Glory’s teeth were not the only reason I didn’t talk to her. She had a face that must have starred in so many children’s nightmares that it looked worn out, spent. You just couldn’t look her in the eye, or on the nose, or forehead, or anywhere; and I didn’t want to be looking at her feet, or her hands, when talking to her. So I never talked to her.
And she never talked to anybody too—she was always moody and shit-faced about. For someone ugly as a bottom that was the wrong attitude to wear.
Her ugly was so great it ruined photographs—I had to cut her face out of our class picture! She was standing next to Isla at the backest back (because they were the two tallest ones in the class), so Isla had lost his left ear to my blade. I tried to take it off Glory’s face and put it back but it was a lot of work, too much effort for someone as irritating as Isla. Besides, it wasn’t my fault that he had ears like banana leaves and they were always in the way…
When Mum saw the black hole in the picture she nearly died. ‘What happened?!’ she gasped. ‘Who was here?!’
You’d think I killed the person. I only decapitated her.
‘No-body,’ I said coolly. Like an assassin.
‘What do you mean?! The person’s face has been cut out! Who is it?!!’ She was this close to tears now. You’d really think I killed this person if you didn’t know.
‘An anonymous person.’
‘An anonymous person? Who is that?!’
‘No-body; because it is anonymous!’
‘Don’t play smart with me… Gimme that picture!’ She snatched it from me and studied it; every face that was there. Trying to work out who wasn’t. By elimination. She knew every name and face in my class. I don’t know how. Mums are like that. They just know shit. And you don’t know how. Like bloody spirits!
‘It is Glory Imasuen, isn’t it.’
It wasn’t a question. She knew. But I answered anyway, ‘I can’t know; there’s no face there.’
She knew I was playing smart with her again; and she knew I would play it all day all around the house and tire her out, so she calmed down, and lowered her voice to the floor, ‘Oh-kayy… Why did you cut Glory’s face out of the picture?’
‘Because it is ugly!’ I said straightforwardly.
Mum came close to dying again. She gasped one hundred times and sat down, and asked me to sit too. I didn’t want to sit but I sat, because her voice was soft and small and her eyes were beautiful and all liquidy, as if they were melting…
‘Nobody is ugly, dear. God made everyone in His image and—‘
‘God made Ay-dam! He didn’t make everyone. Ay-dam made everyone else, and named the animals while he was at it.’
Mum always avoided theological arguments with me because I was good. I knew my Bible like the bloody Pope! I was a Sunday-School star!
Mum sighed in defeat, ‘God made us all beautifully and wonderfully and—‘
All this talk about God making us beautifully and I began to wonder why Glory’s mum wouldn’t just pray her daughter’s ugly away, or pray her teeth back into her mouth at the least. Instead she would be screaming for her Enemies to DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!! Or calling for FA-YAH! FA-YAH! FA-YAH! FA-YAH! FA-YAH! FA-YAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!
I was sorry for Mum for feeling sorry for Glory. If only she knew. I only just cut out the girl’s face. Isla calls her eleyin shamga to her face! I don’t know what it means, but it sounds mighty mean, and has a mad sting.
Isla himself has ears vast as eagles’ wings; but nobody dares make fun of them. Isla is a big boy, bigger than the rest of us; so big he should be a teacher! Only that he has shit for brains, that’s what Mr. Mensah, the Maths teacher, says. Mrs. Egwu, the English teacher, says his head is full of sand and garbage things. He has been in this school for decades, since Independence, something like that. He has a moustache that is thin like Mrs. Egwu’s, and about 20 danfos on the streets of Lagos. The only extra-curricular activities he engages in are bullying, obtaining (i.e. extortion) and lie-telling. The teachers say he is just a motor-park tout and won’t amount to nothing but a hill of beans. But that’s all they can do—talk about him bad behind his back in their staff room; they can’t touch him. I don’t know why. I heard Isla’s father is a Chairman or something big like that, and everybody is afraid of him. They live in this shit-ugly place called Isale-Eko. But Isla tells us he lives in Ikoyi. We just shut up and let him live there. Nobody wants to mess with him; more out of fear than respect. Nobody really knows how old Isla is; but we know he is veeeeeeery old—old enough to drive, to get drunk, to get a job, to marry, to understand Politics, even maybe old enough for his children to be old enough to vote…
hey i cut ur face out of d class pic, Glory wrote, during Maths.
My heart skipped and stopped. I was dead afraid! I knew you could use a person’s picture for juju from the Yoruba films Mum watched that Dad hated. Was Glory going to juju me to marry her?!!!
Y, I wrote back.
Cos u r fyyyyyyn.
My head swelled and burst all over my New General Mathematics. I didn’t write anything back. I just stared down at my Algebra and all the exes and whys we were supposed to find. I couldn’t see anything.
ll the children in the world were playing outside. Because it was a Public Holiday and there was no school. There was no work too, so Mum & Dad were at home. I don’t know what it was a Public Holiday for but it felt good.
Boys and girls were howling and running mad allover the place, playing all sorts of games and fighting all sorts of fights and just mainly monkeying around. It all sounded like one wild hell-of-fun to be having!
‘Mum can I go and play outside?’
Mum was in the kitchen, poking about and sweating everywhere, how she usually does whenever she’s in the kitchen. She was wearing her very very short shorts and tight tank top. She only wears them indoors. Miss Godsway, them Maxwell’s mum, wears them out. With tall shoes, and too many colours allover her face. Her husband is gone. I don’t know to where. Glory’s mum does not wear such things; she wears only wrappers and blouses and slippers/sandals and scarves/berets and her bare earlobes and bare lips and bare face without any colour on it. And she doesn’t talk to anybody because everybody is a Sinner. Dad calls that SANCTIMONIOUSNESS, and says it stinks like halitosis, and that is why Mrs. Imasuen won’t talk to anybody. Mum chuckles evilly and asks God to forgive Dad because Dad does not know what he is doing. Dad was just doing jokes…
Mum says I can’t go and play outside because the children outside are playing rough and I could get injured. She asks me to go and play with my Game Boy. I want to play with real boys!
I am revving up to fire a heartfelt whine from the deepest recesses of my soul when the doorbell sounds. Once, twice, thrice… one million times; the way children press bells, like lunatics. Dad is in the living room but he doesn’t answer the door because his face is inside a newspaper, so his ears are in his pockets. I’m about to go for it, but Mum stops me with a soft wet hand, ‘Wait here—I’ll see.’
She wipes her hands on her shorts and wipes her face with her hands on her way to the door. She has opened the door. I can hear her. She sounds as if she is smiling—‘Hi-eeeeeeeee!’
‘Goodaftnoonma!!!’ There are about 300 voices. Boys. My boys!
‘Good afternoon, dears.’
They ask if I’m at home (I am!) and if I can come and play football with them outside (I can!!).
‘Ohhh, he can’t right now; he is a little down with a bit of cough.’
I coughed in the kitchen. We, the boys and I, couldn’t believe our ears! Cough?! Something as teeny-weeny as a damn cough never stopped a boy from kicking a ball around!
I showed my head in the door of the kitchen. One of the boys saw me and cried, ‘See him! Come! —‘
I quickly snatched my head back in before Mum saw it and took it off. She shut the door on the boys and came back into the kitchen. She didn’t say anything. She just gave me a lorryload of potatoes to shave.
By the time I finished, the sun was on its way home. The sky was already pink and orange on the edges. Mum smiled sweet at me and asked me to go and play outside.
There was no-body outside; only ghosts from the afternoon’s mad fun—footprints littering the playground, sweet and biscuit wrappers lying about like mangled corpses on a battle field after a fierce battle. The victors had gone home, carrying their cries and madnesses with them, and their bellies full of fun, like trophies. I went back inside, the loser. I went up to my bed and looked for sleep in the darkness. I couldn’t find any. Glory’s mum was up, fighting God and the devil at the same time. Them Maxwell’s dog was going mad with barking and weeping. That was before Sule took care of him, and Okon ate him.