CORPERS LODGE (NINETEEN)

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I knew he was Micah’s brother the moment I saw him. He was a little taller and slimmer than his elder brother but that nose, those dimples, the complexion had been part of Cemetery Lodge for eight months, engraved in my heart forever. He must have recognised me for he smiled and began to make towards me. A rush of sadness darkened my face and sagged my shoulders. We shook hands.

‘Micah’s friend?’

I nodded and pointed at the okada man waiting to take us to the village.

‘My momsy said for me to thank you for everything you…’

‘Please get on the bike. The village is actually far.’

He smiled a Micah smile. ‘Momsy say she will like to talk to you…’

‘Start the bike, you fool,’ I shouted at the okada man. I was overcome with grief, I needed to divert my emotions by creating artificial anger. Even at this, I was in the brink. One word, one blink and the tank would burst and the tears would come like in the days of Noah. I managed to hold on; I am a man, men don’t cry, not in the centre of Ikirun, not elsewhere.

But on our way home the tears fell. It wasn’t crying, it was the force of the wind generated by the speeding machine that caused it. It happened to me most of the time. I am still a man.

At the Cemetery Lodge, I jumped down the bike and hurried inside. It was now time to do something I had dreaded and put off for a week now. I unlocked Micah’s door. His wardrobe was stacked with an ambitious assortment of clothes. Emotions thrives in inactivity so I quickly brought out his box and began to fill it with folded shirts and trousers. Each entry pricked my heart with a grievous pin. It was like placing Micah in his casket.

‘You may keep anything you want. Our major concern is his results and papers,’ Micah’s voice. The voice cut my heart into two sorrowful parts.

‘Why don’t you wait for me outside?’ I said. ‘This room is too stuffy.’

‘I will manage.’

I picked out Micah’s crested vest last. I folded it with shaky hands and placed it in the box with painful reluctance. But I couldn’t bring myself to close the box and zip it up. ‘Carry the box outside,’ I said.

Micah’s brother closed the box and drew the zipper. I watched him carry a part of me away. I turned to the shoes and books. The door opened and IBK put her tears-swollen face in. ‘I served food on your table,’ she said, ‘for you and him.’ She went away. She couldn’t bring herself to see the boy or even refer to him as Micah’s brother.

I packed the shoes and books inside a duffel bag. I was zipping it when Micah’s brother returned. ‘Food is ready, enter the room opposite and help yourself.’

He smiled no. ‘I don’t eat before I do long travel.’ He extended a smooth hand towards me. ‘Please manage this,’ he was clutching one thousand naira note.

‘Look at this boy, I should be the one giving you money.’

‘No na, you are a corper,’ he said.

‘And what are you, a staff of Dangote Sugar?’

He laughed as he forced the money into my palm.

‘Check who’s at the door,’ I said. As he turned I quickly put the money in the side pocket of the bag. ‘No one at the door,’ he announced.

‘Of course.’

‘When you get to Ikirun garage, take him straight to where they load for Oshogbo,’ I instructed the okada man.

‘Is okay.’

‘Is there no direct Lagos car from Ikirun?’

‘No. You get Lagos car in the Old Garage Oshogbo.’ I hugged Micah for the last time. ‘Bye bye.’

‘Thank you sir.’

I didn’t watch the bike leave. I hurried away. No, I didn’t enter the Cemetery Lodge either, I made straight, uptown. Entering the Cemetery Lodge just after the last of Micah had been taken away would be heart wrecking. I would take a walk, walk until I got to the edge of the world.

After a quarter of an hour, approaching the city centre of the village, I heard someone shout corper! I refused to hear and continued to move. But the voice shouted even louder and louder, like a goat with a knife in its throat fighting the final battle with death. I stopped, to save my sanity, and turned. A fat, almost old, man wearing just trousers with his nude potbelly reflecting the sunshine was beckoning to me. I dragged my feet to him.

‘Ah corper, afternoon!’

‘Afternoon sir.’

‘Afternoon, afternoon. I want to talking to you.’

‘Hope it’s well.’

‘Beni. I am Tunfari.’

What is Tunfari? I wondered.

‘You have drinking my water. I am manufacture pure water.’

Oh, he was the owner of the only factory in this village, the sachet water factory.

‘You are the Otedola of this village,’ I said. The man beamed with joy. ‘What may I do for you sir?’

‘Corper, I am looking a graduate for my industry. I want to enlarging my industry and I looking for graduate to manager it.’

‘You want a graduate for your pure water industry?’

‘Beni.’

‘In this village?’

‘In this town.’

‘How much will you pay this manager?’

‘I will pay you very well.’

‘How much oga?’

‘Fifteen thousands.’

‘Fifteen thousand dollars?’

The man laughed, hihihihihihi. He broke into swift Yoruba then, ‘Naira o, this present manager I paying him twelve thousand. A graduate, I pay fifteen.’

Nothing would have made me happier than sticking a fork in this man’s potbelly and leave it there. I smiled instead. ‘I know someone who can do this job better.’

‘A graduate?’

‘Yes.’ The best way to punish this man was unleash Gowon on him. ‘I will talk to General Gowon,’ I said.

‘He intelligent?’

‘He’s a genius. I will also talk to Agu. You may interview the two of them and choose the best candidate, Sir Otedola.’

‘Thanks very much. You know no job in Nigeria. I helping graduates.’

I shelved a grin. ‘You are the Asian tiger. I will talk to my friends.’

I continued my journey in a lighter mood. A block to the village round about I turned a small road by my right. From this way, I would come out in the backyard of the Owa Palace then bypass it to the road thence the market. To reach the Owa’s backyard, I had to pass by the bank. The bank, it is a bank because it does monetary transactions. But it is run manually, no ATM, no computers. When you pay in money, it will be registered with pen till the end of the day when they take the accounts to Ikirun and credit them. They used to allow withdrawals but they have since stopped because crooks devised a way of robbing them: they would withdraw money here, then take a bike, rush to Ikirun and empty their accounts. That bank babe Micah was involved with works here.

As I didn’t wish to be seen by her I quickened my strides past by the bank gate. I shouldn’t have bothered for she had seen me, shouted hey and began to make for the gate. I stopped, waiting. She was attractive in her rights (she shouldn’t kill herself), except that she was tall, too tall; when she sat on Micah’s mattress her stretched legs reached the door.

‘Good afternoon,’ I said.

‘Good afternoon. So Micah is dead.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Hmm.’

‘Hmm.’

‘Have been looking for you since I heard the news,’ she said.

‘I am here.’

‘See, I saved a lot of money in Micah’s account.’

My eyes narrowed. ‘Why?’

‘Just felt like.’

‘How much is it?’

‘I don’t know, almost all the money in his accounts belongs to me.’

My nose sizzled with the insult. ‘That’s a stupid lie.’

‘How can I lie against a dead body?’

I began to walk away. ‘Wait now, how do I get the money back?’

I stopped. What a question! Micah had his ATM card in his pocket when he died, that could have been destroyed. Imagine me going to his parents in Benue and say, ‘Sir, please where is Micah’s ATM card, a certain girl in Osun with electric poles for legs owes almost all the money in Micah’s account. I need to withdraw everything for her.’ The thought of doing this nearly made me smile. I moved on.

‘Where are you going? I don’t have to involve the police o.’

I advanced towards her. I don’t know if I could have brought myself to hit a lady but I was glad she rushed away from the gate. I decided I had had enough walk to last the remainder of my service year. I turned towards the Cemetery Lodge. ‘This is crazy,’ I said aloud.

‘Aswear,’ Micah replied. ‘This people just come to frustrate human beings.’

‘Imagine that pure water man’s insulting proposal, and then this witch.’

‘God pass them.’

So myself and Micah continued to exchange complaints and console each other. It felt better discussing absurdities with a familiar ear. But it was a short deceit. Just before I reached the Cemetery Lodge, Micah’s ghost left me forever.

Next Week

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SISTER REBECCA

Sister Rebecca was my version of Mother Teresa. She was three or four years old in our parish, but such was her kindness and love for the villagers through services as little as sharing milky smiles, visiting all, comforting sundry, as enormous as building a block of six classrooms for Girls High, and running nightly adult classes that the people of Ezira spoke great of her and my people never spoke good of anyone. Sister Rebecca was a big deal.

My people have a good quality, if it could be called good, of spinning yarns. Reverend Sister Rebecca became their favourite theme and they told a thousand stories about her. They said The Holy Mary dropped by a few occasions to see her. No one had ever seen the Holy VIP, and I suspect a jester began this as a joke but it was now yarned by respectable people including my father who saw action in Federal Polytechnic Oko, so that this now became a local truth. They said she once fasted for a marathon twenty-one days and twenty-one nights. This was more than half of the time Jesus Christ managed, and she was just a woman. They said she had healed a woman of her diabetes. No one ever gave this woman’s name but it was normal, for even the Bible sometimes refers to a certain man, sometimes uses unnamed characters; why, she healed a certain woman. So many outrageous things, my people said about the Reverend Sister.

Sister Rebecca was a great woman.

Two months back, I came home after a bout of malaria struck me down. It could have been hunger that manifested through malaria because after three nutritious square meals at home, malaria left me though I had taken series of drugs in the campus. It must be hunger; officially, malaria. That is by the way, I was home is the point.

Having been cured of malaria, I became hungry for a walk, to go out and survey the village’s latest brave attempt at urbanisation. But I waited until my mother left for Nkwo Umunze and my father left for his second home in the bush. It was important that no one knew of my cure yet, so as not to lose a large chunk of care. With the coast cleared, I took my walk. I tried not to think about the test I missed yesterday. I tried not to think of the make-up test; Dr Okafor had sworn he would never give a make-up test since he didn’t work in a cosmetic industry. Evil man.

A couple of houses from our house, I reached the gate of the house Chief Obodo built for the church, where reverend sisters live. No, the sisters, three of them, didn’t live in the parish house where two red-eyed reverend fathers reside; as I once overheard my father saying, you do not use ear-pick for the eyes. I didn’t understand but I know the Bible advocates the separation of sheep from goats. The Igbos in their wisdom separate goats from yams. Rhema!

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I decided to drop in and say hi to Sister Rebecca. I loved the way she pronounced my name and I fearfully wished she remembered my name. I pushed the gate open. I stepped in. Sister Rebecca ran out of the house. I wanted to dash off, and I could have lowered Usain Bolt’s record, then I heard her laugh, uneasily. My heart returned to my chest, slowly.

‘Lizard in my room,’ she said. Sister Rebecca was in her thirties but she possessed a small body and a pretty innocent face that kept her saintly portrait at twenty-five. She was wearing singlet over above knee-length skirt. The singlet sagged a little so that it revealed a significant chunk of the canal in her chest. I refused to look twice so that heavenly fire would not burn my eyes blind.

‘I will drive away the lizard,’ I said. I am not afraid of lizards. I was a little surprised a whole Reverend Rebecca was afraid of lizards, enough to threaten to burst her lungs. I am only afraid of rats and snakes; I believe these would make her eminence pee in her panties. God forgive me.

I passed the magnificent sitting room with an incredible feeling of space to her plush bedroom, with a raised broom. I saw no lizard. She said the lizard must have hidden under the bed. I dropped the broom, lifted the bed and shifted it off the wall. My eye bulged. ‘Chim o.’

‘What is it?’ she asked. I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Sister Rebecca came over. She looked. She lost colour. The rolls of condoms on the rug stared at us.

‘I–we, ah, er…’ she stammered. ‘We use it to sensitise the local girls. HIV Aids is terrible, you know…’

The lizard dashed out of the bed, the woman of God screamed and jumped. I pursued. It entered the half closed toilet; I followed and killed the sinner. As I lifted the death by the tail my eyes caught a waste basket filled almost to the brim with used condoms and balled tissue papers soiled with dry blood-sperms. A wave of nausea hit me as a painful wave tore across my stomach.

I nearly collided with Mother Teresa at the door. ‘Did you see anything?’ she asked me, her eyes imploring.

‘I have malaria,’ I replied.

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