Traffic on Ikorodu Road, Lagos
Arriving in Lagos with time enough to find the NYSC office still open, I hadn't counted on how heavy the traffic would be, travelling between the airport at Ikeja, north of the city, and Suru-Lere where the NYSC Secretariat was located. I had jumped into an expensive airport taxi, urging the driver to get me there as quickly as he could manage it, but found that at 4pm when I was sure no civil servant would still be at their desk, I was still stuck in traffic somewhere around Palm Grove, miles away. I didn't have any heavy luggage, only a shoulder bag, so I paid the driver for his time and left him in the traffic jam, crossing over to the other side of the 10 lane motorway that is Ikorodu Road, via a crowded overhead pedestrian crossing. I had been away from Lagos for only a few days, but returning to this milieu of thousands and thousands of black African heads, stretching out on all sides around me was a bit of a shock, when contrasted with the vast expanses of wide open grassland that I had just been viewing these last few days in the north. I could not return to Bauchi fast enough, but there was this small matter of a call-up letter. I remembered that even before I left Lagos previously, I couldn't find that letter. But in my eagerness to leave home, I was quick to convince myself that the NYSC office in Bauchi would have a record of my posting anyway, and that surely it would be unnecessary to produce the letter when registering. Thinking about it as I made my way to the family home at Ilupeju, walking along the Ikorodu Road, I thought perhaps this was a stroke of luck, because I might not have had the wonderful weekend I had just spent with Garuba, had that letter been in my possession last week when I went to Bauchi for the first time. And of course, there was promise of even more exciting times to come, when I returned to Bauchi after obtaining the letter. I only wished that I had made it to the NYSC Secretariat this afternoon. It was too late for that now, so I set myself the task of obtaining the letter tomorrow.
At home, I didn't think the welcome was as warm as I had imagined it would be. I was back already? After only a few days? It was as if they had been glad to see the back of me. No, I explained, the NYSC wouldn't register me because I didn't have my call-up letter. Inwardly, I thought, if only these folks knew what I'd been up to. I couldn't wait to return to Bauchi, to the arms of someone who obviously cared for me and wanted to be with me. Early the next morning, I slipped out of the house before anybody else was awake, in a bid to avoid having to speak to anyone. NYSC gave me a very hard time. They had issued me with a letter previously and it was not within their remit to issue call-up letters more than once. I cajoled, I pleaded, I begged, I shouted in anger. Eventually, after several long hours of running around the place, from office to office, I emerged from the NYSC Secretariat with that magic document, a duplicate call-up letter. Had Garuba not indicated that he would meet me at Jos Airport on Wednesday, I would have endeavoured to make the journey to Jos today. My ticket was an open ticket, which meant that the ticket was valid on any flight, as long as there was a seat available. But I knew that the sensible thing would be to return home and sit out the night, sitting cross-legged on the carpet in the living room, describing to everyone what had happened when I left for Bauchi last week, the marvelous things I had seen there, but never once mentioning Garuba, although I did say that the chap who had taken me to his uncle's house had agreed to look after my things until I returned.
Early Wednesday morning, I bid everyone goodbye again. OK then, they said, hope everything goes well for you this time. They didn't know how glad I was to be leaving. I almost ran to Ikorodu Road and flagged down the first taxi that came along. "Airport", I shouted. To a Lagos taxi driver's ears, the word "airport" can easily be translated to mean "MONEY!". The taxi screeched to a halt, cutting in front of a danfo that was just pulling out from the bus stop. As is to be expected the danfo driver shouted unspeakable expletives at the taxi driver, and his voice was still audible even as the danfo drove past and went on its way, pursued by a cloud of its own exhaust smoke. I got into the taxi then realised that in my hurry to get to the NYSC Secretariat on Monday I had failed to check on the airline schedules. It was only a week before when I made the journey and I knew that there were two flights to Jos, one in the morning and the second one sometime in the afternoon. I was hoping to catch the morning flight so as not to keep Garuba waiting for long at the airport, since he didn't know which flight I would be on. But I also knew that I could count on him being there waiting for me, whichever flight I did arrive on. The traffic on the Airport Road at Maryland was in the opposite direction to the rush hour traffic. So I was surprised that even going towards the airport was a crawl. Eventually, we crossed the flyover that runs across the Agege Motor Road and arrived at the airport. But I was certain that because this journey had taken so much longer than was expected, I would have missed the morning flight. Rushing into the departures hall, I was relieved to see the check-in queue for Jos. But when I finally arrived at the counter after standing in the queue for what seemed like an eternity, I was curtly informed that mine was an open ticket and I must wait until just before the check-in counter closed and there were no more confirmed passengers waiting to be checked in. And so I waited and waited, until eventually I was summoned by this large abrasive woman to present my ticket. Place your luggage on the scales, she snarled at me. Timidly, I said I had no luggage as I had only my shoulder bag. So she did whatever she had to do with the ticket behind the counter and returned it to me with a boarding pass. My heart leaped, and I hoped that this morning the flight would not be late as it was the last time.
Of course the flight was late, and we arrived at Jos Airport just before 1pm. But it was wonderful to breathe the cool fresh highland air of the Jos Plateau again as I stepped off the aeroplane and strode towards the airport building. There was a small crowd of people gathered in front of the building, just outside, all of them obviously awaiting the arrival of someone on this flight from Lagos. From afar I searched the crowd with my eyes. Garuba was not tall, but in being diminutive, he was distinctive. He was fair, and he was the one my eyes were searching for. So naturally I spotted him almost instantly and from the way he waved his arms I knew he too had seen me. I quickened my pace, but was careful not to draw any attention to myself. Garuba too moved forward, his eyes fixed on me. We would have, indeed, we should have rushed towards each other and jumped into each other's arms. But this was the north of Nigeria where such behaviour was simply unacceptable. It just was not done. Anyhow, Garuba and I were ecstatic to be reunited and holding hands, he led me out through the airport building where the other passengers were still waiting for their luggage. In my eagerness to return to Jos, I had eaten or drunk nothing all day. And this occurred to me only when Garuba asked me if I'd had lunch. Sitting in the car as Garuba spun it expertly out from its parking space towards the exit of the airport car park, I turned in my seat and stared at this man who had within only a few days come to mean so much to me. He too had had nothing to eat, so we decided to stop over somewhere in Jos for a few hours, before continuing on to Bauchi. I was with Garuba again, sitting beside him in his car and strangely this felt like a homecoming. I was as if I had arrived at my home.