PICTURES (Part 1)

Actors deserve more respect than they are given, in my opinion. How do they act like it is real? How do they make us believe what is not true and what never happened?

No matter how much I tried to behave like I did not belong to my peer group, I could not help but huddle with them behind Mama Shekina’s bar to watch the tele. When I was younger, I used to think the actors lived in the tele and if I could run past the drunken men into the bar, I would break it and set the actors free. Other times, I would envision myself entering the tele and being in it with them (the actors), and the crowd of dirty young boys and drunken old men watching me.

However, at thirteen, I was wise enough to know that the actors did not actually live inside the tele and it was only displaying to us what the actors have created some time ago, in some place very far away from our community. Very far away indeed. Never had I seen a movie that was set in place familiar to our environment. The actors always lived in brick houses, they drove cars, they ate good food and they spoke English fluently. Some of them had skin colours different from ours. They looked so white and pail, their hairs were long enough to reach their buttocks, even the men had long hair! I never understood what they said in these movies and the men always guffawed, “Oyinbo people!” when these movies were shown.

We watched these movies until Mama Shekina or one of the men found us peeping and then we all fled. That was the only time you could find me with those boys. After then, I was on my own or with boys older than I was. I liked to hang around Theo, my sixteen year-old elder brother, and his gang. I liked the aura of superiority that they moved with. I liked that girls flocked around them and my brother and his friends had the liberty to choose the ones they most preferred. I liked that the adults could not force them on errands. I liked that I was able to enjoy all these privileges by moving with them. I liked that my age mates feared me. Even Mummy treated me like she treated Theo – with respect.

We lived in one of the largest shacks in the area— my parents, my three siblings and I. Rita was fourteen and Sunday was four. The house was made of wooden planks with open spaces at the sides serving as windows. It had just one room which served as the bedroom and sitting room, the kitchen was in a shed at the backyard (but all our utensils and foodstuff were inside) and the toilet was anywhere you found convenient.

We had been living there since forever. I was born there and so was Theo. No matter how bad I knew we were suffering, I could not imagine a better life for us. I could never see Daddy in a car or Mummy in weave-on or us living in a brick house. This place was our home. It was called the No Go Area by those who did not leave there but I never knew what the name of the area actually was. That had been the name my classmates and teachers called the hood when I was still attending school.

“He stays in that area.” Someone would say.

“Which one?”

“No Go Area na.” The person would whisper.

“Ohh, nawa oo. Poor boy.” 

I hated that they were loud whisperers and I could hear everything they said. In fact, I hated the idea of going to school in all and I was glad when I got to Primary Five and had to stop. That was a family tradition— no one went past primary school. Daddy always talked of how he really wished we could go further but could not afford it but we, the children, were more than okay with it. We hated school. Or should I say Theo hated school and once Theo hated anything, I hated it too. “School dey useless when you dey live for No Go Area.” Theo would say and I would vigorously repeat it.

The order of each day was so simple. There were no weekdays or weekends in No Go Area, every day was similar. We woke up by 5am in our house every day, every single person— including Sunday. Then mummy always said a two-minute prayer which always went like this:

Papa God we tank you for today, and for the fact sey you remember sey you get children for dis side. We wan put everything wey we go do today for your hand. We pray sey you go take control and guide us make we no go fall into the hand of our enemies in Jesus name. Abeg provide for us today as you do yestaday in Jesus name.”

Then we all chorused, “Amen.”

The next thing was to arrange the house, which was a collective duty. Mummy rolled up the mat she and Daddy used to sleep; Sunday rolled the one used by him and Rita; and I, the one for me and Theo. After that, Sunday swept the house, not because it was dirty but because that was his only chore. We all take our baths at the same time but at different places, behind trees, in our made up wooden bathroom or in that of a neighbor.

Breakfast was ogi for as long as I could remember. Mummy had the grinding machine for it and that was what she used for her business. She grounded corn for the people who wished to make the ogi themselves and she sold ogi in small packages of fifty naira each to those who cared to buy. Sometimes, when Daddy had ‘extra money’, we bought bread or akara or moi moi or groundnut to go with it but, most times, we just drank ogi.

Daddy worked at the bus stop, so far from No Go Area. He was the first to leave after breakfast as he would have to walk all the way to the bus stop. There, his job was to carry heavy load for passengers who were travelers alighting from buses to cabs or okadas. It was a toxic job. The day Theo and I had seen Daddy carrying two heavy bags— a Ghana-must-go and a box— atop his head, we had looked away in pity and shame for him.

Rita assisted mummy in her grinding business at home. Sometimes, she hawked the ogi on her head along the neighborhood till the late hours of the night. The whole family was okay with this because she was the sister of Theo and no one who knew who Theo was could hurt anything that was his. Knowing this, Rita walked around with pride. She was able to swing her hips as she liked to the boys as she passed by. She wore her barely covering clothes with confidence. She insulted any boy she disliked that approached her. Just like Carol, Theo’s girlfriend, she was untouchable in the area.

Theo and I just moved about with the rest of his gang looking for jobs to do here and there. It was hard to find work in the neighborhood because everyone could do everything by themselves so, we wandered out of No Go Area. We picked up empty soft drink plastic bottles from the streets and sold it to traders of kerosene, liquid soup or zobo. We picked gin bottles from Mama Shekina’s bar and sold it to traders of groundnut. We fetched water for some people, washed their water tanks and we worked at construction sites.

There was no curfew in No Go Area. Children went in as late as 2am and parents never worried— for the street was also our homes. In our house, whenever anyone returned, there would be food waiting where Mummy had kept it. It was Daddy’s philosophy that we all deserved food after a day of hard and dignified labour. This was how it went for us each and every passing day. The first ever change for us in our home was introduced from the youngest one, Sunday.

One Tuesday evening, after he managed to slip away from Mummy’s side, he returned back home smiling from ear to ear. I was at home then because I was helping Mummy fix her faulty grinding machine.

Why you dey smile?” I asked him, unable to stop myself from smiling too.

Shyly, he put his hands in his pocket and kept it there, still smiling at us.

“Wetin dey inside that pocket?” Mummy asked. He removed his hand again and was about to run away when mummy shouted that I get him. In one stride, I was in front of him. “Check the pocket and bring out wetin dey there.”

I did as I was told and when I brought my hand out of his left pocket, in it was a clean five hundred naira note. My eyes opened in shock and Mummy exclaimed, “Jesus Christ!”

“Sunday, where you get dis money from?” I asked.

“Gimme my money oo.” He yelled, landing on his buttocks on the muddy ground and crying.

Mummy placed her two hands on her head. “My pikin don start to dey steal oo! Ewo! Wetin I go do dis small pikin now oo?” She paused for a while then continued. “Sunday abeg tell me who you collect dis money from, make I go return back abeg.

I started beating Sunday until he got up and ran to Mummy. As he got in front of her, thinking she would shield him from me, she landed a slap on his bald head— I even felt sorry for him. He landed again on his buttocks and wailed as loud as he could. He was like that for a long time as me and Mummy tried to think of how he got the money.

It was Theo that was his saving grace. He rushed quickly to him and carried him into the house. After about ten minutes, Theo returned and told us the four year-old had fallen asleep.

Him tell you how he take get the money?” Mummy asked impatiently.

“Yes,” Theo said. “He talk say na one fine woman dash am the money.

Which woman be that one?”

I no know for am oo. He just talk say him and his friends dey play when the woman con dey ask them about their mama and papa and where they dey live. Then she con dash all of them money.” Theo explained.

Na lie.” Mummy blurted out. “My pikin don dey lie oo. Which kain person go dash small small pikin money for this area? Tell me na. Na which person for here rich so tey him go dey dash five five hundred naira up and down. The thing no make sense na, at all.

I always envied Theo for his calm ways and I loved the wisdom with which he spoke. “Mummy na wetin we go do be dis. You go go ask those women wey Sunday dey follow their pikin dem if any woman dash them money. Na wetin we go do be that.” Before his sentence was completed, Mummy ran out to do as he said.

At night, it had been settled that Sunday had been saying the truth. Mummy made ogi for him and slipped in a tablet of Paracetamol inside. She held his sleeping form tightly as the rest of us tried to figure out who it was that came to the neighborhood to give out money to the children. She was definitely not someone from the environment for no one from there was as rich as that. That night, something that had not happened in a long time happened, Mummy prayed— at night.

Papa God abeg keep our children safe in this place like you dey keep them before. We no go born pikin in vain in Jesus name. Nobody go fit harm them or use them do ritual in Jesus mighty name.”

“Amen” we chorused and slept.

Hazel

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