(Page 2 of 2)
As our colleagues stroll to the bodega for a jerry can of palm wine, Bashir and I are brought home. The headlights of the private bus reveal legs of men walking in the complete darkness, no moon or stars to light their way. How do they find their way? When we rumble into the compound, Danladi, our steward, unlocks the door, which is alive with a nightful of insects. He hands us matches and candles, and sets a bucket of water in the bathroom before folding himself onto the love seat, his head propped on a wooden arm. The night thickens. In the treetops, a bird is screeching like a monkey, or perhaps it’s a monkey screeching like a bird. So many ways to be confused. Last night, for example, I got lost in my bedroom. Instead of floating down the short hall to the bathroom, my face crashed into gypsum. Crumpled in pain, I remembered the lizard that slithered into the dining room at lunchtime, how it wedged its orange head into the window track and imagined itself saved. Trapped, my bladder swollen to its limit, I let my fingers crawl in directions I knew were wrong. But they detected door. Hall. Bathroom. Stall. In the morning I was awakened by machetes. A line of sinewy men toiled in the yard, slashing away the undergrowth, calling and responding in time. They were mowing the jungle lawn. I watched them through window bars, metal screen, glass panes, and lace curtains, mesmerized, as they hacked. Tonight, I light my bedside candle for a moment, just to review where I am. A big beetle scrapes its way up the wall toward the glow. It doesn’t find what it’s looking for before it falls, cracking against the floor like an acorn.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Anyigba in the rain, goodbye to the rivulets choked with red soil. Goodbye to our darling students, grateful for any attention. Goodbye to Darlington, serious young Igbo, dressed in starched shirt and black tie, as always, to see us go. To him and to others, I want to return the cheer: Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! (When was the last time I was cheered?) And for others whom I will miss even more—such as Yusef, who shares a dormitory room with four, fills a bucket with the day’s worth of water, and studies on the floor—I will cry. All of you, I will cheer you in peanut and kola, in termite, in Maltina, in a bottle of local honey frothing with ground-up bees. But today, we wake in Lokoja, our final tour before descending by bus down the snarled, smoking roads of Lagos. The governor presents us with souvenirs wrapped in newspaper: ebony masks to hang on our walls. In the gubernatorial hall, we watch our colleague cross the stage to place our official report into the governor’s solemn hands. I’m not sure why the usual pomp is sped up until, after polite applause, the pastor hustles us out of the hall, into the parking lot, and through the back gate of the compound. He’s just in time for the official entry of the Bulgarian engineers through the front door. I know now that our services to His Excellency the Governor are complete. As we wait on sofas in the guesthouse watching CNN without sound, Mr. Innocent Chukwu sits at the table with his ledger, preparing our checks. We hope there will be enough.