SOLDIER

We squat at the mouth of the open gutter. Our backs are to the dirt road, our legs folded beneath us like overgrown frogs in dirtied pants. I lean forward from my squat, pointing at a rather large tadpole: “There!” Sani sucks in fuel from his running nose, hawks a thick glob and hurls it at our victim, rippling the sea of foul-smelling wastewater. He giggles and nudges me, thankful. My turn. I scan the sewage for my prey, squinting to see beneath my reflection and that of the setting sun. I roll my ball of phlegm, pushing forward with my tongue and readying for the launch. I do not hear the din of a frightened throng of witnesses. I do not hear the roar of truck engines approaching us. I do not take notice of Sani’s warning nudge; my eyes are on the hunt. When Sani jumps to his feet, though, I begin a slow intake of my now noisy neighbourhood, mildly irritated that my tadpole got away. Two trucks stop in the middle of our road and gaunt men jump to the ground, clad in the greyscale of the Resistance. Their arms are heavy with rifles and their shoulders shine with rows of ammunition belts. He steps forward from their midst and grins, growling a guttural Hausa from a tobacco sore throat. A few mothers flinch; he said the same thing months ago when he stole away their children: “I will give you strength. I will give you power.”

In the year that Batu stole away my childhood, we were forced to raid towns camouflaged as federal soldiers, searching out the non-Hausa. “They are weak! We will chase them from our lands. They do not own this place. We will show our superiority. We will show our strength. Strength comes from the kill”, Batu would growl, “power belongs to us!” He would cleanse our towns; his war was holy. His horde would get excited at the thought of burning homes and charring flesh. “Daukaka!” They would shout, “Glory!”, and toss us rifles in amusement as we dribbled salt-rain on our uniforms inside out, in innocence. And when I stopped wetting myself, it was for fear of the herd. But Batu commanded, we would pillage, molest and maim. And whatever seemed good we would take. After a series of raids, he ordered that we wear our own greyscale brazenly. That providence supported us.
Curse him that led us away from home. That molested our memories. There was no day we did not fear, the underlings, death. None that I did not sleep less in anxiety. But he would urge us on. Where we were feeble, he was bold; a conqueror. What is valour? What is glory? Are they not folly when the earth gorges on our blood? But Batu would not fail, they said. So I followed him, I and other fools, blindly. Ah. In the day that the federal troops poured against us and I saw the insides of a man’s head; the sweltering Sun was more comfort than Batu’s failing courage. He was lying crumpled when I found him, his uniform caked and brown, foul with the smell of corruption and singed copper- and pleading for the mercy of death.

Batu was wrong. The strong do not plead. Not for mercy. The strong grant mercy, I have learned. Strength is born of will; power from guts. I surrendered, willingly. Infidel? Ah, no. I quit the war. But I am Soldier still; I am he that survives.
“For brave men and boys, whose curse is to war.”

-The Insanity Exhibition, November 2016.

Artwork by Kenart

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GNAW

He fumbles with his groundnut pod. A defiant three-or-four-year old that will not call for help. It slips out of his fingers once or twice, and he darts in its direction each time, pulled by his fascination with the shell-hard thing that won’t give in to his will. He raises it to his face for careful examination, gripping it at the tips with four skinny fingers of his left hand, pivoted underneath by his thumb; observing the fine lines sculpted along its length by no human hands. After careful inspection, he bares his teeth- the first weapons of little ones his age, flat and chiselled little things they are- and sinks them into the once-upon-a-stubborn shell of the dry groundnut, and a satisfying crunch reaches my ears. One would expect a child so tender to have no insight into the rules for savouring groundnut. But he pulls his hand back from his mouth, the cracked shell with it, and raises his right hand in a delicate, if not dexterous, dance to free the two halves of the now divided groundnut shell. He peers at the purplish-brown treasure encased within, a grin of victory on his face as he looks at me. I smile in return, knowing deep within: “This one is a fighter”.

I do not often have such ‘moments of truth’ with scrawny looking children clad in dirtied pants, running around the marketplace; that would leave me queer. Perhaps that pant-clad child is a representation of mankind and our will to survive. Science lies. Perhaps the aged do not lose their teeth to age; perhaps they lose them to long years of gnawing through life and its woes, of cracking new spheres of emotion and even more-overwhelming loses. Plausibly, our teeth fall out from gnawing for survival.

 

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Artwork by Kenart

VENGEANCE

 

If I took a brush and painted the world,
I’d fail to describe how joys are withheld,
How anguish is spread by the cruel war engines,
But one thing is sure, I’ll portray the Vengeance.

the Vengeance I preach is food for the weak,
the lost and the tortured whose futures seem bleak;
to give them back courage and help them to speak,
and light up their faces; put smile to a cheek.

Vengeance-“Is mine”, and so says the Lord,
It will be mere folly to question his word,
So put down your guns- he’ll make wars to cease;
and quell all your sorrows, your troubles do freeze.

this Vengeance, this gospel,
Is freedom, good God’s tool,
So loosen your bondage,
hold freedom as hostage.

This vengeance is clean; the air that we breathe,
This vengeance is green; the plants that we eat,
A vengeance inexpensive; the best things are free,
This vengeance is locked; survival is key.

When life drops before you, a plate of cold stones,
This vengeance is recipe for ripe fruits and scones,
Should pupils be painted, the colour of hatred,
Keep your fingers locked, this vengeance means patience.

For brave men and boys, whose curse is to war,
whose lives are, to freedom, what red is to blood,
For the dead and the dying, that demand relief
-this vengeance, for widows, is good handkerchief.

“No finger is equal”, a cruel word hindrance,
On this life you see, we all must take vengeance,
Be vengeful and wroth, but what is our foe?
-the classism; segregation, that is our deepest woe.

For the weak and the feeble, those helpless and poor,
A hue and cry, an anthem to live for,
Do not despair, nor regret- continue in your war,
To survive- not forget- is what vengeance stands for.

For Kene.

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Artwork by Kenart

BLUE MERCHANT

Ardour of the hour glass,
Silences ‘the fates’,
Pregnant with forecast,
Heavy as dark ale.

Of a trader in passing;
Fallen birds cite too late:
“Tease the man of artful classing
-a foul trick; absquatulate!”

Let Sinister chide and entangle,
Along with Clandestine;
Will sit as judge over all wrangle,
Who dares foretell our next line?

A little here; a little there,
Clothe them all with Sadness’ hue,
Whence there will be tear; Death borne with despair,
Sell ‘em grand fabric the colour of Blue.

Oh Nefarious Playwright,
Contemptuous Coveter!
All wrongs, steer right,
Dark wisdom preventer.

Who makes Knight?
Whispers, “Credence”?!
Great ones spites?
Blames ‘Providence’?

Leave ‘Him’ speak truth,
Lest he despise that gender;
Let’s name him a ‘Ruth’,
Still, we wrongly engender.

When it, our feeble minds fail to control,
We watch it slip: “Alas, have a go!”
I know of its nature: Time is a Troll!
The fabled ‘Blue Merchant’: Keeper of “Long Ago”.

In all might, with all grim,
‘Tis not close to ‘almighty’,
Though it the Stars and Sun adore,
Shall bow low to one; ‘tis messenger of God!

sundial-ring

OF TIME.

CROCODILE

His back is against us. Arched like a cat’s. He hurriedly tucks at the hindrance at his waistline, with the fluster of a four-year old struggling with shoelace. But his fingers tell a tale of impatience, whence relief shall delay. In the urgency of neglect, he lets his rifle fall to the ground. Now armed with both arms, the Khaki trousers slumps off his waist, mocking the once defiant belt buckle. What happens next confounds us fourteen passengers. The once-upon-an-armed Policeman begins to drizzle salt rain against the wall and ground; spitter-spatter. Clad in Black Khaki shirt, boxer shorts and fallen Khaki trousers. He lifts his right leg, tilts his buttocks to the left and lets out an ominous fart. Aye, this is what begifts the other thirteen and driver with murmur ‘pon the lip. Amused by his brazenness, I roar with laughter. Perhaps I was too loud, for the Officer of the Law suddenly quells his ease and half-turns to the window from whence I stared the proceeding. His face now cringes, as if a burnt pancake. He hurriedly grabs his trousers, in attempt to cover shame; or recover it. Before he reaches rifle, however, our bus driver seems to have had his share of the comedy. The Volkswagen Transporter bellows ‘way, leaving the Policeman gape at Black stripe on Yellow paint.

When I was twelve, my grandfather would call me into his room each evening and tell of his younger days. He had been a hunter, the village’s pride- according to him. I would bend my feet beneath me in a squat, wedging my arms at the elbows and resting them on my thighs; supporting my chin with my palms across my cheeks. He, on a creaking chair as old as my father- so he said- would spin finely threaded tale of village life I would never have. I had often wondered why he came to the city, if village life was so fulfilling. Now, he lies motionless in a locally made coffin, several meters beneath his farm. The day he died, I followed father to the village. I queried my father, seeking truth. “Grey hair tells no lie.” But grandfather did. A great deal. Perhaps because he had no hair; grey or other. I vote nay that he ever shaved. His scalp was battered; all hair grated by loads of tuber and fruit, for grandfather had been a farmer. That is all father told me. Nosy whispers said more, however. “Abraham Johnson”, the English had christened him. The unfortunate fisherman. Libertine. Drunk. They said his first name stuck, for he spread more seed than the Cobra sprayed saliva. He had only one legal son, however. My father. But Abraham Johnson! In spite of his failings, the village knew him well, for he had caught more fish than a Lizard caught flies. In the end, however, he had lost three fingers on his right hand to a crocodile. A queer man, he ne’er let them waste. He would roll up paper pregnant with Indian hemp while mother and father left for work, lick the sleeves and wedge the foul piece between the stumps of two half-eaten fingers on his right. The last stump, the index finger, he would use to arrange brown snuff powder after his smoke.

Noise from the bus park arouses me from time travel, lest I remain in the past. My mind seems to cling to memoirs of dead bald men? Nay. Perhaps I was reminded. Aye, the pissing Policeman. His belly was like grandfather’s, for ne’er have I seen such a finely carved calabash. Rounded and swollen by seas of fermented Barley. Indeed, it reminded of grandfather, but I will let it pass. Our bus driver wheels to the right, turning into the Park. His left hand is hanging from the window, a crisp currency note rolled between his fingers. He slaps it into the palm of an eager Policeman, the latter grinning sheepishly and saluting the driver. This time, no passenger exchanges glances. None complains. In my country, it is the norm to bribe these ones. It is the law. Their law. He revs up the engine a last time, whence the over-worked engine coughs and sputters thick smoke from poor fuel combustion, further plaguing the almost saturated air. I begin the walk, briskly throwing foot. I am in a hurry, and the Live Football match is scheduled for “18:45”. It’s 6:30 p.m. already, and I’ve yet to walk some twenty more minutes. “Perhaps I shall hire a Bike?” Nay. Too expensive. They’ll charge Three Hundred Naira, for they know I have no choice. Extortioners. The thought roving, I walk past them Bike riders, leaving them whistle in my direction. Five paces past, and I begin to hear the din of an excited throng. I finally see the lot up ahead on the road. Leading this congregation is a man clad in the Danshiki. The scalp of his head is covered by the Dog-eared cap, the ears of which are neatly folded and pointing upwards. He has a partner hanging from his left shoulder, that he may not take all glory for himself; the queer little drum that speaks grandiose, all within baritone. His left palm lies across its side, holding it against his left thigh. He suddenly bends in a sacred manner, as if performing the Danse Macabre. His right hand aptly surfaces, showing the wooden mediator between him and drum. The drumstick is curved as a Scimitar, then rounded at the point of impact. The Talking Drum then begins conversation, bellowing praise of a noble ruler. Few paces behind this duo is a car hued Black. A fat man with a puggy head sits atop the Sunroof, waving to the crowd. He is clad in Guinea Brocade sewn into ‘Buba and Sokoto’, a native style. The vehicle bears posters of him, with the inscription:
“Vote…for Councillor”
I choose not to see the name of the fat one, for I am disgusted.
“Oi, pray tell us! Are you but greedy for more power?!”
I only think it, I dare not ask aloud. There is no guarantee of freedom after speech, I’m afraid. Closely following him are two trucks. I stand at the roadside, observing the procession. Come the first truck. Laden with sacks, two attendants begin to climb down, the one after the other, repeatedly. Each time carrying sacks, each time throwing to the eager crowd, and each time the crowd chanting praise. In the crazed struggle, a sack or two bursts, spilling Rice or Beans. I begin to move out of their way, lest the furious owners of burst sacks ram into me in their madness. Unable to move briskly, I begin to ease my way out of the crowd, the only one moving in the opposite direction. As I advance, I see that the second truck is loaded with thugs. Behemoths that would dare the Goliath; their lips swelled and blackened from burnt wraps of Indian hemp; their faces dry and whitened from much exposure to gusts of cruel Harmattan winds. Each one a monster; all seeking blood. “One..two..three..four…” A tirade seems to have begun on the east of the first truck, interrupting my count. Hastily, the giants begin to leap out of the truck, all armed with machetes and large knives. I once more begin my march, this time quickening my pace. I must have missed much of the football match, but I must escape this mob.

I make an urgent rapping sound on the door.
“Open up, It’s Felicia!”
The door swings open.
“Good evening, sir!” I greet my father, barely kneeling. Not because I’m disrespectful, but because there’s no time to complete customary salutation.
“Good evening. Welcome.”
I slip inside the house and slump into a couch.
“I’ve told you severally to be home before seven, young lady. Did you see the mob? What if they hurt you..?”
Father begins.
“I…had to check some things out at the market.”
Silence. He knows I’m noble. I wouldn’t misbehave.
“Is mummy back?”
“She’s in the kitchen.” He responds. Partly recovered from the race, I begin to stand. The TV is not showing the football match, unfortunately.
“Daddy, are we not watching the match..?”
“This is the break after the first half of play.”
“Oh.”
I did stay long.
Mycroft Holmes, from the Sherlock Holmes TV series, graces our TV at the moment, his mouth a loaded pistol. As I move towards the kitchen, I pause to hear him speak.
“…I guarantee…that material will be found…resulting in your immediate incarceration.”
Oh. He knows. He’s the government. He can do as he pleases. The government.
I turn towards the kitchen once more.
“Good evening, Mummy.”
“Welcome, my baby.”
I do like that name, anyway. I grin, flushing and warming in my mother’s embrace.
“I’ve come to help…”
“Don’t worry. I’m already done. Go and rest a bit.”
“Thank you, Mummy!”
My father mustn’t hear of this. He’ll say mother’s spoiling me. I sneak into my room, closing the creaking door gradually, as would one afraid to wake a sleeping babe. Once alone, I begin to loosen my scarf. My best scarf, it is. I once gifted it to mother at their last anniversary, but she did not like the colour much. When the last knot is undone, I toss the scarf on my bed, letting my hair fall back and tease my aching neck. Father had nailed the mirror strategically, such that I need only climb out of bed to gaze ‘pon my face. I’d done this in the morning when I woke, and I feel it necessary to complete this ritual. I flip the light bulb on and discover, much to my chagrin, that a pimple has begun its growth on my light-skinned face. I scatter the cosmetic tray before me until I find my liquid knight in familiar bottle. Caution. A bath first. Enlivened with zeal to evict the vile imperfection, I begin to approach the towel. Climbing across the bed, I meet with my scarf again. Deep spots and hues, like the scales on grandfather’s Leviathan. Perhaps the Crocodile is not much different from Government. Arms of Executive and Judiciary; hind legs named Bribery and Debasement, and a thrashing tale of Legislature. Aye. Tail with stories. Tearing at poor man from rivers of power. Perhaps there is no law. Perhaps there is no justice. Aye, it’s ‘Court of Law’, not ‘Court of Justice’. The politician did speak of change. Same sermon of the Leech before him; whence forth we literally bounce in zigzag. Man only governs man in the internecine cycle of greed; hate and ill fate. “Why ‘change’, and not ‘repair’?” I stare the tiled bathroom walls, the question in eye. “If our water tank burst along its girth, would we repair it? Would we rather change it?” Perhaps human desire is insatiable. “If we changed the tank, would it function better? If we repaired, would it function better? Would we outgrow it, eventually?” That is the tank. That is human government. There we have our fierce Crocodile. Lest I plague myself with riddles for the Plumber, I’ll have a good bath.

Perhaps man can ne’er tame the Crocodile.
Indeed.
“…it does not belong to man who is walking to direct his step.”

For them with eyes. To see reason.

NOTE: All characters are fictitious and do not actually represent a person, persons or an organisation. Furthermore, this piece of fiction may not be used for political or anti-political themes.

OMEGA

Dogs. Two of them. The He-brute struts-a bit overzealously- and She follows. Or so it appears. The hairy lot stroll casually toward me to inspect. Or suspect. For the queer grin on his face, as if the verdict of a jury. And she follows. Mindlessly. Paw after paw. Unreasoning beasts, they appear to me: “…have in subjection…every…animal that is moving on the earth…” But they know not the law. They leap ‘pon me, like I did wrong. Dysphoria is complete, when the Pacco Rabanne jacket I borrowed is rent in the fashion of textile fireworks. When canine injustice has exhausted it’s wrath, the gate man approaches my bleeding and very humiliated body:
“I’m very sorry, sir! I’ll call an ambulance!”
I recoil from my cold, hard embrace with the rough-surfaced pavement. My Once-upon-a-Black suit now resembles White background for Mud coloured Polka Dots- the result of roughing me against saliva and dusty pavement; nibbling holes and dirtying my vest within. In the far east corner of my eye, Bruno and Juliet elope, waltzing. No tragedy in their Shakespearian tale.

“Human Diploid Cell Vacine.”
I know. Because she said so. She also said that she would continue puncturing my already sore buttocks for a couple more days. I hold no grudge against the fluid; creamy like breast milk, maybe clearer than that; I cannot tell. She concocted it in a hurry, as if hiding the secret to her evil brew. What I can tell is the exaggerated length of her hypodermic needle, shiny protrusion from tubular, meek plastic. A pointed reminder that “all that shines isn’t gold.”
‘Pon the wake, my eyes reveal an adult male bowed in throaty, vigorous laughter. I cannot blame the nurse for bringing such a rattler in. His head is a luminary, for the reflection of the fluorescent lamp above us; clean-shaven. His eyes are welled with tears and wit; not at all hidden beneath finely trimmed eyebrows. His nose is the
pride of an archer; straight, like the steel arrow-head, plunging and halting above finely threaded moustache. His chin is clean; curving backwards like a talon, smooth like the blade of a spade. Black Narcissus. From his throat bellows the Larynx of a mature Bullfrog. My uncle. I need not fear chastisement. His eyes already promise treachery. How much did his suit cost? I find, very much to my embarrassment, that this question and many like it plague me now. Had they betided me ‘pon the thievery, I probably would not have had it on, for the rabids to feast. Truth is, I never had the man’s consent. The stern of his eyes ettles to portray his disapproval. His solemn rise from the nurse’s guestfriendly chair tells of this, but the nurse does not see it that way. She only stands there, gawking at what seems to be the life-size version of the carved ‘man-and-pen’ trademark of the Bic Biro. Her folly, however, troubles me not. The man nods in my direction:
“We’re leaving.”
Exit the Clinic. At the clang of rusting metal gates behind us, my uncle begins his sermon. Seated, he wails, coercing the defiant wheel through road and pavement of recurring bumpiness. The road seems to indulge him, in no attempt to quell his anger; each irritable turn increasing the pitch in his voice, till it rivals the ferocity of a
public-address system.
“…who gave you permission to ..?”
I’m mute.
“The nurse was nice enough to have taken you in! What were you doing in that compound, anyway…did you not know there were dogs?!”
Dumb question. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have perceived that they would be loosed, to punish the innocent.
“…I was asked to apply for a job, in person.”
“Oh? Who owns the company?”
Like I’d care. I only sought the job.
“I’ve no idea.”
“Mrs William Grace! They even say she’s a Doctor! So, she thinks herself able to man the company, eh?. In this age, how could she be competing with us for power?! Some women just do not know when to stop!”
I stare the pillock in the face, wide eyed. I can tell that he intends to continue.
“Did you not read: ‘woman will be in subjection to man’?”
My anger is almost complete:
“But that is expected, only of married couples!”
He looks me in the eye:
“I do not understand you, Tope! I’m surprised that a male would think so! I’m disappointed.”
Think what you will of me.
Thankfully, we’re home. I place my foot on pavement. Much encouraging. The brute-bites ache now, but I’ll live. Much longer than I would, if the conversation did not end. He even forbade me step foot in Vortex Pharmaceuticals again. However, I have other intentions. Tomorrow, I’ll submit my letter of application, in response to the advertised vacancy of office for an Industrial Chemist. In feigned appreciation- for the ride and wise counsel- I wave at the now retreating figure of a shimmering Maroon 2011 model Crysler 300c Sedan. He said he had work to do. Good riddance.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013. The day I notify the HR Department of my will to work in the company. I approach the gates with caution. There’s no warning sign, yet my mind seems to throat loud, emphatic “Beware of Dogs!” between breath intervals, now very often. The same creaking sound of rusted heavy metal heights my anxiety. One foot within, and I chance ‘pon the Punisher. The bigger of the beasts grants me a leer, after the fashion of Shark and Fish. The Alpha. Fang sets with a horrendous reputation. His tongue is bequeathed with saliva, dripping from almost violent pants. He
awaits me. But I know this. From my satchel, I begin to pull at the almost conspicuous handle of a baseball bat. Feeling a victor, I charge forth. He does the same. I, walking, him trotting. My elation is only transient, for the bat won’t budge. Not while there’s a struggle for space with my books and files. He stops, too, and I see why. He’s no fair beast; lest there be no chain round his neck. It grips him in cold fury, all for my comedy. In the end, humbled by its strength, he bellows in bark. A uniformed guard approaches, relieving me. He’s different from yesterday’s.
“Good morning, sir. How may I help you?”
So you didn’t hear of how this brute bit me, yesterday?
“I’m here in response to the advertisement for vacancy of the post of Industrial Chemist.”
He seems to have noticed the numerous beads of sweat on my forehead, and then replies:
“I’m sorry she scared you. We’ve been having problems with her, lately. Please, come with me, sir.”
She? Her? I turn enough to look again at the German Shepherd, now lying meekly. Beneath an exaggerated girth, three nipples point in my direction.
“Where’s the other..?”
He grins.
“You’ve been here before?”
“Indeed.”
“He’s the smaller one. We keep him at the back. You must’ve come at midday, that’s the only time they are together. You’ll probably see them before you leave.”
As we make a turn through the entrance of the complex, he salutes other uniformed men. Approaching a short flight of stairs, he stops and points to a six-panelled door.
“Knock on that door. You’ll be received by the Secretary.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
Thirteen minutes later, I exit the complex, pass the group of seated officers, and walk into the open space in front. There, the only human around being myself, I come to stare once more at the Alpha. She casually begins to stroll once more in my direction, this time with her companion, he, loyally following. Realising that there is no chain round her neck, I brace myself for impact, clutching my baseball handle again. She only eases herself past me. Perhaps deliberately. To show more of herself. Indeed, the view be graceful. She brushes her tail against my right leg, still shivering in its place. Her fur is luscious, finely arranged after the fashion of a cosmetic brush; gleaming with a black lustre that beckons my touch. But I remember the battle. I will not do it. The follower trots in line, eyeing me with a cynical growl. He turns toward her and continues in pace. Bemused by this, I begin the ponder. In the end, I’m no different from my uncle, lest I renounce the insidious air that recommends the Alpha of society male. “Mrs William Grace..?” Who knows if prosterity shall reward her, should she born sons enslaved to this arbitrary foolishness.
“Male and Female, he made them.”
I mutter to myself as I approach the gates. If one is Alpha, whose place is Omega? My next appointment with the HR officer is in two days. Perhaps by then, I may have found answer to this Greek riddle.

For Woman. No less than man.

“Domestic- a beast of burden,
Remote are the feats of the donkey,
Construed as the woman’s place,
Illustrated as without grace.”

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Artwork by Kenechukwu Nwadiogbu.

Note: This is a piece of fiction. All characters are fictional, and bear no resemblance to an actual person or registered name. Also, this piece may not be used for Sexist or Anti-sexist notions or themes.

MONOCHROME

I make a soothing ascent from the toilet seat; appeased, pausing only to muse over my handwork. Satisfied, I appeal to the shiny lever at the angled extremity on the top right of my ‘pleasure box’. I extend my hand, teasing the lever, inclining it to the right. With little effort, the pulley system succumbs to my advances, bestowing the the title of ‘Rainmaker’. I observe as the ensuing whirlpool overcomes the brown, leaving only tiny green bits of vegetable; evidence of yesterday’s dinner. As I head out of the rest-room, I hear a rumble of applause from within- the only gratitude shown me in recent times. My chain of thoughts organised, I begin a rehearsal of my presentation.

On Friday, I received an invite as a guest speaker from a charity organisation. I should have declined- I would have declined, but for some reason, I’ve no excuse in particular. Not the four meetings I had to reschedule for next week; not the two conference invitations I declined. Nothing dissolves the applause of two hundred hungry but happy children. By the way, when those M.Ds and C.E.Os clap their hands for me at a conference, it is a formality. Not gratitude…

Hissing at the thought of this customary ritual, I mentally re-arrange punctuations by soliloquy. Where was I..? Ah! “…as part of a plot to improve economic turnout, I suggest that…” -I interrupt myself: “That doesn’t sound right. Not to a crowd of nine-year olds and teenagers.” I approach the two-panelled room door, reaching for the handle. I pause at the thought of the shoes I’ll wear. I had figured almost every other thing. I walk towards the shoe rack- half my height, carved from Acacia and polished the colour of Amber; I can tell, I polished it myself. I walk along it’s length, my fingers trailing, stopping intermittently at each heel; examining, choosing. Finally, I pull out a pair of dark-tanned Brogued Captoes, size 43. “Musa will make this shine.”

I will probably never leave Lagos! I walk briskly, my shoes in my right hand, my phones in my left. I am armed with my wallet, safe in the back pocket of my three-quater length blue Jeans. The one Tolu had made me buy. A smile creeps into my face, as her face drifts into mental focus: Her pupils are dark, her eyelids are fertile; sprouting graceful eyelash. Her forehead is shiny chocolate; smooth, except for an occasional die-hard pimple. Her nose is broad, African; although in my prayers, I’d asked for narrow and long. Her lips are primly portioned, laced with varnish the scent of Mangoes; cheek bones so smooth, a tear wouldn’t stop halfway…with careless excitement, I place an unwary foot on the dry tarmac. As if to punish my lack of discretion, a crazed knight on motorcycle back charges past me, from my opinion, hoping to sever my foot. “Mad man!” I scream, but he is long gone. I probably will never leave Lagos! But I despise these ‘Okada men’. Extending my less- burdened arm, I appeal to an old lady seated behind the wind shield of a Ford Explorer. She obliges, and I hurry across the road. Once safe on the other side, I walk towards another beauty of Lagos; somewhere between a huge shopping complex and the defiant giant of a Banking hall. Somewhere so tiny it could contain only three people. Constructed in a lean-on style, the once silvery roofing sheet is now brown halfway from exposure to the elements. The ‘pillars’ are square- sawn planks wedged prudently into the ground. Walking closer, the bowed head of a man begins to distinguish itself from the dark background. On his laps is a plastic rectangular basket. I’m most certain his mother had discouraged him from playing with sharp objects- his defiance is evident from the content of the basket: needles and hooks, nails and tacks, a tack hammer and coils of thread. His hands engaged, sorting; mending. He exposes his left palm to reveal scars of varied depths, the majority at the tips of his fingers.
“Musa, abeg, help me polish this one.”
“Oga, na pipty naira.”
“Tah! Take twenty!”
“Oya bi-ring am come.”
I begin to construct my speech again, thinking up possible ways to cheer up the less-privileged. Distracted, my eyes find their way back to Musa’s activity. I watch him smile secretly at the leather, a remark that said: “come to Papa!” He picks the left foot, and begins to paint. I am a communicator, a public speaker skilled with the secrets of human interaction. However, watching Musa hue the crevices of my footwear is humbling. I slowly join him on his bench, keenly observing. He wipes the brush with the skill of an artisan. With finesse, he bathes this foot, appealing to it, teasing it until it succumbs in shiny perfection. As it begins to shine with an evil lustre, he places it gently back on the ground, retrieving a brown piece of foam rubber to pacify it. He then picks the other foot, repeating the process.
“Oga, I don pinish o.”
Breaking my stare, I reach for my back pocket and retrieve my wallet. I flip the currency notes, until I arrive at the One Thousand Naira currency note. I pull it out, extending it to him.
“Ah! Oga no change o!”
“Keep the change, Oga Musa.”
Bewildered, he nods appreciatively.
“Tank you, Oga! You do well o!”
I should respond, but my pride won’t let me. Instead, I nod, pick my shoes and start walking. Back across the busy road. Back the way I came. I enter the house and begin to look at my shoes, as if I’d just bought them. Guiltily, I acknowledge: “He’s better than I.” Then I begin to reassure myself: “No! I went to school! I went to College! I have a well-paying job!” Then it hits me. I have happiness. Musa has it more. I was given a Coat of Varied colours. Musa’s is a Monochrome. But he has included in it the colour of happiness. I want that colour. We all do.
The guilt pangs begin tearing at me again. But I’ve done no wrong. I only covet the contentment of those with little means. The contentment of Chidinma, the albino that peels oranges in the next street. The contentment of Iya Fathia, the one that Tolu buys ‘Ata rodo’ from. How she and her children chant and bicker. The hyperactive hands of Musa the Shoe-shiner. Their contentment.
Resolved, I begin preparing for tomorrow’s speech: “THE COLOUR OF HAPPINESS”. But I will not tell what that colour is. A secret. Monochrome.

For Musa.