of them on Bauchi road alone. They were built by the British Tin Miners and used for collecting and storing Tin from the mines before being transported by rail to Lagos and then shipped overseas. When the Amalgamated Tin Mining Company started to fold up, these buildings were bought over by the locals especially the Hausa-Fulani immigrants from the north.
I step out of my car and gave the neighbourhood a cautious glance as if waiting for confirmation I can proceed. It is said the fowl stands on one leg for a moment when dropped until it is sure it can welcome the arrival of the second leg without losing its neck. Now I have played the fowl and can drop the second leg because I can see no one seems to care or even notice the presence of a stranger. Now I run my eyes panning the neighbourhood from left to right and slowly back to find Ibrahim. There, about twenty meters away, I see him talking to someone who has ‘customer’ written all over him. Ibrahim had this engaging mannerism that causes him to lead forward towards a customer when seeking to convince him of the buy.
Ibrahim like most Hausa Fulani is quite handsome and generally very attractive, slender of built with skin the colour of caramel. I have known Ibrahim practically all my life. We were born the same year in 1969, grew up together on Bauchi road and have always been best friends.
He turns around to pick an empty carton and sees me, and immediately discards the carton and picks up his praying mat. But I was right behind him.
“Just a moment Ibrahim, please pay me before you pray” I said.
His reaction takes me by surprise and throws me off balance.
“Allah A’kubar, a heathen is trying to stop me from saying my prayers”. He shouts.
In a twinkling of an eye, I am surrounded by the boys in the warehouse, a hand pulls at my left hand and as I turn, I receive a resounding slap, and my head spins. Someone gives me a kick at the shin, I feel my knees buckle and I fall flat on the dusty dirty floor of the ware house. From out of the side of my eye, I see the glitter of metal and no one needed to tell me someone had brought out a knife.
Just as suddenly, a voice rings out.
“Do not touch him again”
I look up from the floor and Musa, Ibrahim’s elder brother is standing over me extending a hand that I grab to stand up. I can hear the boys mumbling and grumbling
“Leave us to finish the heathen”
Musa walks me out to my car and tells me to leave immediately.
I refuse to believe what had just happened to me. I drive away as one in a dream.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“I’ll go with you to sell the bread if you will go with me to the race course afterwards.” Ibrahim says as he rides up beside me on his bicycle.
I had just left the house with twenty loaves of bread on a tray that had to be sold before night fall. I should have been out hawking two hours earlier but I came in late from school because I was serving punishment for fighting with Tolu who insists I am ‘Inyamiri’ and not Igbo. Nma had pulled my ears as she was setting out the bread at the same time, stressing the importance of not coming back with even half a loaf of bread as if I needed telling. My siblings and I have heard a hundred times if not more how we needed to pull our weight around the house and help put food on the table unless we were ungrateful children who wanted our parents to die taking care of us.
From the moment I turned eight years, I have had to hawk bread every day after school and almost all day on Saturday to help out in the house. My parents having eleven children made it hard if not practically impossible for my siblings and me to be children. While I help out selling bread, my sisters Chioma and Uju take turns helping Nma sell food stuff at the Bukuru park market where she has a stall. My brothers Obioma and Chidi help Papa sell second hand clothing in the tiny shop in front of the house.
Ibrahim’s Father Alhaji Inusa, being a second hand clothes dealer really helps, because at those times when the burden of paying school fees for the eight of us already in school overwhelms Papa and Nma and they have had to dip their hands into their business funds, it was Alhaji Inusa that comes to our collective rescue. Ibrahim’s father will always give Papa whatever bale of second hand clothing he required and allow him pay for it at his convenience no matter how long it took to pay back. Our families were that close and the relationship that tight.
The relationship between the two families was tight to the extent that when my sister Chioma took in for Musa, Ibrahim’s older brother, our parents were tongue tied, dumbfounded and flabbergasted. It was as if a sacrilege, an abomination had taken place; Musa had impregnated his sister Chioma. Musa and Chioma’s son Namaccah ties the two families together in a way that no life, experiences or past we might have shared together does.
Although Alhaji Inusa had a very large family even for a man with four wives, Ibrahim and his siblings almost always seem to have no assigned responsibilities but had time to do as they pleased. And yet they never seem to lack for anything.
After selling all the bread with Ibrahim’s help, we set out for the race course. The race course as usual was filled with boys and a few sprinkling of girls who were mostly hawking one local delicacy or the other.
“If we had been here much earlier, I would have made more money” Ibrahim started to grumble as soon as he saw the crowd.
“But you’ll still make some money”, I said. “Look the crowd is large today and I don’t have to be home for another three hours yet”.
Every day, the race course on Bauchi road is used by the neighbourhood children and some grownups for all sorts of things: hawking, gambling, horse racing, but most especially, for bicycle hire riding which is what has brought and will obviously continue to bring Ibrahim and me here. Anyone who wants a ride on a bicycle comes here and for one naira gets a half kilometre ride. Apart from bicycle hire businesses like Ibrahim’s, there were people like Hassan who sells sugared Nido powdered milk in teaspoonful’s for one naira too. In any given day, he sells four cans of the 400gram tin. As a matter of fact Hassan’s Nido business is not restricted to the race course; he always has a tin of Nido with him especially at school and children are always drawn to him like moth to a flame. The few times I tasted his Nido were the times Ibrahim bought for me because even though I sold bread and handled money practically every day, I was not allowed to have any money of my own or to spend any except I was sent.
The girls that came around the race course sold masa, dakuwa, alkaki, kunu etc. But sometimes, I wonder truly, what brings them to the race course. The other day, I saw Garba the sugar cane seller squeezing Sa’a’s tiny breast, and I flinched out of pain on her behalf.
* * * * * * * *
I have no recollection of the journey back home from Bauchi road.
My wife Nkiru became hysterical like all women are wont to do in situations like this when she saw me.
“Don’t tell me Ibrahim did this to you…don’t tell me!” She started to scream.
I truly did not need any of this. I head straight for my room, sit on the bed and try to think. How did we get here?
* * * * * * * * *
Ibrahim and I went to the same secondary school – it could not have been otherwise. St Murumba’s is a Catholic Christian school but in those days it did not matter. We did not know what religion was. We only had neighbours, friends and relations. After secondary school I went straight to the University and Ibrahim joined the family business. This had been the path we had always known we would take and being friends for life was also something we had taken for granted.
I came back to Jos after five years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ibrahim at the time had become one of the major distributors of household products in Jos and our friendship continued. Everything changed after that Friday afternoon in September 2001.
Things changed not only for Ibrahim and me but, also for our families, friends and neighbours – the whole city. The killings, wanton destruction and theft of that September day is best left to the imagination. People that had lived together as one all their lives, are now made aware (as if scales had fallen off people’s eyes) of their differences.
All of sudden, it is evident that the settlers are everywhere trying to take everything and own everything and everyone. The indigenes are suddenly aware of how docile they had been and were at risk of losing everything even the very beds they laid on at night. We could not look at each other in the eye anymore. We did not believe each other anymore. Our hearts had grown cold towards each other. Distrust had come and will always lie between us.
My family had to leave Bauchi road as also a lot of other Christians. It was not safe, not wise and definitely not possible for Christians and Muslims to live together anymore. Muslims were leaving areas highly populated by Christians too .It had gotten that bad.
* * * * * * *
The situation in Jos did not affect my family’s relationship with Alhaji Inuwa’s. We had between us not only thirty five years of friendship and neighbourliness but, we were also connected by blood and a bond like that cannot be broken. So we thought.
I remember vividly the day in May last year when I was privy to an utterance by Alhaji Inuwa.
“We are going to show these infidels that living with a chicken do not stop one from slaughtering it.”
I heard him bellow as he walked into his wide expansive compound not realizing immediately that I was in Ibrahim’s part of the family house visiting. Someone, I’m not sure who; amongst his four wives tried to caution him knowing I could be listening.
“Haba Alhaji, you know it is not right to generalise, some of these people you are calling heathens are more than family fa.”
“What family? We came to this place over a hundred years ago, cleaned it up and made it what is today and now we are being referred to as settlers? We found this place and whatever it takes; we have to make that clear!”
Realising she could say no more, she kept quiet.
Namacca, Chioma and Musa’s son almost as if on cue entered the room and on seeing me runs to hug me and at the same time saying out a greeting
“Uncle Welcome, I did not know you were visiting. I am not sure my mother knows you are here either, let me go and get her.” He says.
“No, don’t bother; I need to be on my way anyway just give your mother my regards.” I said as I got to my feet to leave.
Ibrahim and I were quiet as we left the house. Because of what I had heard, I could not bring myself to go say hello to Alhaji or to take my leave from the wives.
I drive straight to my parents’ house. I meet Nma at home but, Papa was away at the Igbo society meeting. My mother will not believe my story about Alhaji’s utterances.
“Nedu, Alhaji and his family are more than neighbours, they are also Family. Your sister Chioma is their wife, her children, your nephews are their son, you must not have heard right.”
Knowing it is useless to argue with Nma, I keep quiet .Papa is the one I should have told this to.
The Igbo society meeting takes a lot of Papa’s time these days. The meetings picked up momentum in earnest after the last skirmishes particularly because the Igbo’s were worse hit. There are families that lost everything – their homes, businesses and family members. It became imperative to come together to see what could be done for those affected and also to map out ways in which further attacks could be avoided as the Igbo’s were tired of running from one part of the country to the other anytime there was trouble.
I tell Nma I had to leave and left.
* * * * * *
I had lent Ibrahim a million five hundred thousand naira because his business was not doing well since January when the indigenes came together and decided that to fight the settlers physically was not enough, they must also be fought financially. The indigenes of Jos therefore boycotted businesses run by settlers causing financial hardship on these businesses.
The agreement was that he would return the money after six months, it has been ten months now and I need my money back. It has been ‘go and come back’ for the past two months between us and I am tired thus, today I went to collect my money.
Nkiru comes into the room to tell me my brother Chidi had come to see me.
“Tell him I am coming, I say.” I wonder what it is now.
As I walk out into the sitting room, Chidi stands up from the chair the look on his face very sombre and I suddenly felt weak and tired. Just when I think I’ve had my dose of problems for the day, something comes up.
“Brother, good afternoon.” He says.
“Good afternoon Chidi, is all well?”
“Papa said you must come immediately, it is Chioma.”
“Okay let me get my keys.”
There was no point asking any more questions, Papa must have thought it important to send Chidi to get me instead of calling me.
We got to the house in less than thirty minutes and I walk straight into the house going pass the sitting room straight into Papa and Nma’s room.
My parents’ present house now at Rayfield was built by my siblings and I after the house we grew up in at Bauchi road was burnt down and vandalised. The old house at Bauchi road was made of mud bricks and corrugated iron sheets but this new house is a much better house built with cement bricks and long spans roofing sheets. As a matter of fact our parents peers say we have done well by our parents by building this type of house for them in the type of neighbourhood we have .But, the house at Bauchi road is the house we will always see as home seeing that we were all born there, grew up there and had all our childhood friends and memories there.
Every one of my parents children still living in Jos was in the room. Chidi comes in behind me and locks the door leading into the house.
Papa clears his throat and says to Chioma “Now, everyone that can be here is here, tell us what happened and why you are here with your two children.”
The story Chioma told us left everyone speechless.
Alhaji Inusa and his sons had been meeting and holding discussions that go on way past midnight sometimes. No one thought it strange because meetings like this were a part of the family life especially as every male in the family is involved in the family business in one way or the other. Two nights ago, Chioma woke up in the night to go to the bathroom and noticed that Musa had not come in to sleep and realised that the family meeting that had started late that evening was still going on. As she enters the bathroom, she hears Musa and his father arguing and she pauses and hides to eaves drop.
“Baba I love her, she is the mother of my children and is as good as your daughter I cannot kill her.” She hears her husband say.
“You have no choice; it has been decided. We cannot put ourselves at risk by having an infidel live amongst us.”
“Infidel Baba? She has been of the faith since I married her and now you find it convenient to call her an infidel?”
“Enough! As I have just told you, it has been decided.” And then she thinks he hands Musa a bag because she hears him say,
“In this bag is five million naira, take it, this is to build up your business and take care of any inconvenience this will cause you. But, it must be done and no later than this week.”
Chioma stands rooted to the spot, unable to move and not sure how it was possible she could breath. She finally makes her way back to the room, the bathroom forgotten. She pretends to be asleep when Musa finally comes in but she could not sleep.
The following day she goes to the chemist not too far from the house and buys sleeping pills. She tells the chemist she has trouble sleeping and the sleeplessness is affecting her during the day.
At home she prepares Musa’s favourite meal of tuwon chinkafa and miyar kuka and laces the soup with the sleeping pills. Meanwhile, she has found the bag of money she suspects Alhaji gave Musa yesterday. Musa has not behaved any differently and if she had not heard the conversation between him and his father she would not have had inkling anything was amiss.
When it was evening, she asks Namaccah to escort her to the market to get food for the evening. Musa has been sound asleep in the room after his afternoon meal. And that is how come they are here.
“Papa, I cannot go back. It is not safe and I refuse to leave my children there.” She says as she starts to cry.
After a lot of deliberations, arguments and disagreements we finally decide that Chioma’s presence in the house will need to be hidden and that Chioma and her children will have to leave for the village immediately.
First of all, Chioma and her children needed to change from their traditional clothes into something appropriate, clothes that will not make them stand out like sore thumbs. Thankfully, Papa’s pick up car was parked behind the house so while the rest of us went out into the sitting room, Chioma, Chidi and her sons go out through the back door. Chidi is to take them to the bus station so they can take the night bus to the village.
We had to act as normal as possible so Nma and my other sisters go into the kitchen to get the evening meal. An hour later, Chidi comes back to report they made it to the station in the nick of time and that Chioma and her children were on their way home.
I leave for my house a little after 10.30pm.
The following morning, Musa shows up at my parents’ house looking for his wife and children. Papa asked if they had a misunderstanding, he answers in the negative and then Papa asks why he would think she would come home and he keeps quiet. Papa then calmly tells him to be sure nothing happens to his daughter and asks him to leave.
· * * * * *
It was important that we set forth at dawn. That time of the day when night gets tired of fighting and gives way to day light. Alhaji Inuwa had died late last night and his religion requires that he be buried immediately so we were on our way to the burial. I had told Papa it was not necessary to go all the way to the burial ground, but, he would not hear of it. Papa insists Alhaji was family and we would pay our last respects no matter what it cost, in spite of the inconvenience.
The skirmishes that broke out the day leading to Alhaji’s death, was of a scale and dimension never experienced before.
A Christian Police officer in mufti went to Terminus market to buy a chicken, as it is the practice everywhere in the Jos Metropolis, the Muslims are the ones involved in the chicken business. According to the stories making the rounds, the batter did not go well and the police officer slapped the Hausa trader. The trader got angry and used the knife for his trade to stab the police man and all hell broke loose.
The market became a war zone with traders, shoppers and passer by joining in the fracas. Shops and stalls were destroyed and looted. People lost their possessions and lives in the violence. According to the stories going round, Alhaji was coming out of his shop to find out what was happening and got shot in the head. He died later on that night at the hospital.
We got to Alhaji’s house a little after noon. There was hardly a place to park as the whole street was taken up by cars belonging to sympathizers. Papa could not come so I went with my son Kene.
Alhaji’s house is a massive two storey building. The roof is red long span zinc and the house is coloured beige. But, the house had been extended and expanded over the years as Alhaji’s family and wealth increased. There were people seated everywhere on mats spread on the floor taking up every available space making it practically impossible to walk around. We found a way to pass through the throng of people to get into the house. We went around and offered our condolences, shaking some hands, saying the appropriate words at the right time and to the right people and keeping respectful silences when required.
After two hours we took our leave and left. When we got outside Alhaji’s house, the first thing to catch my attention was the house opposite Alhaji’s house – the house I was born in and grew up in. I said to Kene
“That used to be our house.” And Kene asks
“Is that where you lived?” Yes, Kene I replied, a certain sadness coming over me and I shake my head and say to him