I woke up yesterday at 3:15am and, not for the first time, wondered if I really had to work. I set my BB status to “So iWoke up, but do iHavta go to work?”
I like what I do, I really do. Scratch that. I love what I do. So what was the problem? It was the harmattan!
I had set my alarm for 4 o’clock, and already by 3:15am the cold seeping in through the door sill, window cracks and even the floor, had woken me up.
I set water to boil for my bath, and five minutes later when I checked, the water on the burner was colder than when I had got it from the tap. The fire had gone out – no gas. I tried to use the electric kettle, but for some reason it would not come on. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” I muttered under my breath. I was contemplating ablution, when my eyes fell on the least used of my household appliances and I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment.
Ten minutes and five bowls later, I had microwaved enough water for a warm bath, and as I was hitching a ride with a colleague I dressed quickly, called him to confirm his location then left the house.
As soon as I stepped out my door, the smell of dust assailed my nose. The cold reached for my heart through my layers of clothes and when I peered, I could not see beyond my nose. Only the harmattan!
“Wake up o. You better wake up now.” I heard my sister say as she tried to shake me awake. Instead I pulled the covering cloth tighter around myself and curled into a tighter ball. “Oooooooh! Wake up jor!” I could hear the exasperation in her voice, but was too comfortable to care. “Leave him o, Mama will soon come and wake him up in her way.” My other sister said.
At those words my eyes flew open and I rolled – no, scrambled – out of bed. Not bed really, just the almost wafer thin mattress which was spread out every night, and rolled up and put away during the day. My sister had the job of sweeping the house while I washed the toilet and bathroom. I was in her ‘workplace’, hence her concern about my refusal to get up. She knew, we all knew, for a fact that if Mama came out at that time, none of us would be spared that morning. I would be flogged for laziness; she for her inability to show leadership and assertiveness; and my other sister simply for being a witness – and heaven help her if she tried to report or make excuses, then she would get extra for being a tell-tale. I am not saying I was abused as a child, though that was exactly how I felt then. I have learnt, with time, that that was how Mama knew to show her love – by giving us a good upbringing with tears in her heart and a whip in her hand.
I remember thinking then that when I grew up, I would not get out of bed before 12 o’clock during the harmattan.
A regular school day during the harmattan went something like this: Wake up to the cold, then bathe with tepid or just lukewarm water – who will waste precious kerosene boiling water for you? From the moment I could bathe myself, my preferred bath style was ‘rub and shine’. I washed my hair face and neck, and armpits too with soap and water. Then the rest of my body I would rub with water, pat myself dry, then spread a thick layer of Stella pomade onto my skin – usually arms and legs. Somehow I always managed to apply it in streaks so that I looked like a zebra, with dried and cracked skin interspersed with really shiny skin.
I would wear my uniform which Mama always made sure was washed and well pressed, then my white socks, and finally my pair of brown Cortinas from Bata. Every morning I would notice they were dusty, only after I had put them on, then I would apply a coat of shoe polish, kiwi or nugget, depending on which Mama bought. Then I would grab my school bag and rush out the door before Mama saw me, because she was sure to find something wrong with my grooming. And usually from the moment I hit the streets, the harmattan smells would fill my nose; my shoes and skin would start to gather dust, and the parts not covered in pomade will start to stretch and threaten to tear; the cold air filling my lungs making my eyes water and my teeth chatter made me feel alive; and the thoughts of all the ‘rough play’ waiting in school made me quicken my steps.
I meet up with my colleague and we arrived at the airport at 5:35am. Our flight to Enugu was for 7:05am, but up till 1:35pm we were still sitting on board the aircraft waiting for visibility to improve in the South-East so we could be on our way. We eventually got re-assigned to a Benin flight because the crew and aircraft scheduled to operate that flight were sitting on the tarmac next to us! They were supposed to go to Owerri first before Benin, but at Benin departure time, still had not left for Owerri.
We boarded the passengers, then had to wait forty-five minutes for Benin weather to improve before flying out. Flying overhead Benin, I looked out the window and could not see a thing. I looked at the passengers sitting opposite me and their faces mirrored the thought running through my mind: I hope the captain has got a clearer view than I! One lady in particular would not take her eyes off my face, obviously looking for signs of panic.
The landing gears were dropped, then retracted as the Pilot pulled the aircraft up quickly for a go-around. We had missed the runway first time!
When we decended lower, I could make out tin roofs in the distance, then trees. Trees?! I should be seeing the Control Tower to my right not trees!! Then the aircraft banked right – my left – sharply, and there it was. When the landing gear touched down thirty-two seconds later, I realised I had been holding my breath.
I remember thinking, as a child, that when I grew up, I would not get out of bed before 12 o’clock during the harmattan. Now I am grown up and I get out of bed before 12 o’clock, way before 12 o’clock regularly. I grumble, complain, swear and curse. But I do it again and again because I like what I do, I really do. Scratch that. I love what I do.
PS: He is happiest, be he rich or poor, who finds satisfaction in the work of his hands, and peace in his home.