Mother sat me down and she began to talk;
“When you get there— do not misbehave; remember who you are and your reason for going there” she said.
I nodded. She waved her hand signalling the end of a brief mother-and-son dialogue. I got into the house, my trolley was already leaning against the wall; my bus ticket was neatly tucked in the rearmost pocket of my blue jeans. A white round-necked flannel shirt; one that I had spent a considerably long time washing, ironing and checking if it was good enough to see the rising sun of the Gold Coast. My shawl was ready; a green-white-green frayed fabric would be hung across my neck. I don’t know why but I longed to hit Accra in our national colours.
It was morning already and brother kicked my feet.
“Hey, you better get up” he said.
I’m a bed-addict; a good sleeper— something I’m trying to change but thank God for that kick else I’d miss my bus and would get no refund.
He was there waiting for me; standing by actually— waiting for my bus to leave before he’d be on his way home.
“Where are you going?” Big brother asked me.
“I need to use the toilet” I said.
“Thought you did that at home” he said.
Yes I did. I did use the john twice before coming to the bus station. But now there’s a surge of urine going down my organs; I disappeared into a convenience before he’d say Jack Robinson.
The driver— a man in the transport company’s livery got into the front seat; revved up the car engine. It was time to go!
“Hey stay calm and be the best you can be” he spoke into the window.
I saw his face, the waving of his hand, his goodbyes and all. From Port Harcourt to Lagos, from Lagos to Accra, thence to Northern Ghana; the journey had just begun!
I’m only 17; so forgive if I keep shifting in my seat and shuffling my legs. Plus I’m an indoor boy; I’ve never travelled alone. I’ve been to Calabar many times but my mother was on the bus; both of us sat on the same edge of the vehicle. But here I am; all by myself travelling to the West— Lagos precisely the first half of my journey. The lady sitting close to I opened a book— David Ibiyomie ’s; she didn’t let me see the title: she only let me see the page she was reading . Oh books, they are my friends! I ducked down to read the words of this man of God. I had scarcely absorbed the man’s words when she flipped. it ’s not your book! I told myself. The lady closed her book; she unearthed a jacket from her handbag. Sometimes I wonder how women manage to put a whole wardrobe in their bag. She brought out of the same handbag; a wide spread of fabric. What’s she going to do! I asked myself. She struggled into a jacket, covered her feet with the item of clothing. By the time you read this, the lady that was busy reading a book; was busy sleeping. She didn’t invite anyone but gradually people on the bus began to key in. One by one they fell asleep. I was the only one awake; and I think I deserve a round of applause. I don't sleep on a bus! I prided thoughtfully. In truth, if the former were a promise; I didn’t keep it. No sooner I fell asleep; I joined the napping team! The driver was the only one awake— the only one who deserves a round of applause. So just in case you did a round of cheers for me; you might want to do it again. The excellent round-of-applause-deserving driver kept on turning the steering as we approached Lagos. III “I have arrived Lagos” I told my brother over the phone. “T ake care” he briefed. I pushed the red button on my keypad; the red button ended the call. I lugged up my trolley by its handle as I trekked a pedestrian walk. I didn’t remember asking for a hand; but a porter swept behind me and boosted my trolley onto his head. I wasn’t alarmed. I didn’t scream. Because the man— the unsolicited helper was headed for the Cross Country bus station; the very place where I would board a bus to Accra. I walked behind the porter, cautiously making sure he didn’t change route. My sixth sense told me: don ’t worry Emmanuel, the man works for the Cross Country transport company. “Thank you” I said to the perceived Good Samaritan. The porter relieved himself of the trolley with a frown. “Oga 1, find me something now” he said in the bluntest form of pidgin. In other words, the man demanded I pay him for services I didn’t bargain for. I don’t like trouble; but here’s one snaring in my face. “Did I ask you to help me carry the luggage?” I hollered . The porter didn’t reply an A let alone a B; he stood there like I was talking to a mannequin. “ Oga , pay am ‘ im money” came the voice of an uninvited, dark-as-night-time Yoruba-accented traveller. “You think say na free” another uninvited fellow chirped. I shrugged. The unsolicited helper stood there unmoved (maybe he was truly a mannequin). Contrarily, from the look in his eyes; the fella was actually waiting to be paid a sum. “Have it” I pushed a N100 bill into the palm of his hands. Without a thank-you-for-your-patronage; this porter disappeared from my sight. Welcome to Lagos! I turned, no one said a word; but something deep down told me so. I walked to the front desk, put my money on the counter, the nice lady from a peep-hole had just told me the price. “Virgin passport N8000. A frequent passport N10 000” she said Virgin passport? i hope what I’m thinking is right. I panicked. “You mean a passport that’s not being used” she nodded in the affirmative. In minutes, as quick as fingers snapped; the transaction was over. “Your bus leaves at six a.m. tomorrow” she said. I held the ticket in my hands; a joy was starting to spring. “A bed will cost you N500 but you can sleep on the steel bench; If you can’t afford it” she said in between attending to another customer. I frowned. I winked at the hard-as-rock steel bench. A woman was sitting on the far end of it; my sixth sense said to me: she ’s getting ready to sleep in a sitting position! I puckered my entire face. The seventeen-year old traveller wasn’t pleased at all; even if you looked from a thousand mile. Welcome to Lagos! I turned, no one said a word; but something deep down told me so. IV “Emmanuel Jessie KA---------LU---------SIAN” the quasi-conductor said. Honestly, I don’t enjoy the way people stress my surname like it is something they’ve being asked by their English teacher to stress. I got on the bus. The instant the man read out my name from a green-coloured passport; I had found my seat number on the vehicle. Everyone else’s name was read but the reader didn’t have a problem with the pronunciation. Why me? Why my own name? Rhetorical questions don’t get answers; all I heard was the hefty thud of the front door. The driver got in, claimed his seat. He seemed to be a man of the sounds— he inserted a disc into a CD player. Whether the end result was Hip Hop or Reggae— I don’t remember! The bus trundled its way down the road. The bus had enough legroom; legroom enough to sleep leaning on your back. Well, a nap was the farthest thing from my mind; because young people my age were on this bus. Guess what we did? We talked and talked about everything in our universe. The passengers were mostly teenagers— students going back to a Ghanaian university after their third, second or first semester break. One nutty and chirpy-talking sixteen-year old had just found where the quasi-conductor I told you about hid it our passports. “ You are actually seventeen” she said to me. Hitherto, I had told my new friends I’m 20; so they would shut up when i asked them to. But the truth has a way of exposing every lie. I admitted with a grin. The girl was flicking open every Tom, Dick and Hurry’s passport like she were an Immigration officer. “You— small boy; you’re seventeen years old” she said to the fella sitting close to me. I turned sharply. The guy didn’t look seventeen! He had on his chin a plethora of sprouting strands of hair, a deep voice and he was on the big side— occupying his entire seat and half of mine. The boy admitted with a grin. He opened the third take-away of pizza. Erstwhile, we had talked; he told me his father held an important position in Cross River state. I believe him, I believe him entirely— because a single pack of pizza the last time I checked cost over N2000. Now, now if this boy had eaten the third pack; you do the math ! His father definitely holds an important position in that state. I edged in my chair; I’ve been sitting close to a rich kid! well , if he is on the big side or speedily reacting to puberty— that’s what happens when you eat pizza and pinglesTM instead of the normal garri2 and soup! I told myself comparatively. We had just made to the Aflywo border; we literally breezed past Cotonou . No one noticed because we had been talking and talking— no one noticed when the unreal Immigration officer passed our passports to the conductor who in turn gave it to the real Immigration officer who did the real checks and the fare well: “Have a safe trip” the woman said. A safe trip it was. Everyone started making calls— we had just drove into the city of Accra. I followed suit. I called home first; then my brother’s Ghanaian friend— whose flat I would sleep in for the night. V There’s nothing as breath taking as when you wake up in another country. You want to know how I feel. I feel like a jelly fish; that’s been taken out of water and put on dry land. oh lord, help this jelly fish on the dry land of Achimota , Ghana. I pitied myself. It’s six thirty a.m. My host had a clock and a good bed to sleep in. An impressive window view— I must add. Because I think I spent over an hour watching the lit windows of strange bungalows and the landscape of what has become my host country. In the wee hours of yester night; before creeping into bed— i didn’t fail to attack the wall socket with my charger. You know how Nigerians feel around electricity; they seize the opportunity to charge their gadgets and even when the gadget is full with juice; they keep charging it! I’m no exemption. I unplugged my phone; it was fully charged. Trust, the perfect naija 2 guy: my charger was still on the wall socket. I was browsing my phone; at the same time charging a fully charged battery. “Good morning, I hope you slept well?” came the voice of my host; the first Ghanaian I had shook hands with. I told my host I slept well; it was a deliberate lie— if humans lie deliberately. The truth is: I had spent the night looking out of the window feeling lost— wishing and wishing I hadn’t signed in for this journey. “I hope you’re ready?” he asked. It dawned on me; I haven’t bathed Ghanaian water. “No, I need to take my bath” I told him. Whilst in the toilet I kept on looking at the electric bulb— this is too good to be true! Right from the bus station to my host’s; there’s been juice in every electric bulb as I scrutinized houses from the cab’s window. Even now, many hours latter— Thomas Edison’s light bulb is shining just the way he intended. And my phone too: hmm ... the thing just dey there dey receive UNINTERRUPTED ELECTRICITY. I donned another pair of jeans and white shirt— it’s no use dressed up to the nines; the journey to the North is a long one. My host and I were walking toward the main road— forgive me o o . It’s my first time outside Nigeria; every person on the road was looked like an artefact to me. I kept on looking and looking and looking at every item on this street museum. “You will have to hail a trow-trow3. It will take you to Bolgatanga bus station where you’d board a vehicle to Tamale” he said. Hmm... I’m getting used to Ghanaian accent— BAS instead of the typical Nigerian’s BUS with an unusual stress on the ‘B’. I got the message. Whatever a ‘ trow-trow ’ meant in Ghana; I simply would tell the driver my destination and I’d be driven there. Ghana looks more organized if you ask me. One car passes, and just when you think Ghanaians don’t buy cars; a plethora of them go past. “ Bolgatanga bus station” I said. I hailed a taxi but a bus stopped in front of me— maybe that’s what they call ‘ trow-trow ’. “ Yenko Yenko ” the conductor said to me. “ Yenko Yenko ”— that sounds like a wicked combination of Swahili and modern-day Yoruba. Whatever! I got on but I had trouble lugging up my trolley. “Where do I keep this luggage?” I asked the conductor. “ Kwasia !” he said to me. Well maybe he’s asking me to tuck it in between my legs and I hope that’s what ‘ kwasia ’ means in Ghanaian vernacular. The trip to Bolgatanga bus station was flight-speed; I paid the fare, alighted with my trolley that had been tucked in between my legs almost suffocating my crotch. The last leg of my journey had been booked. “You’ll get to Tamale by two a.m.” she said. I eyed the bus ticket— 2:00 a.m. was written there as the arrival time. But I had my doubts. don ’t mind them! I unearthed my phone; did my brother a quick text: we’ll arrive Tamale at two-thirty or three o’clock Period! I know how good these transport companies are with delays. VI On the bus to Lagos; I heard some persons speaking Yoruba and I felt comfortable. On the bus to Accra: everyone spoke English (at least our Nigerian version of it). I felt comfortable in the latter. Here I am, on a RobotexTM bus; surrounded by strange faces and the sound of strange tongues. I know what Yoruba sounds like. I know what Hausa resonates. But Dagomba — oh my goodness! The language sounds like the footsteps of a hefty man trundling down a hill; the high and low pitch of its speakers— gets to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and back. I can’t understand what they’re saying. But everyone on the bus seemed to be having an excellent conversation in their mother tongue. I pressed my face against the window so I could hear the sound of rushing wind not the pitches of incomprehensible languages. The TV was turned on by someone— I think the driver’s assistant. Thank goodness! All the Dagomba-speakers had to shut up and watch the movie . I tried to make the words the screen actor was saying. Oh boy! The actor was actually speaking Dagomba ! I was looking forward to being entertained and not confused. The Dagomba-speakers noised about the movie ; they liked it. But what was showing on the lit screen would have been entertainment for me; if I had an interpreter. what where you expecting? An inner voice asked me. an Ibo movie or something? It queried. Oh Okay... Let them see the movie . I need to sleep. I pressed my head against the window-pane and literally dozed off. * * * Have you ever been on a bus; after napping for what you thought was an eternity? Gentlemen and ladies, you wake up and you find the vehicle still trundling down to your destination— goodness me! You thought by now; someone would have roused you out of sleep saying: hey , wake up; we’re there!. Hell no! You’re right in your seat on a bus that’s got thousands of miles to cover. Viola! I’ve been there; that’s exactly how I felt. I woke up and found me and me in my seat thousands of miles away from Tamale. The driver’s assistant announced we’ve made it to Kintampo . When I asked where the latter is located on the Ghanaian map. My newly-found English-speaking friend disclosed. “We’ve almost exited the Western Region” he said. The man has been of great help to me, a Ghanaian guidebook; one I’m grateful for. He saw my green-white-green shawl and that told him I wasn’t Ghanaian . We talked extensively about everything; from my reason for travelling and why he thinks Nigerians keep flooding into Ghana like it’s their mother’s kitchen. I laughed when he told me his reason(s) — guess what? I defended you guys. I told my friend; the green-white-green people are only looking for greener pastures and if it’s green here in Ghana; trust me; Nigerians will come with their cows and their Nwungo Na Nwungo 4. Kitampo was not only our exit point from the Western Region; but our stop-over. The Robotex TM commercial bus stooped right in front of a phalanx of traders and hawkers. I alighted; I had made up my mind not to use more than one bill; because I haven’t got the hang of Ghana money yet. “It’s one cedi ” the woman said. I held in my hand; something that looked like a baseball bat. It’s actually a loaf of bread— Ghana’s bread. Pretty different from our yeasty loaf back in Nigeria; I paid for the commodity. I bought a sachet of water cost 15 pesuwas 6 – the latter is a few coins. I kept to my promise— I didn’t use another bill! I doubt it was up to fifteen minutes; but he driver’s assistant slammed the door. If there were still passengers at the stop-over venue; they’d rather take another bus to Tamale because this very one couldn’t even wait for hawkers to show case their goods at the window-pane let alone a person to get on. Tata ! Is the word, I have for whosoever didn’t make it to the bus before the assistant’s fifteen minutes elapsed. Nobody incited the driver to speed up— maybe he incited himself. All I could hear were thuds and shudders as the man behind the steering mechanism hit a speed hump. Whether it was the sleeping police men that made our vehicle fly like a helicopter? I can’t best tell; if the latter were true— we just landed a helipad — we arrived Tamale. Big thanks, to our driver-pilot; we’ve just hotfooted into the Northern Region municipal. Impressed. I got down; checked the digital watch on my phone— two ante meridian . Two o’clock a.m. on the very dot. RobotexTM, if transport companies keep to their word; i think you guys do. I admitted deep down. VII Finally — have you ever used that word? Like it’s the only word on your lips; with no substitutes? Finally — have you ever used that word; when there can’t have been a better word to express your deepest joy and the finality of that moment? Hmm... Finally — I say... Finally, I’m in Tamale; the town that will be home to a seventeen-year-old for long weeks and long months. I didn’t bother to check my digital time-teller; but my instinct told me the exact time: five minutes past the hour of two a.m. And I’m standing in front of a Ghana agricultural fund bank— punching my keypad trying to put a call through to someone. Ask me if I’m not afraid. In truth, I’d be— if not for the brightness of the streets of Tamale. I mean it’s that hour of the night when witches return; and fear is the farthest thing from the young lad’s mind. The neon lights shone brightly; the street light poles swept darkness away from my face and the face of Tamale. “ You’re stranger?” a man asked me. He seemed to be a cabbie ; I spotted a taxi which I strongly believe is his four-wheel. The man’s question made me laugh. Wonder why? Because I don’t know him— he is a total stranger to me. The fellow’s question matched the question in my heart. i don’t know you you ’re a to a stranger to me! I panicked as he approached me. In the mean time, the gentleman I have been trying to call finally answered the phone. I told him who I am and my reason for calling. “Ask a cabbie to take you to Yong in Savelugu district” he said over the phone. I was actually in Savelugu district— back home I have sketched a mini-map with the names of every town, village and shire; I’d set foot in the course of my journey. I doubt the man in front of me; understands English— it might be he crammed his question from an English text book. No offence given, but I don’t want to start speaking English and someone speaks Dagomba in return. I’m looking for direction not a Tower-of-Babel situation. God help your boy! I did a quick prayer. I asked my man on the phone if he’d like to talk to the supposed-cab driver. He muttered something sounded like a ‘yes’. With an unhurried nod; I passed the phone to Mr. stranger-who-thinks-I’m-a-stranger. My guess was right! This man did the conversation with the call recipient; like he would a soup of flaky okra slimes with easy-to-pass moulds of Fufu 7. The question, he asked in English is still a miracle to me. “Shall we?” I asked the fellow, as retrieved my phone. “ Yong — yes” he said. At least he knows the place. I clutched my luggage— it contains all the important stuffs I’d need in Ghana and the school. The man offered to help me put the trolley in the booth; but he needn’t worry. I‘ll do that myself. He drove off without me noticing; I just sat there in the back seat of his taxi— thinking, thinking about home: what I’d miss and what I had missed already. Finally — the last vehicular ride to my destination; I took my time on the one. The streets in the village of Yong were partially lit. It seemed the main roads had street lights but the service roads had none. I lowered the window-pane of the cab; I really wanted to see those tall things standing there in the dark. The tall things were so tall and sturdy — they littered the sides of the roads. I longed for light to shine from Heaven-knows-where and illuminate the tall things that stood by the sides of the service roads. Prayers answered! The man stopped the car— the lights from his bumper illuminated the tall things... My goodness! “What are those?” I asked, hoping he would miraculously understand the foreign tongue. “They are Shea butter trees” he said. who knows, maybe he understands English! “Wow!” I said wow to two things. First, the Shea butter trees; they are so plentiful in this small village. Second, my host had just showed up. Hitherto, the way he stood in the absolute darkness; he looked like a Shea butter tree to me— but he moved anyways : walked up to me, took my hand in what seemed to be a much-anticipated handshake. “Elisha Mohammed; Youth with a Mission” he said. YWAM for short— I had come for a discipleship training program at the organization’s Bible institute. He helped me out with my luggage, I paid the cabbie ; whether he drove off or vanished I don’t have an idea. But whatever, he did to move that car out there; he did it real fast. One question was brewing in my mouth; I hope Mr. Mohammed wouldn’t mind. “Can you please tell me the meaning of ‘ Kwasia ’?” I asked He seemed stunned; but gave a chuckle. “ Kwasia means fool or a stupid person in Twi ” he disclosed. Kai . Kai . Kai . Kai . Kai . I said like a typical Hausa man. i wish i could lay my hands on that conductor! I lamented in my heart. I can only wish him here and lay my hand on him. If you want, bet tomorrow when you get to the betting centre; fact remains: I will never meet that Ghanaian bus conductor who called me: an ignorant stranger; a fool. I’m feeling teary-eyed already; but the only persons I’d be getting ready to meet are my discipleship training school course-mates; who had come from Anglo and Francophone West Africa. I’m getting ready to live the next couple of months with different people from the Sub- Sahara region.
1 The word depicts respect for a stranger or friend
2 A slang word for Nigerian
3 A popular bus service in Ghana
4 Igbo word meaning ‘everything that belongs to a person’