Someone was making so much noise in Kunle’s ears, beating drums, laughing like a nut, ululating, shouting, causing unbearable uproar. After a handful of seconds, the noise maker stopped;Kunle sighed and made to continue his sleep, but the noisemaker resumed his racket, pricking Kunle’s patience and dragging sleep from tight-shut eyes. Then the noise stopped. When it started the third time Kunle stamped awake ready to beat senses into the noisemaker. But the noise was coming from his handheld phone. It was 5.30am and his toilet alarm was doing its work. Kunle had set this alarm two months back to enable him wake up and go into the bush and shit before the street woke up as his compound had no working toilet and he had no working-place to go let out biological steams. Two months but Kunle hadn’t gotten use to this loyal racket and still cursed his phone.
But he was glad he had devised this means which posed no significant risk to his battered dignity. It was an indication that he was still the genius who had made sparking speeches during his campus days; there were some things beyond the reach of squalor. Also, he was grateful to his system for adhering to his before-dawn time-table for excretion.
Using his phone torchlight Kunle located his slippers, slipped in bony soles and stole outside. The moon was still shining but no one was about. Kunle moved noisily passed houses, circled waterholes until he got to the small forest between the fence of the Anglican Church and a petrol station. He entered the bush; he found a suitable spot, pulled down his shorts, squatted and released fire. Just defecating gave Kunle so much joy; each descent of shit from his anus brought smile to his face, as though it was a wad of naira notes in his bank account.
In less than a minute, Kunle had deposited all the ready-made waste in his system. But he still squatted, whistling and admiring the departing constellations. After a long moment like this, Kunle fetched a handful of leaves and wiped his rump. When he lifted his shorts back to his waist he felt one of the leaves still plastered in his bottom. Too lazy to pull his shorts and untangle the natural tissue paper, he hissed and left it there. Before he left, he flashed his light on the shit and seemed to admire his anus-work. It was a generous grey-brownish mound, the shit, liberally punctuated by tiny shreds of black vegetable. He finally nodded like a man who had paid his dues and left.
Kunle occupied two rooms in a wailing tenement. It wasn’t like the normal bedroom and parlour in most a-little-above-poverty Nigerian homes. No, there was no such distinction for Kunle. The two rooms were bare of any useful furniture safe for a battered table, an accursed stool and a hanger-woodwork in the front room, and a dead TV set and a deader refrigerator in the back room. The room where he slept should have passed for bedroom but Kunle slept according to the seasons. In the heat period as this, he slept in the inner room which was cooler; he slept in the front room when the world became chillier. In a circuitous sense, Kunle’s bedroom was the third-generation mattress he slept on. His bedroom was a collapsible and transferrable one.
Of course he couldn’t afford to live in two rooms. These rooms were rented by his sister’s husband for his family. Kunle had come to Oshogbo to stay with them until he got a job and cemented his hold on dicey life. The family had since moved to Ibadan and Kunle, still jobless remained here. The landlord recurrently made public exhibitions of Kunle for being unable to pay the rent. Then the landlord sold the house and the new owners ordered the tenants to vacate. Kunle couldn’t tell when—in a month’s time, two months’, six months’, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t care much. He had roof over his head today.
Kunle took his keg to fetch water in the borehole. The deserted borehole was locked. Kunle waited for nearly a quarter of an hour then went home. He lit his stove and boiled water for eba. It was only after the garri was turned to eba that he remembered he had no soup. He hissed, covered the steaming bowl and made for his hanger. It wasn’t hard to decide on what to wear for his clothes were a small bunch and so much alike. He selected two rags and put them on.
Outside, it came to his mind that he hadn’t scrubbed his teeth nor combed his kinky hair. He stood before the stinking gutter for interminable seconds, undecided whether to go back in and take care of his body or move on. He hissed and crossed the Rubicon. Two houses later, he passed by the borehole. Someone had unlocked it and a mob was waiting with assorted containers to fetch. Kunle shook his head and moved on. Then it occurred to him that he hadn’t locked his apartment. He shrugged and continued his journey. His phone and his flash drive which held his CV (just in case)were with him, why bother?
At the junction, Kunle turned right. He passed the newspapers’ vendor’s where a dozen men were pouring saliva one another’s faces, in the pretext of arguing Arsenal, Barcelona, Oil theft, embezzlements, medical workers strike, labour crises and other shits Kunle cared so little about, which had no direct impact on his life. He walked the dirt road with purpose, like one who knew where he was going. His strides were assured. Like a CEO mounting the stairs for a crucial board meeting. But his shabby appearance and thin legs and hands overseen by a large head in dire need of a clipper betrayed his glory.
Even at this, Kunle could have been good-looking except that his jawline was a little too long, like a V drawn by a drunk artist, and his cheekbones stood out like two angry fists, sandwiching bucket-sized nostrils. But Kunle had passed noticing himself; he noticed rather, that there were so many job advertisements about. Wanted: a computer operator. A typist needed. A sales girl wanted. Stupid. Nothing for him. But at the point where the road snaked into the highway he saw something that could be for him. On the body of a disused bus was painted, ‘Do you need a job? Call—’
Without concrete thought, Kunle brought out his phone and dialed the number. The callers’ tune was a Yoruba highlife beat but Kunle wasn’t discouraged. He was a little discouraged however when the call was connected and the receiver spoke thick, impregnable Yoruba. ‘What about the job?’ Kunle shouted above the noise around him and inside the phone.
‘Job kini?’ the man shouted back.
‘You wrote,’ his service provider interrupted to tell Kunle he had less than a minute to talk. Anger laid a soldering iron on his heart and he shouted harder. ‘You wrote that job seekers should call you!’
‘Job sicker ni? Ahh. Oni-’
Kunle cut the call and cursed himself for been so stupid. He turned left, making towards the city centre. City centre being a convenience name; what he referred as the city centre of Oshogbo is a large space dominated by an indifferent round-about which is perpetually littered with posters of politicians, side by side obituaries. Facing this are brave shops, kiosks, trade tables and loading vehicles, fed with the hooting of horns, drones of rotten car engines,crippled motorcycle exhausts and shouts of Ila! Ikirun! Ofa! Ibadan! Kunle couldn’t say why his legs always turned this way but he never queried them.
His phone beeped. He looked at it. It was an SMS from the number he had just called asking to be called back. Kunle smirked. A man who couldn’t afford to call him wouldn’t be able to give him a job. He moved on.
By the side of the road, a crowd was engaged in a heated bout. Two or three muggles were actually fighting while the others were separating them boisterously, adding fuel to the skirmish. Kunle hadn’t studied them for three seconds before he rushed into the middle of the fight. Fifteen seconds or so, he came out nursing a bleeding nose. He had no hankie so he used him palm to dap his nose and the blood flowed through his fingers and rolled down his elbow, like a small boy at a table of ogbono. One could have thought that someone of Kunle’s stead would know better, but of recent he had been acting badly spontaneous, a frustrating amazement to himself.
Common sense and acute poverty have never been great allies, but his gratuitous agitations really beat him. He now continuously did things he would never have done if he saw it in the right light; and the light never seemed right, or he was always in a violent hurry so that when the light came it was too late to see the light, to use it. But Kunle wasn’t angry; he just came out of the mob like a man who had done his duty and was indifferent about its consequence.
Someone handed him a sachet of water and Kunle stopped before a high table full of bread and began to wash his bloodied nose. The bread seller shouted at him for staining her market with blood. He gave her a black look and she bent down to pick something, a weapon of sort; Kunle didn’t wait to see. He ran away, across the road and missed been hit by a rubbish van by fingernails. Olori buruku was hurled at him from at least two angles.
Kunle moved on. Someone who had never known him wouldn’t believe that this was Kunle the terror of his faculty congress, who dramatically held the student executives ransom and pushed them around in high sounding grammar pulled from sizzling textbooks. Six years without work had stained his hard polished pride and dignity severely. He was still the same man who was respected by his co-students and feared by student leaders, but he wasn’t really the same man. He still tried to hold his head high. But the variance was glistering. He was like a flag-post without a flag, like a king without the honour of his crown.
Hunger was beginning to give his belly a slight nudge. He ignored it. But he couldn’t ignore the sun which had risen to baking level. His black face shone with sweat and resignation. Whatever the role of the sun had always been, today it was in the lofty locus of penance, extraditing vengeance for unremembered crimes. The sun burnt him so much his sweat became a spring in his forehead then cascaded to blur his vision. He continued moving unperturbed and only stopped to bring out his ringing phone. It was his next door neighbour, Angulu calling. He ignored the call. Nothing good would come out of Angulu whose name in Hausa means vulture.
A sharp pain suddenly tore his big toe. He bent down, lifted the offending stone and hurled it into the gutter. He crossed the gutter and sat on a block, caressing his sole and wrinkling his toe. It didn’t bleed, he wished it did, but it gave him such pain his heart hissed. But his biggest pain was his poverty. Every single pain he ever suffered had a way of growing like a pyramid to the zenith of his poverty. If a mosquito bit him, he would slap his neck or arm, curse the mosquito, and soon the mosquito was replaced by his poor station in life. Now it wasn’t his ailing toe he mussed over, it was his ailing life. He decided that Oshogbo wasn’t his place. The gods hadn’t fated Oshogbo to be his land of succour and success. In fact this wasn’t a new decision, it was a decision he had already decided. Where would he move to, to whom and by what means? had always been the inconclusive epilogue of this decision. He had never succeeded in crossing this line.
Kunle remained seated in the block in a solemn reverie, and might have remained so till he was carried to his funeral. He was forced to get up when a man mistook him for a beggar and extended a dirty ten naira to him. On his way home, he reflected upon his beggarly status. Perhaps he appeared like a beggar, or was indeed a beggar without the validation of a bowl before him stuffed with dirty notes. If he were to become a beggar, he reasoned, how much would he make in a day? He recalled a story he had read somewhere about a research which showed that homeless people in the United States earned as much as fresh graduates. Would he earn as much as graduates if he became a registered beggar? He became too ashamed to think of this, but the thought never left his mind.
The sun maintained its hostile gaze. Kunle walked homeward. It wasn’t yet two but he passed a lot of public school children dressed in torn, worn-out, ill-fitting uniforms. They didn’t appear to be going home. It looked so much like they were wandering, sight-seeing. Kunle had been besieged on radio with the noise about the strides the government was taking in the education sector which included feeding pupils.Obviously after feeding them, there was not enough money left to employ teachers that would keep the pupils in school. So the pupils ate their hand-outs and fled. Kunle refused to think about this. It made no sense to go to school. They wouldn’t teach them anything, and there were no jobs, anyway. Why should the kids bother?
Kunle passed a junction full of okada riders clutched on their bikes, roasting under the sun, like vultures before a carcass that had refused to die. No one had money to board motorcycles. Everyone was trekking, wasn’t that what legs were for? And these men were starving. Fair enough. Kunle’s head was now throbbing and his stomach enraged with hunger. His movement had slowed considerably. He now walked as if each step cost him a pound of fresh.
Somewhere in the locker of his chest was what seemed like a prick of foreboding. The worst was already happening to him, so why give in to additional irrational torture. He had now being in deep mire so much so that nothing frightened him any longer. His life which had held so much promise for him now offered compromises, which he couldn’t reject, which held him like second skin. Nothing could be worse than this. Perhaps death, but even death could be a respite; death would have to put an end to this farce before it did its worst, and that might not be worse than this. Death was death because death would put to death things before death could be called death. If death killed everything then death was death. If death was death, dead shouldn’t be feared.
Kunle nearly smiled in self-congratulation. He almost enjoyed the analytical clarity with which he now subjected his misfortune to. One of these days, he would write an essay on the rottenness of the Nigerian youths. But that wasn’t his main problem now. The leaf glued to his anus was giving him acute discomfiture. Not willing to endure it any longer, and caring little about public glare, he dipped his hand behind his back, inside his trouser and fetched out the leaf. And stabbed it into the air. And was mightily relieved. His phone began ringing again. He was grateful to be distracted by it, but he refused to answer the call. Angulu was the caller and Angulu wasn’t a man of good tidings.
It was late in the afternoon when he hit his soles on his street. For a full second or two, he couldn’t believe his eyes. A big bulldozer stood in front of his house, its curved blade had done considerable damage to the building and was now hooked to a strong beam and rotten roof. Today was the deadline of the quit notice, Kunle realised. Angulu and four or five other neighbours including a woman with a toddler and three kids, had their belongings in the middle of the road, and watching with teary eyes as their abode descend in rumbles, unable to contemplate the vastness of their eminent homelessness.
Kunle wished he was home when the bulldozer came. He would have carried his bedroom and his rags out. Maybe his bucket and the remnant of his soap. And of course, his toothbrush and garri. But he guessed it was too late. He walked to the culvert and sat down and continued to analyse what would have been saved. Not once did he think about his B.sc Sociology Second Class Upper certificate been buried in the rumble.
Tweets to @Oke4chukwu
It’s nice to see you all here. Thanks for your patience. But I am not fully back yet. You see, blogging is like drug and I just stole in for a shot.