You place the bucket beneath the sink and watch as the dirty water drains off it, doing to to to as it trickles slowly into the bucket. Above the sink, you wash the plates, turning the bottle – in which you had poured a little quantity of Klin and two cups full of water – upside down and pressing its content into your sponge. After wiping the plates clean, you rinse them again and again until you feel the cris cris of clean plates. You then leave your kitchen and walk into the sitting room, using one hand to shift the curtains you have used to demarcate your home. You sit on the only black wooden chair and drink your surroundings in. It is a one-room apartment, but in it you have a sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen, all demarcated by curtains. You look at the un-plastered walls and the wet ceiling hanging so low, it is just one thunder away from caving in and retching its content onto your head and all your properties.
Your home is an uncompleted building made with blocks. You had begged the landlord to let you stay in one room. It was mutual, he didn’t have enough money to complete the house and you didn’t have enough money to get a decent home. When you told him to give you just one room, “just fix the ceiling and windows and I will be fine”, he thought you were crazy.
You stare hard at the ceiling, wondering what will pour down when its belly is eventually sliced open. For the first time, it hits you that when this ceiling caves in, the secret of your room will be exposed to the sky and all the gods living in the clouds.
You tasted fear long before you saw it. It tasted of poverty and sugar – like your father’s eruku oshodi drink. You later saw it in the clothes bought for you by your mother. They were oversized, the sleeves long enough to become trousers and the dresses wide enough to be bedspreads. The clothes had thick shoulder pads and shiny flecks that dropped on the floors as you walked. Shine shine, you called them. They would have been your favourite, save for the shoulder pads your mother had forbidden you to remove. “They make you look mature and rich”, she said when she noticed your eyes brimmed with tears and your jaws drooped in shame.
Fear hung on to the helm of all your garments, making them heavier. At first, this fear was a tiny mole that stuck to the laces at the base of your clothes. Then like a carbuncle, it grew steadily, creeping like those wall grasses that covered your fence, until it hid beneath your collars, sucking your blood through the veins that lined your neck.
On the day you hit your left leg against a large pointed colourless rock, you were walking, shame-faced, to mama Risi’s house to beg for a derica of garri and a cup of rice. Unlike the previous times where you took heavy steps but had hopes that somehow, your family would clear all debts, that day, fear buckled your knees right in front of her gate and you fell, catching your reflection in the little puddle of brown water that stayed idle on the muddy floor – the aftermath of the heavy rain that fell the day before. From the ripples of the water, fear stared back at you. At first, it peeped out of the collar of your shoulder-padded sequin dress with heavily lined eyes, then it slithered out menacingly and looked squarely into your eyes – loathing, scornful, taunting.
You live in your head. In the illusion of being rich. In your kitchen you have a sink, it isn’t like the one you admired the first time you went to mama Risi’s house, but it is still a sink. You place 8 blocks on top of one another, 4 on opposite sides, then you buy a sink and put it on it. You put a bucket under it to absorb the water that pours down from the sink. Covering the cemented floor of your room is a cheap carpet, but underneath it is an abandoned felefele foam you saw in a pile of garbage while you walked home from your workplace where you are a senior janitor. When you step on the carpet, it is soft and your feet sink into it in a good way. It feels like the rug in mama Risi’s house. Your furniture is a long black wooden chair, it is hard and stiff and your back aches for days when you sit on it for a few hours. You have a flat mattress, a little higher than the floor and a pillow made up of clothes stuffed into a wrapper. You have a library, they are tattered books used to decorate a tattered shelf. In your dining room, there is a blue plastic chair and a round blue plastic table. On it are three glass cups, a plastic jug, several forks and spoons, and a kitchen knife. You use a fork and knife when you eat, like those people on TV. On your dining table is a pack of Nutri-C. Whenever you are about to eat, you tear a sachet and pour it into your glass of water. The colour changes – like wine. It makes you feel rich.
Your major fear in life was ending up in poverty. Unlike other 12-year-olds that lived in your community, every kukuruuku of the chicken was a reminder of another day filled with anxiety and it was always accompanied by the fear of the future. Hunger gnawed the walls of your stomach and nibbled at your intestines. Every day, your family played ayo and ludo, hitting the pebbles hard against the chest of the board, pouring out their anger into the game. Whenever the sun climbed high into the sky, you would eat a meal of garri, rice or eba – the only meal for the day. Sometimes, hunger stayed behind your eyeballs and pushed it out until it protruded – red and bloody. Hunger stung your ears, chewed your ankles, dug wells in our shoulders, and sucked the brain off your skull.
You knew this life was not for you. Every time you saw Risi, you wondered how different your life would have been if you had been born into her family instead of yours. Every time you looked at your parents, you resented them for being poor. When your father spent every little kobo on cigarettes, this resentment grew and when he became too poor that he rolled newspapers into sausage-like shapes, set fire to the tips, and inhaled large black smoke, this resentment slowly converted into revulsion. You became bitter, that this world happened to you. That poverty chose you.
You gave yourself five years to break out of poverty; you would work hard and make plenty of money that will fill up the well in your mother’s shoulders. When you pleaded with mama Risi to give you some money to start a pure-water business, she looked at you with disgust. But when this disgust turned to pity and she gave you some money, you hopped on your feet thanking her and making promises to return the money soon. Then you tell her you will buy plenty food and return all the dericas of rice your family ever collected. You will build a house for your parents and take your family away from the shack you all lived in. Then you will get a big shop for your mother where she will sell food and your family will never be poor again. She watched your eyes widen with excitement and smiled forlornly, as if she knew that those were dreams that would, in future, belch barrenness. As if she knew that you wouldn’t make a fortune out of hawking pure-water, neither will you break out of poverty that way. That this country would toss you here and there, pressing its thorny knees on your neck as you strive to pull your body off the floor. Life has faeces stuck in its bowel and your head is inside life’s anus.
You are on the bed watching your ceiling crack slowly, the rain is pouring heavily outside and the thunder is threatening to strike. The sky looks like it will split and in your heart, you say a subtle prayer. If the thunder cracks the clouds, then it will definitely crack your ceiling.
The wind is making your head whirl with thoughts and again you wonder when you shall break free. When these dreams will come to pass. Penury grabs your ankle as you take every step forward and your money slopes into the never-sated belly of financial woes.
Tears are gathering again at the brink of your eyes and you angrily sweep them behind your lids. You will not cry. You take a deep breath and just then, thunder strikes the moon, cracks the clouds, and slashes your ceiling.