I usually travel light, doing much of the play and enjoyment without, rather than within the hotels I lodge in on my journeys. It is for this reason that I prefer two or three star hotels that won’t cost much, since most times I go in there to rest or sleep after the heck of a day I would’ve had, never eating from their restaurant, or drinking from their bar, as I would come already prepared with whatever food and drink I’ll need for the night. The only reason I never go for the one-stars or none at all is the fact that they are the ones usually raided by the police on one flimsy excuse or the other, and I’d rather not be caught in the “wahala” of such raids even if a night there’d cost me next to nothing. On the other hand, the four or five stars aren’t what I’d want to go and spend a night unaccompanied.
When my business partner decided to choose the hotel I’d stay, I was filled with trepidation, seeing that the last time I visited I had had to cough out ₦10,000 to pay for a hotel just to pass the night because I didn’t want to appear cheap to her, despite the fact that even that was in her estimation the cheapest she could find around. Like a sheep to the slaughter, I went along with her again, hoping that she would still take me to one within that range, after telling me about a good one she’d introduced her clients to severally in recent times. I was prepared to humble myself and insist that she shared the cost with me should the least room in Ciona Suites where she’d taken me cost more than ₦10,000, but till we got to the reception I kept my cool.
Interestingly, it so happened that because of recession, and low patronage, the management of the hotel had reduced their charges such that the standard room that went for ₦21,000 for a night was now going for ₦6,000. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears, such that I quickly rummaged through my wallet to produce six one thousand naira notes before the receptionist changed her mind, while wondering why the crazy hotel I’d spent the night before at hadn’t reduced their charges (which was still lower than this) to encourage patronage. My room was in the second floor with a nice view of town, and after finalizing plans for the next day, my business partner took her leave promising to come by in the morning during her jogging routine, which totally impressed me seeing that I am more into the muscle building routine than the aerobics. Also, Lagos was just too unsafe a place for street jogging, with possibility of getting knocked down by the many bad drivers of cars and tricycles (not forgetting motorcyclists, who think that they also have a right to pedestrians path by the roadside), even when you live in an area with walk paths. The kidnap of wealthy joggers in recent times, has also dampened whatever motivation some people had of jogging.
This hotel had hot water, air conditioner, flat screen TV, small refrigerator, a wide bed for two, a table and chair, a couch, a nice rug, wide windows with a lovely blind. Unfortunately, like the hotel in Obigbo, it had a bucket and a bowl in the bath, because the shower wasn’t working, so you mixed the water to the temperature you desire and scoop same for washing. Hotel sized soap and towel embossed with the hotels name and soft white toilet paper. The linings on the mattress were clean with heavy duvet which keeps out the chill from the air conditioner once you’re under it. Once tucked in, remote control in hand and promising myself to see the end of COMING TO AMERICA that was on screen, I fell asleep almost instantly.
I was awakened by the buzzing of the room’s intercom by a few minutes past six in the morning, my business partner was in the lobby and wanted to see me. She had made a detour from jogging that Saturday morning to see how I was doing, and left after she was convinced I was fine. The receptionist who’d seen her in her sports outfit offered to allow her use the hotel’s gym which she respectfully declined. When I looked in, it wasn’t such a bad setup, but there wasn’t any will to engage, so I simply waltzed back upstairs after she left, to my room to continue my sleep naked, before I lost the bit of heavy eyes I’d still from the last session.
I checked out of the hotel by noon to rendezvous with my host at a fast food joint along Aba Road. On the table was the way forward in terms of further future collaborations, amongst other sundry. I noticed how unlike with Lagos such places, especially the franchises have failed to keep up the hype for which they were known for initially when they were a “thing”. This particular one had totally shorn it’s flamboyant past to look no better than a glorified bukateria. The split air conditioning units were relics on display, out of service, while typhoon blade electric fans strategically positioned helped to circulate the stuffy roast-chicken air, that gets to be exchanged with one from the outside each time a new customer enters through the door that’s now lost much of its traction due to years of going back and forth without maintenance it seemed. An English Premier League football match was on TV, but I couldn’t be distracted by it because of the poor picture quality, definitely not from SUPER SPORT, but from the inability of the TV’s there, that have obviously seen better days to screen clear pictures anymore, and I wasn’t willing to damage my eyes any further. Things must be that bad, or the management of the fast food joint have misplaced priorities. It’s no surprise that in Port Harcourt today, the places of interests aren’t anymore the franchises, but the many nameless, yet classy joints you’d find allover the place.
A meal and drinks after, and we parted ways. Me, into a cab onto Waterlines area of Port Harcourt to board a night bus back to Lagos, and she back to whatever she does on Saturday evenings. I had had it with Chisco’s bad vehicles but experienced, road-hardened drivers. I opted to return to my first love, “The Young Shall Grow Motors”, booked my ticket and sat down like other intending travelers to await boarding. With my phone and earpiece latched onto my ears, I shut myself off from my immediate social and physical environment, and spent the time sampling the radio stations shooting up the airwaves of Port Harcourt. I wasn’t surprised to find that their output and music scene wasn’t much different from that in Lagos. Most of the stations however kept up the tradition of doing reggae on a Saturday evening, and it felt good listening to reggae hits of yore.
I was brought out of my reverie by a girl hawking cold satchet water. I noticed that after I had waved her off, because I didn’t need water she kept on saying something, so I removed my earpiece, only to find that she was in fact begging. She was in a very vulnerable situation, and there was no telling that any predator could exploit her situation to offer her something for another, with all the nook and cranny within the open air bus terminus, where she could easily be taken advantage of without as much as a batting of the eye of bystanders, passengers and others milling around. I didn’t give her anything, so she won’t be encouraged to continue begging (while I made no attempt at suppressing the guilt gnawing at my innards), even though I know that she probably added that to her trade because it might have been worth her while at some point or the other. As I eventually boarded the luxury bus with other travelers, my mind kept going to the girl, and other child beggars I’d encountered, wondering what must’ve led them to the situation they found themselves, and what options the families (if they even had parents) could’ve explored rather than have kids out, even at odd hours of the night hawking and/or begging as the case may be. Once in the bus, window side as I desired, I simply let myself go and for the first time in a long time during a night journey, slept for the much of the journey from Port Harcourt to Lagos. It had been a potpourri of a two-week journey which had seen me travel from Nigeria’s western coast in Lagos to the north-central Abuja and Nasarawa, to the southeast in Anambra, then to the south-south/Niger Delta in Obigbo and Port Harcourt then back to Lagos.