a short story by
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it EXPLODE?
‘AS SOON as the lorry comes in sight, jump into
it and wave your brothers goodbye. Don’t forget
to greet your auntie for me and thank her for
the three cups of rice and the twenty naira she
sent me at Christmas. Tell her it went a long
way. And you should remain the good boy you've
always been. Do not look for trouble. Trouble is
for the rich, you should know this. Tell her
also that your father has been ill ever since he
was bitten by a water snake in the creek. If you
are able to save any penny, please, you can see,
my wrappers are gone, buy me something good. You
can see that I’m tying the remnant of the bed
sheet that has served as covering - keeping my
eve and shame under it’. I could see the
sincerity in my mother’s eyes as she continued.
‘She said you will be starting school when you
return; make sure you do what other children
will be doing. Don’t bring shame to us; bring us
pride so we can dance around the village with
you chaired on our shoulders as a hero. The gods
are watching you, my son and you must remember
that. Now, carry your box. I hope you have
collected your Reader 5? I spent a fortune on
that and so I expect you to have that everywhere
you go to so you can pass with flying colors.’
She concluded with a tap on my head and her
fingers to my ears, drawing them like she was
going to cut them off. She wanted to make sure I
heard all she had said. ‘Ear drawing is not the
best way to make me hear you, mum,’ I murmured
to myself, wishing she didn’t hear me. I could
decide not to heed her sayings and she wouldn’t
know! Such ear drawing could cause pains in the
ear and I could start smelling like other
village children that had white pus coming out
of their ears.
The lorry came. A very old one but I wouldn’t
say that to the hearing of the conductor, a
gruesome man. He was a smoker. He could smoke
all the leaves available at every backyard in
the town. His lungs must be as white as a
cooking pot, I thought. I learned he even smoked
the dried leaves of a plantain stem. His smoking
anything-in-sight made him popular amongst other
young men that would tease him with several
morsels of akpu at open places. I knew the gods
had cursed him. All he got made him locate the
local seller to whom he was usually in debt. The
gods must have come to several agreements before
choosing smoking as a punishment for him. His
nature in his former life, also, must have been
really deadly and the best way to pay him back
was such a life he was living now.
On the side of the lorry is written Pitakwa. I
have been told that a step inside the lorry
brings one to the city of Port Harcourt. It was
truly a large city with tyres, the bus I mean,
no windows but with men seated like they were
being shipped across the sea to slavery. My
uncle, Mason, had told me how houses lined up
along the road there, people selling all kind of
things just to come back home with plenty money
at Christmas. He was known for telling
interesting stories whenever he fancied our meat
at mealtimes. He would take us to a peak where
our souls would be in his mouth as he spoke with
such carefulness in story telling, describing
the delicate nature of the women in the Diobu
axis of the city and those that occupied the Old
Township as it was called. He would make sure we
were looking directly into his eyes while his
fingers crept Nicodemusly into our plates. Port
Harcourt was a heaven from Uncle Mason’s
description. There was an airport there where
planes and white people worked. He even told us
how big schools with competitive students were
found everywhere. He had impregnated his boss’s
wife and was sent out after an arrest and severe
flogging from the men in black. . .
On dry nights of full moon without rain, we
would gather to listen to stories from either
Papa or Mother, stories that fed us with tales
of how an old woman who had no child had gone to
the stream alone and was caught up into the
moon. We were told how hard working people were
not found in the moon. They had adopted her with
an axe to break firewood there and she did that
all day till date. My siblings and I would sit
around a fire that was lit to keep evil spirits
away and hum songs that rang heavenly rhythms
against the evil eye as glimpses of realism
eased through our parent’s lips. Our songs drove
away evil spirits when they came like bats and
owls. If they came to us, they would be burnt in
the fire since all evils were transparent in
fires. Mother had told me never to be afraid of
the evil spirits that cried at night when we
were in our beds. As we sat around the fire with
my siblings and Uncle Mason, his concubines
would pass us with giggles. Some were even brave
enough to pinch him and run away. Uncle Mason
had very large muscles that raised his clothes
whenever he put one on. If not for the bad state
of father, his machete always would sit by his
side telling us that indeed we had a father who
would kill our tormentors in an instant.
Uncle Mason was not going to get married. I have
seen on several occasions his sneaking in of
Ka-Bari’s daughter into his nightmare of a hut.
The next we would hear would be sniffing cry in
that small hut of his. He must be evil. Anytime
he took that girl inside the house, she cried
while he moaned.
When the lorry finally parked, all the people
who had sat facing themselves started adjusting
for me. Though they looked angry like they were
not happy leaving town, I could see them making
space for my come-in. They looked like they were
brides with bad luck for husbands. It was very
early and the dew was still around, making
everyone look blind. I felt they had woken up
too early to meet the lorry; Pitakwa.
‘These men look evil,’ I said aloud in my mind.
They ate things that were not theirs - they
drank wines that were not theirs too. I had seen
one of them dance nude after invading someone
After a tiny space was made for me, I squatted
in their midst quietly like a coin placed under
a water-pot, cold but steady. My heart started
beating like the headmaster’s school bell before
the school devotion. I held it in my palm so
they won’t hear it sound loud. The sound of the
lorry also made it unheard. The old man that sat
next to me had his eyes closed but his buttocks
open. Sounds that sprang like gun shots during
the Civil War came calling from where he was
seated. The smell also took a quick flight into
everyone’s nostrils. They all turned to my seat,
shaking their heads in disappointment. ‘gboyorgo
ani eh’ - children of nowadays- they
said. No! They have mistaken the sound to have
come from my small buttocks. Couldn’t they hear
how mature it sounded? How could they ever think
I would do that? Was I the regular child who
would oversee the gathering of elders and sound
a fart that would signify the end of breath? No,
they must know that it wasn’t me!
pointed at the old man, but his sleepy look made
everyone feel I was not telling the truth. While
trying to explain my innocence, a heavy knock
that could weigh as much as a bag of cement
landed on my head. I could not hear myself
anymore. I was now decreasing in height at the
knock. Tears won’t come out of my eyes.
Confusion married me.
‘Who must have done this to a child?’ I repeated
in Khana language while they all laughed at me.
Their brown teeth was what made the pains seem
like I was been pressed to the ground by some
wicked god that digs up peoples yams.
The perpetual potholed road gave us a treat that
we could never forget. All those that were
sleeping woke up as heads, gray and dark,
knocked against the lorry. No one was being
wicked, just some invisible hand paying the
elders in their coin.
I watched the grasses travel with us as the
thought of a town that waited to have me
surrounded my senses like flies to a mass of
feces dropped by a man with running stomach.
They danced with my vision, causing me to fall
in a light sleep. I was seeing Port Harcourt in
my dream. The military governor had paraded a
team of soldiers at my arrival. It was
unfortunate that I had no slippers on but they
welcomed me - with hands at ease. I jumped out
the dream when a police officer around Kpor in
Gokhana ordered us out of the lorry for a
search. The king had lost his crowing cock and
he was to have the police search everyone that
was leaving town. It has been his clock before
it was stolen – his agric cock.
A man whose eyes had been to sleep mostly on the
journey was the first to step down; he was sleep
walking when a kick from an officer's boot
brought his mind home. As an officer walked him,
another stopped him.
‘Your mouth smells of something,’ the superior
He was then directed to see a more superior
officer that sat in a patrol van safe-guarding
their collected funds. Mukoro had the biggest
stomach on the lorry and he was to be queried
for smelling of chicken that early.
‘Mr., you smell of chicken, can you tell us
where you had chicken this early morning?’
In doubt whether to speak or wait for some more
questions from the officer, Mukoro stammered.
The officer beckoned others to come closer.
The perfect place that accommodated us after
about thirty minutes of search by the officers
was a small room with sealed windows - a prison
house at Kpor.
We were to be with charged with conspiracy.