December 25, 2000; Abeokuta.
Whoever believes Christmas is the birthday of Christ must be living in fantasy land; a land peopled by fat, heavily-bearded, sack-carrying men in oversized red habiliments. To me and people of my ilk, Christmas is the official excuse for the slaughter and consumption of millions of hapless and helpless chickens worldwide. I am yet to be convinced otherwise.
I grew up in a large compound which quartered two houses. The first is a face-me-I-face-you storey building with ten rooms on each floor, five on both sides of a long corridor, which ended in a row of two kitchens flanked by bathrooms and toilets. The second house, the one we lived in, is a two storey building. Each floor a glorified face-me-I-face-you the landlady delights in calling a 3-bedroom flat: two rooms each on both sides of a short corridor and a kitchen, toilet and bathroom. Ours was the ‘flat’ on the ground floor.
I am the fifth in a family of six children, all boys. Being a ‘Boys Hostel’, our ‘flat’ was the home of blistering activities anytime, any day. At Christmas, it is not uncommon for our neighbours to come around and ask for one of the boys to help kill one or two Christmas fowls. And the boys were always willing to help, for you were guaranteed a plate of rice -the type depending on how well-to-do the neighbour is- and two big pieces of chicken. I didn’t ever have a chance to kill fowls for any neighbour; I was way down the pecking order. But I would get my chance. And I did.
My chance came with a large dose of opportunity.
A beautiful nurse had just rented one of the rooms in the first building. Her name was Remi and because she was some eight years or so older, I called her Aunty Remi, or just Aunty. Aunty is one of my teenage-years recollections of a beautiful woman. Tall, full-bodied, fair–skinned, lovely face and graceful movements, her eye brows were always dark as though she permanently wore eyeliners. She resembled some disowned Arabian princess who happened to find herself in Nigeria. I hate to admit it, but I was in love with Aunty Remi for a long time.
Shockingly, all my brothers detested her. Maybe because of the way she carried herself, elegantly and assuredly, like some sophisticated turkey, or because of the fact that she was almost a loner. I was her only friend in the compound and from time to time, she’ll send one of the smaller boys in the compound to fetch me, whenever she needed me for one thing or the other. So when she bought a fowl for Christmas, I was the natural choice.
On the day, she’d sent Deji, one of the boys in the compound, to get me.
“Bankole, you can kill a chicken, abi?” She asked me, her eyes piercing into mine like some nanny trying to decipher a weeping child’s inner thoughts.
“Yes, I can.” I answered in a voice barely audible to even me. How could I have told her I’d never killed one before? And, what’s the big deal about it? After all, I’ve seen my older ones kill fowls times without number.
“Ok. Come and help me kill this chicken,” she said, leading the way towards the balcony where the bird was tied. The fowl was so big I thought it was an under-aged turkey, only convinced it wasn’t when I heard its coos. Aunty went back inside and was soon back with a knife, a small bowl of water and a tray. With Deji as my sidekick, I went for the fowl.
When I approached it, the knife in my right hand, I could swear I saw a what’s-going-on frown scurry across its unblinking eyes like a rat in a sparse room. With neck strained and tilted at an angle, a cluck cluck sound escaping its oesophagus, the fowl stood, waiting; watching. It seemed wary and confused. With Deji’s help, I grabbed and laid it on its side, the way I’d seen my brothers do severally. With my right foot pinning both feet to the floor and my left doing the same to the wings, I strained the fowl’s neck and applied the knife. Slowly at first but when the up and down movement of the knife didn’t seem to have any effect, I increased pace and added more force.
“Fra, fra, fra,” the knife went until suddenly, I cut through the throat. The sudden burst of blood accompanied by the fowl’s violent struggle startled me. I threw down the knife and unconsciously stepped off the bird, like someone who suddenly realised he’d stepped into an assembly of soldier ants. By so doing, I freed it.
The fowl laid on the floor, blood gushing from its neck, its feathered-mass twitching like someone in the aftermath of a high voltage electrocution. As I stepped back in awe, contemplating finishing the job, the fowl suddenly started rolling on the floor, its claws scratching everywhere in a struggle for life. Then it stood, balanced on one leg, head bowed -a result of the severed throat- and started on a pirouette, like a drunk masquerade at a new yam festival. Midway through the ‘chicken dance’, the fowl stopped and took flight as if imbued with life from some indeterminate place.
I took to my heels, forgetting the mess I’d created, and ran past Aunty Remi who was watching proceedings from a yard behind.
I didn’t wait to see what else happened but I was told Deji, a full six years younger than me, grabbed the fleeing fowl and finished my job. The shame of the misadventure made me swear I won’t eat out of the chicken when it was prepared.
The fried chicken lap, sitting gingerly on the mountain of fried rice Aunty sent Deji to give me later in the day, changed my mind.