The Pathway


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Nelson burst into my life like SWAT. One minute I was going to pee in one of the toilets outside our lecture hall, and the next minute, boom, there he was, smiling molar to molar.  This happened in Jos, 1986, before all the bombing and the fighting. Before all of that happened, Jos was a nice place to be with happy people and smiling faces peppered all over town. Upon entry into the little city, you are welcomed, at Forest, by oaks and pines that have survived over a thousand years of climatic vicissitudes. It was that smell that I associated with home. The smell agitated welcomed nostalgia, and inspired that peculiar feeling of one being where one is meant to be at a particular time in space.

First conversation I had with Nelson was brief and without spice.

He had been watching me-ehen- he liked what he saw- ehen- he wanted to see if we could take this to the next lev- hold it sah, I want to pee. I walked swift over the sand, almost shoving him away as I hurried to the toilet.

Thing about this time was there were no mobile phones to keep in touch with people, no Gmail or Facebook, too. So a man who wanted you had to show a lot more dedication to spending time with you. I had men visit church every other day just so they could have thirty seconds with me after service. You see, I was fine as a peach. I was as fair as the afternoon sun, and my hair was long, thick, and very black. Jesus didn’t have to come down to tell me that I was a ravishing beauty, for I had men toppling over themselves to win my attention.

Nelson was a tall man with a peculiar smile; peculiar in the way that it was lopsided and made his nose to crinkle. At first sight, there was nothing remarkable about him. His body seemed too small for the clothes he wore; a rumpled white shirt, sleeves folded to the elbow, worn over baggy jeans and a pair of faded loafers. I was unimpressed. He carried his hair full on his head, and wore square spectacles over a perfectly shaped nose. At the time, I considered the delicacy of his facial features to be his most charming feature.

When I returned from my short trip to the toilet, he was still there. He waited, leaning on one of the many support poles lining the pathway. He had his hands in his pocket and appeared to be deep in thought. I made to walk past him, to give him an opportunity to watch the sway of my hips.

“Excuse me,” he said as I sashayed past. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Elo,” I responded, halting in my tracks and looking at him.

“Elo-Elo is short for Elomafeni, I guess?” he asked.

“No,” I responded as I walked away. “Elo is short for Elo.”

He didn’t pursue me, and in some ways, I found this attractive. He waited, watched me walk away, and then he left as well. There was something of a muted confidence about him, something about his manner screamed that he was egoistical but in a quiet, sometimes amusing way.

The next morning, I got up as the cock crowed. I had to wash my clothes, and then my body, in time to be in class to read for the upcoming exams. It is pertinent to note here that I was a focused, ambitious woman. I would maintain a dogged approach to any and everything that caught my attention. Yet, at the same time, I was capable of being so care free about certain issues that it was easy to mistake me for being characteristically unattached. Life in the hostel encouraged me to do away with some of my more snobbish, more puerile attitudes as I came to understand that I needed everyone around me as much as they needed me. Those days, students were very well respected. Two individuals were allocated to each room and each person made it a relentless duty to ensure that the room, with its adjoining toilet, was always in habitable condition. We had clean tap water, clean toilets, clean rooms with working ceiling fans, a cafeteria, the works! Life in those days was simpler, and I dare say, more exciting. After having my bath that morning, and as I walked to class with my “roomie” in tow, I was shocked to find Nelson at the same spot I left him the previous day. He struck the same languid, yet thoughtful, pose too. When he saw me, his face lit up and I swear I could see a halo hovering above his head.

“Did you stand here all through the night?” I asked, the shock in my voice very obvious.

“Oh no no dear,” Nelson chuckled. “Can’t you see I have cut my hair a bit? Even my clothes are different today.”

And indeed, his clothes were different. He wore a plane white T-shirt, baggy Jeans, and KITO sandals.

“Are you trying to impress me, boss?” I asked, clutching my books to my chest, a smile on my face.

“Yes BOSS,” he responded sarcastically, stressing the boss bit, his eyes never left mine.

“It is futile,” I said. “If you like shave your head till your skull shines, just because a monkey is wearing lipstick, don’t make it a queen.”

He laughed hard then, and I was satisfied that he saw the humor in my words. I had a class to attend, but I enjoyed talking with this man. I enjoyed the way his mind worked and how he processed things. He was sharp as a razor and very careful with the words that he spoke. Not careful in a way that is frightful and unappealing but careful in that he understood the importance and significance of the spoken word, and strived to say only those things he meant.

Every morning by 7am, Nelson would wait for me while leaning on the 3rd pole, always the 3rd pole, when you come from the hostel and made your way to class through the pathway. I grew accustomed to his presence there, waiting, and we would have two hours to talk before my lectures for the day began. We spoke about anything and shared similar views on everything from politics, to religion, to personal customs and beliefs. He was a free spirit, eager to travel and experience the world, to see the world through those bespectacled eyes of his. I was also adventurous, but school was the priority.

“Let’s travel,” Nelson would say. “Let’s create memories, memories that belong to just us.”

“I share your desire,” I would respond. “But whatever we can be, or do together, has to wait till I am done with school.”

We would sit on the pathway between the 2nd and 3rd pole, our legs swinging down the other side of it, and I would link my fingers in his. I wanted to tell him to be patient, to assure him that we had our whole lives to be together. But the voice never came. I loved this man, why did I have to go on some wild, ill thought adventure with him for him to be secure in my emotions.  I would see how sad he was that I would not pack a bag and leave as soon as he wanted me to. His sadness stemmed from the feeling that maybe he hadn’t done enough to provoke an immediate, eager response from me. I saw the longing in his eyes, I heard it in his voice, I was everything he wanted.

This feeling both scared and satisfied me at the same time. Could I ever make him see that I loved him enough? Could I do this as much as he wanted me to without having to compromise on my own beliefs and already defined standards?

But sitting with him, I always pushed these thoughts away and reveled in the fact that we stayed together, despite the obvious underlying friction.

And in the evenings, when he would come with uba and akara for us to sup on, the rest of the world became nonexistent. Only that moment with Nelson mattered. It was worthy of a picture the way we would sit side by side, my head on his shoulder, and him telling me about how he spent his day chasing his workers about. Just before the sun disappeared in the horizon, there is a song he always sang. It went like this…

If ah coulda cry for a day

If my tears coulda make you say

That you love love and love only me

Then I woulda, I really really woulda cry for a year

Oh Charisma, sweet sweet Charisma           

You shoulda, you really really shoulda

Say you love me, bebe, say you love only me, bebe.

And sure as you know, soon enough Nel casually slipped my name into the song.

If ah coulda cry for a day

If my tears coulda make you say

That you love love and love only me

Then I woulda, I really really woulda cry for a year

Oh Elo, sweet sweet Elo                                    

You shoulda, you really really shoulda

Say you love me, bebe, say you love only me, bebe!


In December of 1987, a new amusement park opened in Jos. It was the talk of the town, with rides suited for children and adults alike. But the most popular ride of them all was the Pirate Ship, famous for its shape, the looseness of its restraints, and its dangerously high tilt. After constantly probing Nel, he decided to take a day off so that we could visit together. It was that same day I realized how far Nelson had to come from to see me, to spend the hours he spent with me every morning and every evening.

“I stay in Bauchi,” he explained. “It is one hour and thirty minutes from Jos. To catch up with you by 7am, I have to leave by at least 5am. To catch up with you in the evening, I have to close my business early.”

He said this with a smile, like he was proud of the sacrifices he was making.


The day they get to the amusement park, Nelson is curious and Elo cannot hide her excitement. She is eager to climb aboard the Pirate Ship, to embrace its haul and marvel at its engineering. Nelson has employed a photographer to capture them both. The picture is a monochrome image; Nelson in white, wearing that lopsided smile of his, and Elo in black, an ice cream cone in one of her hands as she aims a loving gaze at Nelson. They walk between the twin towers of the amusement park, towers that make it look like a 16th century castle, complete with flags and banners running its length. The Pirate Ship stands alone, making it seem like it is the jewel of the arena, far away from other less popular rides. With sure, precise steps Elo leads the way to the ship, and boards it with asperity. Nelson isn’t so far behind. A technician comes in and he punches a number and away and away the Pirate Ship goes.


They wake up in a hospital. Something went wrong and Elo was not properly strapped to her seat aboard the ride. As soon as the leather tore off her body, Nelson, mindlessly, unclasped his, his outstretched arms to her, a bid to save her from her fall. They both fell badly, Nelson a broken neck, Elo a broken leg.

What was worse? They both suffered severe memory loss and won’t be able to remember anything from the last three years. “Dissociative amnesia” is what the medics called it.

The only picture they ever took together, the picture from that day, lost in the confusion their fall had aroused.

Before Elo wakes up, a fat doctor with a pockmarked face and a widow’s peak comes with a pride of surgeons to whisk Nelson away.

“His mother has suggested we transfer him to a private clinic in Bauchi,” is what they say as they lift him.

So Elo wakes up to tales upon tales of this wonderful man who she has absolutely no recollection of. She tries. She searches for him every time that she walks down the pathway to and from school. She sits between the 2nd and 3rd pole, as her friends have informed her that here is where she would always sit with this man whom she had loved wholly. She tries to recollect his face. She imagines that he has hair as long as hers and that his smile is reminiscent of George Clooney. She waits till the sun sets, counting the birds that fly past with one finger. Every time that she sees a man loitering about the pathway, her heart beats faster. A year passes, and then six months, and her leg is healed but the true ache is in her heart.


She is in her final year now. Three years of her life vanished into thin air and so she had to start with school all over. Today, she is frustrated. She has been attached to a male supervisor who she tries to impress with everything that she has in her. But whatever she does isn’t enough for the man. So she is spent, broken even, today is the day that he asked her to, in plain terms, get out of his class.

She is fed up, she is angry, and she wants to take a piss.

Therefore, she hurries down the pathway, one of her legs not fully hitting the ground before she lifts another. It is the time when the sun is just about to disappear in the horizon, she is hurrying along when she pauses in her tracks.

Facing the sun, and the mountains, and the birds, is a thin, bespectacled man wearing clothes that seem too big for him. He is singing a song she has a faint recollection of. It goes like this…

If ah coulda cry for a day

If my tears coulda make you say

That you love love and love only me

Then I woulda, I really really woulda cry for a year

Oh Elo, sweet sweet Elo                                     

You shoulda, you really really shoulda

Say you love me, bebe, say you love only me, bebe.

Elo can feel her heart beat faster, and her knees go spastic with every breath that she draws. She walks, slowly, to the man who sits on the pathway, and she clutches her books tightly to her chest.

Soon as he turns, and sees her, with a glint in his eyes, he says,

“Good evening, my name is Nelson, and I have been watching you. I was hoping we take this to the next lev-“

“Hold it sah,” she replies. “I want to pee!”

And Elo runs off to the toilet, with a flutter in her heart.


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