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Now, enjoy this short Christmas Eve story.
First Published on The Naked Convos as Army of One
There is nothing special about the night. Not even with Christmas in the air. The darkness is pregnant with all sorts of vermin and I stand by idly, watching as they swarm towards the open football field, drawn by the music of the piper, some hungry-looking DJ with a cone head.
Leaning on an electric pole I observe the scene with no real interest. My mind is flooded with many worries. I’m a man tired of life.
My fingers dip in my pocket and caress a lone two hundred naira note. It is all I have in this world in the way of savings. Yet I can’t spend it. I stop caressing the note and decide to push my hunger a few hours more. Tomorrow is Christmas. A neighbor is bound to extend kindness to me.
I sigh in frustration. I’ve been here in this slum for seven months, alone and struggling. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Graduate that I am, I planned my life well but I’ve been screwed over. The streets are mean. Maybe if I had just listened to my brothers that night and not walked out on them…
Maybe I should just go back home.
But I can hear Ikenna’s thick Igbotic tone, laughing at me as I walk in through the door.
“Nna, wetin happen na? You don come back?” he’ll mock and throw his dirty feet on the center table. Mazi and Tony will join him in laughter as well; even Kene with his baritone will chip a few wisecracks—all of them high on the alcohol they take as food after every close of day. I’ll be the object of their amusement for a while and then they’ll find something else to laugh about, ignoring the stink of their bodies after the long hours they spent in that sea of human stench called Balogun Market. They’ll pretend they don’t know the kitchen sink is swarming with maggots from dishes left there for almost five days. The toilet, the bathroom, their bedrooms, the entire house all left in a similar state would be ignored. They’d rather drink and talk about women and how they screw them. Then halfway someone says something about someone else’s woman and how she’s a slut and how he’s had her and the cheer of the evening is lost. Words are spoken to emasculate, insults are voiced, a bottle or two is smashed, fists are finally thrown and someone goes to bed in bruises while I stay back in the parlor to clear the mess.
No, I’d rather be here on these streets with its vermin and cone head music. My brothers would kill themselves soon enough. After sleeping with each other’s women and squandering their hard-earned cash on booze and gambling, they’ll lose it all and come back here. It used to be home once. We all lived in one tiny bamboo room we shared with rats and roaches. There was no money, no women. We walked hard and played harder and no one dared mess with us. We were a terror in the area, especially to the Isakaba boys. Now I am left to face them alone.
I know it is me some bastard nearby is calling. I pretend not to hear. There’s a girl twerking, her backside turned to me but her face lost to a crazy crowd that has now covered half of the football field. It’s a banging Christmas Eve party. The girl twerks harder. Her backside is not a bad sight but it’s not as good as my Tinuke’s.
Tinuke… Classy, educated, graceful, tough, authentic wife material. God forgive me for what I’ve done to her. I pray she finds a better guy. She is too much for a scum like me to handle.
“Omo Igbo!” The bastard’s voice is louder. I still ignore him but from the corner of my eye I see a yellow bandana approaching me. It is the insignia of the Isakaba boys. I sense trouble and before I move an inch, a heavy fist connects with my face.
My head is thrown back. And as if to applaud my attacker, the crowd cheers. But they’re excited only because cone-head begins to play Skelewu.
I’m back on balance to face my attacker but I find he’s not alone. There are three others with him, all of them brandishing their insignia. They are out for blood and in a flash, they pounce on me with kicks and blows of cowards. A foot to my stomach, another to my face, a baby-punch on my cheek, a tear in my t-shirt, sand shoved into my mouth…
Okay, this is getting annoying. I just need to get one of these fools and teach him a lesson in real fighting.
“O to nbe!” A voice stops them and they obey instantly. I cough out a mouthful of sand and look up at my savior. It’s the king of boys in the area. A don more powerful than all the rats that head the different ghetto gangs. One of the Isakaba boys hurries to him and they go into a dialogue in Yoruba. I catch a few words. The boy says I like showing myself too much and they want to put me in my place. The king of boys does not stop them; in fact, he wants a good show. I can see excitement in his eyes the way he sizes me up as he wonders out loud if I can fight like my brothers. He tells them to take me one by one.
So my first attacker comes. I rise up to face him, ignoring the sting from the bruises inflicted on me. He charges forward. I am motionless. He is aiming for the basic knock-down-to-the-ground move. But as he comes to me full force, I lift my fist in the air and slam it into his face. The power of the punch lifts his thin frame and lands him flat on the ground.
I waste no time with him as I see the next guy coming to me. This one is heavier set and taller. Learning from his friend, he doesn’t charge at me. But I do. Element of surprise. His ribs get a heavy blow and for good measure I jam an elbow into his chest, followed by the classic kick in the nuts. All in quick succession. He is crouched over.
I turn to the other two. They are both hesitant to approach me but for fear of being shamed by the small crowd sipping from the party and surrounding us, one of them begins a martial art circling around me, daring me to come to him.
Oh, but I do. My steps towards him are quick and bullish like Incredible Hulk leaping towards a weaker opponent. He dodges to the left but I follow him and grab his neck in a tight choke. He kicks me, his arms flailing in the air but I squeeze tighter. I won’t stop until he gives up trying to fight me.
I feel a certain power take over me. This is so easy. People around us are thrilled by the show. I am smiling…
Then from nowhere something lands hard on my head. It is heavy and has an immediate effect on me. My muscles weaken and I see myself falling to the ground. In seconds, all my attackers are on me again. There’s more anger this time and I see a stick or two raised in the air over me. My vision becomes blurry after that. My eyes sting as blood rushes into them. I can’t fight back. I clutch the air. The music from the party slows in my ears.
I shut my eyes.
But I’m still awake. I faintly hear a ruckus around me. I fear the fighting has escalated. I hope this doesn’t end up in another tribal gang war. I try to open my eyes but I can’t.
Everything goes black.
It is Tony’s voice I hear first, followed by Ikenna’s mocking laughter. They are recalling a fight and how they beat some guys senseless. I open my eyes but I still can’t see clearly. Tony is before me in animated movements reliving the moment when he threw a series of punches into someone’s face. As he tells of how the person passed out while he was still assaulting him, voices around me go up in laughter.
I smile. I’m surrounded by my brothers again. It’s a somewhat good feeling being home. Ikenna is attending to the cut at the back of my head. He’s the expert in treating injuries and I feel no pain from his hand. Their stories continue and it is only when I hear the words ‘Isakaba’ four times that it registers in me that my brothers had actually charged in on my attackers and caused a small riot back at the slum.
I want to ask them how they knew I was in trouble but I can’t speak. I rely on my eyes which can see a lot better now. I notice the parlor is clean. The tiled floors are sparkling, the curtains have been changed and the walls repainted.
I’m not sure I’m in the right house. Everything has changed. Something is amiss…
And then she comes into view and it all makes sense.
My Tinuke. Dressed like the angel she is. My stomach flutters as she stares into my eyes. She is holding her tummy and I can see it’s swollen. So she wasn’t lying when she told me she was pregnant. I feel like shit. How could I have abandoned her when she needed me most?
I try on a smile but she doesn’t smile back. I’m ignored. She’s speaking to my brothers in her tiny voice, trying to get their attention. But they are still loud. No one can hear her. She looks frustrated. I want to get Tony’s attention but my hands can’t move. She’s screaming now. Still no one hears her. Then she lowers herself a little, picks up an empty beer bottle off the floor and smashes it on the wall behind her and they all stop.
She smiles and exhales. “I’m in labor.”
My brothers are silent until she screams out in pain. Ikenna stops attending to me and issues orders. Mazi is to get Tinuke’s packed bag, Kene the car key and Tony the money Ikenna has hidden in his mattress. I’m amused. I haven’t seen them so tamed since our mother was alive as they scramble around.
Maybe this will be a good Christmas after all. With my child on the way and the people I love most…
A bottle flies past me and lands on the floor behind the couch I’m sprawled on. I turn slowly to Tinuke. She has fire in her eyes.
“Oloribu! Get out of that chair!”
Merry Christmas, everyone! Play safe!