THE ROAD AS A METAPHOR
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.