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Toni-Kan-Nights-Of-The-Creaking-Bed-FAB-Book-Review-1

My mother was a kept woman.

It was something we knew. We – my cousin Meze and I. It was something we knew without being told, the sort of knowledge that creeps up on you and without announcing itself makes your acquaintance.

We knew and even though we didn’t deny it it wasn’t something we went screaming from the roof-tops.

And we preferred that those who had gained this knowledge kept it to themselves .

I got my first black eye the day Damian bared the naked rump of my secret before the whole school.

“Your mother is fucking somebody’s husband!”

It was enough to bring the bile to my tongue, the rage to the fore of my being and my fist slamming into his mouth.

When Damian saw a pre-molar fall out with the blood he spat out he’d screamed and turned my left eye into a camera flash bulb. I saw stars.

It was all my fault: the secret that had bared its rump; the premolar in the sand, the new milky way.

It was my fault. I’d just seen The Omen and for days I’d been needling Damian and calling him the anti-Christ.

How he tried to fend me off, to make me stop. But I was like an airplane drunk on Jet A-1. I wouldn’t stop.

And fed up, he had dredged up from the pit of his rage a sentence that ensured that I never looked my mates’ in the eye again.

“Your mother is fucking somebody’s husband!”

And it was all my fault!

* * * *

“Somebody’s husband” was Uncle John to Meze and I. Tall, dark, pot bellied and heavily bearded he cut the picture of a burglar.

But Uncle John was a gentle giant. Mild mannered and ever polite he gave the impression that he was somehow sorry for being so big. He never screamed and he never sent you on an errand without saying please.

He came to see my Mom twice a week. On Wednesdays and Fridays. He would come in at about 6.30pm. He would park his car in the garage we had and never used because my mother didn’t have a car. Then he would lift his bulk out of the car and walk into the house refusing to let me carry his bulging briefcase.

I would serve him water and he would ask about school if schools were in session or about the holiday if I was home.

“Evening Captain!” He would hail Meze.

He called my cousin captain because according to him he had served under a captain called Meze during the war.

“Good evening, Uncle John,” Meze would greet.

“I remain loyal,” Uncle John would say then rise to join my mother in the kitchen where she would be busy preparing a delicacy for his pleasure.

With Uncle John around my mother was a woman transformed. Flush with excitement she would sing old songs made new by the passion with which she sang them. Her laughter rang loud and was like music even to ears for which it was not meant and there was a bounce to her gait that slashed off years from her age.

There was magic in those heady, fun-filled moments they spent those two nights of the week.

And you could smell her despair even before you saw her the next day when Uncle John would leave. She would be grouchy and tetchy, snapping at nothing and speaking to herself even as she stared out into space.

And then I would sit and watch her and marvel at how something that brought her so much joy could sire such misery and dejection in its wake.

When they had played all the LPs and danced to all the songs, they’d rise and retire to my mother’s room. And once the key turned in the lock the bed would begin to creak.

* * * *

I never met my father.

By the time I was old enough to recognise faces and tell one from the other my father had disappeared wherever vagabond husbands and vagrant fathers fade into. He was gone and my mother had wiped him off her mind.

She never spoke of him. She kept no pictures, no keep-sakes to remember him by. I was the only reminder that there had been such a man in her life.

People who say absence makes the heart fonder never knew the kind of absence I knew. It was absolute. One that did not seem to exist because the presence that had been looked vaguer than the absence I lived with. I know nothing about my father. And I can’t tell whether the bed used to creak when he went in with my mother!

* * * *

We lived at No. 56 for so many years that I came to see it as home and even after we moved, because my mother couldn’t stand the crowd of memories that assailed her, I came to see the other places we lived in as strange abodes. I felt and continue to feel like an alien in a foreign land: a radicle in search of its own clump of earth.

No 56 was large and like all big houses had it s fair share of gossips. We lived in front, in a two bedroom flat. A tenement building stretched out behind us like a tail.

Everyone saw us; Meze, my mother and I as the rich ones. We were the ones who had a garage and could park a car if we bought one. We were the ones who never missed school because of unpaid fees and we were the ones who always had light when others didn’t because we could afford to pay our NEPA bills on time.

Our neighbours had conceived a perfect life for us, one that was free from want or lack. They knew the truth had a different face but the over-bearing misery of their own lives had blinded them to that other reality. So, to explain it away and bear up under the burden of their own lack and want they concocted a lie which served as a palliative for what ailed them.

But it was a fragile reality. One that came crashing the moment we stepped out of line or deigned to live as citizens of that world they said we belonged to.

Unsheathing their tongues they would flagellate us with verbal strokes that left lasting scars.

Their anger, like Jehovah’s rage kindled at the enemies of the Jews, burned against us at long intervals because linked closely to their awe was an incipient fear peculiar to all poor people, that sense of dread that leaves you feeling naked because you have nothing.

Then one day a neighbour’s wife had unsheathed her tongue and told my mother things that made her quake.

Her child had taken ill at a bad time (not that there is a good time for falling sick). Doctors were on strike, which meant that government hospitals were shut.

The lab diagnosed typhoid fever and the doctor at the private clinic demanded a deposit of two thousand naira. It was evening and rushing home from the hospital it was our door she knocked on first.

“Your mama, nko?” She asked.

“She’s not back from the shop,” I said and she had sighed, a drawn out expiration of air that seemed to drain the life out of her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked watching the tears escape her lids and slither down her face. “No worry,” she said and turned.

By the time my mother came in, her trip round the fourteen rooms in the compound had dredged up a miserly five hundred and twenty – four naira. She needed more if her child was to live.

Then my mother came back laden with provisions and food stuff.

Her plea was desperate and when my mother said she had no money her eyes had turned to blazing coals rescued from a smithy.

“My son dey for hospital. If I no carry dis money go, the boy go die. Abeg, help me.”

“Mama Chisco, I have no money on me. I have just finished shopping. I have only two hundred naira left.” My mother explained but her words only served to fan the embers of our neighbour’s desperation.

“Abeg, Mama Andrew. I take God beg you, save my pikin.” The woman cried.

“I can’t. I have no money, true.”

As we watched a change came over Mama Chisco. She took a step backwards. She dabbed at her eyes and then she loosened her tongue and spoke words that sent sharp darts into my heart and almost killed my mother. Words that echoed Damian’s words at the play ground. Words that spoke of old scorn curdled to hate. But it was her final words that packed the most bile.

“Okay, make I ask you one question, wetin you go do if that man wey you dey fuck, if im wife come here come catch you, eh Mama Andy? My pikin dey die and you no wan help me, eh. Why?” The woman wailed and crumpled to the floor.

My mother looked across at me. Our eyes met and I could read fear and desperation and shame in her’s. Then without a single word she walked out of the compound.

She was gone for less than ten minutes and when she returned she gave the woman a wad of naira notes; five thousand naira in all.

Her child survived but she never forgave herself. It took them six months to raise the money but my mother refused it and for years until we left they took to giving me money, small change, at well chosen intervals. They hadn’t become rich, they were merely making expiation for that sin.

And it was from them that I learnt that, some times, the verbal pains we inflict on others can scar us for life.

* * * *

My mother would have been happier if she were a widow. But a woman with a husband, who was not there, she looked more like a bat surprised by sunlight.

* * * *

When you’re fifteen and in the full grip of adolescence, your mother’s nakedness is not the best thing to behold.

So, when my mother ran out of her room stark naked and screaming at the top of her lungs I’d felt a stirring that leaves me flush with shame when I recollect it.

I found her a wrapper then Meze and I tip-toed into her bedroom. Uncle John lay naked, his bulk filling up the bed.

He was naked save for the condom that covered his erection like a shroud. Meze had covered him up while I stood there shivering and sobbing.

And today, years later when I think of that scene I remember two things – his condom-ed manhood and the thought that occurred to me before grief settled over me – his erection looked really small.

* * * *

We left No 56 soon after.

There were too many sniggers tugging at our sleeves as we walked past and many eyes that suddenly began to look every where else but at us.

And then Uncle John’s wife came to see the woman who had fucked her husband to death. “Where’s your mother?” she asked.

“She’s not at home.”

“So, your mother is the ashewo who killed my husband?” she asked before I shut the door on her and the neighbours that had gathered.

We left No 56 soon after.

* * * *

Today, Meze is married and my mother is dead. When her bed stopped to creak, her heart began to slow.

I am not married but once a week I visit a widow and act as father to her only son.

I wear a bushy beard, I nurse a small paunch and I carry an old and bulging briefcase in memory of the only father I knew.

Source: http://www.africanwriter.com/nights-of-the-creaking-bed-a-short-story-by-toni-kan-onwordi/

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