Your Brief Bio:
I am Olinya Favour.C. I am a student of law at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
Writing becomes a source of relief to the troubled heart of a 9 year old boy whose father prays for his mother's death at her hospital bed#abuseofwomen#brokenhomes
THE POWER OF WRITING
I gave a lot of strength to a kick; enough for Mama to know I was there. And when it was time to slide through, I did not struggle with the midwives. I often assume Papa was there sitting behind the curtains when they are pulled shut to cover the bed area. I often assume his hands were pressed close while he said a loud enough prayer to God. A prayer which might as well change my life.
Papa nodded as if suddenly recapping something. “Where are even the nurses? There is Madrid’s match this evening.”
Whenever he said something of that nature, I took a sip from the water bottle on the wooden desk. The warm water inside the bottle had assumed the role of alcohol. It gave me pseudo relief. It dragged my mind away from reality. Away from the truth. Away from the incident of that morning. Away from the incident of every other morning.
As typical with every other morning in families in the East, our family rose for morning devotion a little after 5am each day. Papa always woke Mama and I while immersed in a queer, frightening sense of sobriety that seemed to possess him early every day. After waking us up, he chose a popular Psalm and sitting in the middle of the three-seater couch, he recited it to our hearing. Afterwards, he knelt down and prayed while we watched morosely. His prayer was basically always of confession; strict confession such that but for ‘is’ and ‘was’ and different names, I could recite his daily confession after him each time. Papa was candid in the best way I had experienced. He did not mask words. He censored nothing.
He simply threw his head up, stretched his body and shouted a prayer, “Father, thank you for today. Thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for the gift of family. Lord, forgive me for all my sins. Look at my poor family. Convince them to forgive me for all my sins; all my misdoings to them. Father forgive me for sleeping with women who are not my wives. Forgive me for sleeping with the landlord’s daughter yesterday. Forgive me for touching the sales girl down the street. Forgive me for sleeping with Uchendu, my wife’s cousin the day before yesterday. Forgive me also, Lord, for the sins I am yet to commit. I will be meeting with Chizoba today. Help me not to fall into temptation with her body, Lord. But if I do, please forgive me through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This morning, however, at a little above 5am, he did not wake me up. He did not turn on my light and walk away in his revealing boxer shorts. The boxer shorts with which he had slept with one of Mama’s friends some time ago. He did not walk into our spacious living room and start the Hail Mary. In my dream, I struggled. I was flatulent and this drove everyone around away from me. There were three-storey buildings around us, and I was still wondering why I had to sit outside on benches with the other children while in the buildings, I could hear school classes on when all of a sudden, there was a storm.
The sky sounded funny. It struck thuds and thuds; sounds that seemed to come real when I rolled over and opened my eyes. My head was drenched with my own sweat or whatever liquid was on my pillow. It was dark but I could tell that the action thuds were coming from the bedroom I shared with my mother when I was much younger. I could not hear any voices but I was sure Papa was there. The only unusual thing that happened, however, was that I could not hear Mama’s voice.
I threw my legs down from the bed, slipped them into my slippers and made for the passage connecting the bedrooms. Although I knew the interiors of our flat better than anyone else having stayed indoors most of my life, I chose my steps as though I were touring a strange road at night. I could feel some air penetrate the fancy blocks at the passage. I could even perceive the soup of the previous night. Beside the passage door, there was an old plastic cup with a syringe in it. And then there was a bottle of otapiapia, rat poison. Every night, Mama sucked some of the poison into the needleless syringe and with it applied the poison in every corner of the kitchen. When we woke up, we met lifeless cockroach bodies lying around the kitchen floor, and a hangover of the stench of the poison. Once, the poison had killed a rat.
As my toes touched the hard, red cement floor nearer the door leading to Mama’s bedroom, my heart throbbed. The thuds soon became slaps and slaps, blows, I could not tell what exactly he was doing each second that floated by. I could not tell whether I would be able to breathe; what I would do when the victim turned out to be Mama. Water gathered in my eyes.
When I got to the door post, I could hear sprinkling. I was too scared to move further so I pressed my back to the wall, while subduing my heavy breaths. What was Papa doing? Was he urinating on Mama? Why would Mama even let him urinate on her? I imagined I was an American child. At this point, I would call 911. I would shriek like they would over the landline. I would cry into the phone speaker in polished English and have a concerned voice calm me down. In about two minutes, I would hear an ambulance which would take Mama away for intensive care.
However, for those two minutes, I stood still. My heart stood still also and my spirit seemed to have entered the bedroom and watched the sprinkling go on and on. My spirit had just entered and seen Papa in his regular sky-blue office shirt, when there was a glow. A yellow glow over the walls.
Although I willed to stay still and take everything in, I saw my legs hurry into the bedroom. There, Papa stood in his revealing boxer shorts over Mama. He looked at me.
I did not know whether to run, hide or take hold of the coke bottle containing petrol, sprinkle it over myself and burn with Mama.
In the hospital, a different story was spreading. The doctor told the nurses that Mama was suicidal because Papa had cheated on her.
I took another sip from my water bottle. Papa was flipping the newspaper more nervously, floating his eyes over the pages. It was easy to imagine him as a younger man in search of love but not as young man in search of Mama.
Mama had told me stories of how Papa had come for her hand in marriage. She said that she had never wanted to marry at the age of eighteen but living with her aunt as a servant, she had been pushed to marry Papa. She said that Papa used to come around when her aunt was not around, to help her do the laundry. He would buy her gifts and force her to receive money from him. However, although Papa owned a car and showered gifts and love on her, Mama insisted that after six months, she still wanted nothing to do with him.
By then, Papa worked with the government house as the special adviser to the governor. For this reason, Mama’s aunt and indeed her entire household worshipped the floor on which Papa walked. Being a young orphan, it was not long until Mama began to yield to him.
After two months they courted, Mama got married to him. One afternoon, however, after I was born, Mama got a phone call from a woman who claimed to be Papa’s legitimate wife. She told him that she wasn’t even the only woman, who had borne Papa a child. The only difference, however, between them and Mama was that Mama had given him a male child.
When Papa returned from work that day, Mama had confronted him. Mama told me that that was the day she lost favour with my father. She told me that he had left the house after two weeks and had returned, according to her, a “changed person”.
I was vehement enough with the boulders in the yard, two weeks after Mama’s discharge from the hospital; lumps that had vowed to defy the strength of two men and a jug. Nana was watching me. I tried to twist the ankles of one of the large stones, noting how I would possibly break my back if I tried lifting. Troops of sweat slid down my spine brook. The other fellows were watching me. I lent my face one palm, which I used to swipe across my forehead, ready to burrow sideways. I was as well praying. Praying that the boulder would not toss me across the street to the area where the girls packed up grass into wheel barrows, which the younger fellows would then convey to the NO PARKING ZONE, where the public service trash van would find them.
As I stayed still, ramming into as many calculations as my brain could manage, someone approached me from behind. Now was my only chance to prove my ability, otherwise, if another shadow fell over the boulder, I would later be said to have been helped. I tugged at the stone, pressure overwhelming me. My head felt hot like the lid of a boiling pot. I tugged again. Sweat oiled the feeble hairs that sprung from my arm. Then, spreading my legs as far apart as they could go, I lifted waiting for the snap. It did not come. Instead, I was overcome by glee, hoping Nana had not averted her eyes. I did not mind the pool of sweat pouring into and smarting my eyeballs. I burrowed the boulder sideways. Surprisingly, it moved. The half-moon grass underlying the stone had turned to the colour of earth as I pushed. Now, I could hear Nana’s voice, although unable to make out her words from the sweat gushing into my ears. She sounded frightened, and I knew she was still watching me, her knees clenched and eyes pent up.
Nana was yellow and prim all the time. She had a dark, tall mother. Her father was late five years after Nana was born. Many said he was yellower than Nana, with a golden hair and ash teeth. Although Nana had only been five when her father passed away, she spoke of him as though she had spent a lot of time with him, as though he were still with her. When she spoke about him and I looked at her, I could tell that she still missed him. The other fellows and I never saw her in the mornings. She was always indoors with her mother and a little, old maid, Sera.
I was heaving non-stop now, as I had to guide the boulder if I did not want to lose the tips of my fingers. Although I willed, I could not burrow further. I had only to mark time before dropping. The spreading of my legs had reached its limit. When this happened, I remembered that I had had nothing to eat yet. The other fellows too; probably why they stood watching me. I took in enough air through my mouth, bloated my chin and let the air roam the inside of my mouth. My sweat was now as thick as blood, I could nearly hear the thuds against the earth. Securing the safety of my toes by shaking my legs and looking over to see their position, I dropped the boulder. I could do this again. I could do it till the boulders all around got to the fence, three yards away.
When I looked up, however, I was shocked at what I saw. My chest was heaving greatly and I was not sure whether all that effort was commensurate with the half-moon of earth I had secured. The older fellows were lifting the boulders, two by two, like they were merely air bags. I was nearly, however, going to congratulate myself for burrowing mine a half-moon closer to the fence alone when I looked beside me and saw Odera. He was touching his knees, and doing some sort of waist exercise. Before looking at Nana, I had to be sure whether he was the reason I had lifted the boulder. He winked at me.
“Ariel and seven other good spirits are inside this one,” he chimed. “Look at how our fathers are carrying theirs.”
I nodded quietly and looked away. My neck could not help me locate Nana’s eyes now. I imagined how silly she must’ve thought we were; two fellows lifting the youngest boulder with such difficulty. Even the tortoise would have hit the fence earlier than we had secured the half-moon of earth.
Odera had lately begun to attract my senses. When his family arrived two years ago, I could worry less about him and pleasing the girls. He had been short and small by the arms; it had never mattered to me what good face he had until he finally outgrew me. One could not find a fault with him though. He was plain and funny and sensitive. He was also good with himself, as though he were maximizing the use of an affordable product he had purchased with his own money. He visited everyone equally, and worked nights to find everyone a nickname which he felt they would enjoy. Only lately had he begun to step beyond my boundaries. Boundaries I had recently readjusted without informing him.
He was looking at me for a while, waiting for a reply. I did not want to look at him. I did not want to look at anybody. I wished Papa were there. I reasoned that if he had participated in the lifting as did other fathers, he would wipe the shame off my face. At least, Nana would know that when I grew up to be like him, I would be able to lift a boulder way past a half-moon of earth.
“Do you see what Nana is doing?” Odera asked, and I did not realize he had abandoned his patience for my reply. “She is trying to lift one of the boulders. Do you think she can do it?”
I glanced at Nana. She was laughing with the other fellows across the street, her flay skirt dancing with the comely breeze. Her spotted legs were hidden in a pink hose. As her eyes averted towards us, I swept my eyes away.
“Sure,” I said, folding my arms.
Before we all went upstairs after the Sanitation, the fathers bought us okpa, wrapped in hot banana leaves. Odera sat on one of the boulders as he ate, wagging his chin in reaction to the hotness of the meal. I opened my wrap, contemplating on whether to eat it downstairs or upstairs. I watched as smoke sprayed my eyes and the aroma of the meal leapt out. The mothers were already calling my fellows in to bathe and to eat proper food. One of the mothers, Mama Kamsi unfolded the hems of her wrapper as she got to where I was.
“Okigbo,” she said, “Your mother wants you now.”
I looked up. “Good morning, ma.”
Then, I closed my wrap and ran into the yard, upstairs to meet my mother. As I ran, I imagined I was in a lot of trouble although it was out of place to think so. I imagined she was disappointed in my inability to move the boulder to the fence. Disappointed in the manner I had responded to Odera, and in the manner I had envied the fathers. I did not know what she would say about the okpa I had received but although I had enough time to hide it in my pocket as I knocked, it could not leave my palm.
She looked at my face as she opened the door. The old electricity bills pasted on our door made our house too familiar to me. Most times, we found geckos hiding behind the papers. I had been pursuing them for years now.
“Nno, welcome,” she said, “Did you find the work too hard?”
I shook my head quickly and entered the house, quietly placing my slippers under the wooden structure supporting our fridge. The kitchen had been swept. The curtains had been held aside, and the lights turned off. As I walked into the dining to have breakfast, she touched my arm.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Okpa.” I laid the wrap on the table and waited for her sentence.
“Who gave you?” she went, watching the wrap as one would a blue moon. Then, as if to lend the moment entrance, a ray of sun glided across the dining table and landed on the wrap.
“The men bought it for us. I received mine directly from the seller,” I explained.
She looked at me again. “A random seller?”
“I wouldn’t know, mama,” I responded.
She looked at me again, longer than the first time although I had until then failed to record her eyes avert from me for once. She then leaned forward and touched the wrap as if by touching it she could detect the randomness of the seller.
“Throw it away,” she said, “Eat your food and go and bathe.”
I could not argue with her, and I could not vouch for the random seller because if I did, she would attribute my utterance to my being a gourmand. I dropped the wrap in the waste bin in the kitchen, pulled out my chair and sat down. My spoon was laid out neatly beside my plate, on the tray. Mama was still watching me as I picked it up and plunged it into my rice. I knew why she was watching me. She was watching me to know if I had appetite for the food, in order to be able to tell if I had somehow eaten outside. Mama never gave me money. She always gave me enough to eat and enough water to drink. Those were my major needs according to her. She bought me every other thing based on her discretion. Those other things were tagged, wants.
I was still thinking about the okpa, which I had been ordered to throw away. My nose had imbibed the aroma of the meal. Mama did not make okpa at home. She only bought me some when we went to the market at the end of the month and could not get home early. The last okpa I had tasted had been ready in my presence. Mama never bought edibles from people she knew with the slightest string. This, I thought, prevented her from making new friends or continuing with the old ones.
I hurried through the first five spoons as she stood watching. Although I was hungry, I had no appetite for rice and stew on a Saturday morning. However, I never complained as other children did. I never protested when she laid out my clothes. I never complained when there was too little salt in the food.
“What happened downstairs?” she asked, pulling out a chair to sit beside me.
I gulped some whole rice in order not to look like I was hesitating.
“We cut grass and moved boulders to support the fence,” I said. I drank some water, waiting for her reply.
“Your grandmother is doing better now,” she said quickly as though she had been waiting for me to finish my statement.
I looked at her, gulping some more whole rice. She had a strange look on her face, as if she was neither happy nor sad. As if she did not know what she said.
“Oh,” I said, “Very good, mama. Very good.”
She crossed her fingers on the table. “Yes. I appreciate God.”
After breakfast, I took my bath in our creamy bath tub, put on the clean clothes she had laid out for me on my bed, and lay down. I thought about the fathers downstairs. How they laughed when I could not use the cutlass. I thought about how the little girls sat on their laps, reaching down to the ground with a stick, while the men prevented them from falling or hurting themselves. The fathers of our yard were mostly young. They came out very early in the mornings to jug and smoke cigarettes, their calves jutting out like split coconuts were stored in them. On Saturday mornings, they went down the street to have palm wine at Omasili’s restaurant. I admired them walking together, especially when they invited their young sons to join them. They had invited me once but Mama had thanked them on my behalf, while I was taking a nap.
Mama came into my room while I was falling asleep. The sound of her feet jolted me fully awake. They were strong and firm like that of a man. She sat on my bed and asked whether I was still awake.
“No, Mama.” I looked up. There were traces of tears on her face. I wanted to ask but I knew she would say nothing reasonable to me. However, I knew what must have been the cause. It was either Papa had refused to pay my tuition fees or that someone had reported his activities to her. The last time, M’moge had told Mama that she had seen Papa with a beautiful recent widow. He had dropped by at her house with loads of beverage provisions. The sound of Mama’s catching throat that evening stayed impressed in my heart. She told M’moge that I had no beverage provisions at home. Every morning, I went out to buy sachets of powdered milk and choco.
As I looked on at Mama, I imagined Papa’s prayer had worked. I imagined that Mama were dead. I imagined what I would be doing if Papa was planning her burial. I imagined he would invite those strange women into our house to replace Mama. I could recall vividly how he had looked over Mama’s bed in the hospital when she regained consciousness and prayed that she would die so that he could use some freedom.
Later that evening, Nana sat close by me at Prof’s house. She smelled of soft, milky lotions mingled with light dust. I saw her as a statue with that smell. She came by Prof’s house every week last year. Early this year, she began to come every day. Prof said she was at a stage when most girls did not know how to sing well, so, the slightest chance Nana got, she sang down buildings. Her tiny voice was not swell or even well mannered. In fact, she smote keys, knocking them together, then raised them on G-flat, her usual way.
The manner at which I fool myself by believing I can tell music notes apart is the manner at which Nana believed she could sing. I had heard her sing so much that after three full months, I could not tell if she had improved or whether I had simply got used to her singing. I had learned to nod in the light manner in which Prof did. However, my nod, however light I stream-lined it to be, could not carry as much glory as Prof’s did. It could not make one shudder at the volumes of books I must’ve read. Books as heavy as pregnant goats. It could not make one imagine the level of authority I had in English Language. Prof did not speak like us Nigerians; neither did he speak in the accent of the Whiteman. He was of a strange breed; the well-educated breed. Watching him speak gave me a strange sense of satisfaction, and although he employed bogus words sometimes, the context in which he used them gave me clear understanding of what they could mean. Yet, when I think of it, it’s possible that when he spoke, the manner at which he pampered and cushioned words made them sound bogus. I would rewind my brain, overturn those words, weigh them, and then understand them.
Prof was often free at 10am everyday including Sundays, as he did not attend service except on Christmas day. He had a little maid, Oruoma, who swept the house, bought him newspapers and local drinks, and grinded tobacco for him.
As the early sun rose every day, he sat in his comfortable chair, lodged beside aloe Vera plants on his veranda, with his pipe, newspaper on his lap and a local drink by his side. With every puff of smoke into the fresh air, he took in deep breaths and then beamed of satisfaction.
In the evenings, he spent time with the children living around us, who like me, enjoyed the movement of his head and the manner at which he seemed to drift to sleep at the most interesting point of his stories. When he came all awake all of a sudden, he claimed to have risen from the dead again. Because of this, we thought he not just had authority here on earth but even more hereafter.
I wanted to rest my chin on Nana’s shoulders as the sun fell. She was looking out into the yard. For several moments, she seemed lost on the spot where a mother hen was scratching out her last meal while her chicks squeaked, ready for the last dose of the day. I had often laid down, pictured Nana and I looking over Prof’s veranda, at the sunset. Each time I thought about this, I could feel her warmth; Nana’s soft breath stroking my neck as she leaned on my left shoulder. I hoped that she would sing, while I backed her up no matter how badly or sadly we did so. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, Nana only knew me as the boy with the poorly matched rubber slippers. She would watch my feet when the other boys made fun of me, with no emotion. I knew the boy she liked; Okigbo. She never sat next to him or the other boys. And when Prof asked us to choose partners for an English game; only then did she notice me. She would then trail her left palm over my khaki shorts like I was something she held down while she sought what she wanted.
“Why do your preachers say, Jehovah overdo?” started Prof, watching me. He had had his third drink for the evening. The one he claimed gave him a good night sleep. Sometimes, he spoke to us in the manner of someone who was only speaking because he had to.
I moved my lips and held them shut, staring back at him. I did not know why our preachers said Jehovah overdo. I had never even heard them say so. Besides, if I thought long enough, nodding internally, Prof would turn to someone else as he mostly did; slowly and with an edgy smile on his face.
“I want answers because I’m worried,” continued Prof, still watching me. I stared further, counting the veins on his forehead, wishing to be one of them so that he will not have to look at me till he brought a mirror to himself. “Has God erased something out of His good conscience, only to bring it back to life?”
Prof’s stare was daunting, disrobing. Whenever he watched me, I felt like a city set on a hill, and my body burned with a slight fever.
“I think our preachers mean to say God does more than we ask of him,” Okigbo said from far behind. He was in the company of the boys who sat next to the railing.
“You know why I ask?” Prof began again. “You Nigerians rely on God for everything.”
Okay, first; Prof was a Nigerian. Again, it was the instruction the Bible gave us. I leaned closer to hear him defend his assertion. He laughed when he saw me leaning closer.
“See? This is the problem. We Nigerians have itching ears. We go about listening, looking for the truth whereas the truth lies within. Have you tried connecting with this truth? This truth may be of a different opinion from what the general public holds to be true. But then, that’s why we are individuals. And if at all the truth we tell ourselves turns out to be a lie, then, we can still rejoice,” Prof said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you have made use of yourself. The precious brain that God has given you. He wants you to make use of it. It’s not just for collection of data…”
When we retired for the night, Nana could not leave my mind. I knew that if I told her of my feelings for her, Mama would kill me. Her mother would kill me. I had a lot to talk about but no one to listen. I pulled my notebook to myself. In it, I sketch my mind and initialled all the data it had collected; from Papa to Nana; from Nana to Mama.
Soon, I was writing. For a moment, I looked up. No one was judging me for the things I said. And I felt a lot lighter like one of the boulders had been removed from me. I wrote about the things I wanted. I wrote about how many children Nana and I would bear. Till I was ready to be listened to, I slid that notebook under my dresser. It became my best friend. It knew me.