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NIGHTS OF THE CREAKING BED…part II

In ANYTHING on October 28, 2011 at 8:30 am

I never met my father.

By the time I was old enough to recognise faces and tell one from the other my father had disappeared wherever vagabond husbands and vagrant fathers fade into. He was gone and my mother had wiped him off her mind.

She never spoke of him. She kept no pictures, no keep-sakes to remember him by. I was the only reminder that there had been such a man in her life.

People who say absence makes the heart fonder never knew the kind of absence I knew. It was absolute. One that did not seem to exist because the presence that had been looked vaguer than the absence I lived with. I know nothing about my father. And I can’t tell whether the bed used to creak when he went in with my mother!

* * * *

We lived at No. 56 for so many years that I came to see it as home and even after we moved, because my mother couldn’t stand the crowd of memories that assailed her, I came to see the other places we lived in as strange abodes. I felt and continue to feel like an alien in a foreign land: a radicle in search of its own clump of earth.

No 56 was large and like all big houses had it s fair share of gossips. We lived in front, in a two bedroom flat. A tenement building stretched out behind us like a tail.

Everyone saw us; Meze, my mother and I as the rich ones. We were the ones who had a garage and could park a car if we bought one. We were the ones who never missed school because of unpaid fees and we were the ones who always had light when others didn’t because we could afford to pay our NEPA bills on time.

Our neighbours had conceived a perfect life for us, one that was free from want or lack. They knew the truth had a different face but the over-bearing misery of their own lives had blinded them to that other reality. So, to explain it away and bear up under the burden of their own lack and want they concocted a lie which served as a palliative for what ailed them.

But it was a fragile reality. One that came crashing the moment we stepped out of line or deigned to live as citizens of that world they said we belonged to.

Unsheathing their tongues they would flagellate us with verbal strokes that left lasting scars.

Their anger, like Jehovah‘s rage kindled at the enemies of the Jews, burned against us at long intervals because linked closely to their awe was an incipient fear peculiar to all poor people, that sense of dread that leaves you feeling naked because you have nothing.

Then one day a neighbour’s wife had unsheathed her tongue and told my mother things that made her quake.

Her child had taken ill at a bad time (not that there is a good time for falling sick). Doctors were on strike, which meant that government hospitals were shut.

The lab diagnosed typhoid fever and the doctor at the private clinic demanded a deposit of two thousand naira. It was evening and rushing home from the hospital it was our door she knocked on first.

“Your mama, nko?” She asked.

“She’s not back from the shop,” I said and she had sighed, a drawn out expiration of air that seemed to drain the life out of her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked watching the tears escape her lids and slither down her face. “No worry,” she said and turned.

By the time my mother came in, her trip round the fourteen rooms in the compound had dredged up a miserly five hundred and twenty – four naira. She needed more if her child was to live.

Then my mother came back laden with provisions and food stuff.

Her plea was desperate and when my mother said she had no money her eyes had turned to blazing coals rescued from a smithy.

“My son dey for hospital. If I no carry dis money go, the boy go die. Abeg, help me.”

“Mama Chisco, I have no money on me. I have just finished shopping. I have only two hundred naira left.” My mother explained but her words only served to fan the embers of our neighbour’s desperation.

“Abeg, Mama Andrew. I take God beg you, save my pikin.” The woman cried.

“I can’t. I have no money, true.”

As we watched a change came over Mama Chisco. She took a step backwards. She dabbed at her eyes and then she loosened her tongue and spoke words that sent sharp darts into my heart and almost killed my mother. Words that echoed Damian’s words at the play ground. Words that spoke of old scorn curdled to hate. But it was her final words that packed the most bile.

“Okay, make I ask you one question, wetin you go do if that man wey you dey fuck, if im wife come here come catch you, eh Mama Andy? My pikin dey die and you no wan help me, eh. Why?” The woman wailed and crumpled to the floor.

My mother looked across at me. Our eyes met and I could read fear and desperation and shame in her’s. Then without a single word she walked out of the compound.

She was gone for less than ten minutes and when she returned she gave the woman a wad of naira notes; five thousand naira in all.

Her child survived but she never forgave herself. It took them six months to raise the money but my mother refused it and for years until we left they took to giving me money, small change, at well chosen intervals. They hadn’t become rich, they were merely making expiation for that sin.

And it was from them that I learnt that, some times, the verbal pains we inflict on others can scar us for life.

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