Can I see you for a minute please? Eno said. My heart skipped a beat. My stomach churned. My face struggled to wear that smile. Anytime anybody in Ebiet said can I see you for a minute, your heart couldn’t help but skip a beat.
I hadn’t been in Ebiet for about ten years. Not because I don’t like Ebiet or wouldn’t want to visit Ebiet but because the two key players who would have motivated me to visit Ebiet regularly had transited to the great beyond. The rest of the key players were global villagers who would transit through my turf on their way to or from another part of the globe. The digital revolution has also made it such that I am able to maintain a healthy virtual relationship with these folks.
The virtual and tangible are worlds apart yet so near. I wanted to feel the essence of tangibility when I made up my mind to visit Ebiet. I dubbed it homecoming. I asked the town crier to announce my homecoming. Summon the elders, let them know that a true son of the soil was coming back. Let the maidens know. Let the youth know. Let the robbers know, let the witches and wizards know, let the palm wine tappers know, let the villagers know. My noble kinsmen, make ready to receive me was my message.
From the minute I walked through the international airport of my terrain to board the flight that was to convey me home, I knew that this dream would become a reality in a matter of hours.
“You are wearing such a lovely smile” the air hostess sitting in front of me announced.
“Thanks” I responded.
“You must be quite elated” she said.
“I think the English dictionary doesn’t have the right vocabulary yet to describe how I feel right now” I said.
“Wow. That must be special then” she went on.
“Cabin crew …” The voice of the captain interjected.
The huge bird gathered momentum and sped up. I felt it, lifting off the ground. I heard a baby scream from the bassinet seat to my left. I saw an elderly man cup his hands in prayers. I saw people bow their heart in humility. I saw one or two folks go to sleep straight away. I looked out through the windows. I saw the ground, the habitat. I saw the landscape get smaller and smaller. I saw the roads interconnected with small cars crawling on them like a mini model version of a city. I saw my terrain being left behind me. I smiled and laughed.
“Is this your first time to visit Ebiet?” she asked me.
“Regular visitor or business trip?”
“Naaah” I replied.
“You must have hit a real jackpot, the way you have been smiling” the air hostess declared.
“Yes, you are right. I have hit a jackpot. My kinsmen!” I beamed.
“Alright, enjoy your flight” as she unstrapped herself to go prepare to serve the passengers.
The drums rolled out. The village poured out to the village square to receive a son of the soil who has come back.
Minstrels, jesters, poets, dancers, drummers, flautists, instrumentalists, you name them, gathered under the moon light to welcome a son of the soil. Fresh palm wine was served. A cow was slaughtered. Pestles pounded yam in the mortar, bellies were filled. People wrestled, sang, danced and perspired. New relationships were formed that night. New babies were made that night. In the air of excitement and merriment, things happened.
My wallet was severely injured and I was looking forward to my return journey. People had seen me in camera countless times and it always ended with a cry for help. How many people can you help? How many school fees can you assist with? How many medical bills can you help support? How many lawyer’s fees can you pay to try to reclaim a family land that was bullied away from the family? How many people can you help with payment for their bride prices and completions of their homes?
How many, how many, how many? These thoughts troubled my mind.
So you can imagine how I felt when another invite to speak with me in camera was put in. I had started preparing in my head, my defense mechanisms. I have spent a lot of money on this item and that item. Leave your request with me, I will see what I can do. I am not promising anything just yet. These were all thoughts forming in my mind as I walked over to the side of the building to speak with my distant cousin, Eno and her husband, in camera.
She swung around and grabbed me. She embraced me tight and wouldn’t let go. She sobbed and sobbed. I tried to calm her down. Whatever it was, we can deal with it, but please relax yourself.
“Ekpe Ikot, thank you for coming. I really appreciate your coming. You have shown that you are a true son of the soil. I can’t thank you enough. You don’t know what you have done for us. But thank you”
I was stunned. I stood speechless. I stood in total awe at the fact that my visit could rekindle such a sense of warmth in a family member.
“Eno, listen. I know I have been gone for a long time. But I tell you what.”
“What” she asked.
“I won’t be gone for too long again like this. I will be back soon” I smiled as I made my statement.
“I will be here waiting for you when you return. I will be looking after your cows and goats and sheep. I shall farm that plot of land by the river. I will not let anybody take over the other plot of land over in Ikpat. My husband and I will take care of it for you, till you come back.” Eno concluded.
“Yes we will” her husband concurred.
We embraced and stayed in the warmth of that embrace…