Chidubem sunk, deeper and deeper into depression, willingly refusing to fight the drown. Everyone irked him; Chidubem tugging at a pupil’s ear for being too loud, Chidubem shouting another pupil silly for being too quiet, Chidubem smacking a little girl at the front row for being too enthusiastic and yet another for asking too much questions, and when the head teacher called to know what was wrong, he would press his teeth together and force air through them, out of his lips to produce a prolonged hiss.
It was exactly twenty-five minutes past one, five minutes to the wrap of school activities in a private school he taught in wait of that imaginary, mega-cash, office luxury job that every Nigerian fresh graduate look forward to––notwithstanding their poor grades––introducing his or herself to. His phone had begun to vibrate atop the wooden rectangular table; beautifully crafted from mahogany and sprayed to a shiny brown finish. It was a call he would later regret he answered. Inasmuch as the school banned use of phones during school hours, teachers approached this law with apathy, punching their keypads when the air was safe to do so. (All dogs eat shit, the one that forgot to clean its mouth throws itself open to be jeered.) The continued flicker of the screen and resonating vibration drew him closer. ‘Hello’ he said, not sparing a glance on the name on the screen, in haste to answer and drop before he was caught.
“Ehen! If you close, come straight to the shop, I have a meeting to attend.”
The connection died the moment the message was delivered. He was tempted to slam the phone on the ground. His father had called––when his mind was set on running home to pen down the story flirting with his mind, story whose chapters floated and was certain to diffuse out anytime. The story came to his head the previous night. His crime, now, was sleeping with her. When he woke up, the original version was gone. What remained was a distorted version at the brink of leaving too. That twittering husky voice he just heard and its message resounded, yet, he tried not to read meaning out of them. Going to the shop would stall his already severally stalled plan put off every time for same reason; the shop. A biker halted in front of him.
“Where you dey go?” the biker asked
“Ikeja Street. How much?”
“One-fifty!” he said, adjusting his tie. His pure black cotton suit was without a crease––like he was coming from a seminar––and he spoke without looking at Chidubem.
“How much last?”––Chidubem was not the one to buy a day’s fuel for the biker.
The biker drove off without a word––dressing like a banker when you are actually a biker was a brilliant way to dignify labour, Chidubem too admired that––which probably would have called in a bargain till an agreement was reached. Not long, another biker came by, a man with evenly distributed grey hairs and a face full of smiles. His dressing of a i-was-white polo shirt with a blue calligraphy (Block Rosary Crusade Annual National Conference 1999)––bound within its circumference, a hierographic drawing of a dove––and an oversized black plain trouser contradicted his smiley face. His appearance wore the look of a man who had gone through sustained forty something years of bout with a harsh economy and obviously wasn’t winning. (This was two thousand and fourteen and he still retained a polo shirt dated nineteen ninety nine.) His black Jincheng motor bike was aged too.
“Where are you going sir?” he said, his English more polished than Chidubem had expected. Chidubem was a little flattered yet ashamed that such an age should address him as ‘sir’.
“Ikeja Street,” Chidubem said, forcing a smile.
Chidubem climbed-on without saying another word. He had immediately unveiled the concealed pain of this man, become robed in compassion, maybe he had no children he thought to himself. He had prepared to pay if the man said one-fifty like the first.
Chidubem was going to open up to his father about his frustration, about no one giving a hoot to what he really wanted; his passion, love for writing––there was so much to be said.
“Good afternoon sir!” he had greeted.
“Good afternoon. Have you people closed for the day?”––nothing can be more annoying than people asking obvious questions.
“Yes.” Chidubem had said flatly and crossed over the wooden counter.
The air was different inside the shop, having not one smell but a blend of aroma––snacks, soaps, air fresheners, deodorants––into a single misplaced damp smell. His head spun from anger. He summoned courage and opened his mouth to speak-out but those tuft of grey hair on his father’s head confused his words––reminded him of wisdom, of toil. Chidubem was plagued by his subtle emotions, always wanting to say things the way it won’t hurt the receiver; bothering more about people’s feelings than his. He searched for words. When they finally came, they were pleading––lacking in the weight he intended.
“I started my life with this shop. You boys have no life outside this shop. You must learn the trade. You are talking of book; how many graduates are without jobs and you’ll be expecting them to read your books. You should be grateful you already have something doing,” his father said and took a brief pause, “I will be back very soon” he said.
He thought, why dad had insisted he come to the shop rather than his younger brother Ekene, who was more or less idle; sitting lacklustre at home, writing and failing UTME––his fourth consecutive attempt this year.
“Wait for me, I won’t stay long,––how ‘long’ can be considered not long?––be very watchful, especially on the goods sampled outside. If anyone of them gets missing, you’ll pay. If there is anything you are unsure of the price, call me to confirm. If you sell below the cost price, you’ll pay me the balance.”
He dished out his instructions in short disjointed sentences. Chidubem looked but rarely paid attention; he had become too broken psychologically, his brain refused to work. Plus, it had become a customary valedictory speech, aired in same words and mannerism every time.
Three hours later, he had not returned. Chidubem’s face had gone through different shades of colours; first yellow, orange, and brick red. Somehow, he had hoped the ‘long’ his father mentioned––his initial solace––won’t be too long to distort his plan. His hope had drained. After another hour, Chidubem sighted his father’s light green Peugeot 504 saloon car pull over at the other side of the road, opposite the shop. He crossed into the shop rasp with his bunch of keys (some keys, years out of use still hung on the ring like they were trophy).
“Good evening sir” Chidubem had forced through his clenched teeth rather than said.
“Mhmm” he replied and said nothing more.
He seemed to have sensed the gloom in Chidubem’s tone––it was written over his face––and acted with grey hair, he too was a very sensitive man. Like he does on similar situations, he would crack a joke which sometimes lack humour in context and laugh to it. Chidubem would laugh and laugh, not for his jokes but from watching him laugh a buoyant hearty laugh. This time, Chidubem failed to move a chin muscle. His father gave up and handed him a transport fare, ‘take it and go home,’ he said.
“Good evening ma,” Chidubem said on sighting his mother come out of the kitchen into the dining to pick something from the fridge.
“Evening my son. Are you back?”––another see-but-ask-anyway question.
“Remove your clothe and eat fast. There is a money I want you to take to Aunty Eby, the tailor opposite NKST Primary School. Hurry up before she closes for the day.”
“Is Ekene not at home?”
“He is. You know how your brother behaves; I didn’t want to talk too much.”
It seemed everyone knew about his fragile emotions and exploited it; they overused him, a dictionary, for his lack of the word NO. He dragged his sturdy calves into his room. Minutes later, he emerged with a jotter and a pen and floated out of the house. Unnoticed. He ran and ran, a race with no set destination, just on and on into the heart of flourishing spear grasses. He stopped at a deserted half-built flat and shut his eyes. Tears welled freely down his chin.
For the first time, from his adolescence, he refused to think; to think of consequences, of his mother becoming angry. Refused to be subdued by his rippling emotions. He had probably gone bananas he thought, driven by anger––anger for who?–– but was it really anger? Or was it an outburst of a suppressed desire to write, with a manifestation slightly tilted to lunacy?
Anger couldn’t possibly upsurge from Chekwube, “my perfect bride, the mannequin for sampling beautiful ladies” he often teased her. Chekwube, a teen flush with the innate qualities of a last born; plump and cheeky with exaggerated ego of one that never met lack, and selected spots to leave her footprints when she walked. There was a day a girl from her class tailed her home to pour out her distaste for what she called ‘Chekwube’s spiteful tongue’. Chidubem had made sure the young girl got more in the end, lambasted her as an after school loiterer.
Ekene was troublesome in some ways, ever ready to start up a fight with Chidubem. It wasn’t a fight born from hate but that of a volatile display of youthful strength that suspended on a thread between love and hate, often swayed to either sides but never failed to maintain its original position. Such relationship that easily setoff an onlooker, agog, to conclude wrongly. Their mother never made matters easier when they fought. Last week, Ekene started a fight; one hinged on being cheated in the sharing of a piece of meat.
“Mummy! Ekene has started again o.” Chidubem lamented to their mother whose myopic eyes were fixated on a devotional book. His words had been pleading in content and melodic in sound, intoned to buy him support.
“What is it this time?”
“Ekene hit me saying I didn’t share the meat equal. If not for you, I would have given him a black eye today.”
His mother had sighed audibly, “please don’t hurt him; you people should learn to manage him. He is your brother. We cannot discard him.”
Her judgement had burned more than Ekene’s endless strife. She had become too pious a Christian––Christ in every nature––to avoid a direct judgement, passing judgements like Jesus Christ: Jesus telling a man, “Strive to enter by the narrow door for many will try but will not succeed”. Jesus telling the Pharisees, “pay therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar, and pay to God the things that are due to God”. Jesus telling the Scribes and Pharisees, “let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”.
Chidubem made a wry face, a mild show of irritation. He loved his mother. She was one person that stood by him in his chosen career. She nudged him on to express his passion, ‘Chy’m! Have you written that wonderful story you told me the other night?’ she would often say.
His father, often too demanding or rather domineering and opinionated still knew how to bribe his way into Chidubem’s heart and off every of his child’s hate. “Chidubem, take this money and buy yourself new clothes. This one you put on today is so faded. It looks like something inherited from your grandfather” he had said, laughed his buoyant laugh––which also made Chidubem to laugh––and handed him five crisp notes of one thousand naira denomination.
The anger couldn’t also be from Jekwu, his elder brother. The same guy he would taunt into agreeing to play one last game, that unending last game, even after haven sworn to their previous game as his last and the one before that and the one before the before, “I swear! This is the last time I will play game with you”. Chidubem always made losing monstrous. He would analyse every goal to a boring detail, “did you see the distance Eto’o fired that shot from? Hazard just curled it in. What a powerful header. Sweet, sweet goal!” He also allowed the replays to stretch to nerve aching point. These were the cause of Jekwu’s numerous swears.
Chidubem opened his eyes, lifted himself to sit on the window panel, his jotter rested on his laps and pen in-between fingers; ready to graze the blank pages of his jotter. His eyes strayed forward and fell on a stream; a small body of water the loamy soil held up, drained gradually through a winding course jealously guarded by lush vegetation. The sight of the stream flooded his mind, flooded it with thoughts. Words came too easily and he let them flow through his fingers unto the sheet.
The field is green, the dizzy sun painting the sky orange. The air alive with oxygen coated with the smell of humus. I am alone, driven into madness by a passion to write. The words to express myself are there. I feel the words within my grasp but am overweight to reach for it; overweight from family idea collision, overweight by my own emotions.
He had written a page and re-read it before the full weight of his own writing occurred to him. He was angry at himself all along. He sighed, of relief. One more page it would be before he’d head home. “Mummy! am sorry for not running that errand” he would say. Mummy would forgive, that he was sure. She was bound by her religion to do so. Running away from home would soon become, to him, a newly acquired habit, a plasmid that he’ll incorporate into his gene.
The long wait is itchy, you visualise more yet, less in actions. It is characterised by a gloomy affection towards everyone but if one sits for an unbiased assessment, it is easy to discover that it is an anger sprout from oneself towards oneself for not doing what one is so passionate about doing.