So there is Africa, the continent.
And inside Africa is a country called Nigeria.
Plateau is a state in the north-central part of Nigeria.
The capital city of Plateau state is Jos.
Plateau state is a dream. It is utopia to all accused of wanderlust.
Plateau state has hills, waterfalls, springs, and hiking trails. It also has one of the highest altitudes in Nigeria.
It is home to the Shere Hills.
My college was four kilometres from Shere hills. The college itself was built on a plateau. It had no fence or walls. It did not need them; we were surrounded by bushes, hills, valleys and wild animals.
You cannot make these things up.
It was like the Australian outback out there. There were stories of eighteen-foot long pythons the earlier students recounted in awe.
On any quiet day Baboons could be heard yakking in the distant hills. Monkeys were always jabbering away in response to anything they deemed fit.
Missionaries ran the day to day administration of the college. There was a local board of trustees, but the principal of the college was British.
Doctor Joy was a fine gentleman devoid of guile or evil.
Our academic curriculum was robust and practical. It was an equal opportunity school with inclusive education.
We had the visually- impaired students with access to books in braille. We even had braille typewriters. We catered for the physically-disabled also. Some used crutches, some used braces. Whilst the other handicapped students had to be pushed around in wheelchairs.
Each disabled student had an able-bodied first-year student as their mandatory care-giver. It was part of the character of service the college hoped to instil in her students.
And because the college was a Christian missionary one, we had an open door policy. Everybody with the ability to be curious could swing by.
I remember a student who was clearly mentally unstable. He was a burly young man. We were kids at the time and he was much older. Whenever his personal demons provoked him, or beckoned, he took off running as the crow flew. Like a juggernaut, in that mode he was unstoppable. Like a comet, he was uncatchable.
Remember when I said that the college had no fences or walls? How I said that we were surrounded by trees and wild animals? So off into the wild this troubled soul would often run. All the search party had to do was follow a straight line in the direction he had gone. Without fail, every single time he was returned unconscious. He would be found on his back spread-eagled. His face and body bruised from head on collisions with trees.
Every single time…
His parents withdrew him from school after a while.
No, I am not rambling. And no, I do not digress. I have laid the circumstances and the premise under which I met Ardo.
Ardo was a Fulani boy. His family were nomadic herdsmen. Their camp was set around the college every year for a few weeks.
From the camp, the Fulani women would come to sell food. They would also sell groundnut candy, yoghurt or fresh milk at the mini-market close to the gate.
Yes there were two pillars at the said gate, but no wall or fence.
Of all his tribe Ardo was the only one that came by the classrooms. He could neither speak English or Hausa language. In fact I do not think that he spoke at all. All he did was blast a wide, honest, and toothy grin.
I liked him at first sight. I do not know why or how for that matter, but he and I got along famously.
I had a seat-mate then. A beautiful girl I had a massive crush on. She had my younger version wrapped around her pinkie finger. If only she knew! She did not like my new friend at all.
Ardo always made a beeline for my table. His approach left scurrying students in its wake.
You see, Ardo was a special needs child. No one knew what the problem was, but he was harmless. It did not help that he smelled quite badly too.
He was a nomad; his family reared hundreds of cattle for a living. It was all they knew, life on the move following the rains from the north to the south of Nigeria. They lived and worked under tough conditions. My point is that a bath or personal hygiene was not top of his agenda.
As a direct consequence his light skin was embossed with chronic eczema patches.
Let me try to put his appearance in context for you. It was like a drooling, patchy-skinned, smelly kid dressed in dirty clothes… striding toward you with a glazed smile and purpose.
I have not thought about Ardo in decades. But something…someone I perceived yesterday brought his thoughts tumbling back to me.
Now I know Ardo smelled like sulfur.
It was not the odour of an unwashed body or dirty clothes. It was not the smell of farts. It was not his sweat either. Back then I could easily categorize these smells.
My classmates were already midterm when I enrolled late as a junior student. I was ignorant of a lot of situations, biases and opinions.
As it turned out, the general consensus was that Ardo was possessed. Possessed by a demon… (Of course).
I have never been generalist. My thoughts on most concessions may be misconstrued as insulting. So once again I choose to internalize as opposed to saying what I think on that general consensus.
And so for the convenience of my classmates, Ardo and I took walks around the school. I would take note of whatever he was curious about and gesticulate or act out its function until he got it. His gleeful peals of raucous laughter were satisfying.
In turn he showed me edible fruit and leaves in the bushes around.
He also taught me to hunt.
He taught me to focus my thoughts on what we were hunting first. And then we would go out and actually catch it.
After a couple of weeks of trapping wild pigeons, he upped our game to catching a squirrel.
This particular squirrel would not be caught. It had us running zigzags all around the bush.
It was a school day during class periods. I was playing the truant. I knew Ardo would soon be off with his family following the rains and green grass for their cattle. So I skipped a class to say goodbye. It was between one pm and two pm.
The squirrel suddenly burst out of a hole in the side of an anthill where it had been hiding.
Before Ardo could react I perfected what he had been trying to teach me. I sprang forward and in less than twenty seconds I had the dazed animal in my hands.
One second I saw the squirrel in motion…in the next second I intentionally saw the squirrel in my hands. A few seconds later, I had quite literally caught the squirrel.
I know what you are thinking.
No, not you…
I did not imagine this, or any of it for that matter. I am confident to inform you that after cooking the poor animal, I held on to its bushy tail. That is until I lost it to a senior prefect for some malicious reason.
Ardo did not take my new-found skill too well. He seemed sad. That afternoon was the last time I ever saw him.
Over the years I lost the ability to ‘jump’ while hunting. I adapted the technique to steal basketballs passed during games. No matter how far away I was from the pass I wanted to intercept, I could move like a flash and catch the basketball.
I was impossible to catch too, if I wanted to stay hidden. Staying outside status quo or a matrix has never been an issue for me.
As the years progressed, I forgot a lot of these techniques Ardo taught me. Or more to the point, I have begun to remember that I have these abilities.
I was with an exorcist yesterday and his office had a smell I remembered.
And then I remembered Ardo’s pungent body odour.
And then I remembered our friendship, and all he taught me.
And so I am remembering to tell Ardo, ‘thank you’.
I hope you have found fulfilment wherever you are right now.