This, I believe, is Absalom’s first fictional piece on this blog. Check on it below and enjoy.
He didn’t look at me as I went through the sitting room on my way out. He just sat there on the arm of a sofa, drinking water. An hour ago, he had been a storm, accusing me of destroying “what we have.” I shook my head, got in my car parked beside his Camry, and drove towards New Benin. I would stay in Edirin’s place until I cleaned up my flat in the outskirts of town.
“Hey,” Edirin said when he came to the door with his dog Rambo to greet me. Rambo sniffed at the suitcase beside my legs. “Going somewhere?”
“No. I left Onuora’s place.”
Edirin’s eyes widened. “Broke up with the boyfriend?”
“Funny how a man can have a boyfriend and not know it,” I murmured and brushed past him into the house. Someone was singing in the CD player in the corner of the small parlour.
“Ella Mi Fu Rapita,” Edirin sighed about the music, his huge gaze liquid with rapture. “Florez’s powerful tenor in action, ah!”
“Hmm,” I shrugged. The said tenor sounded like the bleating of a goat.
“There’s soup in the fridge if you’re hungry,” he called as I made for his kitchen to look for the whiskey.
He soon joined me there. I swallowed my drink.
“What really happened? Hope it was nothing serious.”
“We had a misunderstanding.” I thrust the whisky bottle at him. “Join me, baby.”
He ignored the bottle. I stood it back on the kitchen table.
“Onuora thinks we are – were – in a relationship.”
I laughed. “You are telling me.”
“Precious, you lived with that guy for four months.”
“Exactly the logic he used.” I took the bottle and glass, and left the kitchen.
Edirin marched after me.
“Look, it just seemed like a nice idea moving in with him,” I said. He lived a five-minute drive away from my office after all. We had fun, did everything any two horny guys would do. I didn’t think he was going to take it so seriously. All those things he did – gisting me about guys who wanted him but who he shunned; calling me boyfriend; asking me to stay days longer at his place while my own flat remained locked for weeks – he did without my asking him to. He had no right to guilt-trip me about it or go through my phone.
* * *
My flat smelled faintly of damp dust when I walked in. I switched on the light. A cockroach darted across the parlour and disappeared into a side door. I locked the entrance. It was 8p.m. – too late to do any serious cleaning – I would manage the house like this till tomorrow. I entered my bedroom. Same faint damp-dust smell.
Edirin was still insisting I wronged Onuora.
I did not agree. “Onuora wants someone who would be at his service, someone to be owned and taken care of, then instructed. That person is not me, Edirin.”
“So how do you explain what you guys were doing all these months?”
“Do you even realize how bizarre it is that a guy considers me his boyfriend without my consent?”
Edirin shook his head. “Referring to Onuora as though he’s some random creep who stalked you is not fair to him. That guy is nice, very gentle. It’s obvious you liked him or you wouldn’t have moved in with him. You led him on–”
“I led him on?”
“–and now you treat him like dirt!”
“You’re an idiot.”
“If you like, be angry, I don’t care. You’re always angry anyway. Any little thing, you flare up–”
“Precious, let me tell you, I’m not afraid of you. You can’t beat me, you hear? I’m not Onuora that you can talk to anyhow–”
“No one can advise you! You’re a god, you’re too big, you know too much!”
I left Edirin’s place minutes after we had this argument.
I gathered the pillows on my bed into a high pile, fell on them, and closed my eyes. Something about this constant upping and leaving – twice in one day – imitated my leaving the orphanage twenty years ago. I had had enough then: of Brother Caiaphas, the director of the orphanage, who seemed too eager to admit children into the home so he could attract more money from Social Development; of my classmate Paul who had started the rumour that I was possessed – and because he was one of those kids other kids listened to, I soon found myself being avoided in class and in the refectory. In chapel, at the end of morning service, Reverend Frankincense used to ask anybody who felt they needed deliverance from the powers of darkness – in unspoken words, anybody who feared they had been possessed through any form of interaction with me – to come forward. My coming forward was never optional. I was always instructed by Brother Caiaphas to go along with others.
* * *
Onuora texted me days ago: He was travelling to Umuahia to see his mother. She was sick, had been for quite some time – this I knew. If I had anything urgent to pick from the house, I’d best do it before he left.
I had nothing to urgent to pick up, I replied.
Three weeks had passed since I moved out of his apartment.
I called him yesterday to find out if he was back in town yet. I was ready to come collect the rest of my stuff today.
He wasn’t back. He didn’t know when he’d be back, his mum was worse. “Her liver is gone, the doctors are not very hopeful.” He paused. “I’ll let you know when I’m back…for your stuff.”
There was a sepia photograph in Onuora’s house, taken when he was four. In that photo which gave him away as a mama’s boy – for its neat place on the television – he held a half-eaten biscuit; his mother wore a short dress and small earrings shaped curly, like popcorns. She smiled down at him and he smiled up at her.
The woman I saw in FMC Umuahia two days later looked nothing like the one in that photo. Her face was sharp-featured in the boniness of death, her fair skin had darkened several shades and her breath gargled out of her unconscious form.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming,” Onuora said, his tone fit for dismissal.
I took off my coat, draped it over my elbow. He was free to not need me around here, I was free to choose to come. I had flown to Enugu first then come by bus here.
“How is she doing?”
“How did you find us?”
I had talked to a neighbour of his who used some smart lies I handed him to get details of where Onuora’s mother was hospitalized. I didn’t confess this though. It was not necessary. Edirin knew I was coming here and had, of course, given his thrilled blessing – the sentimental bastard.
“How is she doing?” I said again.
He did not answer. It was the first time I was seeing him since three weeks ago. The sides of his face were covered in bristly fuzz, his eyes red. He hadn’t slept in days.
* * *
I was eleven years old again. Running from the orphanage, from Brother Caiaphas and Paul and the other children. My cloth-bag, containing two books and one shirt, was pressed to my chest. It was night. It was drizzling. I didn’t know where I was going. But I needed to be far from the orphanage, this place where all I did was yell at Jerry for accidentally knocking down my bowl of cornflakes; then he slumped and died later in the sickbay. And the witchcraft whispers started.
I stopped walking by morning and squatted on a pad of grass, close to the leg of a “Census ’91” billboard. I was tired.
A woman was shouting behind me. I turned. She was scolding a little girl for losing her reader at school. They were standing feet apart in front of a bungalow.
“I will not buy another one,” the mother poked her finger at the girl’s forehead, “I will not buy another one, stupid girl!” She picked up a cane tray full of crayfish on the ground.
The little girl sobbed.
I approached the woman and offered to give her girl my own reader if she would give me food. I didn’t know what class the girl was in or if I had my JS3 reader in my bag.
The woman eyed me then called out a man who seemed to be her husband. He eyed me too.
“He will be good for that apprentice boy you said you are looking for,” she stated, popping a crayfish into her mouth.
“Boy, where are you from?” the man said.
“Kebbi,” I said. I didn’t know where Kebbi was.
“What of your parents?”
The man and his wife looked at each other.
I pretended to faint so they wouldn’t send me away. The woman splashed water in my face. When I opened my eyes, she placed a plate of boiled yams in my lap. Later, I begged them to let me stay; I would apprentice under her husband, whatever it was he did.
The man – Mr Peter – was a carpenter. Sawdust from his workshop gave me a cough every other week, but there was food, and an old mattress to sleep on in his children’s room, and there was no Brother Caiaphas to remind me every day how I’d been found on a rubbish heap on the roadside with flies perched on my umbilical cord.
* * *
“This is hardly the time to talk,” Onuora said quietly as we left the hospital building, “but you can rest assured I’ve forgotten everything that happened between us.” He was going to his mother’s house to prepare something for when she woke up. If she woke up.
“That’s not why I came…”
He unlocked the car. “Why did you come then?”
I swallowed. “Your mum is…very sick. It would have been odd if I didn’t come.”
He scoffed. “You think so.”
“We are not enemies now, are we? Until three weeks ago we lived in the same house.”
“Still doesn’t satisfy my question, but I’ll let it go.”
* * *
Thirteen years ago, after Mr Peter got too sickly to work long hours, he wanted me to manage the workshop for some time until his son was a little older or showed more interest in the business – whichever came first. But I had other plans. I was twenty-one. Bolu – my friend on the other street – had got into a polytechnic the previous year. He’d been into 419 for some time too and told me about it. It could pay for school if one was lucky.
When I told Mr Peter I would be leaving to stay with Bolu on campus, he was quiet for a long time. Then he struggled up from his chair and approached me. I stepped back as though to run, wondering what he was about to do. He threw his arms around me, filling my nostrils with his familiar scent of wood and finishing. My own arms stayed frozen at my sides.
Onuora was frowning. We were in his mother’s house now. He had reluctantly agreed to let me come and help him.
“Sure you’re all right?”
Silence settled with us as he unpacked the vegetables and onions he had bought on our way here.
“Precious…” he said finally, “I’m not bitter anymore, if that’s what you were thinking about… I was the one at fault. I shouldn’t have assumed–”
I shook my head. “It’s okay, I’m sorry too.” I shook my head again. He would never get it anyway; he would never understand how being hugged by Mr Peter could be a sad experience because it was unexpected – because nobody in my life had hugged me before that day. In his world, the things one craved were, when they arrived, received with joy, without questions, with entitlement.
Someday, though, I will tell him about Mr Peter and Brother Caiaphas.
I made to pick up the onions. “Where do I put these?”
He took my hand – “I’m glad you are here” – and squeezed it as much as his trembling hands would allow. “It makes me feel whatever happens to mum, I…I can take it.”
I stared at my hand in his, too self-conscious to look up into his face. Some awkward seconds passed; then I pulled him close and, breathing through my mouth, warned myself not to cry. ■
Written by Absalom