The sweltering heat was beyond what she had bargained for. She was dripping like the proverbial Christmas goat. She could feel the sweat as it travelled down, finding pathways to hidden crevices all over body.
It was crazy, how hot it was, she thought to herself as she rested her head against the window of the mini-bus she was travelling in. Another cruel nod to the effects of climate change, she noted to herself. After all, the whole world has been warned, without taking heed it must be said, that the planet was going to pieces.
Burning down, one corner at a time.
Well, that was the way of men.
Although the window was partly open, it didn’t help. The breeze blew in and past the vehicle as it hurtled down the ever winding road, doing very little to cool down the humid air in the venicle. Intermittently, they wheezed past other vehicles hurtling in the opposite direction; the breeze then on such occasion was like hot bricks being hurled in her face. The humid air, had a personality of its own and it was not helping to relieve her stickiness.
Gosh! The stickiness and the itchiness. What she would give for a very cold shower, a nice and neat bed and the chance to throw off her clothes and lay curled up quietly with no care in the world.
But, not for a few more hours anyway. Her destination was still a way away.
Selimah Adjevoh tried not to concentrate on the unpleasantness of her current battles with the heat. It was not a battle she could win, so why bother her mind over a situation she couldn’t control or have any chance of remedying? In fact, she was better off than many of the other passengers in the seven-seater bus that was ferrying them to their destination. At least, she was by the window and could be thankful of the small pleasures of feeling the hot breeze wheeze past her face.
The passengers in the middle row seats cannot boast of the same luck as herself and the other passengers occupying the window seats. For those ones, they were condemned to bearing the weight of the heat, and the unfortunate misfortune of being sandwiched in between others and with little room to wiggle. Selimah squeezed the thought out of her mind, and determined herself to focus on the scenic beauty, if she could call it that, of the countryside as her vehicle sped towards their destination.
Thatched, often decrepit hut houses, acres of farmlands and plentiful thick forests as far as her eyes could see rushed past as they sped down the road. She took in the view before her, wondering how her life for the next eight or nine months would look like in these environments.
The scene was a far cry from the beautiful houses, cars and hustle and bustle of town life she was more accustomed to. But, this new scene would be her life for the next few months. This was not what she had hoped for, but it was what she had got. Anything to get away. Anything to help her gain her freedom and keep her away from the overbearing and overwhelming presence of her father. She better get used to the drastic change. She stretched her neck to better take in the view as much as possible.
Her mind switched back to her friends and she smiled. They perhaps were similarly on trips like hers. She wondered what Atinuke and Dewunmi would be thinking or doing at the moment. They most likely would be thinking exactly the same thing about her. They had been inseparable since their first days in the university.
Three-peas-in-a-pod some people call them jokingly.
But, they offered each other the comfort of each other’s company, counsel and safety. They all lived together throughout their studies at the University and had thought fate would smile on them and take them to the same state at least for their National Youth Service.
However, as mother luck will have it they have all been flung to different parts of the country. The distance in itself was like a twisted quirk of fate. Like mother luck wanted to show them who was master of their fates.
Atinuke had been posted to a state in the south east, while Dewunmi was taking the long trip to the North central part of the country. In her own case, she was going to….
“We go soon reach o. Make una no sleep ooooo,” the driver’s croaky voice yanked her out of her mini reverie. She adjusted her sitting position, just like many of her other fellow passengers, who were jolted to the harsh reality of the present did. She had specifically taken the seat by the window for the sole purpose of being able to see the town as they approached and drove into it.
If only it could be called that.
She had heard so much about it at the orientation camp. People peddled so many stories, and many of them sounded too outlandish for them to be credible. Moreover, those who had been peddling the stories had never been there themselves. After all, they were all corpers like herself. How did they know for a fact that the stories were true? Even her own parents had tried to dissuade her coming to the orientation camp, let alone serving in this state.
Particularly her father.
One night, shortly after receiving her NYSC posting letter her mother had come into her room and attempted to encourage her to take her father’s offer to process her relocation to a ‘more suitable and civilized’ state.
But, Selimah had refused. Her thoughts circled back in time to that night and her conversation with her mother.
It was one of those starless nights, she knew and remembered clearly because she loved looking at the skies, the stars and the moon a lot. That night however, the celestial bodies were in hiding and she had been forced to retire to her room early.
Her mother had popped into her room, sashaying to her bed with that graceful gait of hers Selimah had always found impressive. Even in her mid-fifties, her mother still had that dashing and evergreen beauty that seems not to be corrupted by aging.
“My daugther,” her mother whispered and smiled, as she perched on the corner of her bed.
She took her hands and placed it in between her own soft and warm ones, “your father is worried for your safety you know? All he is trying to do is help.”
“Mum, it is called service for a reason. And, how else would I experience other people and other parts of the country if I shy away from my duty post? Apart from school, and travels abroad I have hardly ever visited any other part of this country,” She protested.
She squeezed her face and added, “I think I should be allowed to begin to make my own decisions, abi?”
Her mother had sighed and simply said, “Do you even know what they say about that place? Have you not heard the stories?”
“Those are stories dada was telling to scare me jare,” she replied. “But, I am not a baby anymore and I really want to see the world myself and for myself. The country is really big and full of interesting places and people.”
Her mother sighed again, ” you know your father only cares about your safety and comfort. More importantly about your safety. He can sometime be too overbearing I know; but, he is only trying to take care of his little baby.”
“I know. I totally understand,” she replied in a less combative voice.
“You know what?” she turned to her mom and held her hand. “I’ll make you and dada a deal,” she watched as her mother’s face lit up in hope she may relent.
“Not so fast,” she quickly retorted to quell any false hopes being entertained by her mother. Selimah’s heart squeezed a bit as she saw the light dim in her mother’s eyes even before it had a chance to take root and glow.
“The deal is, if I don’t like the atmosphere of the state during the orientation I’ll ask dada to process the relocation myself. Is that okay?” she squeezed her mother’s hands reassuringly.
Piiiiiiiiiiiiiim. Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiim. Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim.
The harsh tooting of the bus’s horns announced their approach to Nemii Town, a rural settlement on the western edge of in Imodia State in the South Eastern part of the country. This town, even if it looks nothing like a town from what she could see, will be her home for the next few months.
Selimah craned her neck for a better look, but in the dimming lights of the late evening all she could see was the high -topped palm trees. And, the cone-shaped specter of the lone church’s bell tower.
At the motor park, Selimah disembarked from the bus and for the first time really felt the aches in her joints.
Geeeeeeeez! She cringed inwardly. That cold bath would really do her a world of good, and some really nice massage by a soft, knowing pair of hands.
She felt her knees go a little weak at the though hands running over her body and washing away her aches.
Not in this town.
She looked around the motor park, which apparently also serves as the town’s market square. People were milling around, while some were doing brisk selling and buying before the sun finally sets and darkness rolls in.
As she scanned the scene, her gaze was drawn to the woman standing to her left, holding a piece of cardboard with her name SELIMAH printed with bold marker pen raised above her head.
The sight of the woman drew her gaze, like magnet drawing in fragments of iron filings.
As her gaze fixed on the woman’s face, Selimah felt a huge draught of breeze bristle her skin. The sensation made the air suddenly grow colder. For some reason she couldn’t immediately log in a jumbled mind, she could not take her eyes off. The woman’s face features were perfectly visible to her even in the darkening light of the market square.
She had a long, gaunt face that drooped badly. It was like her face had small pebbles underneath the skin that weighed it down and pulled it towards the ground. And, the skin of her face was similarly pockmarked and starved of flesh. The struggle for prominence between skin and bone was a lost one for her skin.
All it could do, it seems was wrap around the bones of her face to at least cover its nakedness.
Selimah stared at the woman, she could barely walk. Her eyes fixed on that face. Her heart pumping loudly in her chest.
And, as if on cue, the woman shifted and her eyes fell on Selimah. As she did, Selimah saw and became totally lost in the bottomless pit that was her eyes.
Nothing else existed.
Vaguely, she felt herself moving towards the skinny little frame of the woman, who now had the cardboard paper to her side. She stretched out her hand as Selimah drew close enough, and with very little accord of her own, it seems, Selimah felt herself take the offered hand.
Those eyes! Oh My God!
“Welcome to Nemii,” the woman’s scratchy voice cracked through the evening air. “I hope your trip was not too bad?”
Without waiting for her response, she turned away and started off towards the footpath just behind her.
“It is a short walk to your lodgings Miss,” her words swam back towards Selimah as she trudged along behind her, her brain still befuddled from the transfixing rawness of the woman’s eyes.
Those, Selimah thought to herself as she walked behind the woman, were the eyes of death or the eyes that has encountered death many times.
Once again, she felt the draught of air swim around her and make her hairs bristle as they climbed towards the small cluster of huts set against the hill in the distance.
*** To Be Continued***