by Joseph Chimezie.
I watched my Mum pack my clothes, my best clothes especially, slowly and well folded. One by one, she put them inside the box she had bought for me the previous day.
“Don’t just stand there, dress up! ”
“But, Mom, is it necessary I leave? ”
“You have been given enough chances. First chance, second chance, and I don’t have my patience with me anymore. Are you ever going to change? ”
“It is not my fault, I am handsome and I did not create myself”
“No. You didn’t. But, what about your senses? What about your conscience? What about you? We make things happen for ourselves, we decide what we want too. We learn how to seize our day, Kenem”
My Mum and I talked, no argued, for some minutes before we entered her car.
I had lost my dad two years ago, the year I completed my secondary education. He died of cancer. My Mum told me it was lymphoma. My mum was already tired of me, my life and the problems that have accompanied my birth. A constant headache was what she described me as to Mrs. Ugwu, her best friend. That day, Mrs. Ugwu had visited us. She does that every Friday. Sometimes, I wondered if she was that jobless. My mum only visited her occasionally. But, then, I remembered how “matured and well behaved ” her children were.
I was going to Eziama, my mum’s hometown in Imo state. I was going to stay with her father, a man I have seen just three times. The last time I saw him was during the last Easter celebration. I have never liked him. No, I don’t like old people. My greatest fear was growing old and having a wrinkled face. I told myself I won’t get a mirror when I am old, just so I won’t see how ugly I look. Old people are ugly.
I sat on the owner’s seat. I enjoyed seeing my mum act as my driver. She would ask me, every now and then, if I wanted to pee, eat, come out for fresh air, and what not. My mum was scared of me becoming the kind of person my father, her husband, was. A flirt. And a drunk too. She so much saw him in me. But, an apple never falls far from its tree. I flirted like it was a lifestyle. There was a time I lost count of the number of girlfriends I had.
Tola, the willowy girl who lived two streets before ours, always passed the front of our compound. There, in front of our compound – me and my friends, Nedum and Somto, would sit discussing everything our eyes saw.
“Kenem, I swear you can’t court this girl. She is not like other girls you can win easily” Nedum said, pointing one of his long fingers to show me Tola.
“Put your finger down. Must you behave like a child? ” Somto reacted, dragging Nedum’s right hand down.
Tola was not the most beautiful girl in our estate. In the classical way, she was not the prettiest. She was not particularly the masterpiece of the gods. No glowing skin, her eyes were as normal as Somto’s. Her crimson gown looked a little rough and her unplaited was just packed with an elastic band. Some said she had this kind of beauty called The Understated Beauty. Others said, her prettiness was even unknown to her. While I was not among the two school of thoughts, I saw in her, a lady whose ebony skin was flawless. In all, she was not that perfect picture every artist will die to paint. But, her ordinariness was orgasm itself. She was still stunning even in her ordinariness. She was the perfect example of one possessing inner beauty. Not that she was unsightly. There was just something about her that rendered her irresistible to the opposite gender.
I rose up, dusted the back of my newly purchased jean trouser, straightened the front, and walked towards her direction. I heard, behind me, Nedum and Somto placing a wager. I trusted Somto to bet I would win over her. Nedum used to be my competitor in the game before he became a companion so I knew he would be against me.
I know how to play my games very well. I also know my magic wand. My smile. Any heart would melt when I smile, especially when it reveals my upper gap tooth. This, and my girlish voice, Tola fell for. I would go back to my friends with her number finding a place in my contact book.
I saw Nedum’s face. The smile he wore on his face slowly straightened into a clueless stare. He couldn’t believe it. I opened my arms to welcome Somto, who stood to hug me. Was it congratulations or thank you for winning him money?
“How did you do it, Kenem? ”
“Well, Nedum, let’s just say I know how to play my games ”
“No, teach me ”
“I’ll teach you, but, you’ll allow me go for your sister ”
“Forget it then ” Nedum said, leaving angrily. He walked very fast without looking back to see us laughing at him. I had an eye on Chinasa, his sister. But, I will only court her on his permission. Nedum was hot tempered and once a volcano of fury is birthed in him, he is capable of anything.
I stopped calling, texting or seeing Tola three weeks after we became friends. The first and only time she came to my house, we had sex. Not the wild sex, just the teen’s sex. Mum was at the office that afternoon. The pictures of how her heart-shaped lips pressed against mine, of our tongues kept competing which would stay top of each other, of how she pushed me to my bed, of how she removed her wears – scarf, blouse, skirt, and these pictures were still vivid. The pictures kept playing inside my head. Anytime I see her, it was the Tola I had sex with I saw. I didn’t see her, I saw her naked self, her moaning self and the slut in her. It was stupid of me. In matters of love and relationship, I was wet behind the ears. I was immature too, if not, why did I avoid her? I kept avoiding her till she became a thing of my past and “one of those girls I used”. Mum got to know, I suspected Mama Abike. Mama Abike was the compound’s gossip, everyone hated her for the garrulous she was. Mum scolded me, threatened to send me somewhere, but gave me a second chance too after I promised to change. If only she knew the change I was talking about.
I never loved Tola. I only wanted to show my friends I was capable of anything. I slowly made this a habit. Initially, it was my friends telling me I couldn’t do this, it came to a point where I was the one telling them I could do that. How I feigned my feelings to make them believe I actually loved them, scares me even. Was it my gift to be crafty or I only approached gullible girls? As long as it was working, I cared less.
I met Uju, a girl who sells for her mother, at the market. I went to get foodstuffs, Mum was to prepare fried rice that morning. Uju was beautifully dimpled. Her big eyes suited her fat cheeks. She was a light skinned goddess. The midnight-black weavon on her, flowed over her clothed shoulders. Her saccharine sweet lips, which looked blossom soft, pouted as though they were calling for a kiss. Her winning personality was what made me spend all the money, including the one I had reserved for the London Derby Match which was scheduled for 4 pm. But, all was not lost as I left the market with her name, number and address. I promised to visit, only that I didn’t say when.
I planned to visit Uju next day. I didn’t tell her. I wanted it to be a surprise visit.
It took the bike man only five minutes to get me to Beggar’s street yet, he collected 200 naira from me. I felt extorted but my desire to Uju drowned that feeling.
Beggar’s street was truly a Beggar’s street. It was the dirtiest street I’ve walked on. Is this really her street? I asked myself as I walked fearfully. The street was busy, very busy, accommodating beggars at both ends. The beggars sat almost inside the gutters, stretching their leprosy -infected hands, so money could fall on them. The street was straight, very straight. Its straightness could be likened to that of a raw spaghetti or the straight lines professional architect produce. The street lights were non-functional, children played nakedly around its poles. Some were on clothes, others wore just pants. They were so comfortable, so happy even. They were conquerors. I wouldn’t survive in Beggar’s street.
I described Uju to one of them and he pointed her compound saying,
“Aunty yellow dey stay there. Go upstairs, climb the steps well o, the first door by your right na e be her house”
I was so impressed with the description, I had to grease him palms with a neat 100 naira note.
“Brother, thank you o. God go bless you well well” He said, running towards a nearby store with his colleagues giving him an equally hot chase.
I loved their simplicity. It was contagious. I envied them too.
I got to Uju’s compound, the road to her room was oppressively dark. It was just 2 pm, and it was that dark. I wondered how it would melt into clouds of darkness by evening. With the aid of my phone’s torchlight, I located her room, her parent’s room I came to discover.
“Who dey there? ”
“Errmm.. I.. Sorry.. It is.. Errr.. Kenem. Yes, Kenem ”
“Who be that one? Who you dey find sef ”
“I came in search of my friend, Uju ”
“She and her friend go buy something. Wait for them for balcony”
“Okay, thank you MA ”
It was her Mother. How did I forget to greet her?
I waited at the balcony, it was scary. I thought I would fall even with the protection.
“ Kenem! You didn’t tell me you’re coming today” A voice yelled in excitement, with the person tapping me at the back.
“I am sorry. I…. ”
“ Uju, see the guy I was telling you about. See his fine pictures, notice his open tooth too ” Bolu cut in, holding a phone she was going to show Uju.
Trouble! Bolu was a girl I told “I love you ” just last week at the swimming pool. To her friend, Uju, I had texted her same words few hours ago which she replied.
Voices combined to form noise while I was trying to explain. Bolu landed on my chin, a confusing slap while Uju gave me a destiny changing slap. In no time, I was on the ground. It was Mama Uju who stopped the nuisance. She would clean me up and take me home that day.
“Your son is too young for this wayward life o ” Mama Uju advised, dragging down her left ears with her two fingers.
“Thank you madam, I will talk to him. God bless you” My Mum replied, looking at her red-painted fingers in embarrassment.
Bold writings of shame were all over her. I failed her again. This was my change. I won’t bring girls to the house, but I would go see them at theirs.
The next day, while coming from work, Mum bought a box. A travelling box for me.
Hours later, I would know I was on my way to Eziama. I was going to stay with my octogenarian grandfather. My grandmother was late. She died four months after my father had died. I saw her just twice.
We left Lagos for Eziama by 10 am. We arrived at our destination exactly 6 pm. We parked somewhere close to my grandparent’s house and walked. The road was rough and unsafe for cars to travel on it. It had been a boring ride with my Mum. I would miss Nedum and Somto. I didn’t tell them I was leaving. I was unaware too.
At Eziama, the paths to any house was muddy with grasses at either sides. I saw the girls, pretty girls, look at me and threw winks. They greeted my mum as each of them, holding a fetching pot, passed. I guessed they were heading to the stream. More and more girls walked majestically past us, each dropping greetings to my Mum and winks to me. My mum had said this would be my new heaven. She had said it would change me and make me a better person.
But, with these girls I see, the girls who were already throwing flirty winks, I just hope my Mum was correct. I pray Eziama be my heaven, my supposed heaven. Lastly, I pray I don’t father a boy or a girl anytime soon.