THE LIFE IN CALABAR – AN INCONSEQUENTIAL SHORT STORY

I drove out of the airport at about 7:15pm local time on Sunday and was mindful not to cause any delays on the exit lane from the parking lot. The parking receipt had slipped through the space between the drivers seat and the fancy hand rest. I struggled to squeeze my fat fingers through to where the coloured paper rested, while keeping the car in motion because there was a convoy of government officials trailing. I was driving a rental car, a small mini sedan which I often drove home from the airport instead of taking the light rail into town and hissing at every stop of the 45 minutes journey home. Luckily, my dear friend Esther was manning the final exit gate and she simply waved me on and reminded me “Bros Bee, I’m still waiting for the trip oh!”. “I will call you”, I shouted in response. Call her fire! Ever since I met her at a restaurant in town and told her of my weekend getaways with my wife and friends to Ibeno beach in Akwa Ibom State, she begged me to take her family along the next time I went. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to pitch that to my wife.

The 1km road from the airport terminates at the ‘Welcome to Calabar’ roundabout, a massive landmark which unites three major expressways leading to the major districts in the city of Calabar. Beautifully constructed and well maintained, I usually take a deep breath when I get to negotiate around it, reminding me why I love this town. At nights, the dancing streams of water shot from powerful nozzles are coloured by underground lights, and quite spectacular to behold. The water acrobatics from the concentric pools move with the rhythm of the local Efik percussions. At Christmas, tourists are usually treated to some elaborate water displays while driving into the city. As I drove off on the second exit, I noticed that the three or four buses behind me were parking off by the service lane of the first exit, which led to the Government Hill. I guess they wanted to take a few pictures and selfies as evidence of visiting Calabar.

I was a bit tired and wanted to get home, have a nice hot bath, and grab my dinner in time to catch the 9pm NTA Network News. I know you are wondering if anyone ever listens to NTA News. Well, after they were privatised and some brilliant dude running a private TV station bought them over, they are now the largest TV Network in Africa, reaching an estimated 300 million Africans every day with great content. They are my source for unbiased reporting and great political and economic analysis. The presidential election is coming up next year and a whole 15minutes is dedicated to reviewing the campaigns and manifestoes. This is where I also gather reliable data from NTA’s powerful infographic for my weekly column in the local Chronicle Newspaper.

However, my usual 10 minutes drive on the 8 lane King Eyo Honesty expressway was quite therapeutic. I usually set the cruise control and coast for about 20 minutes to enjoy the scenic wonder. This 24km road has 37 exits into residential areas, usually demarcated by huge walled sound barriers before crossing the toll booths into wide lanes leading to living streets and Dutch styled woonerfs. The expressway was lined by massive conifers that are lit from beneath, creating a creeping colour wash up the bark of the trees. The road median carried four species of flowers (from my observation); Wild Teasels, Corn Marigold, Oxeye Daisies, and some flower resembling poppies. Interestingly, few months ago, the Mayor of Calabar Municipality had requested that residents visit the Municipality’s website and vote for five out of ten flower species they would like to see planted around the city for the next year. I have often wondered about his fascination with flowers. I am excited though because the roads will wear a new look come January.

I turned off the express at exit 21, which is approximately 15 km along the road. I drove past the toll both and swiped my pass and noticed the indicator read a negative balance. Obviously my little cousin had cruised about town in the car at home, ignorant that exit and entry into Asibong Villas were recorded and charged from the prepaid gate pass affixed to the car. I had been given the car by my office to test drive for 14 days, since we were creating a marketing plan for the car manufacturers who were rolling out their first vehicles from the local car plant. The young lad was probably enamoured by the full options specs in the vehicle and sought to impress my neighbour, Chief Felix Obim’s returnee daughter. Sadly, she rolls with the Calabar Gas Company guys, some dudes of rotten affectatious behaviour due to a sudden rise into flamboyance. I decided that I will put him in his place once I got home.

Just as I crossed the last of three road breakers into my street, a man I jokingly refer to as Sergeant Scatter, the estate Chairman, pulled me over. He has a really small head and very wide shoulders plus a tiny waist. He mumbled a few things which, frankly, I didn’t hear except for the last word, which was “meeting”. “Ah! Mbok! I have totally forgotten sah. I just got back into town since last week”. Big lie! I don’t want to attend the Villa’s meeting again since they have decided that all they want to talk about is end of year party. I mistakenly attended the one in July and the same topic topped the agenda, even though the May meeting started it. “Mr. Bassey you should come this weekend oh! The women are koing to takeover the efent and do fashion show and parade. We need men like you to scatter their plan”, he quibbled with that heavy Calabar accent. Me? To go and challenge the women of this estate? I know better. The women run things here, and I kind of prefer it that way. The one time I had a heated conversation with one of them over the use of the common hall, I could barely cope with the amount of words streaming from her lips. Frankly it’s a lost battle contending with them. My friend from Ediye Obio Community, claims Asibong Villa’s men are all zombies. He probably isn’t far from the truth.

Luckily I escaped the nearly protracted conversation by yawning several times in one minute and promising him that if I couldn’t make the next meeting, my little cousin will represent me. That will be a more valuable use of his spare time than borrowed cars and furrowed girls. While Sergeant made a few more parting remarks, I had managed to placed an order for a few groceries from the local grocery store using their shopping app on my mobile phone. I made a quick detour to the store and picked up my package waiting for me at the drive by window. Calistus, an honest young chap from Oban, stretched out to hand me the bags. He noted that the packed juice was buy one get one free, so I had 12 packs instead of six, in case I am wondering why the bag is so heavy. He is always so detailed about my orders and offers valuable information on special offers and coupons. I once had him over for dinner and discovered he was in his third year studying law at the Calabar City College of Law, through a Mining Guild Fellowship. We have promised him a one week holiday at the Obudu Mountain Resort upon graduation, and he never hides his excitement each time he sees me or my wife.

As I dialled my garage door open from my phone, I saw how my girls had totally messed up the garage with stuff lying all around the floor making it impossible to park. Roller blades, water guns, sneakers, all in triplicates littered the parking space. I wanted to scream my lungs out, but bursted out in hot laughter after seeing a my running shoe dangling from the motion light railing in the garage. Clearly they had been playing the banned shoe kicking game. My work tools had been tampered with obviously in an attempt to retrieve the shoe. The play must have been quite intense I summed and they probably didnt expect me back today. I quickly created space for the car and parked, while scheming how the next mornings’ assignment for the triplets will be ‘the science of getting daddy’s shoe down.’ Just as I started shutting the garage door, there was Sergeant Scatter smiling at me like a stalking serial killer. “Oga! I saw you at the gate, now I’m see you here again…errrr…hope all is well?” I asked. “When did you buy a second car ol’ boy?” he asked, excitedly ignoring my question. “Actually I don’t own any sah. This is a rental car and the other is for a marketing test drive” I stated. “Ah ah! So how do you people go to work?” He sounded surprised. I responded out of frustration, “Sah I work from home. My wife rides her bicycle to the train station and take the light rail to work at Business District. We don’t have a car….and you haven’t told me what you are doing here.” He seemed to alight from the mountain of pokenosery and laughingly stated that he was just coming out of Chief Obim’s house when he saw my garage door open.

As I said a goodnight to him, I noticed he still wanted to ask about my little unfinished sail boat suspended on wooden stilts. So I preempted him and told him that I build small boats as a hobby. He smiled the I-don’t-know-what-to-say-smile and waved goodbye. I hurriedly shut the garage door and went into the house before he attempted to turn around. It was already 8:05pm. The girls had gone to bed and the house was spooky quiet. I knew my wife had whipped up her famed gizzard and snail sauce as the aroma was wafting from the kitchen and getting my tummy grinding in response. I went into the kitchen and unpacked the groceries, then discovered she had also prepared edita iwa ye edi (Tapioca chips and pork meat). Arghhh! Who needs a bath? What rubbish news? I ran upstairs, kissed the snoozing girls, kissed my mamasita and dragged her downstairs, grabbed a bottle of fine Obudu merlot wine, took all the gizzard and snail sauce, served my edita iwa ye edi in a bowl, exited the sliding door to the patio, walked through to the backyard lawn, then onto the mini wooded jetty, and finally we stepped into my little sail boat christened “Dreamer”. I untied the boat, and let it float freely, turned on the board lights and dimmed it slightly, then streamed some music from my soft rock radio station on Spotify and bluetooth-ed this to my embedded Bang & Olufsen panel speakers. I poured us some wine, reclined on the deck, looked my wife in the eye and said “Sai! Ediye, uwem do ke Calabar!”

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