Cafe Of Tins

this story had published in Tuck Magazine

Image result for dump of books

As soon as the school dismissed in the afternoon Chinagorom would hang his threadbare Capri school bag and walked for Christy cafe and going, he endeavored to meticulously stuff his lunch fee in the depth of his cyan-pink trousers’ left pocket, of course it’s his access into the dirty cafe of luxurious novels from the best beautiful minds in the world. From Gloucestershire, Caroline Harvey or Joanna Trallope. From Manchester and Kennebunkport,England, Winston Graham . Kenneth Roberts from Nowalk of Conneticut. Sloan Wilson from south Australia. Babara Jeferis from Canada. Elizabeth Spencer and Eric Walters from New York and Cannada. Diana Galbadon , James Patterson and Margret Miller from America.

I  

Chinagorom has been reading much novels lately, although it had barely been by cheap contacts not by expensive choices. If money had been available in his family he would have been a bit selective, and if he had gotten this choice for certain and he pretty knew it, his friends, Ochiabuto, Zebrudiah and Jedi knew it all, the drive to read and devour a pyramid of prose books lingered there in his imperceptible veins, he would read crinkles of powerful, trending African novels at a go . He loathed American novels in some ways , when they were  stereotyped fictions that spurned around the hub of wars and dune of romances ,when they were unnecessarily synecdochical, taking an event happening in a part of the world to represent the whole world, the intricacy of expression and all those stuffs that make you want to collapse because every sentence rock your head  . African books make him feel an African, and at home with a taunting pride. The grace of simplicity , the feel of concern for the low-learned African  readers yet not compromising in the undeviating conveyance of the points of  pressing themes ,the life-changing themes and all that so packaged  in African imaginations, he believed, would grant him the energy to trill outside the limit of his African voice as soon as he read them one day.

That was Chinagorom. He loved African novels; Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiichie’s Half of the yellow sun, Helon Habila’s Waiting For An Angel ,Chika Unigwe’s On The Black Sisters’ Street ,Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come.  He wished to read these African novels, having read their reviews in Kelechi’s browsing Techno phone, but what cheaply came his way, though expensive, were foreign,  American novels .

Chinagorom was choiceless ,money wasn’t  available with his family ,the only source of novels he read were a few ragged stores opposite Effium slaughter house called ozo gbogorogbogoro,here, it was the place where rusted and corroded farm paraphernalias and old home utensils ,broken furniture, burnt home appliances; wireless ruptured televisions, shattered radios ,knocked speakers, frizzled American toys picked in Nsukka dustbins, pungent Italian brogues shoes picked in Enugu slums, dog-eared host of books and ripples of scrunched magazine cracks packed still from Enugu dustbins  were assembled for cheap reselling.

As soon as the school dismissed in the afternoon Chinagorom would hang his threadbare Capri school bag and walked for Christy cafe and going, he endeavored to meticulously stuff his lunch fee in the depth of his cyan-pink trousers’ left pocket, of course it’s his access into the dirty cafe of luxurious novels from the best beautiful minds in the world. From Gloucestershire, Caroline Harvey or Joanna Trallope. From Manchester and Kennebunkport,England, Winston Graham . Kenneth Roberts from Nowalk of Conneticut. Sloan Wilson from south Australia. Babara Jeferis from Canada. Elizabeth Spencer and Eric Walters from New York and Cannada. Diana Galbadon , James Patterson and Margret Miller from America.

Definitely, they were the objects that drove him there; they were the reason de tar he’d not spend his dirty notes on snacks or beverages, on okpa,akpe and Iyamangoro  ,they were the reason he could think and speak with the best furnished English, with flowing intricate intonations in Mayflower Academy Effium. When he got to Christy store he would wave his Nigerian currency notes , like a crumpled wand across her face to inform her he has come to buy books and not to play and browse through books with empty pockets, without  buying. Just the habit of his school boys to this poverty-hacked seller that woke a monster in his head and made his head to tick.

Christy knew Chinagorom well. He wasn’t one of those boys, those science boys, Caleb, Ozoigbondu and Okpoto who disliked novels and would indicate their hatred by havazardly wagging their hands on them, telling the woman to her face how they felt nauseous for the grubby art books,for her stinking wares. She knew him well. He  was someone that could be trusted to buy five to six foreign tattered novels he could lay his eyes on.

Seeing him, Christy would  smile ,nod her head and informed him with a sharp feminine grunt she had seen him and he should go ahead and search and ransack the dunghills of dirty books , swollen graves upon graves of murky papers. When Chinagorom picked his choice or the few novels he contacted she would say ‘let me see’ that’s after he flailed his selections to her face.  Like an Effium hot breeze rustled to  her face, she would close her eyes and grinned like she loved him for loving books and wished he was her son or his love for books reminded her of a cryptic past. That perhaps involved an intelligent child she once had that died prematurely.

He  would  go over the hill of filths with his ungloved fingers , digging to and fro for novels he could contact ,see and touch. He’d wondered the sort of individuals who flung out these powerful books without caring to check out their costs and values .But, Once, he queried Christy just on this and after a sprained minute of tranquility, she claimed they never picked those things in dustbins ‘we bought them, we never  picked them’ that’s what she said ,perhaps  she agreed saying the real fact could deflate  the prices of her ostentatious wares  ‘ostentatious’ that’s the best paradoxical adjective she like other sellers used to nomenclate the gbogorogbogoro business ,they knew the truth ,about how they bent and picked them in New Heaven dustbins, Milliki Hills open-vats of reek rags , and Nineth Mine grease-framed silos of broken porcelain plates  , and do not tell them the truth pertaining  their wares were ‘picked goods’. ‘They could whoop or whistle you off their stores . If you happened to have seen Christy somewhere around Enugu doing her picking, and you interrogated her ,Christy ,because she can’t deny you seeing her, would say, at least to loan her business some dignity, ‘few American ladies ,few Lebanese men from Washington D.C ,few cowboys from New York City who lived for temporal missions in Enugu flung them out to the dustbins and we packed them down to some other rural villages in Enugu, then down here in Effium, Ebonyi for cheap reselling.

Often it yanked and preened furiously at his tight skin that the people he belonged went out there to pick wastes in Enugu dustbins and came to suffocate them with the putrescent smell here. Once he tried clearing his head with questions on why Christy stoop so low, why some of the Ebonyi women stoop so low to pick on dustbins in Enugu and Christy had laughingly said ‘my son, not the Ebonyians alone who picked things, and it’s not in Enugu alone the white people lived who discarded wastes. White people sojourning in Waterworks roads , the Paramilitary boulevard, Gunning roads,  Salt spring hotel, Crunchies resturant, Osborn Lapam Hotel ,Mr. Biggs, and Ebonyi hotel also cast out good resalable stuffs, and peasants from here like us’, and he would say ‘tufiakwa minus me’, ‘peasants from Enugu, from Abia,from Anambara, from some other states in Nigeria would rout  through the Unity square to Paramilitary layout  for brisk picks.

He looked straight to her evasive, poverty-discolored eyes with butter-like shinning blobs filling the edges of the irises and inhaled an heavy breath like a gulp at least a bit relaxed that his state wasn’t  the only state in Nigeria where the rural women weren’t employed or loaned to do short scale businesses, so they go to pick dirty things on the dunghills made available by the temporal white men. And to the best of his knowledge Effium rural women were acutely abandoned by the state and federal government. They rotted and pined away in poverty just like his mother that have to fetch firewood in Okporo forest before she’d wear ekwa okirika.

His picking is by contact ,any novel he touched he picked.  When Chinagorom picked the few American fictions on romance and race he would pay Christy. The novels, no matter hefty, have no fixed prices as in the city book stores, bargain determined the selling price and the price he got these American perspirations  made him often to wonder if writing is worth going for; and the qualms the authors traversed; some authors romped through hot and cold suburbs, leaned on subways, gapping about for vital clues, from boroughs to boroughs , thorny, hilly countryside for their researches  and after they cleverly packaged their sweats you bought them with a ‘meager sum ’.  But a thought gave him solace as he grew older he understood those who discarded them to the dustbin paid for them first in the book shops and stores. The authors have no lost anyway.

He’d stretch  out a furrowed fifty naira note for two American and New York Times bestselling novels to the woman and  the yellow-teethed Christy sweaty and apparently bland from the hot Effium sun would giggle and say ‘haba, why not add at least twenty naira’. He knew she was right. Been a growing writer fantasizing to be a bestseller someday. She was unarguably right because the multiplication of what  he gave to her to a thousand  didn’t worth the American sweats. Yet, he was helpless, and ashamed to be issuing such amount for the hefty novels. He was poor, his family could not get him money to pay exorbitantly as he wished for the novels, and because he spent his snack fee and nothing else in his pocket to add he’d say ‘madam, I’ve got no any other thing to put, do get this from me please. I’m a student’. And  the weedy yet sentient woman, Christy would momentarily glowered and sulked ,then sniggered and said ‘you are always a student you big head’ and collect the note from him.

With hunger smoldering in his stomach he would sometimes, belch hysterically into Enwemiri-Isuochi untarred ,pothole-filled narrow road. It’s a natural thing, when you have a novel of a great novelist, a bestseller ,even an American bestseller like James Petterson in your fingers  when you never expected it for lack of funds, if peradventure, you got it on the highway you’d read it without minding the hooting lorries and blaring motorcycles. I lied? In Nigeria it’s a fact, it’s a verity in Ebonyi. Ebonyians love prose books to die.

He’d scuttle through Ikpoki junction, the way of cars, reading the novels he got ignoring the whooping, tootling voices of the massive gwongworos, Honking bajaj, withered kymco and crooked carter okadas rolling in from the city’s market garage and Okporo suburbs, and all those quaking yells and elusive screams  you heard from the nervous people by the sides of the road when  cars come at you and you weren’t aware.

Sometimes, he reads his novels under trees.  When he reads the novels he got new under trees with hunger-ridden stomach it isn’t a qualm it’s a therapy or at least an escape from the bleaching quandary of family poverty and  the cerebral palsy that entwined his sister, Chinelo . He’d close the novel and jumped into the  pedestrians after a tingling nudge, in the nape of his  neck with a furious blow on his left behind from one of the Ikpoki kerosene sellers, always a batch of growing boys or an Effium toothless task collector that had yelled much. He’d get into the Effium divisional  police headquarters, just along the gleaming, tar-encrusted Overbridge expressway , there in the heart of the station stood a tall and a short mango trees with pink-blue ruggedious foliages. He’d greet the policemen chirruping and discussing the recent crime in Effium, then jumped into a double Iroko planks set underneath the foliages  and got riveted in the exhilarating prose.

Once in the tree, and it was the more reason he loathed American romance fictions, although he might be synedochical, he read a romance fiction that almost made him wet his panties, the  novel’s name was Romancing the stone  by a female American writer. It was the chapter of those romance things, what he was  made of, you should know it, stood out stony , he was  ashamed and he prayed nobody shout at him to stand up, if that should happen he’d be humiliated , and this erotic urge that grasped him in his under made him to dislike American fictions with passions, not every fictions ,not anything like George Orwell’s Animal farms and his Nineteen eighty-four, not anything like Eric Walter’s safe as houses, not anything like Charles Dickens the tales of two city nor Caroline Harvey’s the city of gem despite he was not sure they were American writers and books.

 

 

 

 

II

And now, in the ebb of November, having packed much  novels from these dirty stores where books wouldn’t seize for a minute to be surplus and cheap to posses, Chinagorom has been reading much novels lately ; Pat Conroy’s the great santini and the prince of tides , James Stewart’s star , Magret Miller’s beyond here are monsters and Anita David’s Green fingers and Grit. He has been developing lately. He has been painting a new big picture. He has been given himself a big cut. He has been placing or seeing with the prism of imagination his feet set on the topmost horizon of literary fulfillment. He’s been building a flair to write a novel, he’d call his own. He’s been dreaming in the daylight. He’s been setting  himself up high , he’s peaked the height of the dream to write his own novel. He’s been building a little light, the light to be an acclaimed novelist, not just a novelist ,a bestseller like Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiichie, like Helon Habila, like Sefi Atta, Like Chinua Achebe like any great African writer recognized world wide; to write  a novel worth publishing , known all over Nigeria like waiting for an Angel, Purple Hibiscus, Half of the yellow sun, God of small things , Things fall apart, all over Ebonyi like Satan and Shaitans.

Publishers spread about Abakaliki and they could publish a good novel, Kwuzie told him a Tv presenter announced it  in Ebbc one midnight and now outside his father’s house he was planning to write a novel and getting it published would be an uppermost yarn. Three weeks later he wrote a delicious fiction he called ‘Flames’. He reviewed it every night. Once, in the class he gave the manuscript to Soromtochukwu, the most loveliest and  eloquent in the whole of Mayflower High School . That hammatan morning Soromtochukwu stood in front of the class, the curios prone-to-rebuff boys and girls. After she beautifully and succinctly pronounced the slapping phrases, sharp anecdotes and touching epigrams in the first two chapters the strong-headed classmates gawked  at her, then at him. He loved modesty and despite laughter flowed in his mouth naturally he kept a blank face so he’s not regarded a proud peacock. Sabina, the science rep mewed incredulously like she was some sort of bemused cat, like the seagull. The long-mouth science female students piped nervously like they were entrapped nightingales and said ‘No you never wrote it Chinagorom, at your age? Sixteen? SSS 3? An Ebonyian? From Effium? A Mayflower student? Impossible! You plagiarized a notable novelist . He tried to convinced them it was a talent, that he never plagiarized any novelist’s work but they were too overwhelmed to listen to him. Their awe motivated him. They respected him and it appended more sinew to the senior prefect he was. Their love for the story drove him to swear  he must publish the ‘Flames’. After all, Oscal Wilde said it, you are a novelist  if a five brilliant brains could marvel at your creation and no novel is bad.

Every day, his father was pour. Everyday his mother was penniless, everyday he watched his sister travail under the shackles of cerebral palsy. Every day he watched his family sunk in the cesspool of poverty. There weren’t foods in the house, and the day he talked to her  mother, the clatterer, because she bickered round the house whenever her husband, his father, said he has a bad day in his job and would not be able to provide money for food,  she  whispered ‘noful?’ what is noful’. He  said ‘novel, not noful mama’ he dared not call her mummy because she hated it and that’s because Obiageri, once told her one morning, a mummy is a wrapped corpse. That Morning she yelled and forever banned him from calling her that ‘thing’. His mother then said ‘Ehen, and then’ and Chinagorom said I want to publish it. She said  ‘kpoflish? Hern, ngwanu, kpoflish nu’. He looked to her eyes  and saw a monstrous robot of impecuniosities clutching a sharp sabre bearing at him and warning him, and telling him not to mention  money or he’d sever his skull. He saw poverty in her eyes glowing like hell. And it swallowed all he wished to say.

Every night, he’d roll on his mat. Daydreaming. Dreaming where his ‘Flames’ won Commonwealth prize like ‘Purple Hibiscus’  and won Orange prize like ‘Half of the Yellow sun’. Dreaming where he hugged Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiichie . He would delightedly wake up to see nothing but his mat and the crackled mud-wall and on the wall sometimes would be a contingent of crawling gecko and a brigade of staring, silent lizard usually on the edges and tops of it and on the plastered floor the buzzing mosquitoes hovered in the air and perched.

Sometimes at twilights and midnights, humming bees from the cashew tree in the backyard fluffed in through the crevices beside the shaking window louvers to slap his face and he’d exchange  hot blows  with the  pregnant buzzing, humming bees. And he’d hiss. ‘The worst malady is to have a story to tell and you can’t get it published, you become sick and miserable’ He told Afusa one evening. And added ‘you felt it was over, you grow thin, despondent and damp. And if care wasn’t handled you might go mad’.

One late December evening, the breeze swatted around the glowing bulbs outside the house and sealing the verandah with deep-yellow hues; Chinagorom’s father was a bit learned. He spoke ‘complicated grammars’ and even now he thought big grammars without money is madness. Outside the house, he sat underneath the shimmering bulb and read an issue of Ebonyi voice. He soliloquized ‘Ucha and Elechi war. Big war. Let’s see who wins now they are in the Federal High Court ‘. He trudged him from the back because he sat in a bunk bed.

He bumped up and yelled. ‘you clattering bagatelle, you ,mannerless, rancid baguette. Obdurate Narwal!. In his little mind he was yelling ‘big grammers can’t solve the matters on ground, money does. It can’t cure Chinelo’s cerebral palsy money does.

“What is it’ his father grunted finally

“I need a little money”

“The batch I plucked from my buca cavity? ”

“No sir, I want to type my novel ”

“Novel?, are you mad? Your mates think of reading to make their SSCE exams and you stand here to talk rubbish. You are demented and convincingly quadriplegic. A dim-witted, hypochondriac inebriety.

“I understand papa, just five thousand naira to get it typed then I will take it to a publisher in Abakaliki”

“I ultimately realized you are totally anathema. I have Five thousand! And your sister decayed in the grip of that thing in there. You are a lifeless desert luna moth, infact your presence suffuses typhoid , decamp before I have heart attack.

He never blamed his father ,he knew it, he wasn’t the one talking. It was poverty that spoke. Mrs. Adaebonyi, the literature auntie used to say ‘when you asked a poor man for money. He’d cry, then shout at you, please when these occurred take it, it was poverty that shouted not him’.

He was right they’ve got no food stuffs in the house, his father’s business has been failing, her mother’s fire-wood business collapsing too because women now got raped to death in the Okporo forest, his exam fees stood out there like a stubborn mountain and he talked about novels. He left his presence and almost wept. Few days later, before he was chased out of school for not paying the second term fee, Soromtochukwu, the Enugu classmate advised him to show the novel to the Mayflower Principal and here was the dialogue that ensued  between them. The principal, a plumb Egba-man, heavily mustached from Abeokuta.

“Good morning sir” Chinagorom said

“Chinagorom, how are you?”

“Am fine sir”

“Am I safe Sp?”

“” Very safe sir”

“How may I help you?”

“Sir, I have a novel, it’s good. It’s worth publishing. It’s awesome . it’s special. Its compulsive”

“Really”

“Yes sir”

“You have the fund?”

“No sir. That’s why am here”

“How?

“Publish…yes, i..i..i need to publish…”

“I get where you are going to. But I must tell you you are wasting your time and energy. Go to university before you write”

“Sir, but Ben Okiri was published in the age of seventeen”

“I’ve got no help I could offer you dear, and if at all , you still owe the school”

“Just help me publish this novel I’d pay and add jara

“Now I think you are mad. Piss off right away . Leave my office”

And he wept out. He wept because in his tiny mind taken the novel manuscript to a publisher, if at all he would get one, would fetch a lot of money to change his family. To carry Chinelo to hospital for her maligning cerebral palsy surgery. To pay for his school fees and final exams. To get her mother a good shop and store crammed with food stuffs in the most expensive part of Nwafia market rather than watch her combed the evil Okporo forest for firewoods. To wear chic denim jeans. Refurbish his father’s crackling hut of crawling filigreed geckos and staring ,nodding lizards, to change his father’s bricklaying business. But his effort to get five thousand naira was fucked up. And he felt this warranted the principal to send him out of the school the following week for his debts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III

He now stayed at home. Every day the poverty in the family interlaced his mind so his thinking was preposterous and heavily ludicrous. Every day he wept for the cough-like groans of her babe sister from the inside, from the preening impound of cerebral palsy. Every day he wept watching her mother tearfully axed on a log of melina wood and wept more in the market when people rejected her mother’s firewood because it wasn’t dry. Father was a bricklayer. And he wept each time he wept into the compound with his clean trowel to tell the wife and children he wasn’t picked for work by anyone.

One afternoon, his father told him he’d start to sell sachet pure water to support the family. Not even to publish his novel, that was a smoldering fascination. And how he loathed this business for it’s underrating aura. In Effium, in Mayflower Academy it was, and he was aware, the sons and daughters from poor, not just poor, very poor family hawked sachets of pure water in ndebo market . His rationale for wanting to reject the idea was the dignity of his ‘Spship’. But after much sleepless nights of contemplation and Consideration that he was indeed from a poor family he bought a bucket for the reductive ,cheap thing. And he felt he’d save enough money from there to secretly type his manuscript.

Daily, he strode purposelessly in the Effium sun. In nwafia market. Inikiri benard market . Nwekendiagu market, from new market to nkwo jaki. Every day he sold sachets of pure water but nothing was coming out of it. He’d would under the burden of heavy load on the scalp of his head roam round Effium market squealing ‘gonu mmiri juru oyi’ ‘o Aqua Rapha Mbaka’. He’d squeal from Effium garage to Ikpoki junction, the rendezvous of smoking derelicts and loosed scalawags. From there to Overbrige.

Two events took place that made him most miserable. He shared his pure water-selling between picking and staying to read novels he picked from ozogbogorogbogoro, the dirty stores. That’s the name of the dirty stores that provided him with a lot of American bestsellers. And racks of New York Magazines. In a very cheap prices. And the name meant the cafes of tins. It was where he first saw the  light. Where he picked the books that inspired him to dream of becoming a writer. And the magic behind the imagination of ‘Flames’ store. The cafes of Tins.

Almost every day,he’d drop his bucket of sachet water at a corner of Christy’s café. And devoured chapters upon chapters of interesting fictions. He could touch or see. Reading was his natural thing and he did it with an unfailing leverage.  Once, an old aru man  howled at him ‘this boy your pure satchet water is getting warm, go and sell it and stop reading for now’ He got up and Christy nervously said ‘I don tell am oo’. Another Ezza man, a regular customer to Christy’s café said ‘I too warned him severally to always finish his water before coming to stoop and pick here’ He shrugged and retied his scattered oja and hurried away, quoting , the vital, salient sharp phrases and epigrams he picked for the chapters he was able to read in his head and heart . Imagining what happened to the hero he encountered  and he prayed he sold everything in time  so he could continue from where he stopped at home after he bought them deducting from his gain. But one day, the sun burned heavily. On passing with his heavyweight bucket of pure water filled to the brim his eyes cut the well-designed cover of a very huge novel, The drums of Autum by Diana Galbadon. Unconsciously, he placed his bucket full of water on an edge of a tall jagged jet stone and dashed out for it. He has gotten over the acknowledgement and the prologue and just commenced with the first line of the chapter one that reads ‘ I heard the drums long before they came in sight. The beating…..’ and he heard an heavy crash on the gritty ground, it took him minutes to return back from the long voyage the novel quickly carried him, and saw his  shattered bucket and broken sachets of pure water. Twelve sachets spilled into the gritty dusts, wasted away.

He wept hard. ‘My  father  would kill me, how do i get a new bucket. How do we feed  today?’ he worried.  Christy looked at him with an infectious  sense  of empathy. She’s poor and from the look in her tearful eyes if she had gotten much she’d have paid  for the lost. Yet, she did him a favour, and she wasn’t aware of the cost of it. She gave him the hefty novel for free. Partly, he was happy for getting Diana Galbadon’s Drums of the Autumn for free and, and he was partly embittered  for his carelessness, for his broken bucket.

Back home that evening  his father  knelt him down. He did nwewo jump and slurped era nwanyi Asaba . Before flogging him with a hard whip. The one he used during  the Nigeria-Biafran war to draw welts  on the skin of a captured Nigerian soldier in Abagana and on the neck of an Hausa Nigerian Army in the outskirt of Sabongari. His mother wept that night and mopped his welt-clustered back with hot water. His father  insisted he would sleep without  food after all the food wasn’t available in the family-contained quantity. And he slept with empty stomach that night. But before he slept he read five chapters of the Drum of the Autumn. And he dreamt about the criminals hanged to death in the novel, of the scent of the ancient Scotland the novel revolved.

Few days later, he bought another bucket. And was selling again, but this time he was careful, his infatuation or whatever for novels was control against haywire.

And again, one sunny afternoon, what he never expected occurred. The thing he dreaded. He’d dodged from the view of his classmates when it was two o’clock. He loved to rigmarole  within the market and dared not go outside the market and uwobia road so his classmates wouldn’t see him as they walked hom to school. They would mock him. And laugh at an intelligent Senior prefect from a very poor family that could not afford his school fees. That afternoon, selling was dull and his water almost went hot in his bucket. It was hammatan and his lips had became dried up and properly swept off moisturizing fluids  by the hammatam dusty breeze. He was miserable that market day. The dream to get published.  The thought of selling out a warm, or going-hot sachet water tumbled in his skull until he was trekking unconsciously through the uwobia road towards ikpoki junction. The road he had averted. Screaming ‘go mmiri juru oyi’. And unexpectedly from his behind an explosion of laughter banged hard against his tiny spine. He checked at his back and saw a host of giggling science classmates, except Ofodile, twittering and yelping, sqwuaking and snarling words of demeaning mockery just at him. He was ashamed of himself. He ducked through cars and soon he was inside the market. His hiding place, there he wept and mock the poverty that churned his family. That adhered Effium like a giant luna moth in the silver webs of lack .

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV

A week before the exam commenced Chinagorom got a very new miserable  work in the city’s rice mill. He woke up before the dawn. He’d swallow cold utara and set out for work. A miserable work. There in the rice mill. Lots of children from poverty-ridden families struggled over who would turn the fairly-processed bags of rice into the thrashing machine. If you were lucky enough ,and the luckiness was determined by your ability to wake up early, to turn bags of rice into the machine  you go home with the cups of rice equivalent to the number of the gigantic bags you upturned. If you turned five bags in a day, a hard fit that consumed the whole day, with hunger and aching skin  you would staggered home and sometimes weeping with the five cups equivalent to the five bags. ‘Isn’t that a miserable would? And It is what a Nigeria child must do every day to leave’ he once told his co-laborer. What suffering of a job. As  the children pour the cereals into the machine , the rice chaffs bite and make the skin to tingle.  Peradventure you came late you’d have to climb into the mountain of the rice sun-dusts to puff out a hill of it with amatakele before you could get a grit-filled cup of white-purple rice.

Oftentimes, he was lucky he came earlier and went home with five or six cups of rice late in the night. Sometimes , he would be unable to get up for the stress of a hard work. He would climb straight into the mountainous sun-dust that was the first thing you see when you enter  Effium from ezzamgbo or iziogo and used his  Amatankele to trash out the dusts. From morning to night he could go home with two to three cups of rice with hunger gnawing his intestine. And often he pitied some city children and old women having no dream like him and would remain in the miserable, soul-exhausting work  till death.

One morning he busily poured a bucket of rice into the funnel of a warbling  machine. A little girl was at the back of the machine, cropping out the dusts. What happened  he can’t detail but all he vividly remembered  was the girl’s arm was drawn into the rolling pulley , a crackling sound, then blood sputtered about the ceiling and the operator switched off the engine. And the hungry ,miserable girl of eight laid there with a broken arm in the lumpy pool of deep-red blood. This wasn’t the first time this horror would occour in Effium rice mill; the girl’s broken limb dangled in her shoulder. Soon the rice owner. Madam Caro, a fat ,dignified woman of about thirty-two came from where she was called and said the helpless bleeding Chinasa should be bunched outside and ordered the operator to go ahead and grind his rice or she’d be packing her leftover bags to another mill. And said ‘I never killed her if she died. Her family who can’t provide for her was to be blamed and the work progressed. And the girl laid there unconscious and he grew empathic and thoughtful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

V

Chinagorom came to the rice mill with the novel’s manuscript. When he has no work to do. He’d supine on the payment  and reread it and did some canceling and additions of words, phrases and letters. Of all the Nigerian authors he cherished and wished to become was Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiichie. He agreed you want to become a good author you loved and read every day. Her works were easy to grasp without qualms. she’s bagging awards in America. Ordinarily, for being a black African who wrote just like an African and not writing to please any American reader. Once, on an excursion visit to Sam Egwu’s poultry in Abakaliki   he visited a book shop along Ojeowere street with few of his friends. He set his eyes on the yellow cover of a novel titled half of the yellow sun; he saw the image of Genevive Nnaji in the right edge of the front cover, then a background of blasting grenades and a running family. He never took it serious , he felt  it was a Nollywood film converted to a novel or whatever. He was penniless . But the pale girl selling in the shop considered his request to only browse through it then drop it . When he lifted it out of the catalogue  it was sitted. He marveled, still, he never took it serious. He marveled for it heftiness . But when his eyes picked the heavy-black names CHIMMAMANDA NGOZI ADIICHIE and the glossy image of the dark lady with a captivating hairdo he yelled and limped up. He whined heavily and everybody busy within the shop stopped and fixed their eyes on him.  Silence swallowed the shop. He said ‘yes! Yes! She’s great and the book keeper asked him ‘who?’ and he said ‘she’s great! She’s making us proud. In UK , America and in London ; she looked at him again and asked ‘who now?’ and he said ‘CHIMMAMANDA NGOZI ADIICHIE’ she’s written another novel. She laughed and said she’s written almost four novels including her award-winning debut novel, purple hibiscus. And she listed them. Americannah, things around your neck, and half of the yellow sun. ‘wow’ he yelled and his love for her increased. And his yearning to be like her deepened.

When it was time to work he would hide his treasure in his tattered poly

Bag and he would dream high. Getting published by Farafina, by cassava republic and jacaranda.

Everyday  he saved a cup of rice in a small box he kept among the stored bags of raw rice in an apartment in Mill 2. He planned  to gather as much cups of rice as possible until he could realize the cups that corresponded with the money he needed to type his manuscript .  So he saved cups of rice and soon the box was filled up. The day he brought out the box to sell the rice, that day his joy was endless, the fat woman, the heartless Madam Caro, swaggered out. She was the woman she worked for that evening and her rice that entered his box that evening was a cup from the five cups of rice she measured out to her after upturning five bags into the machine. Madam Caro grasped and lifted the box and started to scream ‘thief , thief, thief’. He was surprised. The rice was his. He saved it. Soon some boys loading garri bags in the garage lumbered into Mill 2 and began a mob action on him. He woke up in the police counter. A new policeman in the station walked up to him and lowered an heavy truncheon on his head ‘little thief, rice thiefer’ ‘I am innocent. The rice belong to me. I saved it. I swear’ he said before another crash on his head and he stopped to say more words. ‘rice thiefer’ he yelled again and struck the bridge of his nose and he whimpered. ‘Policemen are mad! They hate excuses when you are in their web’ Ugonne his neighbor used to say. The Madam Caro said he should be thrown in the cell and locked up. But the D.P.O insisted he saw him read under the mango tree every day that he may not be a bad boy that deserved cell, although he never said that to the woman. It was what he said after the woman left and he sworn to release him if someone come for his bail.

The next day his mother came crying with a dirty cooler of maggi-less jollof rice. ‘mama , I’m innocent, and he fell into her fingers with his swollen cheeks and bruised forehead. And mother and son cried and cried. ‘I know you are innocent but how did you got the box of rice’ ‘am sorry mama, you know that novel I told you about, that I want to publish, I secretly saved a cup of rice every day for it. Mama I am sorry I didn’t tell you it is for our own good. Am innocent’ mama. How’s Chinelo?’ ‘she’s there struggling and weeping as usual. And she wept more because you are here. But never mind. I trust you. You are not a thief. D.P.O has promised to release you but he said I’d pay for your bail’. And they wept because they knew the money was not there to bail him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VI

A day later he was at home; his mother bailed him with  a borrowed five thousand naira but he soar paid for it with the eyes duel of his father for the following days. One evening he was soaking garri with ashiboko on the pavement outside the house when Soromtochukwu came to greet Chinelo. After greeting her she told him she’d take him to catholic Bishop staying at ugwu-achara. She said the bishop was wealthy enough , has many connections, chats with the state governor like they were childhood friends, drinks with the president of Somalia and Tanzania. He was hysterically joyous. Hyper-thrilled that he brawled. He told his parents he’d be leaving for Abakaliki the next day to see a bishop that would publish his novel and money would come, he said optimistically as if he was certain his debut novel would be good enough to bring much money home. The next day his father woke him up. He gave him two thousand naira for transport. He was surprised. His father will never give anyone such an amount, but to him this one was different, an investment. And he was grateful his father believed in him for once. His mother wasn’t aware what the novel thing was all about all she knew was her husband supported him and he said he would come home with money. She added a borrowed thousand naira to his transport and him and Soromtochuwku  romped in the bus for Abakaliki.

Inside the bus he couldn’t imagine it and if he could, it was impossible to believe he would be published like Chika Unigwe, Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiichie ,Femi Osofisan and others. He tried to imagine himself well-dressed and walking past a group of  Mayflower students  reading his novel and pointing at him and screaming that’s the author of this book. That’s him. He closed his eyes. And solemnly, more like a soliloquy, said ‘I will dedicate it to Chinelo, the daughter of cerebral palsy and I would take her to the hospital. Sor watched him steadily then wept silently’. His novel might not be worth publishing in the eyes of professional publishers but he needed be published that’s the drive. Deep in his heart he busted into a song as they dropped at Franco junction…. This little light of mine am gonna let it shine……

Soon they stood before a brown tall gate of a detached terraced houses with a very tall picket fence carrying green-pink tips . He couldn’t wait to feel the coming to reality of his dream pointing him in the eyes. Even if he could wait, the elegance of the delicate mansions was a conviction of prosperity greater than the expenses publishing his novel would entail. Soromtochukwu was happy for him and he easily picked just that in her milky face. She was the only Enugu girl I cherished of all the Enugu students that came to Mayflower for their SSCE examinations. She was quick, succulent ,brave, empathic and homely, and just from Nsukka. She was the girl unlike, Casandra from Ogui, Chioma from Achara Layout, Tochukwu from New Heaven, Diobi from Independent Layout and Chadikaobi from Nineth Mile, who  snarled harsh words on Chioma and Casandra  when they said Abakaliki people are animals and uncivilized. She disdained ,just like me, the Enugu ingrates who bent on calling the Ebonyians ‘the uncivilized band of barbaric people’. She said why must my people be unnecessarily selfish and unreasonably thick and stupid. If Ebonyi is the dungeon of the dim-witted barbarians then why can’t we make our WAEC examinations there in Enugu, if, Enugu has developed beyond rival in civilization why do we jettisoned it to study in Federal Girls College Ezzamgbo ,Premier Academy Effium, Mayflower Academy Effium, St. Micheal Ezzamgbo, St. Peters Abakaliki, Immaculate Secondary School Effium, Royal college Ezzamgbo, Twelve Apostles Abakaliki, all in Ebonyi state.

Those Enugu boys  and girls, men and women that rate down and belittled Ebonyi just because they were from Enugu are mad and uncivilized- orientation is civilization, not language. Enugu people have travelled to Hong Kong to Washington DC, to Newzealand, to America, to Britain, to Japan, to Thailand. And who in Ebonyi state haven’t done just that and those foreign places are the points of orientation that enhanced civilization. Everybody is equal she said. And Chinagorom said what make them puff like frogs. What’s too special in Enugu rare in Ebonyi?. What’s too special about the few one’s he’d seen so far? What’s too special with the state that some people, prone to division, vulnerable to segregation, pimple-popping ,slack-jawed, gum-snapping bunch of belching inebriates, savage little cretins dare call Ebonyi people the uncivilized and rough-edged vestigial of bruised history, nonsense, fie fie!.

Soromtochukwu’s knock on the gate wasn’t wild but humble. It should be humble, a man without  shoes must humbly walk in the dale of thorns. And a very dark man with a comic zaggy marks dropping from his ears to his bulgy cheeks. So bulgy that you assumed he was chomping and gnawing an heavy gworo in his mouth from the way he bobbed his head in the filigreed morning sunlights and scrunched his face. And let his lips squid from perhaps an heavy intake of kpanshaga one could be sure the stuff in his mouth was bitter and nasty. He’s an Hausa man they were sure from the oversize cum overlong caftan he wore. ‘kachikwo, kwu you de look kwo?

In Chinagorom’s mind he was laughing, and asking himself ‘is this Hausa man toothless that he’d speak like a stupid baboon?’ Hausa people are  intelligent  like Labram Maku, the Nigeria Minister of Information whose sonorous voice, fluency and intonation had stirred him to dream his gonna study mass communication. But this one, he was a shame to a Nigerian ethnic group that ruled Nigeria for years. He hide his laughter in his tongue but it struggled out of his nose, lips and cheeks. Finally he busted into a huge laughter but not for the Hausa man. When you expected a million naira you never worked for in Nigeria , and a little thing that could make you laugh comes your way, you’d laugh and definitely laugh like a mad man. He laughed with a drive. With expectation. Soromtochukwu went psychological. She understood he wasn’t laughing at the gauche and tacky accent of an Hausa man that spoke like a good-for nothing ne’er-do-well of a gullible wench unlocked from the cave of derision. She knew he laughed for an expectation of his dream rolling away from a mere reverie to concrete reality.

‘Do you laukw at me ?’ The Hausa man asked

‘No way’ he was happy for a beautiful house like this

“Ye wa, na my uga bishop bud am” The Hausa man said

“That’s good, we are here for Bishop Asomugha”

“My uga?” The Hausa man asked

“Ye wa” Chinagorom mimicked

“Stop for here make I gwo tell am kwo”

A leg of his, the left one was longer than the other and as he walked  away he limped like a dwarf whose both legs are not equal. And his gait was comical that they laughed with their tongues. Yes! With their tongues ,they feared ,if he turned and got them laughing at him he might change his mind and use a miserable accent to tell them Bishop has travelled to America just to keep them off. Very soon he staggered back, like he was oiled and zonked, and forcefully they contained the laughter that desperately pushed at their locked lips.

“Uga say make una come in”

Laughter curled up from Chinagorom’s stomach to his throat but he spitted it out like a phlegm, instead of a boisterous laughter that belched him it was a lumpy frosty white substance that landed on the lawn beside the driveway.

A very huge tall man with the air of dignity, a gold-rimmed spectacle with a darker-toned heavy missa, a southone  of indigo-red with a brown ribbon dividing his waist so he was a perfect shape of number 8 ushered us into a blue-pink a parlor of sofas upholstered with lavender soft linens.

“Soromtochukwu how are you, how are your parents”

“ Bishop they are fine, they now lived in New Heaven ”

“God bless them, what should Odera offer you?” Odera was his house help, a boy of about twelve. He sat in the dining room. Waving at them.

“And who is this? Your brother?”

“No, he is not my brother. He’s my Sp in the school am retaking my SSCE ”

A look of worry took his face suddenly and Chinagorom prayed his expectation would not be cut off.

“An Ebonyian”

“Yes sir”

Chinagorom shivered. Hot dust with sharp grits collected in his mouth. He sniffed the rotten odour of cabbages and rag mats even when the guest room they sat smelt burnt incense. The might Bishop be an Enugu man, maybe one of those who believed the Ebonyians are dogs and barbaric and should not be  talked to . But what’s wrong if he came from Ebonyi.

“Am planning to get a stranded Nun in Ninth mile. Tell me why you are here, her car broke down there and I need get her. So how may I help you ”

“My Lord Bishop. He wrote a brilliant novel and he looked out for someone to publish it for him” after a moment of cursory gaze at  Chinagorom, from his eyes  to his toes, maybe he saw his tattered slippers he can’t tell, and said

“What church did you attend”

“Deeper Life Bible Church”

“What?” he nearly hopped up

“My lord bishop what’s wrong ” Soromtochukwu asked

“Nothing dear….erm…erm, you see you are too young to scramble about for someone to  publish you, your mates  are busy studying  in the school. You must be a graduate before you write”

“Sorry to interrupt you sir. Age is simply a number and if a story has lesson to spread I think it’s worth publishing if properly written regardless of the age of the writer?”

“Why are you not a catholic…..”

“What ?” Chinagorom flung his mouth open. Soromtochukwu was disappointed in this Bishop. Before it was Ebonyi thing now it was church thing.

“Sir, why the question”

“The money I have is from the catholic people, and am suppose to use it on the catholic people”

“My Lord Bishop meaning” Soromtochukwu asked

“I cannot help him”

Chinagorom wept and wept “Is it because am not a catholic?”

“No, you will not go out there to tarnish my image. Not because you aren’t a catholic member but because I served the catholic people. Please Soromtochukwu take this one thousand naira and go back home. Am cashless here.” And the bishop drove out into the heart of Abakaliki. He wept, then cried and Soromtochukwu wept.

Back home, out of anger, his father collected his novel manuscript, burnt it to ashes, and threw him out of the house for wasting the money he’d have used to feed his family on a fruitless journey.

 

                                                                 

 

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