His first experience living in a kingdom — he later discovered — had nothing to do with a kingdom at all; it was, rather, with a polygamous and extended household ruled fiercely by a man called Alhaji Shehu Agaka.
He was twelve, living with a single parent (his mother), and in Junior Secondary School One when, newly from a southern state of the country, they got an apartment in Alhaji Agaka’s large residence. The house, really, was not an expanse per say; there were no fields or gardens or idle spaces lying anywhere, but it was large enough to allow for Alhaji Agaka’s two old sisters, three wives, eighteen children and a staggering number of twenty-one subordinates of varying ages to cram themselves in. By the share virtue of the number of people it accommodated, Alhaji Akaka’s house was an expanse.
The neighbourhood was shocked when they learnt Alhaji gave out a place in his house for rent. Until he and his mother got the place, no outsider ever lived in Alhaji’s home; just family and subordinates.
Subordinates were children brought in from Kwara, a mid-southern state in the country where Alhaji himself came from, to acquire the Islamic education and become scholars of the religion. Usually between the ages of five and twelve when they arrived, looking young and nourished, give them a few months after starting out with their scholarly endeavour, the harsh conditions of Alhaji’s welfare system and the routine religious grill start to take its toll: they became leaner, weaker and obviously hungrier. Those who had been there long before his mother arrived with him to live in the house were now in their late twenties and early thirties, still keeping their young healthy selves in dog-eared black-and-white photographs at the base of their boxes and Ghana-must-go bags. Who would believe these were who we were?
Alhaji Agaka’s house was a one-story building with an improvised terrace where the Imam spent most of the day reading the Qur’an and dishing out a myriad of orders. He had a huge armchair out on the little terrace, occupying a larger part of the space — the terrace was no bigger than space for half a dozen people to cluster at a time. Sitting on the chair all day, Alhaji overlooked every event happening in his surroundings and even those on the streets. He would tell events, detailing dates and times when he needed them to prove a point; when he needed them to indict or nail defaulters. With specific detailing, intricate as they came, like the threads of an all-encompassing spider web, there was no escaping his enclave without being noticed as an erring member; as a stubborn housefly. Although his people always devised one two ways to escape his visage: walking by the wall; waiting for the night; doing stuff right under the terrace; and, very seldom, equipping selves with strong excuses, very little escaped Alhaji’s eagle’s eyes.
The terrace had no railings. In those early days of his arrival, he would entertain ill thoughts of seeing Alhaji missing his steps and dropping to the ground from the terrace. How dangerous to be up there with nothing to guard you, with nothing to catch you when you sway or make a wrong turn. He had the thought on several occasions until it was no longer meaningful; until it was a share waste of time to even imagine it. With time, it became natural to have Alhaji sit up there as one would have the sun sit in the sky; as one would have the great Sphinx of Giza sits on its plateau. Alhaji was Lord; he could never fall; could never sway or find himself helpless and needing to be caught. From up there he watched over us, overall, and did all he had to do without having to put a foot downstairs.
Once, he hid in a corner and stole a long look at Alhaji from a distance. He thought Alhaji was fearsome; rock-hard face, pitch-black complexion and short bulbous stature. And when, accidentally, Alhaji looked the side and caught his gaze, his blood jumped in fright. He ran back under the terrace, terrified.
Those days, when he prayed against the devil, eyes shut under a still breath, head bowed into palms, all darkened out to make things even clearer; the face of Alhaji came to him with horns on the head instead of the usual perforated brown skullcap the Imam wore every day. And for a guardian angel, when he prayed, he saw his mother on white towering wings, cancelling out the devil with a samurai’s sword.
Right at the front of the house was a small mosque where everyone prayed five times a day. The older scholars took a turn to call and lead prayers in accordance to a time-table drawn out by Alhaji himself. If to take into account a large number of Muslim faithful living in the area, the mosque would have been too small to accommodate one-tenth of worshippers. But, again, only Alhaji’s family and his students worshipped in the mosque. And so the prayer room, though little, was more than enough.
Breakfast in Alhaji’s house was pap and bean cake; no lunch — everyone had to find what for himself or go without a meal. They called it a ‘0’. Dinner, served at about seven pm, was boiled corn and beans, making the daily meal symbolically a ‘101’. Essentially, everyone eats the same thing through the years: Corn and Beans. This mono diet — for the subordinates majorly, who were not allowed to keep money (But do not give to fools their property that God has assigned to you to manage; provide for them and clothe them out of it, and speak to them honourable words. S. 4:1–5 Arberry) or beg for alms like it was religiously practiced in the neighborhood, where there were a lot of Alaramma taking young boys through Islamic studentship — , such diet, he thought, such perennial punishment and abuse of the human taste buds, was why they all looked somewhat the same. A group of people eating the same diet over years tend to develop a few similar features. He thought they all had sharp cheekbones, harmattan-prone scaly skins, scant coarse hairs and sunken pale-yellow eyes. Whatever those made them look like, he couldn’t tell. But they didn’t look like normal human beings.
His mother warned him never to play or be friends with them. And that the fact that they stayed in the same house didn’t mean they were the same. He pretended to perfectly understand his mother — he indeed understood her. But he knew it would be extremely difficult not to want to be friends while in the midst of that huge number of people, young and old alike, who wanted to be friends with him. The old ones wanted to be friends because they could send him to his mother’s kitchen for a cube of Maggi, a pinch of salt, a pint of oil, a cup of garri or rice or beans or yam powder; just about anything to give their usually tasteless meals a bit of meaning, or to cook covertly in their rooms in augmentation of their kwashiorkor-ed meal course that was the daily entitlement in Alhaji’s house. The young ones, however, wanted to be friends because he was unlike them; he had foreign toys, had books and went to school.
“I know how difficult this is, Joe” his mother once told him after about a week living in Alhaji’s household, “but I know you can pull this off. You’re smart!” The mother smiled at him as she hesitated at the door before opening it “read your Psalms”, she said, “and pray for wisdom, knowledge and understanding.” She went through the door and was gone. She would not be back until around 8 pm. No sooner had the mother closed the door behind her, than the first knock banged. It was a woman’s voice asking if he would want to come out and play with others in the compound. That day, he failed the test to keep to himself and don’t relate with the other boys in the house.
Over time, he had come to like Yinka more than any of the other boys. He thought Yinka was a smart-head. On a Saturday, while they were sitting by the pan that fried their bean-cake for breakfast in the household, he asked his friend:
“Yinka, why do you think there are always bubbles when you pour water in a cup of garri?”
“I don’t know!”Yinka answered, dismissively.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, and thereafter explained how air rush to leave the cup of cassava grain having been chased out by water, which fills all the vacuum previously occupied by air.
“The air is all the bubbles you see”, he said, smiling.
He was thought that in school — but with a cup of sand. He explained with garri because the teacher had also said the same happened with a cup of garri. And he thought it would be better to explain to Yinka using garri instead of sand.
All the while Yinka’s gaze never left the frying bean-cakes which were dancing around in the hot oil as though they possessed lives of their own, dancing because they were full of beans. Although he heard his friend’s scientific exposition and thought it ingenious, Yinka was very hungry and was not in the mood for a lecture in scientific experiments.
They resumed watching the simmering pan atop the flaming hearth. A few seconds later, he asked his friend again:
“Yinka, do you know why there are rushes of thousands — if not millions — of bubbles around a frying bean-cake?”
Yinka shot a look at him. Yinka was shocked to know that that, too, had an explanation. He turned his gaze away from the frying pan to face him. All his life, Yinka had seen frying bean-cakes but never thought of it as a phenomenon, never thought it as science. For all Yinka cares, it could be an artistic display…and not on earth could it be anything more. With an attentiveness he had never paid anything in his young life, Yinka asked his friend to explain that, too, to him:
“Why does that happen?” Yinka asked solemnly, as though about to learn humanity’s most surreptitious secret.
First, he was surprised at his friend’s sudden hunger to know why. And then it all looked funny to him: Yinka’s distorted face, indicating a sudden rush of interest. He laughed. But Yinka didn’t laugh. Yinka didn’t think anything was funny; instead, he looked soberer.
“I’m serious, Joe. Please.”
“He even says please”. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” He calmed his friend.
“It is pretty much the same thing that happens with the first case; I mean with garri in a cup before and after the water’s entry into the same cup: It’s about elements invading spaces and displacing each other. You get?”
Yinka nods slightly; he was getting.
“Just that this time it isn’t water invading the space previously occupied by air, no. It is rather fire, converted to heat through a conductor — which is the metal of the frying pot — acting on oil to invade the space in the slush of bean previously occupied by water and, of course, air.”
Again, he smiled after the explanation, slyly.
That had not been thought in school. He just cooked it all up while they sat there looking at the frying bean.
Yinka sank into his own shoulders. He felt an enormous weight of shame descended on him for not knowing all these things. Yinka had never heard anything like that before. Such interesting explanations around nonliving substances; new and refreshing to the mind, things which could not be found in the Qur’an he read every day of his life. Yinka knew now more than ever before, he must go to the kind school his friend went.
His mother had said she implored Alhaji in a way the cleric couldn’t resist so as to get the one-room apartment they now lived in. A way Alhaji couldn’t resist remained clouded in everyone’s head. Perhaps Alhaji had allowed his mother because she, too, was from Kwara; perhaps for some other reason that couldn’t be made public. Or did she tell Alhaji the long-and-short story of not being able to rent an apartment in the area because they were mostly Kuhle (the no entry houses dominant in the area)? Though he thought it was nobody’s business, that singular act brought Alhaji more loathing from the neighbourhood than what he previously had to endure:
How can anyone call himself an Islamic cleric and allow a single mother, who, worse of all, is a Christian, in his house — his home, where no one should see the inside walls except for him and his family? What sort of Islamic teachings will he teach his students?
Already, Alhaji was a misfit because he called prayers in his mosque with no Arabic intonations; because he had two children studying sciences instead of Arabic in the university; because his wives and daughters wore no hijabs when they went out; because his students did no Almuhajirun the proper way, as it was practiced in the Holy book; and most especially because he was on a land they said did not quite belong to him. He was an interloper and an Infidel — even if he shared the same faith.
Beside the mosque was an old cashew tree, one of its kinds in the whole neighbourhood. The other two trees in the compound were neem trees. One of the neem trees was situated right in front of the mosque. And the other, on the left side, was beside the well. The fence which enveloped Alhaji’s house passed just beside the cashew tree on the extreme right. The tree was tearing apart the fence from the base due to the pressure exacted by its girth and the wild growth of the root. There was a rumour that the old tree was used for demarcation at the time Alhaji bought the land carrying the house some twenty-eight years ago. Could that be the reason why Alhaji didn’t want to pull the tree down despite the damages it was causing? …that he felt great nostalgia for it? Or was it that he appreciated the importance of its supplementary role to the meal course he gave his people?)
Year in year out Alhaji talked about cutting down the tree to protect the fence. Year in year out, to everyone’s satisfaction — and, obviously, to the fence’s destruction — , he failed. No one wanted the tree pulled down. For the scholars especially, who were direct beneficiaries of its fruition in its seasons. There were always cashews to fill in for the missing slot on their daily meal to make it a complete 111 as against the usual 101. After consuming the cashew flesh, the children had a slaughterhouse for its nut: a dais of igneous rock where the stone-hard pods were crushed with rocks until their fresh, milky, bullet-shaped nuts emerged.
One late evening, after a wild children’s play that left the right leg of his slippers missing, he went up the cashew tree where he was told by his playmates the slippers must be hanging. One of his mates had thrown it to the tree. And the tree, like a phenomenon aiding to defy the law of gravity, had seized the slippers in its luscious crown.
While up in the leaves rummaging, the night came, and with the night, came two lovebirds separated by Alhaji’s fence, at the point where the fence was tearing apart. He heard the birds whispering right beneath him. And then he came down a little closer among the branches, picking his steps most carefully like a preying panther, to see and hear clearer. The lovebirds didn’t notice anyone moving in the tree. He perched on a branch and became one with it.
It was Maimuna, he figured out immediately. Maimuna was the most beautiful of Alhaji’s daughters: tall, light-skinned, long hair and delicate but firm alluring body. She took after her mother, the second wife, in her looks.
“You should start leaving now, Yusuf.”
“I know. But you know I won’t be seeing you until next week Wednesday, and that seems too long a time not to see you, my Love.”
He thought Yusuf’s voice was the coolest male voice he had ever heard. Although his face had been obscured by the night, Yusuf appealed to him to be handsome, too.
“It’s not too safe here. You know what my place is like…”
“…like a stadium. I know.”
They both laughed, stifling the sound of their laughter in their throats that it sounded like they were gurgling under water. Their laughter, hiding in the corridors of their cheeks like they themselves were hiding in the shades of the night.
“Someone will soon call me now. And anyone can just burst in here and see us like this”
“Alright, I leave now!”
“Where did you park?”
“I’ll see you in school when I arrive from Abuja”
“You really want that I leave so quickly”
“Not that, Yusuf. I’m just scared of what may happen if you stay a little longer”
“I’m leaving now…”
And then they both stretched over the fence, not minding their weights on the shifting blocks, and kissed.
It was the first time he ever saw two people kissed, glueing together at the mouth. He thought the kiss was a long one, with a short soft mourn from Yusuf just about the time it ended.
“Wednesday!” Yusuf said, as they lose grip on their tongues. They were once again apart, each by the sides of the fence. Soon, the two dispersed quickly, like thieves making off with their loots; making way after a stolen tryst. Or, better still, like fluttering birds after a scare.
He laid there a little longer on the branch, wondering if it wasn’t an apparition he just witnessed, if it was true he saw what he saw. Before then, he had never thought it possible: Two people kissing in Alhaji’s house. That was his first proof that in this world he was in, anything was possible. He didn’t realize the smile on his face and the erection in his knickers until he remembered what brought him up the tree in the first place. The smile vanished. His turgid phallus melted within seconds. He could seriously be punished for losing his slippers. As he wondered what to tell his mother, his eyes drifted to a side where he thought he saw a big cashew fruit. Instinctively, he gunned for it. But on getting closer, closer still, he realized it wasn’t cashew at all. It was his slippers.
He waited for Wednesday like it was his birthday. He dreamt of the day almost every night; the voice of the young man resounding in his mind: “I’ll see you Wednesday!” Now, when he prayed, all he saw was Maimuna and her boyfriend kissing over the fence. No more devils came to him; no more angel fighting with a katana.
And then Wednesday finally came, with a weird dream of himself landing on a penthouse from a loud beastly cloud that suddenly turned a single crow of a cock just behind his ears. He jumpstarted the day like he was chased out of his sleep.
That day, he didn’t wait to finish his football game with his mates before pulling out to find his way up the tree as evening fell. He perched on the same branch he had been the last time and waited patiently. Night came just like always and met him perching there. He waited and waited. Nothing happened. No one came to the fence. All he heard were the usual commotions, the rumbling and clattering from the house: women calling children; a number of babies crying; two adults arguing; a couple of people chanting from the verses of the Qur’an; sound of people fetching water from the well, and, of course, Alhaji’s voice ordering people around. If he was not up there in the tree, waiting there like an owl, he would be in the mix, fetching water perhaps. Or washing plates. But now he was dodging in the leaves like a rare agama, waiting for them, waiting for a scene — the scene, something for his eyes only.
Alhaji’s voice suddenly shot above every other voices and sound:
“Who is calling Isha’a this evening?”
He shivered, rustling a few leaves. What he thought he heard: “Who is hiding atop that tree?”
“Alfa Umar!” Someone shouted.
“Is he so blind he can’t see the time to know that he should be on the calling platform by now?”
“He’s not around, Alhaji!” the person responded, shouting still.
“I’m here!” Alfa Umar’s voice instantly erupted out of the blue. “I’m sorry I slept off a little”
“You slept off!?” Alhaji blurted. “…you slept off when you’re supposed to be calling prayers…you must be from the devil!
But of course it was a lie: Alfa Umar didn’t sleep off — nobody slept in the house except it was late in the night. The house offered no such luxury of silence for a nap. He must have been truly out, somewhere outside the house.
Now the Alfa raised his voice into the humid air of that evening in a holy call: “Alaaaaahu…Akbar…laaaaahu…Akbar!”
The Alfa must have raced blindly through ablution, he thought: “Alaaaaahu…Akbar…laaaaaahu…Akbar!
“Ashhadu allahhhhh ila ha illallahhhhhhh!”
He waited still in the tree, knowing, habitually, what the muezzin would say next in his call and mouthed along.
When he had started dozing on the branch, he thought of coming down to go home. He felt betrayed, like a lover whose heart got abruptly shattered. He knew his mother must have arrived, looking everywhere for him. He knew he would not escape whipping. He had thought there was nothing he won’t endure just to see Maimuna and her boyfriend kiss over the fence. But there was no kissing that night — at least not under the tree. And that was painful enough. Now, to add salt to injury, he was going to be whipped for seeing nothing…nothing but leaves and branches and a broken fence.
That night, he got three resounding slaps from his mother; two on both sides of the face that left his ears a roaring site of a waterfall. He didn’t cry — which was strange to his mother. He later went to bed aching in his head; managed to sleep, and had no dreams whatsoever.
The next evening, while the house throbbed in its usual commotion, and the boys played football in the field as always, and Alhaji doled out his orders to everyone, and the sun ran towards the end of the world because night was chasing, and the trees flicked their leaves in still humid April air, the fence, by itself, alone, forlornly dividing the patch of earth assigned it, suddenly, as though being pushed by the devil himself, fell.
Two weeks after, he had come to living his normal life: going to school and coming back and doing assignments and playing football and doing house chores and praying with angels and demons in his shut eyes and sleeping with dreams and obeying his mother the best he could when, from nowhere, he thought he saw someone who fits his vague and fading memory of Maimuna’s boyfriend one afternoon. The man was strolling — pacing actually — past the field where he played football with his mates. He stopped short at the site of the man and looked well. Could this be Yusuf? Could this be the Wednesday he’d been waiting for? — the day was a Tuesday. As the game went on and the man had no place, in particular, he was headed, and the evening wore in, he got more and more convinced of his first assumption. He called the name under his breath “Yusuf!” He repeated himself as though someone was on the other side countering him. And tonight he’d be at the fence! He smiled.
Although he kept playing, his mind no longer was in the game. He made wrong passes once too often, losing the ball to opponents so easily it took no time before his team started trailing with three goals; he fell unnecessarily, stumbling even when nobody tackled him; he committed unspeakable fouls, stopping the ball with his hands…all because, time to time, he had to keep his man in sight.
“3 goals now, Joe! Just because you won’t stop messing around.” One of his teammates worried
“If you don’t want to play anymore, just excuse us, please. Tobi wants to play as well.” Another said, suggesting that he be replaced.
To everyone’s amazement, he didn’t argue or fight back. Instead, he let himself be substituted, feigning a strain on his big toe. He got replaced. And now he could concentrate on his man. He noticed there was a little worry on the face of his man. He thought his man was a little nervous, worried.
That’s how you know a man in love.
Before Maghrib he was up on the tree, on the usual branch, waiting with an erection hard against it.
The two lovers were there in time to meet his expectations. But, this time, to his utter confusion and surprise, there seemed not to be love in the air between them that night. They were not talking love-talk. Or how else can he describe or comprehend what was happening as he watched?
Maimuna silently whining:
“…but he won’t listen to me. He would say he has faced graver threats; witnessed many upheavals here and has survived the times.”
“This is not like the other ones, Maimuna. Listen to me!” Hassan cuts-in in a hushed tone as though begging, yet enforcing… “This is a premeditated plan; not like all others that weren’t directed to him. I saw his name listed, spoken. They’ll do it as they’ve planned. They’ll use the present uproar to commit this heinous crime. You must try the best you can to let him understand that!”
They both stood as they had the last time he saw them, keeping the space once occupied by the fence fallow as though the fence still stood. And as they argue back and forth with each other, stating and restating, countering and re-countering; Hassan, with a mix of anger and pity in his voice because Maimuna wouldn’t understand him; Maimuna, with tears like a baby because she was afraid of something…very afraid of something. As they went on, at a point, he thought he was in the wrong place. Or aren’t these the same people from the last rendezvous. Are they breaking up? What are they saying? Who are the ‘they’ Yusuf is talking about? On what list? And, worst of all, why would she not stop crying?”
And then a call, singled out in the commotion of the house like a meteorite in the dead of night, distinct and crystal, caught a moment in the air. It was Maimuna’s name in it, loud and clear from a woman with a singsong voice — her mother.
Maimuna froze for a second, cleaned her eyes quickly with the back of her palms and ran off madly to the house, leaving Yusuf standing there, high, dry.
From the tree where he laid against a branch, he almost forgot himself. He almost called out to Maimuna to remind her she hasn’t kissed yet for her to leave; that things were not completed yet; that she forgot to show some love.
As he watched her walked back as fast as she could, fastening to the rest of the standing wall, he thought he just witnessed the most confusing rendezvous. Are they breaking up? He came down from the tree afterwards and headed home, wrapped in confusion like a pupa in its cocoon.
Three days later, a Friday, no school. School authority gave letters to students a day before (Thursday) to give to their parents, explaining that it would be too risky to have the children come from different parts of the city at a period when the religious unrest was escalating by the day.
“…there will be the usual Friday Jumu’ah tomorrow and no one can tell what might happen afterwards. So we implore you (having contacted the Parent Teachers Association PTA executives on this matter with a positive response) to please have the children stay at home until further notice.
Thank you for your constant support and understanding.
And the principal’s signature.
“Quite better that way,” his mother said. She was already contemplating allowing him to go to school on that day. Although she had not experienced a riot before in the city since she came, she had heard stories and thought it was better her son stayed at home. Before she left for work, she made lunch for him in the cooler, gave him breakfast as usual and then 10N for keep.
So he was home; home the moment two strangers swept into Alhaji’s house that afternoon while Alhaji was at his usual place on the terrace; while the Alfas, wielding their canes, taught the other students verses from the Qur’an inside the mosque; and while he practiced mathematical exercises, crosschecking the answers on the back pages of his textbooks — two men, one of them wore a Jalamia. The other had a shirt and trousers. They stormed into Alhaji’s compound as though they had a stake in it. Alhaji saw them and started to shout, ordering them to get back out. But they didn’t.
Hearing Alhaji’s voice so loud and abnormally aggressive made everyone rush out to see what it was. He rushed out too. And to his utmost shock, saw two men in the compound making their ways up the stairs. One of them was Yusuf. And then he saw Alhaji rushing down the steps, shouting still, and meeting them midway. On seeing Alhaji coming down the stairs, he instinctively rushed back in into the room in disbelieve — he had never seen Alhaji come down the stairs. There will be trouble.
And then Alhaji and Yusuf started yelling at each other, one hardly hearing the other.
“Wait there… Get out…who are you?”
“I need to talk to you, Alhaji!” was the response Yusuf had for all of Alhaji’s overwhelming anger. Yusuf repeated again and again, “I need to talk to you, Alhaji.”
“You need to talk to me and what you do is bash into my house just like that? Get out! Now!”
“Listen to me, Alhaji. This is very important…a matter of life and death”
But Alhaji wouldn’t listen: “You get out first!” He screamed still, pointing his hand furiously in the direction of the exit door — which was also the entrance door.
By now everyone in Alhaji’s household was in the compound, wondering, jittering. One of Alhaji’s sons, Jubril started dragging Yusuf by the shoulders to get him out. And Yusuf, revolting, suddenly said loud enough for everyone to hear:
“You will all die if you don’t get out of this house tonight!” And it was that statement, its sudden burst with certainty got everyone to pause, to want to listen. The look of dread in Yusuf’s eyes, that statement silenced everywhere, everything. And then Yusuf signalled the young man following him to uncover what he had beneath his Jalamia. On sighting the Kalashnikov rifle, everyone gasped. The little children ran behind their mothers, everyone staggered backwards as though being hit by a rogue wave.
“I have come to save your life, Alhaji, and the lives of everyone in this house. I know you’ve been told several times by your daughter but you don’t believe her. This young man here”, Yusuf pointed, gesturing to the man who followed him, “is one of the people that would have come to wipe you all out”. A friend, who knows a friend, let me in the plan. Here is not safe, Alhaji.”
Alhaji, rooted to where he stood with apprehension, turned to Maimuna. Maimuna eclipsed herself behind her mother. Alhaji returned his gaze to Yusuf. Everyone waited Alhaji out; to say something, to act. But a cat seemed to have caught his tongue. He stood there deaf and dumb, stunned out of his wit, with terror written all over him. Then Alhaji turned slowly, as though acting on an instruction from a remote place, from an inner force he could not understand. Robotically, he headed back upstairs. It was one of the old sisters who took the lead; everyone started gunning for whatever he/she could lift at a time. Alhaji, too, slowly at first, and then faster, and faster, until it was a full-blown whirlwind; everything tumbling into the back of a truck.
And when Yinka burst through the door with excitement mixed with fear and perplexity and found him standing there by the window. Yinka shouted at him — “We are leaving! Come on. Let’s pack…let’s go!” — and picked the leg of a stool in the room and rushed out with it, and the typhoon, in its full force, occupied the room too. And before he knew it, with everyone picking one thing or the other out of the room and into the truck, the room, like every space in the house, was as good as empty. As though swept by a mysterious typhoon, the whole house, the whole place, hollowed out, all properties finding themselves in the truck.
No one knew how the big truck got outside. Nuru, one of Alhaji’s sons, had gone to call a truck at the general park down the street while the argument was on.
Until it was time for him to step into the truck and flee with them…until then, he hadn’t thought of his mother, he hadn’t thought of what it would mean to leave, what it would have meant to have his mother wondering where everyone had gone, where he had disappeared. At the brink of climbing into the truck like others already had, he briskly told Yinka goodbye and ran back to the house, into their now empty room, and closed the door. Sitting against the wall with his kneel fold to his chest and arms around his legs, he waited…waited for love; waited for war.
But sometimes when you’ve zeroed your mind, waiting for the worst to happen, waiting for the beginning or the end as you know it, something else distracts you. A little while later, there was no knock on the door before Alhaji came in and sat against an opposite wall, in silence.
Alhaji would not leave. He had surmised it would mean losing it all anyway.
“You thought me courage, son!” He said. “Great. Courage”, in low deep voice.