This could as well have been the worst day of my life but I’m reserving the top two spots out of respect either for worst days I have long forgotten or for those worst days I soon would experience by virtue of me being Nigerian. I know it sounds a lot like it but this is not pessimism.
It began like every random Friday, gloomy skies with alternating periods of sunlight. In fact, I was in high spirits for reasons I do not want to concern you with until around 11 am when the clouds collectively decided they needed to cry.
It rained heavily through noon and by 3pm, the skies were clear thus ushering a mild wind that did good to our skins. But my problems were just about to begin. I worked at the mines assembly workshop where the large expanse of land was road to heavy-duty machines like dumpers, excavators and regular 22-tyred trailers. They claimed there was no point fixing the road because these vehicles do well on any terrain. However, they forgot. They forgot that humans do not walk on all fours (at least not by default). They forgot to remember that we are at the complete mercy on the ground on which we walk. Hell! They forgot that we are not designed for all terrains. So what we basically had was a large expanse of land, sparsely beautified with two buildings, some abandoned heavy-duty machines and chiefly the large tyre tracks of dumper trucks.
The soil was a dangerous mix of clay and limestone – with both brutally notorious for retaining a lot of water. As if this was not bad enough, we had an inexistent drainage system so the excess water could not properly run off. It was as though the water was waiting on some kind of queue—to replace the next molecule of water to vaporize.
So yes, the water just pooled on the surface with a slippery and unstable ground just below. This was the 370-metre ground on which I was to walk before even think of getting a bus to take me home. And oh! I had no boots. Boots were available but none was my size. I did try a few on thinking they’d expand in a few hours but I was wrong. I had to take them off eventually because of the hardship and compression it brought to my largest left toe. But I would have gladly worn these if only I knew in advance, what awaited me a few minutes later.
I charged right into the mud with four things: a pair of stockings, copious amounts of determination, a black pair of perm slippers and what can be understood as a prayer to the Almighty. But twenty metres into the mud was when reality met me. And the first thing it did was to ensure I took off my socks. Why I even wore it in the first place had been genuinely lost on me. Took a few more steps with great difficulty that I had to pull off my black perms to protect me; to protect them.
In five minutes, about eighty metres in, the mud already took from me, three of the four items I started with. What was left was my fast-depleting determination and a wind that brought with it panic, pain and sadness. I was walking bare-footed, sinking a few centimetres with each step; battling stability with the inconsistent ground. I made it to the gate—completing less than half of my journey.
Outside the gate was either slightly worse or almost the same as what I had faced at the other side of the fence. It basically was a wider expanse of land dotted with patches of weed and a cluster of shrubs. I chose to follow the path over the official road for the sole reason of expediency. It had shrubs on both sides and plenty of mud in between. Plenty of mud. Choosing to follow this path was the second bad decision I made in the space of twenty minutes.
I did manage to not slip and fall on my rear. But I had already taken so many steps in the mud that the white of my toenails were not visible anymore. What was apparent as I looked downwards was a dull shade of red earth, tears almost in my eyes and desperation wafting along the air.
After crossing a moribund plank, which served as a bridge, I got to the third phase of my journey. It was a stretch of bad road but with elevated and distinct blocks of concrete. It was uneven, unsmooth and ugly but it was solid ground nonetheless; less slippery too. With care, I motioned forward. The only way was forward.
All these while, workers in the plant passed by me. Some passed by me and left me with hums and nods intended to identify with my struggle. In fact, some were silently displeased that I was taking too much time on the concrete block. The staff shuttle was leaving in a few minutes. I would be fine, at the end of the day, they must have thought. However, they thought wrong. Because words cannot put into perspective what came a few moments after.
There was this little steep hill I had to ascend before I got to the 2 metre long bridge that connected the muddy path to civilization. This hill was unimpressive and even dauntless when dry but it fast turned into a hostile terrain the moment it made contact with water (it had just rained, heavily!). Here I was: bare-footed, perm slippers in my hands, stockings in my pocket, an empty resolve with a hill to climb.
This hill had to be approached with great tact and uncommon skill for any slight misplacement of my feet could land me on my rear, on my head, or worse. The problem was that I had no clue or plan that did not involve hitting the ground a couple times. I spent quality time trying to map out an ascension plan when I decided that the best thing to do was to crawl. Yes, I had to get down on all fours. It made perfect sense to be as close to the ground as logically possible to reduce any damage from slipping, tripping or backsliding. And yes, people were still passing by me—with only few humming and waving in my direction. You see what made this experience particularly gruelling was not even the physical strife i had to deal with, it had more to do with the idea of being alone. Alone in this sad world. It thus became clear to me that there are only a few things capable of breaking a man faster than loneliness– in the face of adversity
I had already begun crawling when an acquaintance, Kunle, passed by me and gave me his hand. He had his boots on so he walked with much more confidence and even held and supported me up the hill and beyond. I thanked him sufficiently. I then got to a pool of brown stagnant water at the side of the road where I got to remove a decent amount of mud from my shoes, my toes and my soul. I then finalized the cleaning process with sachet water I got from across the road.
I took a cab. Off I went to Abeokuta, the state capital – with a few grams of mud stuck between my toes—to visit my grandmother.