You wake up wiping surfaces, looking for patterns to reveal films of dust. You do it because it is what you are used to doing in your own house in Lugbe; it is what your mother did when she returned home to see if surfaces were properly cleaned. It is not always the case that you instinctively reach for a cloth or rag to wipe the surface. The dust tells you there is activity in a space where nothing seems to be happening especially when recently you have been staring at blank screens unable to convert the pictures in your head to words.
There is no muezzin exhaling the greatness of Allah into a microphone early in the morning or the self-assured screeching off of young motorcyclists starting the day. All you hear is the gentle droning sound of the air conditioner or the generators around. There is something sterile about the heart of posh Abuja cured only by the reason you are here: to spend some time with your new partner. You miss the clouds of dust billowing behind motorcycles and cars that go too quickly on unpaved roads. You miss waiting for the woman selling fried akara, sweet potatoes and plantains to show up after seven in the evening with a stool, a big frying pan, a plastic bowl and a tray. You miss being able to spend 250 naira on an enjoyable evening meal. You do not miss the way the people stare and you and your partner, well, mostly your partner; how they stare rudely and continuously or call out oyibo, or whistle. In posh Abuja there are stares too, but not as much.
The sidewalks also make the sterility bearable, especially as you can walk out at past midnight onto the very busy Adetokunbo Ademola Way, some parts of which never sleep. On every street corner in this area there is a police van or truck or car. There are even little cute signposts now with numbers of the Police in that area. The policemen who patrol these streets are unobtrusive, invisible, and when you have to speak to them, even polite. They say hello and how are you and how is work. Not ‘who goes there?’ You calculate the amount of time it would take for a policeman to get to your partner’s door if you called. Three minutes tops you think. Not so in your Lugbe, where it took almost 45 minutes for the Police to crawl up to the scene of mob violence.
On the third day here, brisk walking at night, you begin to get used to it. You adjust to having no reassuring film of dust; no muezzin calls to prayer. The boys who hang around the wide streets begging or selling recharge cards, Orbit chewing gum, Wrizzler, and marijuana start to bother you. Suddenly you worry that they are there milling about, looking desperate. Three boys who have just finished rummaging through a heap of rubbish walk toward you. You feel their eyes. You take your hands out of your pockets and push your chest out a bit. It is what you do when you feel threatened. As they pass by you feel silly, realizing that where you live, you probably wouldn’t have felt threatened or even noticed them.
You return to the outskirts of the city in the early evening of the fourth day. You ask the motorcycle to stop at a little shop so you can buy some moin-moin. As you head home, you dig into the polythene bag and cut a little piece- you have missed it, missed the breeze in your face and the bobbing of your body when the crazy motorcyclists run over the speed bumps. You arrive home just in time for the Maghrib prayers.
“Allahu Akbar,” the muezzin sings as you pay two fifty naira notes. You smile. You know the first thing you will do when you walk into your house: wipe your finger over the reading table to see the story of what happened while you were away.