A boy talks about waterfront he lives in, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria
|This is where I live.
The houses look like one could push and it would fall, which is true for it is only made of zinc and wood with pieces of cardboard attached. The houses are no bigger than an average sized room and lucky for us, we have two of these. One room is for my parents and the two youngest children and the other room for the five children including me.
I step into the house. It is not really a house. It is only a square building with bare walls from the lack of decoration. My mother is cooking outside and I can smell the palm oil frying and I begin to cough. I step into my side of the house. There is a curtain that separates my parent’s room from our room.
Children are crying form starvation in other rooms. There are many children here and I am one of the children who have survived cholera, malaria, tetanus and all sort of other ailments contracted from the environment that I inhabit. My mother says I am a sign that God lives.
We used to be six, but that was before my older brother died of tetanus. My oldest brother cut his hands once on the zinc and three days later he was dead. The tetanus had taken as fast as he had contracted it. My mother and father wept. They said that if we had the Oyingbo’s, white man’s, money we would not have lost him. We would not even be living in this dump.
My younger sisters are playing an old Calabari game that I do not remmber so well but they are having fun. My sister sits naked on the bare, muddy ground to play and she does not think of the ringworm that might enter her. She is twelve and developing breast that are the shape of an orange and she does not cover herself for we cannot afford to stain our only clothes. I stare at my surroundings and I shake my head. I look up to the sky and ask God to deliver us.
There are some Ikwerre boys playing with tires as I walk three houses down and take a right towards the beach. I pass other houses and streets and they all smell the same: of urine and feces. I am going to meet my friends so that we can have a smoke of Ibo. It will help us relax and forget about the slum we live in.
My father makes us live here because he is a poor Igbo man. He has a taxi but it is a piece of rusting steel to me. The red paint has finally peeled off and as the rain falls harder, the car rusts more. We are in the rainy season and these are the last rains. The air smells the way rain smells after it stops. The sky is black and I am beginning to shiver from the cold. My parents can not afford to by me a jacket like all the other rich boys I see on the road. We are so poor that we live here. By the end of October we will be entering Harmattan. It will be dry then and many of us will have sore throats that will eventually turn into bronchitis and probably cause another child’s death.
I walk at a steady pace and my surroundings are filled with Zinc-like structured houses. It is quite muddy around these areas because it is rainy at the moment. The beach is a real eyesore. Litter is everywhere including the intensifying smell of urine and feces along the shore. I reach the abandoned shack and knock on the door three times while singing a Calabari song. The door swings open and I am let in.
I sit on the bare floor and look at my friends. They are wearing the same shirts they wore yesterday and we are all smelling.
“Bros, which kind time wey you baf last?” Wisdom, speaking in Pidgin English asked me.
“I know? I don stop to dey count. Maybe when I wan pick up babe I go baf then. So give me small smoke na. I never have since Monday.” I replied.
Wisdom handed me a smoke and I slowly drew it in remembering the first time I had smoked. I had almost choked to death but now it is all right. It is what, we, teenagers use to get over the fact that we live in such a slum: the smoke gently entering our noses and soothing each of us in our much needed ways.
I am pressed and I need to use the toilet. I walk to the water and it is black. The water is so black that I cannot see the fish swimming or even an air bubble.
I stand in the water that is up to my knees, unzip my trouser and relive myself. I thank God that I am a male, for I know how women suffer. Once a girl wanted to defecate and she fell into the water and we never saw her body again. I am not very educated. I speak Pidgin English and I have never seen the real Port Harcourt but I do know that she drowned and her body has either sunk or has been carried away.
The water that I pee in is the same water that I bathe in, defecate in and indirectly drink from. My mama boils the water but it is only God that will save us from this dump.
I walk slowly and smell the polluted air. I can smell egusi soup from the distance and I begin to walk faster. It is five o’clock and all the children will sleep by seven. The curfew starts in four hours and by then my father will be back from his taxi driving. He tells me he is lucky to have the broken-down, scrap of a car.
The smoke from the firewood is surrounding the area at which I am now at. I cough a deep cough and I try my best to hold my breath. It has been the same thing for as long as I have lived.
I enter the house with my siblings and sit around the plate of garri and soup. This food will only fill two people, but all eight of us must manage. This is the reason why I am very small and skinny. I am seventeen but I look thirteen.
The rain has started again and all of us stand up. Papa’s bed will be soaked. It is not really a bed. It is actually a mound of mud shaped like a bed with a mat on it. We stand and in a few minutes the house is flooded. This is normal.
The trash is floating into the house and the house smells very badly. I feel nauseated but I will not throw up for it will only make the place smell more. The room is dark for we cannot light a candle. I am afraid for my papa. He will be walking though all this trash as he is coming to the house and he will smell like it too. He might even be electrified from naked wires in the water but that is the least of my worries.
I am more worried of how the house will be after this flood. The devastation of the flood will not be realized until after all of this. This is the consequence of living close to the sea. The sea brings in seaweed and some foreign organisms that sometimes adhere to our bodies and suck our blood out. The native doctor says we should let these things suck out blood because it makes us clean.
The sun shines later in the afternoon when I can finally stop fidgeting and I escape my community to find a dry and peaceful place to rest and then I do, about fifty kilometers from the entrance. I fall asleep in the forsaken place I call home and sleep, waiting for a day when everything will be better.