Dimié Abrakasa was fourteen years old. He had small ears, a long neck, and the sensitive, flexible fingers of a pickpocket. His grandmother said his skin was the colour of polished camwood. His mother hated his eyes.


The house that bore the number ‘197’ on Adaka Boro Street was painted a sunny-sky blue. On the wall above the doorway, in drippy black paint, were written the words:

This house is not for sale beware of 419

The street door, which was ajar because of a broken latch, opened into a corridor that smelled of kerosene smoke and
rat fur. The corridor had nine doors on each side, and led into a courtyard. The courtyard served as a store, a kitchen, and a place of social gathering.


Dimié Abrakasa entered the corridor. He walked to his apartment, the fifth door on the right, and turned the handle. Despite the gentleness of his touch, the door opened with a squeal. The heat that wafted out had the force of a chemical combustion. Dimié Abrakasa unshouldered his school backpack, then walked in and nudged the door closed with his heel. The TV was on. Méneia and Benaebi were home.

‘Welcome Dimié,’ his brother and sister greeted in unison.

‘Ehn,’ he answered, and looked at his mother. ‘Afternoon, Mma.’

Daoju Anabraba lay on the bed, on her side, her face turned towards the door. From chest to knee she was wrapped in a red, black and green wax print cloth. Her skin shone with sweat; the bed sheet—pale green, with white flowers patterned across it—was limp with dirt. An empty Gordon’s Gin bottle rested on its side on the floor beside the bed. Dimié Abrakasa waited for her to reply to his greeting, which he knew she wouldn’t, so he turned and walked to the corner to remove his school uniform.

A single electric bulb hung from the ceiling and lit the room. There was a window in the wall that faced the door, but the wooden shutters were fastened with nails. The bed was lined against this wall. At the foot of the bed stood a sturdy, antique redwood dresser; on its varnished top sat a gilt-framed photograph. Dimié Abrakasa stripped to his underpants in front of the dresser, then pulled open the bottommost drawer and rummaged in it until he found a pair of jeans and his yellow t-shirt.

Méneia and Benaebi sat cross-legged in front of the TV. The light that streamed from the screen played on their still faces. Méneia was the spitting image of her mother, except that, where Daoju Anabraba had a beauty spot on her right cheek, Méneia, in the same place, sprouted a mole that was the size and appearance of a raisin. She was four years older than Benaebi, who, at eight years old, was shedding his milk teeth. He sucked his thumb. His sister had tried everything in her power to wean him off this habit—from soaking his hands in bitterleaf sap to coating his fingers with chicken shit— but Benaebi persisted. When he wasn’t chewing his fingernails, his thumb was thrust through the gaps in his teeth. Several fingers of his two hands were cicatrized by whitlow, and the skin of his thumbs was as pale and shrivelled as lab specimens floating in a jar of formalin.

Dimié Abrakasa moved away from the dresser, and Méneia turned to face him, but her gaze remained on the screen.

‘What are we eating, Dimié?’ she asked.

Dimié Abrakasa walked to the head of the bed, rested his shoulders against the wall, and said: ‘There’s still garri in the house, abi?’

‘But no soup,’ Méneia replied.

Benaebi looked up, eyes glistening. ‘I’m hungry,’ he said, as he sucked his thumb.
‘What will we eat?’ Méneia asked again.

Dimié Abrakasa glanced at his mother. Her face was closed, heavy as stone. Tendrils of lank brown hair clung to her cheek, and fluttered each time she breathed out. Dimié Abrakasa turned back to Méneia. ‘Like how much do you think we need to cook enough soup to last till tomorrow?’

‘Three hundred,’ Méneia said, after a quick calculation.

‘With fish or meat?’


‘Fish is cheaper.’

‘But we used fish for the last two pots of soup!’

Her older brother made no reply, and Méneia, with a sigh, said, ‘OK, fish. Two hundred will be enough. Or what do you think?’

‘Yes,’ Dimié Abrakasa said. ‘I have—’ he turned out his pockets, producing clumps of paper and wisps of lint and some naira notes, ‘—one hundred and six, seven…I have one hundred and seventy naira. What of you?’

‘I have only ten naira, Dimié.’

‘Bring it. And you, Benaebi?’

‘I’m hungry,’ Benaebi mumbled at the TV screen. Méneia swung her head to look at him. ‘Benaebi!’ she snapped, ‘remove that hand from your mouth before I slap you! Boo-boo-boo baby! Do you have any money?’

‘I have fifty naira but I’m not giving you!’

‘I’ve heard. Where is it?’
‘I said I’m not—’
‘Will you shut up? Where’s the money?’ ‘I gave it to Mma this morning.’

All eyes turned to the bed. Méneia broke the silence. ‘H’m,’ she sniffed,

‘that one is gone. What should we do, Dimié?’

‘We have one-eighty,’ Dimié Abrakasa said. He counted the notes, folded them into a wad and stuck it in his right hip pocket. ‘Let me see—’

His words were cut off by a sudden, cataclysmal darkness. A power cut.

‘Aw, NEPA!’ Benaebi exclaimed, slapping his thigh. ‘Dog shit!’

‘Shut up,’ his sister said, ‘they’ll bring it back soon.’ Then she added: ‘By God’s grace.’

Dimié Abrakasa edged round the sound of their voices. The subterranean dark, the stench of degraded alcohol, the whispering heat, had turned the room unbearable for him. He reached the door, pulled it open, emerged
into the corridor. When he turned
to shut the door, he met his mother’s gaze. She raised herself on one elbow, combed back her tousled hair with her fingers, and said, ‘Don’t even think of coming back to this house without my medicine.’

Dimié Abrakasa stepped into the harsh light of mid-afternoon. On the
horizon, he saw a mass of bruise-dark clouds bearing down on the sun. The
air was heavy, there was no wind. Rain was approaching. Dimié Abrakasa
considered shortcutting through the back streets, but he remembered the
money in his pocket, so he headed for the open road.
The 1.3 kilometre Ernest Ikoli Road, started in September 1970 and finished
nine months later, was for many years extolled—on account of its wideness
and its drainage system, its gardened roundabouts and traffic lights and
cat’s-eyes lane markers—as the model Nigerian city road, the road of the
bright future. Once charcoal-black, the road was now an ash-grey stream
that threw off sparks where the metal of embedded bolts and bottle tops
caught the sunlight. Potholes strewed the asphalt, and the concrete sidewalks
were shot with cracks. The roadside drains were silted over in some places,
and trash-choked in others. The revving engines and horn blares of
commuters, the clang-and-bang of artisans, the roar of a populace worldfamous
as a loudmouthed lot, beat the air. Theme music of city life.
After he passed Number II Sand Field and crossed the road to avoid an
approaching pushcart piled high with yams, Dimié Abrakasa felt the urge to
urinate. He stopped, looked around, moved forward a few steps, reached the
mouth of the alley he’d spotted, and turned into it. The alley was in shadow.
Relief from the sun’s glare heightened the pressure on his bladder, and he picked his way across the alley, holding
his breath. The alley floor was dotted with shit mounds; the air stank of
old urine. The windows of the storey buildings that formed the sides of the
alley were boarded up, and paint flakes curled off the lichened walls. A group
of boys was gathered at the alley end. Dimié Abrakasa halted, opened his fly,
and ignoring the faded letters on the wall in front of him that spelled,
do not unirate overhere anymore by order! the landlord
he splashed the wall. He arched his back and sighed in release, then shifted
his foot to avoid the foaming stream. A thrill of excitement entered the boys’
voices. As he squeezed out the last
drops, the boys raised a cheer—a shriek
of agony rent the air. Startled, he
jumped, and his fly-zipper snagged his
flesh. He yelped with pain, and sucked
in his breath. Then, with careful fingers,
he freed himself from the grip of the
zipper teeth.
Giving in to a curiosity so intense
he could smell its cat breath, Dimié
Abrakasa approached the boys. They
made way; they absorbed him into
their ranks. As he’d suspected, it
was something subhuman they had
ganged up on. He’d expected to see a
mangy dog, or a goat lying in a pool
of blood, but he found he was staring
at the cowering form of a rag-draped
madwoman. She was crouched on
the ground in the centre of the circle
formed by the boys. Her knees were
drawn up to her chest and her hands
covered her ears. The skin of her knees
was scabrous; her hands were tree-root
grimy. Her hair fell on her shoulders
in thick, brownish clumps, and it was
sprinkled with the confetti of garbage
dumps. She reeked of disease.
Dimié Abrakasa turned his gaze to the
boys. He counted heads, but when he
got to the twelfth, someone moved to
a new position, distracting him, and
he was too close to the end to bother
starting over. Some boys held sticks
in their hands, others clutched bricks,
and a few had both. He recognised two
boys as schoolmates, but every other
person was a stranger.

He looked again at the madwoman.
She was growling, the sound buzzed
at the rim of her teeth, and she rocked
on her heels. Her eyes were bloodshot
with fear and yet her expression was
calm. Her gaze roamed the circle—she
swung her head with abrupt, birdlike
motions. Dimié Abrakasa averted his
gaze, then pushed through the press
of bodies till he got next to Baridom,
the nearer of the two boys who he
knew, and reached out a hand to tap
his shoulder.
‘Wetin the crazewoman do?’ he asked.
Baripo, the second boy, threw Dimié
Abrakasa an angry glance. ‘She craze,’
he said.
At that moment, the madwoman
dropped her hands to the ground and
pushed herself up. The boys it seemed
were expecting this move: those
holding sticks leaped forward and
delivered blows to her head, her back,
her buttocks, her legs. Shrieks of pain
burst from her throat as she danced
around to avoid her attackers, her
movements as wild as a leaping flame.
Then she sank back to her haunches.
The boys resumed their stargazing. This
game was no longer play. They were
drunk on high spirits. They fidgeted,
impatient with the madwoman’s
cowardice. Some of the boys, whoops
bursting from their throats, broke the
ring to make short, darting runs at the
hunched form.
Someone said: ‘If crazewoman bite you,
you go craze.’ Nods and murmurs of
agreement travelled the circle.
‘If dog wey get rabies bite you, you go
craze too,’ said Baripo.
‘Yes o,’ Baridom agreed.
‘Me, but before I craze, I go burst
that dog head,’ said the boy who had
spoken first.
‘You no go fit,’ Baripo said. ‘Dog wey
get rabies dey craze.’
‘I go fit.’
‘You no go fit.’
‘I say I go fit!’
‘I say you no fit!’
The boy said: ‘I go fit burst this
crazewoman head. Try me!’
Silence. Then the boys’ voices rose in
a chorus of cheers and jeers. ‘You no
fit, Ériga—do am, Ériga—burst the
crazewoman head!’
Ériga whirled to face Dimié Abrakasa,
who was beside him. ‘You get stone?’
Dimié Abrakasa shook his head
no. Baripo asked: ‘You want stone?’
Without waiting for a reply, Baridom
held out a lump of brick. Dimié
Abrakasa, who stood between Ériga and
Baridom, reached for the brick, closed
his fist around it, hefted it, and then
flung it at the madwoman. It struck the
side of her head and disintegrated in a
shower of dust. She screamed, horribly.
It was this explosion of mingled pain
and rage—and the superhuman force
with which she leaped at her attackers,
blood splashing from the gash in her
head—that caused the boys to break
rank and flee from the alley, their yells
trailing in their wake.
By the time the fear that combusted
in his belly had been exhausted,
Dimié Abrakasa was far from the
alley, the boys, and the marketplace.
He leaned against the rusting frame
of an electrical pole and struggled to
regain his breath. His chest heaved and
fell. His hands clutched at his throat,
and clawed at the neck of his t-shirt,
smudging the yellow. His eyes darted,
searching for the pursuer who had
laid grip of his imagination. Passersby
slowed as they approached, shot him
curious glances, and then hurried past.
‘You no go fit.’
‘I say I go fit!’

Dimié Abrakasa was back on Ernest
Ikoli Road, at Railway Junction,
when the rainclouds caught the sun.
The world turned grey, the temperature
plummeted, and gusts of wind sprang
up. The wind grew stronger, and
flung dust into the air. A lightning
flash split the gloom and a rumble
of cascading boulders burst from the
skies. Another flash, sulphuric in its
intensity—the thunderclap was like a
shredding of the heavens.
Birds crawled across the sky with
panicked cries. There was a lull,
everything froze in that instant; and
then, with a sound like burning
grass, rain fell. The raindrops had
not made landfall when a bolt of
blue-white lightning, like a forked
tongue, streaked the sky, and one of
its prongs struck a fleeing swallow.
The bird stalled in midflight, then
began to tumble earthwards as the
rain hit the ground.
Through sheets of crashing water,
pedestrians sprinted for cover. Puddles
formed on the sidewalks, then flowed
together and rushed for the drains,
which brimmed over and poured water
onto the road. The road became a river.
Car engines drank water, coughed
out steam, and died. Both sides of the
road—and the sidewalks, too—got
jammed. The horn blares of motorists
became one long, unbroken blast.
Dimié Abrakasa moved off the
sidewalk, onto the road, and wove
through the stalled cars. The bonnet
of the Toyota Sequoia beside him
was warm—the car was empty but the
engine was running. The driver had
alighted and rushed off to join the
crowd that was gathered at the head
of the traffic jam.
Dimié Abrakasa headed for the crowd,
and squeezed through the swarming
bodies till he reached the front, where
there was a large flooded pothole.
The obstructed traffic was caused by a
ramshackle, cattle-hauling lorry that
had tried to charge across the pothole.
The lorry was stuck. The lorry driver
was on his knees in the tea-coloured
water, scooping handfuls of mud from
under the lorry’s tyres. Water lapped
against his chest.
Like wind in the treetops, loud voices
swept through the crowd, arguing.
Some urged that the lorry be pushed
aside, and others recommended a
detour round it. Dimié Abrakasa
watched, fascinated, as the crowd
split into factions and yelled in each
other’s faces. Two traffic wardens and
a policeman stood in the crowd. One
of the wardens gaped at the angry
faces with his hands clasped behind
his head, while the second man glared
at the lorry, his features drawn into a
scowl. The policeman tried to arbitrate
contending views, but he was repaid
for his efforts by getting sucked into a
quarrel that grew so heated he had to
flash his handcuffs to extricate himself.
From the edge of the crowd, someone
yelled: ‘Thank God—the army has
A column of soldiers approached at a
trot, their boot heels drumming the
road. The crowd parted before them,
scrambling out of their path. When
they arrived at the obstruction, their
leader—a stocky, pot-bellied sergeant
who bore on both cheeks the four
slashes that was the mark of Egba
nobility—bellowed, ‘Qua Shun!’ The
soldiers stood at attention. Each held a
horsewhip in one hand and an assault
rifle in the other. Twirling his whip as
he turned to the crowd, the sergeant
ordered, ‘All civilians clear the area, now!’
The crowd dispersed. There was a flurry
of banging car doors.
The traffic wardens had fled, but the
policeman stood his ground. Thrusting
out his chest, he walked up to the
army sergeant, who turned to face him,
surprise written across his face.
‘Sergeant, sah!’ the policeman said,
saluting, ‘the situation on ground—’
The sergeant interrupted him. ‘What
The policeman, who towered over the
sergeant, leaned forward with a wide
smile. ‘The lorry responsible for this
wahala . . .’

‘Are you a soldier?’ the sergeant asked.
‘No, sah, but—’
‘Are you a retired soldier?’
‘No, sah.’ The policeman began to
‘Is your wife a soldier?’
The policeman, glancing around at the
column of stone-faced soldiers when
he made his reply, did not see the twist
of rage on the sergeant’s face as he
roared, ‘Bloody civilian!’ and dealt the
policeman a sledgehammer blow to
the throat. The policeman fell to the
ground, jerking as he fought to keep
from swallowing his tongue. Grasping
the fallen man by the collar, the
sergeant slashed him across the
face with his whip, then dragged him
to the edge of the flooded pit, released
him, and stepped back a pace. The
sergeant’s face regained its humanity.
‘Roll in the mud, you shit,’ he said,
Trembling from fear and pain, and
bleeding from the cut to his face, the
policeman squeezed his eyes shut and
crawled into the pool of muddy water.
He lay down on his belly, bobbed
for an instant, and then began to roll,
the water rippling. The sergeant hung
his whip round his neck and, with
deliberate slowness, folded his sleeves.
When he was done, he said, his voice
barely above a whisper: ‘Out.’
The policeman scrambled out of the
water on all fours, gasping for air.
The sergeant turned to his men and
ordered, ‘Clear that lorry from the road.’
The soldiers leapt into action. They
beat up the lorry driver, and then
offloaded his cargo of cattle, which
they sent galloping off with kicks to
their rumps. Then they strode through
the crowd, handpicking hefty men.
The men pulled the lorry, and the
soldiers pushed. The sergeant directed
the traffic, his whip flailing as he yelled
instructions. In a few minutes the
cars were honking their thanks and
speeding off.
The rain had stopped. Dimié Abrakasa
was wet, hungry and tired. He had been
gone too long—Méneia and Benaebi
would be waiting for him, maybe even
now watching both ends of the street to
see who would spot him first. Then his
thoughts were interrupted by the sound
of his name. He looked up and saw a
sea of cars. Dimi! he heard again, above
the noise of the engines. He saw the
waving hand and recognized the car—a
decrepit white Peugeot 404—and then
the face of his landlord, Alhaji Tajudeen.
The landlord was pushing the car with
one hand and controlling the steering
wheel with the other. The line of cars
behind him honked at his slow progress.
Dimié Abrakasa ran to help him.
‘Afternoon, sir,’ he greeted. He moved
to the back of the car. They pushed
together. The car rolled faster.
‘Can you push alone?’ Alhaji Tajudeen
asked, looking over his shoulder.
‘Yes,’ Dimié Abrakasa answered.
‘OK.’ Alhaji Tajudeen jumped into the
driver’s seat and pulled the door shut.
‘Push! Push!’
Dimié Abrakasa bit his lip; his feet
scrabbled on the rain-slick tarmac.
‘Come on, you’re not a woman—push!’
The exhaust backfired with a blast of
thick, white smoke. The engine caught,
sputtered, and sparked into life. Dimié
Abrakasa, his face shining with sweat,
ran towards the passenger door. He was
reaching for the handle when the car
swerved into the hooting, fast-flowing
traffic and sped off. Dimié Abrakasa
stood clutching the air. And then he
scrambled off the road.

The outdoor bar had for shade an old
beach umbrella, under which stood a
table and a bench. Six men sat on the
bench, three stood around the table.
The men held beer tankards, whisky
glasses, plastic cups. Bottles of different
sizes, shapes and colours, arranged in
no particular order but with a woman’s
eye for beauty, covered the table. The
bar owner sat on the knee of one of her
customers. The man’s hands rested in
her lap, and he tilted back his head to
drink from the glass she held to his lips.
When the woman saw Dimié Abrakasa
approaching her stall, she thrust the
glass into the man’s hand, stood up,
and walked forward.
‘Wetin you want?’ she said, as she
planted herself in front of the boy.
‘Make you no think sey I go serve you
drink o!’
The woman had a spoiled milk
complexion, the reward for a lifetime
regime of bleaching cream. Her
knuckles were the colour of healed
bruises, her arms and legs were
crisscrossed with thick blue veins.
The deep brown of her unpainted lips
made them seem sweet, coated with
treacle, smudged with chocolate.
‘Wetin you dey look, you no fit talk?’
the woman asked angrily. She placed
her hands on her hips, harassed Dimié
Abrakasa with her gaze. He dropped
his eyes.
One of the men on the bench gave a
snort of a laugh. He called out: ‘Madam
Glory, leave the small boy abeg.’
Madam Glory spun round and pointed
her finger at him. ‘Hear me, and hear
me well—no put your rotten mouth
for this one o! I no dey serve pikin
for here. If this small boy wan’ kill
himself,’—and here she turned to
face Dimié Abrakasa, her forefinger
stabbing—‘make e find another person
shed. No be my business Satan go use
to spoil another woman pikin.’ She
raised her hand, sketched a halo above
her head, and then snapped her thumb
and middle finger at Dimié Abrakasa.
‘I reject it in Jesus name!’
‘Ah ah, Madam Glory, you sef!’
exclaimed the man who had spoken.
‘You know whether somebody send the
‘Even still,’ she said in a calmed voice.
She stared at Dimié Abrakasa, her eyes
sparking suspicion. ‘They send you?’
she asked.
‘Yes,’ Dimié Abrakasa said.
‘Who send you?’
Dimié Abrakasa was about to say the
truth, that he had been sent by his
mother, when his right hand, which
was tugging the hem of his t-shirt,
crept into his trouser pocket. He pulled
back the hand, stared at Madam Glory
with horror, then dug both hands into
his pockets, and gasped out:
‘My God!’
‘What!’ Madam Glory cried. ‘You
dey make joke with me?’ Goaded by
the guffaws that burst from the men
behind her, she bore down on Dimié
Abrakasa. She caught him by the
earlobe just as he turned to flee, and
dragged him forward, cursing under
her breath, her face stained with rage.
She reached the edge of the road,
released his burning ear, and with a
shove to his head she ordered: ‘Get
away from here! Useless child, mumu,
I sorry for your mama! Get away!’
On the trek back to a house that
loomed before him like a Golgotha,
Dimié Abrakasa ransacked even the
most protected corners of his memory
for the missing money. Despair, at
several points on his journey, almost
made him break down in tears, but
each time his will overcame that

7Number II Sand Field was at the
intersection of Yakubu Gowon and
Adaka Boro streets. It was one of eleven
open spaces—Number IV Grass Field,
Number VI Paved Field, Number VII
Clay Field, Number X Sand Field,
etcetera—set up all over Poteko by a
past military administrator. Number II
was a football pitch, with white sand
instead of turf, and it was enclosed
by a low concrete wall. On weekends
when football matches between local
clubs were staged in this arena, the
wall disappeared under a swarm of
spectators, but on this afternoon, as
Dimié Abrakasa vaulted the wall, the
field was deserted.
At one end of the field, in the space
behind the goalpost, a table tennis
board was set up. Three boys stood
round the table, and two of them were
engaged in a game. The ball flew into
the net as Dimié Abrakasa drew up
beside the table, and the third boy,
who clutched a wad of naira notes in
one hand, called out, ‘Park five!’
‘Who dey win?’ Dimié Abrakasa asked.
‘Shh!’ hissed the player whose turn it
was to serve. He cast a furious look at
Dimié Abrakasa. They recognized each
other at the same instant.
‘You!’ Ériga exclaimed. ‘But how
you dey? How you escape that
The other player spoke. ‘This nah the
boy you tell us about? The one wey
stone the crazewoman?’
‘Yes o!’
‘Strong man—correct guy!’ Three
pairs of eyes gazed at Dimié Abrakasa
with approbation. Then Ériga whirled
round to face the table, and served the
ball. His opponent was taken unawares:
he scrambled for the ball: his bat struck
it out of play.
‘Game up!’ the umpire announced,
running to where the ball had fallen.
The second player glared at Ériga, and
snorted with annoyance. ‘Nah lie
Chibuzo, I no agree—I never ready
when Ériga serve the ball!’ he said.
‘But you no say let, Krotembo,’ Ériga
said. ‘Anybody hear am say let?’
‘No,’ Chibuzo said.
‘But you rush me! You must replay!’
Ériga threw his bat on the table. ‘I don
win,’ he said. He strode to the umpire
and held out his hand. ‘Give me my
‘No give Ériga that money o, Chibuzo,’
Krotembo said. He, too, tossed his bat
on the table, and began to unbutton
his shirt. ‘You must replay or we go
cancel the betting. You no strong
enough to cheat me.’
The two boys drew up to each other,
stood nose-to-nose, and exchanged
glares. Krotembo, who was shorter, had
muscles like a blacksmith’s apprentice.
He raised a clenched fist, nudged Ériga
in the chest. ‘No try me, Ériga,’ he said.
Ériga stepped backwards, lowered his
gaze, spun round on the ball of his
left foot, and ran. Krotembo barked
with laughter. He turned to Chibuzo,
chuckling in his throat. Then he heard
the crash of glass. From the corner of
his eye he saw the shadow of death
bearing down on him, and he bolted.
‘Why you run?’ Ériga yelled after him.
He stopped beside the table, strutted
back and forth, panting with anger and
brandishing a broken bottle. ‘Come
and fight—if you get power!’
Krotembo watched Ériga from a safe
distance. His naked chest heaved
noisily. Then he touched the tip of
his forefinger to his tongue and bent
down to scrape the earth with it. He
pointed the finger at Ériga and said, in
a voice that quavered: ‘I swear, Ériga,
anywhere I see you, anywhere I catch
‘Sharrap there, buffoon!’
Krotembo pressed his fist to his lips.
His arm shook, his forehead bulged
with veins. Then he turned around and
strode off. Ériga watched the receding
figure until he was sure the retreat
was not a trick. He walked to the
table, tossed his weapon under it, then
snatched up Krotembo’s shirt from
the table, wiped the sweat from his face
and neck, and flung the shirt away.
It sailed through the air, unfurling.
Chibuzo spoke. ‘Make sure you run
any time you see Krotembo o—e no go
forgive you. Anyhow, two of you bet
one-eighty, so after I remove my cut,
your money nah three-ten. Correct?’

Ériga nodded, and watched Dimié
Abrakasa from the corner of his eye.
Dimié Abrakasa caught his gaze, and
he turned away, accepted the roll of
notes from Chibuzo. After counting
the money, he asked Dimié Abrakasa:
‘You wan’ play me betting?’
‘Never!’ Dimié Abrakasa replied.
Ériga threw back his head and laughed.
‘No fear, I no be Atanda Musa, why
you no try your luck, maybe you go
beat me.’ His eyes danced as he awaited
a response. Then he said, ‘Anyway,
since nobody want to play me, I don
dey go.’
Dimié Abrakasa shrugged. ‘Me too,’ he
As Chibuzo gathered the balls and bats,
the two boys left together. They strode
across the sandscape, their footsteps
flopping, their progress marked by the
leap-and-dance of their shadows.
At the end of Yakubu Gowon Street
loomed a pink, three-storey building, a
hotel. The wall around it was crowned
with coloured glass shards, and the
yard was planted with a profusion
of fruit-bearing trees. Near the gate
a large false almond tree grew at an
abnormal angle and leaned over the
wall. Its foliage formed a thick shade
on the outside of the fence.
The boys reached the fence, and Ériga
walked under the tree shade, turned
to face the road, sank into a crouch
in the bed of dead leaves, and rested
his shoulders against the wall. Dimié
Abrakasa followed. A gentle breeze
wafted the smell of decayed fruit
into their faces. A moment of silence,
during which the leaf dust stirred by
their arrival sailed through the air, and
then Ériga touched Dimié Abrakasa’s
shoulder, said, ‘Wetin be your name?’
‘Dimi. Dimi Craze…De Craze.’ Ériga
nodded, pleased with himself. ‘I go call
you De Craze. My name nah—’
‘Ériga. I know.’
Dimié Abrakasa trapped a wood ant
crawling up his arm. He picked it off
his skin and looked at the waving legs,
the snapping pincers. He crushed it
between his fingertips and wiped his
hand on his jeans.
‘Why you stone that crazewoman?’
Ériga asked. His eyes were fixed on his
companion’s hand—the long, tapered
fingers, the bitten-down nails, the
network of fine veins. Dimié Abrakasa
noticed the direction of his gaze, and
balled a fist. ‘Nothing,’ he replied.
But the image rose in his mind of his
mother sitting in bed with her knees
drawn up and her hands pressed
against her ears. His fist rose in the air
and struck his knee twice, then he let
his hand fall onto the carpet of leaves.
‘You be strange person sha. De Craze,’
Ériga said.
The street grew busy with schoolchildren
returning from extramural classes.
A group of uniformed girls was headed
towards the hotel. The girls whispered
to each other, and darted glances at the
boys; as the group filed past the girl
who walked in front turned her head to
stare at Ériga, and snorted with laughter.
Ériga sprang to his feet and bounced
on the balls of his feet towards the
girl. The girl was tall and stocky, she
had the calves of a shot-putter, her
hair was shaved to bristles, and she
wore the one-piece dress of a high
school junior. Her sole ornament was
a rubber wristband that announced
her loyalty to Chelsea FC. Ériga drew
up alongside her, and asked in a rude,
deepened voice, ‘Nah who you dey
laugh, woman-man?’The whole group
halted and faced him. He repeated his
question, and the girls, as if on signal,
broke into peals of laughter. They
stamped their feet and clutched their
bellies and bumped against each other.
Ériga’s face puckered with anger.
He grabbed the wrist of the girl whom
he’d addressed and twisted her arm,
not too much, but enough to make
her aware of his strength. ‘Laugh now,’
he said, and pulled her forward, trod
on her foot.

The girls fanned out, encircling him,
buzzing like disturbed bees. He felt
the movement of his hostage, but
thought nothing of it, until her fist
sank into his belly. He released
her arm and doubled over, mewling
with agony.
‘Are you crying?’ the girl said, as she
bent over him and clasped his shoulder
in playacted sympathy. ‘Stand up—,’
her words were interrupted by a snigger,
‘if you can.’
Gritting his teeth, Ériga straightened.
The girls watched him and waited.
He stood, undecided. Dimié Abrakasa
stood up. ‘I know you,’ he said,
addressing the girl who’d struck Ériga,
‘we used to go to the same school—you
remember?—St. Ignatius.’
The girl stared at him. ‘You are
Méneia’s elder brother?’
‘Ehen—so it is you! I was telling myself
that I know your face.’ She stepped
forward, bumping Ériga with her
shoulder, and thrust out her hand for
a handshake. Dimié Abrakasa took it.
Her grip was firm. She kept hold of his
hand. ‘Adafor is my name. Your own
is … ah, I’ve forgotten.’
‘Dimi! Yes, Dimi.’ She beamed at him.
‘I’ve come to your house before,’ her
tone dropped, took on some hue, a bit
of blue, ‘when your father died.’ Then
her face brightened. ‘What school are
you attending now?’
‘GCSS Boys,’ Dimié Abrakasa said.
‘I’m in Holy Rosary.’
‘I know.’
‘You’re wearing the uniform.’
Adafor laughed, tugging at his hand
as she swayed. Then she caught
the smirk on Ériga’s face, and her
laughter stopped. She released
Dimié Abrakasa’s hand.
‘This dude is your friend?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ Dimié Abrakasa said.
Her nostrils flared with disapproval.
She opened her mouth, but shut it
without a sound, then looked at Ériga.
‘You will fall inside my trap another
day.’ She turned back to Dimié
Abrakasa. ‘Greet your sis for me.’
As the girls’ voices receded round the
corner, Dimié Abrakasa asked, ‘How
your stomach?’
‘OK,’ Ériga said. He took a step
forward, then pulled up sharply, and
burst out: ‘Girls!’
Dimié Abrakasa laughed. ‘I agree
with you, troublemakers. I get one
for house.’
‘Forget them abeg. Hunger dey waya
me—I wan’ go find food.’
At the mention of food, Dimié
Abrakasa glanced over his shoulder in
the direction of his street. ‘I have to go,’
he said.
‘Oh, alright,’ Ériga said, and reached
his hand into the waistline of his
trousers. His hand emerged with a flash
of blue, a Chelsea FC wristband.
He slipped it around his wrist and
admired the fit, then looked up
and caught Dimié Abrakasa staring.
He dropped his arm to his side and
edged away.
‘Hey!’ Dimié Abrakasa called. Ériga halted.
Dimié Abrakasa recalled the moments
of his meetings with Ériga: the request
in the alley, the amount of the bet
with Krotembo, the scuffle with Adafor.
The disappearance of his money.
Now it made sense. Random pieces fell
together and a picture rose in his
mind. Just like table tennis had served
as bait for Krotembo, the baiting
of the madwoman was the game that
lured him into Ériga’s trap. But of
course. And the dare to stone her was
the bet, the gambler’s opening, the
pickpocket’s ploy. For Ériga, he was
sure, was a pickpocket, a master thief.

His heart pounded in his head as he
stared at Ériga. He was furious, as much
with himself as at Ériga, and now that
he felt a kinship with Krotembo his
sympathy for the outsmarted boy grew
to levels almost unbearable. Ériga was
shameless and hardened in his ways—
he had seen ample evidence in the
episode with Krotembo. Yet he hoped.
Maybe Ériga would do the right thing,
given a chance.
‘Erm,’ Dimié Abrakasa said, his voice
a croak, saliva clinging to his teeth, ‘I
fit borrow money from you?’ The boys
searched each other’s faces. Dimié
Abrakasa dropped his eyes. ‘Please,’ he
said. ‘I lost my mother’s money today.’
Ériga’s tone was curt. ‘I no get anything
to give you.’
Dimié Abrakasa nodded, and averted
his face to hide the angry tears that
wet his eyelashes. He turned, walked
away, but after a few paces he glanced
around. Ériga stood at the same spot,
watching him.
‘Bye-bye, De Craze,’ Ériga said softly,
then whirled around and quick-stepped
away, his arms swinging.
Night was seeping in from the sky’s
edges when Dimié Abrakasa arrived
at Number 197. He met the landlord
driving in. Alhaji Tajudeen stuck
his head out the window and yelled,
above the noise of the engine, ‘Wait
there for me!’
Dimié Abrakasa watched the
landlord park the car, wind up the
windows, and lock the doors. The car
panels were dented, rust-eaten. The
windshield was spider-web-cracked in
the right-hand corner.
‘Is your mother in?’ Alhaji Tajudeen
asked, twirling his car keys round
his finger as he approached Dimié
With a sinking feeling Dimié Abrakasa
gazed into the landlord’s face. Alhaji
Tajudeen had the widest nostrils he’d
ever seen. They were choked with a
jungle-growth of grey-brown hair, the
same colour as his ear tufts, which he
left untrimmed even though his head
was clean-shaven. There was only one
reason the landlord would want to see
his mother. Dimié Abrakasa nodded
the affirmative to his question, and
then said, ‘But she’s not feeling well.’
The landlord was headed for the
doorway. ‘Is that so?’ he said over his
shoulder. ‘That’s nothing new. She
hasn’t been well for one day since you
people moved into my house.’
The landlord entered the corridor.
Dimié Abrakasa marked his progress by
the echo of his footsteps and the voices
that rose in greeting at each apartment
he passed. The sound of wood crashing
against the wall startled him forward.
The door of their apartment was open.
There was still no power: the figures
in the room were outlined in shades
of gloom. The landlord stood over
his mother, who sat at the bed’s edge,
her knees clamped together, her feet
pressed on the floor. Méneia and
Benaebi were huddled in the corner,
beside the dresser.
‘You and your children must leave my
house today,’ the landlord was saying
in a loud, hectoring tone. ‘For a whole
three weeks your rent has expired and
till today I’m still waiting? You think
I’m running a charity here? You know
how many people have been asking
me for this room?’ He paused to draw
breath. ‘I’m telling you, if you can’t
afford to live like a human being, then
live like a dog in the street. But you’re
leaving my house today!’
Benaebi snuffled. Méneia covered his
mouth with her hand. Daoju Anabraba
shifted her feet, rubbed her thighs with
her hands, sighed deeply, and spoke.
‘If we can just talk in private, please,
‘Talk what? Talk money!’
‘OK, Alhaji. But let my children go—’
‘What you mean, go where? Or don’t
your children live here too? Look,
woman, somebody must answer for my
money today. Whether it’s your son o, or
your daughter o, or you o, I don’t care.
All I know is that my rent must come
out today or all of you will pack out!’

‘But Alhaji, why are you talking to
me like this?’ Daoju Anabraba caught
the fold of her wrapper, which was
loosening, and tucked it under her
arm. With the same hand she swiped
the sweat from her face, and then rose
to her feet. She was taller than the
landlord; his head only reached her
shoulder. One step and her breasts
would push into his face.
The landlord stared at her. His gaze
moved down, travelling over her body,
chest to foot, and back up again. He
cleared his throat. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘I will
respect you, if you respect yourself.
But before we talk anything, do you
have my money?’
‘No. But if you just give me a few
more days—’
The landlord sniffed with derision.
‘Your rent is already three weeks overdue.
People are lining up for this room. I’ve
heard that you don’t have a job—that
you like to drink. I don’t want any
drunkard in my house, and a jobless
one for that matter.’ He lowered his
voice. ‘So tell me, why should I wait?’
Daoju Anabraba was silent.
‘I’m waiting for your answer, Mama
Dimié Abrakasa tried to help his
mother. ‘Please, Alhaji—’
‘Shut up when your elders are talking,’
the landlord said, without looking at him.
Footsteps approached from the
direction of the courtyard, then
hurried past the doorway of their
apartment, and continued at a sedate
tattoo out of the building. It was the
only sound in the house.
The landlord sighed. ‘I am not a wicked
man,’ he said. ‘By Allah’s grace, I have
children too. I don’t want anybody
to say that I threw out a widow and
her children from my house. That is
why,’—he paused for effect—‘that is
why I will give you a chance to pay
the three weeks’ rent that you owe me,
today.’ He held Daoju Anabraba’s gaze,
and licked his lips, then lowered his
hand to adjust his trouser crotch, his
expression pantomimic.
Daoju Anabraba got his meaning.
Her eyes widened. ‘Ah, no, Alhaji …’
The landlord shrugged. ‘We’re both
adults here. The matter is in your
hands.’ He rubbed his palms together
with a washing motion and held them
out. ‘It’s your choice. Pay me my three
weeks’ rent, today, or pack out of my
house, today.’
Daoju Anabraba sank down on the
bed and bent her face to the ground,
her movements slow and heavy.
Her hands lay in her lap; she cracked
her knuckles and tugged her thumbs.
Her shoulders flexed.
When she looked up at her first child
and spoke, her voice was firm. ‘Dimié,
take your brother and sister and wait
outside. Close the door.’
Dimié Abrakasa did not move.
‘You heard me?’
‘Yes, Mma.’
‘Get out!’
The children filed out of the room.
In the gap between door and post,
Dimié Abrakasa saw the landlord cross
to the bed, and he heard him say,
‘Dimi is a good boy. He helped me
push my car today.’
Footsteps padded up the corridor.
Effusive good wishes, this time in
farewell, marked the landlord’s approach.
When he appeared in the doorway,
he halted and blinked at the full moon
that bobbed in the night sky. His face
gleamed in the moonlight. He yawned,
then raised a hand to wipe his brow,
dropped it to rub his belly, and let
it fall to his side. He did not look at
the children as he trudged to his car,
unlocked it, started the engine, and
drove away.
In the void left behind by the car’s
departure, Benaebi said, ‘I’m hungry.’
His stomach churned loudly as he
sucked his thumb.
Méneia put her hand on Dimié
Abrakasa’s knee. ‘You spent a long time,’
she said. ‘We waited and waited, Mma
was angry. What did you get?’

Dimié Abrakasa looked away.
‘What did you buy?’ she asked again.
The smells and sounds of cooking
floated out of the corridor. A rat moved
in creeps and bounds along the front
wall of the house, heading for the open
door, then sensed Dimié Abrakasa’s
stare, and scuttled back into shadows.
‘Dimié!’ Méneia cried, her voice
trembling with alarm. ‘You got the
thing for Mma, at least, didn’t you?’
‘I lost the money,’ Dimié Abrakasa said.
He did not turn his head to see the
expression on his sister’s face. He knew
it by heart.
Méneia stared at her older brother
without speaking. Benaebi, with a wet
moan, jumped to his feet and ran
into the house. His complaints,
high-pitched and teary, floated through
the open door. At the scrape of
approaching footsteps Méneia’s grip on
her brother’s knee tightened. Then she
removed her hand and drew away.
‘You lost what?’
Dimié Abrakasa scrambled upright.
His mother stood in the doorway.
Where the moonlight touched her bare
shoulders, they gleamed with sweat.
Her movement, as she advanced on him,
was brisk, vigorous, oiled with intent.
Her shadow swept over him as she
pulled up, and her foot stubbed his
right big toe. Bringing her face level
with his, she repeated, ‘You lost what?’
Her breath stank of old alcohol.
The blow came out of the dark. It hurled
him off balance. Then she was on
slapping, scratching, kicking. Dimié
Abrakasa fell to his knees and buried
his head in his arms. He received a mule
kick in the belly that tore a gasp from
his throat. When she lifted a concrete
slab and rushed forward, the neighbours
caught hold of her. She fought against
their restraint, spewing curses.
A phalanx of neighbours bore Daoju
Anabraba into the house. Another
group of neighbours gathered round
the hunkered down form of Dimié
Abrakasa. Méneia knelt beside him,
her shoulders shaking with sobs.
Benaebi, awestruck at the ferocity
of his mother’s attack, was standing
behind his brother, his hands clasped
in his armpits. Mama Malachi, whose
apartment was two doors down from
theirs, touched Dimié Abrakasa’s
shoulder. ‘You have done something
very bad to make your ma react like so,’
she said. Then she bent down, held his
arms, pulled them away from his head.
Someone switched on a torch and
turned the light on him. His eyes were
hare-caught-in-the headlights bright.
There was a speckle of blood on his lips
and four flesh-white scratches on one
side of his neck. As if in reaction to the
light, blood welled from the wounds.
Méneia caught her breath. Mama
Malachi released his arms. They fell
into his lap.
The neighbours drew to one side and
consulted. A few words, repeated
often, reached the children’s hearing:
words like ‘mother’ and ‘landlord’ and
‘drink’. Then Mr Mogaji of apartment
one—the first door on the right—
approached them.
‘Do you kids have somewhere you can
spend the night?’
Méneia blew her nose. Dimié Abrakasa
did not stir.
Mama Malachi shouted across to them.
‘Talk! Do you?’
Méneia coughed to clear her throat.
‘My Granma’s,’ she said.
‘Go there with your brother tonight,’
Mr Mogaji said. His torchlight played
on Méneia’s face. ‘Don’t cry again,
Mene, clean your eyes. We’ll talk to
your mother in the morning. I have
some spirit and cotton wool. Come and
take, so you can clean Dima’s wound.’

Granma Anabraba’s house was in a part
of town notorious for its youth gangs.
It used to be a good neighbourhood,
and the architecture was a relic of safer
times—the simple, cottage-like houses,
wide frontages, and alleys that opened
onto bordering streets. With fear had
come a stack-up of security devices.
Now, house doors and windows were
reinforced with metal, front yards
were walled and gated, and alley ends
blocked off with piled debris.
When the Abrakasa children arrived
at their grandmother’s house, they
had to rattle the gate for several
minutes before a frail, frightened voice
demanded: ‘What do you want?’
Méneia answered. ‘It’s us, Granma.’
‘Yes, Granma.’
‘What are you children doing out so
late? It’s not safe! Wait, I’m coming.’
The rattle of metal, then the front door
creaked open to reveal a dark, empty
Their grandmother’s voice floated
across to them. ‘Dimié, look around
and check if there’s anyone near you.’
The children peered up and down
the street. ‘There’s nobody, Granma,’
Dimié Abrakasa said.
‘Make sure,’ her voice insisted.
Dimié Abrakasa stepped back and
scanned the area. The street was
‘I’m sure, Granma. No one is here.’
Granma Anabraba appeared in the
doorway. She paused there a moment,
as if tasting the air, then she descended
the short flight of steps and crossed the
distance to the gate in a canter. ‘I’m
coming, I’m coming,’ she whispered
as she unlocked the gate, held it open
for the children to enter, then clanged
it shut and locked it. ‘Let’s go inside,
it’s not safe out here,’ she said, herding
them towards the doorway with raised,
crucifixed arms.
After the door was bolted, Granma
Anabraba bent down to increase the
dying flame of the hurricane lamp
that sat in the chair beside the door.
She straightened up with a low groan,
turned to face the children, and voiced
the terror that had gripped her since
she identified the noise at her gate as
nothing less extraordinary than a visit
from her grandchildren. ‘What has
happened to your mother?’ she asked,
peering into Dimié Abrakasa’s face. In
the weak light cast by the lamp, she did
not notice the scratches on his neck.
‘Nothing, Granma,’ Dimié Abrakasa
said. ‘It’s just that we haven’t eaten
anything today and there’s no food in
the house. You know our Ben when
he’s hungry, he won’t let anybody rest.’
Granma Anabraba released her breath.
‘I was afraid!’ she exclaimed. She reached
out to draw her grandson to her breast,
clung to him. ‘It’s been so long since
I saw you. You’re too skinny, Dimié.
Why don’t you children visit me?
Benaebi started to explain, ‘Mma said
we shouldn’t—’ but Méneia cut him
off. ‘Shut up, Benaebi.’
With a bitter laugh, Granma Anabraba
said, ‘Leave him alone. He’s not
saying anything I don’t already know.’
She released Dimié Abrakasa and
took Benaebi’s arm. ‘Come, my child,
let me feed you.’
When Granma Anabraba called from
the kitchen for the children to collect
their food, Benaebi jumped up from
sleep and dashed down the unlit
corridor. Méneia, before following,
asked Dimié Abrakasa to let her
bring him his food. He dropped back
into his seat in answer. As his sister’s
footsteps faded, the gloom of the room
washed over him, lapping against his
wounds like seawater. He thought of
his mother, alone in the house. She,
too, hadn’t eaten all day, hadn’t gotten
her drink, and she’d had to endure the
landlord’s insults. At the thought of
the landlord, Dimié Abrakasa moaned.
The patter of footsteps broke his reverie.

Granma Anabraba placed the
hurricane lamp on the centre table
and settled into the seat across from
Dimié Abrakasa. Benaebi, ignoring his
grandmother’s warning that he wait for
the meal to cool, was already halfway
through the food on his plate before
his back had even touched his seat. It
was yam pottage, one of his favourites,
and it gave off billows of fragrant steam
that made him pant and blow at every
mouthful. Méneia handed Dimié
Abrakasa his plate and sat down beside
him. The scrape of cutlery filled the air.
Granma Anabraba noticed that her
eldest grandchild was picking at
his food. She asked, ‘What’s wrong,
‘Nothing,’ he said.
‘But you’re not eating.’
‘I’m not really that hungry.’
Benaebi belched, stood up, placed his
plate on the table, took a long drink
of water, and flopped back into his
chair. ‘More?’ Granma Anabraba asked,
but he replied, ‘I want to burst.’
He slapped his belly and groaned.
His thumb—under the pretence of
wiping the oil from his lips, then
with a show of picking his teeth—crept
into his mouth.
When Méneia finished, she collected
the plates, including her older brother’s,
which he held out to her with a shake
of his head when she made to bypass it.
She headed for the kitchen, taking the
light with her. In the darkness, Benaebi
fell asleep. His breathing beat the air.
‘Tomorrow is a school day,’ Granma
Anabraba said. She enunciated each
word as if she were talking to herself;
then her voice shook itself awake. ‘You
children have to rise extra early so you
can get home before going to school.
Méneia will sleep with me. You boys
can sleep in your mother’s old room.’
Dimié Abrakasa stirred. ‘Granma?’
‘Yes, Dimié?’
‘I’m not sleeping here tonight. I’m
going home.’
‘No way!’ Granma Anabraba cried,
jerking forward.
‘I have to go,’ Dimié Abrakasa said.
‘Mma hasn’t eaten all day. I have to take
food to her. She’s not feeling well.’
‘But it’s past eleven, it’s too late to go
outside. No, no!’
‘Mma hasn’t eaten all day. And she’s
not well.’
His tone ended the matter. Granma
Anabraba hung her head. ‘But it’s
late. And the distance—’ Dimié
Abrakasa cut her off. ‘If you give me
money for okada I’ll reach home in
twenty minutes.’
When Méneia returned from the
kitchen Granma Anabraba turned to
her in one final effort. ‘Your brother
wants to start heading for Adaka Boro
this night.’
Méneia placed the hurricane lamp on
the table and adjusted the slant of its
light so that it fell away from the look
that was on her brother’s face. ‘Are you
sure, Dimié?’ she asked.
She met her grandmother’s bewildered
gaze and shook her head. Granma
Anabraba dropped her arms. They fell
into her lap with a clap.
‘OK Dimié, let me pack some food for
Mma,’ Méneia said.
When Méneia reappeared with a plastic
bag swinging in her hand, Granma
Anabraba rose to meet her. She took
the hurricane lamp, and, mumbling
at each step about the foolishness of
youth, she went into her room. When
she returned, her bare feet scuffing the
floor, she handed a fold of naira notes
to Dimié Abrakasa. ‘For your transport.
Plus a little something.’
‘Thank you, Granma.’ Dimié Abrakasa
picked up the bag that Méneia had
set down beside his chair. With his
grandmother and sister following
behind, he walked to the door.
‘Hurry, it’s not safe,’ Granma
Anabraba said as she unlocked the
door. Thrusting the keys at Méneia,
she directed: ‘Follow him and open
the gate. Remember to check before
you open it, and lock it immediately
after he passes.’ She placed a hand,
gnarled and knobby like a mandrake
root, on her grandson’s shoulder blade.
‘Goodnight, my child. Greet your
mother for me. Tell her…no, don’t
worry. Hurry now, hurry.’ She gave
him a push, and her fingernails, for
an instant, dug into the wounds on
his neck.

Dimié Abrakasa arrived to find the
house asleep. The front door, because
of the broken latch, was never locked.
He pushed it open and stepped inside.
The air in the corridor throbbed with
the chirring of crickets, the scrape
of rat feet, the philharmonic croakcroak-
croak of toads. He walked to the
door of his apartment, knocked once,
and listened. He put his hand on the
handle and turned it. The door opened.
The apartment was thick with darkness.
He reached his hand into the plastic
bag and searched for the candle and
box of matches he had bought on the
way over. With the care of a mole in
a burrow that smelled of snake, he
headed for the redwood dresser. When
he came up against it, he struck a
match, touched the flame to the
candlewick, poured melted wax onto
the dresser top, and fixed the candle.
The sallow, sputtering light fell on the
photograph of his mother as a frocked
child, perched on her father’s knee,
with her mother sitting alongside. His
mother’s eyes shone with the wonder of
happiness. He turned around.
Daoju Anabraba sat at the head of the
bed, watching him. Her arms rested on
her knees; her hands dangled. Dimié
Abrakasa stepped away from the dresser
and moved to where he had left the
bag. He drew out a stainless steel
container and a bottle of colourless
liquid. As the candlelight reflected
off steel and glass, the bedsprings
squealed. Holding out his offering, he
approached the bed. His mother leaped
down to meet him. She grabbed the
bottle and sniffed its cap. ‘Dimié, my
son,’ she said, her voice husky with
tears. She kissed him on the forehead
and cheeks—wet, slobbery kisses that
slicked his skin. She took the container
from his hand and placed it on the bed,
then uncapped the bottle and threw
back her head.
‘Oh my son, my first, my only child,
thank you!’ she sang, and wriggled her
hips in an impromptu dance before
straightening up to clasp him in a hug.
Late into the night, while she nibbled
the food and sucked the bottle, Daoju
Anabraba apologized to her son, over
and over again, for the life they were
living, for her failure as a mother, for
killing his grandfather. Dimié Abrakasa,
a veteran of these episodes, kept his
silence. Her speech grew slurred and
slid farther into her throat; her eyelids
sank, struggled, fell. She cried in sleep,
the bottle clutched to her chest. She
farted, loud and continuous. When her
sobs became snores, Dimié Abrakasa
rose from his seat at the foot of the bed.
He freed the bottle from her grasp and
placed it by the wall, where her hand,
in the morning, would reach for it.
Then he covered her up and blew out
the light.
In the morning, when Dimié Abrakasa
opened his eyes, the bulb above his
head was shimmering with light. He
stared at it until black spots swirled
in his vision; then he turned his head
aside and found his mother awake.
She lay on the edge of the bed, curled
up like a dead pupa, her gaze fixed on
his face. He greeted her but got no
response. His heartbeats punched his
chest and bile rushed into his throat,
turning his mouth bitter. He rose
from the floor and prepared to leave
the house. He was spreading out his
school clothes when she climbed down
from the bed, downed the remains of
the bottle, tossed it aside, and leaned
towards him. She swayed and licked
her lips—her inflammable breath
washed over his face. Mother and son
stared at each other. Her gaze was
reptilian in its steadiness, and his eyes,
luminous from despair, were the shape
of a full circle. When Daoju Anabraba,
a smile playing on her chapped lips,
uttered the words, ‘I hate your eyes, my
son,’ he slapped her. n

Add Comment