Friday, November 19, 2021 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu,
Not since he was a strapping teenager has he run like he is doing now, with a straggly group of people, all of them, completely masked, in hot pursuit. His chest feels like a raging cauldron frothing over with a cocktail of burning metals. And as he runs, it suddenly dawns on him that the masked ones are gaining on him, very fast. Yet, the strangest part is that his pursuers merely follow him with loping strides, their eyes, red like coals in a blacksmith’s forge. Thus while he exerts himself, almost to breaking point, just stopping himself from collapsing in an ungainly heap, his adversaries appear completely composed, unruffled and having the time of their lives. He summons up all his inner resources of strength to disappear from view. Unaccountably, the more he tries, the less he succeeds.
Soon enough, he begins to sense all around him, the minatory presence of the weird fellows. Then, as though by some strange synchrony, the masked ones begin to flagellate him mercilessly with freshly-cut birches. And, as they flog him, they burst into a ritual chant. He can make out neither the language of their chant nor the wording. His whole body is on fire with the welts the birches are leaving on his skin. It is when he realises that he is bleeding profusely all over his body that he gives way to yelling. But as he yells, his cries are hushed by a strange force emanating from the masked ones who never relent in their ritual flagellation or in their chanting.
Am I going to die here, just like that? Where am I? What am I doing here and how did I get here? He begins to query himself. It then dawns on him, finally, that he is in a wilderness surrounded by a rim of fire whose light illuminates the deepening gloom. God, save meee! Oh, Lord, save meee! Help! Help! Oh, God, don’t let me die here!
“Honey! Honey! Wake up! Water! Water! See floodwater everywhere”. Grace cries, shaking her husband awake.
“Ehn!Ehn! Water? What’s going on here? From fire to water?”, Ben stammers, trying manfully to get his bearings right.
“What are you talking about, honey? Our house is flooded! Can’t you see?”
“Oh, Grace, I’ve just had one of the most terrifying nightmares anybody can ever have!”, Ben gasps, panting, his body drenched in sweat.
“Ah, Jesus Christ!”
“I thought I was going to die!”
“Die ke! God forbid! No weapon!”, Grace said.
“God, see water again! Ohhh! Can’t this rain wait for us to pack out before flooding the whole place? Ehn?”, Ben remonstrates, powerless.
“You know it rained all night. And, it’s still raining as we speak. Just peep outside and see for yourself. Everywhere is submerged in floodwater. You can’t make out where the gutters are. Some parked cars are half-submerged in water. People are afraid now to even come out of their houses for fear of getting drowned or being swept away by the fast-moving floods”, Grace explains, sneezing noisily.
“Do you think these people will be able to come this morning as arranged?”, Ben asks, yawning as he still feels sleepy and tired.
“Which people, honey?”, Grace inquires, unable to follow her husband’s train of thought.
“The evacuation people”, Ben replies, slightly irritated.
“Oh, why not? Agreement is agreement. They have to be here latest 8AM. I don’t want Mama’s wahala. That heartless landlady!”, Grace remarks. Their children, four of them, join their parents in the bedroom where they are having a conversation. The rooms and the parlour have been cleared of their household items. Several Ghana-Must-Go bags containing most of their property are arranged neatly against the wall near the front door. But they are yet to dismantle their beds on which they slept overnight. The plan is to quickly take the beds apart, early enough before the evacuation vans arrive in the morning. Now, the floodwater rising almost up to the knees has upended all the plans. Where do they start from now? What should they do? Begin to bale out the water from their apartment or leave things as they are and go ahead and dismantle the beds? Unfortunately, also, the bags containing their things are also partly submerged in water.
“Mummy, look, all of our things are inside water. What type of yeye rain is this that refuses to stop falling, ehn?” Agatha, their third child, says, hissing.
“I’m sure it has already ruined all my clothes and fine shoes,” Paul adds, looking helpless, not knowing who to blame for their predicament.
“Honey, can you hear the children?”, Grace asks, turning to Ben who is sitting on the edge of the bed, working his handset.
“What do you mean by that?”, Ben growls, readjusting his reading-glasses on his nose.
“We didn’t get here by accident, did we?”, Grace said, cryptically.
“No, we got here by an aeroplane, idiot!”, Ben fires, bracing for a fight.
“You know what I mean, Ben. You understand what I’m talking about.
You singlehanded brought this calamity upon us, upon this family. No problem. Your secret on earth is an open scandal in heaven. God sees everything”, Grace accuses him, not minding that their children are with them, listening to everything being said.
“You are a fool at forty and you know what they say about a fool at forty”, Ben says, mockingly.
“A fool at 40 is a fool forever, Daddy!”,Loveth sings innocently, and laughing to boot.
“Shut up!”, Paul cautions her, pulling one of her earlobes.
“Daddy!”,Loveth winces with evident pain.
“Leave her alone, Paul! Are you mad?”, Ben scolds him, pulling Loveth to his side and patting the bed for her to sit down next to him.
“God! God! What crime did I commit to be in this horrible situation?
Well, they say when one finger touches oil, that finger stains the other fingers with it. Your recklessness, your thoughtlessness has brought this upon us, Ben. You knew how dangerous it was to go out late at night. I pleaded with you to leave everything until the following day. But you wouldn’t listen to a woman. You drove out that night and the rest, as they say, is history. You went and got yourself involved in a road accident. Now your car is a total write-off. Thank God, your life was spared. But has the problem ended? How about the physiotherapy sessions that’s a drain on our meagre resources? Now, like before, the children have all stopped going to school. No money to pay their school fees. We are back to our rags again and hunger has returned. Oh God, what crime did I commit? Is it the crime of silence when I should have spoken out? God, is it?”, Grace says, sobbing quietly.
The children now huddle around her, confused, forlorn. There is a knock at the door. Instinctively, they all jump to their feet and rush to answer the door. But Loveth beats everybody to it as she is the first to reach the door. She opens it and standing there, in front of their door are rough-looking men, clad in singlet and dirty ripped jean trousers. Ben’s and Grace’s countenance falls as they realise who the guests are: the landlady’s thugs. The old witch has made good her threat, after all.
“Comot for road, you tiny toad, make we enter”, one of the thugs barks at the young girl who the three men brush aside as they barge into the sitting-room.
“Hey, gentlemen, behave yourselves. This is still my flat, ok?”, Ben challenges the thugs. But he can only get them to laugh at him, raucously.
“Oga Mr Ben or wetindemdey call you self? Landlady say make we drive you and your family comot for here”, says one of them.
“The landlady cannot just send people of questionable character into my private quarters. My rent -”
“Chairman, bone dat tin! My rent! Which kin’ rent? You pay rent, demdey give you Quit Notice? Your time is up, man! You must pack out this morning or else we go troway your yeye property”.
“And blood go flow, o!”, another thug adds, smoking a roll of Indian hemp. He bares his mouth in a mirthless smile, many of his front teeth missing. Terrified, the children begin to cry.
“Wetinunadey cry for? Ohoo! You don’t want to go, abi? You are waiting for landlady to go to court, abi? Court is for stupid people. You go court, wetin you go see? Delay! Police wan chop. Magistrate dey drag his feet, as if say the tenant naimbroda. Naaa! Court na scam!”, says one of the thugs. He hardly finishes his ranting before one of them smashes an empty bottle of beer against the wall.
“Una wan leave abiuna no wan leave? Oya, tell me!”, the thug that has just broken a bottle asks, reeking of alcohol.
“Please, please, gentlemen. Please, please, we are leaving today”, Grace pleads.
“Today, ke! Now! You must leave here now!”
“Okay, okay! We’re leaving now”, Grace concedes, praying silently in her heart for divine intervention. In the ensuing melee, the evacuation people arrive. The rain still pattering, non-stop.
“Oga, no vex, na traffic and the rain, naim delay us.Oya, let’s do it! Where are the loads? Oya, oya, everybody carry something to the vans, outside”, the leader of the evacuation team rallies his boys.
“It’s fine. Let some of your men help me dismantle these beds”, Ben says, meekly.
“Achango, you take care of that. The rest of you, begin to carry all the stuff to the vans. No time to waste,” their leader orders. As the men carry the Ghana-Must-Go bags and other items to their vans, Ben and his family assist them in picking up things that drop along the way. Meanwhile, the thugs simply loiter around, watching. Soon enough, the entire flat is cleared of their things and Ben and his family get onto the vans as they depart for their new home….
How do I face all those inquisitive neighbours? God, how come we could not find accommodation anywhere else except our former old neighbourhood? It’s not as if there are no one-room-and-parlour-self-contained apartments anywhere else. It’s just that I cannot afford them. Too expensive. Thank God, my old friend, the landlord of a house in our old neighbourhood, has agreed to let me pay a much-reduced rent for a room-and-parlour. Just over one year away from the place and now we are back again. Well, the kids can return to their old schools. We will reconnect with old folks. But now that I’m unemployed after resigning my former job upon landing lots of money, what do I do now to support my family? How long can Grace’s corner-shop sustain the entire family, ehn? Oh God! See now, all my investments have failed; my shares and stocks, all valueless now. Even the house project I embarked upon, I have to abandon it for lack of money. Who talks of building a house when you cannot feed your hungry family? Where are all of my friends, where, my relatives? My money has finished; they’ve all disappeared. Such is life…
As they arrive their old neighbourhood, the vans come to a stop. Ben then re-emerges from his deep reflections. It has taken them over an hour to get here. Hungry and tired, the children and their parents hop down from the vans. Suddenly, from nowhere, the neighbourhood children quickly gather near the two vans and start singing their old song: Ben low, Ben low, Ben low, Ben low and see what’s Naija’s done… Ben low, Ben low,…
ChrisAnyokwuwrites from University of Lagos.