AGORA

It was their second day alive, the sky was blue, the sun was golden and the day was bright, just as it was yesterday: all ten chicks were on a jolly outing with their mother. The world, it seemed, was a mega playground, a smorgasbord of puny worms and bugs, breadcrumbs and cereals, all for the taking. Eager to take over the world, to find out what juicy treasures it was still hiding, some colonial chicks slowly strayed away from mother hen, deaf to her repeated clucking that they’d better not stray too far from her. A hawk watched keenly from a roof as one chick strayed farther than the rest. Then, swoosh, the sniper struck! Mother hen shrieked, the chicks sprinted back, all but one of them.

It was their second day but it was not to be like yesterday. The sky was still blue but theirs wasn’t. They were deaf a while ago but they now they could hear. They could hear their mother cackle in anguish as they huddled behind her wings in utter silence. They could hear a generator chug loudly nearby, beside the house whose roof the hawk had stood on…

A WITCH AND A BOY

The boy died.

I think he would have lived, though. If their perfumes had not snuffed out the only, albeit slim, chance he had left.

Six days they had been in church, praying and doing God knows what else. They most definitely were cleaning poop and vomitus anyway because that’s what they said he had been doing – pooing and vomiting – nonstop besides running a fever all the while. By day 4, the boy could hardly sit up straight let alone stand. And by then, he had stopped pooing loose stool, it was all just clear fluid. They said he was an olomi and whoever is an olomi in these parts they don’t give too much water to drink. It’s said that the more water they drink, the more they shrink until they shrivel up and die. So, they didn’t give him water to drink, even when he was strong enough to cry out for water.

Day 6, he could hardly respond to anyone calling out his name. His mother called him, shook him, tugged on his arms but all he did was roll his eyes. That was when they stopped swiveling to the entrancing drum beats that accompanied their melodramatic prayers. With her heart palpitating and eyes freely tearing, his mother heaved him onto her shoulder and walked out of the church. The incense kept burning right where they left it.

There was just a nurse at the nearest basic health center, there was no doctor. The child was to be referred to the general hospital which was kilometers away. The nurse knew he’d die before getting there. She knew she could give him a chance by giving intravenous normal saline. She was going to site an IV line when she suddenly began to have difficulty breathing. She was asthmatic. The dense smell of incense on them had exacerbated her asthma. The incense was bent on doing its job apparently – why burn for 6 days without snuffing out a witch?

The nurse needed her inhaler. The child needed an IV line. The inhaler was now more important than the line. While she sought that, the child gave his last few gasps.

They found a witch but lost the boy.

TABLEAU

Shadows spill out of the rooms onto the corridor and reach out for fluorescent bulbs arranged in series from one end of the corridor-ceiling to the other end – entry to exit. They tug at the wires, gently, never rooting the wires entirely out, so that the lights just go dim and suddenly bright again. As the lights go dim, a little boy takes form at the exit. The form gets slowly more distinct the dimmer the lights go and wisps out as suddenly as the lights go bright again.

Two days ago, it happened.

It happened yesterday.

Today, it’s happening again.

If some patient seated on the other side of the table had narrated this sort of tale to W., the new doctor-in-residence, she would have written on her pad, just two words: visual hallucinations. The session could end up with the patient being expertly judged as schizophrenic. But here, it was her this was happening to! She was the one seeing doppelgängers and clawing shadows!

She hurried out of the facility, an asylum built to tend First World War soldiers dented by the war. It was dark and the rain drizzled outside but she walked through the cold drops, across the parking lot to her car and made to drive home. Today, she switched on the radio; maybe its voices could help shout down thoughts screaming in her head and raced the car in an attempt to outfox tailing shadows.

Speed and the radio’s electronic voices gently took her fears from her and as her nerves un-frayed she shut her eyes and stepped harder on the accelerator, it was a kind of ecstasy and she desired more speed, desired a faster healing.

She was oblivious of a little boy ahead who stood alone in the middle of the road and as she opened her eyes, every voice – hers and the radio’s many voices – morphed into one huge scream as she ran her sedan into the poor boy.

She clutched the bed sheets tighter as she with the scream emerged from the nightmare into the real world, jolting her sleeping husband awake.

The director shouted: CUT!

LAGOS IS A COUNTRY

Work continues tomorrow. One must be up by 4 am. X looks out through the window at a Pepsi.

A heavily turbaned man enters and seats right in front of X. It’s a view-blocking turban. The bus continues to move again but not for too long. It gets stuck in a traffic jam, again. Some noise arises from someone seated in front. It’s a view-blocking turban so X can’t correctly figure out the perpetrator. Soon, a woman’s voice rises and takes over. She keeps yelling at the bus conductor. Something about the poor state of the naira notes she was given as change. She hurls expletives rapidly at the poor boy whose response does nothing but to further incense her, almost tipping her into a stammer.

Nobody, not even the bus driver, is paying either of them attention or so it seems until Turban attempts to pacify the more volatile of the duo: the woman.

It’s the month of fasting, the month of holiness apparently and he appears to be a cleric: an imam or so his four-inch goatee seems to tell. He’s a wise man; he tells the woman that the bus conductor is just like a son to her, that she should consider his actions exuberant: the actions of a butterfly who thinks itself a bird…She latches onto his first few words with an air of justification, wags a studded finger at the conductor and yells:

If my last child, whom this stupid boy can’t be older than, dared what this conductor just did I would dish him a dirty-stinking backhand slap, one that would turn him deaf in both ears.

Turban, wise indeed, lets go of a Yoruba proverb:

Àgbà tí ò bínú lomo ré n pòsi. Ìyá wa e fiyè dénú (Our mother, temper justice with mercy. He is loved by many, the elder who subdues his rage)

With this entreaty, the woman’s soaring voice gradually peters out. Quiet returns to the bus. Until the bus conductor who’d largely been the less noisy of the two starts to grumble increasingly, something about him not being able to fathom how shameless elders abound everywhere in Lagos these days.

Hey! hey! gbé enu e dáké níbèyen o! (Hey! hey! shut your trap right there o!)

Turban quickly yells at him, just in time to stop the woman from starting another tirade. He obeys promptly.

X sighs. It’s 9.26 pm.

Home is still a few kilometers away. The traffic jam stays jammed.

CATARACTS

He hurried out the back door, stopped a few yards away from it and paced the ground outside uneasily. A woman’s voice was hurled after him; it promised to serve him due retribution once he entered the house again. He was mum, his shoulders made his speech as he shrugged in defiance. No one talked for a while and everything seemed calm except for stones kicked about by his restless feet and dust raised as he paced the ground like a fugitive. He later sat on what used to be a living section of a living tree’s trunk, eyes darting furtively now and then. There was peace. Until his grandfather crept out of a wall of bush behind which he’d just dispatched the excesses of his aged life and bitterly expressed his distaste for the boy. You are wasting yourself! granny cried. The old man then picked up a bucketful of water that had been left to warm under the blistering sun and headed for the small square of corrugated metal sheets that served as bathroom. His voice – Bastard child! Child with a bad head! Ne’er-do-well! – rose above the splash of waters as they fell on his head and ran down his face onto the square patch of cement that he stood on.

The words settled splat on the boy’s head.

VOID…VOICE.

il_340x270.147272511

My name’s Atim. And for some reason not unknown to me i’m numb to all these end of the year hullabaloo. everyone this season is being worked into a frenzy buying mistletoe and stringing glowing bulbs in in every possible vantage point. In the homes. On the street. But i’m trapped. In-between the need for glee and the  reality of grief. Hopeful that time will do the latter great disservice. Because this shouldn’t continue for too long…

My name’s Atim. High School dropout. Male. I’m Atim because Mother named me before i was born and before she could open her eyes to see that i wasn’t female. She never got up from that bed alive. I was told. She left as i came. A life for a life. That’s what her smile says every time i wake to behold her in the wood-framed picture placed against a background of exfoliating wall paint. My Mona Lisa.