Monday, 15 April 2019

The gearbox of my late dad

At first, I could only see her back. Her dark blue jeans skirt perfectly accentuated her wide hip and small waist as she bent to put the bag of pure water on the ground. She straightened and turned around. I swallowed. Her large, round b-----s were straining at her t-shirt, and they bounced with her every step as she walked away towards her mother, turning a smile in my direction. I walked back to my spot under the tree slowly. My mouth was suddenly dry, and it wasn’t because of the pepper.
She reminded me of Fadeke. It had been a long time since I was attracted to any woman, and I could feel the now-unfamiliar stirrings. Poko and Audu had noticed the look on my face, and I prepared myself for their teasing.
Poko was talking. “That girl fine pieces. Abi wetin you think?”
I grunted and continued eating.
Audu looked at me and snorted. “No dey form like say you no like am. I see as you dey look at am. If you get chance you for like enter her parole.”
“That one no go be today. I want money, and the time wey oga give us make we go chop don almost finish. Make we do commot from here”, I said.
“Oga leave that side. You like the girl or you no like am”?
I could see that he wasn’t going to let go about this. I turned around to face him. “Whether I like her or not is not important. I want to finish work and collect my pay today.”
“All this grammar wey you de blow na for your pocket. E dey show for your face say you like am. If yo u like dey talk Obahiagbon there. She dey look you now sef. Go follow the girl talk. Abi wetin you think Audu?”
“Leave A-zed. When you catch am na when he go start dey blow English for us. You no go dodge this one. We don catch you.”
“Guy free me abeg make we chop dey go. My money concern me pass any girl as I dey now.”
“Heysssssss – TAXI! TAXI!” That is the unmistakable sound of a client interrupting my thoughts. I meander my way out of the traffic and park by the road where a man in an over-sized suit and a carrying a leather bag is beckoning and calling for a cab. I can’t see his face clearly but he looks familiar.
“Yes sir, good evening.” I call to him.
“I’m going to Gbagada.” He says, efficiently.
“Phase 1 or 2 sir?”
“Phase 1” He says.
That’s not far off my route home. Perfect final fare to end the day.
“That’s fine sir, it will cost five thousand naira, sir. Since we will spend almost three hours on the road in this traffic and the AC will consume a significant amount of fuel. I hope you understand sir.”
“Okay.” He replies and slides into the back seat.
“Thank you sir.” I call out, catching his face’s reflection in my rear view mirror. All of a sudden, I begin to sweat.
I know him. I know the man sitting in my taxi, behind me but luckily, he does not know me. I mean, he knows who I am but he has never seen my face before. Thank God!. I try to keep my head low and not speak, but he wants to talk.
“You are very polite and you speak very good English for a taxi driver. What’s your name?”
“They call me Azed, Sir.” I tell him carefully.
She had been ill for a while, but she had made progress when Uncle Mufu brought her to Lagos, and was back on her feet and had returned to Ibadan, even though she was still weak. I talked to her almost every day, and she sounded stronger each morning. Everyone around her testified she almost back to her normal bubbly self. Then she heard the news, and she had a stroke.
When I got the call, I rushed down from Lagos to Ibadan, driving like a mad man and praying all through the journey. I pulled up in front of her house, my heart beating like a crazed drummer. The house was as silent as a cemetery, and my fear increased. There were no children playing in front, no sounds of pots clanging or water running or neighbors quarreling. My feet echoed as I climbed up the stairs and walked along the corridor, fear eating at my belly
“Dem don carry am go hospital.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. The little girl was looking at me from the balcony with something resembling laughter on her face as she saw how startled I was. Her thin gown clung to her chest and I could see the outline of her ribs. I recognized her gaunt, drawn face. It was Lolade, one of the neighbor’s children.
“How are you, Lolade? Which hospital them carry am go?”
“UCH. My mama say make you call am when you reach here. She go tell you.”
“Thank you.” I was already making my way back to the car, fumbling for my phone in my pocket.
I got directions and raced to the hospital, pulling up in a cloud of dust and noise. I ran in to find Lolade’s mum pacing the corridor.
“Doctor say we lucky say we bring am here when we bring am, say she for die.”
Her quivering finger pointed out my mother on a stretcher being wheeled into the ward. She looked very pale and in great pain, and was unconscious. A nurse was beckoning.
“Are you her son?”
I nodded, unable to trust myself to speak.
“She had a stroke, and we fear there’s still a blood clot somewhere in her brain. She would need surgery soon, but we need to stabilize her first. We can’t wait past this week, though. By then it may be too late.”
I shuddered in fear.
“We need you to sign these forms, and go to our accounts department and settle the bills before we can start any treatment. Please pay as quickly as possible, so we can do what we need to do.”
I collected the forms with shaky hands, my Adam’s apple moving up and down as I tried to get saliva past the lump in my throat. The invoice buried among the prescriptions and registration forms made my mouth even drier. I did not have anywhere near the sum quoted there, and I had less than a week to raise the money.
“When I left the nurse, I went outside and thought long and hard. Then I called someone I know I should never have called. I called Akeem.”
The last time I had seen her, she had been wearing a ripped top and an expression of resignation as we walked down a corridor to what we thought was certain death. She had been slimmer then, for sure, and her eyes had more of the sparkle that was youth and vitality, but there was no mistaking she was the same person I was seeing. Her body had matured and rounded and she had more lines around her eyes and mouth and forehead, but it was the same person. I would know her anywhere.
All four heads whirled in my direction with expressions ranging from shock to bafflement. Kassy was half-naked, the upper part of her blouse ripped to shreds and showing off her b-----s, one of which was hanging out of her bra. Her feet were spread and tied to the chair by the ankles. Red eyes and puffed-out cheeks gave away the fact that she had been crying, and the vacant stare in her eyes showed that she was in shock and still trying to come to terms with the effects of the last few minutes. Her mouth dropped open in recognition as our eyes connected, and her head snapped back, clearing her eyes of the shock and restoring alertness and vitality into them. We locked eyes for a few seconds and then she did something none of us was expecting.
She was trashing on the floor, tears mingling with her sweat and the blood from the two wounds on her body, and I find myself feeling sorry for her. She reminded me of my how Mother cried when I was leaving home, and tears poured down my cheeks.
“You, why you dey cry? Come here my friend.”
Austin’s voice was strident. I jumped to my feet.
“Enter kitchen go bring me salt and small eeru. No waste my time, or na you go follow dem.”
I took the lantern and went into the kitchen, my mind in turmoil. I had no idea the escape would pan out this way. Austin was out of control, and I was powerless to stop him. I saw Mother’s face in my mind’s eye, and she didn’t look happy with me. She looked ashamed of me.
I wondered what I could do to end this as I packed up some ash and took a handful of salt, stretching my hand and standing on tiptoe to reach the topmost shelf where the salt was kept. The hot lantern brushed against my side, and I dropped it in pain and shock. It fell against the floor and shattered, and the light went out, plunging me into darkness. The lantern in the parlour was still shining, and I headed towards it, one hand leading the way and the other on the wall to navigate by. My shins and knees bumped obstacles out of the way, and with a final flourish, I turned around the corner of the doorway and into the parlour.
My jaw dropped at the spectacle before me.
There are few things more painful than driving a car with a manual gearbox while your torso, arms and legs were riddled with shotgun pellets. It is the muscular equivalent of pulling teeth without anaesthesia, and by the time I pulled up in front of the house I was going, the chair and floor of the car had been soaked with blood. I dragged myself out of the car, ignoring the protests from my legs and arms and crawl-dragged myself to the door of the house I was going, knocking feebly on the door with my last reserves of energy. The door was opened and after a millisecond of motionlessness, the mouth of the occupant of the room fell open too.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came…here…because you….are the only person I could trust,” I managed to gasp out.
Her voice was both surprised and curious, until she noticed by bloodstained jeans and the pool of blood gathering at her feet.

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