They should have told me not to stand there. But they didn’t say a word. Even I didn’t know the they. So blaming them was lazy of me. I could have blamed the rain, the acrid smell that exudes from places unimaginable.
I could have blamed the waste, which the convenient people brought like gifts to the altar. The comfort etched in the laugh lines of their faces, even the professionals still had hope in their eyes. They went about depositing the waste as though it wasn’t their real job, and that something better was bound to come along. That was not something you came across in this bank where all things ashamed of was credited. The waste, which we waded through, as if dancing two two in a canoe.
It was almost normal for me though, I’d loved here for just about a year or so. The others, they knew nothing else to love. Watery dreams of Iya Biliki’s pottage, watching Rastaman sing inconsistent lyrics of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, catching people who came by to throw their waste and blackmailing them with eyes just a little shiny with tears and lips theatrically turned down like a half moon for five or ten naira. Those were the dreams here.
Did I mention that my dad was Rastaman? He wasn’t always that though. Not when we were living at Tincan. He used to be one of those artisans that car owners collectively decided to hate but grudgingly agreed that they needed. Fuckaniser. Fulkanizer. Volkanizer. VULCANISER. Whichever you prefer. Maybe the fumes from cars were not enough for him you know; maybe he needed to see the fumes from his person to be able to claim himself from himself once again.
It started with the Saturday draught ritual with the okada riders, bus drivers and regular low lives whose residential address no one could vouch for. They just happened to be available when a draught match was going on. They never played. They were always watching the game with eyes a little keener than necessary. Eyes shiny from too much gin and too much greed. As for my father, Saturday was his day off. It was also the day that he indulged in sniffing, snuffing, sniffling and guzzling a week’s worth of pay.
“Chop am na!” One of the regulars said.
“Chai, this man no sabi play sef…” said another.
“You wey sabi pass everybody, oya come play!” My dad retorted.
I could hear the passionate anger in my dad’s voice. This was when he still had passion for something except gin and backyard igbo. The scene flashed in my head as I stood on my centre stage. Feeling nostalgic for times that shouldn’t even breed nostalgia. That is what Dustbin Estate does to you. Even when you love it so.
It all happened like a joke you know. One day we had a room in a “face-me-I-face-you” at Tincan, and the next day, we didn’t. It happened like someone had snapped a finger and said abracadabra. My father’s Oga got fed up with his lateness, drunkenness and “lowlifeness” in whole. So he did what rational people did. It was sunny the day we came here. It was also extremely hot. “We’re being ushered into hell!” “We’re being ushered into hell!” Those words played and replayed on my mind.
Even though our former house was cockroaches-ridden, and soot had stained the shared kitchen, and bedbugs that surprisingly gave malaria were sleeping partners, I would have given anything to go back there. The house owners here couldn’t be bothered if you stayed or if you left. I had to carry my brother Rukevwe at my back because he was really ill. My father didn’t care. My skin didn’t also care to notice when the short puffs of breath on my back stopped. More than enough was buried that day. I had to wrestle for my soul because it almost was too.
My eyes regained focus, and I looked at Jemima, Shode and the other children, whose names I cannot recall. Too many look-alikes in this part of town. Perhaps it was the hunger that made them look like clones, perhaps it was my hunger that blurred my vision. They didn’t look back at me. They all laughed at something Shode said. I briefly heard something like “kerewa” from him, and I laughed too. Maybe they would notice that my laughter was a call for them to watch me do what I yearned to do. But they kept on laughing, oblivious to my own laughter. Shode was singing a song we had been told not to sing, and cracking a joke that we had been warned to let be in its fragile shell.
As I stood in my faded green dress on my own stage, slippery from nature’s elixirs, I replayed all those beautiful voices I heard on the radio. The ones who weaved tapestries of all the things I desired so strongly. They were the salves that rubbed my feet, when they hurt too much from walking barefoot. The mother that told me to work hard in school and spanked me when I was being stubborn, the handsome boy that promised to love me forever, and the voice that constantly rang in my ears that this world is not my own.
I heard Rastaman in the distance and these days, I loved only what I could hear from him. It lacked passion and even pain but it had all I needed. It asked me if I would help to sing. If I would help to sing the song of freedom, because it is really all we ever have in this side of town.