It was now 8:45 p.m. The rain had stopped falling. Everywhere was quiet and lifeless. It was now two solid hours since NEPA had taken their light and as there was no moon the whole town was plunged into a claustrophobic darkness so thick that it could have been a wall. This was not unusual of Warri where electricity supply was constantly interrupted especially after a heavy down pour of rain. People normally stay indoors at night like this as this sensitive atmosphere makes it impossible to move about without attracting the attention of ‘area boys’ as small time armed robbers lurking in dark alleys were called in this part of the country. This was a new phenomena. Shortly before independence when crude oil was first discovered in this part of the country life was enjoyable. With many oil companies operating in Warri, jobs were plentiful, many small businesses were booming and the city was safe and free of hooligans. Night life was active. The city kept busy all through the night. Now, all that has become history. Even the busy sidewalks of Dashuum Avenue have now been deserted and the Avenue was virtually in darkness except for the neon lights indicating the main entrance of the Hotel De Eldorando which kept busy all through the night.
The dark avenue was suddenly lit up as a car entering the Avenue from Adam’s end spread its headlight on the scene. As it approached the hotel it swerved off the road and pulled into the parking space.
While the driver was parking the car, two men pushed open the french doors of the lobby and stepped into the darkness, both of them keeping their heads low as if the rain was still showering. The men, Dawson Corridon and his friend Daniel Oyeh walked the short distance between the hotel and the road and continued on the sidewalk. Soon the headlight of an approaching taxi picked them up.
‘Highson Estate’, they shouted simultaneously as the taxi sped past. The screeching of tires against the tar shows that the taxi has slowed down. They walked up to the taxi and after exchanging some pleasantries Dawson got into the taxi and bade his friend goodnight. Daniel waited until the taxi had disappeared, then looked at both sides of the road and when he was satisfied that all was clear, crossed and he too disappeared into the night.
Both of them had come to the hotel earlier in the evening with the hope of drowning their sorrows, but when they left they were not feeling any better. Dawson actually was the one that most needed his sorrows drowned. When they came to the hotel he had looked so forlorn, white and fay. While in the hotel he kept shaking his legs and looking around the floor like a marmot until the waiter came around with the drinks.
‘How many times have you been to this joint?’ asked Daniel. This was the first time Dawson had come to this hotel. Although he had grown up in Warri, such that he can be called Waffi boy, he was never tainted by the rugged character that is so often noticed among boys who came from this part of the country. Going to hotels to booze was not his idea of fun but he had decided to accompany his friend in order to ease the tension in him. His mind was miles away when Daniel asked the question. A tap from his friend brought him to his senses.
‘What is it?’, he said.
‘Dawson, l said how many times have you been here?’, repeated Daniel.
‘Oh, this is my first time. You know l don’t like going to hotels, but this one seems okay from the look of it’. Daniel looked thoughtfully at his friend and said; ‘What’s on your mind?’
‘Nothing’, replied Dawson. He glanced at the the drink in his glass carefully, gulped it at once and set the glass on the table. Daniel knew his friend had something on his mind but he didn’t press it. Later while music for dancing was being played, Dawson shifted his attention to some couples dancing across the floor. He has a good taste for music but this was not the right time for dancing and only shook his head when Daniel suggested that they should dance.
’See that couple over there’.
He looked in the direction where a tall lanky man was dancing with a young lady who could not be more than twenty. Although there was no room for much movement, the couple seem happy as long as they got their arms around each other and could shuffle a foot or two. Dawson suddenly became envious of the couple and what they seems to be enjoying. He became sore. He immediately gave Daniel the departure sign and together they stood up and after they had settled the bill, they left. As the outing was not a success Dawson retired quietly into his room in Highson Estate.
Highson Estate is a retreat about four kilometres out of Warri. The place was bought by Dawson’s father shortly after independence. The place was originally owned by a foreign dredging company and built as a housing complex for its workers, but with the nationalization policy of the government shortly after independence, the company was forced to fold up and sell the place. It is situated on the south side of Warri across the river that ran through the length and breadth of the city. An excellent bridge connected it and other fishing villages around to Warri .During the hey days of the company, white sand was dredged on the swamp near it providing a beautiful beach for recreation. The silhouette of Warri can be seen at night by everyone sitting on the beach. The estate consisted of fifty bungalows with the same design except one. And that is the one on which the Corridons’ live. The house has seven bedrooms, a library, and a large sitting room leading to a veranda, that encircled the whole building. Behind the house is a large garden and big flower trees. These surrounds and screens it from other buildings in the estate. A little walk across the garden brings one to a path that led up to the sandy beach and the river. The beauty of the estate can be seen at any time of the day-be it in the night.
Because of the numerous problems on his mind, Dawson did not sleep much. He has just started to sleep soundly when the library wall clock struck four bringing him awake with a start. He swung his feet to the floor and reached under the pillow for his wrist watch. It was four a. m. Cursing under his breath he got up and started to pack.
So many things has been happening in the estate lately and pressure has been building up in him that he could no longer go on living in the estate. He had planned to run away from home, from all the trouble he had been through and all those he knew. He never wanted to return to the estate at least for now. He hoped that somehow , things might change for the better. But he could only hope. But why would Dawson want to leave Highson estate, his home? Something serious must have happened. Yes, something did happen to change his whole life and as he now stood packing his clothes, he wondered if his life would ever be the same again. He was about to leave when he remembered her picture lying inside his drawer. As he removes it he looked at the tall slender girl in the photograph who smiled back at him. He stuffed it into his bag and started for the door. Before opening it he looked around the room for the last time. Then quietly he opened the door so as not to disturb any body and having satisfied himself that no one was awake he stepped into the garden. As he walked through the garden he stopped to look in the direction of the sea that has come to mean so much memories and once he was clear off the house he started toward the road where he would pick up a taxi to Delta line where he would finally catch a bus to Benin. Although he would miss the estate, the refreshingly cool water of the river, the beautiful garden, it does not matter anymore to him. As he continued on his journey across the small wood, he could hear the early morning songs of the birds, the distant soft sound of the waves lashing against the sandy beach as a motor boat cruised past, and the noise of night creatures as they announce the dawn of a new day. Birds, he thought. Do they have problems? He doubted. They are always singing. He wished he too could be happy. What a life he was leading. To have fallen so deeply in love for the first time in his life and yet not been able to gain the love and affection of his loved one. It was like being dead, yet alive. He was still brooding about his predicament when the taxi brought him to the bus station.
As he was early, he didn’t find it difficult to buy a ticket. There were five persons waiting in front of the booking office. Now in a few hours he would be at Benin, he told himself as he walked into the reception after he has bought his ticket. He selected a table at the end of the floor and sat down. Soon more and more people were arriving. One of the travelers, an elderly man wearing a dark brown suit with a slouch hat and carrying a lot of newspapers came and sat down beside him.
“Good morning sir”, greeted Dawson.
“Good morning”, the man replied. The old man examined Dawson from behind his glasses and as he settled down, he placed some of the papers on the table.
“You can have a look at them”, he said.
Dawson thanked him and took the Daily Times. He forced himself to read the editorial comments which has something to say about the unrelenting ASUU strike.
“Have a look at this”, the elderly man interrupted. “Three thousand innocent people snuffed out by terrorists and insurgents” reading the headline out and pointing it to him at the same time.
“Too bad”, he continued. “Look, just imagine such coldblooded mass murder. What do you think will happen to the bereaved relatives of these people?. I can say that the Federal government is not doing enough in this fight against insecurity in the country.′
“Well l think it’s high time the country allow the super powers to help us”, Dawson forced himself to say. Watching the man, Dawson discerned that he was all set to talk, but he was in no mood for a conversation so he took an excuse and went outside. At the moment, he wanted to be left alone. The bus arrived a little after 7 am and Dawson quickly went in with his bag and sat down three rows from the front on the right side of the bus by the window. The same elderly man who was with Dawson at the reception spotted him as he climbed in and came to sit beside him. A young couple took the two seats in front of him. Throughout the journey, Dawson kept looking out of the window at the swift moving trees and grasses as they flew past. All the time he was wondering what could be happening at the estate since he did not tell any body of his movements. He tried to remember the events of this three last months, what grievous months they had been and tried to swallow the lump that had developed in his throat. He swallowed hard for he was near tears.The elderly squat man who sat beside him apologized when wind threw his newspaper against Dawson’s face. He made no comments even when the old man continued to talk.
“I like the philosophy of this journalist,” he continued. It’s when you are young you could enjoy life and work. Yes, you are only young once. Now that l am getting old l find many a thing boring except reading newspapers. For twenty years l have supplied the Hotel De Eldorando drinks and fruits. Now l am retiring”.
“That is remarkable,” Dawson said showing genuine interest when he heard the mention of the hotel. He was aware that that hotel was one of the biggest in town and being the sole supplier of fruits and drinks must have meant good business. He reckoned the man must have made quite a fortune from the business. “But now l am going to Benin to get my cousin to handle the job since l am already old”, he concluded.
Dawson suddenly remembered the chat he had yesterday with Daniel at the hotel . The bus finally came to Benin. As he alighted from the bus he became aware he was hungry as he saw people hawking bread, snacks and cold minerals. He did not take any food before he left home, because going to the kitchen would awaken people and arouse their suspicion. So that his parents would not excessively worry, he just left a note saying that he was leaving town for an unknown destination - for a change of scene due to the present situation. He had not also called Donatius Tode that he was coming. But he knew that Donatius was a friend to be trusted in an emergency like this. There was no other friend so close to him.
Donatius should be at work now, but he wanted to drop the bag he was carrying and only hoped that he would meet his wife at home. He took a taxi to his place at upper lake street, paid off the driver who handed him his change. Carrying the bag on his shoulders and walking hesitantly, he made it through a dusty road passing a number of modern houses until he came to a lonely flat. He walked up to it and ranged the bell.