By Gbolahan Badmus
It is not like we don’t believe in Christmas trees and Christmas Lights, but our parents would rather spend their hard-earned money on chickens or turkeys, and we would rather spend ours on bangers.
Yes, bangers. We never called them fireworks. There were distinctions. When you launch fireworks, it spreads across the sky like the explosion of multicoloured stars. But when it came to bangers, we had to strain our eyes to see them, even against a dark sky:
“Oh that’s it,” Ade would say.
“No, that’s just aeroplane light,” Sesi would say.
Bangers also sounded like gunshots, giving about two to four bangs before dying out. The more bangs it made, the better. There were those who even held the bangers, while it gave out its sounds, people like Precious. No one needed to tell me doing that was dangerous because Solo’s right fingers said it all.
When it came to chickens and turkeys, those who bought turkeys were highly regarded—that was why we allowed someone like Ade walk with us. But it depended on the size, because there were some chickens we rated above turkeys. Those small-sized turkeys we mistook for chickens, only for their cackles and flared feathers to convince us otherwise.
In my house, for every Christmas, it had always been chicken, chicken and chicken. But last Christmas, we hit an all time low. Father bought one of those small home-bred chickens. He said it was tastier than agric chickens, which had been chemically swollen in poultries. To be sincere, after it was fried, I couldn’t say which was tastier. Father must have undermined Mother’s cooking skills. Or those words were a way of hiding reality.
To worsen it all, while I was battling with the chicken’s feet it fell from my hand. Unknown to me, Emmai had been targeting my fingers, and before the piece of chicken touched the ground, he caught it mid-air and bolted. I gave him a good chase and whipped the hell out of him. I then took the piece from him, and threw it as far as my strength could. After that, the tears started flowing but no one bothered about me. The image of Father stripping off flesh from the chicken’s lap; my elder ones licking their greasy fingers; and Mother in the kitchen clearing the dishes before nightfall, all remained clear in my memory.
Later that night, Emmai and I soon became pals—who could resist his wordless apology?
Emmai was like my younger brother, or perhaps a son; this was how he came to be. There was a place where they dumped refuse at the end of our area, after Prof’s house, like a large pile, mountains of refuse more likely. Precious, Solo, Ade, Sesi and I all go there to hunt for things. The only competition we had, at first, were the men, who came to scavenge with their large wheelbarrows. While they did theirs to survive life, we did ours to survive boredom. We went there anytime we liked, whether day or night, until the men came to the refuse dump with their machines, and prevented us from entry.
When the men first came, they hired Old Man Sunday to guard the entrance. It was the easiest and most useless job to do. Easiest, because all he had to do was doze off at his post till the morning; and useless, because there were several ways to go in, like the proverbial market square.
Inside the dump, the stench first dipped its fingers into our noses, penetrating the handkerchiefs tied around them. The smell later died off or we got used to it. While standing on one end, it was impossible to see the other end because the rising mount of refuse obstructed the view. The torch lights we carried assisted our eyes, while our strapped bags were for the loot. You would be surprised at the amount of things that came here to waste. On rare occasions, we found shoes, phones, and wristwatches, sometimes still in manageable shape. We skirted around the edges, taking care not to wander farther. Only the men’s machines could go that far, lest one ran the risk of being buried alive. Also the deeper parts had an unbearable heat like the sun was boiling underneath.
Once we were done with our hunting, we moved to Sesi’s room to share the loot according to our rank, irrespective of the finder. Prof once told me the dump was a potential goldmine. If only he knew how right he was.
It had been during one of these hunting I saw him.
“Look!” I pointed to his direction.
He was ascending towards the dangerous zones of the trash, nibbling at the dirt. We all began screaming trying to call his attention, but he kept on moving, like we were the lazy afternoon breeze. I picked a stick and threw it at his direction. The stick took some quick spins in the air and landed at his front. This startled him. And he descended towards us. Straight into my arms.
I picked him up and ran my hands across his soft black fur. He responded with a soft purr, then began licking my fingers. Back then, we had no leader, and we all argued on who would keep him. It was basically between Precious and Solo, even though I had saved him. Ade and Sesi prodded Solo to physically challenge Precious. I was intimidated by Solo’s size but I had to support my cousin.
Precious had three scars across his left cheek, his eyebrows were slanted towards the middle, moulding his face into a permanent scowl. He never spoke about his scars, but we all knew his father was a retired soldier, who never spared his pocket-sized gin. His father was generally known as the General, and according to him “there is no war in Nigeria I never fight.” In less than three minutes, Precious floored Solo. He became our leader, and took Emmai.
The night after Precious brought Emmai into his house, his sister put to bed, but unfortunately she slumped. His father kicked against the cat, saying he was the devil’s incarnate. He had to burn incense round the house, saying it was to expel the evil spirits brought in by Emmai. As Precious was about to dispense Emmai, I pleaded with him for the custody, he obliged.
On bringing him home, my parents didn’t care much, so far I would be the one to feed him, clear his shit, and make sure he didn’t constitute nuisance. All Father’s words. Since Father agreed, it meant Mother had automatically agreed. Emmai fed from my plate, and from what he scavenged along his path. He became a younger one to me, a companion, and sometimes a creature to bully when I became in a bad mood.
It was about four months after Emmai’s adoption, the men came to the dump with their machines, attracting the media. The dump later became almost impossible to sneak in, after it was surrounded by a tall fence rimmed with barbed wires, like they were guarding a prison.
Schools had closed for the holidays, but for me school was still on. I didn’t go to the public school like the others, Father was against it. He said the public school was filled with overgrown children, who rather frolicked and smoked weed than study. He preferred the tutelage of Prof.
Prof had been staying in our area for as long as I could remember. Father said he was a retired Professor of English, hence the title. And he had come to live here, after his pension had always been promised to be paid next month. Prof had neither wife nor child. He had lived all his life for his books.
Precious once told me his father, Professor, and my father were brothers, but an old dispute created a rift between Professor and his father. Precious told me on the day we shared his father’s gin. The day after that Precious came back with his second scar.
Prof was a dark wiry man with grey hair. He always wore a blue shirt, tucked into a brown khaki trouser pulled to his abdomen. His house was the last house you’d see at the end of our area—hidden and conservative like the occupant—right before the refuse dump.
Prof’s house was made up of two rooms. He called them the Inner Sanctuary and Outer Sanctuary. The Outer Sanctuary was where he received visitors, which he hardly had; while the Inner Sanctuary served as his room and kitchen. The back of the house was where toilet acts were done in nylons, and flung to the mountain of refuse. Sometimes, when an ill wind blew, it distributed the stench of refuse round the house. Even after they built the fence, Prof still locked the windows, hence the stale air of ancient books scattered all over the house. The only trace of modern tech I saw in his house was the old rectangular radio he hoisted over his shoulders, married to his ear. The radio looked like it had been defaced by the claws of time. When I asked, after he told me to start referring to him as Prof, why he never had a TV, he replied:
“Those boxed-hypnotists would never apprehend me. They attack sight and hearing. The lesser routes to my deception the better. Even if my pension was never withheld, I would never have purchased a TV set!”
We had our classes in the Outer Sanctuary, surrounded by piles of books. They ranged from small sized pamphlets to encyclopaedia-sized tomes. When we first began our classes, it had been difficult to understand his language. But thanks to the thesaurus and dictionary who proved to be worthy companions.
Prof always boasted that with all he had taught me I could best any secondary school student in the country, even first year university students.
On the last day of class, before the Christmas holidays, I saw men pasting papers on several fences in our area, even the fences that had ‘post no bill’ painted on them. The tiny and medium-sized prints of the posters, coupled with my lateness, discouraged me to read them. I had to do dishes in exchange for Mother to watch over Emmai till I came back. Prof did not take kindly to Emmai urinating on his books. He threatened to kill him as a sacrifice to appease the god of wisdom.
On getting to the front of his house, Prof stood with a bottle of whiskey stuck underneath is arms. I never saw him drink. His blue shirt was tucked out. One of the papers I saw around town was in his left hand. He kept talking to himself, “Betrayers! Betrayers! All for the love of gold.” His radio laid on the floor, beside a blue megaphone, saying something about how much had been invested in electricity, which would soon radically improve in our state.
I cleared my throat several times before he realised I was there. I was about to say ‘Prof what’s wrong? Who are the betrayers?’ When he stared at me, I swallowed the statement from its P… His eyes were bloodshot; strubbles of grey hair were scattered all over his face like whiskers.
“Has your Father met his eye with this?” He said. His heavy breath of alcohol, and something stale knocked me backwards.
“Hurry and feed this to him. I would see him soon.”
I bolted off.
Along the street, people had gathered around the various spots where the papers were pasted. One man was shouting at another, pushing him; another stood apart stretching his hand in submission towards the sky: a woman stood with her hands folded, staring at her feet.
When I burst through our door, Emmai ran to my feet rubbing his back against my ankles. Father was in the middle of the parlour, a wide slice of delight torn across his face. My elder ones and Mother surrounded him with smiles. The emotion brewing outside was yet to pervade our home.
“…and as the final surprise, we are going to be killing a big turkey this Christmas,” Father said. Then he stood still and began twisting his waist. It was his signature dance.
“Father, Father…Professor said…I should give you..this.” I said.
He grabbed it from me, his eyes scanning through the piece, as his slice of delight closed up.
Banger sounds went off outside. Father dropped the paper, and ran outside to look, ignoring Mother’s insistence as to the paper contained.
I peered through the window. Precious’ father was holding a smoking gun, with his son at his side, silent. Ade, Sesi and Solo were nowhere around. Professor had the sleeves of his blue shirt folded. He brandished a blue mega phone. A small crowd had gathered. My elder brothers and Mother all squeezed me off, also peering.
I rushed back to the floor, where the paper laid, and picked it up to read. I schemed through the tiny prints. It basically described our area, and called it all sort of names; it also said something about a new energy company rising from “the ruins to turn Trash to Cash”. I kept scanning through until I found it:
A three-day eviction notice is hereby issued to all the occupants of the aforementioned area to further the state’s energy concerns. Disobedience of which shall lead to drastic eviction measures.