here were A’s everywhere on Dare’s report sheet at the end of that term. His mum was grinning all about the place like a clown gone mental. I had a red 19 to show for all my effort in Maths. Those bloody exes and whys that no-body could ever find! That bloody Mr. Mensah and his third arm, the cane!
It was another fine opportunity for Dad to lament how he had always come First all his life and won all the prizes and medals and trophies in the whole world, even though he never showed me, or anyone, his report sheets; and nobody ever saw the prizes and trophies and things; only a stupid wooden plaque he got for being The Best Behaved Boy Scout in the Scout Camp of ’69 that sits on the TV beside a framed picture of him in a red-and-blue graduation gown in ’78, hair parted neatly like a barber’s son…
‘How do you expect to make it to The University at this rate?!’
University was still a hundred years from now.
‘How do you expect to get a degree, get a job, get a wife, get a Life!—’
He looked as if he would burst into tears any moment now if he didn’t stop—
‘—how do you expect to amount to any-thing?! To become Some-body, to—‘
It was only a 19! One bloody red nine-teen! Nothing to be working himself up to a stroke over, raising the veins in his neck and head like a goat under a knife!—
‘—look at Dare—the boy has only one parent—no father!—and he does not have more heads than you! Yet the boy forges along! Pulls himself up by the… by the… bootstraps! But you, look at you—two parents, three square meals, and forty large naira a week in your pockets! and all you can muster is NINE. TEEN. PER. CENT!’
‘Do you have any problems with your Maths teacher?’ Mum&Dad asked, later, after Dad had calmed down and Mum had shown interest.
‘Do you have any problems with your mother&father?’ Mr. Mensah asked me, ‘Are they having any problems?’
‘He is a bully,’ I told Mum&Dad. ‘He canes all the time!—uses the cane more than the chalk, more than his head!’
‘My Dad is having an affair,’ I told Mr. Mensah, ‘with a vicar’s wife, his own ex-wife.’
‘That’s because you don’t know Maths, that’s why he canes you!’ said Dad. But Mum, ‘Nooo… he shouldn’t beat the children; it puts too much pressure on them and—‘
‘Your father is having an affair with his ex-wife?!’ Mr. Mensah asked, swallowing his spit and sweating on the desk. He looked blacker than last year. He always looked blacker whenever the sun was shining hard. Black as night! As the blackboard… With white chalk eyes gleaming through the darkness of his face. And butter yellow teeth…
Our New General Mathematics that year was brown. Like chocolate. No, shit-brown! Next year it would be blue. Sweet. But Mr. Mensah said if I didn’t pass Maths there would be no next year for me.
—Or University, Dad added…
But it had been established on both sides that there were problems—Mr. Mensah was a bully on one side, and Dad was having an affair with his own ex-wife on the other—so when I got a red 21 in Maths the next term and my future went black as Mr. Mensah, Mum filled her eyes with soft tears and went to wash Mr. Mensah’s dirty feet.
He looked at her sad and couldn’t hold it in any longer. He told her—Dad should stop his affair with his ex-wife so that my Maths would stop seeing red.
Mum stopped crying.
That was how our life stopped. And went black.
ad please come and rescue me out of this place, I wrote, in the first letter I wrote to Dad, Dare’s mum raises roaches for a living!
I didn’t care if she was his sister; I just wanted to go back home! And it was his stupid fault we were here in the mad midst of all these cockroaches in the first place; if he hadn’t been sleeping around with his ex-wife I would have still been sleeping in my own nice, warm bed at home, in my room; not in this Dare’s room where a luscious fat-bottomed cockroach could emerge from somewhere, strut across the room, leisurely, languidly, like a bloody veteran street-prostitute, and nobody would dare touch her or even make a tiny pass at her; or another one would just climb into bed with you, while you were sleeping, caressing you everywhere like a lover or kissing you all over the face like some maniac groupie, then you would wake up screaming BLOODOFJESUS hot and everybody—Dare, his mum, your Mum and the cockroach—would be staring at you as if you were the devil naked.
The brown bastards, they just stroll about the place as if they own the house! Just strolling, and sight-seeing about like bloody tourists in summer. Dad, there is not a place in this godforsaken house that they’re not in—they’re in the bathroom sitting on frontrow windowsills watching your body; they sit on the edges of your shit, brown as it, watching your ass with morose concentration; they’re sleeping in your pockets and schoolbags (I had left my bag in Dare’s house for months before that Monday when a squad of cockroaches marched out of it and attacked the class); they’re even in the fridge! Yes, I tell you, they are!—in the cold fridge and the warm one! The cold fridge is the living one; it breathes and groans, and whines when you open it; I don’t know how the roaches in it survive! The warm fridge is the dead one—it does not work; it died many years ago; now it just holds the cadavers of long dead musicians—Rex Lawson, Bobby Benson, I.K Dairo, Fela, Bob Marley—empty record sleeves; corpses, empty of their souls, their sounds—the only sounds in that fridge are the scurrying and gossipings of cockroaches… Sometimes even, Dad, there is the occasional roach in the stewpot, dead! Dare just picks it out, licks it clean and throws it away…
Please when can we come back home? I want to go to University. Please let me come back! Give me a litmus test—I will turn my red marks into blue ones, I promise. I don’t care if you marry your ex-wife again; just let me come back! I don’t care if you sleep with the vicar’s wife, or the pope’s wife, or the pope himself, just let me sleep in my own bed again. Please! Mum won’t let me come; you have to come and get me yourself! Before I die. These roaches are killing me.