I’ll never understand why Londoners take a clinging to dirt. They bathe in the night and towel up their neck and face in the morning. Even Sister does this; because she’d married Mr. Colton and forgotten the goodness in a fine bath. I’d remind her of those jolly days in Enugu when we’d bathe and bathe even more because it was fun to bathe but she’ll laugh and throw down the bowl of food in her hand and hit the table, upsetting Mr. Colton’s ash tray, and the cigarette butts would fall and stick to the rug. And I’d sweep the entire room. And wash the bowl of food. Because it wasn’t just a bath she’d forgotten to take, she’d forgotten how to be a woman. You know, like a real woman.
And now, she’d taken Chinedu’s life and immersed it in a bowl of badness. Chinedu just eats from a bowl and dumps it in the sink for his Afrikan uncle to clean. At his age, I was washing plates with impeccable brain and hand coordination. I dabbed the sponge in a jar of soap and scrubbed the base of the bowl because the cassava was dry and got stuck to it. But I’ve been doing his plates and laundry, besides grooming and walking him a distance to school where he’d pillory me with questions.
Like once when he’d asked:
“Uncle, does Simba eat people in Afrika?”
I smacked my face.
“We watched the lion king in video lesson yesterday and they said the lions eat-”
“Jiri nwayọọ. Easy. This ‘they’ is who exactly?”
“Pascal and David. They said Simba eats Afrikans like you up-”
“Chi m o. Chinedu. What do you mean like me? So you’re not Afrikan okwua ya? Ka Chineke kpuchie onu gi. Let Him fire that little mouth”
His eyes squinted. He didn’t understand what worked me.
“Uncle, my name is Alfre-”
“Ta kpuchie ọnụ gi. Osiso. Look, Chinedu is the name your grandmother sent live. Viviparous. Oven fresh. From Enugu to you.”
He puckered up his mouth. I was too scientifically poetic for this kid.
“The next time they tell you that sort of bull-”
I ingested my French. Or Igbo.
“Look, the next time they say that, you just tell them your uncle’s name’s Kinta”
“Yes, Kinta. And his father’s name’s Kunte. Kinta Kunte. And he eats lions for breakfast”
Then I’d watch him weave in with his peers and run along into the school.
He’d come back in a few hours throwing the door open like a wild dog, sobbing and running into his mother’s room. Like he’d been doing since the weeks that I arrived. Then Sister would come out to the parlor where I was seated on a sofa, flicking the stations. Chinedu already fast asleep on her bed. She’d whine, tears welling up in her ducts, I hated the times that she cried. It was long and deep. Especially since the years in Enugu when she’d sulked in a corner because she didn’t make enough money and Papa died and she’d become my parent since we had no one left that was family. Now, she cried about how Chinedu always got beat up in school, so much that she had to have him forgo the school bus and walk him to school instead. And how she’d reported to the authorities and they slyly dismissed her since both boys’ fathers were police men. And how Mr. Colton; her husband, was so complacent and listless about all of it.
“Oh bloody hell” He’d say. “Boys will be boys”. Then he’d smile from the corner of his lip and expel the smoke in his throat then smear the bottom of the cigarette in the ash tray and leave her.
It was evening the day that I left the parlor and slathered some margarine on two slices then made to Chinedu’s room. He just lay in his bed. Awake. The slovenliness of his room threw me back to the days when Papa locked me in his armpit and flogged me clean with his belt— for a shirt that was displaced. The shirt was simply displaced. Fucking. Displaced. But there’s no one to deal Chinedu some good ‘ol cleaning. Sister said they jailed you for that. His clothes dripped from the wardrobe door and another pile reached up for the dripping ones. Like stalagmites and stalactites in a mineral cave. I walked up to his bed, chewing the last of piece of the bread and dusting off the crumbs from my Nike Tee.
He had a black eye. The beat downs had grown intense since the weeks I came. Unfortunately so. Because I’d been loading him up with punchlines like the Kinta Kunte line but it only left punch lines like plumb lines on his face.
I sat beside him on the bed.
“Chinedu. Anọdụ. Sit up little man.”
I would advise him like my father would, but my father would’ve beat the shit out of his bowels and asked why he let the boys beat him instead. Say, I’d better a beater than a beatee.
“You know, when I was your age I wrestled a masquerade.”
His eyes lit up. He loved the stories I told about Afrika.
“It was at the new yam festival. They played Osadebe. People everywhere dancing. People everywhere bubbling. Feasting. Jollying. Fiddling. Meddling, then suddenly, he came at me”
He spread out his teeth. His incisors jagged at the end.
“Who Uncle, who?”
“Ah, the masquerade. He beat me with his stick. Lee nsogbu o. He beat me again, I was in pain, I looked up and said man, today you get slain”
He was enraptured by my wordplay. He jumped down to the ground and made a pose like a gorilla and grrr-ed for effect. I joined him on the ground making the same pose.
“Then I made the God move”
“What’s the God move uncle, Show me the God move uncle”
“Mba nu, Chinedu. Haba, you might use it on some people that bully you in school”
I feigned a concerned face. He was sad.
“Okay, I’ll show you the God move but it’s only for the people that try to hurt you in school. I na-anụ ihe m kwuru?”
I showed him the move and we perfected it in the days he stayed at home. Convalescent. It was a dangerous move and could break a boy’s arm but what the heck, Chinedu made the place miserable with his problems. Sister eased into depression. She hadn’t any money to move them to a new city and Mr. Colton had lapsed back into smoking cigarettes since Sister would no longer be Ngozi that he married.
Five days till I leave London and the police come for me. They say that I incited a fight between three elementary pupils leading to a broken arm for one and a bruised lip for the other. I was grinning and [denying all allegations until I see my attorney]. Like they said in the Hollywood movies. They’re leading me to their van and seizing my papers but I’m grinning and batting one eyelid at Chinedu saying “Yes boy, that’s right. That’s how you do it. Like uncle like nephew—blood thick pass water.” Sister later came and got me out Somehow.
The first thing I did once I got home was sit and watch football commentary in the parlor then Mr. Colton came and sat too. Then we argued about football and our favorite leagues and our favorite teams though I couldn’t keep pace with half the things he’d said because he started becoming too English and sounded like there was akpu that danced in his mouth, unable to down. I’d never seen him so enthused about anything. Soon he picked up a cigarette and lit it and held it to his mouth. Paused. Quenched it in the tray and returned his gaze to the TV.
Three days till I leave London and I wake to the chink and cling of china in the kitchen. Sister did the dishes, gearing to fix us ofe-owerri. Soup from our grandmother’s place that I ate and licked the soup that trickled from my palm to my elbow. Then I went to the toilet. London toilet. And I gave it a schooling.
A day till I leave London and Chinedu called the police on his mother. Sister finally pumped his dirty little buttock after numberless pleadings to clean up his room fell to deaf ears. The dispatched police was a Nigerian. Sister’s friend. Serendipitously. And he’d almost slapped Chinedu when he heard her version of events.
I promised Mr. Colton a beer whenever he’d be in Nigeria. But only because he bought me a first class ticket. Quid pro quo son.
Ohioleh Osadebey writes pieces from Lagos and Warri, two interesting cities that offer him a brilliant spectra of muse for his writing. His work has been read at the Haybarn theatre, Goddard college and at black power events at Maine, USA. An ardent road traveler and relic collector, he believes dogs can talk.