I am heading, from Abuja, to Maiduguri. By road. I am short of cash to get me fly.
At the Mararaba Park, my brother, Adesina Mayowa, drops me. With these loads for the IDPs. The Park boys rush at my loads, and move them to the bus poised for Maiduguri.
They are over charging me, for the loads of course. Crazy amount. We are negotiating, but my Hausa is very poor. Standing with arms akimbo, trying to figure things, a soft hand taps me from behind.
Are you going to Maiduguri? She asks, with a flash of smile. Yes, I say, masking my worries with a smile. Good, I will sit with you, so that this journey won’t be boring, she says. I raise my eyes at her. I try to see if I can pick the face, of this beautiful young lady who talks to me as though we’ve known each other for years. Maybe she’s a Facebook friend who is quick to recognise me? No, she’s not.
I am Femi, I say.
Oluwafemi right? She smiles. My name is Jash, she continues.
Jash? Is that an English name?
No, tribal. Jashilagari in full. It means Ebunoluwa in Yoruba, she smiles.
Oh, where are you from?
I’m Margi from Mubi in Adamawa State. I grew with some Yoruba friends, that’s why I know the Yoruba meaning.
We are deep into the conversation. Jash is a medical student in Georgia. She’s home for the holiday, and been moving between Maiduguri, where her parents are, and Abuja at her sis’. I flew when I was coming to Abuja, I just decided to return by road– as the flight schedules ain’t even regular, she tells me. I tell her I’m taking these loads to the internally displaced persons in Bornu State. She tells me I am kind. She tells me her village, too, had been attacked by the insurgents.
And then, she intervenes. She starts to protest on my behalf– that they reduce the amount charged for the loads. One of the Park guys starts to scream at her. The exchange was in Hausa, beyond what I could grab. I move closer.
“What’s he saying, why is he shouting at you?” I ask Jash. She smiles.
“I will tell you when we take off”, she says.
11:46am. We are many hours into the journey. From Abuja to Nassarawa to Jos and now to Bauchi, from where we’ll connect Damaturu-Maiduguri.
Jash calms me. By 6pm, we should be in Maiduguri, she assures me. No, we won’t drive past Chibok, Damboa and Sambisa, she says, laughing, when I ask her. She’s soft-spoken. She’s sharing many stories with me; school life, love life and other things. What was that guy at the park saying? Oh, he was abusing me o, he said how can I just meet someone for the first time and we are already in love that I now protest on his behalf. I laugh. She laughs, too.
When kids hawking by the street rush at our bus, she asks me what I care for. Caring, this Jash. She’s curious, too, to know many things about me. We share my earpiece as I play her a collection of RnB from my device.
Comes the climax.
I have a friend who used to teach at the University of Maiduguri, I say. And before I mention the name, Jash comes with it faster. Oladayo Ayobami Afolabi ? She asks. What?! You know him? Yes. He was my teacher when I schooled there. Nice and brilliant.
Oh, life, on the road to Maiduguri, is beautiful.
Okay. Bye. Talk to you again when I touch Maiduguri.
- (c) Femi Owolabi 2015