CORPERS LODGE (SEVEN)

I hope to God my pastor is not reading this. If you are a non-pastor reader who missed last episode, click HERE. *Winks*

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Micah and I stood by the expressway at Ikirun waiting for Helen’s bus to arrive from Oshogbo. We were still dressed in our khaki, having come straight from CDS meeting. I had four thousand naira in my pocket—one thousand from my account and three thousand that Micah just lent me. So we stood waiting for Helen, knowing that four thousand wouldn’t serve the Trojan Princess, knowing that Uncle Dayo and the NCCF family would have my hide for insulting Rural Rugged Evangelism.

I sighed.

First, Dayo trusted me and I abused his trust by going to a dibia; he forgave me. He helped cleanse me. He gave me chance in the pulpit to speak to the brethren. And I repay him by bringing a girl to Cemetery Lodge! I hissed. If I were Dayo, I would curse me…

I hissed.

Micah looked at me and smiled encouragingly. I frowned. I looked away. It was normal for Micah to smile encouragements, what had he to lose? I was now in debt, insulting NCCF and risking an eternal curse. I looked at Micah; he was hiding behind dark glasses and my frown deepened. I noticed for the first time that Micah was quite good-looking; tall, fresh-skinned and oozing with confidence, near innocence and charm. If Helen were to be asked to choose between us I knew who she would prefer—she wouldn’t choose me!

The thought burnt me so hard in the chest, I had to unbutton my khaki jacket for air to reach my heart. I would break Micah’s handsome nose one of these days, I swore. I am twenty times smarter than him, I kept telling myself but this didn’t help my resentment.

‘What is biting you?’ Micah asked me.

I reached for my dark glasses on my forehead and shut my eyes.

#                                             #

Helen was the last to come down from the bus. She was wearing a white sleeveless over tight jeans. She looked tired but even this didn’t darken her glamour. She made for the boot and brought down her suitcase and holdall. ‘She’s a masterpiece,’ Micah breathed as we began to make towards the bus. She saw us and squealed with joy and flew into my arms. ‘Oh K, I missed you so much!’

‘Me too.’

‘I am so tired.’

I grunted. She looked at Micah. ‘Meet Micah,’ I said hurriedly. She extended sleek hand. ‘He is so cute.’

‘He is married with kids,’ I said.

She looked at me with doubt.

‘With three kids actually,’ Micah said.

‘And his wife is heavy with a fourth.’

‘Jesus, but he’s so young! Does your wife stay with you?’

‘No, but he sends her two-third of his allowances,’ I said.

Helen looked at Micah with pity. ‘You must be hungry,’ I said.

‘Oh K, I am starving!’

#                                             #

We put Helen’s suitcase in front of the motorcycle. Helen sat behind the bikeman, I sat behind her with the holdall on my lap and Micah sat behind me. ‘Mehn, I am sitting on the carrier,’ Micah complained.

I pushed my buttocks forward. Helen grunted. ‘Oh K, why don’t we just take different bikes? I am soo tight here.’

She actually pronounced bikes ‘by-kisses’. How would she know that I was dangerously running out of money? We just spent a thousand naira in the restaurant. By jam-packing ourselves in one bike I would pay 500 naira instead of three hundred each in different ‘by-kisses’. ‘Oh K, this is too much on mee!’

I sighed. ‘Babe, this is the best way to travel here because of the danger of head-hunters. We take individual bikes and you may end up in the hands of ritual guys. Election is by the corner.’

She caught her breath and grabbed my palm. ‘I am so afraid.’

‘Don’t worry, we are here.’

Micah pinched me and I leered at her hair.

Helen didn’t say anything until we began to pass a road lined up with wears shops in either side. ‘K, look at that blue gown, I soo love it!’

After paying the bikeman, I would have 2500 naira in me, and she dared admire a blue gown! I pretended not to have heard. ‘K, isn’t the gown so cute?’ she propped. ‘It is. Micah, did I give you my ID card?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I thought you gave it to Dayo.’

‘I have collected it but I can’t find it.’

‘We will ask the CLO then.’

‘Yes we will. When will your CDS group submit their report?’ I hadn’t lost my ID card, I didn’t want to know about some miserable CDS report; I just knew that the only way to stop the pressure of Helen’s wanton admirations was to keep talking. Micah, God bless his soul, understood, so we kept talking nonsense, suppressing Helen’s exorbitant wishes.

#                                             #

When the motorcycle stopped before Cemetery Lodge, my heart-beat was deafening. Please God, let it be that Uncle Dayo wasn’t at home. Let it be that he had gone to the mountain where he would pray for 21 days and 21 nights…

‘You live in the cemetery,’ Helen said. I got down the bike with a burning nose. Micah chuckled. ‘We live opposite the cemetery,’ he corrected.

She inspected the atmosphere with her nose and eyes, mostly with her nose. ‘O gosh, this is too rural.’

I paid the bikeman and reached for Helen’s suitcase. ‘I thought you were serving in Oshogbo,’ she said.

I live in Ohio, I was tempted to say. Micah chuckled as I grabbed hold of the suitcase and my temper. God please make me deaf (and dumb!) for the rest of her stay here, I prayed. We carried Helen’s luggage inside without meeting Dayo or any other obstacle on the way. At the door, Micah whispered into my ear, ‘Where will she go toilet?’

‘When we get there we cross it,’ I said hotly.

Micah laughed. I hissed. Helen looked at me. ‘Is like you have hot temper o.’

You never see anything.

#                                             #

Helen was lying on the bed with her beautiful head on my lap. She was wearing bum shorts under something that was too small to be called a vest and too large to be called brassieres which cut her breasts into two, revealing the larger chunk. This and the sight of her most striking legs left my mouth waterless. But somewhere inside of me, the fear of Dayo/NCCF kept me civil.

Helen was having a wonderful time. She was sucking a lollypop and chattering. She would suck the sweet then feed me the sweet; I would suck for few seconds, then she would remove it and return it into her handsome mouth. So romantic. I just wished this was happening in 2017, a million miles from Osun.

Somehow, my hand fell on her chest.

‘I thought you were crippled.’ She laughed.

As I began to caress a knock sounded on the door. My hand snapped off as though it had been laid on electric cooker. I listened. The knock increased in sound and urgency.

‘Who is it?’ I couldn’t recognise my voice.

‘It is me,’ Uncle Dayo said. My heart sank.

‘Who is that?’ Helen asked as she put the lollipop in my mouth.

‘Please get up and put on something decent,’ I said.

Helen frowned. ‘Why?’

‘Kings, open the door na,’ Uncle called. I looked at Helen, ‘Please get something; it’s the NCCF uncle…’

‘And so? Is he a virgin?

I blinked at her.

She frowned at me. ‘Are you a virgin?’

I sighed.

‘What arrant nonsense,’ Helen said as she rose to her feet. ‘If he has never seen a woman in bum shorts before, let him say so.’

As Helen made for the door, the lollipop fell off my mouth.

Click Here for Episode Eight

Announcement.

I am taking a break. The other day, I was talking to a lady I like real well and she suddenly said, ‘Mehn, you are thin, you need to fleshen up’. I went to the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. I decided something must pay for my stress. I brought out my axe, I looked around, I saw my blog and kpam, I axed it. I am going away in search of rest or whatever (not even sure), have been blogging constantly since January. Haba! I don’t know when I will come back and won’t speculate. In this era of false prophecies, count me out. I may come back after one week, or one month, or two years, or never. Only the father knoweth. I shall return like a pickpocket in the night. Two people shall be gisting in their room, and suddenly one person will receive my blog alert on email; two people will be strolling on Facebook and one of them will stumble on my link. Somebody will be sipping garri and groundnut and my call will interrupt to announce my return…

For now, I will just relax, maybe sit on a balcony, with a binocular and watch as co-bloggers scurry around chasing traffic in a country where people are too hungry to read. What the people really need is bread link, not blog link, aswear. God help us.

Thanks to everyone who reads me, who shares me, who talks about Hard Voices, you have kept me in business. God bless all of una, and make you bigger than the next bet (just for reading a blog? why not!) See you when we see. Kisses.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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HOW POOR ARE YOU?

That you can read this means you have access to telecommunication, internet and electricity. None of these is subsistent; in fact, in Nigeria, these, in no little way, translate to luxury. To survive, man needs food, shelter and clothing. Period.That you have access to the web and power is tantamount to saying that things to eat, what to wear and where to lay your head are not a problem. You are obviously not poor. You are obviously reading the wrong article.Don’t go away yet, wait, boss, calm down.

Look up at the title; now, replace the word ‘poor’ with ‘rich’. How Rich Are You? Good! But don’t write ‘rich’ with an indelible marker. Use a pencil because as we go, you may want to bring back ‘poor’ into the equation—or very poor (in fact {it depends!}The damn thing fluctuates!)

I think it was Walter Rodney who says that development is comparative. You are not rich until you compare your net worth with that of others and rank high among them, etc. No, I am not here to compare you with Dangote or TY Danjuma. To determine how rich (and poor) you are I will give you some strong ropes in form of questions with which you can either turn to a necktie (if you are affluent) or hang yourself in its noose of destitution. You can’t lie to yourself, so let’s go. Remember, you may phone a friend, or ask the audience or simply walk away.

1. Where Do You Live? Christina H of Cracked.com says that poor people have everything rich people have, just smaller. So that you don’t sleep under the bridge doesn’t necessarily make you rich. If your home is tinier, dirtier, smell worse, less ventilated, more exposed to pollution, shakier, then check yourself again, you probably ain’t swimming in naira. And who owes the house? Inherited, rented or your patch-patch handiwork? You can be rich and still live in rented apartment, now how many rooms have you? Self-contained? Face me-I face you? Is there a grinding machine nearby? Can you have siesta in your house? Do you have a toilet, are you proud of your toilet? Can you confidently invite friends home? Can your apartment host a family of four without you sleeping on the stool and your brother in-law on the couch?

We aren’t done yet. Do you watch champions league at home? DSTV subscription has sky-rocketed, are you still in business? Do you enjoy your round leather games at the whims of Nepa? Do you go outside for fresh air or you do switch on the AC? What do you sleep on—those kind of beds that inspire hunch-back? Does your pillow give you nightmares? Do you do exercise every day, chasing rats?

What about division of labour in your abode? Let’s see. Does your siting room double (or quarter) as your bedroom and office and library and alter? Wait, where do you even cook—in a public kitchen or in the centre of the yard or beside your door or inside your room? Stove or gas or electric cooker or firewood? Stove? Inherited, borrowed or stolen? Have you ever skipped a meal because you didn’t have kerosene, or settled for garri? And where do you place what you eat, on a dining table or on the carpet between your bow-legs, on your bony lap or on a broken chair? How about decorations? You still have Manchester United wall papers on your walls? You don’t have an aquarium? What about flower vases? (Odiegwu). Do you have paintings, art-works, sculpture, busts? (Stories!)

So far, so good?I can raise a million question about your shelter, but these will do, for now. Check your answers, how poor are you?

2. What Do You Eat? This question is important, and we must count in it, its branches. Everybody who is alive today eats something or the other. Some eat from hand to mouth, some eat from a calabash, some feed on mangoes (trees) like monkeys. Some eat in their dreams. Now, over to you: Do you eat what you want to eat or what you have to eat? Do you measure your food in tin cups and count the number of spoons to dish per meal? Does your heart miss a beat when a neighbour knocks at mealtime? In your food budget list, do you do computer-take-away-two-incorrect food stuffs? Scale of preference things? How rich is your food? Balanced diet? Do you cook cut-and-join what Hausa people call ‘gorogoro’? Does your food contain dead living things, always? Are you proud of your food?

If you don’t cook, where do you eat? Mama-Put canteen on top of the gutter? A make-belief restaurant? At Sheraton?

What the hell do you drink? Bore-hole, well water, ‘pure’ water, bottled water or stream water? What about juice and beverages? You drink malt once in a while, only when you return from carrying blocks up the fourth floor? What do you serve your visitors, Italian wines or proverbs?

Is alright.

3. How Do You Move Around? Do you struggle to get into the molue bus every morning where you stand with two toes and hold on with three fingers, your face inside an oozing armpit? Okada things (oga wey your helmet!)? Or do you flex with your anakilija bicycle, eating the hills like yam? Or do you use leg-al means of transportation? Oh, you have a car? You see, Nigerians consider car owners rich. Let’s interrogate that.

What do you drive, car or motor? What is the made of your car/motor? Is it joy and sorrow, the type that gulps one gallon of water after surviving a pot hole… the type that sees you say to your wife, ‘Honey, could you please push a little?’ Is your car mostly in the mechanic’s garage or in your parking lot? Can your car travel from Sagamu to Abeokuta? Do you hate VIOs and Road Safety officers? If they ask car-owners to come out and form a queue will you come out, with your head high on your shoulders?In short, are you driving your car or it’s driving you, or is it a drive-me I-drive-you joint-business?

4. Who Do You Know? Very important. No matter how opulent thy are, if you know no one, men, have no connection, you are of all rich people the miserablest. Police will do yeye with you. Civil defence will do yeye with you. Road Safety will do yeye with you. Man O’ War…

You can’t really call yourself rich in feudal Nigeria if your phonebook is not lined up with Who is who’s numbers. Woe unto you if you go bumper to bumper in the heavy traffic and you don’t have AIG Mbu’s number.

5. How Much Do You Earn/Have in Your Account? In a country where the minimum wage is less than a hundred dollars per month, even people who earn 5 times this amount should struggle to pay their bills. So how much should one earn before one calls oneself non-poor? I can’t answer the question without expecting you to scroll up and see what your earnings does to where you live, what you eat, what you drive and who you know.

But we can raise a few questions that could help.

A) Does your salary last you throughout the month, or do you have to borrow or overdraw by the middle of the calendar?

B) Can you afford to save? I think it was Brian Tracy who says that to be rich, you must save more than you spend. At the least, this is circumstantial, because a lady who earns 25,000 and save 20,000 each month because she relies on her fiancée for expenses is in no way richer than that chap who earns 450,000 and spends 400,000 before the 30th. I believe this save-more-than-you-earn is a matter of security, more crucial in a society like ours with no government safety net, and is criminally under-insured. All the same answer the question, can you afford to save?

C) Can your salary cater for any type of emergency without you calling on your family, your church to help, or going on radio to say, ‘Nedu needs urgent surgery in India, please donate generously’?

D) Can you survive on your savings without being paid your salary for two months, or like Edo and Osun workers, for five months?

E) Do you purchase whatever your need requires when it is required or to you make a budget and saving plans for them?

NOW,

There is no end to the questions that your poverty level can bring. Questions like what do you wear? How often (if you ever) do you go on vacation? Where? How often do you make your hair? Where do you have your haircut? What school do you kids attend? How much do you put in the offering box?… are revelatory. But we can’t ask all these if we are to have time to pursue naira. And your answers are no fool proof. I have seen millionaires who live in room and parlour, whose children’s fees are never paid, who only eat fish on Sunday. I have also seen broke asses riding SUVs. Packaging, Nigerians will say.

Money is a symptom of wealth, but money alone is not wealth. Didn’t Philip Meagher say that ‘some people are so poor all they have is money’? In the same breath, not having money isn’t an indication of poverty; it definitely isn’t the worse kind of penury.Abject lack of hope, of contentment, of purpose, all rank far higher. The more you try to analyse wealth the more psychological than financial it seems. You are as rich as your satisfaction.A billionaire who is constantly been flown from one specialist hospital to another is in no lucid way richer than that youth on faded jeans who shuttles on okada Monday to Monday.

How poor have you decided you are?No sane Nigerian (every Nigerian is insanely optimistic) will ever accept that he is poor in the first place (‘I reject it in Jesus name!’). So why did you read all this nonsense? Because you are not sure. No, you are sure; you don’t just want to believe that your village witches have been having emergency meetings on top of your matter. Whether you wish to believe it or not counts little. But there is a limit to how much you keep eating your sister in-law’s food, and shifting the table to spread your mat at night and dialling *606#.

If this doesn’t make you laugh, or cry, or think… you are six feet below poverty!

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu