The weather was cool, not so hot not cold either, with a light refreshing drizzle, that which rekindles many memories. One that was right ignited was of Phil Collins and his song, ‘just walking in the rain’. Every time I heard the song I envisaged a jilted Phil, walking in the rain as though trying to wash away the pain. But his rain is torrential not a drizzle. The kind that drowns fears,that which makes it impossible to hear anything, that which one has to struggle to see ahead or even breath. This kind of rain reminds me when we did not have water. For a very long while, our taps were dry. We had no money to pay to the water company for the previous consumption. Our bill was in arrears and the water people not only disconnected the water but also removed the water meter and some piping so that we could not illegally make the connection with hose pipe as every one else did. That year and the previous year, there had not been any money. I do not know where it had gone, but I later learnt about the shilling recession. Water was a luxury. Every evening after school, we would carry two five litre Jerry cans or sometimes twenty litre oil can to go beg water from the lucky few who could afford paying for the water in their taps. Sometimes we would be sent away by these people like stray dogs. sometimes we were fortunate enough to get from empathizers. But most were the times we walked about ten miles to the water company purifying plant to beg for a quench of our thirst. They too turned us away sometimes and we had to go further to get water from the salty well or dig the dry river bank and hope for something. That last day before the water was reconnected, we had tried every where and we got turned away or there was no water. The salty well owner had started charging two shillings per every five litres. We still could not afford and decided to take a water debt. We were not sure how we were going to repay since there was no money. The queue at the well wounded in length. We stood the last as we had to negotiate for the water debt. It was a hot evening, we were all tired from school and all the walking seeking water. we needed the water to drink, boil githeri or uji and wash so as to be presentable at school, as though everything was fine with us. Just like the rich kids. Darkness grew fast that evening, and before we could noticed dark clouds, thunder resounded and lightning cut through the evening sky. Hailstones pelted the people on the queue as though to punish them. Some ran home, many ran to the well man cow shed for cover. We remained in the queue. We knew there was no one at home to collect the rain water, and by the time we reached home, the rain may have stopped. We didn’t have money to pay the well man, and when everyone sought cover or ran home, we had to steal the well water. We dropped the bucket and reeled it out if the well filling our cans with the water. I almost fell into the well as I struggled to still myself from slipping in the mud around the well. The bucket filled with water was heavier than I. As I lost my balance, my brother grabbed me before I went down the well with the bucket full of water. The rain was still pelting us. We walked in the direction of home with the stolen water. I couldn’t see ahead, could not hear anything, the rains hit us hard. I had trouble breathing, my hands trembled from the weight of water in Jerry cans I carried and from the cold. I marched on blindly and we all got home all drenched. We removed all the containers and filled them with the rain water. The tanks that had long forgotten to be wet were filled. We poured the salty well water in the dry toilet and flushed. We had stopped using the toilets after water had been disconnected many months ago and dug a pit latrine. The cans were filled with sweet rain water. That evening, it rained cats and dogs. Mother came home at around nine in the night with the good news, the water had been reconnected, but we had to wait for about two weeks before the taps flowed with water. There was still no money, We did not ask where the money had come from to settle the water bill had come from, but we glad we did not have water debts of our own.
Unlike the various predictions of a cold and wet weather, and my expectations of humidity and heat, it was cool. I wanted to be in that weather, wrap myself around in it, be cosy and just be. But the honking taxis, motorbikes and rowdy public transport vans disturbed by train of thought. I wanted to go back, and I traveled to Nsukka, and into Ngozi’s world of problem laden laughter. I belonged there, i have always had. I did not notice until almost the third hour that the taxi had not moved an inch. There was jam at the quay. Something wrong with the ferries, the hawkers who constantly asked me to buy their goods told the driver. I laughed out loudly, and the driver looked at me as though questioning my sanity. I looked back and straight into his eyes, and with my eyes I told him, “what? You are also laughing insanely”. He understood.
The sight of the hawkers and their merchandise reminded me of many things about home. One of them tried to sell roasted plantains to me. I wanted to buy but recalled I have become a fussy eater, that I even care about germs and growing up we all had steel stomachs. Never fell sick of eating anything. I remembered the taste almost ripe plantains that we roasted on the charcoal stove and sometimes baked in the hot ashes. Tastes of my childhood, it was delicious. Especially when you left the plantain to get charred a bit on the charcoal. The hawkers also reminded me of how my friend got furious. He and his friends were set to watch some live long awaited footie match. They had tickets and all, but had traveled from the city. They needed to get back in the city within two hours to catch the match. They had only two hours. My friend was picked up by his, and they had to pick up another on the way and travel together. Despite the heavy lunch they had had, the driver decided he had to snack on something before he drove. He then saw a hawker and decided he needed to buy something from him. Beckoned him, haggled on the prices of various things before he settled on a nail clipper. He haggled more. His friends, including my friend were fuming with fury in the car, they now had one hour thirty to the game, they definitely were going to miss it. Their friend bought the nail clipper from the hawker, parked the car aside and thought his nails had suddenly grown long enough that they could hinder his driving. Slowly, meticulously, he clipped every one of them. He bent down as though to remove his shoes in order to clip the toe nails, but maybe remembered he had socks on or his feet stunk. He shelved the idea, threw the clipper in the glove compartment and without warning or advice on safety belts drove like a madman to the game. Within an hour and about ten minutes, my friend and his were in the city and at the stadium. The car driven like those of the grand prix. The atmosphere in it was still, almost suffocating. My friend feared that someone would have shat himself due to the speed and recklessness but were on time for the match.
The taxi driver and I barely spoke. But I could tell he was the chatty kind by how he laughed and banged his hand on the dash board as he listened to the program in the radio. From what I could hear, it was some kind of radio show where someone would call in with a problem and listeners countrywide would call in with suggestions of how to resolve the problem. I could tell that some answers were hilarious. I wanted to listen and maybe laugh like the driver, i wanted to ask him questions about that place, maybe exchange suggestions on how to resolve the caller’s problem but my mind was stuck in Nsukka. I just wanted to look at things again, and figure out where to begin…