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Places we call home

The sun had set earlier than every other day. Perhaps the truck driver was right.

"We now have shorter days and longer nights" He muffled out sounds from his bread filled mouth. At interval , his belly would jerk like he digested the bread as soon as he swallowed it. He often bought bread from my tray instead of that of the other boys in the group.

"Shey e soft?" He would mumble, squeezing the bread lightly between his fat thumb, index and middle finger.

His hoarse voice gave him away as a rough mean-looking man but I also pictured him sometimes as a man who would  have a family. Lots of children, maybe some who would have big sagged pants strapped to their tiny waist while they yell Daddy! Daddy! in excitement on his return back to his house at the close of the day.

My left leg raised its weak self, wobbled  in the air  then met the red earth again while my right leg dragged itself forward to meet the impatient left foot's pace. I increased my pace despite my rhythmic movement to catch up with the other boys.

"Are you coming with us tonight to watch football?" Ochuko asks

A faint smile draws up on my face. He knew my response would be negative. He does not persist to ask again.

We pass by a barbing salon. The sound speakers are blaring;

"Thirty billion for my account o"

"Its Davido's voice" Deji shrieked

"When I grow, I will be a rich footballer.

They are paid better than those yeye musicians" Ochuko says with an air of confidence.

"Foot wetin? Me I will be a musician. A superstar like Wizkid or probably Davido. Dem get money too" Deji countered.

I was exhausted from the miles we had walked hawking bread all day. I was not even sure there was something I could become. Every time I tried to I imagine myself, all I could hear Papa's thunderstorm voice yelling at me.

"You will never amount to anything. You, cripple!"

I had come to live with him ever since Maami died. He was my only known relation and father. I had seen him few times when he had come to see Maami and ask her of money.

Maami would often say, "Osahon, come and greet your father"

It was a title to me. Not a word that held any endearment. The first day I had set my eyes on him, I remember how his forehead rumpled and his lips twitched upwards in disgust on seeing me.

"Why is he like this? You never told me he was crippled?" He lashed at Maami.

Maami tried hard to hide her expression of anger but it was obvious.

"My son is not crippled. He only had polio" She defended.

Ever since that day I knew he would never see me as a worthy child. I felt sorry for being this way but as time progressed I developed hatred for him. Maami was exonerated. She did not cause it. His negligence caused it.
As we approached the junction that led to the 'face me- I slap you' compound where we lived. I bade the boys goodnight and walked home alone.

The entire house was in darkness. I picked up the lantern from under the long wooden table where he often kept his transistor radio on and lighted it. The red-orange flame from the lantern's globe suddenly lighted the one room that was our home.

It was nine o clock and he won't be back till eleven. It was his routine after he 'd have spent all my profits from the bread on playing draft. His breathe reeking with alcohol. He would stumble home and crash on the depressed foam that served as our bed like a pile of dirty clothes.

At sun-rise, I stretched like a tired puppy while rubbing my dry palms over my eyes. Papa was not in the room but I remembered catching glimpse of his drunken figure staggering towards the bed despite my sleepy state.

He sat in front of the courtyard. A dirty yellow ankara wrapper adorned with red stars  hangs loosely around his waist. A long chewing stick dangling on the left side of his mouth as he peers through some small pieces of ruffled papers.

"Nearly! Nearly! This game never falls in place" He mummured amidst sighs.
I knew what would happen next.

"Osahon! Osahon!"

"Yes papa"

"Where is the profit from yesterday sales?" His outstretched hands waiting for his request.

I dash into the room and emerge with a chunk of rolled up naira notes which I drop into his open palms. He stares at me, wet his fingers by dabbing them on his tongue and counts the notes.

"How much is here?"

"Five hundred and fourty naira"  I stammer.

" How manage?" His thunder-like voice jolting me.

"I was hungry and used some of it to buy food" My stuttering seeming to become worse.

A force overcame me as I felt him shove me off-balance. A deafening slap strikes my cheeks which send blood oozing from my dry nostrils. A hit after another hit coming from directions I will never discern.

"It was only food I ate, I swear" That was all I could scream. It was an explanation and not a good enough plea. Its been 3 years now and I just found out yesterday that pleading is meant for weak boys.
I remember him chasing me down the dusty road as he struggled to tie his wrapper firmly.

"Keep running, cripple. You will come and meet me at home" His nostalgic voice echoed in my head not just today but everyday. It was a echoing statement that had made my head its home.

I ran like a scared, humiliated rabbit to Powerline Garage then to the Mile Ten bridge.

He was wrong. He would wait forever but I never came back home.

I had found home.


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