Isaac struck the last log of wood with an axe and it split into two equal halves just like the others that were neatly piled up in the spacious compound. Beads of perspiration cascaded down his forehead, neck and virtually every part of his body, he didn’t feel any pains initially although he was knackered. He sighed deeply and flung the axe away, out of his immediate reach. He sat on a tree stump to examine the level of work done and nodded satisfactorily. He had done well, he admitted to himself. The fastidiousness with which he arranged simple logs for firewood amazed him the more. The more he worked, the more he loved to work and it made him happy.
“Mama will be glad when she returns from Obiogo market…but if I ask her for five naira, she will say she doesn’t have despite being impressed with my hard work…akagum” he sighed again and managed to stand to his feet. He felt the excruciating pain at his waist.
He let out a low, painful moan and steadied himself before taking a few steps towards the house. He stopped in his tracks.
He could hear his mother screaming from within.
“These people will not kill me. They want to kill me….Isaac ooo, they want to kill your mother oo”.
Isaac rushed in haphazardly, his slippers flung to either side of the doorway.
“Mama, why are you screaming?”
He inched closer to her as she slumped in a chair. He was cautious because he knew how irascible his mother could be whenever she was pissed but that day, her anger seemed to be enmeshed in a queer smallness that he had never experienced before. He remembered once when he pissed his mother off and she turned around at once and swung a log of wood at him causing him to leap over the low fence behind the house for his life but things had changed as they grew older and Mama’s irascible anger had steadily vanished as wrinkles increased on her face and arms but old habits sometimes died hard and it was only sagacious to exercise more care.
He sat on the arm of the chair and placed his hands on her shoulder.
She shrugged him off, sobbing inconsolably. He reckoned that she was bound to be dramatic too so her gesture didn’t faze him at all.
“Mama, what happened?”
She said nothing, pining away in dishonorable quietude. Her legs trembling violently beneath her, she looked like a time bomb waiting to explode but the result was ash begotten by wild fire. Her crimson eyes became moist again and tears seeped down her crinkled cheeks.
“Ndidi!” he called out.
There was no answer.
“Ndidi! Ndidi! Where is this little witch?” He fumed, rising infuriated.
“Brother, I’m coming” a feminine voice pierced through the walls of the small living room which had the most basic of fittings in a contemporary Lagos home. However, they weren’t in Lagos but in a village in Bendel State where even such basic fittings were as elusive as God’s kingdom for the Biblical rich man so that their house was rated among the best in the rustic milieu.
Isaac breathed heavily the moment Ndidi appeared. He was evidently exasperated, she stood before him, beautiful with elfin features which reeked of fragility if manhandled.
“Get mama water. She’s thirsty”
Ndidi darted into the kitchen and soon returned like an anxious flea.
“I won’t drink water” she mouthed.
Ndidi pouted her mouth in displeasure unnoticed by Isaac or their mother.
“Take it away” Isaac instructed without looking at his younger sister.
She stooped dutifully and retrieved the tumbler from the table before heading to the kitchen.
“Return at once the moment you drop that tumbler” he instructed sternly.
Ndidi grumbled and half-hoped her brother didn’t hear and he didn’t. She knew how much her brother loved their mother despite the fact that she never reciprocated his love for her. She only hoped that his love for her didn’t land him in serious trouble one day.
She replaced the tumbler in the dishwasher and returned to the living room gawking at the two adults as one of them was at sea as to what to do and the other knew what to do but refused to let the other in.
The hens and their chicks returned to roost as the sun continued to hide behind the clouds and cast a hue of burgundy upon the sand in the village. Even the little ones who played in the sand were already being called indoors by impatient and hostile mothers. The calmer children sat with their mothers in makeshift stalls, helping out with sales or just sifting the shaft from the grain of melon or rice. Ndidi concealed the coins in the fold of her wrapper and stalked out of the house to get fish for the evening’s repast.
She skirted through the village square until she came to Mama Araba’s stall. She was the mother of the village mad man, Araba. Araba was known for his huge penis which dangled in between his thighs as he trod through the village everyday. Scuttlebutt had it that he had slept with most of the prior childless women in the village and most of them had gotten pregnant. Some street wags had even alleged that some women just went to his cove which he had built at an obscure end of the village to seduce him. Some of these sex-starved women just desired pleasure and Araba had more than enough to give.
His mother had done all in her power to restore him to sanity but the spirit of madness was as obstinate as Araba himself; hence, the bond between madness and Araba seemed cosmic.
“Ndidi, fine woman” Mama Araba hailed. She had always admired her and often wished to have her as a daughter.
“Ote ofe ma” Ndidi curtsied.
“Welcome my daughter. What do you want to buy?”
Ndidi made a show of looking at the dried fishes on the steel gauze and selected a fairly big one. “How much is this?”
“10 Kobo my dear” Mama Araba’s smile hadn’t abated. She was arranging the other fishes according to their sizes in groups on the steel gauze.
Ndidi pouted as she was always wont to do, “that’s on the high side Mama”
“Ndidi, my daughter. I had to go to Abraka market to purchase these fishes. The rivers here are barren for now ever since the gods withheld the rain. There’s not much we can do about it my dear. I’m sorry” she flailed her arms to both sides as though in despair.
Ndidi nodded in acquiescence. “Please, wrap it up”
She held the fish in her left hand and extracted the small stick which was impaled through it’s mouth to it’s tail before breaking it at the middle and stowing it away in a small, black, nylon cellophane.
“Here, you have it” she held it out to Ndidi and took the ten 1kobo coins from her.
“Greet your mother for me” she said.
Ndidi promised to do so and was soon on her way.
“Ndidi!” she called out again; this time, a tinge of seriousness crisscrossed her visage.
Ndidi turned but didn’t return to the stall.
“I heard your mother was beaten up in Warri…what did she do?”
Ndidi was taken aback. “Beaten? When I saw her today, she didn’t look like she was beaten up”
“Yes….that’s what your mother told Mama Nkechi” Mama Araba was equally perplexed at Ndidi’s seeming ignorance.
Ndidi took to her heels bound for home. The woman shook her head dolefully as she sat on the chair anticipating more customers.
“You mean Brother Dolor sat down and watched you being pummeled by those uncircumcised strangers?”
“What can I say my son?” Mama asked, her hands spread out as though she required urgent answers to a question.
Isaac was feeling hot underneath his sleeves. He reached the door and nearly collided into Ndidi.
“Brother, where are you going?” she asked in between gasps for she had been running all the way from the village square.
“Take care of Mama, I’ll be back” he warned sternly.
The mornings were quite cold but cold was unknown to Isaac this particular morning. He was up before the first cock crow fuming and muttering in between clenched teeth.
He heard footsteps closing in behind him, he turned abruptly and found Ndidi standing, unafraid of him but obviously frozen by the cold.
“Aje sir” she mouthed, her teeth clattering.
“Ndidi, go back to bed. It’s cold out here”
“Brother, don’t do this. Leave Uncle Chuks and Richard alone. Don’t go to Warri to fight”
Isaac turned around again to take a closer look at Ndidi.
“Are you mad?” His voice was low and sinister.
“I am not mad….I love you very much and I know what’s going on in this house. You are from a hole if you don’t know. Don’t go for that fight. It’s unnecessary. Mama is not worth fighting for. I’m pretty sure Mama must have insulted them first before they insulted her and…”
“Ndidi! Shut up!” He thundered.
“Brother, I won’t. I wonder why you think you are loved here. You won’t learn, you just won’t learn…”
“Don’t tempt me to give you a hot slap” he warned.
“You won’t” she shot back painfully.
She didn’t feel right about her brother’s impromptu plan to fight the people who insulted their mother. Mama was a troublesome woman and you could not put seeking trouble past her. She was capable of anything.
Isaac’s decision to defend her whether she was wrong or right always infuriated her.
Isaac hissed and clambered on his bicycle cycling ferociously into town.
Chukwudi was built of fairer stuff unlike Isaac. Chukwudi was comely, not as tall as Isaac or as intimidating but he could hold his own in a fight. He was Isaac’s best friend and Richie. Richie was not as good looking as either of the two other men but he loved fighting as much as he loved women and food. He never missed a fight even when he had no stakes in it and more often than not, his predilection for violence brought trouble to the other two members of the trio. Wherever they went, they were bound to unleash mayhem if infuriated and many boys from the city had fallen prey to their relish for asserting dominance.
They found themselves seated in a bus bound for Warri from Abraka. None of them spoke to the other and they all wore stern, gloomy faces as though they were returning from an obsequies. Each of them fought for one another through the years and such missions were no novelty to them. The other passengers were even wary of them hence, the bus was predominantly quiet till they reached Warri.
The bus alighted at a bus stop and they alighted alongside other passengers.
“Shey you remember the house na?” Chukwudi asked.
“Normally na” Isaac replied and they crossed the road to the other side before going down a small declivity into a sandy street. Stores cluttered the street but this was hardly noticed by the stern-looking men until they got to a black gate and Isaac knocked on it.
He banged on it this time and heard someone howl from within.
“I dy come, you wan fall the gate?”
As soon as the pudgy man opened the gate, Isaac dealt him a blow to the nose and he tripped backwards and fell to the ground, almost convulsing from the weight of the punch.
“Where the idiots wey Dy this compound wey follow my mama fight?”
Chukwudi and Richard flanked their friend as men filed out of the apartments, hardly combat-ready.
“Ahhh, see Mama pikin o” one of the men commented smiling reaching out to hug Isaac but he too was dealt a savage blow to the head.
“Shey, you Dy beat my mama na?”
“Nobody touch your Mama oo”
Isaac was no longer listening, he and his friends ran riot on the men displaying Kung Fu tricks which amazed passers by initially until all hell was let loose. Kicks flew with reckless abandon, fists dug into faces and stomachs, teeth pulled and the trio remained resolute in battle.
The fight became uneven with time as other men in neighboring compounds joined the fight to make sure the three boys were beaten thoroughly. Three or four men hit Chukwudi with a stick and he slumped to the ground, he was almost rendered immobile. Richard was pinned against a wall and turned to a punching bag. Isaac managed to get into a house and leaped away from the ground, holding on to the ceiling fan tenaciously.
He looked below him and found five or six men surrounding him attempting to pull him down while three women hit him with plastic buckets and steel buckets. Finally, his grip on the fan loosened when someone struck his right arm with a stick. He slumped to the floor dazed.
The only thing he could hear was someone asking for his head.
“Make we cut this guy with machete” the voice demanded frantically.
“No oo, he nr be thief oo. Na fight we Dy fight o” Other voices corrected.
Isaac darted his eyes in an effort to notice his surrounding and perhaps escape from death despite the fact that he was near crippled at the moment. Then he saw it coming, a star beer bottle was smashed against his left eye. He tried to ward it off with his hands but he was too late.
The last thing he heard was a police siren before he passed out.