A LITTLE INCIDENT IN SHANTY TOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Isaac Mafuel

She was the unwanted distant niece. The little orphaned girl from the village. The one nobody wanted to adopt after the old lady who was raising her had died. AIDS killed both her parents, but the grandma died due to the extreme ware and tare that comes with poverty. (The old lady was made for the archaic world where one would survive on wild fruits, but global warming was waging a war against the creatures of her generation, extinction seemed like the right alternative.)

A distant aunt well versed in calculating opportunity costs saw the potential of having a house maid for free. All she had to do was feed her as little as possible and dress her as scantly as modesty would allow, she was all hers.

“When you feel like repeating the stupid things you do in this house, just remember who is putting a roof over your orphaned head,’ (A roof over her head? Well, anything that covers four walls must be a roof then. Even if it’s just a sieve that lets the rain in and allows one to read the stars from the dirty torn mat you sleep on.) “…the clothes on your body and the food in your tummy (if rags and leftovers count!),” The aunt’s way of ascertaining that the misdemeanour won’t happen again.

But kids are kids and misdemeanours are part of the process of being a kid and so she would find herself with whip marks and scars.

At first she used to cry. But when you have lost everything you had, even if it’s nothing, the tear springs dry up. What is a whip after all? The problem is when your aunt beats you and you don’t cry. Witchcraft is the only word that would explain your insubordination. And don’t dare look your aunt direct in the eyes because when you are a witch your eyes see her innards.

“Why didn’t you just die with your parents, you little witch? Don’t look at me like that. I will take you to the exorcist one of these days, you demon possessed idiot. Don’t teach my children your witchcraft.”

She would look down at her over fitting grease stained dress. A hand me down from the aunt. The one with more patches than the original cloth, her work dress. She had one more which she was made to wear at mass, not for prayers, but so she could play with the baby while the uncle and the aunt prayed to the merciful God, for blessings on their family, I guess.

At first the uncle hardly noticed the dirty orphaned child. Mostly working night shifts as a guard in one of the security companies, sleeping all day, waking up for meals, or for a smoke-the only luxury he indulged himself in. He had somehow managed to quit drinking, but the smoking got worse. Poor people should be allowed at least one vice to sooth their wailing souls, don’t you think?

Years have a way of passing by, and they go slowly when you are a little nobody in the middle of nowhere.

Two tennis balls started coming out of the bud of her chest, the uncle started noticing, “and he saw that it was good”.

With the aunt selling vegies at the market, and the kids at school, it was just the two of them for the whole morning, uncle and niece.

“Bring me the matches.” His way of inviting her to the bedroom.

Uncles are like that. First you bring them the matches, then you must scratch them in some evasive angle of their body and before you know it, your hands are playing with their thing.

“It’s a privilege to hold with your arms the plunger that your aunt adores.”

When you are ten it’s really an honour. After all, your aunt had to wait till fifteen to get married and have the chance to hold it.

“Let’s find out where this plunger enters, shall we?

“It’s hurting, uncle.”

“You will get used. Soon the pain goes and all you feel is sweetness. By the end of the week you will be an expert at this.”

You really get used, though not necessarily by the end of the week. And so it becomes a habit. Plus it feels so good to be noticed by your uncle, at last.

But aunts have a way of catching you when things are getting more interesting and your life is starting to have meaning and purpose. So they chase you from their home. To the streets where “ungrateful whores” like you belong. You must survive on your own.

When your parents die, a part of you dies with them. But when your uncle rapes you, every part of you dies. The aunt throws your corpse out of the house, to the streets where society tramples on your decomposing body. They close their noses to avoid the stench. They trample on you, to pulp, till your dust has no choice but to retreat to the monumental tombstones of society called whore houses. Then they come every night to pay their respects so they can feel good about themselves and use you as an example of what happens when one makes bad choices in life.

The irony of it though, being that you don’t start to live until you die, at least once. Jesus noted the same when he talked about a seed dying so it can bear many fruits. She died more than once so the fruits were a hundredfold. Anger, vengeance and all that constitute chaos. She had learnt not to expect much from anyone. She was a lone wolf plying the uncharted roots of individual survival. All she had on her side were sharp survival instincts, and she put them to good use.

Because when you are twelve and living in the gutters, it doesn’t hurt much to have the skill of pleasuring men, it’s an ace up your sleeve.

 

 Isaac Mafuel is a creative writer, theatre director, Actor and facilitator. He trained as a journalist with the University of Malawi.  He is passionate about literature and the theatre. He is the Co-founder and creative Director of Theatrik Interventions (a theatre group that focuses on Theatre for Development (TFD). He also works with Theatre for a change Malawi as Interactive and Legislative Theatre Project officer. Much of his writings are inspired by the characters he meets in his line of work. (Theatre for a change works with women in sex work and sexually exploited girls among others). His love of books led him to found Barefoot Readers Initiative. A youth led movement that sources books and donates them to Primary and secondary schools in need. (Barefoot is publishing a poetry anthology which they intend to sell to raise funds for their course.)

 

 

 

BLACK FRIDAY

By Udousung Blessed Abraham

The day seemed to go on forever, task after task kept coming. The sun was at its peak, its heat drenched her in sweat. The house was suffocating hot. The heat was unbearable. The noise from the moving vehicles and blasting speakers outside were driving her crazy too.

The near-absence of electric power supply which they were accustomed to, had become a burden. Power was being rationed and they got their daily share from 8pm of each night till 7am of the following day. The only consolation was that they at least got to watch Jenifa’s Diary every night.

Playful noise and rattles of kids filled the air. The boys were wrestling outside. She detested wrestling shows. She could never understand why grown men would sign up to get their asses whooped by other men; but her husband loved the idea. He even had a pile of wrestling DVDs neatly stocked under the sound cabinet, like trophies.

“From London, weighing five hundred pounds, the dead mann…. The… Undertaker!”

“From New York, weighing a hundred and fifty pounds, the you-can’t-see-me… Johnn… Cena!!”

She shook her head at the sheer folly, ‘they are at it again.’

She wished the children were at school. She loved it when they were in school, but today was a public holiday. She wondered how their teachers coped. Twenty-four hours with her children was enough to give an acute case of migraine to anybody. Her eyes drifted to Chioma who was standing on a stool, helping her with the dishes. A smile of relief crept to her face. She silently hoped that her wrestlemania boys would learn a bit of responsibility from their sister. With her subtle eyes still on her dish-savior, she mumbled that prayer in her heart.

Crash! The sound penetrated her thoughts.

A louder crash followed.

The shattering sound of metals and ceramics ended her prayers. Her stomach tightened. Instinctively, she ran towards the noise with Chioma trailing behind her.

She yelped, shocked. Lying on the floor was her husband’s favorite cutlery collection: ceramics and porcelain alike, the best of Chinese products. The ones they had intentionally never used since the dedication of Samuel. She felt a sudden surge of rage and pain rise in her head, as a throbbing headache beckoned. Yet she was unexpectedly calm. What ‘better way’ was she supposed to react?

The boys were safe. That was more important than the Chinese porcelain. But then the doctor-do-good was only a few steps away, and they needed to learn their lesson. She dashed for it. As expected, the boys took to their heels. Scattered like defeated soldiers retreating for safety, but years of chasing them had made her faster. She got to pelt them with few heavy strokes on their backs before letting out a confused shriek. She shut her eyes for a few seconds and rubbed her throbbing forehead.

“Children,” Her thoughts took flight. The memories of yells from her mum suffixed by “If your pikin do you like this, you go like am?” hit her like a thunderbolt.

Were those indirect curses?

Children! You make soup with the hope that it would last the week because recession had ceased from being just a dictionary word, but you end up finding the pieces of meat and fish reducing at an alarming rate. They leave debris in their wake. The marred sofa and missing decor pieces in the sitting room were testaments to their presence.

The psychological torture and frustration weighed her down, so much that her knees quivered. She reached out to the calling bed. It had never felt this comfortable.

••••••••••••••••••••

“Mummy, mummy, the rice have boil o. Come and check it,” her daughter’s cute voice sang in her ears, followed by a gentle tap from her. She shrugged and stretched. Just when the sleep was getting better, she thought. Her eyes opened, unveiling blood-runt pupils. She wished she could split herself in two and slump back into sleep even if it was just for a minute. Picking herself up, she dragged her legs languidly and made for the kitchen to attend to the boiling rice. She had become a superwoman.

“Mummy, I want to drink water.” Little Ike was up. Lines from sleeping on a rubber mat were imprinted all over his face. He would soon start crying for food. She scanned the house for the other boys; they were not in sight.

“Wait, I am coming.”  She hissed, shutting her eyes to push back the calling sleep. She entered the kitchen and made for the bubbly pot of rice. Turning to Chioma, she barked, “Go and bring the boys here! Tell them, if I open my eyes and they are not here, they will see what I will do to them!”

And then her head ached again, more severely this time. She shut her eyes tighter and rubbed the throbbing forehead. How could something be capable of causing overwhelming joy and overwhelming migraine at the same time?

She took down the pot, dished the rice into four plates, then placed the pot of soup on the burning gas. She wanted sleep badly. Finally done, she went to the sitting room in search of little Ike.

“Maybe he has gone back to bed,” she mumbled to herself. Her eyes fell on the Ragolis bottle that should contain methylated spirit. It was open and unexpectedly empty. A sudden wind of unease brushed her skin, cold went up her spine and goose bumps coated her flesh. Her head raced as her thoughts slowly became reality.

“No! No no no no no…”

Her pace increased.

“Ikem! Ikem!!” She froze, as color left her face. Sprawled on the ground like a rag was Ikem, the baby of the house, foaming in the mouth.

Her Ike was fighting against death.

“Ikemefuna!” She grabbed the boy and sprinted out of the house, into the open air, shouting at the top of  her voice. “Ikem o! Ikem o!!”

The neighbors rallied round her. The younger ones watched in confusion. The older ones grabbed the baby from her and ran inside.

“Red oil! Bring red oil fast,” someone shouted.

“Yes! Red oil go make am vomit wetin him swallow.”

Her mind went blank. Her brain logged off like a shut book. She rushed to the kitchen, grabbed the red oil and shoved it into the hands of the panicking life-savers.

She watched on in tears, with prayers in her heart. She could see them hold her boy and force the red fluid down his throat. She didn’t trust the old wrinkled women with her baby boy, but they were her last hope. She couldn’t wait to grab him and clutch him to her bosom; she would gladly give him water whenever he asked for it and feed him too.

She stared at him. He was barely conscious. Clenched teeth. Frail muscles. His pupils sunk into his skull as he vomited. Sighs of relief and smiles radiated the faces of the neighbors.

Then the air changed. The smiles faded to a frown as lines of confusion crept to their foreheads. He was convulsing again.

Large masculine hands grabbed him and turned him to the side. She reached out to touch her baby. “What is happening?” she mumbled.

“Wasn’t red oil supposed to help? What is happening?” She recoiled her hand, scared to touch him.

“Hold am, hold am. Rub the boy back.” “Bend the boy head.” “Find cold water.” “Raise the boy yansh up.” Different advice and instructions from different people. Despair beat their expertise and confidence.

“What is happening?” she screamed. Madness slowly descended on her as life ebbed out of him. She shuddered. Raising her head up a bit, she noticed her daughter running towards her, the wind slapping her tears to the back. Her entrails clenched, as she shook her head vigorously to knock out the dream playing before her eyes.

“Mummy, Mummy come o. Motor have jam Joseph.” The words rammed into her. For a millisecond blood seemed to leave her brains.  Her feet rose in action, with nothing but bewilderment trailing her thoughts. She fell to the ground and allowed the darkness in her soul take her away.

“Cut!” the director’s resonant voice boomed. Roars of excitement choked the air. The director was super impressed.

Udousung Blessed Abraham is from Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. Budding Engineering student of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri. Writer and a lover of books.
His story has been featured on Tush Stories. He recently published his compilation of Short stories, “Spilled Hues”

 

A HORSE IN A BIRTH

By Dominic Ayegba Okoliko

The sunlight could be said to be angry. Earlier, it had stood high hovering like a hawk ready to take its pound on a prey. Although now the evening had crawled in gradually, the warmth from the day’s sun could still be felt.
“Áñyá bi ϙmá ki nà’godà, àgo ch’okàhàh!” Arome whispered to himself, or he thought he did.
“Ehm, Arome, come. You’ve started again eh!” Arome’s gaze was fixed on something both distant and oblivious to the other kids playing in the front yard, so he didn’t notice when his friend walked up to the balcony where he stood, leaning against the rusting protectors of the house. “Will you explain yourself?” Ayo said, patting Arome on the back. “And please come back to us here. Your ancestors aren’t ready to welcome you home yet.”
“It is a wise saying from the Igalas.” The words fell off his lips in an undertone. Then turning slowly in Ayo’s direction, he continued, “it means a horse gives birth so that it can stretch its waist but the waist has stubbornly remained strong”. They both fell into silence as if to let the silence speak more about what he had just interpreted. Arome’s eyes remained frozenly fixed; not on anything in particular though. “Talking about the saying reminds me of an incident with my Mama.” Arome picked up again. “You know how Mamas are concerned about their children. They can go a great length to ensure the faces of their kids beam with smiles as often as possible.” It dawned on Ayo that he was in for a reminiscent discourse. He had known Arome for barely six months now. During this short time, they have both learned to be fond of each other and could easily come across at siblings.
They both walked backward and slouched unto a bench that lined the wall. Ayo took a closer look at his friend again. He noticed his face beam with smiles as the fellow spoke in his usual bits and pieces, the way a hen eats. “There was this day. It must have been a holiday time; that period that is loved by most kids.” Arome lowered his face from the distance to hold his friend’s attention as he continued. “We had plenty of time for play and childhood naughty games. My siblings and I, together with other kids from our neighbourhood had taken turns to do unmarked and unmeasured relays around the house for a great deal of the morning. It was a glowing morning. However, as the noon approached, our tummies began to chorus with funny sounds. As if rehearsed, we all crawled at once to where Mama was in the backyard attending to her chores. She had been busy preparing her Akpo for sales at the Ede market the following day”.
“Ehm, Akpo. What is Akpo?” Ayo interjected. “It’s a cassava product used mainly in processing fufu. I know you go to Iya Oloja to buy it a lot these days.”
“Oh yes. What do you expect of a bachelor like me?”
“A poor one for that matter”, Arome added. Currently, both young men fed from little contract jobs they got once in a while in the Sogal city. Since they both returned from Youth Service in the South-Eastern part of Aboland, they had been in search of a good paying job. “Point of correction, a bachelor with swags. You’re looking at the next billionaire in Aboland”. Arome smirked at his friend, spreading his thick lips which allowed for a display of his teeth. These teeth had been his selling point, they made him very admirable.
“My younger sister intoned the hunger song”, Arome resumed his story. “We all joined her to complete the A Cappella: ‘we’re hungry Mama’. Mama quickly abandoned her work and brought out some beans, announcing: ‘we shall have moimoi for lunch then!’
‘Ehen! Moimoi, great idea’, I responded with the blush of a girl in love”.
“Yea, I can imagine that”, said Ayo. “This love affair between you and moimoi no be today oh”.
“Mama immediately put to task some beans she had collected from the storeroom.” Arome continued his talking, snubbing his friend’s remark and causing him to recoil back into his shell. “With serene dedication, she soon had it ready for the grinding mills. In those days, there were only a few of the mills in our neighbourhood and one would have to walk about 3 km to access the nearest. Mama called out to my sister ‘Ojima, please take this to Agbo’s compound and have it grinded’.
“Ah, mama, is it only me here?” Ojima replied grumblingly. OJ, as we fondly call her, later went for the errand while the rest of us kept other things going. About an hour later, all things were set awaiting OJ’s arrival”.
“Eish buddy, that’s a long time of waiting for your tummies’ love”. Ayo interrupted again.
“Ayo-mi-de!” He called out with a big grin on his face, giving each syllable its own weight. “Damn it. You don’t have to say my name as though you’re romancing the words” they both bursted into laughter.
“When she finally came however, our eyes could hardly believe what we saw.”
“Who’s it?”
“Ah, Ayo! OJ of course. My sister. She was all tears and had her whole body drenched in a mixture of mud and grinded beans. You could mistake her for a young lad out on a festival of colours. Upon seeing her first, I called out: ‘Ah, OJ, what’s it? What had happened to you?’ Mama soon sprang from her place in the kitchen calling out. “Ęnę lę ke? Ojima. ele le le le! Ę ñwu lę ke?” (Who’s it? Ojima! What happened to you?)
“When OJ became calm enough, we learnt from her that while she was returning, she had dodged a drifting Okada into a terrain of muds along the pathway and found herself tripped. At once, we knew our hopes for moimoi that afternoon were dashed. It was then that Mama heaved a sigh of disappointment, saying: ‘Áñyá bi ϙmá ki nà’godà, àgo ch’okàhàh!’.
“Ah! Ore mi! Sorry for your lossi-oh! But ehm, what has this got to do with the long face you had when I came by. You were looking 40 years older than your age”
“Hmm, my brother! I just got back from the bank oh” his cheeks flushed with worries.
“Oh yes. You told me when I rang you earlier. Isn’t it the Reyna Bank branch by Oribi round about?”
“Yeah. I was there to rectify the bank’s app on my phone – the one I had before was malfunctioning and had failed me in completing financial transactions”. Ayo who felt sympathetic for his friend said: “Eya! And I know how you feel about being up there, friend.”
“Exactly. But instead of giving in to that familiar hatred of being in the bank, I kept singing to myself while on the way, ‘it’s just a simple single issue. You should be out of there soon buddy’. Did I know that I was going to confront a pale drama that would make me sigh my Mama’s sigh?”
“‘Your account is frozen’. Those words shot straight from a girly lady across the desk pierced my loins too bad! ‘But how come?’ I reacted in bewilderment. I followed it up with series of exasperating interrogations that yielded back and forth responses. At the end, they left in me more cause for disappointment and annoyance.”
Ayo further learnt from his friend that the reason for freezing the account was because the bank could not verify his residential address.
“It is the usual practice sanctioned by Central Bank oh.” Ayo remarked.
“Ayo-mi-de. My worry was not about the Central Bank’s order or its application to me. It is about this particular bank and how it carried out the order without due process. Is this not a slap on Baba Due Process whose reign is doing everything to ensure discipline in all creeks of our land? Did you know that about a month before this incident, I had walked to the same branch of the bank to notify them of a change in my address and to request updates of my details with them? This was entirely initiated by me as a move to prevent any ugly episode arising with my account. The staff promised to have it verified and effected.”
“Ehm, maybe they tried to locate your place and couldn’t. You know how I complain about this our Sogal city. Authorities have done little to give proper identification to new suburbs springing up here and there. Ours isn’t left out you know?”
Arome was sweating and becoming impatient. “No.” He stretched out his hand and waved his friend to silence. “Not at all. They didn’t do any search. As they fed me, some contractors were used – isn’t it Sogal? Do you not know how this thing works? How could they trust some fellow’s words without checking it out? These guys could have been somewhere cooling off before feeding them the lie.”
“Ayo, the problem here is communication. What has come over our banks? They see no fault in sending you a text message whenever there is a bank charge to be deducted but not on this kind of issue. Did you know that the silly bank took in my deposit early this morning? So much of a frozen account! I actually did that to allow me to do smooth transfer into my little sister’s account for her school fees after I would have rectified my mobile app. Don’t I look like a horse whose act of giving birth had failed to ease its waist pain?”
“Man! I feel you. I do bro.”
“Come to think of it, Ayo. How much of ease has banking brought to lives in Aboland?
“Ehm, Arome. Sorry about your tit-for-tat experience with Reyna Bank, but surely, you can’t raise that question.”
“Ayo-mi-de, why not?”
“The Aboland banking sector has gone through lots of refinements that have made it a formidable force influencing social economic change at different levels today bro”, Ayo answered him.
“You remember Gov. Charlie Solugo’s recapitalisation and consolidation of financial sectors in 2004 right?” Arome listened on with a puzzled face. “Did we not learn that the exercise ushered in the emergence of stronger banking system in Aboland? The official account has it that by the end of the following year, the financial system which had about 89 fragile banks was forced to produce 25 banks positioned to serve Abos better. And you may recall yet another reform; the one which targeted corporate governance in the sector. E-ehm. It was undertaken by Gov. Salahu Lami Salahu, the now Tonga of Kario Kingdom. While the Soludo’s reform weeded weaker banks, the latter thrashed perceived ineptitude in financial corporate governance in the banking system.”
Arome briskly rose, took some steps back and forth. “I know about these reforms of course”, he vented. “I also know that some commentators have credited them for some improvements in the area of corporate governance and risk management, lending capacity resulting from the consolidation exercise, and the confidence level of investors and customers.” Ayo felt encouraged, and perceiving that he was winning in the debate, he spoke once more. “Even the e-banking of which you’re a fan; wasn’t it a fruit from the reforms? More people now use automated teller machines (ATMs), point of sale (POS) systems, mobile phones and personal computers for banking transactions.”
With a mischievous laughter in his voice, Arome responded: “you have your facts right friend. But there are not all that there is to an efficient banking system my dear. Despite increased presence of deposit banks in Aboland, a good number of the populace are still either wholly excluded from banking system or rarely utilise the system due to inconveniences associated with banking services in our country. Amongst many issues with the sector, inadequate coverage is a big one. On February 17, 2012, His Royal Highness, Salahu II revealed this in a lecture at the University of Warwick’s Economic Summit in the UK. At the time, he was still the governor of Central Bank of Aboland. He reported that there were about 24 deposit money banks with 5,789 branches and 816 microfinance banks in Aboland as at December 2011. This makes the total of bank branches in our country at the time to be 6,605. If you do your maths well, that leaves you with one branch to 24, 224 persons. We can safely assume that little has changed since that time really. If that’s true, there you have it bro; many banks in Aboland have their branches overburdened.” Ayo fell silent as it seemed to him that his friend had taken on a larger figure.
Arome went on talking about how it was still a common occurrence to walk into banking halls in Aboland and find pools of customers jolting, sometimes unruly to transact bank businesses. Often times the queues in the banking hall would snake around, curving many times before extending to the outside of the bank building. He considered the weight of loss of labour hours for the numerous able men and women who were often trapped in the unfortunate lines. There are also personal queasy feelings that individuals experience under such ‘avoidable’ conditions. “Ayo-mi-de, this is where my aversion towards visiting the banks lies!”
“Ehm, Arome you are right. But is this not the reason why the advent of e-banking in the country is considered a wonderful relief? Now people can make financial transactions from the comfort of their homes, offices, playgrounds and anywhere using internet-enabled gadgets. Is it not awesome to be able to use ATMs 24/7 for business transactions without having to face banking hall nightmares? My dear, we’ve made progress oh.” Ayo felt his voice again but his friend would not let him speak further.
“You are right friend. After all, e-banking has become a global picture of banking system today and we ought to be proud of the feat Aboland has made in this regard. However, these hopes you painted earlier are poorly met in our country. Consider the ATMs. They still enjoy limited distribution across the nation and this causes almost a replication of the exasperating queues in our banking halls. In cases where you have two or more of the machines, only one is made available to serve customers no matter their numbers. Is it not safe to conclude then that the banking halls have lent their nightmares to the ATM stands?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve added it also to my list of ‘places to avoid’”.
“Ehm, in that case, you’re left with internet and mobile banking then?”
“That’s correct Ayo. And it was the same reason why I went to rectify my mobile banking app with Reyna Bank. But you are not to think that we’ve gotten internet banking alright yet. Internet usage is limited by internet subscription, IT skills, including mobile phones, remember? And on both areas, many Abos are still disadvantaged.”
“Even if those things are there, Arome, I won’t trust the internet for any financial transaction. I don’t want someone to milk my account dry in a blink eh.”
“I know that fear Ayo. But trust me the security issue isn’t as you fear. Rather, the problem I have observed with some of the bank apps concerns policy frameworks that create bottlenecks for end-users and poor technical designs that sometimes make banking apps very user-unfriendly.”
Ayo exclaimed, “ah, you sef! you have become too critical of everything in Aboland; give them a break abeg-i! We are getting there oh!”
“If we are to get there, Ayo-mi-de, I am convinced; our banking sector still requires attention especially as it is a focal economic institution with enormous influence on the wellbeing of our ailing economy. The banking hall decongestion is crucial but so also is finding effective means of making various e-banking services endearing. We need our ghost ATMs too; they are not supposed to dress bank premises like corpse on a parade. Make deposit ATMs more widespread. Sort out mobile and internet banking to become more user-friendly and develop POS to be readily available at point of sales.”
“Now that you mentioned the POS”, Ayo re-join his friend, “I was shocked to learn from a cashier at a private hospital I visited recently that I must pay N 2,000 to use the device. If the service cost is that high, very few people would want to use it I suppose.”
“That’s what I’m saying ore mi”.
“There’s more to be done really.”
“E don do Arome. No finish the small garri wey I drink with this your talk talk jor.”
“It’s OK. Now that you talked about food, let me go in and do some quick fix before I lose my stamina.”
“Now you’re talking, I’m right behind you buddy”.

Dominic Ayegba Okoliko is a nascent Nigerian writer from Kogi State. He enjoys stories and love spending time creating some. His other interests include poem, humanitarian work and social science research. Some of his works have appeared in Words Rhymes and Rhythm, Nigeria News24, and Poemhunters. Dominic works with Human Rights and Conflict ‘Resolution Centre in Abakaliki and can be contacted via okolikoda@gmail.com or on twitter @Ayedom1

SCREENSHOTS

By Anthony Dim

Episode Three

As always happened whenever you were late for work, your mind wasn’t focused on being comfortable. In a danfo bus that backfired along the Second Mainland Bridge you were sandwiched in-between two round-faced robust market women who both smelled of fresh pepper and tomatoes, and spoke in sleepy voices about how stupid the bus driver was, to have meandered in the midst of bigger buses, to have speedily swayed in and out of wrong lanes until the passengers began to curse and swear at him in sharp tones.

Too much stretch marks around their arms like thunder strokes, the observation flashed your mind. As if inviting you to share in their disappointment, the one on your left turned to you and said “shebi? This driver no good. I no talk am?” your lips were pursed, you wouldn’t respond, and you couldn’t hide the frown on your face. They didn’t know how much you wanted to gather your scattered thoughts, they didn’t know about the threatening text message you had received from your boss at the office. It read: “Chinedu I don’t think you really love your job”, and it was shortly after Kemi manifested the best of her foolishness on facebook. Thanks to Mama Chioma who pleaded with the other women to allow you go to work. As for Kemi, you thought she could be brushed up and enlightened, but your efforts for the last three years were as wasted as pouring water into a basket.

“What is paining him?” the woman said in Yoruba, snarled and cut her eyes at you before turning to the conductor to ask for her change. You couldn’t tell whether the dots of sweat on her snouted nose were as a result of heat, or because of anger. But why should people be angry about other people’s anger? What is her business in this situation? She wasn’t even worthy of your attention in the first place. But you struggled to keep your calm. Well, you had become angry about her anger as well. Anger is contagious. You looked towards the opened window and watched other vehicles that sliced past on the other bridge that faced opposite direction, but your heart was pounding as fast as the heavy winds rushed in through the window, at your face.

It would be impossible to pull your phone out of your pocket, so you couldn’t see what was happening on facebook, you would have been rumpled into disappearance in the middle of these women if you had been a piece of cloth, so you felt thankful that the situation in the bus had not been the worst it could be.

On the marble-paved corridors at Oladele Insurance Company building in Mary Land you felt anger squeezing your nostrils, wiped sweat from your face and neck with your kerchief, moving briskly to your Boss’ office while tucking-in your shirt. The secretary had flung a “good morning” at you, the receptionist had waved, the uniformed security men had given you a thumbs-up sign at the gate, you responded to none of them, their faces had all seemed passive and vague in your retina. You knocked on your boss’ office with so much gentleness.

“Come in”. In the air-conditioned office your boss was slumped to her desk, facing a computer on her right, surfing through the internet. And when you noticed her new hair-do, it reminded you of the hair-do Kemi had on her head yesterday when you noticed her shadow in the toilet “Good day ma. I am very sorry for coming late, the traffic was too much…”

“We all travel on the same roads Mister Chinedu so don’t give me that crap” she said cuttingly, not facing you yet. Refreshing a web page she gasped. “I am fed up with marketers like you really. I am really fed up. Chief Odinjo wanted you in his office this morning at half past seven to discuss business. You, you don’t respect your employment do you? I was to give you a signed appointment letter here before you set out. I got a call from his secretary just now…he won’t be in office after eight. He really wanted to work with us”

“He didn’t want to work with us. He wanted to work with my body, inside my clothes. He wanted to poke me” you said “chief is gay. I heard. He is a homo”

“And does it automatically mean he wants to sleep with you?” she retorted. “Because he’s gay you expect him to want to explore everything under trousers and shorts that pass by? Don’t stereotype people. Don’t be stupid! You’re really foolish Mister Chinedu. Foolish! We don’t need the sexual orientation, we need money. When you work in the UK where I had been, you’ll know that what you have just said is arrant nonsense, Nigerian nonsense” she turned off the computer screen and turned to your direction with a penetrating stare, her hair-do made her come across as very firm, like a bespectacled hawk, and it kind of matched her authoritative urban voice.

“Oh-my…what happened to your shirt? You’re sweating, you look terrible. You look disheveled” she said evenly, her eyes shone as she examined you from toe to head.

“I was robbed on my way to the office ma” you looked down, fixed your gaze on her see-through socks which were visible from under her desk. You felt grateful that you had indeed looked terrible, and had told such a creative lie without needing time to sort it out between your ears.

“Oh my goodness! I am so sorry” her tone softened, it made your head feel soft. “You really should have a day off…such a trauma” she took off her glasses “These hooligans in Lagos! What did they take from you? Did they beat you? Do I call the police?”

“Oh no ma, they took nothing from me. Don’t involve the police. I fought my way and took off”.

“I am giving you a day off Chinedu. You shall be going to Chief’s office when next he makes an appointment with us. And try to grow up, Chief is not a goat”. You wondered whether you had heard her correctly, a day off? She faced her table and flipped a file open “You are not handsome by the way. My gay friends don’t like people with excess forehead” she added as you made your way to the door. Your phone beeped, a message from Kemi: “Have you checked your facebook?” Your head hardened again, then you remembered the women in your compound who were probably waiting for your return, to ask you why you had screamed the moment you peered into your phone screen.

“Madam, I don’t mind working today. Am not going home, I will stay”

“But you can’t be looking so terrible in my office Chinedu, you’re a marketer who represents our interests. I won’t let you represent us at any firm with this rumpled shirt of yours and sweats around your buttocks area” she pointed at your shirt with a pen in hand. “If you don’t want to go home you can go relax in one of the empty offices. Johnson will be here at twelve. He’ll do the rest of today’s job”.

You lurched out of her office and headed straight to the empty office near the secretary’s, phone in hand as you peered into your phone.

“This is the biggest disgrace in the world” one of your friends had commented on the screenshot, it was Uchenna. So many reactions ranging from laughter to surprise. Your motion felt terribly slow as if you were walking on fine sand. You blocked all friends who had written mocking comments, then blocked Kemi on facebook. You would call her to tell her it was over between the both of you, you would tell her unapologetically that you do not want a foolish human being for a wife.

On facebook, Kemi seemed to have moved on with her life, as if nothing had happened. She had shared Prince Jacon’s status that said a Nigerian character named Olanna had been included in Game of Thrones, with a caption that read “Proudly Naija”. Prince Jacon was a mutual friend, she should have known that Prince Jacon had a great sense of humor and wasn’t passing the status as news, Kemi was terribly foolish! She even wrote a comment afterwards that read “I pray they add omo Yoruba inside next time. Me am happy sha”. She got comments from her fellow fools who professed they were proudly Nigerian. And you realized that even on facebook, birds of the same feathers still flocked together”.

You sank into a sofa in the unused office, feeling tired and sleepy even though it was barely ten in the morning. The secretary’s phone conversation was coming through the wall, you heard her clearly saying something about girlfriend catching a boyfriend shitting. Sleep varnished from your eyes, you inched forward from the sofa, craned your neck against the wall, she hung up.

You sprang from the sofa, dashed out of the unused office and stood by the door of the secretary’s office which stood ajar. “It is really a disgrace. Even the fiancée, I don’t know why she treated him like that. Telling people on facebook” she was speaking to the albino receptionist who was known as the official gossip-general in the company, and you didn’t like him for this. “Why should her fiancée do that?” You couldn’t hear anymore, it was enough. Enough of the defamation! Enough of their gossips! You pushed the door wide open and walked into the room, unbuckling your belt. The receptionist took cover behind the secretary who seemed rather shocked.

“Surprised? Don’t give me those stupid looks Mrs Ejenavi” you snapped at her “Don’t you shit? Look at that idiot behind you who goes around punching the noses of people’s dignity. Idiot! Unemployment has made you a receptionist – don’t you shit? See me see trouble o.”

“Mr…Chinedu-” he said, scratching the silver hairs on his head

“-C-mon shut it. Just shut up your dirty stupid mouth because I am about to flog it. I go beat you en, I am ready to be fired” your voice echoed, hovered around the large office with its whiff of anger.

“Mister Chinedu what is this supposed to mean?” she had pronounced it “Shinedu”

“If I am hear pim from you again en, I flog ya breast” you said to the secretary who still looked astonished, and her astonishment astonished you a little. Your leather belt was raised in the air, dancing like the koboko of Fulani herdsmen, then a security officer rushed in and gripped your hands. The secretary looked rather angry, not fearful as you expected she would. She pulled her suit forward, neared you “Are you mad? Mister Chinedu are you mad? Is it not enough that I greeted you in the morning and you didn’t respond?” her head shook in disgust. Now everything seemed to be happening fast, members of staff had started pouring into the office, gathering around you in the restlessness that resembled the frenzy of mosquitoes darting here and there when attracted by lights.

“I am going to sue you for defamation” you said awkwardly to her, struggling against having your hands tightly held back by two security men. They overpowered you. Chills ran down your spines when you saw members of staff give way for your boss who walked into the office, holding a white envelope. She heeled the door shut behind her.

“Can someone explain what the problem is?” she looked dumbfounded “I…I don’t get it” her head shook, her hair-do was ready to fall off, now you knew it was only an exotic wig.

“Madam I honestly don’t know whether Mister Chinedu is mentally stable. Something is wrong somewhere” the secretary spoke up “I was having a conversation with the receptionist” she gestured to him behind her “about a friend who cheated on his girlfriend and his girlfriend made it known on social network. Facebook. Her name is Grace” she paused as if to summon enough saliva to lubricate her throat, her chest heaved “then this man just jumped in from nowhere, I don’t know whether he has an experience, like he thinks I was talking about him or something”. You were filled with self-loathe, you could slap yourself over and over again. The secretary had said cheat and not shit but she pronounced it shit, people who grew up in Warri were known for exchanging “Ch” for “sh”. In a wave of resentment you felt dazed. “Finished” was the word for the day again, so there was no need of changing your whatssap status.

Madam I take God beg you” you turned to your boss, dropping slowly on your knees.

To be continued next Saturday

Episode One

Episode Two

Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan       Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.

The Question of My Birth

By Minenhle Nomalungelo Khumalo

(This story is based on a grand lie)

Episode One

“I stayed longer than I needed to, even though the air hurt in my throat and I could sense the creature was always near. Still, it was good to be there with our sister again. You know very well that sisters like us cannot stand to be apart for long. I stayed long enough for her to examine my body and to question my birth.”

 

Weirdest Lulama,

I have been meaning to write to you for a while now. But every time I think of you I start to feel the strain of a tear forming in my eyes, my temples pulsate in a rhythmic pain, and so do my treasures. I have countless stories I want to share with you; too many of them sickeningly true. But, my time, sister, is nearly up so I have picked one. So here you are, my bizarre beauty, a short story in a long letter for a wonderfully weird woman:

I went back to see our sister. I was not sure it would be safe to go but I went back anyway. It was a last minute decision. When the opportunity to visit her again arose I hesitated a very long while. I watched the day grow long and with the passing time the potential trip grew in its dangers. I imagined all that could go wrong, convinced myself of my insanity for even entertaining the idea, and then got on a train headed West. It did not take very long to get there. I got lost along the way, since it had been a while, but my heart still knew where to find her. She was there, as always, with the non-born girls, just as small and fragile as I remember. They both greeted me warmly, but Phoebe was less excited to see me than Leo. Leo had pissed herself in excitement and jumped into my arms, bottom still dripping with urine. Our sister, as you might imagine, slowly cleaned the piss from the floor with her own hesitant excitement. It was not until she was done that she greeted me. She grabbed me by the hand, led the way into the room we shared when we were younger girls, and told me she had dreams about the day I was born. You must know why I went back, Lulama. We sisters cannot be away from each other for too long.

I stayed longer than I needed to, even though the air hurt in my throat and I could sense the creature was always near. Still, it was good to be there with our sister again. You know very well that sisters like us cannot stand to be apart for long. I stayed long enough for her to examine my body and to question my birth. She separated my hair and served me sour beer. Phoebe and Leo played by my feet counting my toes in a quiet concentration. Our sister told me, as she’s said before, my birth is the question that must always be asked. I believe her now. After everything that has happened, it must be true. I must ask the question for all of us. So I have decided to return to the Regal office to be re-gestated. In fact, I am in pre-gestation, waiting for a receipt notice, as I write to you. However,  the story I am really trying to tell is of the events that happened after our sister told me of the question of my birth. The fonder memory of what happened at our sister’s house that day makes it easier to tell, but, I have procrastinated that story enough.

I went back to see our sister and because of that she has been re-covered. She is gone. I should have known better than to let the creature know two sisters were together in one place for that long. I was prepared to defend her, but when it did not arrive while I was with her, I thought it had somehow missed my presence. I was wrong. And The Father has done his job, as he always does.

When I felt I could not possibly safely stay with her any longer, I left for the train station. As I was getting ready to board, I realized I had lost my identification code. I lingered at the station a while, watching the train leave knowing I could not enter the Regal office for re-gestation without my IC yet also knowing how impossibly dangerous returning to our sister would be. Especially so soon. But our sister was clear. Our circumstances have made it clear. The question of my birth must be asked. It must be asked as soon as possible. So I made my way back to her. I went back again! You must know I had to go back. Despite the dangers of the creature and the unloving power of The Father, I have to follow the directives of the sisterhood we have all shared.

I hurried back but the creature had made it to her before I did. I do not know how. Perhaps it was provoked when it sensed my return. Or it was always waiting to pounce once I left. I do not know. I do not accept either. Outside her quiet doorway I stared at the creature. It’s wide white face was focusing it’s grey eyes on yet another one of our sisters. Its metal body covered in the dust that rose as it did it’s painful work. This one looked old, and had an opening on its side that was leaking of our sisters’ blood.

Where her body lay, there grew a strange hairy flower I did not notice before. A soft green stalk, bearded with purple whiskers that were clustered on the flower’s rounded top.  The Father had already poured the concrete over her body. A part of me denied that she was even there under it. I knew it was her there but I could no longer sense the familiar animation of her hair. She had been re-covered. The concrete had set. The Father was finished. That was it. The dust had already started to settle over her hard form. I can not make sense of how it happened so quickly.  I walked around her body, gave it a bearded flower and took one for myself. The creature placed my identification code on the road near by and in that inexplicable mercy, I was reminded, yet again, that the question of my birth must be asked. Perhaps the answer will also tell me why the creature will never fight me, why it gently lets me pass every time it consumes our sisters. Or why the Father is only ever there to re-cover when he has the power to save our sisters’ lives. At any rate, I gathered my IC and began to make my way to the Regal office once more.

The sight of our disappearing sister was cloudy in my eye as I looked back on her and the creature. Even after I turned my head towards the way ahead and even when I boarded the train, the cloudy spot where the sight of her body caught my eye refused to clear. I had to work hard to ignore my cloudy right eye so I could concentrate on the task at hand. I had to relearn the ability to smile. It took all my energy, but, I had to turn my lips up in favor of the Regal office over our sister or the shaking blur of her body in my vision. I had to be thankful for our sister’s re-covery if I had any hope of re-gestation. I could not betray their ownership of our bodies if I was to use their technology to understand and answer the question of my birth. The question of all our sisters’ deaths.  The question of my birth must be asked. As the first sister, I must ask it for all of us.  Who are these white creatures? Why do they prey on our bonds of love and why has the Father been helping them?

I must go now. More later.

With the love of our sisterhood,

Eva.

Minenhle Nomalungelo Khumalo s a South African born Afro-futurist, Marxist Biblical scholar and professional skeptic who is based in the United States. She is currently a teacher-learner in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on the intersections of social-science, fiction/fantasy, scripture, and religion. Her hobbies include smashing patriarchy, challenging racism, and riding bikes

 

 

SCREENSHOTS

Episode Two

It felt surreal watching four angry women approach you while you had a child in your hand who was drenched in tears, his nose ran.  You had only slapped him but he was crying alarmingly like a rubber bullet had been shut at him. This almost irritated you.

You felt betrayed, and you couldn’t explain why it was betrayal you felt.

Mama Chioma was ahead of other women who were approaching. Only then did you realize that then ten-year old Obiora whom you had slapped was her fourth child. “Chinedu what is this?” her voice had never sounded so sour, arms shook like it had a life of its own, she quickened her pace towards you. And very much like Patience Ozokwor in her rueful-but-revengeful mood, there seemed to be a shadow under her eyes “tell me it is not true biko nu. You were slapping my child under my very eyes” she said, stooping low to read your eyes and her child’s. Your lips were pressed together in silence.

“Tell me it is not true that you were slapping my child Chinedu” she untied her wrapper from above her breast and tied it around her waist. Now the other three women had gathered around you, it felt like a sugar-to-ant relationship. You were to be consumed for breakfast, their sharp stares seemed to perforate holes into your skin.

“You must kill me today Brother Chinedu” the little boy on noticing his mother’s anger, began to scream although you had taken your hands off him. Now he held on to your fists shouting “kill me, kill me, finish me” bending his head against your left arm like a charging ram. You would wash a mighty leather slap across his face if those women had not enclosed you. “Pounding” was the word that spoke to you at that moment, you bit your teeth against each other, he must be really stupid.

“Oya leave him osiso” Mama Chioma hoisted Obiora onto her back “We will make you slap him back today. He’s not the one to beat you, mbanu” she said, her breath was noisy like she had eaten too much pepper and was breathing through her mouth.

An angry defensiveness creeped into your tone when you said “haba, how can you do that?”

“It’s like you don’t know what’s up” another Igbo woman said, she pronounced it “woozuop”, her voice like the young half-dressed women that sang choruses for Fela Kuti on stage. You didn’t know her name, she seemed new in the neighborhood.

“Madams” your voice caught in your throat at this moment. You searched their eyes for understanding. It wasn’t only mother hens that were spontaneously and stupidly protective of their children, it was mother-everything.

“I can explain” your tongue was a little heavy in your mouth as you started to rise, straightening your rumpled shirt. Your eyes had fallen on Mama Chioma’s watery fat arms tattooed with stretch marks “I am Madam….sorry” you weren’t sure who was speaking, the world was spinning. “Your children offended me”

“-what did they do?” She cut you short, asked Obiora to leave her presence. You were about to begin your story but your voice was lost in the woeful shouts of the other women “jobless maaan, child abuser, toilet abuser, wulululu” they clapped into their mouths.

One of them pulled you by the scruff of your shirt, your belt pulled by another hand. Then you heard a cock crow tear across the compound as if to usher you into the tragedy that was about to happen. But someone had just called you toilet abuser, so they knew. They knew, everybody now knew, this was the ‘second coming’ for you, you could hear the trumpets of destruction and rapture in your head already, you felt faint. With hands held up you tried to ward the women off as they were stretching their hands, making choices of where to slap you. Your scalp had received two feminine slaps already.

“Your children have pornography tendencies” you finally shouted, the women fell silent and left your shirt. But your front pocket had come off at the seams; it dangled like a loosed tongue.

A trepid-looking woman with big breasts that had downward slope seemed particularly concerned. She had a strong churchy hair-do: tangles of black thread that strongly snaked into one another like stubborn branches, the tightness pulled her shiny forehead to catch the rays of the sun “Oh my Master Father of Abraham and Jacob and Isaac” she said evenly as if to cry, chest heaving.

“God forbid!” Mama Chioma said, snapping her fingers at you. She invited the other women to be calm and listen to you. But first she shooed the kids scattered across the compound to go into their flats, assisted by the other women.

“Chike and Ekene…” you said

“-Mechieonugi.This children should finish going inside the house first. This is adult talk” Mama Chioma snapped. She grabbed you by the wrist and led you to a bench that lined a fence which was dotted by green algae, near the public tap.

“My husband has gone to work already. He would have harvested one of your teeth” another woman was still charging, facing the sun as if addressing nobody. You glanced at her as your lips turned down in a sneer. You wanted to announce it here and now that you had seen her bring a strange broad-muscled man to the house when her husband travelled to the village, and had sent Ekene to buy her a condom. But the situation at hand was complicated enough.

“What nonsense k’inako?” Mama Chioma was impatient. She smelled of sleep as she drew her face close enough for her breath to fan yours. “You don’t have to enter into his mouth Madam, take it easy” another woman said.

“This man is only insulting our children and us. He is not telling us the truth” the trepid-looking churchy woman said. If peacocks could speak (likely in foghorn and fat sounds), they spoke like her.

“I am trying to draw a parallel between teenagers peeping into toilets, and having a wish to watch pornography ma”

“God forbid” Mama Chioma snapped her fingers again at you, her face crumpled. You wanted to rearrange her face with your hands and tell her not to look so horrible.

“Ekene and Chike were watching me popooing in the toilet”

Hiebey!” Mama Chioma quipped, hands thrown to her chest.

“Can you imagine! It was so painful that I almost began to cry. I’ve never gone through such a thing before. I almost thought it was pile” You felt out of place, you shouldn’t have told them in the first place, even in so much details. But it was the only way to save yourself from this mess and get to your place of work. You were ten minutes late now.

“Mama Chioma this was the ordeal I went through. Ekene and Chike were peeping me in the toilet, mmuwa”, you didn’t mention Kemi’s name.

To your surprise Mama Chioma’s face stretched into a tight smile that said “I understand”. She nodded knowingly. You were confused.

“So you are the one he was telling my husband about” she said. Mama Chioma who had been concerned about neighbors who had similar experience, knew enough not to laugh.

Adim very very sorry for this disgrace” she said, her head shook in a remorseful bow, she reached out to take your hand in hers. “But you shouldn’t have beaten my child, Chinedu. You should have gone after Ekene and Chike instead-”

“-E-ehn just hold it there” Ekene’s mother cut in, boiling with hands raised like a traffic warder, to silence Mama Chioma.

“Is his buttocks the most confidential thing in this world? If he had survived a car accident and had injury on his buttocks, will the doctors not open it and plaster it? All church prayer groups who visit the hospital will see it as well okwia?” both her hands had been on her laps

“Oh yes” the other women concurred except Mama Chioma.

“People forget nakedness when tragedy strikes” the trepid-looking woman added. You gave her an angry glance, she shrunk into silence. The impossible thought of unscarfing all the women and scratching their foreheads against one another like railway stones came to you. Your phone beeped aloud. It was a missed call from your manager at the office, and five missed calls from Kemi. As expected, an sms appeared immediately.

“Baby check your facebuk page, I hope you will find a place in your hat to 4give me. I want the hole world to know that am sorry, that I love you like kilode.” You brightened your phone’s screen and peered at the sms again.

“I hope no problem?” Mama Chioma asked, perhaps she had noticed a line of surprise and worry drawn across your forehead

“No problem” you said. You refreshed a new page on your phone, seven notifications on facebook.

You had been tagged with a photo by Kemi: a screenshot of the sms conversation you had had with her the previous day, the last sentence being: “We are finished. How could you have been watching me shit, with two small boys? Kemi where did I go wrong?” You refreshed a web page because you couldn’t believe your mind.

She had added a caption that read: Please help me beg my baby to forgive me. I know I am offendful, e sanu mi” and it had received forty three comments, your eyes became blurry, tongues a little heavy.

You gripped the phone with all your fingers, look up to the sky and shouted “Jehova God” with tears in your voice. The phone dropped, your hands tightened into fists. Three of the four women sprang from the bench and came to gather around you again, led by Mama Chioma. They seemed so concerned and worried. The trepid-looking one mopped in a distance, you couldn’t hear what she was muffling because everything felt mute and distant.

To be continued next Saturday

Read Episode One

Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan       Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.

SCREENSHOTS
by Anthony Nonso Dim

Episode One

The first Sunday after your thirtieth birthday in July was the day you dashed into your small apartment with one hand pressed into the middle of your buttocks to keep a hole shut. Although you rushed, your gait was unsteady, as though one of your legs had grown shorter – it mostly happened when you were pressed. Heading to your desk you grabbed a roll of toilet papers in a scrambling rush, panting as you made your way to the toilet where you winced and pouted until you sweated, and every object in the world at that moment trembled out of focus as if in a blur.
It didn’t come out even though you could see on your reflection in the tiled walls that the veins of your neck were pronounced like roots of a plant. You slapped the tiled wall on your right, groaned breathlessly. Your body released a loud fast fart instead, the string sound of a faulty bass guitar. The smell didn’t make you feel light-headed as other days. Your eyes rather shone in surprise at this sound, you would have said “Who did that?” if you had not been alone. The stuff wouldn’t come out still even though you gasped like a woman in labor and your mouth had been opened to capacity.
Now you were in-between feeling disturbed and feeling confused about this witless paradox: you had rushed to the toilet because of this, and yet it chooses not to come out.
You felt pangs of pains like someone was pushing a sharp stone into your anus and you wanted to fight back. Your stomach roared.
In this desperate struggle you now understood why it had been said that your neighbors had sung praise and worship while groaning in toilet. You regretted that you had laughed it off when Mama Chioma told you, you wondered whether this experience was karma as a result of your obliviousness and lack of empathy.
“Heeelphie!, Heeelp mieeey!” you groaned “Help hieeeiym” then like the sound of tearing sheaf of papers, the first one stormed out and dropped. You gasped and wiped sweat off your brows, then the others followed the first, storming out as though the door had finally been opened for ‘children’ to go out and play with each other in the water outside. Objects began to take shape again in your eyes, then you realized that the hem of your shirt had been in your mouth, in-between your gnashing teeth. You looked up to the ceiling and muffled “thank God”.
Because things in the toilet were becoming clearer, you could now see your shadow elongated and multiplied into four onto the tiled floor, as happened when it was midday or there about. Now that your anus was starting to feel menthol fresh like the mouth after savoring peppermint, you took interest in the shadows and noticed that one of the human shadows which you supposed were yours, was topped with a vague female hairdo. Startled, you counted the shadows: one, two, three , four. You waved your hand, tilted your head to the left, then to the right, only one of the four shadows mimicked you. It was either the others were resistant or they were not yours, the devil must be cracking jokes.
Your mind raced, your heart panicked as you swiftly turned to your back where a window was opened, only to find that three people had been watching you. Among them was Kemi your fiancee who lived in the next compound.
Tears formed in your eyes as you watched the three of them hastily turning away in a let-me-mind-my business demeanor. You wanted to chase after them but your body wouldn’t allow you. When you thought you had spoken the word “idiots”, your lips had only been trembling in shock. Power left you especially as your posture dawned on you afresh: your shirt pulled upward and held in a tight knot in your left hand, how your strong-looking auburn feces were cutting corners inside the water closet, your trouser and boxer shorts gathered below your ankles, how the sun rayed across your buttocks and crotch region, giving the spiky hair a golden color. You wished you could switch off the sunlight or just banish it from human sight.
Now you were certain that God had punished you himself. The word “finished” in the very disparaging Nigerian sense seeped through your psyche and flattened your spirit. When you managed to wipe your buttocks (after you slid the windows shut) you cursed yourself, you could smear the stained toilet paper around your neck if it would serve as a kind of spiritual ritual to make those three idiots forget what they had seen.
In your room you had barely sat on your bed when you changed your whatssap status to “We are defeated”. “We” because in times like this you felt defeated in plural, the whole of your being: Body, Soul; and Spirit. You restlessly dialed Kemi’s number saved as “Baby”, it was unreachable.
Then you sent a text that said “Baby why have you done this to me?” your hands were shaking.
Her response came almost immediately as though she had waited for a text in preference to useless calls “Baby we heard you screams around the housing, so we now come and check boya shey something have happened ni”. Kemi’s English always came to you like an accident, it startled you like lightening. It didn’t surprise you when she said Funke Akindele was her role model. She had been denied a visa to Zimbabwe because she had spoken such a courageous – but- mindless English at the embassy in Ikeja.
Once when you went out with her on a date, before you proposed to her, she had turned her attention to a woman three tables away in the restaurant and shouted evenly “wo, stop cross-table-fellowshipping”. She had caught the lady stealing a glance at you both. You thought Kemi was jealous and protective of her city boy – this girl who was a proud alumni of an Ogbomoso village upbringing.
“We are finished! How could you have been watching me shit, with two other small boys? Kemi where did I go wrong? ” you texted again, your heart was pounding.
“At least give God glory. Many are praying for the gift of shitting to come out, it did not come. Bread can block the way. I was so much happy when your own come out. I said that ‘ah, ope o'”.
You looked up at the mirror on the wall to find your mouth slack, panick sliced into you. So she had been watching you from the start when you made those shrill moans upon sitting on the water closet seat, even when you tilted your long neck and waved a hand to test which shadow was yours. Now you imagined you had looked like an exotic animal from the viewers perspective – dinosaur maybe. The lazy silence in the room rang in your head.
Your phone beeped “But Chinedu everybody shits” her text appeared again, you dropped the phone against the desk, hands on your head
“All those peoples they are well wishers ni. You shit, you successful” another sms appeared. On good days you would have imagined her putting those texts into words with her singsong Yoruba ascent and a wan laughter in her eyes, her jaw shaped like letter U when she spoke. But your imagination was blurry black-and-white except for the toilet scene which was to your greater sadness, extremely clear.
“Nooooooooou!” you screamed with tears in your voice, to nobody in particular, but those three faces still felt very close to you. Had they taken photos? Shall they post them on facebook? You logged unto your Facebook on your phone and blocked two people: Chike and Ekene, lest they tagged you with something stupid. You didn’t block Kemi. Kemi is a fool! Village girl!
You grabbed your phone to dial Uchenna’s number
“Uche you have finished me! Uchenna!” you pronounced his name emphatically like your safety depended on it.
“What’s the problem?” his voice sounded rather smirky and happy, it irritated you, so you charged at him
“The bread you gave me, with pepperish beans. Uche you might find my ass on newspapers very soon maka Chukwu”
“What!” this time he giggled, perhaps he thought your sentence was metaphorical because you were known as the ‘father of metaphors, the kind of man who would say “in a nutshell” Instead of “in summary”. You hung up, threw the phone to the bed “mtcheeeew, fuck fuck fuck the world” you said as you punched the bed. Now, even though Kemi had been a village alumni, you felt with her, a kinship so close to foolishness”.
You threw yourself on the bed and buried your face in a pillow and muffled shouts into the foam, biting into the sheets.
“Bang! bang!! bang!!!” a loud knock on your door, it was Mr. Festus the Tiv caretaker, you could tell from his I-wanna-fight voice “Shame! You didn’t flush the toilet Mister Madubuike” you wished you could blend into the billows of smoke you could see through the window, rising from a burning dustbin outside, and just become a puff of black or white smoke, varnishing peacefully into the skies.

The next day on your way to the office, the children in the neighborhood who beat tins and cans with mock drum sticks didn’t need mention your name in the song “shitti shitti uncle” before you knew that they referred to you. If only they could perish at the frown of your face!
They jumped around like mice dashing past spacious rooms, they were all interchangeable in your eyes
“His shit is like dog shit” one of them finally said, a blob of laughter trailed off, and that was the punchline.
You suddenly found yourself chasing after Chike, you grabbed him by the hem of his shirt and gave him three intermittent slaps with the back of your hand so that it sounded like the fluttering of small flags. The frenzied shouts of the other children swept through the neighborhood, then you saw their varied-sized mothers coming out of their various flats, one by one, door by door. The women were not smiling. You froze.

To be continued next Saturday

Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.

We Fly at Night

                                                 by  Anthony Nonso Dim

Mosquitoes in St. Mathew’s parish Amukoko are disrespectful, unruly and uncouth. However, in some way I do think of them as unfazed. Like the missionary that I aspire to be, they are willing to die for their cause, and I can’t slap myself enough in this mission house. Each night I crave for a speedy break of day. I work in this church with Father Benny, a 72 year old Irish priest who is unfazed too. His pink face is now severing into beetroot since he came to Nigeria from Ireland.

So here he is after morning mass on Tuesday sitting on a bench under a mango tree in front of the parish office, body lousy with golden hair, rosy cheeks, poignant with cologne, bulging tired eyes after celebrating a vigil mass the previous night for members of the Charismatic group, he has no choice. I fling a good morning as I walk past him. With a half-smile he asks me whether the insecticide works, I say yes, even though the mosquitos still found a way of nursing ambition and fulfilling their dreams despite the poisoned air.

Fumbling in my pocket for keys at the entrance I notice a large lump of saliva at the door step. Perhaps it was that angst-filled Warri woman who bounded into the office yesterday protesting she wanted to change her child’s baptismal name from Juliana to Uchubiyojo. As a seminarian who tries to feign perseverance, I politely told her that Uchubiyojo was neither a saint nor a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we argued back and forth, so she left with a furious snarl, hesitated at the door to drop this saliva, in memory of her. I swallow my anger, the way Father Benny likes it.

“Oh yeah, I’m coming” Father Benny is saying to a caller on phone, he hangs up. Someone is dying, he tells me he’s leaving for Anointing of the Sick as he starts to rise, so anyone who wishes to see him in office would have to wait until he is back. I nod a yes to him. And as his old corolla eases out of the cool of the churchyard, I think of other places and objects upon which those tyres will screech today: the chunks of road outside eaten by erosion, the unapologetic ditches, arrested house rats flung from windows to the road, looking guilty as charged as they wait for their final death sentence by tyre screech.

For a moment as I unlock the doors I wonder what drives Father Benny. I think perhaps it is the awareness that many churches in Ireland have been emptied of believers, turned into pubs, bars, basilicas have become art galleries. There is now a rise in the number of people with no religion in Ireland. And here he is in Lagos Nigeria, in a booming church where every weekday is half a Sunday, the church swarms with believers, and he is a custodian of these souls who believe that God’s small universe…the church, will remain impeccable as they imagined it from childhood. I expect him to be grateful, to be propped by this turnout.

So I take my seat at the reception in the parish office. Elizabeth, the jolly fat parish secretary in her mid-thirties walks into the office while my eyes are half-shut in a short morning prayer. We exchange greetings, she sits adjacent me. We gossip about a Jesuit priest who has been kidnapped, we do gossip whenever Father Benny is not around, then after we exhaust topics she minds her own business of typing church bulletin for next Sunday.

I like this gorgeous space because even here, outside Holy Mass, that Catholic Solitude still exists:  The musty scent of books plus Lysol hang thick in the air. A large frame of the sagacious tearful smile of Pope John Paul 11 waving to a cheerful mammoth crowd with his grey hair flinching in the wind like Olympic torch whilst leaning on his crosier, the Cardinal Archbishop of Lagos in his full regalia is wearing a fatherly smile. But my attention barely rests on these as I always have to read my way through bans of marriage on my table, write announcements for Sunday masses, and attend to each person who walks in. Today I am telling each visitor that Father Benny will be back soon, gesturing them to take their seats as they wait.

It is now half past ten and there are four people who want to meet Father Benny and he is not back. Perhaps he has received other pastoral calls again, a man who is not entitled to having missed calls, no freedom to own a schedule book of his own. He has been doing this for thirty years, without a wife or a child, just to reserve every ounce of his time and attention for God’s people.

At half past twelve a lady walks into the office in flapping oversize dusty slippers, her skin as dark as a moonless midnight, her head like a sucked-until-small lollypop is completely shaved, her silky scarf unveils it slowly as it unwraps and separates from her head and slowly slips down to her shoulder, hangs across her breasts, drops on the floor, she steps on it as she approaches my table. Now I fear she is unhinged, her eye-catching eyes are glistening with a desire to cry. She leans on my table, my chair squeals an inch backward. I invite her to sit, she refuses, insists on standing, quiet, now keeping faraway looks. A nervous tic resumes in me.

“Hello?” I say

“We want to see Father Benny” she says, her voice is like a pitched chorus of two girls speaking through metallic throats. I ask why she wants to see him, she says she is not alone, then I notice another young lady, a mediocre version of herself – very black and sweating, standing outside the church office, and I am scanning and matching the two of them to see whether they are twins. The one outside is looking bitter; stretching to yank at leaves as if scolding them for blossoming on the wrong tree. “How can I help you sister?” I say again, feigning fearlessness.

“Madam speak up! The seminarian is talking to you” Elizabeth dives into the conversation, evenly, turning from her computer towards us with a coy frown on her forehead while arranging a sheaf of marriage papers in her hands.

“We are both evil spirits, the two both of us” I feel suspended in the air from legs to buttocks as she gestures to the girl outside “me and her” my brain is still rebooting, it is praying a fast Hail Mary

“We fly at night” my heart flies, the office’s solitude varnishes as it shimmers out of focus, Pope John Paul’s smile seems to melt away, one of the visitors on the waiting list is trembling. I hear the marriage papers drop against the table from Elizabeth’s hands

“We come do deliverance”.

After a hard swallow, long silence, and my eyes are starting to see clearly again, I tell her Father Benny is not around. I beg her to join her friend outside while they wait for him, the way Father Benny likes it. She remains there, looking sternly at me, her lips widen in a huge smile like she’s about to eat a favorite food. My heart hurdles again, again and again.

“Brother Anthony I want to piss” Elizabeth says with a fast shivering voice, sprinting from her chair. She leaves without the key to the toilet.

“The keys”

“Oh. Yes. The keys” she avoids my face as she hastens back to collect the key bunch from my hand and scurries to the toilet, she had jumped over her seat which had fallen to the floor.

“Is…is that your sister?” I ask her, my voice sounding distant from me. Perhaps my nervousness is more intense because I am glancing at her shoulders and imagining wings growing from them, she dodging electric poles, defying the laws of gravity in the company of her sister, two dark shiny heads and owl eyes.

“Oh yes” she says in earnest “it’s good when sisters don’t just walk together but also fly together” I tap a foot on the floor to be sure of the floor’s support, I am close to numb while she smirks, pinches the side of her laps, leaves her scarf there on the floor and moves out of the office in the slow elegance of an overfed cat. I feel a purge of relief as she exits the office. Outside, she hardens her face as if in preparation to begin a hard work, and joins her sister in the tearing of leafs. So the sound of yanking and tearing of leaves increases. I won’t tell them to stop – it is not for me to decide how many leaves a mango tree can boast of. But three days ago I had scolded a little altar boy for cutting leaves from the same tree, I worried that he would leave the floor littered with leaves. Now it doesn’t feel wrong, let them tear on, I shall sweep when they are gone. It doesn’t take anything to sweep.

Mr. Simeon Okafor, the hegemonic church compound manager is a restless soul who has a touch of stubbornness about him. I don’t like how he orders people around or walks into my room without knocking just because he’s the compound manager. He is slim and slouchy, the flatness of his buttocks emphasize how much he refuses to sit, perhaps his buttocks have evolved into this flat shape that needs no sitting. His trouser wears him. Typical of him, he stops at the tree and watches the ladies tearing the leaves with utter seriousness. One branch is already bald, Mr. Simeon’s mouth drops. I think he is thinking of something witty to spit out

Wetin? Look at you these gaals” he snaps furiously at them that saliva drizzles from his mouth, his face flushes with worry mixed with anger “Do you know how much we pay the gardeners to  trim this?” he adjusts his trouser, looks from under his glasses. They ignore him like he is a mere fresh air that human beings need do nothing about. I’m afraid for Mr. Simeon for the first time.

“Hello gaals. Ahn-ahan, you have no respect? Listeen silly gaals” he intently crushes pieces of leaves on the ground with his feet and makes to touch one of them, the one who had come into the office

“Don’t try it” she quips “you are playing with fa-yah”. Mr. Simeon takes a step backward, takes off his glasses, blinks intermittently in disbelief

“I am a former secretary in the river Niger where we hold general meetings” her voice is still like a chorus of two girls. I notice Mr. Simeon’s right ear jinx once, this must be really serious. So I dip my hand into my pocket and caress my rosary beads as one more Hail Mary recites itself in my brain. An aspiring priest cannot afford to express fear in the presence of church members, I don’t pull the rosary out, I just tap it as if to say “stay with me”.

“And she” she gestures to her sister “Is the present treasurer. She keeps babies for sacrifice” pause “we really do love small babies”

“I like sucking from their skull. What about you?” the other one chimes in, facing Mr. Simeon

“I like their heels. Really cool dear, cool. It is how they taste” she says with tears in her voice “I love baby heels” wipes her eyes, then turns back to the tree and focuses on the leaf tearing. Why did she cry? I am confused.

“This man has one new baby abi?” the other one says. And it is true, Mr. Simeon’s baby was baptized by Father Benny only two weeks ago.

“His baby is very fresh. I hear she is red” her sister concurs with two slow nods, licks her lips with her tongue, then bursts two ripe pimples from the side of her face with one scratch, they weep in sequence. The other one doesn’t wait for the pus to crawl down, she stretches a finger to her sister, robs off the whitish-yellow liquid and puts her finger into her mouth. “Very tasty” she says, nodding in approval.

“Je..ieinz” his tiny set of teeth and thin lips are trembling “J-zus” he lets out a shout, I start to feel my head full of water, my brain swims in my skull, my vision blurs once more. A waiting visitor in a Christian Mothers’ uniform who was asleep suddenly comes wide awake, wipes the ends of her mouth with her wrapper and pries her eyes with both hands

“Where is Anthony? Where is the seminarian?” Did Mr. Simeon just call my name? Something props me to rise from my seat and rush to the toilet at the backdoor

“knock-knock”

“But I have not finished, Brother” the secretary says “the thing has not come out”; she is plain useless in this situation. I return to my seat.

“Everything has happened today, just today” the woman in a Christian Mothers’ uniform whispers to the man near her, but the bandage around her neck won’t let her turn to him “I thought it was a dream. I didn’t realize this is happening in my presence here and now”.

“May God take power from the devil” the man says in Igbo, snaps fingers into space. Outside the office Mr. Simeon has disappeared and they are still tearing leaves, the floor is littered, the tree sways left and right.

Soon Mr. Simeon arrives with two men: a police man and a church security guard, and everything is starting to feel more tensed, the secretary is still in the toilet, the entrance is littered with green like a bouquet is being prepared for visiting goats. The four of them on the visitors list who were mumbling prayers, are now mumbling complaints about the girls “police, they are demonic fellows” “God forbid” “Let them do something”. Perhaps they cannot go home because the witches have blocked the entrance. The fat police man shouts “khaaa!” at them, they stand still. Another fresh air has blown, so what? Fresh air is natural.

“You girls are really stupid” he charges, holds out his gun, Mr. Simeon takes cover behind him, although his hands are still folded as if he’s still in charge of things. The security man who is a Muslim, is quietly reciting “la ila ila la” as they keep tearing.  Finally Father Benny’s Corolla comes into sight. The car halts with a loud squeal of break, he climbs out in haste almost running to the police man.

“What’s the problem han? A gun? In my church?” the police man puts down his gun and Mr. Simeon erupts with reports about the girls, relief seeps through my nerves. But they are now cracking stems, one of them bends and grabs a handful of torn leafs, throws into her mouth and starts munching, she suddenly embodies the firmness of a goat chewing the cud.

“Hello ladies” Father Benny says softly. They both stop the tearing at once. I hear the toilet’s door behind creak open, Elizabeth takes her seat near me, I am disappointed in her…coward!

“It is you that we come and see” one of them says. Elizabeth springs up “they both say they are demon possessed” she says aloud. “They are witches”, “They fly” two of the visitors say at once, then silent after their sentences stumbled into each other.

“Follow me into the office” Father Benny says “Or did any of you come before these ladies?” he says to the visitors

“No – o let them go first, it is fine” they chorus, shook their heads.

“Me I want to go home. I don’t want to see Father again. I will figure out how to take care of my marriage issues. Father is busy” one of them says

“Oh! Because the entrance is now cleared” the Christian Mother says

I want see wetin go happen” another one says. I can now focus on reading the bans of marriage file. “I am sorry” the secretary says “I thought you wanted to piss. The toilet is now open”. My heart tightens in fury as I withdraw the words I wish to throw at her “when you go back to that toilet, make sure you never come out anymore”.

I continue reading. Four pages later, I see the ladies walk out of the office, both of them now approaching the secretary and I. “I want to shit” the secretary whispers in a scrambling rush to leave “I need the keys” she says with furious command, hands open in my front. But she has not returned the keys to me, perhaps she doesn’t remember she still has them.

“But it is my turn now” I say. She tells me she is a woman, that I don’t understand how women’s body work, looking desperate like a thief about to be caught; her cheeks shook with determination, her eyes shone “give me my key”. But the ladies have reached our table already, all eyes in the office on us. I hear Elizabeth mutter something that sounds like her mother’s maiden name. She last muttered it when robbers came to the parish on the first week I arrived, and after the robbers made away with the money, I asked her for the meaning of what she said – there must be something salvific about Chuchukruku. I think of my Mother’s maiden name too, but Nnamabia doesn’t sound salvific, so I start muttering a praise worship to myself. Otherwise, the office is death silent.

Father say make we book another appointment” one of them says, I fix my gaze on her pinched nose.

“Do not be afraid” Father Benny appears behind them with a smile “This is a psychological case. I have called one of the sisters at the hospital who is a psychiatrist. Demons don’t come looking for deliverance Anthony.” Suddenly a car with the words Medical Missionaries of Mary parks outside and an unveiled Reverend Sister with untidy grey hair climbs out of it. As the girls move out of the office to meet the Reverend Sister, Father Benny apologizes to the visitors for inconvenience; they forgive him very fast with rigorous nods except the Christian Mother whose neck is bandaged.

It is now evening, there are no more visitors in the office and Elizabeth has gone home. The early evening mosquitoes are starting to do rehearsal’s for night’s work. Father Benny invites me into his office; his face is the reddest it has ever been.

“That experience this morning must have troubled you han. Thank you for making them wait”

“Thank you for coming back” I say, feeling shy.

“Could you have dealt with it if I had not come back?”

“Hmm, Father. Many are called, few are chosen, others are conscripted” his face goes red pink in a stifled laugh, and I join him, he laughs like a baby. He laughs all the louder and holds his round stomach so that he looks like   an Irish comic strip.

Anthony Nonso Dim from Imo State Nigeria, was born and raised in Mainland Lagos. He holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Joseph’s Theological Institute, South Africa. He’s presently the Content Supervisor for Afreecan Read literary community, South Africa. He is a seminarian who also paints, writes prose and poems. He lives in the Marianhill Monastery in Kwa-Zulu Natal. We Fly at Night was first published halfway as nonfiction in the Work Naija: An Anthology of Vocations, Brittle PaperThis complete version of We Fly at Night, unlike the 1000 words version published in Work Naija anthology, is classified as fiction

 

 

My Mother’s Maiden Name

by Ifeanyi Paulinus Ekpunobi

I stepped into the air-conditioned cool of the banking hall very early in the morning with a disturbing sense that the day wouldn’t end well, that inexplicably unusual paranoia that makes you feel like the hair on your skin is standing erect. Even more, my mouth was filled with the rancid taste of adrenaline. I was not at ease with my feelings, so my gait started to sway, I felt it.

“You are welcome to Fidelity Bank, sir.” The uniformed guard by the automated sliding door flung a toothy smile at me. His uniform evinced a history of previous whiteness, now indecisive between brown and grey. Had he ever thought of washing it, or had he washed it until it faded?

“Thank you sir.” I said, I hoped I did sound courageous. I strode towards the customer care unit, keeping a straight face. I would have laughed myself to scorn if I had stepped outside my skin to watch my parade of ‘gentleness’. Not that I was not a gentle man, but this particular gentleness was a little rehearsed, wished, fantasy-inspired.

So finally I had entered a banking hall for the first time. I had lavished massive admiration on bank structures when I moved past them in a vehicle or on foot: the fleets of neatly parked cars parked in stately garages, spilling outside the gate and sometimes stalling the traffic. But today, my mother had told me to go to the bank and send some money to my elder brother who was studying at the University of Ibadan.

He had called recently and sounded worried, his voice tinged with anger, the sound of a receding grunt. Mother had dug out some newly minted notes from her purse and gave me to send to him: “Bia, Make sure you send this money to this account number, Ifeanyi,” her voice whined through my ear as usual. I had mixed feelings about this errand: my nervousness about the possibility of embarrassing myself, and a sense of pride for having earned such prestigious errand from my mother.

I stood in the queue, behind a dangerously overblown backside of a woman “Oh my goodness! Could this be a real butt or plastic surgery?” I felt my eyes bulging out from its sockets as I gawked at the monster bum. My lids parted widely as if to allow my eyes feed on the sight before me.

“Sir, you may go to this other customer care unit, the Attendant there is back on seat.” A prudish voice of a female attendant suggested to the man standing behind me.

He gazed around him and saw that he was the last, “and why must you talk to me in such way, what guts!” the man snapped. My heart leaped against my chest, the simple instruction wasn’t worth his reaction. I waited for a comeback from the lady who seemed to be in her mid-20s. She gave him a courteous and professional “I’m very sorry, Sah” and strode  towards the bulk room. Why should she be so timid! My fists tightened and I felt like blasting the man’s pipe-holed nose that looked like a broken oja – flute. That was what the system had turned us into, where you believed that appearing professional was to assume a westernised etiquette, which I considered demeaning.

“Welcome Sir, Welcome to Fidelity. How may I be of help?” the fair lady seated behind the cabinet said to me as I approached. The lady before me had deprived me of her endowment when she left with a man I supposed to be her boyfriend – poor me. The Attendant was everything beautiful; I lost my stare on her face and gradually imagined her glossy kiss-inviting lips leaning close to mine. “Helloo, Sir,” her voice pulled back my straying imagination.

“Hi. Well done,” the words had dribbled unconsciously from my mouth. I allowed my admiration to sprinkle smiles over my face. “I …I want to open a savings account.” I wanted to take back my words but it was already spilled.

She skimmed through a pile of papers on the desk and gave me a form to fill. I looked at her outstretched arm and saw the radiating smoothness of her skin. Her lashes flickered, and her face, dosed in layers of makeup, unwound the stiffness that had grown in my heart. She was the kind of beauty many establishments placed before their customers to get them always coming back.

“Please, what do you mean here -” I pointed at a column that requested for my mother’s maiden name.

“Oh! That’s the surname of your mother before marriage.” Her words seemed to swell of shock and ridicule. Perhaps she was professional enough to keep her emotions at bay.

I stood there, lost in thoughts: Does it mean all these while I had never bothered to know my mother’s maiden name? Can I skip it? I wanted to ask but something restrained me. I hesitated and finally gave in to the fretting sensation that had now accompanied my nervous question: “Can I skip …ignore it?”

“No, it’s required,” she said emphatically. She stopped her scribbling on a rough sheet and bored an inquisitive face on me, it ruffled me. My ego now stayed on a slippery precipice, awaiting a nudge to send it crashing.

“Ehmm …sorry, I think I might have forgotten my Mum’s maiden name.”

“Seriously?” a foul frown dirtied her face, “but you know your surname, your faather’s name?” The stress she applied to “father” sliced through my chest.

“Yes, of course.”

“So your Mum’s never mattered to you simply because she is a woman, and her maiden name has become obsolete because she’s now bearing your father’s own?”

The way she readied her mouth told me that she was out to unleash her anger at me. She was being defensive about my mother like she knew my mother so well. But on a second thought, I discovered that her concerns were legitimate and worthy. My father neither easily allowed us to go to our maternal home, nor have any familial bond with my mother’s people. He always gave this flat excuse of having paid heavily for my Mum’s dowry and so didn’t owe them anything. I had always seen my father’s remark more as a simple joke rather than a tangible reason and I thought my siblings did so, until now. Standing before this pretty woman who sounded feminist, I wondered if she actually knew what feminism was. Maybe she didn’t need to know it; she only needed to act it.

“Well, I don’t think you will understand,” I said dismissively. My brother also didn’t know it, and I didn’t want to risk calling my mother over the phone, it would be embarrassing. I needed to …then I remembered, “Excuse me, let me first make a transaction.”

“Okay, you may queue yonder.” She pointed with the tip of her pen.

I backed disgracefully and joined the queue from behind. “Can you imagine someone doesn’t know his mother’s maiden name?” I heard the attendant whisper to her colleague.

Faces began to glare around me, they must have heard her. One lady giggled and tapped her feeble fingers on the shoulder of her friend who also mumbled something into her ear that provoked laughter between them. My countenance flung to the neatly tiled floor that had since gathered specks of sands from customers’ footwear, my eyes groped around hoping not to meet any eyes. How could I not know the person I claimed to love the most – Nne m oma.

When it was finally my turn, I shamefully raised my face, scanning the hall for any remnant of impending ridicule; none. I quickly filled the necessary information in the deposit slip I had drawn from the rack on the marble stand; I paid in the money and dashed out immediately. Outside, I puffed a heave of relief, the air was musty. The weather was dimming, I entered a taxi and there I imagined my sister’s child not knowing her mother’s maiden name. I tried to ward off the thought by peeping out through the window. I looked at the sky trying to drown my worry in the lazy pacing cloud that had started to mass. Suddenly, the sky cracked and the rains came down. I would tell mother that I sent the money successfully, but I wouldn’t tell her that I did not know her maiden name.

 

Ifeanyi Paulinus Ekpunobi is an emerging writer. A graduate of philosophy from the University of Ibadan. He is a young man who loves digging into life to see what connects and makes us human. When he is bored he turns to watching the best of Mess and C. Ronaldo. He is currently in Ibadan to further his studies in the Humanities. He blogs short stories at www.chroniclesofpaulinus.blogspot.com

 M’bobe

(Scene 5)

       an excerpt from Kaulini, a play written by Wongile Mbano

There is a procession of women carrying clay pots on their head with hot Chindongwa[1] inside it.  The women are singing songs.

Wamaka: There is a m’bobe near. Grab a stone. (quickly grabs a stone and places it on her head)

Yalenga: Why?

Wam: Do you know nothing? A m’bobe is a flying snake. The hot porridge in their pots is to kill it. It must be in this vicinity. In the time I’m wasting explaining the m’bobe would have flown in and hit your head and you have died instantly. Grab a stone!

(Yalenga grabs a stone and places it on her head.)

Yal: You are from Kaulimi? What are you doing so far from there?

Wam: One of our mothers died, so I went to give the death announcement to her family. Her family resides in Chinteche near the river Luweya. A few moons ago, the Ngoni tried to invade the people there. The river Luweya has long grass that covers the river so it looks justlike a field of grass but underneath there is water. The villagers know that but the Ngoni did not. When the Ngoni were invading the Tonga went to the other side of the river. The Ngoni mistook the river covered with the grass for a field of grass and they drowned.

Yalenga laughs. They see a snake jump into one of the pots from a tree.  The women sing louder; cheering and laughing. The woman whose pot it went into lowers the pot to confirm its dead. The women turn back to their village.

Yalenga: How did you kill the leopard that you are wearing?

Wam: I shot an arrow through its heart.

Yalenga: Was it attacking you?

Wamaka: It attacked one of the mothers at Kaulimi.

Yalenga: So you were in the distance and shot your arrow?

Wamaka: Yes I was in the distance. I saw the leopard attacking her.

Yalenga: So just one arrow killed it?

Wamaka: You ask so many questions.

Yalenga: I want to learn how to use the arrow or spear or anything to defend myself. When the Ngoni I felt so defenceless as I watched them snatch my family from me. I don’t want to ever feel like that again.

Wamaka: You won’t. Everyone at Kaulimi has to know how to protect themselves. There are many animals. And threats of war from spurned husbands whose wives have left them.

[1]Mild malt beer.

Wongile Mbano is a Writer, Actress and Activist. She studied Drama and Literature at University of Malawi. She has a passion for gender justice and the rights for indigenous peoples. Read Wongile’s short story, Ebola, on Afreecan Read.