As Jite walked out of the administrative building, it seemed as if the world had lost its colour and everything appeared to be in mono black and white, his friends were calling out to him, but they sounded like they were a million miles away, the horns of the commercial buses blaring loudly like mourning whales, was relegated to the background, he turned his head to the right and he noticed the masquerade trees that lined the road to the to the faculty car park, they stood freakishly tall, as if they were taunting the wind, the wind caressing their numerous leaves like a lover running his fingers through his woman’s hair, and the leaves shudder in delightful response, the trees eventually bend to the force of the wind and the wind tosses them playfully like a child with a new ball. In better times, he would have loved and appreciated this interaction of the trees and the wind, he thought of it as the language of the universe, but today was the worst of times, Jite hardly cared if the trees died today.
He continued in brisk steps, cutting through the wet lawn, there was a heavy downpour hours ago, the grass was still wet from the rains, the smell of the rain was sweet and sickening at the same time, and yet he paid no attention to this, even if he did he was too absorbed in his thoughts to care. He stopped abruptly by the faculty relaxation centre, sat down and began to stare into space, he took out his phone and dialed a number, he raised the phone to his right ear with his hand visibly shaking and the phone dropped from his hands right into the puddle of water by the side, he cursed loudly at the skies as he picked the phone from the water, but he couldn’t help but see how beautiful the sky was, under such beauty, he began to wonder why he was handpicked for this special dish of ugliness and disappointment, he diverted his attention to the small puddle of water by his side that had threatened to drown his phone, he noticed the ripples caused by his disruption of the water, and he watched with comic envy as the tadpoles swam about without a care in the world, at times, he wished he was a tadpole, so he could spend his days swimming lazily, he wouldn’t have to write any exams to become a full grown frog, he would just have to be a tadpole and that was all.
Jite managed to get up and he made for the eatery close to the faculty board room, he was a regular customer, he went in and pulled up a chair and asked for a can of water, his friends in boarding school used to call him “Ogbore”, In his language, this means someone who has a prowess for consuming large amounts of food but today nothing mattered, not even the mouth-watering palm oil stew or the ever tempting aroma of the jollof rice prepared by Mama Nkechi , the owner of the eatery, nothing mattered again in this world to Jite because He had flunked his final papers, not just flunked , he had woefully failed final year for the third time.
He slowly and painfully sipped the water from the plastic bottle, his head swarming with thoughts, the most significant and most recurring was how he was going to successfully carry out his suicide plans. he had thought of so many ways to end his life, because surely ending his life was better than the shame that came with failing to get into law school after three trials, he was a failure and would never succeed at anything, he thought of all the time he had spent studying for this examination, he was assured that he was cursed and a cursed life was not worth leaving. He had considered hanging himself, but he was too tall to hang from the room fan and his roommate might walk in to save him, he then went on to consider overdosing, but he hated drugs so he could not stand the smell not to mention swallowing a lot, He moved on to slitting his wrists, but he was too cowardly to cut his own wrists, he placed his head on his palm and thought “I’m a total failure, I can’t even think of a way to die successfully”. Jite was considering suicide not just based on the fact that he failed, but because it was better that he died than for him to face his father and inform him that he was still a failure just as the last time they talked, He succeeded in failing…again!
Jite’s mind travelled far back into the past, those times when he still had a family, when happiness was not found at the bottom of each bottle, Jite’s father was not exactly the most loving father in the world, but he provided for his family, a feature which most men in the area did not possess. Growing up, he always saw men in the neighbourhood with their wrappers loosely tied around their waist and their upper body covered with, most of the time, a weak singlet or a faded “okrika” shirt which has been stretched thin by their ever present pot bellies, some even brave the morning cold bare-chested, rushing to stake their bets in pool or they rush to the drinking parlour for the infamous “one-shot”, the fascinating thing about the “one-shot” was that it never ended with just one shot, a second shot always followed and a third and it continued till they were well drunk before noon. By noon, when they eventually return home, the wife and kids must have left and the men go into the kitchen in search of food, food that must always be present, who cares how it comes about, they are “men”, they are entitled to feed like kings even if the wife slaves to death, it never occurred to them to contribute to the wellbeing of the family, their work as “men” was to spread their seed and feast. The women of these parts have been so accustomed to this behaviour that they never expected anything from the men, in fact having a man in their lives was just for the sole purpose of reproduction and to avoid situations where their womanhood will be questioned by the special members of the community who were also recruited by the CIA because their job was to have Intel on the happenings in everybody’s lives, just because of the lack of a man or children in their lives.
Roro, Jite’s elder brother always told him that marriage was the height of enjoyment, he wouldn’t have to do anything for himself anymore apart from go to work like their father does, but he always assumed there was more to marriage than that, besides TV doesn’t lie, he was a true disciple of TV, being around this kind of men, his father was a saint to behold even if all he did was go to work, at least he went to work. Jite’s father did not spend his time drinking or gambling away money, He went to work as early as 7:30 am, and came back around 4 pm, his father was an English teacher at the government secondary school, so was his mother and they went to work and always came back together, Roro was in charge of getting Jite and himself to school. since their father and mother were always away, Jite and Roro were always cautioned to lock the door when they came back from school and wait for the return of their parents, but Roro was strong headed and he always went out to play football with his peers at the local stadium, and he always made sure to come back before 4 pm. Unfortunately, there was a day their father came back before 4 pm, something about the president dying, Jite wasn’t paying attention, He was just happy to hear that school was not going to hold that day. As usual, he went home in the company of Roro, but immediately they got home, Roro left for the local stadium. Everything went south when he heard the sound of his father’s car horn, his father’d car was a typical “jalopy”, it had been previously owned by about 4 people, the car horn was unmistakable anywhere, the horn sounded like an elephant giving birth, it was so loud and at the same time annoyingly piercing.
Jite’s father came home by 12 noon and expected to see both sons behind closed doors, He got in and found just Jite in the house, He asked for Roro, and Jite confessed without wasting any time that Roro was playing football at the stadium, his father turned sharply and asked “he went where”?,he was slightly confused as he didn’t know if his father was asking just for the mere formality of it or he expected the answer to change, his mum immediately stepped in to save the situation and tried to explain that Roro will be back soon, Jite was surprised that she knew, forgetting that there is little that goes on with the children that the mother does not know but his father didn’t want to hear any of that, he went ballistic and his large nostrils flared, his fair skin was red with anger, he was like a Spanish bull about to charge a matador, the veins on his forehead were pulsing with anger, he had never seen his father this annoyed, even when he was arguing with his friends about politics, when he always shouted at the top of his voice and cussed at them loudly, His skin never got red, He never had murderous rage in his eyes, He immediately stormed into his room and banged the door behind him.
Jite began to blame himself for ratting out his brother, but the priest always said “the truth shall set you free”, why then did he feel so scared?, why did the priest not also say that “the truth shall set you free but it shall trap your brother or it shall make your Daddy angry”, he had never been scared of his father, but that day, he felt crippling fear, the tension in the house was so dense you could almost grab it, he was scared for Roro, what would happen when he comes back?? All he could do was watch his mother as she paced about the living room, he decided to focus on the inanimate objects in the house, to take his mind away from present events. The living room was quite spacious, this was one of the perks of living in a rural area, and his mother was a good petty trader, at the centre of the living room was the small wooden table which had glass fitted on the top, different designs were carefully and precisely etched on the four legs of the table, as a child, he often ran his fingers along the beautiful carvings, now he had an urge to be small again so he could just sit by the table and rub his delicate fingers all over, his father never hesitated to tell the story of how he used that table as a bachelor and was still able to maintain it till now . He sank into the chair at the far end of the living room, the chair was a bit rough, it had been patched in a few places, it sure had seen better days, as he was engulfed in his world of thought, his father came out of the room, with his wrapper loosely tied around his waist, his father was very fit in his younger years, it was evident when you see his broad torso, his chest still held proof of when it was boldly partitioned into two large parts like that of Indian action movie hero, sadly the chest has been reduced to two droopers, one of those things that come with old age. He took his position in his special laid-back chair as if nothing had happened, and they all waited for Roro to return.
It was 3:35 pm in the afternoon, the sun was shining with so much ferocity like it had intent to blind, Roro walked into the compound grinning from ear to ear, his jersey soaked with sweat and other fluids Jite could not account for stuck to his lithe body, he held his tattered studs in his left hand and a piece of paper of the right. he came into the house innocently, not knowing what awaited him in the living room, the shock of seeing his father in the living room gradually displayed on his face, it was almost comical, he was thrown off balance and he managed to squeeze out a greeting, his father turned and looked at him scornfully and asked “where are you coming from my friend”, Jite’s mouth had gone dry with anticipation of what was to come, when he heard their call Roro “my friend”, he knew it was going to be bad, if a Nigerian parent call their children “friend” when they do something wrong, it can only mean two things, either they were going to beat you like their age mate or they were going to beat you like a kid, either way, beating was involved, better the latter than the former. Before Roro began to stutter whatever he had to say to their father, his father rushed up from the chair, went to the bathroom where unknowingly to Jite and his mother, he had soaked two long canes and he proceeded to flog every part of Roro’s body the cane could touch while repeating the same thing “shey I brought you to this life to play ball?”.
Their father relentlessly flogged Roro till there was nothing left of both canes, and he was satisfied that Roro’s body was sore enough, then he relaxed and he went back to his favourite chair and their mother went to console Roro as she always does every time after their father has flogged “sense” into their bodies, his mother did not believe in beating children, but their father would hear nothing of that, he felt the cane was the greatest tool to correct children and animals, he wondered if sometimes his father could differentiate between both, their father always said ”if you don’t use the cane on the child, the devil will use them”, Roro’s face was not left out by their father’s trusty cane, three large welts cut across his dark face, he was a spitting image of their mother with his shiny dark skin and lithe body frame, Jite, on the other hand, was a carbon copy of his father with his fair skin and broad frame, right down to the slight bow legs they both shared but he did not feel any sense of security or entitlement for resembling his father that much, he was too busy being scared of what his father would do the day he mistakenly gets angry at him.
After Roro managed to take his bath with a lot of ‘aahhs” and “oohhs”, it was well into the evening and we were all seated at the dining table, and it was eerily quiet, dinner was almost always quiet apart from the occasional “bless you” and “sorry” that accompanies every sneeze or a cough, their father made sure nobody talked at dinner except it was of utmost importance, so it came as a surprise to everyone when their father asked Roro “what was the paper in your hand this afternoon?”, taking everyone’s memories back to the sad events of the afternoon, Roro replied looking down, unable to face his father “it’s my WASSCE result, I was running back to tell you I made all my subjects, Jite wondered what emotion he saw written on his father’s face but he was confused, was it pride, or maybe regret or was it just pure sadness, It was at this time Jite assumed he would never be able to understand his father. It was their mother that came to the rescue and saved the awkward situation, as she immediately got up from the chair and started celebrating and twisting her waist in a way only African women know how, she rendered praises to God and to Roro and their father just watched on, as still as a vampire who has been caught by midday, Jite joined in the celebration as he teased his brother about now being a “university bobo”.
After the display of joy from Jite and their mother, their father cleared his throat to speak, and by default, everybody got serious and he asked Roro,”So what professional course are you going to go for?” and Roro scratched his head and replied “ermm, Daddy, I want to go into professional football and our coach said I have a chance at getting into the state team, who knows where I’ll go from there”, their father looked at him like he had just spoken in an unknown language, he started shouting as he usually did, ”the only way you will play ball is if you leave my house, You must pay me all the money I spent on your education, bloody ingrate!!, your mates are studying to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and here you are playing in the streets, next thing you’ll plait your hair and you even have the mind to come and tell me this rubbish, Mama Roro, what have you been feeding this boy, I’m not sure he’s my child anymore”.
Their mother was short of words, Jite wondered if it was due to fear, maybe she was afraid that he would decide to use the cane on her too or just for peace to reign and to stop her husband from shouting and embarrassing the whole family, he was at loss for the reason why their father was shouting, as Roro was just an SS2 student, so he did not know what mates his father was talking about but nevertheless, their mother was able to calm the father down and football was never mentioned in the house ever again, he wondered why his father refused to allow his brother play football, footballers are rich people who always got to travel around the world, his father said they weren’t responsible and respected, but he remembered that he read somewhere that “true respect comes from within” and nobody else can give you that.
Roro eventually went to school to study medicine and try to become a doctor as his father had earlier advised, there was only one problem, Roro never made it out of medicine, he kept being transferred or better still forcefully moved from one department to another until he ended up in the department of chemistry, there he spent 6 years until he was eventually released, when he came out, he was more relieved than frustrated, he never really paid attention to his academics, there was one thing Roro kept doing through all those times of moving from department to department, he played his ball every single day he was in school. After graduation or in his case ”release”, luckily for him, he got into school young, and his lithe figure made him look younger than his age coupled with the fact that football in Nigeria, as far as you looked the age, you are the age, he eventually got hooked with a major league team and their father true to his words cut all ties with Roro, Roro apparently developed their father’s anger while growing up and he cut all ties with his family, stopped responding to emails or texts, the last anybody in their family heard from him was that he signed with a team overseas and just like that Roro was dead to them.
Jite’s mum could not bear the fact that she had lost touch with her first child and she blamed his father for it, the loss changed her, she became distant, absent-minded, she grew quieter as time passed. She hardly talked except it was necessary, she stopped coming home with their father by 4 pm, she would come by 6 or 7 pm and go straight to bed. The house was unbearable for Jite, his father was too proud to ask for forgiveness, his mother behaved as if she wasn’t living on earth anymore and as time passed, things got worse. His father started laughing with the “one shot” men, they now paid frequent visits to the house for free shots. His mother started trading, she said the family needed extra income, but he knew she was trying to avoid coming home as much as possible. He gradually got used to being home alone, he started paying attention to everything in the compound, and he would try to duplicate them on paper and there he developed his love for the art of nature.
Jite’s mother’s business expanded and she started travelling to buy goods, she even had to quit her teaching job, the business was tasking, before long, she brought home a new car and Jite’s father became worse, after all he was the man of the house and it didn’t go down well with him. The more trips his mother went on, the more friends his father invited home for drinks, and soon after, the women started coming too, the house had a permanent stench of sweat mixed with alcohol, it was overwhelming. The only time his mother spent in the house was taken up by arguments between herself and her husband, sometimes they let things fly, mostly kitchen equipment or house decor, but other times, they relied on their fists sometimes his father left the house to sleep elsewhere, other times, his mother went back to the shop and didn’t return for days or so she said. All the arguments ended one day, that day they quarrelled about Jite’s father and his new friends, and how they mess up the house, his father slapped his mother so hard she lost a tooth, asking her why she was challenging his authority as a man just because she bought a stupid car, that day his mum left and she never came back.
Jite always had a flair for art but he found it hard to concentrate on anything else, his father flogged him mercilessly each night using his inability to excel in other subjects as an excuse, after each bout of flogging, He would say “why would my son not top his class, are you retarded?, you are a disgrace just like your mother and brother!”, this continued up until the time he was sent to boarding school because his father didn’t want him in the way of his enjoyment and also he didn’t want the things that “tempted” Roro to tempt Jite . Jite found his foot in boarding school, He was not a class topper, but he had learnt how to cram few things before the exams and the rest, his seat mate would provide, this went on successfully for most of his school years. Jite wasn’t popular for nothing, he was a born artist, his attention to detail was perfect, he expressed himself in art, the things he could not say and that earned him the title “Da Vinci”. Everything was perfect until it was time for JAMB, his father had already “advised”him to go for law, as he himself was not successful in getting Law, let his child finish his dreams, “after all that’s why you’re like me” he said, but Jite knew he couldn’t do law, he could hardly pass literature as it were but all in a bid to not provoke the beast he knew too well , and receive the beating of his life, Jite accepted.
JAMB was a sweaty affair, but he had paid enough money to import machinery from all angles to make sure he passed the JAMB in flying colours, when the results came and he got accepted to study Law, it was as if another child had been born to the family, his father killed a goat and invited friends for “ucodo” and assorted alcohol and they all celebrated the “Lawyer” in the house. His father drank so heavily that day that he fell asleep in the kitchen, and Jite had to drag him to the bedroom and changed his soiled clothes, his father did not even remember the events of the night before, but due to Jite’s recent accomplishment, his father treated him like a king from that day till the day he left for the university , he never laid his hands on him, his every request was granted.
When Jite got into the university, He found it fascinating, he made detailed drawings of what he saw each day, especially the interaction of nature, he was really into nature drawing, forgetting that he came there to study as a lawyer, this negligence cost him dearly as there was only as much he could cram close to exams, he always had nothing to offer on surprise tests, he was doing a bad job at becoming a lawyer, his grades told the story, but he was optimistic, things were going to turn around for his good sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for him, sooner never came. As his years in the university passed by and he found it harder to cope with law, accumulating carryovers here and there , Jite sank freely into a hole of depression and self-pity, and just like his father, he sought for happiness within the contents of a bottle, he started drinking just to forget his issues and be happy even if it was just for a little while, he started drinking to forget but eventually as it always happens, he forgot why he was drinking and he started drinking to drink and this dampened his ability to practice nature art, he eventually stopped trying and surrendered himself to the “one shot” and it was at that time in his life that he met this friends he had now , not exactly friends, more like drinking buddies. Life became a blur for Jite, it was drinking, girls and drinking again and during exams, he tried to get as much answers as he could every corner in the exam halls but it was never enough to pass well. It just helped him barely scale through . This life he managed to keep till he was in final year, after years of sorting out lecturers and smoothing edges.
Two years after, here he was in an eatery, his friends who had all passed approaching him, their faces full of pity and nothing more, their hearts definitely rejoicing that it wasn’t them that failed, most of them multiple failures like him, and here he was contemplating suicide and he got up and went through the back, determined to avoid his “pity party” disguised as friends, and he cut to the road where he could take a bus home, lost in thought about all the effort he had to make to even be able to write a full case for any examination and he wondered if it was all worth it for the happiness of his father, he realized he lost his shot at happiness a long time ago, all in a bid to please his Daddy.
Jite was thinking of all this and more when he got hit by a drunk driver, as he lay on the cold, hard and wet road, his blood pooled around him like he was soaking in a ruby river, he stretched out his arm and made to call for help, but he lost his voice amidst the shock, he couldn’t possibly be dying now, he was just sitting there a few hours ago, he looked down at his stained shirt ,and his leg was bent at a very odd angle, he looked up to sun, the sky was a distinct shade of deep red and yellow or was it that the blood flowing from the gash on his was slowly curbing his vision, the sky heralding the end of the sun’s journey, and also the end of Jite’s journey, he took great joy in this beauty and how nice it would have been to recreate this interaction of the universe, he grew calm and thought aloud,” they say in death, all your life flashes before your eyes, what of for those of us that didn’t really live?”. As he let go and surrendered to surprisingly warm hands of death, he heard his cell phone ring, and it was by it side, the screen was cracked in a thousand different places and he looked at the caller and it was an international number, he strained to answer the call and was taken aback to hear Roro’s voice, Roro sounded distresse as he rapped the words in quick sucession ”Jite! Jite!, how far, hope you’re doing fine o, I just entered the country and I went straight home, I just got the news that Daddy slumped and died today at home and I can’t seem to reach Mummy, where are you let me come and pick you up?”.
Jite smiled and thought to himself once more ”what I couldn’t get in life, I found in death, and he asked to one in particular,” Why is it normal to stop living, in our search for happiness, is happiness found only when you’re rich or fulfilled in life?”, Right there on the cold hard road, raindrops hitting his face like the sting of deadly insects that he realized that “happiness, just like every other beautiful feeling in the universe, comes only from within”.