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Ubong Johnson | Let Us All Go

It’s so cold. My nostrils are clogged. My cheeks hurt from all the snorting and sneezing. A fan perched on the wall beside me clicks and clatters, as though its blades might fall off. I look up at it and smile. I understand its struggle; I know what it means to be kept away from despair by just one thread of hope.

I know things. Weird things. Things that will happen soon; or things that happened in the past which weren’t supposed to happen that way. I look at my barber’s face, for example, and can tell he will die soon. He’s a small man, dark, face taut. Scanty beards line his chin like grass atop parched soil. His sandals are loose, browned from age, and expressive of his suffering.

His daughter is a small girl for her age, too. I look at her and can tell she once used to be a healthy child. I know she’ll live long enough, and if she is smart enough to keep herself from the penises of men thrice her age, she may be one of the few girls who claw their way out of this trashhole.

The generator yelps from outside when it is my turn to sit on the chair, and seconds after, the light goes off. My barber apologizes in his raspy voice, which has been even more roughened by his recent smoking, snatches a gallon from the corner to his right, and leaps out of the shop to get fuel. His girl comes to play with me. She taps at my phone screen, urging me to show her a cartoon. Her smile is fairly bright, dimmed by missing teeth. Her cheeks are rough and white.

“Cartoon,” she says again.

When I can no longer contain her yapping, I tap on a cartoon and hand her the phone. She returns to her chair, and watches with keen eyes, utterly thrilled at that nonsense thing. She sings too, as though nothing else matters at this moment. Her joy is snatched when her father returns. He is sweatier and smellier now. His face is as hard as a rock, and she understands.

She ambles over, hands me the phone, and walks out of the shop.

“That stupid girl,” her father says. “Always disturbing somebody.”

“Don’t call her stupid sha,” I say. “She’s a child.”

“So, oga, children can’t have sense?”

I don’t respond to this. There is silence, the clipper humming across my head. I am cutting all my hair, so that the skin is bare enough to shine in the sun. This has been my preferred haircut for a year and some months now, since I got over my father’s death.

“So, boss,” the barber resuscitates a conversation. “That drug wey you prescribe give me that time; e de work o.”

“Which one?”

“The one for wey you give me for that burning in my penis.”

“Ah, thank God.” I stare down at my phone again.

“Shey you say that thing na gonorrhea?”

“I don’t know exactly what it was. I was hoping it’ll be a UTI. Those were just broad spectrum drugs. Could have been anything.”

He senses the coldness, and responds to it with a softened tone. From the mirror, I can see unease gather the folds of his forehead, knitting his eyes closer to each other.

“Ah, my oga. Everything dey alright? You de vex say I talk to J-Girl like that?”

“No, boss.”

“Then, what?” He pauses, lifts a screwdriver from the table in front me, and turns a knob on his clipper. “Oh. Woman matter? No worry bro, I understand.”

“Oh.” I swipe past the picture I have been staring at. It’s a girl in her twenties; I have never met her. I don’t think I want to even though she’s been pestering me. Her pestering is what’s keeping me from meeting her. Bad memories. The last time a woman pestered me to meet her so badly was in Calabar. She had paid a couple of boys to hang around and wait until I was delivered to them like a ram. Luckily, one of the boys knew me.

He was not the head of the group, although he was high up there, with enough influence to stop them from fucking me up. That boy, who almost always called me chairman, called me Abobi that evening. It’s how I knew something was wrong. He apologized later on, eagerly seeking to know what I had ever done to that girl to make her so angry.

“I cheated.”

“Na wetin make am bring boys come give you?” He laughed. “Women and nonsense.”

The barber bends my ears forward. He nicks at a bush of hair in the groove between my ear and scalp. His clipper grunts again. He sighs, fondles a knob on it, and resumes his work.

“So, as I bin dey talk. I understand woman die. Women bad.”

“Why you talk like that?”

“Ah. Boss. Women bad. This gonorrhea, na my wife give me.”

He drops his clipper on the table, as though it is a mere distraction, and dabs a finger on the tip of his tongue. He raises this finger towards the ceiling, and swears.

“I never sleep with any woman apart from that girl. I dey lie, make God really punish me. If I dey lie, make I no see tomorrow.”

“No swear, bro.”

His eyes growing redder, he scoffs. “No, boss. Make I swear. Make I swear make you believe me. Na me send that girl go school. I put am for house when she be sixteen. She do me this kind thing.”

The generator yelps again, and goes off.

He surges out, returning when the light has come on again. “Sorry, na spark plug this time.”

“No be issue.”

He lifts the clipper, but drops it almost immediately.

“Chai,” he says, clicking his fingers, “she dey sleep with other people. See small girl; she de tell me say she no fit dey with person wey no go school. Person wey I send go school.”

His daughter comes cackling back into the shop. He turns a glare towards her and yells: “Get out of this place now!”

She scurries away. The man falls to the mini sofa behind him, and begins to sob.

“Even that girl, I no sure say na me get am.”

I want to go console him. But I don’t know how to. At this moment, I just want my haircut completed, so I too can go out and face my shege like a man.

——

Image: Co-Pilot modified

Ubong Johnson
Ubong Johnson
Ubong Johnson is a medical doctor and writer who lives in Nigeria. He has a flair for reading, and loves even more to tease people he loves. Like his cat, Aniel.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Heyyy Ubong. I’m not sure how I got an email, notifiying me of your work but I’m so grateful that I did. I’m currently reading a compilation of short stories from African authors ; water birds on the lakeshore and I’m thinking of how cool yours would be as a part. I admire you, mostly because I’m a medical student that writes too. I hope to read more from you.

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