Darkness had fallen when we arrived State IDP camp in Nzam. The air was heavy with the deep, musky fragrance of the mangroves and the perfumes of other plants and trees. The shores of the Niger had grown wider. The tires of our bus had gathered a huge dirt of humid earth. The journey from Nsukka to Nzam was difficult. We had to come out of the bus to push the bus whenever it was stuck in the mud. There was a time that passers-by had to come to our help.
The fallen gate leading to the IDP was a relief from our almost unending journey. It was drizzling, and clusters of people were huddled inside the various lobbies of the buildings. There was silence in the bus due to weariness, except for the occasional giggles of Lazarus and Henry as they watched a movie from Lazarus’s iPad. At the backend of the bus was Stephanie with her ear phone plugged, listening to whatever. Freda was next to her. She was just staring, probably experiencing another reality of life. It was almost 7pm and going back to Nsukka that night was unfeasible.
The man at the gate was tall, very slender and plain looking. He waved at us as we passed by and shouted to us, reminding us to give him ‘something’ on our way out.
Small children were playing in the mud, splashing and chasing each other, sliding on their naked bottom. A woman spanked her son, and was dragging him to the lobby. The rest were hushed, staring at our bus as we pulled over. The compound that used to serve as the community high school was filled with refugees. The compound had three buildings at the centre, while the rest of the compound was filled with green bushes and trees, where some baboons could be heard bellowing and chattering. The baboons had lost their homes to the flood. The IDP camp looked like the western migrant camps, overcrowded.
Freda was the first to alight from the bus. She went over where the children were playing and carried them, throwing them up in the air one after the other and catching them. It was as if she knew them before and they felt at home with her.
As the rest of us were coming down the bus, a man approached us. He was a medium sized man of dark complexion who could have been taken for a man in his late fifties from East Africa.
“Kedunu?” His voice was like that used to console a bereaved, and he gave us polite handshakes. His hands felt like granite.
“I am sorry about your misfortune while on the way, ndo” he said with a smile.
“No problem,” I replied, trying to sound jaunty.
He acknowledged my response with an approving nod, and then said, “You have to take a little rest now, you people look like the devil himself. I will show you around by 8pm after supper.” Then he left.
I looked at myself, then to Lazarus who was almost six feet tall. His crop of bushy Mohawk made him looked taller and then I wondered how the devil looked.
He returned with a group of boys; some were carrying buckets of water. The boys unloaded the food items we came with. I looked towards Freda again. She was still playing with the kids, running all over the place. I was amazed at the gorgeous smile on her face as she played with the kids. Freda was not quite a pretty girl, certain to become a gang leader in the future, but today seeing her with the kids, she was beaming as to be almost beautiful.
The man’s voice brought me back from my reverie.
“These buckets of water are for your bath,” he said, helping a boy who was wearing only briefs with the bucket he was carrying on his head. “And we take our bath over there.” He pointed to the bushes at the extreme of the compound. The sight of the large families of baboon was still visible.
Stephanie screamed on seeing the brownish water. She went inside the bus, waving her head in disagreement to what the man said. The sound of the door was loud when she slammed it. Stephanie was a beauty, with soulful black eyes and a delicately fragile but perfectly formed body. She opted to follow the crew, because she was adventurous. Henry came because Stephanie opted to come. He had always wanted to talk to her, but he confessed he was afraid of rejection. Henry approached me and said in a low tone, almost whispering in my ear. “Should I go and talk to her now?”
“Yes, you get to be rejected only once,” I said to him with a smile. “She might even reconsider if you show courage.”
He crossed himself and went inside the bus with stiff respect, his steps were unsteady like a school boy.
“Just remember that supper is by eight,” I added, but I think he never heard that. I left the place and followed the boys down to the building.
The hall of the building was like a rowdy market. Everybody was talking. Some women were quarreling over something, while a group of men sat together with a bottle of gin at the center of their small circle, while passing a small glass cup around. It was obvious: men understood friendship more than women. Some women were breastfeeding their newborns while the children who were old enough to run were chasing each other. Some parents were struggling to get food for their children. I joined the others at the corner where they were eating. Freda was already helping the women out with the dishes. Stephanie and Henry later walked in. Stephanie went over to help Freda out and Henry came to join me where I was with the men. He gave me a friendly smile.
“How did it go, this one you are smiling?” I asked him curiously.
“Hmm,” he blew like a whale and sounded jaunty, the story was quickly told.
After the meals, the coordinator thanked us for our generosity and beckoned on everyone to give us a standing ovation, after which he left. He had an air of someone who had much to do. After the meals we made our way to the bus. Henry and Stephanie walked hand in hand, while others walked singly to the bus. At the bus, Henry and Stephanie went to an extreme, I could hear Stephanie’s laughter.
By midnight everyone have already slept expect for Freda who was busy with her phone and Lazarus who was outside the bus. He said he wanted to keep watch. I moved to the seat where Freda was sitting, I could sense the panic in her eye when I told her to adjust.
“I never knew you were this homey. ” She was surprised at my statement
“Why do you ask?” she asked in a smile
“Like helping the women out and playing with the children, I only saw you with guys back at school.”
“Inasmuch as I look tomboyish, my sexuality is female, it is in the soul,” she said in a voice almost like a caress. “And we cannot run away from it,” she added before going back to her phone.
“Thanks for helping out today,” I finally said while patting the flat of my hand on her shoulder.
I went back to the passenger’s side, but the driver was fast asleep. I positioned myself to sleep, but my eyes were far from sleep, so I left the bus to join Lazarus. The chattering of the baboons could still be heard clearly and the buckets of water were still there.