LAUNCH

Ekioba

by Jonathan Oladeji-

We used to live in one of those old houses in Aduwawa built by the government for civil servants. Such houses were easily identified by the rusted corrugated roof worn out over time by the occasional rain and blistering sun that was characteristic of Benin City. It had one bedroom, a parlor, a kitchen and a bathroom I was sure had not seen running water since day one. Hence it was my duty to use jerry cans to fetch water from our neighbor’s house to fill the two giant drums occupying the greater part of the kitchen. I disliked the task so much because I felt it was what stunted my growth as a boy. Carrying jerry cans in a rickety wheelbarrow everyday was enough to hunch my shoulders and more.
But we could not afford to live in a fancier house. My father who worked in a brewery and my mother who was a petty trader selling cray fish and ogbonor seeds were scraping by to provide for their three children.
My older sister Mirabel who had just entered secondary school had a lot of expenses and my little sister Osas, who was still a baby fell sick so often she needed to be hospitalized. Mirabel tried to explain when I asked her why. She only ended up confusing me. All I could grasp from her was Osas was an SS which prompted the her to fall sick all the time.
I was eight years old or was just about to turn eight when it happened. It was around the time harmattan came early and schools were closed for the holiday.
I had woken up that morning to help my mother tie up her wares into a sack. I remember how the kitchen smelled of the ogbonor seeds and cray fish so much that it no longer bothered me. My father had already left before anyone stirred from sleep. He was a hard worker my father. Always on time for every event.
My mother dished out a few orders for Mirabel as she strapped Osas on her back with a blue worn out wrapper.
‘Ehigie,’ she called me.
‘Ma,’ I answered.
‘Don’t drag food with your sister. Make sure you take whatever she gives you.’ I nodded and smiled mischievously. ‘I’m going,’ she said picking up the sack which she hoisted up on her head with no effort. She walked briskly toward the main road where she would take a taxi to Oba market. There she would sell her wares before coming back home to prepare the evening food.
After we ate breakfast, my sister and I went outside and waited on the broken front steps. Our house was one of the headquarters for other children in the street to come around to play. We usually played suwe, game box, whot or hide and seek. Soon enough five of them trooped to the house and asked what game we would play. We chose suwe but when other children began to arrive we decided on game box.
‘I challenge you to choose’ my sister said to another girl her age with their little fingers interlocked.
‘I cut,’ the other girl said using her free hand to unlock their fingers. With that they both chose who would be on their team. I ended up in the team of the other girl. We drew the box on the ground and positioned our teammates where we wanted. The game went on for an hour before someone shouted. ‘Den don bring light! NEPA!’ There was a loud uproar from all of us because we all knew what that meant. It was time for Power Rangers.
My father who could not afford to buy Dstv or any cable at all resorted to buying a fairly used DVD player. He then bought alongside it a collection of Power Rangers movies. The DVD player constantly gave us problems where we had to tap it to get it working again and the graphics of the movie was nothing short of a blur but we loved it; from the costumes to the silly robots the rangers fought, we enjoyed every bit of it. Everyone took their places in the parlor and waited for the movie to start.
‘Has it started yet?’ Igho asked rushing in through the front door. Igho was a boy who lived at the end of our street and my classmate in school. I did not like Igho. Not one bit. The boy was known for his long throat and gorimapa head. He always knew the exact times to come to my house so that my food will be shared with him. I wanted him to go away. Since his father could not buy him power rangers, he should not come to my house to watch it. I could not tell him that because if I did, Mirabel would tell our mother and she would beat me, telling me to be more like young Jesus in the Bible.
Igho sat on the ground next to me and folded his legs. When the screen lit up with the colorful images, we all shouted in glee. About an hour into watching we all heard a shrill ringing noise. It was coming from the bathroom.
‘Mummy’s phone.’ Mirabel said and ran out of the parlor. She could be heard talking to someone on the phone. After she ended the call she walked back to announce that she had to put off the television.
‘Mummy said we should come and give her her phone.’
‘Can’t you go alone?’ I asked thinking of the movie I would miss.
‘No.’
‘You know NEPA will take the light eh Mirabel. When will we watch Power Rangers?’
‘When there is light again. Just get up from there.’
I grumbled and stood up to put on my slippers. Mirabel put off the television and told everyone we were going out and she needed to lock the door. Within five minutes, the house was empty and Mirabel and I were on our way to the market. We did not wait long by the roadside before we found a taxi heading toward Ring Road. I had to sit on Mirabel’s lap to save transport fare. We sat in between a Hausa man who smelled like burnt goat and a woman who bared her breast to feed her hungry child.
The driver who had on his radio nodded as the voice coming from it spoke at length about the dangers of letting anger control the actions of men.
‘This is what my pastor was talking about on Sunday. No matter how angry you are you should control yourself. So many wahala have started because of anger. Onigbese that is not your own, you will now carry it on top of your head.’
It was the driver who was now preaching to us. I tried to listen with effort to the man on the radio who was broadcasting from the National Television Authority station. What he was saying sounded more interesting than the driver’s. As we flowed with the traffic in Ramat Park, another car that was coming from Agbor road bumped into our taxi. Both cars came to a screeching halt. The other driver came out of his car to access the damage on it and so did our driver. Instead of the other man to apologize, he began throwing insults at our driver for driving like an epileptic patient.
Mirabel told us to get down and take another taxi so as to avoid being in the middle of a fight. I looked back on the driver who was not saying anything to the shouting man and wondered how badly he was trying to control his anger.
We found a bus heading in our direction and entered it. Nothing eventful happened on our way except for the conductor occasionally opening the door to let people in and out. We got down by the banks in Ring road and walked toward Oba market all the while dodging the crowd of buyers and sellers.
‘Fine girl you no want jeans?’ One of the sellers said to my sister. ‘Stock jeans for shekele money.’
Mirabel frowned and hissed at the man. She took my hand as we crossed the road toward the markets. We did not have to walk for long before seeing our mother under a huge umbrella. Her wares were laid out in a table in front of her. She sat on a high stool with Osas asleep on her back. We greeted her and the other women who sold meat and tomatoes close by.
My mother took her phone from Mirabel and placed it inside her wrapper. She took a lengthy bench from one of the women who sold fish and asked us to sit down. After which she bought rice and stew tied in banana leaves so we could eat. Mirabel and I did not bother to use a spoon. We washed our hands with a sachet of Big Joe table water and ate.
After eating, Mirabel chatted with one of the younger girls who sold palm nuts while I watched as people walked hurriedly around the market with strange looks on their faces. Everyone seemed to be annoyed by something. Maybe it was the flies that buzzed around the meat and fish or the fact that the place smelled because of the piling refuse in a corner. Some of the wheelbarrow pushers who helped people move their heavy goods shouted at the bus drivers to park their buses away from the road. A man selling rat poison and insecticides tried to sell my mother a pack of Rambo insecticide. She politely told him she did not need it. I was still engrossed in people watching when I heard my mom shout and drop her phone on the ground. I must have gone into shock because I became disoriented for a while. All I could see was my mom throwing her hands into the air and crying while other women came to her side. I could barely hear anything. I saw Mirabel join her. I watched as they both cried. When I was able to hear again I asked one of the women what had happened.
‘Your papa don die,’ she said to me. Your papa don die. Those words played over and over in my mind. I did not know what that meant for us other than we were not going to see my father ever again. I cried a lot thereafter. I cried till my body could no longer produce any tears.
Later on I found out as my mother talked to sympathizers that my father had been in a motor accident. The doctors could do nothing for him because he had died instantly. A lot of people came to our house to see how we were faring. I settled on sitting on the ground at a corner in the parlor to receive their greetings. They would say ‘you’re now the man of the house. Take care of your mother and sisters.’ I would nod my head in response.
Within a month we were ready for the burial. It was not easy for my mother to get the money for it. She had to sell most of our things, part of which included our DVD player. It still had the power rangers DVD plate inside. I resorted to holding the case which had pictures of the rangers on it as I slept. I would dream of them fighting and winning only to wake up to realize I could no longer watch them.
A few days after the burial ceremony as I walked back home after running an errand for my mother, I heard a familiar sound coming from Igho’s house. Their front door was opened. I peeked in to find Igho watching my Power Rangers with my DVD player. I did not think twice before shouting ‘Ole!’ and pounced on him. It took his elder brother all his strength to pull me from him. I walked back home with my pride deeply wounded. I knew my mother had sold the DVD player to someone I just did not know it had been to Igho’s mother. For a brief moment I hated my father. I hated him for dying. If he had not died, the DVD player and Power Rangers would still be around.

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Jonathan Oladeji

Damilola is a content curator and creator, he writes for the passion and the thrill. He has been published on Tuck Magazine, SGNT, VivaNaija and also shares some of his stories on jonathanoladeji.com. He has an eye for juicy content and loves to make brand ideas sell.

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