Pobja Boys

this story was inspired by Noviolet Bulawayo’s Caine-prize ‘Hitting the Budapest’ and was published in Tuck Magazine.

Image result for images african hungry boys in quarry

 I imagined what the feeling was like right away; I had always claimed to know and feel the pains of losing a mother. I’m lying. I did not, and it’s because the one they called my mother is someone I had never seen nor shared affinities with. As I imagine TK lying in there and dreaming and weeping and running to catch his mother I wished I could do just that. At least He lost a mother as I, but I cannot. I feel nothing but hunger. I wish I’ve stolen plenty stones so I can eat plenty food.

The idea came from TK, but we knew it’s hunger that forged it, perforated that head as large and amorphous as one of Pa Muturu’s mango tree foliages and wedged it. Hunger can forge anything. Bu’s fond of saying this. It’s his. He made it. To be frank, he’s known with it. He’d have been there to shun TK and crossly reiterate it but he died last year. We do not need an autopsy to know what killed him. Hunger took him away. Hunger took Bu away from us.

Bu’s death started with what Nuhu called ulcer. We do not know it then. It shrunken and shrunken him until he collapsed along Fuwo street never to rise again. His dead face on the dusty street was as crying old man’s. He cried to death we had assumed. And It’s why we cried so much. We cried and forgot him. We were hungry and therefore lacked the strength to eternally cry for him because we wished to. He meant a lot to us. The entire boys of Evo shacks.

Bu taught us to sing and count our blessings when we were hungry and pray for stones to come when it hasn’t . But, he taught us how to steal from the ripe mango trees studding Pa Muturu’s garden. He gave birth to the idea of us going to beg in Waff Metropolis, taught us to say ‘we are orphans who come to work in Pobja stone mines and quarries and because for days plenty water brimmed the mines so the explosives could not be inserted in stones we’d need to work and have wages to eat, we are fragile and hungry’.

Bu played the blind and we trooped after him. And how I and TK loathed the idea but it had fetched us much money until Sanmika ran into a tramp that grinded him to a flap. A man had beckoned him from the other side of the road to have  twenty-naira note , the joy of it  had made him slithered across the road sloppily without looking both sides of the watery road and we heard a bang ‘grassh’ and Sanmika was no more. We were crying then suddenly found our legs scuttling away through Huklipa stalls as Waff folks started to run towards us because of Bu’s sudden regain of sight.

The Police  came looking for Sanmika’s relatives the next day and for our arrest. We hide around Kuluka Mangroves. So, they did not get us . After, we learnt they were told Sanmika’s parents were shot dead in 1999  and he had come to the mine like some other kids on his own to work and feed. We knew his story but he never told us how his parents died, and the revelation shocked us and made us cried like never before. We also cried because we have nothing to bury.

 

TK fervidly blamed Bu, Bu blamed the stones and his parents for dying and letting him come to suffer in the mine, when TK shouted on Bu until Bu lost his senses Bu slapped him, and they started to fight.

We were too shocked to part them. We stood and mopped as pythons that swallowed a dozen of obese antelopes as we cried. They punched their faces until they wept and cried along with us.  Tiredness parted them. The memory of Sanmika made TK to passionately abhor Bu to his death. Although he wept and trooped along with us to the thick forest of Vimonida where he was buried in a shallow grave because we were too weak to dig more.

He too has no parents. He ran away from the foster parents that maltreated him . And he had told us he was dumped in a ditch by an under-aged mother in 1993. This year he should be 14. But he’s gone. He’d be it in hell. Yes, hell. He was there with us the day Pastor Kilipanda said anyone who steals goes to hell when he dies. He stole with us from Pa Muturu’s garden.

He forged the strategy. ZZZ strategy he called it. And It’s it that enabled us to steal mangoes umpteen times without been caught. Pa Muturu woke one day and planted a big bulb that faced and covered the garden when it shines in the night on the front eaves of his bungalow house, and in front of it he sat in his ragged bunk bed to overview the garden.

The mangoes were ripe and had become our supper for that week, we can’t do without them. We wept the night we noticed the gleaming large bulb. Bu smiled after few minutes of contemplation then dumped like grenade the strategy. The  ZZZ strategy. Instead of six of us climbing into the garden as usual three of us climbed in with jade-leaves and gown-like wears Bu made with strings and mango leaves. Pa Muturu just sat there like scarecrow and saw seeing nothing.

TK liked the ZZZ. He laughed at Pa Muturu as he only swatted at flicking flies totally oblivion of our presence. We had enjoyed the mangoes with ZZZ until Mufuru jumped into the dragon-teeth trap Pa Muturu placed somewhere around the tree’s foot. He did not bark when he heard Mufuru’s yell of pain, neither did he come for us. He only laughed, trudged at his mustache and staggered inside. And we never visited his garden again to steal again.

*  *  *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * *  *  *  *  *  * * * * * * * * * * * *

Just yesterday, TK took us out telling us to trust he had conceived a noble idea. ‘We’ve got a novel way to eat without waiting for stones’ TK had said under  the Guava tree- I was  hungry

 

and  felt no need to care to observe a verity in that. Others, Tosa, Orange and Mikel smiled and anxiously pressed him to spill it. It will not work, I mean nothing, not even TK can forge the terminator of hunger in as much as we still stay in Pobja. To me, I do not think TK would ever be more imaginative than Bu that failed at the long run. He spilled the idea finally.

We were shocked for the prospects of dangers it clings. The idea is indeed a new way to eat. A new way to steal ; He’s arranged with Chief Okwanti, he’d be the buyer, all we have to do all nights is to steal from trips of granite stones and boulders from peoples’ sites , dump them in Chief Okwanti’s quarry site, when the boulders or shattered granites grow to an half of a full trip, Chief would pay us. And we can eat and eat. We hate the idea but we were hungry, and choice less . We are to wake up at midnights with buckets. And we did woke up last night with buckets.

Zabo quarry site with Mimiko Open-pit mine were the first places we raked. And we were able to lift twenty-four boulders, and thirty eight buckets of half-inch granite stones in just a night. And Chief Okwanti had backed at us, saying we took much from the sites. Chief Zabo and Chief Mimiko would notice and invite the Police and he knows what the police would do. They’d check every mine and quarry sites for hints of the stones.

And the police came this morning. We were scared we scampered up Oujla mangroves. There in the mangroves we trusted Chief Okwanti would be arrested and by now he’s on his way to our shacks with the police for our arrest. We blamed TK and he blamed all of us for our gluttonousness. We had wanted to make up a trip from boulders and stones just a night. We shut up. We all are to be blamed. TK decided to visit the sites in the afternoon to know the state of things. TK came back smiling with a pregnant poly-bag. As he handled sachets of butter with loaves of bread to us we were bamboozled. But he cleared our bamboozlement very soon. He told us Chief Zabo told the Police Chief Okwanti is too trustworthy for that. He said it would be an insult to the chairman-to be. So they did not search his site. TK had complained to Chief Okwanti for money, so the boys could eat .He bought loaves of bread, sachets of butter  and water from the money. The boys ate and ate.

As we trekked out of the mangroves for Nuolipo street we adored TK and praised him for his imagination. For the first time we agreed we would live without hunger in as much as we would always steal stones.

We walked into Evo lane. The lane’s still straight with grits of asphalt. Workers walked in it to and fro looking for functioning crushers. We only laughed at them because they were hungry and

 

We were aware they’d never have works to do. No stone and there would never be stones for more weeks. Chief Okwanti told TK that. TK laughed at a two-year old boy weeping and running after her mother who briskly walked to join the throng in her front.

I pitied him, rushed out to him and offered him a tear from the leftover of my bread. TK and Mikel made a sign to me and I got it. They meant I should be careful with my supper. And I easily grasped it. I kissed his forehead before joining my colleagues. Steps away from the now-humming child I remembered the bread would never be sweet without butter. I took an excuse to urinate. I pressed a flat dot from the sachet on the child’s bread. When he tasted it he smiled and said thank you sir. I was shocked. I’ve never been addressed with sir. He smiled again before scurrying out of sight for his faraway mother who already blended with the throng. The throng of hungry peasants, with bare dusty backs flexing in the southern sun. They’d never have jobs to do and they’d starve tonight. I pitied them as I scuttled up to meet others.

We got to Evo shacks at five. A mustachioed man sat on the boulder in the front of TK’s shack and he was weeping. TK knew him as soon as he saw him. TK called his name and frowned his tawny face. The man rose up and this time he cried. I saw heavy lines of tears snaking down his two eyes. He stepped forward.

‘Your mother died last night.’. TK dropped on the floor. He had told us he dropped school for the mine in other to save his mother. Tuberculoses had been her hitch for years and a Doctor Stephen needed money.

‘ mama…’ he says with a faraway look. We all squirted beside him. We felt his pain. The  pain some us knew -those who were motherless among us like Mikel, Milan and I.

Mikel lost his mother to breast cancer. Loneliness stroked his father and he’s in the mine to make money. Milan lost his parents to blindness. And he must feed. And I, Buzo-Havo, my mother , Yonifebor said was a raped 14 years old school girl. And her step father raped her. She was unable to give birth to me and died during a cesarean operation.  Yonifebor, is my witness, Opinaro’s wife treated me like a dog and detested me for being the reason her husband languished in prison. Yonifebor brought me here to hustle. Although he died last year. Starvation and glaucoma took him away. I still travel to his hut in our village to place wreaths on his grave. I’d always do just that.

‘TK we must go home, you must be there as we bury her’

 

‘It’s over. Uncle, go home and bury her. Tell her I thank her so much for letting me have my way , for dying and dumping me in a world of pain……go I belong here. I’m used to pain , sorrow and anguish’

“But we must go, bury him then come back”

“Go and let me be” We cried along with TK even as the man walked out of sight.

When TK still slept around eleven thirty it’s obvious we won’t go out to steal tonight. He’s passing through mists of memories. Milan said we shouldn’t interrupt him as he came into my shack to spend the night. As he snored I stood and strolled up my open window. Mosquitoes buzzed and hummed in the dark. Large Bats hovered round the shimmering moon faraway. And I saw TK’s shack lonely and faraway beside INBUYA car wash. I imagined what the feeling was like right away; I had always claimed to know and feel the pains of losing a mother. I’m lying. I did not, and it’s because the one they called my mother is someone I had never seen nor shared affinities with. As I imagine TK lying in there and dreaming and weeping and running to catch his mother I wished I could do just that. At least He lost a mother as I, but I cannot. I feel nothing but hunger. I wish I’ve stolen plenty stones so I can eat plenty food.

Cigarette smokes woke me the following morning. It waved in through the hexagonal crevice in my shack’s door. It nauseated me. It has always nauseated me. I was surprised as Milan when the boy sitting on the flint boulder beside the door and smoking was TK. He hated cigarette with passion. As a matter of fact, he threatened to report any of the Evo shack boys caught smoking cigarette to the Vigilante Men. If there was anyone who stopped open smoking of cigarettes along Evo Shacks it’s TK and now TK’s smoking.

And it wounded me the more that the love of mother could not let me do nasty things, it dawned on me that ,anywhere my mother is she’d feel she meant nothing to me. TK wept as he smoked and coughed at close intervals. Milan rushed out. I do not know what he’s up to but was sure he’s simply stunned. As I stood and watched TK mouth ajar as door, half of the entire Evo boys rushed in and stopped shocked at the sight of TK who busily smoked from the butt of his cigarette.  Some murmured, cast aspersions, wept as I and Milan as they walked back to their shacks.

 

 

 

 

We thought he suddenly smoked to forget his pains and would soon drop it as soon as he goes over it. But for the next two weeks that followed even as we stole he smoked. And we found ourselves smoking as him. When I coughed as I smoked he wept. And I wept too. He cursed it.. The first moment he gave me a butt for a test I had felt hollow and heady. I smoked until I no more weep as I smoked.

I’d never stop to smoke because the more I smoked the more I got distanced from the guilt of not knowing how to love my mother.   `

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