From the Past



By Uthman Shodipe

JUST before the road of de­spair, there is a cordon of af­fluence and security. Here there is the comfort of empowered riches. Here you see the smart alert visages of learning and wealth. Here you see the confident gait, the vibrant openness exuding from the luxuri­ous totality of everything. In the adornments of the palatial splen­dour, in the placid animation of the beautiful faces, in the tinseled pride of the ladies embroidered in lacy glamour, in the strutting eminence of men aglow in full contentment — there is a uniform paradisal stamp. The cordon of affluence is serene, swept clean of the cluttering en­cumbrances of fundamental drudg­eries. It is an oasis of burnishing, asphaltic spread where men cruise about in detached revelry, where children loll in the open spaces, en­closed in the protective bosom of innocence and abundance.


There is a general unhurriedness here. There is no feverish flurry of industry. There is no driven stam­pede of survivalist mettle. This is not some careless withdrawal into languor. It is a resolute pace of dis­cernment, the certain grasp of the contents of today, the assurance about the augurial spectacle of to­morrow. Here you see all the beam­ing favours of heaven; the gentle repose of peace, the warmth of power, the happy, infectious radi­ance, the spilling cornucopia of splendid riches.


And, alas, just at the edge of this bounteous glow, in a rude, junctoral delimiting of the zone of affluence and security, there is an abrupt ter­mination of the asphaltic spread. From this point of severance, there is a rousing of despair, the awaken­ing of squalor and defeated dreams. Suddenly, the road opens in eternal stretches of red earth. It dips and rises in ceaseless contours and halt­ing mounds. It is a depressing, winding spread, rutted in innumera­ble ubiquity, sprouting with rough, outgrowth of harassing rocks.


Strung at the opposite margins of the road are the forlorn concourses of miserable hovels clinging to each other in supportive desperation. Here, in drunkenly leaning forma­tions, the hovels struggle in the wracking buffeting of decay, deep­ening in the depths of collapse. Some are with blighted roofs, smit­ten by sun, drenched by rain, broken into disuse by the relentless vicissi­tudes of nature. And there are yet other hovels with livened pillars, with savaging apertures at the front­ages, with gaping fissures betraying the brittle vulnerability of the foundation stones.


Here poverty and disease scream at the world in imprisoned hoarse­ness. The poor is not relieved. The diseased is unclaimed. There is a caged permanence about every­thing. There is an overwhelming spiritual entrapment, the seeming ensnaring of thought and mobility. In the scarred, wrenching distor­tions of the road, in the running muddy pool, in the strewn refuse in­hibiting passage, in the dark, swampy rutted earth — you behold the same engravening imagery etched in the faces on the road. The road and the faces are entwined in singular bondage.


You see this in the poignant em­bittered laceration in the carpenter who hammers at the wind, sculpting nothing, feigning a productive im­portance even in the painful grip of idleness. You see this in the frown­ing aspect of the tailor who loafs in the haunting emptiness of a shop, pacing about in compulsive rest­lessness. You see this in the chemist beclouded in souring permanence, his eyes darkened in unrelieved woe.


There is a frightening, somnolent inanimity here. Despite the struggle of the carpenter, despite the persist­ence of the wrinkled woman, riv­eted in the sun, presiding over mis­erable articles, despite the punctu­al, perpetual sentry of the herbal woman — there is an air of defeat and forfeiture here. There is a sense of collapse and degradation. The cluttering of the road with the roaming goats, with the naked chil­dren, with the pockets of house­wives and maidens in droning chat­ter may register an image of excite­ment and animation. The dramatic feigning of the carpenter and the engrossed pacing of the tailor may even suggest the intimations of en­trepreneurial fruitfulness.


Not true. Of course, there is an industry on the scarred road. There is an hardened relentlessness sweeping across everywhere. There is an heroic grasping for a purpose, the trenchant latchment to survival and decency. There is a genuine ethical commitment. But all is futile. The tailor does not sew enough clothes for suste­nance. The carpenter does not make enough benches to pull him­self away from the starvation mar­gins. The barber, the meat hawker, the groundnut seller are all frozen in bruising poverty.


There is a nakedness everywhere. There is a uniting emptiness; the vacant, dreamy stare, the frustrating groping for a place in the sun, the gripping abandonment struggling for rescue. You may pity the faces on the road. You may feel pained amid the exhausting torment of their hardships. And you may even perceive their vigils on the road in heroic measurement. These may all have some valid temptings. Only that.


But they lack dispassionate legitimation. Must the faces remain forever on that blighted road? Must the faces be detained forever in hopeful idleness, waiting for rescue? The faces must dare. The faces must seek a new path, boldly striking out on a more redemptive passage, rescuing themselves from the withering stretches of imprisonment.


It is true that salvation may not be discernible on the new course. It is true that the redemptive dreams may not be glimpsed beyond the blighted road. Not to worry. There is always a rectifying progression in the womb of discovery, in the plumbings of a new course. There is no virtue in residing on the road of grief with acquiescent slumber. Paradise does not beckon to an inert people. It is seized by the adventurous probing of the alert.

 First published Tuesday, 28 October, 1997.


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