You watch her get up from the slab.
She ambles towards one of the metal chairs and lowers her lean frame into it. Her face is a mask of pain and she cannot put her thighs together.
“Just sit. Don’t exert yourself,” he says. His back is turned so you do not see his face. But you know very well what he looks like. A handsome face with a mouth cordoned off by bushy beards and angry tribal marks – contrasting features that are too much to forget.
You watch father take off latex gloves which make a snapping sound, and wash his bare hands in a white porcelain sink. You watch the thick veins strain in his hairy hands as he wrings them under the rushing tap. The soap tablet slips from his grip and lands in the sink, dancing about. His fingers chase, capture, and then settle the tablet on the edge of the sink where there is its slight yellow imprint.
He is speaking to her. He is telling her what to expect, about the need for rest and what drugs to take. As he talks, he moves his bushy head from side to side to stress the number of days it would take for her to be okay again.
“In three, maybe four days, you will be raring to go again…” His voice is a rythmical baritone with a muffled tunnel at its centre.
You watch as she nods, faintly, her face set in a grimace. She has big black eyes set in fluffy white clouds. A dimple appears on her cheeks even as she grimaces.
You love her instantly, your mother.
He turns off the tap, and wipes his hands on a small blue and orange towel with strands of thread on its edges, hanging on a nearby rail. He completes the drying job on the seat of his white coat and turns to face her.
“Let us go,” he says, walking up to her and giving her his right hand and an easy smile. She takes his hand and stands up. She has not said a word since you came in.
They walk to the door. His left hand holds her by the waist. Her frock is caught between her buttocks, creating two large cheeks that roll sensually as she walks. He reaches out with his right hand, pulls out the frock, rights it on her body, then opens the door. They go out, she first. He shuts the door behind him, and you hear a key turn in the lock. There is silence.
The key turns again, and the door opens. He does not walk in. He just stands at the door and looks around, then straight at you, through you. Satisfied, he reaches to the wall on his right hand and turns off the light switch. The room is thrown into pitch darkness.
He retreats, shuts the door after him and you hear the key turn in the lock again. Then you listen to him whistle a tune and jingle a bunch of keys as he marches down the stairs.
The compound is large, and pitch black. It has been gravely silent for a while.You prick your ears at the the ka-ka-ka sound of an engine starting up. You see a gust of black smoke burst from it, then listen to it steady into a mechanical hum. You watch a thin man materialise from behind the big white machine. He pulls a lever in the building where the cars are parked. Several light bulbs go up simultaneously within the main house and the entire compound is bathed in fluorescent. You watch the thin man round off his activity, and go to settle on a mat beside a small building by the gate.
He increases the volume of the radio beside his mat and strange, string music issues forth, enchanting the night.
You have climbed up, and are seated on the highest branch on the orange tree.
The scent is sweet, tangy. From your exalted position, you can see the rest of the world. You see in the far and near distance, myriads of shimmering lights littered all over the city. The sky above you is dark. There is no single star in sight and the wind is cold. It looks like rain might fall.
You turn your attention to the main reason you are here.
Having no where else to go, you have followed father home.
And he is home just in time for dinner. You can see the dining area clearly. The children are seated already. The girl is pretty, about 5. She looks bored. You think she looks pretty bored. You chuckle at the pun. Pretty girl is sucking her lower lip.
The boy is about 3. His head is barely visible atop the table. He is sucking on his right thumb and you think he is really cute.
Father is at a shelf. He retrieves something from the top of the rack. Two sparkling wine glasses with long stems. He turns and says something, moving his bushy head rythmically from side to side, and clinking the cups of the glasses together by holding them at the stem. Pretty’s somber face cracks up in a gleeful smile. You notice she is missing some front teeth. Her hair is made into thick braids which go down all the way to her neck, like two lazy reptiles. Little does not smile or move. He just keeps sucking.
Father goes to him and lifts him up easily. He throws him towards the ceiling. Little opens his mouth and laughs excitedly. Father throws him up a few more times. Pretty is standing up now too, her arms are raised. She is stamping one foot on the carpeted floor, petulantly. She wants to be thrown up too. Too late. Their mother has returned from the kitchen with the last tray of food. She is a pretty woman, with an oval face and a motherly smile.
You will catch a cold, sitting there in the orange tree, naked. You wrap your arms around yourself, and cuddle up, in a foetal position. You immerse yourself in the sweet scent of citrus around you. It feels good, warm, though not as warm as you would like it.Your teeth clatter. Cold water drips from the skies, and snakes down your naked back. You feel it trickle down, between your buttocks. A shudder runs through you suddenly, and you shake it off, reflexively, violently. You look longingly through the window again.
Their mother is serving generous helpings of white rice, and stew onto flat, white breakable plates. You watch longingly as repressed films of smoke spiral towards the ceiling from the open warmer filled with rice. The family begins to eat, father and their mother chattering a little. Pretty has her face buried in her plate of rice. Little holds his plastic fork awkwardly.
“Will you sit on the floor baby?” his mother asks him.
He shakes his head and shoves the fork cautiously into his open mouth, spilling some grains of rice on the table and on his legs in the process.
You are cold, and hungry.
Pretty soon asks for a second helping. Father helps out, calling her a good girl, asking her to tell him when it is enough and applauding her huge appetite. He tells her she will soon grow tall like a palm tree, and strong and beautiful. He announces a reward for Little too, if he will finish the food on his plate and ask for more just like his sister.
Little ignores father, chewing silently. You watch Pretty as she digs into the new helping which includes a sumptuous looking piece of meat. Your mouth waters and your eyes bulge, hungrily. You stare so hard at the beef, as if to suck it out of the plate, through the shut windows and outside into the drizzling open till it reaches you on your perch.
The pull of your stare is so strong that suddenly, Pretty looks up, out the window, up at your perch on the orange tree where your eyes meet and lock.
Her face degenerates into a frightening mask of abject terror, and her mouth hangs open. Shrill piercing screams escape her, deafening you and breaking your concentration. Her screams are so loud, so stringent they almost bore a tunnel through your eardrums and your brain. You scream in pain too and cover your ears, both of them, with your hands.
At the table, there is an instant flurry of activity.
Father jumps off his seat and knocks his bottle of water into the plate of rice he is eating. Their mother springs up too, knocking her chair over. She swirls around, bewildered. Her face has turned ghostly pale. Little also glances up, a look of calm bewilderment on his face. He seems to wonder what game it is this time that the adults are playing. He watches the parents rush to Pretty and hold her. She is standing now, screaming stamping her feet in the carpeted ground and pointing at the tree top.
“What is it baby? What is it?” mother and father ask, flustered. They turn to look in the direction she is pointing, but you are swift in moving back into your cocoon, the warm scent of citrus.
“What is it? I can’t see anything. Honey can you?” father booms. His voice is not warm now. It is harsh, acrid. His bushy head is bobbing around, looking from his immediate surroundings to the top of the tree outside the house.
“I cannot. Baby what did you see?” their mother asks Pretty, in a calm voice.
“Someone was on the tree…” she whimpers. She starts to wail. Little is the only one still seated at the table. He watches his sister with a queer expression on his face.
“Honey, take baby to her room. I will have a word with Sanni.”
Mother nods, and guides the weeping child up the stairs, saying soothing words to her as they go along.
“Baby, finish up and come upstairs,” mother says to Little from the staircase.
Father goes to the huge mahogany door, opens it and walks into the open, shutting the door after him.
You venture out of your cocoon, peeping, and run into Little’s probing eyes. He is standing behind the locked windows and staring intently up the tree, his hands on his hips. You venture a smile at him.
And he smiles back!
Father holds a brief meeting with Sanni who has been on his mat, listening to strange sounding string music on his transistor radio.
He has been muttering “Oh, Dan Maraya” to himself and humming. He springs up as he hears father’s booming voice calling out to him.
“Yes Oga…” he stutters turning down the volume of the transistor radio.
“Is there anyone in this compound?” father queries as he comes to a stop at Sanni’s mat. His hands are in his pockets, and his booming voice flails around every corner of the compound, bouncing off the stone walls, the gravel drive and the shiny black cars.
“No oga. Na only me I dey hia…”
“You sure about that? There’s no one about, on the tree?” father looks up the tree which is a little distance away. Sanni follows his gaze, even points a strong beam into the branches, momentarily blinding you.
Sanni gives father a funny look while father is not looking. A smile is playing on the edge of his mouth. But he knows he dare not smile, or say anything corny.
“No oga. No only me I dey hia…”
“Yes oga,” Sanni races to the back of the house, holding the small cap on his head with one hand. The other hand holds his jalabia by the waist, but it is still grazing the gravel.
Father marches to the tree and stands underneath it. He has collected the beam of light from Sanni, and points it up in your face.
“Ouch…” you say, covering your eyes.
He appears not to have seen or heard you. He keeps peering up the tree, a puzzled look on his face. He looks behind the tree too, and among the slightly overgrown grasses. He also looks behind a ladder lying in the spear grass, leaning on the wall.
Sanni returns with Bushido and you almost topple out of the tree.
Bushido is a huge Alsatian with a head like a carnivorous cat’s. His canine’s are huge pointed boulders and his tongue is a hanging red flame.
Sanni loosens his hold on the dog, and it bounds around the compound, emitting short sharp barking sounds. It comes back to the tree and stares up with Sanni and father, panting.
“Have you locked the gates properly?” father booms finally.
“Okay, good night.”
Father ruffles the dog’s mane, and strolls back towards the house, whistling a tune, his hands in his pockets. He enters the house and closes the door. Then turns the lock.
Sanni stands there staring after father.
“Oga I don dey craze?” he asks, staring up the tree and looking at the walkway father just exited as if father was still standing invisibly somewhere there. He continues to mutter under his breath as he walks over to the gravel walkway. He stops on the gravel for a while, the same way father had done, and stamps his foot on the gravel, shaking out the clammy soil underneath his slippers. Then he walks back to his mat and settles on it. Bushido stalks close to the humming generator and settles beside it, placing his long snout on the ground infront of him. He feels warmer here than inside his kennel.
You watch the lights in the big house go out one after the other. Then all is still.
Sanni’s strange music fills the air again; and you dance in the moonlight.
(To be concluded)