I have a condition. I don’t know what to call it; I’m not that smart. But I know I have a condition, okay? Many times I want to rail at the world, I want everything to stop and hear me out just this once, but I don’t want to be heard in my own voice. Who wants a voice like mine? Puny, whiny, pathetic… So I have a condition. For the sake of easy reference let’s call it fear-fear. Whenever an attack starts, or when it wants to start, I can taste it in my mouth. It’s a fuzzy kind of taste, maybe because my throat is too tight from having that lump and my heart beats too fast and my fingers either tingle or quail and my voice runs away. I swear sometimes it runs away, I can hardly get a word out.
Okay. The thing about this whole thing is how it’s killing me that I can’t even call him. He’s this guy that’s made me see the bigger picture, y’know – greatness and all that stuff all the young people here are always reading about. They read so many books, it’s scary. Well, it never did bother me much; I don’t come from stock that’s likely to take over the world – at least not for many generations to come. Mba. My own is a jeje kind of life, I’m too quiet to fight anything. I’m too fear-fear to even think about it.
So he comes along and he’s smiling like that, and he talks like that and he’s so true to himself it’s driving me to tears and he’s so innocent it makes me want to hide and I don’t feel like I want to make sense when I call him. I just want to hear his voice on the other end and I’d just spend all my minutes chorusing and re-chorusing “I love you.” But who does things like that? My father is facing the most deciding thing in his life and destiny – he needs deliverance or else he’ll surely go to prison. In fact, I know he’ll go to prison.
That day they came and told us, that day all Mama’s friends gathered and wailed and cried and told me and Yankat that we had to be strong because we wouldn’t want anybody to see that it made us suffer, I couldn’t get a word out. I tried many times to say “I understand. Thank you, ma.” But I was stark speechless. I know it’s happened before some other times when my fear-fear would pour down my guts in a deluge, but never like this. I used to always be able to get a tiny note out, enough to carry some words, enough to be deciphered.
They said Baba killed him. That he came to buy something at the motor park and Baba gave him something in his plate of chips and that’s how he just immediately fell down and died. You know, Baba has this fast-food stall at Aliyu Jodi Park – that’s where all the cars and buses for Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, and Abuja are. If you want to leave Sokoto and you’re not going too far, that’s to say you’re not going to Lagos or Akwa Ibom or anywhere like that, then Aliyu Jodi was your departure centre. So Baba got this place made out of beaten, rusted corrugated iron and padded the roof with cartons to temper all that heat and put a few benches in, and that’s just how he stayed there every day cooking Indomie, frying chips, plantains, yams, eggs for people. But he wouldn’t do tea and bread, though. All those mai shayis haunting the place up and down with their fired up large teapots on their heads and the ingredients in their fortified, hence unrecognizable as such, plastic wicker baskets, would not have any business if he started doing tea and bread.
So we’re not rich or anything and Mama had a shop in the market too, but with their combined businesses, we both went to good schools. Private schools. And somehow, we all did well. True. None of us was what anybody could confidently call wayward; maybe one of us was but nobody had a way of knowing. Anyway, if it got right down to it, I’d just pick myself as the biggest disappointment. So you see, we’re all good children if I’m even the biggest disappointment.
I can go out with guys and talk dirty around other sabi girls and even do a little one-time something here and there, but when you really strain out all the extra starch I have a problem. I never know when to do what and my voice fails me more times than I can count. I keep telling myself to just live up to people’s expectations, I’m an A-student for God’s sake – 4.2 GPA – and have a goal, live for something at least. But I never know how to begin.
I’ve tried as many approaches to life as I’ve come across in all the self-help books, I get really zapped for like the tenth of a day and then I’m right back to my more familiar self – the lazy, nonchalant, fear-fear person that I know. Well, when they came and told us that Baba had a little problem at work and they were suspecting him of poisoning a man’s chips the first thought that occurred to me was that it was in bad taste to poison chips. I mean if you want to poison food you can begin with something like tuwo or beans, or porridge – in all these things, it’d be hard, very very hard for the victim to even suspect that he was being poisoned. Then the second thought that came to me was where did Baba even get poison from? The man practically lived his whole life in the motor park, but then again that’s where all the people selling rat poison did the most business I guess. One never knows, seeing as they’re always going up and down, turning up at the most unexpected corners and alleys. After so many such digressions, the full impact of that news hit me and then it came and took my voice away – my father had killed a man. My own father. Hmmm. For a full many minutes, I just watched as the women wailed and cried and Mama was aside, talking to Usman our landlord. I was watching her nod and heave, her hands firmly folded across her chest. That Mama of mine, she could do strong-strong very well – she didn’t even cry. I wanted to just lie down and put my face in my pillow, but I couldn’t; a little crowd was gathering in front of our house. Some of my friends came and stood beside me and all I could do was look at them with dazed eyes.
I swear I have a problem. That night, as I lay on the bed and I was supposed to be praying to God for Baba to come out of this all good and fine, I just got to thinking how maybe it was a good thing that Jerry didn’t like me. He wouldn’t have enjoyed my family’s new reputation at all, and seeing how disappointed he was bound to be would’ve just broken my heart even more. So instead of my father, I thought of Jerry. I just knew his father was an alright man and all. I mean none of his parents even did anything menial for a living, but me – daughter of the crass and coarse. Mama had left Yankat and David in my care since I’m the oldest, y’know. They’re my younger ones. David is older than Yankat so he’s a little tough for me to handle – he’s around fourteen. I think he just sat on the couch and blasted his eardrums off while everything else was quiet around him. Yankat slept soundly. And me – they call me Aunty Blessing because I’m older, only David didn’t do it all the time like Yankat – I just lay staring into the darkness, thinking of Jerry.
It’s not like I could call him to comfort me or anything like that, or y’know I’d have done it immediately after my voice came back. That’s the thing; he’d banished me kind of. Okay. Before, we were starting to reach an understanding but something happened somewhere that seemed to’ve permanently severed any connection whatsoever between us. You know how it is when a guy liked you – you could just tell. Well, it was like that at first. I liked him sha, but somehow I knew he liked me too. It just called out to me when he said my name and when he looked at me and when he gave me a side-hug and when he smiled and all those silly little things I noticed about his behavior around me. I just knew. So there was this day, it was Christmas Eve actually, when we happened to be alone in his mother’s car. He was giving me a lift from the market if you must know, and he kissed me. I mean he actually, really kissed me. Then he said he loved me, and please don’t ask me if I made him say it – that’d be insensitive. The main thing was that he said it. Period.
But then it never happened again. So I played it cool for a few weeks. I mean I played it cool from Christmas week to Valentine’s Day week, then I decided to ask him what he meant. I sent him this WhatsApp message, very grammar-checked and polite-checked and respect-checked and romantic-checked asking if he’d tell me whether he wanted me or not, basically. And you’d never believe what he answered me back: Nothing. He just said “I will compose my thoughts” [sic]. If I ever despaired about anything in my life, I despaired then. He never did compose his thoughts, y’know. And it was the kind of thing that if I called or texted or anything again, I’d be this obsessed, desperate person and even though I was he didn’t have to know it so I just never called or anything again. He’d effectively banished me. He even made a lousy poet out of me, I swear. I’d think of him and will my voice to disappear entirely and buzz around in his head until it made him want me like I wanted him – but nothing.
So I had another futile thinking session about the rest of my life as I lay there waiting for sleep and the next morning when Mama would return with news. I’d have gone to Baba’s spot at the park but I thought it wiser if we allowed the place to just be for some time, or at least if I talked to Mama first. She’d know what to do.
Morning came and afternoon came and it was starting to get dusky before both my parents came back. Both of them, I swear. When we greeted Baba he just smiled his usual hurry-hurry smile and said he had to go to the park. The buses would be pulling in soon. He’d definitely missed the Kaduna and Katsina people, but he could still catch Jos. If the passengers didn’t stop to eat, the drivers and other workers around usually did, but boom period was around when a bus would pull in. So he needed to go really fast.
I asked Mama what happened exactly? And she said the man didn’t die. His life just ran away for a while and that he came back and he talked and they took him to a clinic and everything and that he was fine and he was home hale and hearty. I chuckled. It didn’t sound so bad anymore – my voice. I guess I wasn’t the only fear-fear person in the world. When I’d think of my life and worry about that thing they call the “future” that nothing quite prepared you for, and my voice would run away, I’d just be strong and remember that a poor, puny, whiny man ate my father’s chips one day and his entire life practically ran away for a while. Pathetic.