At last I put this Calabash on your wall after months of delay, re-delays, procrastinations, near-abandonment. Here we are, the diary of a tin-head. It is in series, or mini-series or mini mini-series only you can decide. Decide, enjoy…
1ST AUGUST 1am. I cannot say what woke me up. But I have suspects. Hunger, mosquitoes and fear are the top suspects. I was used to hunger now. I was always hungry. In fact, I cannot say the last time I wasn’t hungry. Hunger had become a trusted shadow for me, the kind of shadow that thrived in the dark. But tonight (I should say hungers). Tonight’s hungers must be having a big conference in my belly, with delegates singing, dancing and eating my intestines as snacks.
Then there were the mosquitoes. They were the size of fists, harmed with teeth, wicked birds (God forbid that I call them insects) feasting with the zealosity (get the latest dictionary) of agents of World Blood Bank. Witches. Wizards. Blood suckers. I have always thought I was used to their vampirical bites but tonight was not of this world. These mosquitoes must have invited all the mosquitoes in the neighbourhood to come to ofala on my carcass. Terrorists!
Fear. Yes, fear must have woken me up, I am sure. Fear, the fear of everything. The fear of starvation, the fear of ending up in the belly of mosquitoes (a 21st century Jonah), and the fear of tomorrow. Yes, the fear of tomorrow was the lion fear. Few days back, the caretaker of this compound whom we called Abacha came to see me. Actually his name was Sani, but he had two razor marks on each chin, wore dark goggles 24/7 and was without human sympathy, so people added Abacha to his name. But he never cared, he was too busy hating and being hated to notice. He was hated by his wife, his kids, the landlord, the talents, neighbours, all. Sani Abacha came to see me. Seeing him wasn’t joy joy joy to me so I didn’t bother throwing away my good morning; I kept my good morning inside my belly and my eyes on his malicious bald head.
‘Where is Sam?’ he asked; he never asked, he demanded. Sam was my roommate but had since moved on, to greyer pastures, five months back. Abacha knew this but he never tired commencing his address to me with ‘Where is Sam?’
‘Which Sam?’ I asked him; I never demand, I ask, gentle me.
Abacha’s eyes heated up. ‘So you no longer know Sam? Me, it is Sam I know and it is Sam I gave this room. The rent Sam paid expired June and I gave you a month grace.’ His finger began to wag like the tail of a dog, on my face. ‘Now listen, don’t exceed July in this room. You heard me. DON’T exceed July in this room!’ And he turned and carried his corpse on his bow-legs out of the stinking compound.
Don’t exceed July in this room. Well, today is August 1st. Sani Abacha will eat me alive.
It wasn’t dawn yet and lying in the black darkness of my room, I could see Abacha vividly, his eyes red with hate thirsting for my hide.
I crawled to the socket and slotted in the plug, my sixty watts bulb came alive. My room was so scanty it wouldn’t take Abacha few minutes to carry my things to the gutter. I had a tattered six-spring mattress on three-quarterly destroyed carpet; a dirty curtain on the door, a dirtier curtain on cob webs-caged window. A couple of charcoal black pots and a tiny handed-over stove made up my kitchen area (never mind about food). There was no wardrobe. No there was wardrobe, wardrobes even: I had a robe tied on two nails on the wall of my room where my two pairs of fading jeans and three shirts hung like condemned criminals. My toilet things, soap, toothpaste, tissue papers, comb, brush, were on top of my library. Yes a library; that was the only thing I could really say I owed—books.
The heap of my books was three feet high and two feet in diameter. Dog-eared, borrowed, stolen, pirated books, my books. My multi-purpose books. One of them served as my table and the other, I think The Complete Works of Shakespeare served as pillow. It would take two seconds for Abacha to clear my things out. But it will take days for Abacha to clear my National Library.
Today was the D-day. Don’t exceed July in this room. Well, welcome to August, happy new month, I wish you Abacha returns!
I rose to my feet, with all energy. I must have leaned on the mosquitoes for balance. But why did I rise to my feet in the first place? I had forgotten. Hunger has a way of reducing your thinking ability. Something made me rise to my feet but I couldn’t remember what it was, and the risk I took to get up! I thought of lying back to my bed till I remembered but who would help me up when I remembered? I remained on my feet.
Mosquitoes were buzzing about like newly commissioned airmen. And the fan, the standing fan! Kic! Kic! Kic! Kic! It whined as it blew heat my direction. Did I say standing fan? It was actually a leaning fan, leaning on the wall and abusing its ancestors (not me) as it grudgingly went about its Ajayi work. A hopeless, ancient fan from Shehu Shagari’s era.
The drones of the mosquitoes/birds and the kic-kic-kic-kic of the fan were too much for my embittered faculties. I made for the socket, removed the plug and relieved the leaning fan of its agony. I could almost hear it heave a sigh of relief, stupid apparatus. With the fan out of action, I began to think properly. Now I remembered, I was on my feet in search of food. Abacha could wait (it wasn’t morning yet), the mosquitoes could feast on me how much they wanted, but my belly screamed for food. And I would do something about it. What was the last thing/time I ate?
I went outside. It was a small compound which housed eight rooms. One of the rooms was used as poultry pen. One of the rooms as store for the landlord (himself living in lush GRA). One room housed my carcass and the remaining rooms five other carcasses.
My room had the good luck of being the last before the toilet and bathroom, by the left. By my right was Jennifer’s room. She said she was a student of the College of Nursing but I had never seen her with books or going for lectures, and she only had male visitors whom she called course mates. Perhaps it was a Boys’ College. Even now I could see a pair of male palm sandals on her door-mouth. Another cursed mate. If you placed your leafy ear on the door you would hear ramblings like the musings of rabbits. Jennifer and her course mate were having all night tutorials, perhaps.
I passed. Next room belonged to Cletus, the auto mechanic. But people called him Notorious B.I.G because of his enormous size, behind his back, of course. Would you ever call the American wrestler Mark Henry idiot before his face? And Cletus was bigger than Mark Henry even. He was a large thoughtless eater of foul manners. What would it profit me to survive the evil mosquitoes and end up in Mark Henry’s belly? So I passed.
The next room was the store room, opposite it the poultry pen, then Martins’ room. But I couldn’t go to Martins for food; he was even hungrier than I was. I was thin, like a sickle cell case; but Martins was as thin as HIV advanced crisis. Going to Martins for food was like a rake stopping by a piece of broom’s house for fat.
After this room was Okon’s. Okon, but we called him Jamaica because of his high consumption of Indian hemps. I had never seen him make fire to cook but he never lacked smoke—weewee smoke always filtered through the cracks of his abode. The only thing Jamaica could offer you was marijuana. But the hunger inside of me was like petrol and the scratch of a match would explode my belly and I would die with a wrap of Marijuana in my hand. Imagine me in the gate of heaven with a burning made-in-Jamaica weed in my hand. Angel Michael would be smiling and beckoning me to come, ‘come my son’; come, with weewee in my hand? Ah, even Father Abraham couldn’t intervene for me. They would never allow someone with weewee enter paradise; if they do it would cause problem; when I open my mouth to sing praises my mouth would smell of weed and saints would cover their nose!… no, no, I wouldn’t go near Jamaica tonight.
The last room, the one opposite mine belonged to Mama Bege and her six year old son Bege. She was a mountain of a woman, like B.I.G’s twin sister. Her legs were the size of plantain stems, her waist the mass of space, like water tank; you can’t say where her hips ended nor the boundary between her waist and her stomach; you just saw a mass of land held by white-washed Hollandaise wrapper. Her arms were so large she couldn’t carry them; she just let them lie by her side. Her head was the size of her son’s head, so small but her eyes were extra-large, the size of his fists. I wouldn’t like to say anything about her breasts, but if I must say one word I would say her breast would sustain a Peak Milk factory for one year. She never wore brassiere (how could she when her size wasn’t in the market, and she had to write to the bra-makers in Italy with her size number; and she didn’t have money for a trans-Atlantic bra purchase.); she only wore a white-turned brown singlet which held her mammalian glands to her belly…
I was hungry but I wasn’t stupid. Mama Bege had a violent temper; no one ever crossed her corridor. Not even B.I.G. She owned the poultry pen and yesterday she was shouting that someone was stealing her chicken and that if she caught the thief she would spread him on the ground like mat and sit on him. The last time she sat on someone, I think Martins, he just passed out. And you expect me to knock on this Amazon’s door in the middle of the night and ask for what? Food? She would just sit on my belly till I pass my intestines out.
I had wasted my time. It was easier to find a drop of pin in the Niger than find a morsel of food in this compound. Crestfallen, I turned to return to my hunger soaked room. That was when I saw him: Jamaica was sneaking out of Mama Bege’s chicken house with a cock in this hand and the other hand in his mouth, begging me to silence. But I was already talking, ‘Hey Jamaica.’
‘Shhh,’ he pleaded. ‘Don’t wake anyone up, we will share the meat.’
I haven’t told you that I was born again. Hunger is a relentless preacher and hunger had drawn me closer to my creator. I wasn’t a church-goer; to go to church you need good clothes, offering money and energy to gyrate. I lacked all so I did with having quiet times in my room. I was of God because I didn’t steal, lie, fight, entertain malice nor do women. I ought to report Jamaica to Mama Bege but I took compassion on him. If I reported him, she would kill him and how would that profit me? Didn’t the Scripture say forgive those who trespassed against you? And Jamaica didn’t even trespass against me, it wasn’t my chicken. And I was on dry fasting for days now, who knew, God could be using Jamaica to feed me like he used ravels to feed Co-prophet Elisha.
But this Jamaica can steal o. I stood like a still image watching him lock the padlock with his key! How did he get his copy of Mama Bege’s chicken house? Wonders! Jamaica came to me and whispered in my ear, ‘pepper soup’ and made for his room. I returned to my room and collapsed on the bed. # #
4am. I had just finished eating a bowl of hot chicken soup. I ate chicken lap, wing, spine, neck and waist, and drank the tasty spicy soup. Excellent, just the way I like chicken. Jamaica was a great cook, a great thief too. I ate everything including bones. You know, Agric bone is like biscuit bone, so I ate them all. Now, fully fed I lay on the mattress with my belly facing heaven, shining with thanksgiving.
I belched, for the first time in months. Then I shut my eyes so as not to distract my chicken from digesting well. It was at this state that I began to feel guilt dropping on me like water from my leaking roof. What had I just done, eaten from a stolen chicken? Born again me! Now that was sin and I must confess. But the problem was that everything of the chicken had been eaten up and inside my belly. Do I cut open my stomach to show the evidence, because of ordinary one fowl?
I was a sinner, I insisted; stupid me to had allowed myself to be deceived by that serpent Jamaica! I must ask for forgiveness. With my eyes still shut I made for my knees, yanked them off my body and placed them on the floor. I opened my mouth to ask for forgiveness:
‘Father God, thank you for the provision of food. There are battalions like me who have nothing to eat, papa, please provide for them that they may eat and glorify your mighty name. Amen!’
# # #
11am. I woke up happy. I remember the chicken and quickly licked my lips and rubbed my belly. Then I remembered Abacha. Don’t exceed July in this room. My heart fell. The room was dark (Nepa or whatever you call them had taken their light); I made for the window and pushed it open. The whole compound was covered with water, with plastic buckets and slippers a-floating like fish. It had rained and I didn’t hear a thing. Now drizzling. I turned, my cooking area was a wet mess from the leaking roof.
Well, let it rain, rain, rain, let the dam in heaven burst open… at least that would keep Abacha from my back, today, just today? This was August—it could rain for 30 days and 30 nights. I made for my mattress.
# # #
4pm. I opened my eyes, it was still raining. The water was beating hard on my roof. I made for the window, the water was few inches from the top of my doorsteps. I became a little worried, my books! But I was mighty relieved. Abacha wouldn’t be coming today, except he had a canoe to paddle through this ocean. Abacha was everything but a fisherman. Abacha didn’t owe a canoe. I went back to sleep.
I dreamt of Abacha. He was on canoe, peddling towards my room, dressed like a fisherman. When he saw my face on the window, he pointed a gun at me and shouted, ‘Didn’t I warn you not to exceed a bowl of chicken pepper soup?’
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