There are those who kill in the believe that it is a direct instruction from God and a prerequisite for eternal life, there are also those afflicted by bitterness, anger, frustration and a host of negative emotions which having been suppressed unsuccessfully, erupt and destroy much good.
In WAR TALES & Other Short Stories, anything is possible. You will meet David King on his messianic quest, Abu and the baffling love he has for his boss, Aunt Dorcas who finds herself a husband against all odds and several other remarkable characters.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.52(d)|
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And Other Short Stories
By OLUSEYI ADEGBOLA
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Oluseyi Adegbola
All rights reserved.
Dawn is here again, and with it a deluge of cold and silence—the cold that holds sway at the height of the harmattan season and the silence that rules since the soldiers came. Sometimes after the soldiers have stayed for weeks and there is no trouble, they leave and people begin to come out again. At first residents emerge one by one, then in a deluge, like ants from the anthills that Bakri and I sometimes invade in the evenings. They go to the market to purchase foodstuffs and provisions, they go to greet friends they haven't seen or heard from for long periods of time because sometimes telephone service just goes off for days. They go to the bank or the petrol station; sometimes, they just sit in front of their homes and watch the sunset. But at the moment, there are soldiers everywhere and nobody even sits in front of their houses anymore because a bullet might just be flying by.
Anything is possible.
Last night there were voices and gunfire. Later the voices went silent and were replaced by a loud explosion that shook the house. In the bathroom where my cousin Sophia, Mum and I slept, the shower shook back and forth until drops of water came out even though water hadn't flowed for months. Mum slept off on the toilet seat with her head against the water closet and I noticed she had begun to grow a small moustache. When the explosions subsided, I returned to my room.
The weak morning light is coming through the window now, throwing pale light about the room. Something tells me the day will be long and uneventful—vacuous as the desert—like the days before it. I sense words taking shape in my head; it could be a poem, or a story or the words of a song. If it is a poem or a song, I will dedicate it to Alice. With those words, I will crown her the queen of the wasteland that is my soul whenever she isn't there. Or I may just weave those words together till they become wings for me to fly—fly like a cherub into the presence of my lord and love—away from the forlornness that has taken me. With those words I will confess that every time she appears in her checkered brown school wear, my heart beats faster till it aches and the veins become too narrow and I can only gasp and gawk. But today, there is an iron curtain that keeps my soul from that inspiration, the words don't come out right, the music is soulless and not even the thought of Alice can bring it to life.
To my left is a heap of school books, dust coated and unopened in weeks. To my right is a heap of old newspapers, newspapers which dad used to purchase from the vendor and inspect conscientiously. Drawn to the world of possibilities contained in a heap of unread newspapers, I sit up and pick one randomly.
I leaf through the newspaper; first the sports page and then jokes and pictures. There's news of a footballer who clinches a deal worth nearly one hundred million euros and another who rams his million dollar car into a culvert and walks away without a second thought. I read their biographies carefully so I can say a word or two and argue knowledgeably when school reopens. But I do not know when that will be; no one knows when the schools will reopen, only God knows.
Halfway into the newspaper, there's a column tagged Sex & Sexuality. The other pages of the newspaper fall away and I recline on my bed as I digest every word and syllable.
Gradually, I realize that I have come upon a piece of information that may change my life forever. But I need certain things to assess myself according to the information now at my disposal. I need solitude and a measuring tape. The bathroom and mom's measuring tape would do.
* * *
For the fifth time, I take its measurement and obtain the same result. It is a less than impressive five point nine inches; is it really true what they say, the bigger the better? Is it true that anything less than six and a half inches in length cannot satisfy a woman? If that is the case, how come my neighbor Edward has repeatedly failed all the subjects at Senior School Certificate level in spite of the size of his head? The guest writer of the Sex & Sexuality column says that no man should call himself a man if he does not meet the standard length of six and a half inches and prescribes some herbal potions for penis enlargement. Well, I am not a man yet, I am only sixteen.
Still worried, I turn a pail upside down and sit on it as scenarios flash back and forth in my mind.
I picture Alice and I happily married, except for one thing; she wants six and a half inches and I have only got five inches and some extra to offer. I'm trying to persuade her to understand that it's not my fault that I have less than six inches of what she wants, and that maybe it's not all about size, maybe there's another way to achieve the desired end with the same tool. I'm trying to explain that maybe that is how God wanted it to be from the beginning or maybe that is not what God wanted it to be but the midwife chopped off much more than just the foreskin at circumcision and that both ways, she can see that it's not my fault. In spite of my entreaties and explanations, she is inconsolable and much later when I think she has gotten over it, someone tells me that she has become very friendly with this guy who is eight inches long. By this time, I am almost trembling.
I hear a knock at the bathroom door.
"Yes, who is it?" I ask.
"It's me, open up."
I know it is Sophia but I'm not finished yet. "Who are you? You don't have a name?"
"You've been in the toilet for almost an hour now, what are you doing in there? Oh my God, Moses, are you wanking again? I'm going to tell Mum," she says.
"You really want to know? Why not just come in and see for yourself?"
"You're so disgusting."
"Thanks for the compliment dear."
"Okay, I really need to use the toilet, so please hurry up."
"What type of house has only one bathroom and toilet anyway?" I ask.
"The type of house your parents can afford," she says. "And Mum is waiting for you at the table. Take out your board, books and pen. It's time for school, boy."
I have a time table, blackboard and chalk in my room. Mum teaches me Mathematics and English; sometimes she gets answers different from the one supplied in the answer page behind the mathematics text book but she says the book contains a lot of errors and continues the exercises anyway.
* * *
We sit and begin the study with the textbook as a guide, but it is hard to assimilate Mathematics when seated at the dining table—a table that brings memories of sumptuous meals—far from the intimations of a classroom. I want to go out to my friends—Olaoluwa and Bakri, but Olaoluwa cannot play because he is still mourning and there are five military checkpoints between home and Bakri's place. To pass any of the military points, everyone must empty their pockets, put their hands on their heads, spread their legs and go slowly one after the other.
Everyone must pass on foot; if you drive a fancy car or motorcycle to the checkpoints or come at a time when the soldiers are angry, or if you have an unfriendly face, they may ask you to stoop, hold your ears and jump like a toad until they are satisfied. Since a bomb blast killed Olaoluwa's father during Sunday mass some weeks ago, Mum says we do not have to go to church anymore in order to worship God; "You cannot know when a bomb will go off or where it will explode; only God knows." The last time I saw Olaoluwa was in school, but it has been weeks since I went to school; since I last saw Alice.
"Will you please come back here?"
"But—I am here."
"Don't play dumb with me. I mean your mind—where is your mind?" Mum hollered.
"Oh, I'm here Mum. My mind is here now."
Bakri is from a place called Darfur, his father teaches in the Federal Polytechnic not far from our school but he never talks about his mother. He has no siblings so when his father goes to the office in the morning, he comes to look for me so that we can play, but Mum doesn't like that. She says he is wild because he has seen too much violence and war and in his head he is no more a child. But he is the most daring person I know of.
And he talks in a funny way as if he is trying to sing. In my mind, if I am not talking to Alice, then I must be talking to him. Now he is sitting opposite me at the table and making a face.
"You know, you look really silly making faces," I say to him.
"Poor you," he says, "learning under duress."
"Poor you," I say, "not learning at all."
"Poor you," he says, "I left my country because of war and now I'll have to leave yours because of war."
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. This isn't war and you know it."
"I see," he says, "what do we call it? What do you think of peacetime?"
"Unrest will do, besides it's not all over the country."
He makes another face and says, "Define unrest and differentiate unrest from war."
"You can't be serious."
"Yes I am. This is war my friend."
"No," I tell him, "it is stupidity."
"Do you know what happened last night?" He asks.
I tell him a big one went off; a big one that caused a more serious explosion than those that had been gone off earlier.
"I mean do you know what it did in addition to shaking your entire house?"
"No, tell me. What did it do?"
"Sorry, I cannot tell you, I can only show you. Come and see."
* * *
We move through spaces of time: in a serene place of sun and sand and wandering child-Bedouins, a dark eyed man tells his disciples—some pious and some perplexed—that the world is irredeemably corrupt, and must be purged by the shedding of blood.
"God is the ultimate judge," he says, "and we his executioners. There is no greater purpose than this; it is worth dying for, and the reward is eternal life."
I see fleeing women and a field strewn with bodies. The time and clime change but the scenes only repeat themselves with slight variations. Now it is high noon in an arid place; turbaned men armed with automatic rifles raid a sleepy community with merciless efficiency. The coarse, loose sand absorbs spilt blood swiftly. In the commotion, holy men armed with their beads and blades in their belts nab young women; they mount them like mating dogs, turning and twitching convulsively for a few minutes before stabbing them between the eyes or thighs.
In another clime, a police station is kindled and ripped apart by a great explosion. The windows are broken and the doors torn off their hinges because of the blast, I count the bodies of policemen on the ground, they are in the tens; some of them are headless but still thrashing about with their boots and laces on, others have gaping holes in their torsos and their bellies are swollen. One of the bodies has a surprisingly big penis that stands erect in spite of the cold and damage; the type promised for those who take the potions prescribed by the Sex & Sexuality columnist.
There is a scene where amidst the chaos, soldiers come in and the anarchy increases many fold. The soldiers come in many trucks, jumping off the moving vehicles in their haste to execute judgment; their guns begin to sing ratatatatatata even before their feet hit the ground. The chaos is quelled quickly and by the time they leave, all life—even the vegetation—is dead or despondent. The survivors gather the carcasses in heaps and burn them to prevent an outbreak of disease; the fire burns with great fervency and becomes a conflagration fuelled by the liquefied indignation of the dead that seeps out of their body orifices. It gives off a strangely pungent stench that makes the nose and eyes to water.
One by one people come to the various scenes; they gather to console and cover the nakedness of violated women and comfort baffled children. Some just come to watch the charred bodies and shake their heads. Some people also come with recording instruments, wearing solemn looks and straightening their clothing before they begin to talk into the cameras. Afterwards, they walk among the bodies and go near the destroyed police station, all the while pointing the camera. They now begin to speak with people at the scenes.
They are journalists, Bakri says, people who go to refugee camps to take pictures and ask questions. They talk to people whose hands and legs have been cut. They also talk to women and children but unlike the Red Cross or aid people, they bring no goodies.
I ask: "How do you know all this?"
"My Mum told me," he says.
"And what do they do after asking questions?"
"I don't know man, how do you expect me to know everything when I'm not a journalist? You ask too many questions."
I am getting angry now. And so I ask: "Oh, your Mum didn't tell you that one?"
"I respect the dead, man! You should do the same."
His voice is calm but tipped with a curtness that conceals his anger.
"I think I'll be leaving now," I say, "I want to go home."
As we turn our separate ways, I realize he has finally broken the silence on his mother. She is dead; probably died in Darfur. But now, I have more questions about his mother and about Darfur; questions I cannot bring myself to ask.
* * *
I am at the table alone with Mum now; Bakri has dissolved into the wall behind his chair and into the afternoon heat. Mum is looking intently at me, a puzzled look on her face. Now aware of her bafflement, I fix her a blank look as if to say I have no idea why you are staring at me that way.
"Where have you been these few minutes,Moses?Where was your mind?"
"I don't know Mum; I've been here all the time."
Sophia cuts in: "He's lying Mum, he's been day dreaming about Alice. All he sees on the pages of his books is her fine face and nice lips."
But Mum doesn't pay her attention;her gaze is beginning to affect me.
"I wonder if you've been listening in class. I wonder if you've been passing your tests," she says, "when you're soul travelling all the time. And who is Alice by the way?"
"She's nobody," I answer, "she's just somebody I met in school."
Mum says, "I don't understand, you say she is nobody then turn around to say she is somebody. Obviously, she must be somebody very important to you. If you drift just one more time while I'm teaching you, I'll hand you over to your father to teach you himself, his way when he returns. Do you prefer he does the teaching? He's coming back today, you know."
"No ma, definitely not; I like it this way."
Dad always accompanies teaching with hard knocks and in some cases, strokes of a sturdy bamboo cane that bounces off the body in preparation for the next stroke. He insists that it facilitates understanding of complex mathematical or grammatical concepts. He has traveled with the most important household items to the village where he is preparing a place so we can leave here. The house is now stripped bare except for the curtains, cooking utensils and other items necessary for daily use.
Sophia cuts in again: "Moses has this diary full of love poems and meditations. It's all about Alice; it is a must read mom."
"Shut up! Liar! It's a lie! I swear—"
Mum says: "No swearing or vile language, Moses, definitely not to your seniors."
"But she's just three months older—"
"Yeah," Sophia says, "three months older. That's a full ninety days; convert that to hours and you'll see just how much of a difference it makes."
"Shut up, Sophia," Mum says, "that's enough."
* * *
The word enough is hardly out of Mum's mouth when the front door caves in amidst much dust and shattered glass. There is shouting and screaming,the thundering of boots and flashes of camouflage green and the polished metallic barrel of guns. I hear Sophia screaming, but it is a high pitched, interminable wailing with no syllables or structure. Amidst the crunch sound of boots on shards of glass and screaming, I notice that Mum is curiously silent.
"Down! Down! Down! Everybody down now!"
"Everybody! Down now!"
"On your faces! Now!"
"Close your eyes and go to sleep!"
"No shaking! No movement! No talking! Talk to your maker!"
"Pray hard! I said pray!"
"Don't breathe! Don't fucking breathe!"
Excerpted from WAR TALES by OLUSEYI ADEGBOLA. Copyright © 2013 Oluseyi Adegbola. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
DO YOU REMEMBER RASHIDA?.................... 23
NATIONAL CAKE.................... 27
BLACK BEAUTY.................... 42
AUNT DORCAS.................... 76
THE GATHERING.................... 107
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO DAVID KING.................... 126
THERE WILL BE BEAUTY.................... 151
THE MESSENGER.................... 205