Hello, everyone! Here we are again to read the eighth instalment of Portraits, and today, we finally have answers to questions raised by Baba Raji’s story (read it HERE). Meet Raji, and discover what has his father racing against time and humanity to save him.
Being nearly dead means you get to feel everything. Like my mattress depressing as my father sits beside me, the whine of the hinge as the door to my room opens, then shuts, everyone leaving to give us alone time. In his presence the room becomes suffocating. I even get the urge, like an involuntary twitch, to genuflect. For a quiet man, my father has intensity, something a lot of people fail to notice. That’s why he is rich; people don’t see him planning, until he acts. I think I got that from him, quiet intensity. I could wake up from this… silence if I wanted to; I’ve heard the doctor say it so many times. But I’m not ready, and I don’t think I will ever be.
The intravenous drip is how I pass the time; counting the constant dripping. It used to annoy me, but now it’s like a second heartbeat. The nurse who cares for me flits around my room like a dancer so I never know where she is. I only know she’s around when, for a few seconds, the world goes even darker beneath my eyelids. But some days I don’t get even that, so I listen for the drip. When it’s slow, the drip is full of nutrients and a lazy four hours pass. But when it’s fast, it is medicine that does strange things to my state of mind. Not that it really matters anyway. I really am in a coma.
My father says it softly but with authority, like he expects me to stand up and fetch him the remote control.
In my head, I start but my body laughs at me, perfectly still, drool pouring out of the side of my mouth. That’s how they know I’m alive. The drooling. I feel it dribbling down my chin but I can’t control it. It’s the ultimate taunt, even worse than all the taunts I endured the last three years.
“Raji, close your mouth.”
“Raji, you’re such a big baby.”
“Raji, see your face like pimple plantation.”
Puberty hit me like a truck. I went from four feet to five seven at twelve. Then five eleven at thirteen. There was hair everywhere, pouring out of my body, embarrassing me. My clothes reeked with sweat, nothing fit. My father was ecstatic until the pimples came at the tail end of thirteen. All over my face, down my chest and back.
‘Do not press on the swellings, lest they become infected and become pustules’.
Easy to say when your face looks like a hundred geysers erupting. I started wearing turtlenecks under my school whites. I stopped playing football. My hands were always on my face while I sat in the back of the class and pretended to listen. But I was too tall. Even sitting, I was a head taller than everyone. I can’t remember who started it, but by second term SS1 everyone called me Shrek. No, they didn’t just call me Shrek, they institutionalized the name. Teachers caught themselves saying it, fellow students wrote it instead of my name in slum books. They even found a girl with pimples, but not as bad as mine, who they called ‘Fiona’.
I hated the name and I hated them. I used to single them out, memorize their faces as they whispered ‘Shrek’ when they passed by me; clench my fists when they said it casually, like I had sanctioned it. But they were too many, they blurred into one.
She shouldn’t have said it. Not to my face, not in my territory. I didn’t even see her, so consumed by Pokemon on my Gameboy. She had the nerve to tap me and hold my gaze.
“Shrek, so this is where you hide.”
I knew her from school, but Lekki was still new, and on our street there was only one other house. Just uncompleted buildings and thickets as far as you looked. I would have been less surprised to have seen a Bengal tiger. I tried to ignore her. She peered at my game. I switched it off. This made her look at me properly.
She froze and made a face, “When they said you were ugly, I thought they were exaggerating.”
It wasn’t that she said it, it was how. It was like in the films, where you slice off the head of a bottle of champagne with a knife. Static filled my ears. My arms flew, tightly clenched around the Gameboy. It kept flying. I think I remember her screaming.
“Stop! Please, stop!”
I dragged her into the bush; there was a canal ten minutes inside, under construction. They’ve probably finished it now. Her body plopped into the water, her small breasts cresting like paper boats. I waited but the water was too brackish to see it turn red.
I ran. Through the gate, to the backyard. I showered in the guard’s bathroom. I worried that my father would ask of my Gameboy. I tried not to remember.
It turns out it was their house, the new one on our street. Her mother had asked her to go out and find a friend. She was lonely and starting to get moody. Her mother seemed to be in a perpetual state of hysterics. Her father was a big man; police vans filled our street for days. They kept calling me Shrek in school; I kept imagining bits of purple Gameboy plastic sticking out of their skulls. I kept my head down; my hands became perpetually gummed to my cheeks. Were they looking at me?
He sat in my seat, after lunch. I stood in front of him wondering how he couldn’t see me for what I was, why none of them could tell what I had done.
It was a joint class, Biology. I asked him to stand up.
“You no dey fear face abi, Shrek?” He was smirking.
My Onward hardcover notebook broke his nose in one swing.
It’s a thirty minute run from Doren College to the lagoon, did you know that? Well it is, if you’re running like the wind. I stood at the lip of the lagoon, trying to coax my lungs into breathing. The whole thing plays in the back of my mind like a time lapse. A collective gasp was what stopped me from swinging a second time, the fear in their faces. It was like being showered with sunshine. I wanted more, I wanted to swing again. I took my inability to breathe as my body giving me a chance to do the right thing.
I held my breath as I dove, though I knew I couldn’t swim. I tried not to kick. Lagoon water is filthy, tastes horrible. Probably because of all the dead teenage girls that get dumped in it. I gulped mouthfuls of water, choking. It was better this way.
It is better this way.
I say it in my head, I will my mouth to move. My father’s voice is clear as he tells me. He has found a girl, Ameli, no one I know. She’s a bad girl, he lists her sins. She sounds like every one of them, I want to stand up from the bed and punish her myself.
“I will do anything for you, I will kill.”
I know I should fight to stand, save this girl’s life. But I can’t. I haven’t stopped craving that sunshine. I find myself daydreaming of what the baseball bat he bought me for my fifth birthday would feel like against someone’s windpipe, I wonder if they’re going to close the canal, how many bodies it can take before it clogs and smells to high heavens.
“Tell me if anything changes with him.” My father says to my silent nurse as he exits the room.
Nothing will change. Not as long as this is up to me.
He might kill her, but I know I will.
If I leave this bed, I will.
I drool some more.