The atmosphere is bald. Numerous intonations find their way through the pores of the city. When the cab moves from Abiola Way through Oke Lantoro, the road bends into music and becomes a tremolo. Here at Ijaiye, birds take shape behind the cracks of the November sky. Houses grow from the mountains just before the road turns to Kuto. Through windows from the mountains, yellow lights stare at me. At Kuto, just before the Cultural Centre, I see an elevated platform with neatly grown grass. On it are the words:
“Omo Ogun, Ise ya”
When I get home, I tell my host of my fascination with places. He laughs and begins to name locations in Abeokuta. Sapon. Oke Sokori. Obantoko. Ago Ika. Itoku. Panseke. Onikolobo. I struggle to record them in my journal. Later at night when I write, the places become faces, some with tribal marks across their cheeks, some laughing and backslapping themselves. The others are quiet, and prefer to be left alone.
The next morning, I take a stroll down Madojutimi Junction. I bend through streets and find my way to Idi Aba. Here in Idi Aba is where I find a striking building, plastered against the edge of the tarmac. On the wall of the building is a sign containing the words:
“Premier Music Center “
I move closer to the building and peep in through the closed windows. The rooms are empty and dark. It becomes obvious that no notes have been played here in years. I imagine a man in a flowing cream-coloured agbada here in the 1980s caressing the center of a gangan in tandem with a base guitar at the center of a room. A lizard drops from the roof onto my shoulder. I shake it off. When I leave this building, I walk down the road till I connect with the street where the St. John Anglican Church lies in wait. When I see the church, I know immediately that it was probably an imposing figure once. But now cheap paint—a mask hastily worn on the temple—has failed to restore any glory the church once had.
The road ends at a junction. Here there is no tar. A little wind rises and spreads the harmattan dust in my face. I taste sand in my mouth. The junction is named Iyana Mortuary. I think immediately of cemeteries, and how graveyards are corridors where Time exhausts Time. But here at Iyana Mortuary where all leads to death, a new overhead bridge is springing to life. Under the construction site the governor is smiling out of a half-torn poster. Beneath his face are the words:
“Mission to rebuild”
I think of these words briefly with my mouth full of the November dust.
I have also found, in Abeokuta, songbirds do not fly straight.
The next day is a Saturday. The school down the street where I am staying in Madojutimi is quiet. There is no assembly of excited children, no bells and no song of a “Great Provider”. From my window I see four goats at the edges of the roof of the school. Their posture strikes me as odd. Is this a form of territorial definition? Why is there need for borders?
I am standing with my bag at the junction in Madojutimi, waiting for a cab to take me to Asero where I can get a bus to Ibadan. A little scene is developing down the road. A group of young men, most of them bare-chested, have pulled a rope across the road. They begin to stop vehicles and okadas to demand money for a carnival they are planning. An okada comes across later with a light-skinned young man as the passenger. The okada man refuses to give the carnival boys any money. The boys threaten and shake their fists in the air. They throw words in the face of the okada man. The okada man does not budge. Then one of the carnival boys says:
“This one at the back is an Omo Nna. He’s Igbo. He go get something to give us!”
The others agree and surround the light-skinned man. They begin to pull and tug at his shirt.
“Omo Nna fun wa lowo jo!”
The light-skinned man is helpless. He removes his wallet. The boys snatch it and help themselves to the money in it. Then they hand over a hundred naira note to him and say:
“E don do! Make e use dat wan sef enter moto”
At Asero, when the driver starts the engine towards the journey to Ibadan, within me I hear music from a carnival, and the tunes are notes bought with the sweat of an Omo Nna.