I don’t know what part of the bed i woke up on this particular Thursday but i was feeling grouchy, this crabby nature did not ebb even after i saw my mum that morning (she always have a way of soothing me).
“Ekaro Ma” I said and with all the love in the world she said “Karo oko mi” and those three words have a way of making me just soar in mid air but on this morning it sounded like the normal greeting, nothing changing, but not withstanding i put up my usual candor with all the artificial reverence i can muster else i will be prodded all day.
So on my way to the bathroom then, i was number 5 on the queue so i quickly got going with brushing my teeth and exchanging the customary morning greeting with the elders of the military styled block i live in.
The always good natured Papa James was to eventually notice i was sullen.
“Ah good morning my pikin, how your papa? abi him don go work?”
“Yes sir” was all i could say before another question hits home “so wetin come make u dey look like person wey no chop sleep last night? abi u know well”
“Nuttin do me sir,i dey kampe” i said trying to put up a smile to go with the act.
“Na lie jare, your eye be like person wey dey vex own, abi na you and your mama dey quarrel?” he said
“No o, nuttin do me, serious” I said with a prayer in my heart that the queue moves along faster and i can escape this nice man, i can’t continue with this line of questioning without giving in at a point especially because he was a well trained police man, he will probe till i come clean and suddenly we heard it. The scream at first didn’t make any sense, as senseless as the grievous of all wailing can be.
“Make una come o, i don enter wahala, see wetin dem do me and my pikin o, ahyah…ahhh” Mama Darlington was screaming at the top of her lungs, people could hardly hold her. If i wasn’t so carried away with my not-so-well start to the day, i would have noticed a white police pick van parked in front of our block just a few minutes ago, just before Papa James started probing and i would have been prepared for this or better still i would have hurried into our own living unit and pretended i wasn’t home when the news broke. Death just came calling, not when Mama Darlington started shouting,not now when she started crying helplessly, it had come earlier and it is the same story that results in the loss of life in my block every few days,last night precisely, Papa Darlington was killed in a gun battle with an armed robbery gang the night before and like always our block just lost a man, the second one in a week and am not surprise, its almost the end of the year, what we call the -ber months and the blood suckers are out again.
Quickly the mothers have rallied around, (even the widow before this, Mama Nimota whose husband has been dead for about 72 hours now,her cry joined could be heard miles away,not only because she is still trying to understand how her husband’s death happen but also because they just got married about 5 months ago, officially that is, Mama Nimota has been living with her husband for 2 years and they just gave birth to Nimota not more than 7 months ago and got officially married soon after) they carried Mama Darlington into her apartment and were trying as best as they could to keep from crying as they try to sooth the new widow. In their heart they weep, not only for Mama Darlington and maybe Mama Nimota too but also for themselves, they know their husbands might not come home the next day,they know they could be the next,they know their is no rest for their heart and mind as long as their husband is at work,they know and they pray. It is always like that after another officer dies, it becomes a waiting game, a watching game. Deep in their heart,the mothers are praying with a fervently, not to be the next in line, not to be the ones that will be chased out of this military block for losing a husband to the force.
Mama Debo already brought her bible, ready in her commando-styled posture to lead the prayer and ask God why again, why so soon after just 72 hours of crying.
“Jesu, iwo lo dawa ni aworan are re, jo gbawa lowo iku to’un pa agba ati omode ni buloki yi,oluwa jo,Jesu jo,emi mimo wa gba wa, gbogbo awon oko wa to wa ni ibi ise, jo dabo bo won……..”
and the prayer continued, just her with the rest of the women tending to Mama Darlington and some still to Mama Nimota, as a crowd was already forming, people from neighbouring blocks, especially the ‘peeping’ block P, notorious for its loku loku as it is called, our block was quickly becoming the center of attention in a barrack that can boast of nothing but a 20 yard field for her only recreational center, so people get entertainment wherever they see it even when it is a sad one.
Papa James called out, “oya all of una, make una go baff for ‘lun-di-ree'(laundry) so una go fit go school kia kia,oya make una dey go as i dey see una so o”.
He was always one to look out for the kids, make sure this does not rob in the wrong way. 9-years old Darlington am sure has not fully understand the magnitude to which his life will change by now, his younger sisters, the twins i love to play with so much, are both toothy, smiling sheepishly at the attention their flat seems to be getting at the moment and who could blame them, kids hardly get any attention when you live with a father who works 12 hours officially plus 7 hours unofficially with additionally 2 hours to drink away the fear,the trauma and the shame they bear daily just to make ends meet. Add to that a mother who can barely make her own way in life, it takes the best of women, the Maggi Thatcher kind of this world, to suck it all in and go outside to look for a job and stick to it for more than a month because the ‘Police-wife’ tag is her headliner everywhere she goes.
And so we hurried along, me at the forefront, at full speed because i am scared of looking at Darlington, he knows as much as i do what has happened, maybe not the whole implication but at least he knows his father will never come back home again because at just 9 we have seen too many deaths for our age, too many fathers went to work and never returned, too many men lost in a war that is fought in a seemingly peaceful society. The ritual of bath seems to be over in just 5 minutes, kids who have no interest in going to school on a Thursday that has started with the announcement of the death of a man we all know well,for those of us who have been here longer say like 6 years, me, Shehu, Daniel and Emeka (Because our dads have been lucky to still be alive or because they refused to resign or get reposted), it is quickly becoming a norm that we never get our 5-aside football team complete for more than a year, we never play the other blocks with a full squad and we were hoping this could be our year, and now this when Darlington was becoming the fulcrum of our team, even if his dad’s death fails to affect his performance, the fact thay they will be chased out soon will eventually so it lightened my mood and then killed it when Dara,my 5-years old sister came calling “Mummy so pe ko se kia o, won ni pe ka ma lo school mo, pe ka lo si odo daddy Ayo”. Part 1 of that message was good news,no school after-all but part two is not good news at all, to me at least, my nightmarish uncle who never seems to find any meaning to why we even live at all, he thinks we are all a joke for putting up with a father that is a Police officer, so you can imagine how much my father hates him and i do too because i never seem to understand how he contributes in any way to society better than what my father does, agreed my father collects bribe, who wouldn’t when you get paid 2 cent to keep a $100 home going, i doubt anyone would not.
As it is,my grouchy day was growing wings and having a mind of its own and i had to do something to get it back on track, at least for some hours before my dad gets back from work,so i feigned illness, i told Dara as we walked back to our flat that i couldn’t go anywhere,i told her body temperature was rising and that sleeping would do me well than going anywhere for now (of course my mum was out consoling mama Darlington and so i could get away with this,Dara is just 5) I told her i’ll go to the sick bay later (Sick bay, big joke, when all they had there was nothing but a bunch of bed-bug ridden mattresses to lay on, like a movie’s depiction of a place filled with war torn soldiers and no medicine other than stink) and of course i’ll be fine and she believed it, she hurried along,she and Ayo are age mate and they get along well so i know she would have loved to go, its a shame she loves me more, or else she would have called my mum and i would have been bursted and forced off, grouchy day continue. So i escaped visiting a nightmarish uncle but still could not get over all i have been through in just the first 2 hours of waking up, it seems like its going to be a long day and i haven’t even seen the half of it yet. Better that i lay now, go back to sleep and see what happens when i wake up in some hours time, maybe then it will be a dream and i can finally start the day anew or maybe not.
So on one of my grouchy thursdays (Did i mention am sag and they say Thursdays are suppose to be great days for us). It is another life lost, another friendship to end abruptly, even as we never seem to get along well, Darlington will become my past and i will be his, maybe 20 years from now he will not even be able to remember the boy who made a laughing stock out of him for spelling the word ‘Phone’ with a ‘F’ (Don’t blame him, we speak pidgin 24/7 at home and they still expect us to get an A), but it’s all in a day’s job for a young boy growing up in the barracks and many have survived it, dem no born me well make i no do the same thing.