FOR the purpose of this admonishment, I would like to refer to them as the Nigerian musketeers. And if you have watched The Man in the Iron Mask, a 1998 American action drama film directed, produced and written by Randall Wallace, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role as the title character and villain, Jeremy Irons as Aramis, John Malkovich as Athos, Gerard Depardieu as Porthos, and Gabriel Byrne as D’Artagnan, you would get my point and drift. The film centers on the aging four musketeers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan, during the reign of King Louis XIV and attempts to explain the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, using a plot more closely related to the flamboyant 1929 version starring Douglas Fairbanks, The Iron Mask, and the 1939 version directed by James Whale, than to the original Dumas book.
Well, my Nigerian musketeers were a group of young men that I met a few kilometres to Keffi the bubbling city that heralds you into Abuja. The name of the community where this is set is called Sabon Gida. My companion and friend Ruby drove towards Keffi, when the now obviously painful and unendurable call of nature bladder had to be dealt with. It was already late for this kind of trip by Nigerian standards but we are soldiered on uneventfully so far. As Ruby dealt with nature, I reflected on the surroundings, the vast land and greenery, pitch darkness, except for the lights provided by cars speeding in opposite directions. It made me recall the old wooden bridge on my grandfather’s ranch; it crossed a large irrigation canal the size of a good stream, which flowed constantly with milky water the colour of well-creamed coffee. Cottonwoods grew in the rich loamy soil along the canal, and their huge boughs covered it in shade all summer long.
Even in the dog days of August, it was always cool there, and the waters made the quietest lovely sounds as they passed under the bridge. It was a magical place for a boy. Coming in from the fields, we would race the last hundred yards, galloping our tiny legs over the bridge that boomed and echoed under with a marvellous deep orchestra-like sound. Swallows would shoot out from under either side, spinning away up and down the canal. As far as I was concerned, in my seven-year-old heart, that bridge had always been there and always would be. Unless everything in a man’s memory of childhood is misleading, there is a time somewhere between the ages of five and twelve that corresponds to the phase ethologists have isolated in the development of birds, when an impression lasting only a few seconds may be imprinted on the young bird for life… I still sometimes dream, occasionally in the most intense and brilliant shades of green, of a jungly dead bend of the Plateau we grew up in. Each time I am haunted, on awakening, by a sense of meanings just withheld, and by a profound nostalgic melancholy.
Yet why should this dead loop of road, known only for a few minutes, be so charged with potency in my unconscious? Ruby was done and she interrupted my thoughts, I equally decided to do as she had done to nature. I now understand, with the benefits of events later, that the bridge under the cottonwoods was filled with “a sense of meanings” and “charged with potency” because the promise was coming to me through that place. And oh, how I would love to see it again, take my own grandchildren there; then sit quietly and dangle our bare feet over the edge, watching the swallows come and go. Perhaps I will, at the restoration of all things. For nothing is lost, my dear friends; nothing is lost. Our car refused to move, it simply packed up, whatever it was, nature and in this case, mechanical nature had been tampered with. I am sure I saw the problem almost immediately but there was nothing one could do. Then the first musketeer appeared after we had waved at several oncoming cars and none would help, not even stop. There are no good Nigerians anymore, gone are the days when a driver would stop no matter how late, help you with his tools, aid you with a repair, or help secure your car and then give you a lift to safety.
But the first musketeer was a rule to the exception. He helped us, we pushed the heavy metal and iron called a car altogether, and a second join us, soon a third and finally after some thirty minutes with four able and young Nigerians we had arrived the little settlement of Sabon Gida. They helped joyfully, they chatted away in their indigenous dialect and we interacted generally in Hausa. Somehow our differences and yet understanding of our precarious situation were miniature Nigeria. We arrived at Sabon Gida and they proceeded to call the mechanic the community had to offer, Timothy, I recall that was his name, he came, diagnosed the car, and was sure it was a problem that could be handled but not until the next day, it was already past 11 at that time. The Musketeers got about helping us with items, secured the car locks, took our few bags and went ahead to get us a cab to Abuja. These dudes were not Biafrans, Arewans or Oduduwans: they had their ethnic identities but had not lost their humanity. They were not politicians of the APC or PDP creed and ilk. They weren’t helping to get anything in return. They could have been robbers; they could have kidnapped us for ransom (interestingly that area was a hotspot for bad guys operations).