BOOK I: HOME IS NOT HOME

Posted: October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

I was christened Charles but was called charly by my mum and friends in school. We were four in the family, Joel my father, Patricia, my mother and Jerry my big brother. We lived in a single room that was sparsely furnished on Ajisegiri street, Shogunle, in Oshodi, a surburb on the mainland of Lagos. My father worked in a milling industry at Apapa, a central port district on the mainland where he earned weekly wages as a casual staff. His wage never got home in one piece as he ensured he came home drunk smelling like a skunk.

My mum, a tall woman with fair complexion on a slender body and a perfect set of sparkling white teeth, was the third child and only girl of a family of four children. Her parents were of the lowest level in the social class cadre but her father worked tirelessly to ensure his male children got the best out of life through adequate education even when it meant working overtime. My mum used to tell jerry and I how he’d wait for the food to go round and when he was certain they were satisfied, he’d eat what was left. Though she didn’t go beyond form two in junior high school, she attributed it to her inability to be among top ten in her class. Her father said it was a waste of scarce resources. At sixteen she was ripe to be called a woman. She was fully aware of the changes in her body because she was constantly being followed by one suitor or the other wherever she went to. She had met my dad in a bus ride when she was near nineteen. They had sat beside each other and he was reading a book and had paid no attention to her. He had later closed his book and glanced casually at her but looked away and stared ahead. He had repeatedly stolen a few more glances before the bus got to her destination and had alighted after her and introduced himself with an outstretched hand. She took it and he wouldn’t let go of her hand. He kept talking, making gestures with his other hand. He eventually had asked her to be his friend. She only had considered the offer for a few minutes before agreeing to his offer. The truth was she had agreed long before he’d asked her because she admired young handsome and seemingly intellectual men. She admired her two older brothers who at the time were at the university, for the way they talked and especially the way they went about carrying a pocket sized book in their hands. She said it made them look different from their peers most of whom were mere secondary school certificate holders.

My dad had proven to be more than a gentle man. He was so full of beautiful surprises. Before she knew it, he had swept her off her feet. And before long, she got pregnant for him. Her father refused to accept her bride price and every other thing brought by my father. He had told him (my father) he had no wife in his house. After much persuasion from his wife and other close relatives he was said to have grudgingly accepted her bride price. This, my mum said was the genesis of their trouble and his attitude.

My mum did her best raising us both. she’d buy us clothes, toys, biscuits and makes sure there was always food on the table even when not good enough; she baby sat for a wealthy woman three blocks away from where we lived who worked in one of the popular banks. My dad seemed to be content with his job…provided he could afford five bottles of beer weekly, the world around him was ok. His friends who were losers like him paid us visits at weekends and they’d gist about who said and did what at their work place and they would laugh so hard that tears would roll down the far corner of their eyes. Sometimes, they’d argue at the top of their voices over a topic that I’d think they were on the verge of fighting. One of his friends, Mr. Kolade who had a massive skull sitting on his shoulders was a regular visitor to our house. He couldn’t keep his eyes from darting after my mum anytime she was nearby and whenever he noticed I was watching him, he’d wink at me and say

“Charly, my boy.”

My dad had just five shirts and two pairs of trousers. Two of his shirts had gone back and forth the street tailor a few times that one day my dad had visited him again as usual and greeted his friend, the tailor but dad said the tailor ignored his greeting on noticing the same shirt gently placed on dad’s arm, rather, the tailor extended a needle and threading to him and told dad not to patronize him again unless dad had other clothes than his “two favorites”. Dad however took the offer and returned home. One of his pair of trousers made from polyester had fibre strands sprouting all over, some in clusters, while others stood prominently in isolation. Despite all of these, he never looked perturbed about his appearance perhaps because of his good looks.

Eachtime my mum complained about his attitude during one of those nights he returned late, he beat her up. Neighbours no longer came by to settle dispute between them anymore as it was a norm for Mr. & Mrs. Joel to have their usual late night duel. Now I wonder if they ever had time to do the things lovers do. I was twelve years old and Jerry was fourteen. So whenever our parents were at it, jerry and I either went for a long walk or hung outside till the curses and screams had steamed down. Many a time, he (my dad) would storm out of the house and half way out the door if he found us nearby he’d curse us, sometimes calling us “bastards” in a suppressed tone before disappearing around the corner of the building we lived. I remember my brother once told me during one of our usual long walks that he couldn’t wait to be eighteen so he could leave our mad room and never look back…never!

It was not until three years after that his prayers were finally answered. My mum finally decided she couldn’t take it anymore and made up her mind to leave. My dad was indifferent to the news. The news in the ears of my brother sounded like he had just been issued a visa to fly across the atlantic. My countenance was impassive that night; I was up till early hours of the morning with various thoughts bombarding my head like the world depended on my decision. My body finally succumbed to sleep but before I closed my eyes, I had made a decision. The following morning, I was awoken by the rustling of nylon bags as jerry and my mother stuffed mum’s belongings into them and a worn bag. Mum called out to me to start getting prepared. That was when I dropped the bomb shell

“I want to stay here”.Perhaps she didn’t hear me at first or pretended not to. She repeated what she had said earlier. I gave her the same response as earlier without stuttering. My mum looked nonplussed, her face darting in the direction where my dad had sat as though she was seeking his support but she knew she would not get any. she returned the cold stare at me. My dad sat in a chair at the far corner of the room listening and grinning like a proud dad, his eyes going back and forth from her face to mine like it was a debate show. At first my mum wanted to scold me but she thought better of it and let it pass.
I’m yet to fathom the reason why I took that decision, maybe I thought leaving my dad all alone would kill him faster than the AIDS virus or perhaps it was the fear that I might never set my eyes on that beautiful girl my age called Joy that stayed across the road, whom I constantly stood outside every morning to waive at whenever she was been taken to school.

My mum left that morning with my brother but before leaving, she came up to me and fixed a long stare at me and asked if I’d changed my mind, I slowly shook my head, this time, staring at the cold concrete floor. Jerry stood at the entrance of the door staring into the far. I had already caught up with him in growth and while jerry was slim built, about five seven in height, fair and quiet, my shoulders were getting broader and my biceps were solidly forming well but my lower body failed to develop as fast as the upper part. I took after the dark shade of my father and possessed the inquisitive look of my mother. She finally let out a heavy sigh and took out one naira note from her bag and slipped it into my pocket and told me to be good and promised to come and see me every once in a while
“Not in my house house!” yelled my dad
“It is not your house! it belongs to a Alhaji! may his soul rest in peace” she retorted
“Return and you’ll know who owns this hou… room!” he said now standing up and slowly advancing towards her.
“I will not return but I will come whenever I like and you can’t do me anything” she said, retreating to the door. She grabbed her bag and shoved Jerry’s head towards the road.
I was torn inside with confusion as they were about to get in another fight because of me. something inside of me told me to go with her but was afraid of changing my mind and cause further crisis. So I stayed quiet all through the drama.
Later that morning, my dad called me and said he was proud of me with a pat to my back
“You have truly proven to me that you’re my son because it is only bastards that know they don’t belong in a place where they ought not to be in the first place. I never completely believed your mother when she said I was responsible for that Jerry’s pregnancy but because of love, I accepted her. Now you see that I’ve been right all along”
I didn’t understand him then and so didn’t say a word but glanced at his face intermittently and for that brief moment, I felt proud of myself.

Dad’s bad attitude changed. He came home early from work and for about two weeks, we fed so well that I thought my mum and Jerry were missing out. “May be they are regretting leaving in the first place now but pride would not let them come back and beg daddy” I had thought. Dad wouldn’t have taken them back anyway and besides, I wasn’t ready just yet to give up my new elevated status of sleeping on a mattress for anything. My dreams changed for good. I visited beautiful places in my dreams, no more nightmares plus the fact that Joy’s mum allowed me to come over for lunch sometimes and on such occasions, I played with joy for sometime before she was finally called in, I still see the sad look on her face now, whenever her mum said play time was up. Her father, a pilot with Nigeria Airways was always away but took good care of his family so much they were conspicuously the envy of the street. Whenever he was around, he drove her and her kid brother in a metallic grey FIAT car. Dining with this rich family and having the opportunity to play with their daughter was not only a privilege, it made me to be revered by my friends; What more could I have asked for?

After two weeks, the party was over. Dad went back to his old habits and this time he became worse. I was back to where I rightfully belong – a tattered mat. He often came home when I was asleep. On few occasions, I had been awoken by giggling sounds of dad and a woman and the constant creaking of the spring on the bed that would leave me awake for God knows how many hours before I’d finally fall back to sleep. After sneaking this faceless woman using the darkness as a cover into the house for a month, he eventually broke the news to me that I’d soon have a step mother that would be just as good as or better than my mother. At first, I made to protest about the idea but gave up as quickly as it came. Curiosity got the best of me and I waited anxiously to see the faceless woman that had caused me sleepless nights and had sent me into a world of fantasies with the funny yet warm sounds she let out during those odd nights and had eluded me for the past month.

She arrived that evening when my dad was out, carrying a mid sized bag stuffed with her clothes. At first, I thought she was a sister to the land lady because they bore similar size and shape – plump and round as a water melon. From the opening on the upper part of her blouse, I could spot above her cleavage, strands of hair sprouting on her chest. She gave me a warm smile and I was unsure if I should return it but I managed to wear one on my face and asked for whom she had come to see, my left hand already pointing to the apartment of the landlady, confident she was her visitor. Her reply caught me off guard as my dad’s name came tumbling out of her mouth. My heart stopped to beat for a second and then resumed again. the smile on my face had disappeared quickly and was replaced with a hard stare. I told her he wasn’t around and sauntered into the room. I was surprised to hear the clicking of her shoes trailing behind me. I turned round with all the cold stare I could muster on my face and repeated what I said to her. She seemed to be unperturbed by my attitude and simply said she’d wait for him to return. She sat on a chair by the side of the door with her bag beside her. I walked out of the room without any further word, leaving her in the dark room to sit and wait for my dad, her host.
I could have sworn I’d seen her at the entrance of Friend’s guest house, wearing skimpy dresses, looking like ‘mother whore’ but wasn’t quite sure if she was the one… perhaps her twin.

I had been sitting out in the dark for three hours now before I heard unsteady footsteps behind me. I turned round to see the silhouette of a familiar figure staggering towards the house. I was hoping to get an explanation from my dad for wanting such a “matter” to be my step mother. He walked past me without even noticing me and barged into the house. He was welcomed by his guest’s bag which he kicked and went straight for the hard floor with a thud. He got up to his feet slowly, groaning in pains and demanded to know who was seated in the dark. Ruth, as I later knew her name to be,jolted back to life by the noise, letting out a strange sound that could easily be mistaken for the grunting of a pig. My dad immediately yelled out my name in a menacing manner that made my defenses go pulp. I was about to enter the room when I met him standing at the door post. Without saying a word, he gave me a stunning slap that sent me reeling on the coarse ground, my stepmother was nowhere to be found. At that instant I thought of getting a knife and driving it into his inner chest and end his miserable life once and for all but my balls failed me. He coolly told me to go and get the lantern and illuminate the room after which I was to bring out food for both of them. I obeyed like a fresh military recruit would to their superiors. They retired quietly to bed and I retired to my mat waiting for that creaking bed sound to begin.

My step mum lived true to her type. She was clumsy in action and dirty in conduct. Yet my dad never hesitated to shower her with praises and quick to compare her with my mum whenever the opportunity availed itself. Maybe he is still cheering for her in his shallow grave for infecting him with cholera disease too.

After high school graduation, I knew I wasn’t so bright in class and it became clearly evident that I had reached the pinnacle of my education and by extension, end of my academic road. When the WASC results were published later that year. I made only two credits in Yoruba language and Agric science. My dad didn’t remember asking me about my result as he had problems of his own ranging from constantly being broke to not being able to satisfy his jobless wife and a chain of debt trailing him wherever he went. I was obviously not among his list of problems at that time and I wasn’t ready for a confrontation so I kept my result to myself. Few days later, I packed my little belongings and was off to start a new life elsewhere…anywhere.

Maybe my dad had anticipated my leaving because he never bothered looking for me the day he found out I was gone.

The night I left the house, I slept in a deserted building in the neighborhood. At first, scary thoughts swam through my head in droves – what if a snake bit me? What if a scorpion stung me? A wandering ghost might want to rest its tired feet after a long day in this same building after all. I consoled myself, “if you could survive that mad house this long, you can survive anything”. I thought about things I might miss about my former neighborhood, and finally concluded that there was not much… maybe the football games but definitely not that Joy girl anymore, ever since she left the neighborhood for a boarding school at Queens College to continue her high school education, she had become too arrogant for my liking. She no longer noticed me and when she did, it was with great effort that she managed to waive, usually in a hurry.

Then another thought suddenly hit me: ‘what if someone tried to rob me of my ‘hard earned’ money?’ I brought it out from the bottom of the bag holding my clothes and counted it – five naira and sixty four kobo in total being the money I pilfered from my dad all those times he’d come home drunk. I folded the notes and stuffed them in the inner pocket of my short and wraped the coins in a paper bag and laid there on the coarse floor staring into the dark trying to stay awake in anticipation of the slightest movement around me. I fell asleep trying to safeguard myself and money only to have a nightmare that I was attacked. All the money was taken away and I was also being bundled by two young hefty guys, wearing hand gloves. I tried to break free but they were too strong for me, I tried harder but it was a wasted effort. I had started calling for help when I finally woke up with my heart thumping as if it would come out of my chest any moment. The rays of light coming from the sun through the window opening shot directly into my eyes sending sharp pains into my brain and immediately setting the cone cells of the retina into action. I quickly felt my inner pocket and the worry on my face gradually eased into a warm smile as the edges of the notes confirmed their presence. Then I stopped to see the cause of pain I felt on my elbow, the sight of crimson jagged bruises made me hiss. It was sustained while trying to rescue myself from those hefty imaginary guys from my dream. I gathered myself up slowly and went out in search of food to eat.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s