“Jesus!” I shouted, and rolled till I fell out of the bed, gritted my teeth and shut my eyes. But no way, the pain was still there, so I stood rubbing my left butt, then scratching it.
There are two things that I like about this holiday. One of it is the fact that I had the whole of the day to myself; so, I could watch films, write, and read at will. I could spend more than twelve hours on myself, and on actual clothing, rather than the white and black uniform I wore to school. The other was the free will to rest after such tireless work (it’s really hard to keep your eyes open and watch people moving around on a screen for more than two hours, whether you like it or not). And now my mother was infringing that peace.
“Before she will hang herself and her generation, let me go.” Outside my room, I slipped my legs into my Dunlop’s.
The gate was open in our front yard and there was a petite lorry sputtering and shaking and reversing into the compound, blue smoke everywhere. It carried white fat bags and when it stopped, two men jumped down and headed to the back.
My mother said into her phone, “Uche gi dikwa ya o, let your mind be there,” and lowered it.
They unlocked a bolt that flattened the pickup bed and one hopped on and started pushing and rolling down the bags with the other catching and throwing it aside. When they were done the one on top dusted his hands, jumped down, and bolted back the pickup bed. They both dusted their hands this time, and walked to my mother, grinning from ear to ear. She also walked toward them, in a swagger, smiling.
“Where is the thing?” she asked.
“Nee the garri eba, see the garri here.” The man who had climbed the pickup bed separated a yellow bag from the group piled up in the corner. The other rubbed his hand and said, “Ahhhh!”
My mother laughed. “It is not very big.”
The men looked at each other sharply and began to chuckle. This changed into muffled laughter before becoming full-fledged. The one who’d climbed the pick-up bed, who sat at the passenger seat, said, “Interesting.” Two of them started laughing again.
“O diro… there is a way I wanted it to be.”
“Like this house,” said the one who had driven, sizing our house by raising his two hands above his head.
My mother shook her head slowly as they laughed. She told me to go and bring pen and paper. When I returned, they were putting all the white bags on a scale one by one. When they finished, sweating, they looked at the garri bag simultaneously, then smiling, raised it and put on the scale.
“Jesus, you will destroy it oo. These people. What is it now?”
Slowly, they brought it down, the drivers face slacked in contrition. “We wanted to scale it now.” His side smile became wider than ever. “Just to see whether this one will be enough for you and your whole house…” He eyed me. “And the tall, lanky boy here.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. Lanky. Unusual word for his appearance.
“Do you eat three times a day?” He kicked the garri. “This one is for you.”
“He eats. O just nature ya. He’s still growing.”
“O no na uni?”
The other too was smiling at me. My mother calculated something with them while they separated the bags, one by one, counting them, always writing something each time they separated one bag from the rest. She turned to me after a little pause. “Bring my other phone, or your own, let’s calculate this thing.”
I returned with my phone, and they continued separating the bags, then calculated it, and my mother said she was going to change so she’ll follow them out. The two men sat on the curb.
I greeted, “Good morning,” and the one who had driven looked up.
“Young boy, how far.”
He was petit, with a bony face and angular body, but with muscles bulging in those arms. The other, who was scratching himself, and hoping aloud that the mosquitoes couldn’t do transfer too, was sickly looking, black like he was a smoker (God knows he had to be), with a head so thin it looked plugged into his body.
The driver looked at me then looked away. Those words. Uni. Lanky. My brother who has sworn by his blood (he literary did, there was a time he injured himself and said “This, is the blood I’m swearing by,” then pressed the wound till it dropped), that he would work in the USA, said in an argument I had with him—after he was resting that afternoon since reading from five in the morning till then—that Nigeria actually has experts, but the northern monarchy, has decided that, one: their expertise would be wasted or gravely underutilized if spent in other parts of the country—especially the east, two: that their expertise would also be underutilized if spent in the north because of the pervading air of complacency there, and three: that in general, their expertise would be useless here so the only option they have is to go abroad.
These men were among the hopeless lot who couldn’t go abroad, and so started petty businesses here and there; not on part-time basis, but just to eat. I could see not just education, but a very well finished living from their eyes. A youthful exuberance; a sudden leap at the moon that was burning out.
The driver scratched his head. “China has tried. They go give them medal when this one finish.”
“Them go make them first world country,” his partner said. “Them go host Olympics next year.”
“This corona is small self, the type of hunger virus that is happening now to Nigerians, eh?”
His partner shook his head and sighed.
“My guy”—he looked at me—“they said that Dangote donated billions of naira to fight COVID-19 in Nigeria, and coach Pep Guardiola donated 1 million dollars to fight coronavirus in his country. Which place do you think they will loot the money?”
“Spain,” his partner said.
I held back my laugher by tucking in my lips and lowering my head.
“My dear oo,” the driver said, “human heart is wicked.”
The driver flicked away an ant crawling up his faded jeans and swatted at a housefly. This wasn’t so much as faded as his partners own, which looked almost white from blue, and the tough threads that held the trousers together were sticking out. Their singlets, however, were withered; the straps looking hung on their shoulders.
“Like Onitsha now… the people in Onitsha are calling Ebonyi people to bring for them rice.”
“Not all of them, shaa,” I said.
“Which one is not all of them… ok, you may say that most—sorry—those Anambra men that have big businesses and stakes in the market are resting with their family.”
Resting is the right word.
“But what about the market women, the sales boys, all those types of people?” When he stopped gesticulating with his hands, I noticed his eyes were shimmering with emotion. I said nothing. These are the type of people we need up there. People who have seen hopes and dreams that turned into a mirage of pain. People that have turned into polished lawless miscreants because of lack of choice. People that have a heart.
“Human beings,” my brother would say, “not cattle.”
The other one sighed and made a long, throaty sound.
“Ifu, the kind of hunger wey dey do madu, eh?”
“That one na COVID 20,” his partner said.
“You mean COVID federation?”
His partner’s eyes widened as he raised a hand. “My guy don’t fall o, you’ll soon wound yourself.”
I was doubled over and holding my tummy, laughing, taking steps backwards and trying to hold the car to no avail, my hand was sliding away.
“Hmm, it’s not funny oo,” he said, deliberately looking away. “My brother, if you don’t want the garri we can take it back. Highest we will stop the car and use leg and carry it through the bush to Ebonyi. Which one is lockdown now.”
There was a little silence for a while as I got back my breath.
“Thank God that thing didn’t start in Nigeria, sef,” he said.
“Hia!” I said.
He looked at me and smiled.
“That one na There Was A Country by Chimamanda.”
“Chinua, you dolt.”
“How far that woman, sef,” the driver said. “She dey America, abi?”
“Yes,” I said, my interest spiking up instantly. They were talking about authors.
Two of them looked at themselves and started laughing, squinting their eyes.
“Thank God, sha,” the driver said. “No money for face mask, but las-las we dey.”
“We dey, my brother.”
“How far Donald Trump, na?” He looked at me. Two of them laughed again, this time doubling over.
I turned to my mother coming from the backyard, she said, “How much is it? Sorry, what number?”
“Nigeria is good oo, las-las.”
“My brother. Black blood is good.”
Two of them stood simultaneously, the driver shouted, “Ten point three-three five.” He dusted his trouser like he was spanking himself, turned to me—I spotted a yellow in the white of his teeth—and winked.
About the author:
Each day, Eberechukwu Noble pursues his Bachelor’s Degree in Law at University of Nigeria Enugu Campus and spends an unrecommended amount of time reading about Stephen King on Wikipedia while trying to pen down poetry during the weekends. Each holiday, he’s up early to painfully edit his Science fiction novel and write like a full-time author would.