…Ayahhhhh, what model of trouble did I set myself up for? I sometimes just lapse into bouts of self-pity, and drift back to my life in Nigeria. I woke usually at 8am to go to work. I had a car and driver at my disposal, and I took the staff bus, whenever I decided to be kind to my driver (Bartho). Bartho is one of the slowest people on God’s green earth, he has a good heart, but I usually felt my life wasting as I sat beside him in the car, so I had on several occasions snapped at him or made a snide remark. His calm comment was always “Ah, my oga, you know I have to avoid any “had-I-known” (all said in his conc. Igbo accent). Maybe that’s why I suffered so much. I sometimes imagined him rolling on the floor in laughter at my labor and pain. I was however mostly kind to Bartho, buying him lunch and giving him some change to help him out, as he was raising 5 kids on a driver’s salary.
Anyways, here I was, driving my newly acquired car from Baltimore, Maryland to Indiana State, and as good as that might sound, at that moment, I would have differed. There I was, wondering, what on earth possessed me to make such a decision?
Let me backtrack a bit to give some perspective on my decision. I left Nigeria with the picture of New York in my mind; subways and taxis to get around, which were decent means of transportation, and whatever distance was left could be walked, after all, I was a naija boy.
I got to Indiana, and the first things I noticed were large vast landscapes, and corn fields, beautiful endless cornfields. The other thing was the highways, in Nigeria, we call them express. There was no sidewalk, no residential buildings in sight, just cars whizzing by at breakneck speeds. That was when I first felt the sinking in my stomach, the transport system here was nonexistent. You either had a car or you went back to your country. Walking was out of the picture. Genius that I am, I bought a cheap bike from Walmart to ride to work. Logical right? But I quickly realized a couple of things;
Number 1, I was unfit (as I was usually soaked, panting and about to die (literarily) by the time I arrived at my destination). I remember my first departmental orientation in school. I took my first official ride on my shiny new white, sleek bicycle. I left home an hour before the event and pedaled and pedaled, huffing and puffing my way down the road. Through my hazy vision, a road that otherwise seemed flat to the inexperienced eye actually had slightly hilly peaks I had to conquer (they are the devil and evil in one). And boy, was I thankful for the downward slopes which never seemed to roll me as far as I wanted. I had to get off the bike a couple of times, pushing the bicycle as I walked because I was going to pass out. There was a Walmart store between my home, and where I was going to, so I took a break. FYI, the driving distance to where I was going was about 5 minutes, I still find it hard to understand why I left an hour to the orientation time and got there late. After putting off getting back on my bicycle for half an hour, and going through the torture of cycling the rest of the way, I got back on my bicycle and cycled the rest of the way. At some point, I almost fell into a drainage channel because some bloody dogs tied to the bed of a truck decided it was good sport to bark at me as the truck drove past. After catching myself at the last minute, I stopped riding and stood beside the bicycle panting, and did a very classic *waka* sign at the retreating/disappearing dogs.
I eventually got to the event in one piece, and my whole class was there. Oyinbo people actually keep to time. My professor was talking about the courses the department had to offer, I tried to sneak in but I was entering through an entrance facing the whole class and faculty, sweating and panting (I’ll finish telling the story of this event in a later post). This was my 1st embarrassing moment of many.
The 2nd thing I realised was that T.V lied: I grew up watching people riding their bikes like it was a fun sport. I on the other hand, had to walk like a penguin since between my thighs felt like they were on fire after my 1st one week of riding. Every bump on the road sent fire burning through my thighs as I rode the bicycle, walking was hell, sitting was hell, heck, even eating was hell as I developed a headache to go with the sore thighs. I had gotten to the point where I secretly hoped someone would steal the darn bike, and give me an excuse not to ride it and I hoped to no end that the soreness was just a beginner’s malady, but I shit you not, it never stopped till I parked the bike and gave up riding permanently.
Number 3, I was not observant: I suddenly realized all the people I had seen on bicycles were white, I should have taken a hint, no? I don’t know about the big cities, but in Indiana, you don’t see black people on bicycles. You see them in beat-up cars, souped-up cars with big rims, you even see them in motorized shopping carts (presumably stolen from Walmart), but never on bikes. (The black people you see in Walmart is story for another day).
As luck would have it, one day after class, one of my professors asked me to wait behind. She had her forehead wrinkled and with so much concern in her eyes asked me why I was not hitching a ride with my classmate who lives in the same apartment complex, rather than cycling on a highway. (Black man pride kept me from asking). I nodded in embarrassment, she was my professor for “Risk Analysis and Management” and we had discussed dumb decision-making that ended with bad outcomes, such as the one she was discussing with me at that moment. On some level, I felt some relief, as I now had a good reason to stop punishing myself after sinking what at the time seemed like a little amount of money (after a few weeks, I realized $100 was a lot to spend on something that brought me so much pain) into buying the bicycle. I remember, a lot of times during that period, I’d be cycling and an overwhelming sense of self-pity would wash over me, and I would think to myself “In Nigeria I had it good, however, here I am, cycling with burning thighs, sweat pouring into my eyes, and my lungs barely able to suck air.