Fiction

THE LIFE IN CALABAR – AN INCONSEQUENTIAL SHORT STORY

I drove out of the airport at about 7:15 pm local time on Sunday and was mindful not to cause any delays in the exit lane from the parking lot. The parking receipt had slipped through the space between the driver’s 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 since from the rearview mirror 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. 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 getaway with my wife and friends to Creek Town holiday resort, she has bugged me severally to take her family along the next time I went.

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 drive around it to remind myself 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 of four buses behind me were trying to park 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 and have a nice hot bath, grab my dinner in time to catch the 9 pm NTA News. I know you are wondering if anyone ever listens to NTA News anymore. Well, after the Television Company was privatized and some brilliant dude running a private TV station bought them over, they became 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 lanes King Eyo Honesty Expressway is quite therapeutic. I always 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 with 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. They all combine to create a burst of spice that competes for the senses. A few months ago, the Mayor of Calabar Municipality had requested that residents visit the Municipality’s website to 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 her fascination with flowers. The City will clearly wear a new look come January.

My turn off the express is exit 21, which is approximately at the 15 km mark along the road. I drove past the toll booth, swiped my pass and noticed the indicator read a negative balance. Obviously, my little cousin had driven about town in the car at home oblivious 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 as part of creating a marketing plan for the local car manufacturers who were rolling out their first vehicles from their Calabar plant. The young lad was probably enamoured by the full options specs in the vehicle and sought to impress my neighbor, Chief Felix Essien’s returnee daughter. Sadly for him, she rolls with the Calabar Gas Company guys; some dudes of rotten affectations due of a sudden rise of income to afford superfluities. Furious, I decided that I will put him straight once I got home.

Just as I crossed the last of three road breakers into my street, a man I jokingly refer to as “Papa DP”, the estate Chairman, pulled me over. DP stands for disproportionate. He featured a really small head and huge and wide shoulders and 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 Sir. I have been away for over a week and just got back into town today”. Big lie! I do not want to attend the Villa’s meeting for the rest of the year since they have decided that planning the end of year party is always tops on the agenda. “Mr. Bassey you should come this weekend oh! The women are koing to takeofer the efent and do fashion show and parade. We need man like you to make better plan”, he quibbled with that heavy Calabar accent. Ami? 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 number of words streaming through her lips. Frankly, it’s a lost battle contending with them. My friends at Colonial Quarters, claims Asibong Villa men are all zombies. They probably aren’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 driving about. While Papa DP made a few more parting remarks, I had managed to place an order for a few groceries from the Estate’s grocery store 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. Efanga, an honest young chap from Ikot Ansa, stretched out to hand me the bags. He noted that the packed juices were on a “buy one get one free” promo, so I had 12 packs instead of six, reason grocery bag is so heavy. He is always 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. My family has 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 dialed my garage door open from my phone, I noticed my girls had totally messed up the garage with stuff lying all around the floor making it impossible to park. Rollerblades, water guns, sneakers, all in triplicates littered the parking space. I wanted to scream my lungs out but burst out in hot laughter after seeing my running shoe dangling from the motion light railing. My work tools had been tampered with obviously in an attempt to retrieve the shoe. The play must have been quite intense. I quickly created space for the car and parked, while scheming how the next mornings’ assignment for the triplets will be ‘the science of retrieving daddy’s shoe.’ Just as I started shutting the garage door, there was Papa DP smiling at me like a stalking serial killer. “Ete! I saw you at the gate, now I see you here again…errrr…hope all is well?” I asked. “When did you buy a second car, ol’ boy?” he asked, ignoring my question. “Actually I don’t own any Sir. 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, “Sir, I work from home. My wife rides her bicycle to the train station and takes the light rail to work in the Calabar Business District. We don’t have a car… and you haven’t told me what you are doing here, Sir.” He seemed to realize his ‘pokenosery’ and laughingly stated that he was just coming out of Chief Essien’s house when he saw my garage door open.

As I wished him a good night, I noticed he still wanted to ask about my little sailboat suspended on wooden stilts. So I preempted his question by informing that I built 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 8:05 pm. 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. 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 the lady of the house and dragged her downstairs, grabbed a bottle of fine Mbarakom wine, took all the gizzard and snail sauce, served my iwa ye edi in a bowl, exited the sliding door to the patio, walked through to the backyard lawn, then onto the mini wooden jetty, and finally we stepped into my little boat christened “Dreamer”. I untied the boat, and let it float freely, turned on the floor lights and dimmed it slightly, then streamed some music from my soft rock radio station on Spotify to my Bluetooth panel speakers, poured us some wine, reclined on the deck, looked into my wife’s glittering and wondering eyes and said “Sai! Ediye, uwem do ke Calabar!” ”

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