“Friday, you slap me,” his mother screamed hysterically. “Me… me, your mama… Ahhhh, God, this suffering don too much.” Peace paced the length and breadth of the tiny room, and returned to where Friday stood defiantly with a determined scowl. She hovered over him, beating her left breast, “If to say no be me born you, I swear I for kill you. You bastard!”
“You sef na bastard,” 11-year-old Friday retorted angrily. With a renewed wave of fury, his mother lunged forward, strangling him. Friday kicked, and flailing his arms wildly in the air, soon broke free. He made for the door and his mother followed in hot pursuit, gripping her wrapper firmly in a tuck. Neighbours’ doors flung open, and simultaneously many heads poked out, adorned with quizzical expressions. Friday ran out of the block of single rooms where they lived and through the next block where his best friend, Rasheed, lived.
He did not stop when Rasheed called out to him. The last time he had engaged in a scuffle with his mother, she had chased him right into the next block, and descended upon him without mercy. Rasheed had not stopped teasing him since then because his mother stripped him of his trousers and made him walk all the way back to their room in his once-white hole-ridden pant. As he walked with his head lowered, in the corner of his eyes, he saw Tope and Bose pretending not to watch him.
Friday did not stop running when he got to Baba’s workshop either. Baba used to be a father-figure to him. After school, he would sit in Baba’s workshop watching him give instructions to his boys as they worked on the cars. When it was meal time, Baba would invite Friday to join them. He told him stories of how as a young man, he was intrigued by the mechanics of automobiles, and how he had followed his passion. “See as Baba God don bless me today.” Baba was well-respected in the neighbourhood. Many mothers brought their recalcitrant sons to him. He spoke wise words to them, and they returned home sober. The mothers usually returned to Baba to thank him for taming their children. Sometimes, Baba took some of the boys as apprentices, paying them stipends daily. News even got round at a time that Baba had facilitated Kunbi’s admission into University of Lagos. The story had one beginning but different endings. They say Baba once worked on a rich man’s car, and despite finding a fat wad of naira notes lying carelessly, had kept it intact for the owner. The rich man, they say, was very pleased, impressed even, and had asked if Baba needed a favour. Kunbi had only apprenticed for six weeks, but was clearly Baba’s favourite. News of him acing his WAEC results had made the street’s top news. He had written JAMB, and was awaiting post-JAMB. Mama Bose always ended it by saying that Baba spoke to the rich man in low tones about Kunbi, “and from there, one thing led to another, and Kunbi got admission.” She would then smile. But mama Tope strongly disputed whenever she was around, “Noooo,” she would insist shaking her head vigorously, “It was the rich man that had promised to help Baba’s child get admission into UNILAG. Baba had then claimed Kunbi was his son. And it is from there that, (how dem dey talk am?) the rest is history.” All Baba’s heroic stories, nonetheless, Friday stopped visiting his workshop the day he rebuked him severely for fighting his mother without listening to his own side of the story. Baba never took his side against his mother. So now, as he ran past, he didn’t throw even a passing glance.
He only stopped when he got to the grammar school where young boys practised football after classes. At night, the grammar school became a hub for the homeless. The men, some as young as 14, sat in a circle, downing turn by turn, shots of local gin. When they were desperate, they planned robberies. After every successful outing, their next meetings were celebrations where a few young women dangled at the arms of the leaders. Sometimes, after an outing, the men sat in silence, smoking cannabis, getting drunk on cheap liquor, mourning their dead.
Friday fell onto the sandy ground, tired. The sight of the ewa-aganyin being shared by the small group awakened a new depth of crisis in his stomach. He watched them wipe the plates clean, and when they were stretching on the benches, one of the younger men pointed to him, speaking to a huge dark man who had beads aroung his neck, and a stud in his ear.
Ten-year old Blessing crouched by the bed, the hot tears slowly making their way down her cheeks as her mother stormed back into the room. The quarrels between mother and Friday had become more frequent recently, and more intense. Friday had stopped obeying, had started talking back… fighting back… leaving home. The last time he stormed out of the house, he didn’t return for two days. Mother didn’t go searching for him. Blowing bubbles with her gum, she did not fail to announce, “when hunger catch am, him go come back. If him like make e no come back sef. No be im mate dey hussle? Shuo, no be Rasheed give im mama Nokia asha?”
“Look here,” Peace said lifting her daughter’s chin roughly, “If I hear say you open this door for Friday, na koboko I go take scatter ya nyash.”
“You see how that boy is disgracing me in public? Last week, he tiff teacher phone, yesterday he tiff headmaster money, today tiff classmate food, na so so tiff tiff him go dey tiff. See as him resemble him papa. Useless men.”
“Ahhhhhh, Osanobua,” she continued painfully, “na only me born pikin?”
That night, Friday did not return, not the next night either… nor the next after it. Blessing did not see him in school. Her mother never mentioned him.
One Sunday, it rained heavily. By night, the rain had been reduced to drizzles. Blessing had gone to church on her mother’s instruction, alone. She chose the church at the end of their street, whose members always wore green banner-like clothes atop their own clothes. Blessing usually went there on Sundays when there was no food in the house, because at the end of the service, there was refreshment- rice, chicken and soft drink.
On some Sundays, Blessing went to the church at the other end of the street. They served refreshment for newcomers only, but she stopped going there when the Akinola twins asked her if it was every Sunday she was a newcomer.
Then, there was the other church in the next street. Blessing didn’t like going there, because all they ever shared was Cabin biscuit and zobo after a five-hour long service.
As the rain drops beat softly on the roof top, Blessing sat on the edge of the bed watching her mother apply layer upon layer of make-up. On days like this, Peace hardly spoke to her daughter. Blessing never asked questions.
By 7.00p.m, there was a knock on the door. Blessing stood to open it. She had never seen this one, he was dark and lanky with rotten teeth. He laughed too much, as though he were an excited 17-year old. The sound of his laughter was hollow, just the way a hungry man would laugh. Blessing felt slight pity for him. There was no food in the house. She wondered if he could cope with the day’s business.
“Beans N50, dodo N20,” Peace said handing N70 to her daughter. “No stand near the door. No go anybody house. I don warn you. When you don buy food, stay outside where rain no go touch you chop am.”
Blessing took the money, and left without a word. The door lock clicked. She felt alone. She thought of Friday, and tears started to gather in her eyes. She wished he would return home, or take her with him. On nights like these, they would sit in the car. He would tell her his escapades. She would laugh. They would ignore the snorts of their neighbours, and pretend they did not hear them warn their children to stay away from ‘that ashawo woman’s children’. She wished Otunba had not taken back the car he gave her mother. In the middle of one night, Otunba had stormed the room, and exchanged harsh words with Peace. The next morning, the car was gone as magically as it had come.
She remembered the one time she and Friday stood at the door and heard the sounds their mother made. The door had suddenly opened and they were caught. Her mother was yet to give her a beating that surpassed the one she received that night. So when Otunba presented the car, and the other male visitors came, Peace never forgot to add the warning, “Go to the car. I no want make una mix with all dem bad belle people.”
It was a month since Friday left the house. Peace did not talk about him. Blessing did not mention him. The lanky man had become a familiar face. “Oyibo,” he usually called Blessing after he was told her father was a Lebanese. Sometimes, he tipped her even, and Blessing did not think he was so hungry afterall. His laughter had gained some depth, but were still as frequent.
Peace turned to her daughter, tossing some clothes rapidly into a small travel bag, “I dey travel go Morocco. I wan get visa make the two of us go Europe. I no go tey. Na me and your uncle dey go. Make sure you lock this door every night. No go pesin house. U don hear me? I say make u no go pesin house.” Blessing nodded.
“Take N2000, manage am well well,” she said handing her a few naira notes. She zipped her bag up, and at the door added, “if you do any rubbish thing, na koboko I go take scatter ya nyash.”
Every night after her mother left, Blessing suffered insomnia, at first from fear of being alone, especially at nights when the knocks on the door were incessant, and later from the pangs of hunger that clawed at her stomach. Even on Sundays, the free food at the church down her street was no longer guaranteed. Only last Sunday, the pastor had preached a message on Sowing and Reaping. He encouraged members to not give up on giving. Afterwards, ushers shared banners to be worn that proclaimed: WE SHALL NOT BE TIRED OF GIVING. Blessing relocated to the church that still gave cabin biscuit and zobo in constant supply.
Blessing stopped going to school. No one asked of her. No one noticed her existence, except Gbenro, the landlord’s son. Whenever she went out of the room, he always seemed to be around. “Ble ble,” he called her fondly, sometimes poking at her developing breasts, calling them ‘agbalumo’.
“Hunger dey catch you?” he asked, holding her quivering hands.
“Yes,” she replied feverishly. He laughed. His laugh was hollow and hungry, just like the lanky man with the rotten teeth.
“By 8 o’clock, open your door. I go bring food and coke for you.”
When he knocked, Blessing was on the bed shivering. She jumped out to light the small candle that lay on the table, pausing a while before opening the door. She let him in, and the aroma of the food made her dizzy. “Lock the door,” Gbenro commanded with a smirk. As she heard the click of the door lock, she remembered her mother’s words: If you do any rubbish thing, na koboko I go take scatter ya nyash.
Under her breath, she cursed her mother: May thunder fire ya nyash.
Photo credit: Getty images
P.S: This story was a challenge from ‘Deolu Adeleye. He asked me to write a story on (the irony of) a cheating parent scolding their kids to always be faithful and never stray in their academics/ business.
I, in return, asked him to write on a 14-year old who has to marry. She was either forced, or just had to do it (read his story here).
Don’t hesitate to let us both know what you think of our depictions. Use the comment box.
UPDATE: So I & Deolu decided to do a counter-challenge, where we write on the same topics we gave ourselves, just to see what the other person had in mind. This is what I wrote. Don’t hold your comments back. Thanks.