The dark clouds that had dispersed as we approached Rivers State had begun to aggregate again, and it was becoming more certain that the skies will soon discharge it’s content. A journey that had always taken me two hours at least to Port Harcourt, had taken us three, and we weren’t even at our destination, as the driver was making several stops to deliver his waybill, sometimes having to wait for the receiver to come collect his/her goods before moving on to the next destination. What I’d hoped to achieve by boarding a bus directly to Obigbo fell flat on its face, and I wished I’d followed my usual route rather than this one which still took me to Obigbo via the same PH I wanted to avoid. It was already raining tigers and hippopotami by the time we got to Tipper bus stop in Obigbo, and two of us from the bus had to scamper to the bus stop shade that the Rivers State government was sensible enough to build years back. More people in their bid to escape getting drenched in the rain soon came to join us, and with fewer people leaving the shade, we all soon just about had enough space to place our feet.
As soon as the rain drew some breath, I started moving towards the hotel I was going to stay. I had only walked a few meters, past the stalls were wood and other building materials are sold, when the rains returned with a vengeance. Again, I had to head for the next shade, a shop where ceiling boards are sold and stayed there while the rain poured relentlessly. A few cabs passed by, but I knew they’d charge premium to take me to the hotel just a few blocks away. I’d seen people who’ve braced the rain atop motorbike taxis and I didn’t like what I saw, hence that was a no-no. Unfortunately, I didn’t have call credits on my simple Nokia phone, the android that I had credit on, and that I could transfer credit from was down, and none of those I saw around where I sought refuge sold recharge cards. So, I simply waited it out.
I eventually got to the hotel by a few minutes after five in the evening, exhausted. The same lady I’d been seeing there for more than three years was at the reception. The cost of the rooms had increased by =N=1,000 for all categories, so as usual I settled for the second to the last category, paid cash since they didn’t have POS machine for my card, which was really painful because at that point I was low on cash. The room was in worse shape than the last time I was there, eight months ago, and even then I was beginning to note that standards were falling. There was no hot water in the bathroom and the shower apparatus was broken, and they placed a bucket of water and a bowl in the bath. I wasted no time in calling the reception to change rooms, which was better by a bit but was damp, the bedsheets had bodily fluids on it, which the steward promptly changed. At that point I just wanted to lay me down and rest my bones.
The new room, didn’t also have hot water. The shower was also outta service, and there was a bucket and a bowl in the bathtub. The hotel had changed from what it used to be, to the mess I lay witness to. It seemed like I was the only one that slept in that two storey expansive hotel that night. The bar that used to be so filled with guests, spilling onto the grounds of the hotel was empty of guests and staff. Even though I had till noon the next day to check out, they put off the power generators by six o’clock in the morning. I still wasn’t perturbed, and waited till noon before leaving. A friend had come in the night and we sought to explore the town but the rain, which had stopped by nightfall had kept most people indoors, hence the allure for nightlife was dampened. By nine o’clock that night the only joint open were those frying bean cakes. Another pub by the side didn’t have pepper soup, and the guy I used to know around that made tasty chicken kebabs had also moved. It was with disappointment that I slept that night.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I was killing cockroaches. They were everywhere, wardrobe, walls, bathtub small fridge, just everywhere. The dilapidation of that hotel in less than eight months astounded me, I could tell that the staff couldn’t care less about doing their jobs properly. The motivation was clearly not there. It was difficult to tell whether the present situation of low patronage at that hotel was as a result of the worsening economic situation in the country, or was particularly exacerbated by the display of nonchalance by the staff at the hotel. The last time I visited, when I started noticing the rot in the hotel, they still had guests, some drinking at the lobby while enjoying some music, even extending to the car park with the night sky as shade. Just like the hotel I’d been at in Abuja with friends about a week before, on a Friday night listening to a life band from francophone Africa with scant audience, where the paramours appeared to be more in number than patrons on ground that might be in need of their company. Such was and remains the case of the hospitality industry in Nigeria, since the change the Muhammadu Buhari-led government at the center promised, turned to one for the worse in the country’s socioeconomic and political indices.
When the hotel switched off the power generator cutting off power supply to my room as well as others, I put it down to the cash crunch they might be experiencing, making them lose the common courtesy of letting it run till midday when my stay expires. Part of life in Nigeria was the erratic nature, and now total loss in loads of megawatts in power generation and supply. My appointment was for much later in the day, and with so much time to burn I decided to spend it moving around with a friend whom I’d called up for company, when I left the hotel at noon. We walked the length of Port Harcourt/Aba expressway till we got to Iriebe, where I caught sight of what looked like a small rundown submarine, or some sort of specialized boat gathering moth and rust by the roadside, at the mercy of the elements. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the specimen without regards to onlookers who probably were wondering what could be interesting about such an abandoned relic.
We didn’t walk too far from there before we sighted this bukateria run by a pregnant woman and her daughter, a girl. I must confess that before tasting her pepper soup I hadn’t tasted anything as good. So good we did a second helping before I parted ways with my friend and continued on to Port Harcourt after spending two hours at the buka. If I had ever doubted the story about Efik women’s ability to keep their husband, and by extension even steal other’s husbands with their culinary abilities, such doubts became totally wiped out after I tasted that peppersoup at Iriebe. Even as I write this, each time I put my tongue to my palate, I feel like I could still feel the taste of that soup. Ah!
My appointment was moved to later in the evening and I was at a loss as to what to do with all the time in my hands. Suddenly I had this urge to drink, something that only happened in the early days after I embarked on my journey of sobriety more than four years ago. At that point only a cold bottle of the good stuff from Ireland would’ve sufficed, and that pub along Woji Road, before you got to the intersection that leads to Genesis Deluxe Cinema on Tombia Street, provided the right atmosphere for me to have a taste of that wonderful brew after such a long time. The ambience was so cool that I didn’t even feel bad been delayed by my business partner currently held up in the crazy Port Harcourt traffic. I sipped from a big bottle of Guinness Stout the slowest I have ever done while “chowing” on roast corn I’d bought as I made my way to the bar.
I was the only one that couldn’t be bothered with the WWE show on TV, of the wrestling match between John Cena and THE ROCK. I could never understand why fully grown adults could not only be watching but be getting excited by something that cooked up, that starts with an advisory that it’s “make believe”. Even when I followed WWF wrestling as a kid, there was less talk and more action, compared to today’s charade where opponents and even their spouses/partners can spend minutes on end bantering about a whole bunch of nonsense to whip themselves into a wave of fake frenzy before they actually get on to the fight, which is even faker than it used to be even with advancements in video cameras and angle shots. It was the only thing I was relieved to see an end of, when my business partner called to inform me that I could now come to our rendezvous for the much awaited discussion. I left the bar after taking a leak, regret at breaking my sobriety vow, but glad that when it mattered I could easily let my guard down and bend over to accommodate some habits without feeling the compulsion to continue indulging afterwards.