Your Brief Bio:
Adesoji Adebayo is a creative writer, editor and motion graphics artist. He currently resides in Lagos, and grew up reading different kinds of books.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
Our Hands Are Sticks And Our Chests Are Drums is a story about a young boy, Chidi, who was kidnapped by his mum's twin sister. Along the journey, he meets Lanre and together they forge a powerful relationship.
Even though I feel like jumping into the river in front of me, the muddy color of it puts me off. So I resign myself to an abandoned canoe nearby and watch the kids in the water swim delightfully. The color of the water is clear around where they are, the middle, yet I don’t think of joining them there.
The banana I ate this morning was my first food since three days ago when Aunty Remi, my mum’s twin sister, came to school to pick me up. She handed me a milkshake as usual when we got to the car, and the last thing I remembered was waving at our school security men as the car exited the premises.
When I woke it was almost night, and Aunty Remi was outside the car arguing with two men. As I looked on, one of the men slapped her really hard. Hard enough that she fell and tried to stand and fell again.
The other man helped her up, while the one that slapped her walked back to the car and sat on the bonnet; his back was directly opposite me, thereby shielding his short friend and my aunt from sight. Quietly, I sneaked out of the backseat door, entered the bush next to it and never looked back since then.
A distant humming in the sky jerks my attention back to the present. Out of the corner of my eye, I check for the skinny kid in a canoe across the river all by himself, several meters from the group of kids I’ve been envying since I arrived at this spot.
As the humming gets closer, the swimming kids all pause to look up and back at one another. Then as if on cue, they race towards me together. By now I can see the cause of the sound: A helicopter, growing bigger as it approaches.
One after the other, the kids reaches the shore and file out. Then they all space themselves, and spread their hands as if they are about to fly. When the copter reaches directly above us, they start to rotate about their positions just like its evasive blades.
I'm guessing this is routine for the kids, so I try as much as possible to not be moved by the magnificence of the fleeting moment lest I waste precious energy. Another glance at the kid in the canoe again, still sitting in the same spot in the middle of the river, and I ask myself, "Why not join your happy friends over here and be happy?"
He looks in my direction for a second, and then turns away. I think he hears me, or maybe my thoughts, so I keep my eyes on him. I watch as he wipes his face with the hem of his cloth, stands and jumps into the water.
I'm speechless for some seconds. When I'm able to speak, I scream, "Help! Help that boy!" The kids around me stop their activity, and turn to look at me for the first time so I point to the water. Then leap out of the boat and race into it fully clothed.
I hear splashes behind me. But I don't look back, I swim to the canoe as fast as I can and dive under. I see the boy still sinking and go after him. Amazingly, three of the kids get to him before me so I return to the surface and lean on the canoe for a while before joining them on the riverbank.
The kids are not around anymore when I reach the shore, just boy and me now. He seems dead, so I move to him and press his belly like I see on television. He sputters, and coughs out water, then bends over. I'm thankful he is alive, but I'm exhausted so I lay on the ground beside him to regain some of my lost energy.
I stay like that for a while until I hear the movements behind me; I guess the boy is fully conscious again. He is moving away already when I turn to check him, limping and there trails of blood droplets in his wake.
Alarm bells chime in my head, and I hurry after him. He halts, and hands me the opportunity to catch up. I quickly make him seat on a big stone nearby and make him tilt his head backwards in order to stop his bleeding nose - like we were taught in health education at school.
After a while, I head back to the river then tear off my shirt's pockets and wet them. In my mind, I picture the boy's light brown face with parsimonious red spots plastered on it. There are more of the dots all over his body, which reminds me of a picture my class teacher once showed us in class as an example of someone having leukemia.
A thought occurs to me, if father can treat him. Leukemia or not, he'll first have to carry out tests on the boy to know what his real sickness is. But I'm a long way from home, at least I can tell that based on the mud houses I've been seeing so far, including men and women carry simple farming implements.
The boy must've read the distress signals on my face; he immediately grabs my elbow and looks at me inquiringly as I use the wet cloth on his stained face.
"I want to go home," he says.
His perfect English startles me; it evokes myriads of questions I've been dying to ask all day. The few people I came across in the morning didn't even glance my way, except for a young girl carrying a huge bunch of bananas - even she didn't understand what I was saying until I pointed at the fruits in her hands.
He tugs my elbow again, and this time I quickly decide what to ask as I help him to his feet.
“What is your name?”
“Lanre,” He says weakly.
“Okay, Lanre. My name is Chidi and I’m hungry.”
He smiles at me for the first time, and takes one of my hands in his. Together, we take the path I took to the river, but instead of turning right at a junction of four roads (I arrived at the river turning left) we turn left. We stop by a pawpaw tree on the roadside and I watch as Lanre climb it.
The sun is almost leaving the sky when Lanre throws me the fourth pawpaw. He descends afterwards and we share the fruits equally between us after which he signals it's time to leave.
We turn left again at the junction, and this time I see only mud houses on either sides of the road ahead after passing by only trees for some minutes. Mud houses with adults - mostly women outside cooking, mud houses with half naked kids in the doorway scratching their belly and teasing one another. At every house we pass by, I see pots sitting on fire outside.
I try to focus on the road ahead as we trek; Lanre's presence makes me not to bother about memorizing the road anymore and I don't want to remember my parents and siblings at home as a result of the people I’m seeing.
Although the pawpaw fruits are starting to weigh in my arms, I don't complain. I feel I should be grateful to have a bed tonight. I feel the weight will keep my mind occupied from the sadness tugging my heart.
My heartbeat increases with anticipation as we turn towards a house; four kids are outside it eating eba from the same bowl. Lanre signals me to pause, as he heads inside alone. Very soon I hear an adult woman's voice, probably his mum's, scolding him I think.
When Lanre reappears, the two fruits in his hands earlier are not with him anymore. He relieves me of one pawpaw, and leads me behind the house. We pass through the bush again for some time and come out to a path wide enough to allow two cars.
Lanre points to a car ahead, parked by the roadside, "That's my bed."
I settle next to Lanre in the backseat of the burnt vehicle silently, wondering why we're both so laconic about our situations.
"The owner of this car taught me for five years; how to speak English," he says, looking at me, "and how to write it. She was here to receive treatment for mental problems - at where I'm receiving treatment too - at the herbalist's place. The women here killed her, when they find their husbands were liking her all the time."
He hands me a picture I can barely see in the dark, and starts to peel one of the fruits with a knife he picked from the dashboard.
"I like her too. They burnt this car when they saw her driving me to Lagos. She says my sickness need hospital, doctor, not herbalist. She..."
I feel pity for him as he sniffs quietly. The silence is more welcoming to me though, since his voice wass becoming too emotional for my liking.
Carefully, I collect the half peeled pawpaw from his hands and slice it into long pieces. I pass some to him, and quickly devour my portions ravenously.
"I wish to see the yellow buses she spoke of. The traffic lights, the police men, the bus-stops, the markets, the restaurants, the bar beach..."
I wake to find myself hooked sideways in the space between the condemned car’s backseat and the front seat. A slight headache tingles in my head as I scan the scorched interior of the vehicle to verify where I am: The sight of Lanre dozing in the front passenger’s seat refreshes my memory sufficiently.
I try to find solace in the rendition of the birds outside, but the loud engine of an approaching vehicle spoils the morning peace. I stay by the window to watch the wretched thing go by; when it finally arrives through the fog, shock bolts through me as it disappears again. Just then another vehicle, a car, goes by more discreetly.
Fear mixed with surprise paralyzes me this around, and I look back to check the car. It seems familiar to Aunty Remilekun’s own, and the two men in the front seat…. The driver’s afro hair looks just like that of the man that slapped my aunt.
The sound of a vehicle returning alerts me, and I quickly slide down back to the position I woke up in. The vehicle arrives, but doesn’t disappear off like the others. The engine gives a loud roar, waking Lanre, and I watch as he rises to look out the window with my heart in my mouth.
Almost instantly, the sound of the engine disappears off in the distant again. I spring up immediately I don’t see it anymore, and exit the car through the window. The mannerism of my movements seems to alert Lanre as he jets out of the car too to my uttermost amusement.
“What’s wrong; why’re you laughing? Why were you running?”
“Are you okay?”
The genuineness of his facial expression nearly infects me with more laughter so I turn around to get my thoughts together.
“Were you the one those men in the car were looking for earlier? They match the description of the ones you told me about last night,” He says.
His words quickly wipe the smile from my face. I nod my head: “Yes…”
“I also saw a van with a snail drawn on its side pass by too. It usually delivers snails to a restaurant near our house. My mummy told me and I recognize the driver,” I reply meekly. “A blue van; it’s like a bus, but it is -…”
“I know what a van is,” Interrupts Lanre impatiently.
He looks at me with disbelief for a while until the realization of the events hits home.
“Your place in Lagos?” he says, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Yes, Lagos,” I answer back with a scowl. “Surulere, Lagos.”
I watch him as he reenters the burnt vehicle and return with the picture he gave me last night.
“I have to help mother at the farm today. We’ll find the van later.”
I try as much as possible to hide my unhappiness with Lanre’s statement as I trail behind him. So I focus on memorizing the routes we’re taking as we head back. I soon point out his house ahead, courtesy of his four siblings who share no single resemblance to him whatsoever.
When we arrive, Lanre disappears into the house and immediately returns with a hoe. We head out once again, through the bush again. Few minutes later, we come out in a road and cross to the other side. I try to imagine what’s going in Lanre’s mind by stealing glances at his face but it is blank.
We soon meet men, women and teens carrying simple farm implements on a narrow path. I notice his normal mien return after exchanging greetings with people we pass by. He pulls me off the road when we get to a farmland filled with endless rows of cassava plants. And then he signals me to sit by the stump of tree nearby, while he bends and begins to dig the sand around the stem of a cassava plant.
In a little while the man that slapped my aunt walks by: Afro Man! I quickly stand from the stump and slip into the trees nearby. From where I am, I don’t see my friend anymore, so I peep to see and nearly faint with shock when I see the short friend of Afro Man smiling at me.
I try to step back and run, but I stop turning when a big hand rests on my shoulder from behind. Short Man hooks my stiff face in one hand while he places an upright finger on his thick black lips with his other hand. Together they lead me away from Lanre, away from the farmland through the trees.
I think of screaming, but I worry it will not be loud enough to alert anyone. I think of biting Afro Man’s palm, but Short Man is nearby waiting to strike. Besides, I don’t want to infuriate Afro Man, lest he thinks of slapping me. So I succumb to the fingers around my wrist, and try as much as possible to not catch up with their fast pace.
Afro Man soon stops and carries me on his shoulder when he realizes I’m slowing them down. With my head on his shoulder, and my weight in his arms now, we move fast, too fast for my liking. For unknown reasons, I see satisfaction in Short Man’s eyes as I peer at him from Afro Man’s shoulder, so I shut him out.
The familiarity of the voice pierces my subconscious; it challenges my senses, and bids me awake from a state semi slumber, to know who the owner is. The faces of the noisy strangers approaching me, Afro Man and Short Man seem somehow familiar as Afro Man drops me from his shoulder.
I turn to check again; I’m surprised to see Afro Man and Short Man going down on their knees as the people circling us advance closer. At last, I spot Lanre’s head, peering at me through a man’s leg. He waves and beckons at me, and I gladly oblige.
I finally heave with relief when I successfully force my way through two thick women. Right then it occurs to me that these people are some of the farmers Lanre and I met on the way to his mother’s farm.
“How did you find me?” I ask him, keeping my eye on the bloody shirt tied around his nose. He looks at me but doesn’t reply me. Instead, he prances forward and drums his two hands on his chest continuously. The joy in his actions strikes a chord within me, and I follow suit.
We break into a slight run together, smiling gleefully at passers-by as we go. We pass the farmlands, cross the roads and slice through overgrown bushes still drumming our chests. When I finally look up, I see Lanre’s deceased friend’s condemned vehicle in the distance and wonder why we’re going back to it instead of going after the snail van from this morning.
“The van usually parks in front of a brick house at the junction of this road,” Lanre says.
Then he points in the direction the van and Aunty Remi’s car headed to this morning.
“The house used to belong to my friend,” he says as we reach the car. He brings out the deceased woman’s picture now, and hands it to me again. She is smiling back at me, the woman in the picture. I give it back to him solemnly.
“The people staying there now are snail farmers. I help them sometimes.”
I don't like the new look on Lanre's face; it is as if he is not going to take me to the brick house. This prompts me to pull his hands instead of asking him; he removes his hand from mine and enters the car instead. Even though I'm hurt by his rejection, I follow him inside.
"I'm bleeding too much today," he says weakly now, and turns to me. "My eyes are turning and my body is paining me. I don't have blood again..."
"Go and look for the van before it leaves."
The fear and pain in his eyes, nearly brings me to slap him angrily. I ignore myself, and make him put his head on my laps. Just then the van zooms by, and I watch it become smaller till it vanishes. Lanre's sobs reach my ears but it's hard for me to tear my eyes off the horizon.
Tears gather in my eyes now as I replace the blood soaked shirt around Lanre's nose with mine. He's silent as I rock him to and fro. The more we both weep the more words start to form in my head by themselves, so I speak them out loud.
"Our hands are sticks and our chests are drums, we beat our chests because we are warriors. Our hands are sticks and our chests are drums, we beat our chests because we are warriors..." - Lanre's voice alerts me as he chants along now - "Our hands are sticks and our chests are drums, we beat our chests because we are warriors. Our hands are sticks and our -..."
The sound of footsteps passing by makes me raise my head: The driver from the van with deep tribal marks on his cheek! He soon disappears in the direction of the brick house. I'm speechless as ideas somersault in my head and I can only watch as Lanre continues to chant alone.
I summon courage to stand, and then I kick the door next to me open with a leg. Lanre's eyes are shut now, and he's not chanting anymore. I try not to pay attention to new thoughts forming in my head; instead, I focus my energy on lifting my fragile sleeping friend from the condemned car.
Luckily for me, he's astonishingly light as I carry him with my two hands - even though he's slightly taller than me. As we set out down the road, I silently pray we meet the snail van before the driver returns.
After walking and stopping and walking for an hour or so, I finally see the bus ahead. Energy to increase my pace surges through me, spurring me on. I lay Lanre by the roadside bush when we get to the bus, and search around for a stone to break the padlock of the van's backdoor.
Lanre doesn't stir at all when I place him behind the innermost plastic container of snails in the van, next to the partition between the driver's seat from us. I open the windows a little wider, latch the door shut from inside, with the hope the driver will return in a great hurry and not bother to come around.
I'm half asleep when the smell of petrol chokes my nostrils. Curiously, I peek through the window and see the driver peeing, as he balances an upside down keg against the bus. I return to my former position feverishly, and shut my eyes when the engine roars to life.