Every morning, for the best part of the past 20 or so months, the clouds take their time to make way for a bright sun shine day. You would think the day was about to be blessed by early precipitation or that the night was cold and misty, giving off some dew. That would have meant sleep was beautiful, under the serenity and chill of weather for two.
On waking, one would have stretched and smiled and jumped out of bed, full of joy and buzz about the dreams of a new day. But then, you grab your clean toothbrush only to see that while you napped, the evil man sowed weed in the night.
The Port-Harcourt Day begins with darkness.
By evening, just about everyone in the city exposed to these clouds would have taken in as much particulate matter of size 2.5mm as they breathed in air. They get home, wash their hands and wonder in amazement as the sink turns black. A banker mum or teacher dad wonders if the ink of her pen or the chalk of his board was that bad as to have produced much blackness. “Am I a mechanic in disguise?”, some may wonder.
For the semblance of a good night rest, the air conditioner filters would need to be, if not washed and rinsed (probably for the second time within as many days), at least flapped and hit with the palm to get some of the accumulated black sh*t off. Baby will be laid down to sleep, but the mosquito net sheltering it may need to be changed sometime during the night if it becomes so black on the evidence of a wipe of a tissue.
And after a second (or third) bath for the evening, comes the puzzle: do you sleep with socks or not? If you do, you will get to do more washing and lose precious water for probably more serious washing. If you don’t, you wake later and leave soot stamps around your house, meaning more mopping.
This is now life as it is lived in Port-Harcourt city, Pitakwa, the oil city. Everyone is “sooted-up”, yet you cannot but wonder if everyone feels this crisis on equal measure. If all did, then it surely cannot endure. But it has endured, for 20 months and counting. So, not everyone must be feeling under this shadow of death. There are cliques who continue to be illuminated by this darkness, however much it thickens and strangles. More Soot for most, much more suits and suites for a few.
Damage is underway and potential consequences are terrifying. Alarms have been raised but a deafening silence has stilled on all complaints. They are ignored as babies crying ‘cos none are yet dying.
Lungs and Nostrils, helpless, cling on. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the Life Clock.
(Inspired by Ifeoma N. Chukwuogo’s ‘Collateral Damage’ about the soot in Port-Harcourt. Title is a play on “City of Stars”, original score from ‘La la land’)