A Tale from the Seen Shadows.
ONE OF A MILLION TALES
The number of those walking down the long, tarred road was as the last drops from the roof after rainfall. Streetlights coloured the air beneath their single legs with yellow, watching as those returning alive went home either in ones or in companies.
The sky was void of light and empty of nocturnal folks, and warmth was slowly vanishing from where the sun had engraved it in the long-gone afternoon. It was about ten in the night.
In a compound behind one of those in that street sat a boy of about eleven years on the three old steps that led into the old bungalow behind him. The look of the house said without shame that it had been painted yellow once, then red and then white. It also says that none of the past paints has been removed before the new ones were applied. Now the house had not been painted for a long time, and colours were falling off in small flakes.
The streetlight standing in front of the bungalow in the noisy street (the one before mentioned) was so high that it even lit the compound the boy sat in. His coarse hair was overgrown; his worn, oversized T-shirt seemed to have grown too light to keep off the hug of the weather, so his legs were tucked under his T-shirt to his ankles, save his dirty feet.
He sat there most nights meditating and dreaming. There he makes plans on how to save more money, what to buy for food and what he could do to surprise his mother and make her happy. There he sat to wish he could eat good food like many other children he saw, there he sat and thought sadly about the bad things his lean mother had been told by people better than her. There he sat to reason about the situation in his family and to decide how to live. The shallow lifestyle of his age mates was not for him. His mates worried about doing their house chores mostly, but he worried about food to eat and money for decent clothing.
It was in the past year that his father had died. He had fallen from a roof he was inspecting for leakages. His father had been a carpenter. When the day of his funeral arrangements had come, folk from their kindred made his mother bring his father’s savings. With it, they rented canopies, chairs, cooks and a deejay. The only contribution from those relatives was that they oversaw the ceremony and helped to eat the food. In the end, each person deserted him and his family. None of his kindred helped them in any other way; they said that people who live in the township should be able to pay for themselves. They said that, though they knew the family was poor. It was after that burial that he left school, since there was no money in the bank, and his mother was just a poorly-paid orderly.
One day his mother had gone to the market near the riverbank and came back with the news that changed how he spent his mornings and afternoons since his father’s death. She did say she met a friendly boy who helped her to carry the potatoes she bought.
‘He was about your age and wore a pair of green knickers – it seems it was part of the school uniform of Ezechima, but his shirt (which should be white) was removed and kept somewhere. He wore an ash-coloured T-shirt instead. He asked me whether I needed his service, and told me that he knew you and would accept half of the normal amount for the job from me because of that. He asked me about you, Obi, and whether you have changed school. I just laughed in reply and asked him why he worked there. He said he worked there every day after school to get pocket money. He said the job paid well. I told him I would tell you I saw him. He said his name was Somto.’
‘I know him – he’s short and talks fast, right?’ Obi had replied.
‘Yes, and he seems to be hardworking,’ his mother had said.
He was happy and grateful that his friend was compassionate to his mother and had worked for her for a lower price. He had suppressed his tears and just smiled, trying to hide his joy from his mother. His mother needed every dime she could save. He was also pleased that his mother did not tell Somto why he no longer appeared at school. It had told him he did not have to fear that his schoolmates knew that they were so poor that he could not go to school anymore. He had friends at school whom he trusted, but he also knew those who might make fun of him. In short, he did not want people to talk about his condition.
It was then that he decided to go to the market and work each day. He had decided that he already had someone to ask questions about the work if he had any.
The next afternoon, he had gone to that market and met the boy. They had talked for a long time and laughed. Somto had noticed that his former schoolmate had grown thin and looked sickly. He did also buy sausage rolls for both of them. As they ate and talked, Obi had told him that his father’s death and poverty were why he would never go to school again. Somto had been sorry for him and bought him another sausage. It was Somto that introduced him to the job and had mentored him.
His siblings still went to school, since his mother had insisted she would train them till she could not. It was what his father would have done, but his father would have done more than his mother because his father earned more than she. Half of his mother’s salary was swallowed by the house rent per month, and some of the remaining went into the government treasury in the name of tax. The remaining could not feed them all well for one week.
This night, he was planning to buy his mother a cheap perfume he had seen in the market and had asked the shopkeeper the price. His mother washed her clothes with some bad-scented soap because the soaps were cheap. It made her clothes smell so bad it reminds him of how much she was suffering. It broke his heart, but he was helpless. That was why he thought too much, dreaming of ways to claw out of the thick innards of poverty. His mother was disapproving of any bad way of earning and told him that people like her followed men around to get money, but that she did not.
As usual, the streets became empty and chilling again, and its inhabitants became solely wandering animals – especially cats, local vigilante group members and slowly moving police vehicles. He had to take his bony limbs into the house, lest he catches a cold. There were mosquitoes there too.