Praisesong for Ben (2)

Praisesong for Ben (2)

Friday, November 12, 2021 12:02 am

By Chris Anyokwu,

Sundays are usually sunny and today is no different.  The late afternoon sun is blazing, yet the world below carries on with its joys and sorrows.  For Ben and his family, happily, it’s all joy.  What with the Sunday service activities which have proven a stimulating backdrop to their usual Sunday afternoon mini-festivities.  There was so much singing and dancing in the church today.  Pa Onugbu, the oldest member of the church, marked his birthday yesterday and came to the presence of the Lord today to give thanks and praises.  He is now eighty six.  And counting. The Lord is good…  Brother Hope and Sister Mercy also danced through the aisle with well-wishers to the altar for Child Dedication.  Sister Favour, formerly Sister Endurance, until last Sunday when she came out to the alter for rechristening after so many years of waiting on the Lord for a child, cradled her baby in her hands as the whole congregation burst into song:Oti se o, Baba tise o… Everyone including occasional scroungers, who only come to church when there are festivities, was treated to take-aways and soft drinks.  Now all of this passes through Ben’s mind as he watches his family enjoy their lunch of white rice and chicken stew.

Church silhouette. Credit: dream

Church silhouette. Credit: dream

“Daddy, Loveth’s drumstick is bigger than mine”, Paul, the eldest child grumbles, eyeing his immediate younger sister, Loveth, who is wolfing down a juicy piece of chicken leg.

“I have always told you to be content with what you have.  That’s what life teaches us.  We don’t weigh these things.  They give you anything, just manage it”, Ben says, glowering at Paul, his mood souring.  “Manage! Manage! I’m not ready to manage anymore!  I’m the first child in this family.  It’s my right to eat the biggest chunk of chicken”, Paul fires, daring his father.  The mother, Grace, who has kept quiet up until now, intervenes: “It’s ok, Paul don’t worry, I will give you another piece of chicken”

“Ehen, me nko?”

“And me!”

“Mummy, I want more chicken.”

Ben’s mind momentarily leaves this happy moment and drifts further back, this time, the midnight fight he had with Grace.  They had just finished making love, a most awkward act, given Grace’s state of advanced pregnancy.  Ben had needed it rather badly, a way of dealing with his many troubles, not least his Biblical poverty which he bore like a cross all his life.  The room, cubicle-like, was stuffy, crammed as it was with their meagre possessions comprising old and faded reach-me-downs, dirty clothes and dresses, broken furniture, a pile of old stationery and dog-eared books and cooking utensils and unwashed plates and cutlery.  Hanging permanently in the sweltering air was a confounding blend of offensive odours, perhaps of urine, faecal matter, the nearby gutter always clogged with sundry offal and dead and decomposing mice and goodness-knows-what else.  Ben glared at his wife as she frantically tried to catch some of the bedbugs crawling on the wall.  She made nauseating blood-stains with the dead vermin pressed against the discoloured wall.  The humid room would have been in total darkness but for the sickly glow of the rechargeable lantern.

A crowded bedroom. UN News

As always, there was power failure.  Just like everything else.  Through the slightly dancing flimsy curtain that shielded the inner room from the sitting room, Ben could see the sleeping forms of their four children, all of whom were lying on the torn mat.  He yawned quietly, scratching his beard, almost maniacally.  He hadn’t shaved in weeks.  This made him look haggard, gaunt and woe-begone.  He also felt hungry but there was nothing to eat in the house.  And, besides, it’s already midnight.  For no apparent reason, he got angry.  Very angry.  He knew Grace was the cause.  Oh, this necessary evil… “Just look at you! I say just… oh, what’s the use?”, he suddenly expostulated, sick to the pit of his stomach.

“What’s the matter, honey?”, Grace asked, taken aback.

“He who marries a wife marries a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.  Right?Grace, right? Answer me!”, he bellowed insanely.

“That’s the Scripture, honey”.

“That’s the Scripture, honey”, he mimicked.  “Now, tell me: how have you as my so-called wife been a favour from the Lord?”, Ben demanded, seething, incandescent with rage.

“I don’t understand,” his wife, a bit breathless, replied.  She had now ignored the bedbugs crawling on the wall.

“Of course, you don’t! Why would you when all you love doing is getting pregnant every time!”, Ben had exploded, his nostrils flaring.

Silhouette of a pregnant woman

“But it takes two to tangle, doesn’t it?  Do I get myself pregnant?”, Grace had responded.

“Just shut up your mouth if you know what’s good for you.  You hear me?  Every sensible woman knows how to make love without it necessarily resulting into a pregnancy.  But you, never!  Oh, honey, give it to me, give it to me, harder, harder, oh, honey, you’re too sweet!  All you know is sex, sex, sex!  Now, see, child number five. FIVE!  Do you want to kill me?”, Ben lamented.

“Honey, why do you sometimes get this way ehn?  Why are you saying all this, ehn?  Isn’t marriage for richer, for poorer?”, she had said with a mingled feeling of annoyance and concern.

“I have never experienced “for richer” all my life!  Ah-ah, what crime did I commit?  All you’ve brought me is “for poorer”.  You’re a bad influence.  I made a great mistake the day I chose you as my wife just because we met in church.  And we speak the same language.  And you have a great figure and a seductive voice”, Ben had laid into her, cruelly.

“Oh, my husband!  Ben!”, Grace cried, the floor giving way under her feet.

“Don’t call me Ben, call me Ben-low, like people do these days”

“No, I cannot.  Others might call you that, but I cannot.  You’re my Ben Ben, my honey.  Don’t worry, all will be well.  I will wait on the Lord for us.  This poverty must die by fire, by force?”, Grace had reassured him, wiping her tears with the edge of her threadbare wrapper.

“I don’t know about you but I have decided to do something about it.  Where do I get money to care and cater for yet another mouth?  Now, listen very attentively to me.  Please, I don’t want any drama or your usual holier-than-thou madness this time.  They say desperate situations require desperate measures.  You are not working.  Our kabu-kabu car has been down for weeks now.  And my salary is a drop in the ocean. And I’m running from everyone who has lent me money.  See, I’m up to here in debt, Grace.  So, we have got to do something about this child,” he had ventured tentatively, now watching Grace rather closely to see her reaction…

Yet again, Ben’s mind abandons this scene and drifts to the day of deliverance.  It was a fitting culmination to a series of deals surreptitiously executed.  Someone had introduced him to someone who in turn introduced him to someone else and, finally, he had met Madam Gold.  She had told him that money was not a problem at all provided the product was good, made to specifications.  Ben on his part had reassured Madam Gold that he would not disappoint her.  They had had a handshake on that while looking forward to the D-day.  On a beautiful bright afternoon, Ben had taken the new-born baby girl, yet unchristened being a few days old, to the highly-fortified mansion.  After the usual security screening by the uniformed guards at the gigantic gate, he was allowed into the sprawling compound,absolutely breathtaking in its paradisiacal splendour.

The stolen baby

File: A new born baby

With minimal formalities, the deal was done.  Ben had handed Madam Gold, his baby, who was sleeping in heavenly peace in the downy shawls, and Madam Gold had credited his bank account, via her phone, with lots of money, the type Ben had always heard bandied about in official circles.

Ben and his family had moved house to a different, more upscale part of town, in order to avoid the inevitable nosey-parkers.  He and his wife had told their inquisitive children that their little sister had been lent to the Lord just like little Samuel was in the Bible.  And that she would visit them at the appropriate time in the future.  Besides, the sudden transformation in their lives was elixir enough to dull their collective memories of the past.  A new well-appointed home, a new car, nice dresses, sumptuous food and drinks.  What more could anyone ask for? The Lord is good…

A painful cry from a nearby patient brings Ben out of his reveries.  He realises he is in the Intensive Care Unit of the General Hospital, fighting for his life, having been involved in a road accident while driving in his sleek carapace at night.  As he looks at the intravenous tubes supplying vital medication into his system, Ben dissolves into tears as he contemplates an uncertain future.

*Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.


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