It was Tuesday. The day started with a blend of brightness and paleness; glamor and something worse. Children with skipping ropes danced from side to sides; birds with living hopes chirped in excitement tides. A day before, everyone sat at home; some stayed with friends while others stayed alone. Today looked like a new beginning. The weak week was rising with open arms and seedling farms.
Mary had just ran off to the market. It was a duty accorded to her by many. We had gone short of many things: yams, beans, rice, eggs and every other thing many kitchens had. The 'Sit At Home' didn't meet us well. We were already at home before we were asked to sit. John had just lost his job; Vision was working from home; Confidence and the rest of us had turned from family members to home keepers.
Nigeria, what are you?
A fire that burns hopes or the water that quenches all blazing dreams?
Nigeria, who are you?
A childless mother without breast or a motherless child without chest?
“Wake up! You've been talking from your sleep!”
He was inaudible at this moment. All I heard was his slap that made my face gaga.
“Did I talk?” I asked with tears.
“Yes, you did.”
“What did I say?”
“You were calling our mother a child without breasts and our child, a mother without chest.”
Hold on! My story...Have I been sharing it with you from my dreams?
I forgot to mention: We had a mother. She was the best anyone would ever have. Dad and mum started building the home when they had bones. They believed in the raising of a living child; a child whose life would make lives live.
“Your mother is a heroine. She's a pace setter and a home keeper. She's an angel in flesh and a little goddess and deserves worship.” That was dad's review about mum. He cherished her and she cherished him. Even after breeding seven grown-ups, people often mistook them for young dates. They often did things in common. We watched them playfully argue who would cook each day. Any day it was dad's turn to prepare the meal, we'd all resort to junks. He was a good cook, but not so good in preparing what a family would consume. Just last week, he cooked bitterleaf soup, added everything but forgot the bitterleaf. At the end, we all ended up eating soup and raw leaves.
We had an unchanging routine for our meals. Sundays were for rice; Mondays for noodles; Tuesdays and Fridays for snacks and soups respectively; Wednesdays and Thursdays for yam or rice; and Saturdays stood ultimately for nothing. We would sit together at twelve noon every Saturday rolling the dice on what to eat.
“Let's go for pap!” Mary's suggestion had since never changed. When measured, her love for pap is like the Pandemic; it grows everyday.
“All I know is that I'm hungry. Anything edible is food.” John was the only person that speaks my heart. He had his ears close to my mouth and so, his mouth was mine.
“Okay. Honey, please mix anything together for us. The boys are hungry.” Dad would conclude. His, usually sounded like a closing prayer. No one spoke afterwards. We were still happy. The mixing never took time. What was there to mixed? Tea, sugar and water, garri, palm kernels and salt or pap and sugar. Whatever it'd be lies on mum's decision. In a twinkle, all would be sitted round the table. The table is imaginary. We had none.
Mine wasn't a 'Lekki-Phase-One-situated' type of home. We lived in the jungle of Abakpa in Enugu. There, buildings were not made to be lived. People lived in anything and called it home. We lived in a warehouse; Jerome and his father lived in a parking store. What was the difference? We had a well. Hence the name, 'Well-house'. The Jeromes would always go up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
“When I finally make it, I will dig many wells around here. No house, just wells.” That usually was Jerome's dream. He saw every water hole as an achievement.
“How many wells will you dig?”
“Fifty?! What would you do with them?”
“Nothing. I will keep them for my children. None of them would have to suffer like me.”
Somehow, Jerome was a Motivator. My motivator. I sometimes derived pleasure in asking him questions just to fetch wisdom from his answers.
“This life is an open space. What you bring in and what you live in is totally your choice.” That was one of his many quotes.
There at the slum, we split in many. We were all poor, but not all accepted it. Some who see fate as inevitable accepted their poor state while the rest believed they were rich...in the head.
Dad was a mere Primary School teacher but he usually spoke as though he ran the Country.
Before he died...
Has he died?
Hey, wait! Please, don't interrupt me. Just pay attention to my confusion.
...he was so respected that he joined the ruling Central Democratic Party (C.D.P.) on invitation and pleas. He was their errand boy, but he usually gave them brains.
Early January, we saw him on the screen with the governor and I watched him shake hands with His Excellency. You need to see the pride that spread on my face like blanket during the harmattan days.
Sorry, rewind a bit.
We're still in the slum, Mary is still in the market, the boys are still waiting, dad is still alive and I'm still dreaming.
Our house was never cold. We had four room with separate doors and no windows. One was the Palour, one was the kitchen, one was for dad and mum and the last one, for the seven of us. Visualize our house then with me. Each of these rooms had a door, and had no connection to the other rooms. After cooking in the kitchen, we'd have to carry our plates outside before we can move them to our respective rooms for consumption. Our inside was entirely outside.
The good thing is that, we didn't have much rules in our house, and the few we had were not strict. However, we found ourselves choicelessly obeying them. Not because obedience was better than sacrifice, but because, disobedience would attract worse than a painful sacrifice.
The rules were simple though: nights were for shower and sometimes, for passing excrement. The open space behind our house was our bathroom and all the bushes around us were our restrooms.
My family practiced a confused form of religion. We went to church and still practiced tradition. What is that called? Traditional Christianity? My father believed in gods and still prayed in the Name of the Lord. He was a chief and I was a thief. What? Did I just mention that? Don't take it seriously. I was only trying to make my words rhyme.
But I told you, I fell under the category of 'Home Keepers'. How do you think we survived? No jobs, but you'd see us on the streets as thugs. When everyone is gone, our day becomes fun. We keep homes, not just ours. Leave your home to us and we'd ensure that everything in it is secured...from you.
How do you think Mary got the money for foodstuffs?
How do you think she usually gets them?
Manna from heaven?
Does she work?
Oh, maybe she does. She sits in every man's car and hangs around in every club. Maybe, that's her job. Places I'd never been, Mary had friends there.
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