You don’t need guns
Your black skin is your offensive weapon
It declares you guilty before you are proven innocent
Most times, it is always too late
Your black skin is your offensive weapon
It declares you guilty before you are proven innocent
Most times, it is always too late
He has the height and the pudgy face of a child, so let’s call him a boy.
The boy’s eyes are red and wet with tears. He sniffles for added effect. The boy is in a plain brown shirt and blue jeans. It is difficult to know if the shirt is dirty, because of its colour; but as for the jeans, the splotches of brown are enough proof. His outfit is tattered, like someone blindly cut through them with a pair of scissors. No one knows how long he has walked on barefoot to get here.
“Where are your parents?” The female officer at the reception says, trying on a smile for the boy to feel at ease.
He doesn’t. In fact, tears start streaming down his face.
What if it is a test from God to finally bless her with a child?
She squats before the boy, wipes his tears with her bare hands, and immediately rubs them off on her black trousers. “Don’t cry, you hear? Tell me. What is your name?” Her voice almost a whisper.
“Isaac.” He says, amidst sniffs.
Still with that voice, like they were secretly plotting a conspiracy, she asks, “What’s wrong? You know you can tell me. Remember the police is your friend.” She points to a yellow cardboard, battered at the edges, with a bold green inscription of the same phrase. “And me, I’m like your mother.”
He speaks. (Imagine his mouth is a broken dam, and his words are water.)
After he finishes, her ears are filled. Is this the same evil world she will bring her child into? At least she can help, in her own little way, in making the world a better place. So, she takes the boy to her boss.
The boy scratches his chin and the sides of his face, as he tags along.
It isn’t like any officer of the woman’s rank can enter the boss’s office without knocking, but she has earned it. The boss had desired an affair with her, like every other junior female officer that had crossed his path, but she had her ways of dousing that desire into something platonic—and also her husband, a captain in the army, had a way with persuasion. So, she has earned the attention of the boss, who still hopes one day, of her own accord, she will come to him.
The boy narrates his story, pausing only to sniff, scratch his chin, and the sides of his face.
The boss couldn’t believe his ears. He jumps out of his chair, and thumps his fists on the table. (Here, we are not sure if he is genuinely angry/concerned, or it is merely a devise for the female officer to see him as being compassionate.)
“You are sure your uncle will be back by evening?” The boss bellows.
“Yes—yes sir.” The boy draws closer to the female officer. She rubs his hair. White particles fall off. Then she wipes her hand against her trousers.
The police officers clamp the handcuff around the uncle’s wrists. The uncle has known this day will come. The last operation they went for, he removed his mask outside the premises, and like fate would have it, there was a camera that he feared had captured his face. The operation was meant to be their retirement plan. Lay low, let the tension subside, split the money and flee. But see how that proverb—everyday for the thief but one day for the owner—has come to catch up with him. His only surprise is how the owner had located this hideout so easily. And where the hell is Tade?
“At least tell me my offence.” He says.
They tell him something about kidnapping, torture, and indecent sexual relationship with a boy, his nephew.
The uncle lowers his face, falling silent. The female officer thinks he is ashamed.
“Wait. Wait. Wait. What nephew?” He finally blurts out.
“Isaac.” She says, facing the police truck. “Please come out.”
Isaac steps out.
At once, the uncle is enraged. “You, you!”
It takes about five police officers to pin him down.
And while the attention is on the uncle, the boy manages to slip away. He too has a retirement plan, which does not include the uncle. As the police drives off, he knows he has to act fast. He runs into the house and locates the brown briefcase. He hurriedly transfers its contents into a smaller bag, scratching his chin and the sides of his face. He curses the itching that comes after shaving.
When the female officer gets to the police station, she will realise Isaac isn’t in the other police car. Then she will race back to the house, screaming his name, thinking she has failed God’s test.
“I am choking, I am drowning. This pencil and these scraps of paper aren’t enough. I need colours, sounds—oils and orchestras. I need something more than words.”
I hate writing.
The recapturing of mental images, accumulated overtime, through words is tasking. English is a second language to me, second to pidgin (although, my Warri friends keep saying my pidgin is crap), which makes writing in English daunting. I also get arm and backaches whenever I type past a certain period, but I can deal with these aches because I wish I could draw.
Sometimes, when you write something and give someone to read, you see their brows converge in frustration as they try to drive through your gridlock of words (except you are that kind of writer who is skillful in drawing the reader in, even after the final full stop). Some don’t even make it through half of the work. They give you back with a smile saying ‘it is a wonderful work’.
You: Are sure you are done reading?
They: Yes, I’m a very fast reader.
You: So do you think I should have killed her at the end?
They: Who? I mean, yes of course. That’s what makes it lasting and enpathic. Tragedy has always been a powerful tool in any work of art, and you have used it like a pro.
You: Erm. She was the villain.
They: … … …
Imagine giving that girl a poem or a portrait of herself. When it comes to poems (although it depends on the girl), in most cases, you would have to pray she understands the poem and interprets a compliment as a compliment and not otherwise. I once wrote to a girl this:
“…I love it when you turn me on
Especially with no makeup on…”
The next thing I got was a text: Are you saying my makeup is horrible?
No, I mean your natural beauty surpasses your makeup.
But why do you always tell me, when we go out, to always put my makeup on?
Why won’t she understand that it is just a poem, and sometimes one may have to tell lies? Yes, poets lie. Sometimes. A well written love poem is a beautiful and believable lie. How was I to know I had gone over the edge?
So I responded with: I don’t want other guys to see your true beauty, you know I don’t like competition.
Then she responded with ‘lol’. Not the you-are-funny lol, but the end-of-discussion lol or I’d-get-back-to-you lol.
However, when it comes to drawing, imagine the joy of giving her a portrait of herself—a pencil-sketched selfie. You don’t even need to push yourself to the limit of mastering any language. Lines and curves are universal enough; it is the only language drawing requires to capture a worldwide audience.
But my hands have always found it impossible to recreate what I see in that universal language. So out of two difficulties, I have chosen the one familiar to me.
Houseflies are sweet. And that’s why the game is difficult.
Don’t brush your teeth, let its stench rival that of public latrines. At this stage, open your mouth like a flytrap, let your bait of unbearable stink attract the unlucky creature…
It finally comes buzzing, discovering. A wide grin across its face—the wind has been a good messenger. The fly perches on your tongue, inserts its proboscis. Sucking. Thinking: this is fly heaven…
Comfort blinds. Shut your mouth. Don’t do it tightly, restrain your ruthlessness; the sudden darkness, for now, is enough to startle it.
You feel it clamouring for freedom: thrusting itself on the walls within your mouth, knocking, struggling to set free. As it clamours, the sweet juice within it is cooking. Let it cook, cook and cook—but pray it does not discover that route down your throat.
When it slows down its movement, you know it is tired. The juice is ready. It is then you cripple its movement, sandwiching it between your tongue and upper mouth. You feel it on your tongue, tickling, trembling, scratching, digging, attempting to escape. But its legs are weak. Like hair strands.
Compress. At that point, it starts to secrete its juice. Your saliva pumps out, spreading the taste all over your mouth, giving your taste buds a rare experience—a blend of honey, milk and something strange. Keep compressing, squeezing it off its juice. The tighter, the wetter, the sweeter.
It is intoxicating, so know when to stop or else you crush it to death, then it becomes like a tank of gall spilled within your mouth. You spit, spit and spit, scrubbing your tongue with water, but the bitter taste never leaves. This shows you’re a bloody amateur.
To show you are not, squeeze the fly close to the point of death—at that point where a tighter squeeze would murder the sorry being. It is then you spit it out. There, you’ve passed the first stage.
When you spit out the fly, and it plunges straight to the ground, like an airplane out of fuel or it glides around like a drunk before rocketing to the ground, you’ve lost out.
But when you spit it out, and it flaps every tiny droplet of your saliva off it wings, gains momentum and takes off, then you are a pro: You’ve licked it clean for it to seek you again with more sweet dirtiness.
This is how you milk a housefly.
I had to choose between a danfo bus and an okada to Berger. They both have their pros and cons. A danfo would be slower, but my white would be void of the dust hovering along the road. The okada would be much faster, but my hair, white shirt, black trousers and shoes, would be targets for the dust or mud, depending on the weather. I discovered a shorter route the day before, so I went for the bus.
At the bus stop, the woman who asked me about voter’s registration was also there. I greeted her, hoping she doesn’t bring up the topic. She doesn’t. I was not even sure if she recognised me. She flagged an okada, asked if I’d like to join, since I might have been late. Maybe she does remember. But I’d already decided for the bus, and besides it would be weird grinding another man’s wife, all in the name of entering an okada for a thirty-minute journey along a gallopy road. I responded with a curtsied no.
My patience soon paid: a danfo bus undulated towards my bus stop like a boat surmounting turbulent waves. I waved it down.
The bus had no conductor, it was just the driver. The driver was a dark thin man, probably of average height. His hoarse voice made up for his frail frame. Before he picked anyone, he made sure to tell them the price, “Na hundred naira o. If u no gree, no enter my bus!”
Those who felt the price was too high for such distance stood back, some grumbled but still entered, others entered without flinching. A woman, with a baby strapped to her back, sat beside me. She greeted me. I offered her a quick smile in response.
Something was wrong. The driver was screaming. Someone was yet to fully pay. His quick calculation amazed me. Perhaps, maths would be easier if the equation was money. The driver shouted and screamed, huffed and puffed, threatening to curse the defaulter. Finally, a woman confessed to paying fifty naira. The driver screamed, asking why she had entered if she had known she won’t pay. She called the driver a thief, saying the usual fare was fifty naira based on where she boarded.
The passengers supported the driver:
“But he said it was hundred naira now.”
“Those who couldn’t pay went off, you should have done same.”
The woman kept quiet, but her scowl still remained plastered all over her face. She never paid the balance. The driver never stopped grumbling.
Something was wrong again. The woman with the baby stood up immediately and started wiping her sit with a scarf. She was wiping some sort of liquid. And it had already trickled towards my ass. I immediately jumped up. The woman kept wiping. Her baby had just urinated.
I looked at the woman, every trace of cordiality erased from my face.
“I’m very sorry sir. Please forgive me. Please…”
In a bus like that it was hard to react the way I would like to do, I was well dressed and the woman was a mother, with a baby for that matter. The only option I had was speech, controlled speech.
“Why didn’t you wear pampers for the baby?”
“I wanted to but it was too cost, please forgive me.”
Fine, a poor woman with a child. All eyes were on me anticipating my reaction. Most of the passengers were women, the rest were older men, with the exception of two school children.
“Next time please buy pampers.” It was the best I could say considering the circumstances.
I collected a piece of clothing and tried to make amendments to my trouser. At least the trouser was black and the sun was hot, it should dry before I got to court. But apart from the dampness, another thing I feared was the smell. Did babies’ urine smell? I remember one early morning when I was in primary six, before I left for school, our last born, who was sitting on my lap, unleashed on my P.E shorts. Did it smell then when I wore it to school?
“When you get to Berger, buy pure water, pour small on a piece of clothe to wipe the trouser.” A woman said.
I nodded. But deep down, I knew I wouldn’t do such. I couldn’t imagine wiping my ass with pure water in that public Berger; and besides, I couldn’t let that waste my time. My best bet was to hope the trouser doesn’t reek of urine. How would a grown man like me deal in public when smelling of urine?
“Last bus stop,” the driver said.
“Move closer to the bus stop now.” Some passengers protest.
Getting down from the bus, I swiped my hands across the back of my trousers to sniff, I smelled nothing. But again, I had catarrh so my nose couldn’t be trusted. As I walked, I could feel the dampness up to my boxers. For everyone I passed by, I could imagine the whiff of urine obstructing their noses, so I walked fast without turning back, at least that would confuse pedestrians as to the source of the smell. Even the smell from the gutter was an accomplice to conceal the smell. Also, my suit and tie. Who would suspect a man with a suit and tie?
I crossed to the other side of the road. The beggars had taken their various spots. I saw a new addition: it was a man. He was lying down on the curb. His back was facing the sky. The whole of his back was yellowish and oily, like someone who had been recently burnt. A sort of liquid gathered at the middle of his back. Another man stood beside him begging for alms on his behalf. A young boy tugged my trouser saying, ‘Oga I’m hungry. I never chop.’
What is the problem of a baby’s urine smell compared to all of these? But still it was my problem and I was disturbed.
This new garage was unlike the Darwinian one. What we had here was order. First come first serve was the order, thanks to the queue, which I joined. I was thinking if the person at my front or my back would smell the urine odour, if there was any. But I don’t think it would smell, because the urine did not look yellowish, like that of those who don’t drink water. The lesser water you drink, the yellower the urine and the worse the smell.
I remember back then in my secondary school, there was this particular spot on the football field where we regularly rained piss. The grasses there were once green but it had become permanently yellow, no thanks to our concentrated piss. If you stared at that spot for few seconds your eyes would begin to water; open your mouth there and it was like you were tasting pee.
On approaching the bus that would convey me to Ikeja, the conductor was obstructing a passenger from entering the bus.
“No enter my bus o! You wey call my bus jaga jaga!”
“You dey mad? You no know who I be? Because say I wear corporate no mean say I no craze for head o.”
The conductor looked at him, sizing him up. He must be thinking whether to call his bluff or not. He finally lets him in with a shaky warning. I walked past them thinking no one would have time to consider the smell of urine.
I scanned around for a window seat but they had already been taken. I picked the closest I could find, the one next to a woman sitting by the window. She looked at me, I greeted her. She mumbled something in response. Her glare was hard like stone. I looked straight ahead; the bus was gradually filling up. I hope she doesn’t smell…
“Brother you just match me.’
She later opened the window, saying the bus was stifling.
The bus began moving. The driver switched on the radio. The radio presenter was expressing his disappointment at the failure of Nigeria from qualifying for the Nation’s Cup. He was saying we were no longer the Giant of Africa, and this transcends beyond football.
Everyone’s gaze was aloof, probably tired and waiting for the week to end. Tomorrow would be Friday; hence the law of diminishing returns had set in since yesterday.
I would drop at the last bus stop, certain I won’t have to shift. I just hope I wouldn’t have to shift for the woman beside me to drop. (It was to avoid shifting that I searched for a window seat and also for the incoming breeze to blow off any urine smell). If the urine was yet to fully dry, it may show a wet smear on the bus seat if I had to move. How would I then explain to the next passenger what the smear was, if she looked at me with inquiring eyes? Maybe I would say it was sweat. Or I would tell her the truth that it was a baby that urinated etc. She would probably act like she believed, but deep down she would think it was a village curse that made me pee myself. Afterall, this was Lagos and everyone had his or her own unique problems. And when she gets to work I’d be the topic of the day as to how wicked the world was.
Luckily for me, the woman beside me also dropped at the last bus stop. We were the last to exit. I took a brief look at the seat when I exited. It was dry. Itouched my trousers. Dry. I didn’t even feel the dampness in my boxers. I wiped my hands at the back of my trousers and drew it close to sniff, my catarrh-blocked nose still revealed a negative.
Immediately I got to my court, I decided to double check, since my nose couldn’t be trustworthy. I told my friend I smelled something strange in court, and asked if he could smell it also. He took a long breath, sniffed three times and finally squeezed his brows.
“Urine,” he said, “but the smell is kind of faint.”
1. Conversations: Confident Lies and a Sheathed Hero
The woman, sitting next to me in the bus, asks me when the voter’s registration would be closed. If only she knows how unacquainted I am with such issues. It is so bad that I will lose a million naira wager, if I am asked to state the Deputy Governor of Lagos State. My lawyerly black and white must have inscribed in her thoughts that I am a lawyer. And lawyers are or ought to know it all. Even my thin-framed glasses adds to the delusion. Or maybe she is propelled by a longing to converse. But irrespective of her motives, I will not disappoint. A lie spoken with confidence is taken as truth, so I push up my glasses with my index finger, and I speak:
– It is still on.
– I thought they announced it was closed.
I rely on the generic clause as to why things do not go as planned. -This is Nigeria now; they would probably have extended it. Trust me, it is still on.
Then, she starts listing a thousand reasons why she was yet to register. I am not in interested in her reasons, I would rather be lost in my thoughts while staring out the window, seeing school children and office workers waiting at bus stops, but I have to be polite. I imitate my facial expression to match hers, which changes as she delved into several topics.
I do not know how long I kept up with this. Sometimes I get so lost in my deceit until the bus jerks me to the present, while navigating the wavy patterns of the numerous portholes. During one of these jerks, I hear her saying something about how the recent warfare in the North has made it uninhabitable. She believes all non-indigenes should relocate. I wonder whether I should unsheathe my heroic status with just a sentence: I actually school in Kano.
Most times, when people say how dangerous the North is, I say it dismissively that I school there. Their frozen look with their mouths opened wide is priceless. Later their faces thaw into concern and they pray for my safety. However, due to reasons unknown to me, I leave my heroic status sheathed.
The bus gets to her destination. She bids me goodbye.
2. The Berger of Beggars
The women sit by the roadside in straight rows. They mostly wear hijabs or scarves around their heads. Some of the women have one or two kids seated with them by the roadside. The sun, slowly staring from the clouds, is already melting their faces to sweat. When you pass by, they all stretch their hands towards you, begging for alms, like a mini Mexican wave.
There is a man at the other end of the road standing on his feet, but his head barely reaches the waist of pedestrians. He is wearing a redcap, praying for those who give him money. One of the touts calls him chief. He smiles.
Amidst all these, a preacher, holding a mic, stands before a mobile platform. He is preaching about prosperity. His wide mouth barely contains his jutting teeth, the spit pump out in their droves. The large groups of okadas, spilling out on both sides of the road, add to the surrounding din as they tout for passengers.
This is Berger, where I alighted. A short walk from here would lead me to the final bus I would take to Ikeja. I have to walk in the middle of the road because of the human and vehicle spillover on both sides. A honking car sometimes pushes one to jostle to the roadside.
3. The Terminus of Equality
At the bus terminus, I am not the only one waiting. Women and men of all shapes and sizes are also waiting. Everyone waiting is on their way to one business place or the other. A bus crawls towards us, a conductor walking alongside the bus, calls, ‘kejakejakeja’. Godot is finally here.
We rush towards the bus like it is our last chance at redemption, arms swimming against the current of people, in order to create a space for entry. In this struggle, there is no discrimination based on sex. All sexes are equal. Chivalry is dead. The struggle for space levels all. It is all Darwinian: only the weak gets evicted.
If you’re experienced enough, your size can be used to your advantage. The slim ones would squeeze through any tiny space, although they could be easily swiped off by the huge ones. The huge ones have the advantage of body size and strength, although they can hardly squeeze through tiny spaces.
While struggling in, I use one hand to guard my pocket. One cannot be too careful. It can also be an opportunity for the pick-pockets. Finally, I get a seat. I look at the extinct ones: a woman nurses her arm, shouts at someone inside the bus; another man taps his pocket, shock imprinted all over his face; there are those, whose eyes darting about, looking for the next bus. A woman had to drop because her son did not make the entry.
5. A Happy Conductor Is a Happy Bus
The radio in the bus is on. The presenters are saying something about a state of emergency. Angry callers call, firing government…
A woman from the back of the bus says she has only a thousand naira note—the bus fare is just a hundred naira. When conductors call their destination, they attach to their call ‘no change’. It is roughly interpreted to mean, do not pay with a note two times more than that of the fare. But passengers disobey, who would want an issue like that to bar one from entering a bus? So, the easiest way a passenger can annoy a conductor is to pay with a large denomination for a much lesser fare. That was what the woman did.
The creases on the conductor’s face rearranges to form a frown. His eyes pop out and become watery. He starts, why you no go get change etc.
The passengers assure him he would get change. They all pay with the right denomination.
The conductor’s grin widened as he has a pocketful of change. He is bursting with mirth, cracking jokes, making us laugh. We forget our troubles awhile.
A happy conductor is a happy bus, until a new set of passengers defies his no change order; or a LASTMA official implements a road traffic offence; or the bus driver hits a military car or some persons related.
6. Final Destination, for now
The bus dropped me close to Underbridge. I walk past boutiques, a woman sleeping on the roadside, a man in a threadbare suit with his arms outstretched, the LASTMA roundabout, LASUTH, Police College, women with typewriters hawking affidavits, before appearing at my place of attachment, the High Court of Justice, Ikeja.
Watermaid ii – Christopher Okigbo
The unconscious speaks to you, that stuff most of you writers call inspiration. It speaks clearly in a subtle voice. What makes it so important is that it gives you an idea for a dope-ass story. It even goes further to give you like three dope-ass opening paragraphs. But there is a problem. You are in a place where you cannot write, (you hardly take a book and pen with you here, just your phone) you cannot also type on your phone, your church is yet to imbibe such techie culture. Your church even has carefully appointed stone-cold faced ushers (the church’s version of club bouncers, the only difference being that these ones stay inside) who kill that thought of typing off your mind.
But it would be unfair, if not unethical, to kill off this dope-ass story. So you recite the paragraphs, in your mind, again and again and again. Soon you stop, probably because the pastor is preaching about something you like, maybe something about immorality, like fornication or adultery sliced open into spicy pieces; or a near-miss-from-death story; or a rags-to-riches story, a touching story about a poor man becoming super rich and stuffs like that. The rags-to-riches story, or whatever the pastor is preaching about, inspires you so much that you forget about the prodding unconscious. ‘I will write about it as soon as I get home’, you tell yourself.
You come out of church spiritually refreshed and you type across all the social media you belong to, ‘service wz xo on point!!!’ together with the right smileys, a show-off picture and appropriate hashtag(s) where necessary.
On getting home, after moving immutable hills of pounded yam and drying up stagnant rivers of egusi, along with its aquatic life, sleep saunters towards you on a red carpet invitation. You try to recite those three paragraphs, but you were only able to recite two, the third one now hazy. ‘When I wake up, I will type the story,’ you say.
Before sleeping you make a decision to briefly reply pings and comments. Then that girl, you have been chyking for a while now on bbm, pings you: ‘hi. nice dp. i love’. (Which guy would sleep after receiving such?) After hours of extensive social media participation, during which you got to know more about her, during which you engaged in fiery political arguments about the upcoming elections on twitter, you finally switch off your phone and went to bed when a curious follower asked, ‘So why was service so on point?’ By then the contents of the day’s sermon had been long expunged from your memory.
Your laptop displays a blank white screen, except for ‘A Short Story’ typed in bold. The cursor blinks, winks, teasing your sudden amnesia. It is night time when all is serene and quiet, except for the occasional olode’s whistle, best time for writing they say. For the past two hours you have been trying to remember those three dope-ass opening paragraphs, but nothing comes, only the idea of the story remains, and without those three paragraphs you cannot execute the story. You have been pleading with the unconscious but s/he is far gone, somewhere at the lowest bottom of your mind fast asleep.
In order not to waste this precious night, you type ‘How to Kill’ in front of the ‘a Short Story,’ all in bold…
One of the major ways to know the end of the month is here, is when you make a sound in your account and the sound bounces all over, fading away in receding echoes. This affects each and every other aspect of your life.
The bleating of a goat, and not the usual cock crow, hoists me up from sleep. Lectures start by nine a.m, so if you wake up by seven or even eight-thirty (if you are a guy) then you’re on the right track. Now, don’t trust the sun or the sounds of animals to tell you what time of the morning it is, because the sun here is unlike the lazy one in the South. This is why as the annoying goat wakes me up and the sky although bright, I still pull out my phone to check the time, eight-thirty six. My roommate must have left me for class.
I dive off my upper bunk and land forcefully on my feet; a shock runs up my waist, before the shock subsides, I limp to the bathroom to get a bucket. The short journey to the snail tap next.
Two weeks ago, the old tap, which always gushed faster than the speed of a beer-filled man’s urine, started to leak, so it had to be replaced. When the tap was finally replaced, it trickled slower than the tears of an amateur actor/actress forcing himself/herself to cry. Apart from the speed of the old tap, another thing I enjoyed was that, the tap curbed every form of awkward silence that may ensue after the usual exaggerated greetings. In the regime of the old tap, conversations went like this:
Me: Hey Chairman/Baba! How far?! (Chairman or Baba is used not because I pay them so much homage, but because I really do not know their names)
Chairman/Baba: Boss! (He too doesn’t know my name).
Before the awkward silence sets in, my bucket outpours, and I’m off to my room.
But now/this morning, conversation(s) goes thus:
Silence. The tap trickles. The trees whistle. There is a bird piping a popular tune? Two young boys chasing a herd of goats. Some students already hurrying to class.
Me: So you too dey fetch water for here?
Bro: Ha ha. Sure..
Silence. A bronze coloured millipede forges its path with its thousand legs. The smell of the leaky soak-away settles in our nostrils, we cringe. He glares at me, thinking it to be my fart. A lizard slithering blindly hits the millipede, the millipede coils in defence. The lizard flexes it muscles and goes on a spree of pressups. The sound of water trickling in plastic. The sound of water trickling in…and that’s when I remember my bucket of water. The bucket is half-filled, but I decide to take it that way.
Me: Ok bro, we go see now!
Now at the beginning of the month, I am usually a kind of Dangote, so I drink either bottled water—or pure water—and use same to brush. But now, I take out that large bowl I bought from Gamzaki, use its bottom to scrape the surface of the water from my bucket and scoop a full bowl from the scraped portion. The fact that I use the same bucket to have my bath and flush the toilet becomes long forgotten. I down it all in one gulp. I take another measured scoop to brush my teeth.
The month’s end is also that period when provisions usually finish, even things that do not finish monthly, choose this period to do so, I remember this while squeezing a tube of toothpaste with so much superhuman strength to twist iron bars; it spills out a small splat. At least, it would be enough to cleanse my mouth from yesternight’s meal at Mami.
Mami Market, as the place is hardly called, is where we students buy our meals. Mami is basically a two-lane-road-sized sandy aisle flanked with different-sized drab-looking bungalows. Among these bungalows are bukas, a shoe repair store, provision stores, a pharmacy store (where they have record sales of cough syrups) etc. At the dead of night all these become the den of lovers.
The bukas in Mami are kind of ethnic based without meaning to. Nkiru and Collins take their fair slice of the Ibo students. There is Akwa Best, for the Calabars, Akwa Iboms etc. (rumours are rife that the so called beef eaten there is actually dog meat, but that’s none of my business). There is also that Hausa place packed with the hausas, where it is so easy to get lost in the labyrinth of their language. Then finally there is Iya Yoruba. The advantage Iya Yoruba may seem to have is that she is fluent in both Yoruba and Hausa, so she gets her fair share of both ethnic groups. And did I also mention she got an award last year, from the Students Representative Council, as the Best Eatery of the year?
I usually eat in Iya Yoruba and yesternight was not an exception. There is nothing spectacular about the interior: four rectangular tables on both sides of the rooms, each with their own chairs and benches, creating a walking space in the middle. On the extreme end of the left side, we have the counter where food is usually served, and on the right side, there is a television permanently tuned to kiddies’ shows.
In all these bukas, for every plate of rice, you’re entitled to a piece of meat and a sachet of pure water which is just two hundred naira, but that night I was with just one hundred and fifty naira, my last cash, which is enough for just a plate of rice without meat or half plate with meat, and I was famished.
I entered Iya Yoruba around that time of night when I’d be the only one there and almost or all of the pieces of fish and meat would be finished. I began holding my cheek like I was down with toothache, and put on a matching expression. I told her to serve me a plate of rice, as she was about to put meat, I stopped her saying I have toothache and can only chew something soft, like fish. I was certain she didn’t have fish. She didn’t. That was how I ate yesterday.
Now back to the bathroom, I pack all the remainders of my used soaps, deep them in water for a few seconds. When they become a bit soft, I mould them into one.
Five minutes later, I’m out of the bathroom, with my blue towel wrapped around my waist. The last of my bodycream has gone with yesterday and I have to cream to prevent that whitish skin look. I look around, a bowl of margarine; the smell of butter may betray me, I skip. Then after a quick search for a cream-substitute, my eyes rest on the anointing oil my church gave me before going to Kano Law School…
To reduce the amount I will have to spend for ironing later in the week, (iron is contraband here) I settle down for the same white shirt I wore yesterday. But it is kind of dirty; it is in times like these, suits become useful. Don’t be fooled by guys in their suave suits, it is merely a cover for hiding ‘recycled’ whites. If you want to know those who wear recycled whites, just check the collars or the cuffs, you will find all the proof you need.
I step out of the room suited up, the scent of olive oil suppressed with my roommate’s perfume.
One good thing about the month’s end is that, it is then I remember I have a mum somewhere. I bring out my phone and flash her three times. Five minutes past nine. I speed-walk to class hoping she calls before I get there. And if she doesn’t, the half bag of garri in my Ghana-Must-Go should prepare to get off the reserve bench.
By Gbolahan Badmus
The sun in Kano, as usual, was unshielded by clouds, shining in its fullest glory. Flies and bees competed in harmony for the fallen or half-eaten mangoes littered under the trees; the dried-up ones left for the soles of wandering feet. Some flies completely abandoned the mangoes, and teased us by singing annoying music to our ears. We slapped our cheeks in a failed attempt to strike them dead. Others swirled above the heads of goats, like a form of dirty halo. The goats unperturbed by the flies, chewed peacefully of what was left of the recently mowed grass, trying to fill their bellies or shaving the head of the earth bald. A kid-goat, searching for its mother, shrilled like a newborn child. Beautiful butterflies (or moths) in the shade of yellow and white fluttered mindlessly, hopping from one plant to another. The sun drilled for sweat…
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You wrote your first poem and even made it rhyme. It was a love/nature kind of poem. You showed your parents, friends and your girlfriend. They all loved it so much—or acted like they did. They even encouraged you to write more. You were inspired by their words and began to write more. Your poems began to rapidly ascend the ladder of complications and complexities. You showed them to your usual fans, and your poems tortured their brilliance, mocked their intelligence and murdered their understanding; they told you of the mental ache your poems caused. But you only shrugged them off as being shallow; your poems, anyways, were for the intellectuals.
They began calling you Wole Soyinka, your mother was the pacesetter of that trend, and you tried to keep up to the image: you abandoned your wildly sprouting hairs, and almost dyed it white, but for your girlfriend’s threat of a breakup. Wole Soyinka they called you, when you pass by, and you responded with puffed shoulders and a bouncy step; on some good days you bamboozled them with strange grammatical combinations that would profound even the creators of the language. Although they didn’t understand what you uttered, they urged you on with their ignorant cheers. You were Wole Soyinka after all.
Then you discovered online literary journals searching for submissions. It would be a fast way to publish and build your profile, you thought. The first step to fame, you had never been so happy. So you began to type, spewing puzzles, constructing riddles and building brick walls, all in the name of poetry. You were certain no one would understand, except someone as smart as you, and this made you smile. You distributed them among the so-called top literary journals, and had to wait for eight weeks until their replies.
You were not nervous in any way; you were certain the various editors would read your works and commend you. Some would even ask, how come you write like Wole Soyinka? Then they would fix an appointment to see you, to discuss publishing prospects. But the problem that got you thinking was which of the editors would you respond to? You later settle for the one who would have the most lucrative contract. Perhaps, you even could publish simultaneously with the ten different editors. You are a rare poetry genius and there was no new territory beyond your reach.
Then you began to boast among your friends about your upcoming publications. You also began scheming through the internet for several poems, and to you they didn’t matter in anyway. Even the so-called celebrated poets were not half as good as you were. You were certain that if you had started earlier, you probably would have bagged a Nobel, no joke. Twenty three is still not too late to start.
Before the eight weeks countdown, you heard of a poetry prize for unpublished writers. This was going to be another piece of cake, you thought. And you sent another of your brain-numbing poems. Luckily for you, the week the longlist would be announced, will coincide with the week the online literary journals would send you a response.
That week would be worth celebrating; so on that week in issue, you organised a small party. The avalanche of acceptance emails you receive would be that which will kick start the party, so you and your friends crowded around your phone, waiting for these “career-boosting emails.”
It is three years now and the pile of rejection emails you’ve received have been overwhelming, so overwhelming that it humbled your youthful pride, and suppressed your Soyinka persona (you don’t even keep your hair anymore). The quickest way for someone to get you angry was them calling you Wole Soyinka.
Over the years you had reinvented yourself: you abandoned rhymes and meter, they were childish and restricted creativity; you picked free verse, it flows; you wrote in simplicity, you wrote in complexity; you used your metaphors sparingly and judiciously; you searched for a voice, you found it; in your poetry group they could not wait to read your poems, sometimes you would have to explain several times before they finally get it; still it wasn’t enough. The rejections crowded your inbox. Anytime, you see the “Sorry, we read your work but…” You move them to a folder. ‘Rejections’. After the first year, you’ve already mastered the template of rejection emails.
Even now, you have started to doubt yourself. Why continue this path? Why pretend you are something you are not. Why hold on? All those you started with and few you started before, already have at least three online publications, and have made some prize shortlists.
Then in your poetry group, last week afternoon, you heard of Eimear McBride’s win at the Bailey Prize ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.’ You hardly read fiction, but what pricked you was that, her work was rejected for nine years! Then you began to take interest in brilliant authors who have suffered heart-wrenching rejections: Jhumpa Lahiri, Ernest Hemmingway, Herman Melville, Stephen King, D.H Lawrence, Sylvia Plath and so many others all suffered brutal rejections.
If they could all persevere why can’t you? If things were so easy, what story would you have to tell when you finally breakthrough? So you decided not to give up; from your pile of rejections you decided to rise again, so you wrote another poem and sent it to Granta and Saraba for submission.
Your phone beeped, it was another email from Wasafiri, “Sorry…”