Colours mean different things to different people. I think it was while passing through Heathrow, a couple of years ago that I came across an advert that etched this permanently into my memory. While the details of that advert is murky, it talked about the colour Red and its meaning in different cultures. In China, Red is the colour of luck while in western cultures it is that of danger. At home, you can’t separate an Igbo woman from this colour, she actually looks radiant in Red while our Yoruba women, except for their sky-scrapper Geles, will avoid Red at all costs.
Today, as I paused for a rest from Kayaking, I just noticed how immersed in Red that I was. My PFD is dominantly Red and the Kayak itself is Red. I mused, taking on the beautiful scenery and peacefulness that the river offers. Kayaking has a therapeutic effect on the mind. Before long, I started reminiscing on the past, not the present past but the past past. I remembered his Red Lada, always shining and the cynosure of eyes in Daura. It wasn’t a Benz and neither was it a Volvo but what it lacked in character, it atoned for in colour. It was unmistakable and it was probably Abidoye’s most prized possession, apart from his family, of course.
Some of my better days were spent in that car, memories of these abound. The coveted school drop offs, not a regular but when it happens I felt very proud. The milk trips, across the Nigerian border into Niger Republic, going a little past Kongolam. In those days there were no border controls, in fact there was nothing to indicate we were crossing boundaries. Nearly every week, we take a drive to pick freshly made yoghurts. I remember the night luck ran out of a poor Hawk. It was perched in the middle of the road and at the approach of our car, did it’s best to fly away, out of trouble. It actually flew into one, hitting the windscreen of the Lada with such impact that it cracked. The unlucky bird fell by the road. My father did what he felt was needed, put the bird out of its misery and dropped it in the car’s boot. For that bird’s error of judgement, it ended up in my step-mum’s pot of stew as our meat for the week.
The Durbar at Daura was always a great sight to behold, we had visited it in the Red Lada. My first recollection of crossing the River Niger was in this car, first southward then northwards. The trip northwards, on the way back to Daura, holds a special memory for me. His young driver, for whatever dispute that occurred between him and his my dad, could take it no more. I recollect him parking the car by the bridge, throwing the keys on the ground and walking away. My Superman dad, pickled up the keys, jumped in the driver’s seat and started driving. It was a hit and miss experience but he took us home.
Thinking now, of his action that day, I couldn’t fathom why I had seen him as a Superman then. Oh for sure, Death peeped into the car that day but seeing two lovely children decided the collateral damage of any action by her would be too great. She shook her head sadly and walked away.
Then, the accident changed it all. It must have been a little before we reached Saminaka. We all were in the Red Lada when it burst its tires and skidded, meandering across the road, somersaulting for what seemed to be an eternity. It finally came to a stop, in the middle of the road, upside down. All its four tires were facing up and the roof was down on the bitumen. We had crept out of what remained of the car through the space left in the front, where the windscreen used to be. It was a miracle that we all lived and not a bone was broken in our bodies. For sure, Death was near but it seemed it wasn’t empowered to do anything because of the Red colour of the car. May be, it was also that there was a different plan that the creator had for us, his kids. After this, the car was repainted. It ceased being the Red Lada as it got repainted white. It was in the White Lada that he died in Kazaure, the Red Lada never killed him. I don’t know what the colour white signifies but to me, it wasn’t one of peace but of a great loss.
I was still lost in my thought, that was, until a small fish popped out into the air and fell back into the river, right in front of my canoe. I snapped out of the past and back to appreciating the beauty of the River and it’s numerous inhabitants. I saw the black swan, with its long neck swimming nearby. I then started noticing the , as my paddle breaks the water, flowing with the current below the waterline by the side of my Kayak. These are big and initially I was scared. Then I remember what I had learnt about the brown specie that is endemic to the Perth area, they do not inflict a painful sting to humans. As I paddle further away, I saw the white egrets and then a flock of geese flying just above my head towards the bank of the River. My attention was drawn in their fight direction, first to the thick shrubs by the river bank. Then to the humanity that straddles the bank in pairs and only in very few places in groups of up to 4. Corona Virus had sealed people up in their homes and, out here, social distancing remained the rule.
I pulled my red kayak up the bank of the river and then off with the red jacket as well. I felt relieved, in need of a refreshing bath to get the salt away from my skin. Saying bye to the Canning River, I gently loaded up “the Explorer”. Nature has a way of leaving me always longing for more but for now, home calls.