The Legacy of Bolewa
By Richard Ugbede Ali (Nigeria)
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Postbellum: Petals of Roses
Twenty-four years after he had first left Bolewa had twenty months after the coup, Faruk Ibrahim found himself amidst the very familiar urban sparkle of central Abuja. This time, however, he did not feel out of place because he was not alone and felt communion with the gentle breeze blowing through the wide avenue in the middle of the city; and he knew he would never be alone again.
Walking beside him was his girlfriend, Rahila Pam, and all around them were the permutations of vitality and life.
With their hands held together, they took in the sights of a city grown familiar but still enchanted in the many months they had lived there. And amidst the entire bustle they were seen as through a needles eye; the grand world of motions all around registered them merely as a young man and his woman walking down the streets of the central business district.
Cars passed them by like bulldozers burrowing at 60 kilometers an hour through the city’s heart of concrete and glass, through a self-healing mountain of granite office buildings interspersed with apartment blocks, mobile phone kiosks, and traffic lights perpetually amber. They walked hand in hand and silently savored the sights the cars were blind to see; the particular bloom of trees planted on both sides of the road, the determined look in the eyes of a newspaper vendor, how certain buildings seemed to affect the moods of people coming in and out of them – hopeful, dreamy, gloomy, even despairing. The breeze felt comfortable on their skin and between them it conducted and communicated thoughts of beautiful nature and their participation in it.
Soon, over the top of the skyscrapers, the earlier sky was swiftly turning grey and the breeze grew more adventuresome with the coming of a first storm, the clouds gathered. When it had drizzled a week before they had run out of their apartment to let the rain droplets touch their skin, bathing them through their clothes, cleansing them in the ritual of open doors and rebirth. Their neighbors had looked out and shaken their heads with that forlorn and happy-sad look of “Young people!” on their faces, reminiscing with sadness for those who had been too proper to ever dance in the rain and in nostalgia for those who had done so, with loved ones, once when they could.
That day, they had left Faruk’s Mercedes at the parking lot of Haastrup House and taken a city bus to the far end of the district in order to have the pleasure of walking up and down the boulevards and avenues, to feel the rhythm of people and note the rhyme of their days, bursting out like the love between them, and towering above all things.
“It’s going to rain soon, my love,” he said.
“Life would be glad”, she replied.
Far behind them now were the doubts about identity and history that had once threatened to pull them apart, which they now understood by reexamining what were the accepted parameters of history and identity. Behind them were their parents and their idiosyncrasies that had formed the earliest templates of their lives. Behind them was the inevitable tempt of intellectual corruption when identity and history become ossified into impenetrable strictures.
Like the sky above their heads and the breeze blowing hamartan and rain from north to south and back, and like the love between Rahila Pam and Faruk Ibrahim, history and identity were in essence malleable like a rubber ball. They had to be for if they acquired the steel cast fixity of iron then the matter of course frictions of life, human life and the life of nations, would cause people with that restrictively defined history and identity to fragment into a thousand pieces, as if their existence had merely been as ephemeral as that of a falling looking glass.
All around them, things kept melting into each other, becoming diffuse. The sky melted into the earth at the horizon as the heart of a man melts into the heart of the one he loves. Fittingly, the story of Ummi al-Qassim, flawed and tragic, had transformed itself into the existence of Faruk and Rahila, an existence that defied the same black hole hubris of religion and ethnicity that had drowned and fragmented the sanity of Ummi al-Qassim. The parental concepts of nobility and its obligations and the discrimination it rested on had like butter in the sun become the plebian creed of their children who sought to lead their generation not because they were born to do so but because they knew a destination where all could aspire to be equal and prosperous. The colors that had separated into the creeds and dogmas, of republican and Muslim and protestant, socialist and bohemian, creeds that separated and weakened, had blurred into a rainbow of faith and belief in the complementarity of all men. In Abuja, the languages and cultures, Kanuri, Berom, Taroh, Margi, Fulani, Ijaw and a hundred thousand others spun themselves perpetually into a Nigerian culture and language, the realization of a dream long dreamed by lines of great men. Authentic; the first of its kind.
Each step of the young man and the young woman, seen through the eye of the needle, through the eye of the storm, was an impression in Nigerian history. They had realized from the lessons of their education, in Bolewa and Jos and Barkin Ladi and Abuja, that history was events within a succession of contexts. Without the context, history was the selective recall of moorless facts, which like the fine dust of gunpowder, was latently dangerous. New contexts called for a reexamination and recreation of history, and modern Nigeria, unwieldy as it was, was a new context in need of a new history that borrowed but was not beholden to the past.
Presently, Rahila Pam and Faruk Ibrahim reached Haastrup House where their car was parked and took the elevator up to the fifteenth floor, home of a restaurant owned by an Efik man considered to be the best chef of Nigerian cuisine in the city.
The restaurant was half full; the top-drawer banker and civil servants crowd mostly, components of the synergy that was Abuja. They were acknowledged with subtle smiles and a slight nodding of the head, as if all eyes were aware of the immense fortuity of they together being there in that room at that very same moment.
Rahila and Faruk took their reserved seat at the corner of the room where they commanded a bird’s eye view of the capital city through the plate of sheet glass windows. The colors and the symmetry, which they had observed in the streets, acquired a deeper sublimity from the top of Haastrup House. They ordered their wine and food and ate and drank in celebration of the resilience of life.
And soon, the rain, long awaited, came down in heavy sheets to participate in reshaping the legacies of the father and the mother and the past of their lives into the harmonized future of Rahila Weng Pam, Faruk Ibrahim and their nation.
Started: 20th December 2007
Finished: 5th February 2008.