A Slow Train or Three Across Nigeria (3 of 9)


Third: Maiduguri to Lagos

1,118 miles in 53 hours for 1,530 Naira

After the rest of Nigeria, Maiduguri is a surprise, as it is the only town I’ve seen that did not have litter strewn along its streets. There was some, but it was not in drifts and heaps. By contrast, at Kano by one stretch of the old city wall, the ground was strewn so thickly with human turds maturing in the sun that the stench nearly made me spew, and I thought that I was tough. On the other hand, it is also far less interesting than Kano, being mostly of recent construction.

My main interest was the railway station, and as I hadn’t found it when I had gone out for a stroll after arriving on Sunday night, I engage a motorbike taxi to get me to it, and learn that the train will leave at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow. This is quite convenient, and now I can chase up various errands. Once again, Poste Restante is a puzzle, but eventually it is understood: no mail anyway. I can look around a bit, find somewhere with good meals, change money, have some film developed to send prints off to various people, write postcards, buy food and drink for the journey, and generally relax.

Begin: Tuesday evening

At 7 p.m. a taxi conveys the Green Toad, my supplies and myself to the station. The taxi driver laments the feebleness of money in buying what you want, but sticks to the agreed price of N70: merely a fellow sufferer commiserating over the trials of everyday life. Or am I thick-skinned? In some past encounters, the discussion swiftly moved on to how much benefit would be gained from the contribution of a sum that would be trivial to one such as me…

The station is dimly lit, but the ticket booth is now active and people are moving about in the gloom. My arrival provokes special activity, first to check that there is a sleeper place available, then to invite me within the office to cough up the big money for the fare. This done, I’m shown to my compartment, and urged to stay with my baggage as this is not a safe place to leave it, though it seemed so to me. There is a seat, this time fully intact, and the two bunks as before. I’m set, no worries.

Time passes as people straggle in. Just outside my window is a woman selling bread, so I go outside and delight her by buying. Mini loaves of a heavy, sweet bread, at N7 each. At 8:25 the sound of an engine is heard from afar, but we stay put as 8:30 passes. Then just before nine, as the bread woman is packing her stock, we roll, past the city out into the vast African night.

I had only my own pad to sleep on, and mosquitoes made themselves a nuisance. I killed four to get some peace (and I squashed them before they had supped, a small satisfaction), but still hid under my sheet. I hope that they had been fellow passengers from Maiduguri. Despite the relative cleanliness and dry drains, there were many there despite it being a semi-arid area. Conversely at Kano, despite the occasional marsh and noxious open drains (splashings from the ditch beside my hotel could be heard when I used the washbasin or flushed the toilet), I hadn’t been bothered.

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