The Unkindness of Ravens by Tolu Daniel

So, you walk in on your mother having sex with a man on the bed she shares with your father.

She’s down on all fours, and the man is taking her from behind like those horny compound dogs do in the middle of the night.

Anger fills your head like water and you fumble out of the house, slamming the front door of the apartment to alert them as you run off in the direction of your father’s workshop in the next street from your house.

You arrive there out of breath.

The place looks deserted; the afternoon sun had begun its descent, casting a shadow over the wooden shacks where skeletal car parts lay scattered about.

There are three shacks and one of them belongs to your father.

Broken Peugeot and Nissan vans stood rusting in front of each shack across the plot of land.

You wonder where everyone has gone as you make your way toward your father’s shack.

You enter and find him, pants down, sweating it out with Iya Risi, whose shop flanks your mother’s in Omida, thrusting his crotch into hers and grunting like a pig.

You’re shocked. Wasn’t Iya Risi in your house earlier in the morning to make her regular delivery of ofada?

You linger a bit, staring at her huge breasts, which dangled to every thrust.

Then you slink out, neither of them seeing you.

 

In the morning you had left home happy, thinking about how the next few hours of examination might change everything for you.

You were to write your final paper in the O levels—Yoruba language, the paper which signifies the end of your secondary school stay.

The paper you didn’t study for.

So, while your classmates battled their question sheets, flipping and scribbling, you had turned the plastic cap of your pen into a chew thing as you awaited the invigilator’s stop signal. And when it came, your classmates had roared into applause as deafening as the cheers of a football crowd celebrating a goal.

In the midst of the hullabaloo that happens after such exams; students running here and there and scribbling their names on patches of their school uniforms, yelling and dancing, your mind filtered out the noise and took you on a trip back to a moment with your mother.

Binju, omo mi, I will throw you a party the day you finish your exams ehn.

She had said this while casting her eyes on you one evening during a dinner of eba and efo riro. You watched her roll a morsel of eba inside her mouth as she spoke. So, in your mind, despite knowing you’d only pass your last paper if only your parents could pray a miracle, you had held on to your plan of running home to your mother’s embrace and enjoying the party she had promised.

This was how you imagined it would happen: your mother would stand by the entrance of your terraced building waiting for you.

When she sees you, her face would break into laughter as she rushes out to hug you. With her arms around your neck, walking you back to the house, she would begin to sing ‘Come and join me, sing hallelujah!’ in her off-key voice, rousing the other tenants in the building who would come out to congratulate you with hugs and praises and well wishes. How your father would grunt his approval, under the fence of his thick moustache with eyes trained on you, he’d say, Binju my son, I am proud of you. Take this one thousand naira and buy whatever you want with it. You had everything so planned.

But that afternoon, when you got home from school, nobody looked at you. Nobody congratulated you for completing the examination. The other tenants in the house didn’t say anything to you as you walked past them. You didn’t know the worst was strolling at the time.

When you left your father’s workshop that afternoon, you felt no anger toward him or your mother.

You too, had done things you weren’t proud of.

You remember watching your mother cry, while she looked for her money. The money you’d stolen.

You remember lying to your father about not stealing his Trium phone and taking it to school.

You convince yourself that it was normal for things like to happen.

You walk and walk with no particular destination in mind. Your teary eyes are a witness to your feelings. People stare at you. You stare back at them with your reddened eyes.

Night comes with its usual burdens.

A darkness amplified by long-grass music. Coupled with the acapella of  crickets and frogs and Chinese generators  in every house along the street.

The darkness covers the horizon, skirting through the edges of the street, hovering over each house, one after the other like a big, black blanket.

You play with the idea of going home, but soon shrug it off. You look at your wristwatch. The time is 7pm.

You wonder what your parents were doing in the moment.

An image of your mother in the kitchen preparing dinner floats through your mind. And another of your father, pretending to be tired, probably sitting in front of the house on the long, wooden bench with some of the other men in the building, listening to the radio or talking politics or football or some shit about their wives.

You don’t feel like seeing either of them yet. You check your pockets and find two folds of one hundred naira notes—left over from your weekly allowance.

You decide to spend both time and money at Lugo the barber’s shop, since he owns a PlayStation III. Lugo’s shop always stays open till 10pm since his house is just down the street, the same house you live in. Lugo Gee, you hail with a mime of a salute as you enter his poorly painted, overly-decorated shop.

He greets you with a toss of his head and returns to what he was doing – dusting his big roller chair and cleaning the blades of his clippers. He says nothing, as is his usual way.

Calendars and posters showing different afro American men are slapped across the walls at random angles.

Slurps of white paint crisscross the walls. A large mirror hangs by the side, and standing opposite it – a big rolling chair.

Pasted on the mirror are pictures of Lugo with his clippers, beaming a thousand and one smiles with different customers, some of them local celebrities like Alao Shefiu, the fuji star that your father loves.

Beside the barber’s workstation is a large poster of Tupac Shakur, in all his bald glory, holding a large wooden cross with the inscription ‘In God We Trust’ written beneath it.

Lugo is a heavyset man in his late thirties with a potbelly. He claims that he used to be fit, with all the six packs and what not, once upon a time. As a younger man, he said he had been a soldier in the Nigerian army, but was discharged due to his failing health.

At this time of day there’s nobody by the console, so Lugo decides to play a few rounds with you. You were sure you were going to beat him but he defeats you in each of the three games you played. So you leave the shop in frustration.

You’re out of cash and only forty minutes had passed.

Across from Lugo’s shop, the moon slides into view.

There are other shops and stalls lined up, with drainage separating them from the main road. They’re all locked now. Ocassionally, the children of the shop owners would line the drainage to play during the day, running on the wide top and dancing, some playing with bottle tops and carved dolls.

When you were much younger, you used to be one of those kids, back when your mother used to run her beauty salon from one of these shops, before she moved to Omida.

You veer off the main road and walk along the very edge of the drainage opposite the shops. Closing your eyes, you spread your arms like wings and imagine that you are a line walker performing in a circus.

Once you are done, you begin the walk home. You walk past the Ajegunle central mosque and wonder why your mother would think that the muezzin had an evil spirit, because of how piercing his cries were whenever he made the daily call to prayer.

The mosque is M-shaped and big enough to house all the Muslims in Ijemo. It stands alone on the right side of the street, while the residential buildings sit opposite it. The mosque is quiet now.

During the day, it is usually crowded with faithfuls. Some  standing by the side of the mosque, washing themselves with water from a small kettle, as though trying to invoke a kettle-djinn in preparation for prayer while others squat in prayers inside the building.

You walk past the mosque briskly, as though your mother’s claims about the muezzin could be true.

That is when you find it – a thick wad of freshly minted one-thousand naira notes made visible by the fullness of the June moon, lying orphaned between empty water bottles and biscuit wrappers inside the dry gutter adjacent the mosque. The street is silent, save the shuffle of wind and the subtle hum coming from the generators inside the residential buildings.

You look around.

There’s no one in sight.

You wonder how someone could be so careless as to lose this much money.

You remember the day you had misplaced your weekly allowance, and how dazed you felt when your father’s palm struck you across the cheek when you begged him for more money.

You are careless, stupid boy. He had said to you in Yoruba. So you want me to pay for your carelessness? Do you think I grow money in my backyard?

Now standing in front of this much money, you realize that carelessness had its own, strange rewards, so you jump into the gutter to pick up the money.

As you were about picking the money, a Nollywood movie titled Blood Money, which you saw as a child floated through your conciousness. In the film, Zack Orji put money on the ground and asked a little boy to pick it up for him. The boy obliged and turned into a cockerel, which Orji then put into a duffel bag.

When you were nine and still in primary school, one of your classmates – whose father was rumoured to be a babalawo – had said that one could ward off evil from anything if you peed on it.

He said human urine had one of the most potent jujus in the history of jujus. It could break any spell or enchantment. It seemed believable enough at the time.

As you stand, deciding on whether or not to pee on the money, you wonder which one is better, turning into a cock or losing your cock.

If you turned to a cock, you would spend the rest of your life wandering the neighborhood, trying to avoid the knife as is the life of most cocks in Ijemo. If you lose your cock, you won’t be able to make children or make women moan – the way your father made Iya Risi moan.

You consider going to get Lugo, but quickly discard the idea. You aren’t sure to return and still find the money.

So you drop your pants and urinate on the wad.

You wait and watch as the urine disappears down the steaming gutter. Your eyes linger on the pee-soaked wad which you are sure has adopted the smell of the urine.

After a while, you pick it up, swing it downwards twice, and then you put it inside your pocket grinning to yourself.

God has rewarded you with so much money for having witnessed both your parents in compromising situations and still remembering to shut up. You don’t even bother to count the money. You were expecting just one thousand naira from your father, and now you’re going home with a thick wad of thousands.

Surely, God must exist.

As you emerge from the street where you found the money, you remember a dance, Shoki.

You throw your right hand up in a ‘Z’ position, which makes your reflection on the wall look like you’re holding a snake. You bend a little and imagine Phyno’s Fada Fada. You throw your hands forward in two quick and successive moves, up down and down up.

You realize that if anyone sees you they might think you’ve gone mad, so you gather yourself and continue the walk home.

The further you walk, the more you begin to suspect you’ve taken a wrong turn.

You realize that where you are now, bears no semblance to Ijemo at all. So you keep walking, slapping your cheeks and rubbing your eyes to stay awake.

Drowsiness washes over you.

You try to take in the environment, try to make out the landscape. The ground is hard; you can hear the sound of your feet as you walk. But everything and everywhere else is dark and there’s nothing to see.

You feel like you’re in a dream, where everything slows to microseconds and thoughts are harder to process.

Your legs won’t respond to your commands.

The air feels like water and you are drowning.

You are gasping for breath.

You try to move your hands, but they don’t respond either.

It is then that it dawns on you, that you are never going to get home.

At least, not today.

 

 

Tolu Daniel is a writer and photographer. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The Wagon Magazine, Elsewhere Literary Journal, Bakwa Magazine, Saraba Magazine, Afridiaspora, Brittlepaper and a few other places. He has work forthcoming in Panorama Journal. He lives in Abeokuta.

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed