Although he knew the road by heart, all its turnings and alchemy, he could not avoid the amazement its features currently presented. The rain that had begun that afternoon, with resonant fury, had left the vista in no state of array. He avoided the pot-holes that had become drum-holes, dodged vehicular machines that intended to spray red mud on his Sunday attire; and more importantly, he trotted towards the Psychiatric Hospital.
He had become a distinguished visitor at the Hospital, not for his own incapacity. He was son to the woman who made the loudest noise and sang the most toneless songs. He did not surmise it as disgrace and embarrassment. Everyone who came to the hospital knew insane people. He had long dismissed the idea of mourning his mother. He believed that she would come to, even though it was death that ended it. He believed she would not end up in the street like the shirtless woman he had seen as he tread the familiar path. No one bore concern for the shirtless woman. Despite the rotund piece she displayed. That was his orison. His mother should not, would not, be shirtless.
Soon, he arrived. With its motley state, he understood the noise that emanated from the hospital. There were demonstrations of varying degrees. Some patients smiled their teeth to a world of no hilariousity. Others laughed their pain away, if there was any pain. There was a cry from another; a wail from his neighbor. All in all, he wanted to challenge the demonstrations by ignoring them. So he walked on to his mother’s ward. She had been put alone.
He heard her before he got to her.
“Oh… bless me indeed… take away my shame… destroy my enemies… you are my shepherd… the devil is the only person that would want…”
“Mama!” he exclaimed, forcing laughter. Ignoring her as he had the others.
“This is one of them, Jesus. Take him to heaven.”
He sat down on a folding chair. Again, he ignored her haranguing.
“How are you Mama?”
“Jesus, you see what I was saying. He wants to get to heaven. People with small lips like his always want to die. Because they feel they have nothing to contribute with their small lips…”
“Mama. Listen to me.” The forced laughter still hung on his lips, which his mother had correctly described as small.
“Jesus. Help him. He doesn’t know how to cope in this world. Better still, Jesus, turn him into a goat. Then, he would know he is an animal. He would not bother about being useful…”
“Mama, I brought you something to eat. Here is it.” He dropped the polythene bag atop the hospital table beside his mother’s six spring bed. He watched her turn to him. First, since his arrival. She seemed to look beyond his eyes, as though she would find her sanity within him. It was also a piercing look. He knew the pitiable gaze he responded with made no meaning to her. Yet, he could not dislodge the gazing. He would not, even as he noticed that her eyes had also transcended reality and sanity, from its usual milky beam to its recent ochre shade. He also saw it’s transcending from fragility to rigidity. A certain rigidity that she had gained with the recent events.
At that observation of rigidity, he stood to depart.
“Mama, I am going.”
“I love you Mama. Please eat the food.”
She, showing the first sign of reality, glanced at the polythene. He smiled, in sincerity. The signs had begun to appear for him.
“Jesus, I know you love him. Make him useful, whether as an animal as a plant.”
The clear sinuosity of his mother’s voice made him loose the smile and doubt the sign, at the same instant.
He doubted the signs.
Ugo, after visiting his mother at the Hospital, walked off from his house in the dark. His heart throbbed with the expectation. Since that day he had seen the poster, he dreamt of it. He dreamt of seeing the man he called role model. Best of all, he would hear the new hit of his hero, directly.
That was the force that possessed him that dark night. He walked the usual distance that would have necessitated okada, the commercial motorcyclists. He wanted to save money for the ticket. He could not bear to have the pain of no entry because he could not pay.
He passed kerosene lanterns hung over shadowy kiosks. He passed duo persons, linked into one head. He identified the persons as couples, too bold for themselves, too shy for the electricity that was absent. He also passed noisy and silent generators alike. Considering the incongruity, he smiled at the unseeing darkness. This was the city of his abode, present with divergent themes.
The Theatre was rowdy when his trek ended. He cursed silently, blaming himself for his dark procession to the Theatre. With tenuous struggle, he joined the existent queue. The frothing of the members of the queue was listless for him. All he dreamt was entry to see his hero. His hero was called Femi. Once, Ugo had considered naming himself Femi, in honor.
He was thinking about Femi when he got to the front. Despite the queue-jumpers, who came from the back and squeezed themselves into the front, he had reached the acme. His attendant was a heavy bearded man, clad in a tightly fitted shirt, spangled further with eyeglasses that almost touched the base of his nose. There was a frown above the eyeglasses.
“Your ticket,” he bellowed impatiently.
“I have none. But I have money to pay.”
Ugo handed the crumpled naira notes which had been preserved underneath his shoe-socks. His attendee-friend counted it listlessly.
“This is not complete,” he grunted.
“There is five hundred there.”
“Yes. But we have exhausted our single tickets. There is the VIP ticket, costing one thousand-five hundred. Or better still; the couple ticket is nine hundred.”
Ugo did not want to agree.
“Please. I have no more money.”
“My man, you are not the only one on the queue.”
In the end, he was shoved aside.
The more thoughts he rendered to his being disallowed, the more fraught he became. He stood for long hours outside the Theatre, although not awaiting any miracle. He could not return to his room. After the trek in the dark, he could not return without a form of fulfillment. He nudged at his unbelievable thinking. He was a fool to think that he would leave fulfilled, without entering the Theatre. He scouted the entrance for any form of loophole. None.
He did see something. The mid-height woman that exited casually from the Theatre. She was without her religious make-up; the one Ugo thought was unworthy for the resplendent beauty that shone from her as he stared. She had the sapphire quality; the fragility that his mother had graciously carried before the new rigidity. Heightening all his desires, she swayed her behind to his revelry. She swayed all the way, towards the pavement where he sat and salivated. He prayed she would not see. He had made his approach earlier, even before she went to the Coventry and became the nun she was. She had said no. and she had disappeared before reappearing, in that Theatre, as a fragile nun who could not be resisted.
Because she did not see, he followed her without her knowledge.
Darkness enveloped her when he finally caught up with her. She had retreated away, to recite her Station of the Cross. From his standing point few yards away, he saw the silhouette movements of her fingers, counting the rosary expertly. He swished off the thought that he could not have her because she was a nun. Who said nuns were virgins, he asked the unbeliever within him.
He held her arm when she reached him. She had not seen him. She shivered from the shock. He reasoned that the fear had possessed her from the minute she entered into the darkness; that it was not his sudden touch that culminated it.
“Who are you?” she asked, with a voice laden of apprehension. The sudden flicker of lightening appended recognition to her. She gasped in relief. Almost immediately, the apprehensive look resumed on her face.
“Ugo. How did you come here?”
“I followed you.”
“God. From where?”
“You were there?”
Because ashamedness would conquer his longing spirit if he said the truth, he resorted to a simple lie. White lie, if he put it in its nomenclature.
“I was. I became bored.”
Silence descended on their communication, disrupting it. It was her that made the discretionary act. She walked to where she had sat and re-sat. For Ugo, she was no blighter. He respected her audacity. The audacity that she had to summon him to where they had stopped earlier. Where he had stopped.
He sat with her on the bench that had been inadvertently left by a shop’s attendant. There was a Provision Store beside them. The bench had no enough width. Her bulbous dress touched Ugo as he joined her. She moved an inch away from him. He moved towards her. She moved again. He did likewise. They exercised continuum in their childish movements. Until she fell and banged her behind on the concrete floor. She winced loudly.
“See what you caused?”
Ugo was fulsome about his apology. With both hands, he held her up. It was the peak of his orgy, touching her. This time, she let her bulbous dress rest on his jaded trousers.
“Ugo, you know I am married to God.”
“What does that mean?”
“I am not supposed to get married to a man. You know it. I told you it was the life I wanted even before I left. You have not given up.”
He hated her audacity. Once, he had liked it. But her present audacity made him the plinth of her ascent into life-long chastity. But in spite of his hatred at her audacity, he chose to let his longing overcome his livid bruise.
“I have not let you out of my mind.”
“You can do it.”
“Forget me. There are many women that can get married. I cannot. I swore.”
Suddenly, he remembered their nights. The ecstasy they once shared.
“You loved me then. Love does not die.”
“I loved you then. I had the permission to. I cannot now.”
She stood up with unrehearsed pain. He watched her, unable to move and speak. It was another height for his orgy. To make him incapacitated in the midst his dire need for capacity.
He sat there. Until she disappeared into the darkness, made worse by the electric black-out. Until he felt the first drop of the resuming rain. Even though he ran, he knew he would be drenched when he made it to his room.
He held the rusty trumpet and made sound. The valves were hard to depress, the valve slides worse. He felt his embouchure was imperfect. Even the sound the instrument made seemed imperfect. He turned the tuning slide inexpertly, even angrily. As though it was a transfer of aggression from the world to the instrument, from animate to inanimate. As he proceeded and began tonguing, the imperfection was yet present.
Ugo did not stop. He held unto the trumpet as if he could right the recent wrongs on it. The mouthpiece retained its moistness, making him regain hope. Finally, he began to feel perfection in the room he dwelt. He tongued happily. He forgot about Angela and her refusal to be his. The trumpet became the ululation of his life, that moment.
A knock disrupted his ululation.
“Yes,” he grunted angrily. The door opened. It was the neighbor next door. The man was short and bogus, almost seeming like Angela’s dress to Ugo.
“You are disturbing me.” The man had not moved from the door’s frame. His face creased in worry as he spoke.
“Don’t I have a right in my own house?”
“Make all of us claim rights, then. You play your trumpet, me I shout like madman, and the other man put im radio to one million volume. All of us have our house, abi? Nonsense.”
“What do you want me to do now? Where do you want me to practice?”
“You don’t know where bar is? People that play instruments go to bar to play. If you disturb me again, I go tell landlord. Nonsense.”
He almost crushed the door’s frame at his exit. The mention of the landlord had its share of refraining Ugo from further tonguing. He hated the manic disposition of the man, who demanded for rents before the month ended. Of course, he had had good success in creating reverence in his house, made with mud-bricks.
He found a motel the next evening. The disruption of his neighbor had proved a blessing, both in disguise and glare. If he could find a motel that paid him for his expert tonguing, then he could sufficiently combine the income that came from his work as clerk in the State Ministry of Finance.
The motel’s reception was a misshapen lounge, having too many motley chairs. Ugo guessed that with their motley appearance, they were most possibly too hard to sit on. He despised caution as he walked to the wooden creation of a counter. It fit the description of the counters of the police station, wooden and hard and resembling what the police were known for. The counter housed a body-fitted cloth man, not dissimilar to the one that had bared Ugo entry into the Theatre.
“Can I help you?” The voice did not lack similitude with the man who had withstood his entry.
“I want to see the manager of this place.”
“Why?” Ugo was scanned from head to bottom. Even though he had taken care to choose his attire, he doubted the acceptance it would command. Despite his doubt, he did not loose eloquence when he needed it.
“I have a business deal to make.”
Alone with the manager, who smoked and drank and feasted with bare bodied women, Ugo tried to impress.
“You have tried. Come to the bar tomorrow. I would allow you to play.”
Although he was too flabbergasted, he made fulsome thanksgiving to the manager. The man, clad in a stripped shirt of no eminent design, looked at Ugo more pointedly after the effusiveness of the latter.
“I have good women here. You look like a starved man. Surely you can pay for one round.”
“One round?” Ugo raked his head to find understanding, but found no dime of it. The manager laughed at the naiveté. He shouted a name, twice. A woman appeared, as bare bodied as the one that sat atop the laps of the manager. Ugo guessed her age at late-thirty. Her age did not summarize the expertise she showed in walking in the manner her job suggested.
“Give him one round. He can pay,” the manager flimsily said. Next, the woman used a finger to beckon on Ugo.
One round started with her fishing around him, even in his discreet places. She found his wallet.
“Give that to me.”
“You don’t want?”
He considered the question. Do you want, he asked his sensuous being.
“You have little here. I can take all for one round.”
What he termed as gullibility did not end when she took all in his wallet. It ended when she was atop him, boring herself into him. Even though he wanted to think about the unprotected act she had engaged him in, he imagined it was he atop Angela. That solved all his worries. Seeing the face of Angela in the stead of the woman’s face, burdened with incurable pimples and acne.
Ugo’s raucous self was exposed after his trumpeting. The manager ordered for a drink for both of them. This time, women were absent. They began their talk from the one thousand naira Ugo would be paid, for starters.
They ended in other matters. Because the drink had made their eyes red and their heads without control. Their table was littered with their booty, the famous and infamous brands of beer.
“Strange things happen in our world these days,” the manager caroused. “You tell me that you are a monk and I see you with different reverend sisters everyday.”
There was a sudden glimmer in Ugo’s mind. The manager had used words that rested in his subconscious.
“What are you talking about?”
“My brother, why are you getting angry. Do you have a sister that is a nun?”
“Tell her to resign. I see many of them everyday. Some even have the audacity to come here. The others go to my friend’s bar, drinking and flirting. I hope your sister is still a virgin. Abi, they tell us they would remain virgins till they die.”
Ugo lost his ability to cogitate that minute. Somehow, he tied the whole theorem to Angela. He stood up like a possessed priestess, angry for her deity.
“Sit down, my brother. You want to go and flog your sister? She is an adult. She can do whatever she wants. Drink some more.”
He drank one more bottle.
He cried that night. The words of the manager did not leave him with the departure of the alcohol. It stayed. He wanted Angela to calcify into a diatonic scale of some sort. He wanted to press the flirty juice out of her. He wanted to refine her.
It was not the same when he walked into the bar the following night. The manager was standing at the door, as though he was waiting for someone. Loud music was playing inside, the music of Femi. It was that hit he had not had passport to hear at the Theatre. It blazed and blasted, resonant with praise for the government and their anti-corruption campaign. The same government, Ugo thought, that had appointed a known drug baron cum smuggler as Minister for Internal Affairs.
“My brother, you are late.” The acquiesce of the manager was dotted with insincerity, as far as Ugo could fathom.
“There was traffic on my way from work.”
The manager’s head was tilted to another quarter. It was chromatically different from the precision Ugo had known him with.
“When am I playing?”
“You would not be playing again.”
“The manager said so.”
“You are not the manager?”
The head tilted again with chromatic difference as before.
“You are not the manager?” Ugo repeated.
“I am not. I am caretaker.”
Because they were standing at the door, Ugo easily found his way out.
The next day he felt pain in his groin, inflated when he tried to excrete urine. There was also a sticky substance he had never seen in his discreet region. He wanted to find out what it was. The neighbor next door ran a pharmacy that had been closed for its operation without permit.
So he knocked on the neighbor’s door. Loud music blared from inside the door. Again, it was Femi’s music, his singing about the anti-corruption campaign. He banged the door on its several parts. It opened lazily, whining with the effort it had used in the opening.
“Yes?” the neighbor said above the loud music.
“Can I come inside?”
“No.” he saw that the neighbor was struggling to avoid his gaze inside the room. Notwithstanding the female toes he finally saw, he concentrated on the hypocritical man, who said no noise and played loud music to impress his female guest.
“I am having pain in my groin. Especially when I want to urinate. Do you know what can be wrong with me? Or a medicine that can stop it?”
The neighbor laughed with seismic quality, until he felt he had made scorn enough.
“My man, you get gonorrhea. You sleep with proshtitute?”
Ugo wanted to meditate on something else as he went to his door. But he kept meditating on the wrong way his neighbor had called prostitute and on the fact that he knew the name of his pain.
He heard the knock but pretended he hadn’t. It persisted. He hated the fulminating effect it had on him. He kept pretending he hadn’t heard, especially as it came few minutes after he knew the name of his pain.
When the door was pushed slightly, he saw female toes.
“Come in,” he said curiously.
He could not get himself to believe it was Angela that had opened his door. It is somebody else, he wanted to insist. But it was her. Her new aura, perceivable in the rosary she wound on her hands and the gown that hallmarked her chaste vows, was an aureole on her head. As though she belonged in the famous painting of the last supper, which had the disciples having a halo of light on their heads.
But another presence was manifest on her. Apprehension. As it had been when he scared her in the dark.
“Ugo, I saw your mother. She is singing in the market place, dancing. She is wearing nothing above her waist. You must do something.”
His mother’s words the last time he visited her resounded in his memory. She had prayed that he become an animal who be unperturbed about being useful. It made meaning. He wanted to become that animal, to escape all. But he remembered something that minute. Something he had cried for.
“I heard of what you do,” he said to the petrified figure with semblance to the image of Virgin Mary.
“How you sleep with the priests.”
He had expected her resilient disagreement. But she stood and stared on. She calcified, that moment, to his mother, with her ochre eyes. She transformed from the fragile to the rigid; from her flowery state to the metal.
At the consummation of his understanding of her new rigidity, he decided to walk away. Walk, to anywhere. Away from the name of his pain, from his mother, from Angela. He pocketed his hands in the baggy trousers and made to the door, even though Angela was standing inches from it.
He perceived her cologne when he passed. She turned to him, with the frown and pain of a revealed. She was with her hands, tied together in ashamedness. Her rosary had fallen, sprawled to the floor in tiny beads.
He was already at the door when the rosary fell.
“Ugo, there is something else I want to tell you. It is about us.”
But Ugo was out of the door. He was away from her words. He wanted two things as he walked away. He wanted to be transformed into the animal his mother had talked about. And most of all, because he recently discovered how metallic he was and how much his life was as stiff as his trumpet, he wanted to become as squashy as a cornflower. There was a thriving cornflower behind his room, the room that he left Angela and the news about his mother.