I know for a fact that my Father is the greatest. It is non-debatable, and that is why I never care to join-in when the topic springs up, as we get tired of scouring our legs against the dirt of the streets after our daily dose of football. Always, we find a topic to deliberate upon, sometimes not because we are tired of playing – that happens rarely- but because Mai-Kosai has seized the ball after it strayed into her backyard, bounced into her bean-cake firewood pot, splashing hot groundnut oil in the process (which has miraculously enough, never burnt her saggy skin.) Luckily, we only get the usual ranting from her today; there is no threat of cutting our rubber ball into pieces, which spared me those ‘you-must-pay-back-our-ball’ looks. I insisted on taking that fateful free kick just like Zola did when I caught a glimpse of him in the TV while at Lala’s Barbershop – the way the ball swerved as he caressed it with his feet – it was better than the snake-man’s magic. I could feel the rapturous adulation that greeted the kiss of the ball with the back of the net as Lala bent my head downward to finish the skin cut he had started. Anyways, in such periods when we leave the un-tarred road, free of car-honking, motorcyclists dodging our tiny legs, and settle by the large gutter just behind the mosque, a topic always comes up. From who had the best clothes last Eid festival, to who’s school is the best (usually the one with the largest playground and sports equipment), or who can do the highest number of joggles with the ball and of course today’s topic: who has the best father. (We never talk about who has the best mother though, mothers are sacred you know.) Tsoho always brings up the topic for discussion; he is the biggest of us all, he is not as tall as lanky Bala, but he is definitely older than we all are. We know this because his voice has started breaking; it is now croaky just like that of those bigger boys with baggy trousers. Tsoho always likes boasting about his father, they have a satellite dish in their house, even though the house is old fashioned, with a network of tiny shops attached to the front. Tsoho’s mother sells groceries within the sparse vicinity of the house; tomatoes, red-pepper, green-pepper, onions and vegetables wrapped in a brown sack are spread on mats and woven baskets making long colourful columns. Whenever mother sends me to buy groceries, I detour and have a snoop into his father’s room to see if they have put on the football game. I like seeing Arsenal; they kick the ball with love, like father does while washing his Honda Accord 86. We do not have football on our satellite at home but I always read the back page of the newspaper father brings home every day for the sports news. Yesterday the paper said they might even become ‘Invincible’ as they are not losing any matches, not even magic Zola’s blue can beat them.
However, it is Aljazeera Tsoho’s dad is watching (while simultaneously listening to the radio) when I have my snoop today. I am disappointed. It has been days since he killed America, but Osama’s face is still on the TV, I wonder if they will ever catch him. I overheard Dikko the other day, the one that smokes a lot of wiwi shouting that they will never catch him. He says his Jihad is good, and writes OSAMA all over the walls of people’s houses with red paint. Other people like Osama too; Alhaji that has many logs of firewood in front of his house even named his new born son Osama, I wonder if he too will grow up and kill Americans. I even asked the Imam at the nearby mosque after helping him fill the kettles, before the evening prayers after our daily football ritual, if he has ever killed Americans. His name is Mallam Osama too. He does not answer me though; he just looks deeply into my eye balls and shake his head while walking away. I wonder why he looks sad.
Father though does not like Osama. You see, Father always does things differently from other people; this is why I do not bother arguing about him with Tsoho and our gang. Father is a journalist, I know this, that’s what Aunty Maryam from school says we should call people that work in the newspaper, and besides his name and that ugly black and white picture of his appears every Friday in the middle of the newspaper, with a big caption ‘UPSIDE DOWN’. I used to think the newspaper would have to be turned upside down to read his stories, but I did not really bother about his stories, it is for big people only, the ones that father always talks to in a loud voice, in the evenings outside our verandah. They talk, shout and laugh till the roof answers them in echoes, while mother sends them juice and fresh milk occasionally. Me, I just read the sport stories at the back of the paper.
Father is really smart and very important to his work people. Tsoho used to say the government does not like journalists that they are government enemies; and that is another the reason I never argue about father with them. Tsoho’s father does not even work; he is always at home either watching BBC, Al-Jazeera or sitting on his cushion outside the house in the evening listening to his grumbling radio.
These days, father has been working harder, people at his work are making him do something important; he comes back home very late. Yesterday I was so tired of waiting for him to come back with the newspaper that I slept off, I had to read the sport stories early morning the next day (before they expired when I reach school); then I would not have anything to argue about. Even mother understands father’s increased load at work. She now sleeps in the spare bedroom and leaves the big one all to father. She is quite normal these days too, I do not even have to sneak into the house after coming back from football; she just looks at me and turns to her Hausa novel, which she has been reading a lot lately. I like the freedom: no compulsory late night baths, not much errands, as she only cooks lunch now which also doubles as dinner. Sometimes I even dodge Islamic school in the evenings to go and play ball. Earlier, I would have gotten a lot of servings of mother’s twin-headed bamboo cane if I tried any of that.
Father never hits me, and never allows mother to hit me when he is around too. She would fume and hiss, and finally give up grumbling that not spanking me would make me go astray. I wonder how that is possible.
Today, again father took a while to come back from work, but I did not sleep off. I was determined to wait for him to be back. He honks in his usual way: two quick-rapid ones, and I run hurriedly to open the garage for him. Mother is already in the spare room, I do not think she has slept yet though; she always waits for father to come back. I open the dual garage and suspend one gate with a stone to prevent it from falling back, while I hold the other one for father to drive into. He is on the phone when I come out, and for a long while I am still waiting for him to finish his important call. I am really hoping they will not tell him to go back to work again. Usually, once father comes back home he never goes out, save for the Mosque for prayers.
I am driven out of my light daze, with a sharp cruel pull of my vest. I stagger awake as the headlights of the car dim; mother is pulling me towards the house as father alights from the car.
“Useless boy, you would sleep here without him finishing his useless call, you better lock my house for me, if he is finished with her he can come in himself” mother thunders in a more menacing way than she usually does when she’s about to spank me.
“What is this nonsense? Have you taking leave of your senses? For God sakes leave the poor boy alone!” replies father as he walks towards us in two fluid strides freeing me from mother’s tight shackles.
“Go hold the garage for me boy, I am coming in now” father is suddenly cool despite the fiery atmosphere.
“Shameless man, leave my child alone!” mother joins in scarily, “I shall not allow him to freeze to death outside while you chatter with her, you can come in by yourself when you are done romancing,” mother is not relenting and she yanks me back yet again hissing.
“Would you get a grip of yourself, stop this, in front of the child, would you just, let me come in first, stop all this nonsense please.”
“Finish your illicit conversation first, I never knew you could do this to me. I trusted you, only God knows what you have been up to all these years.” Mother is sobbing now.
“Oh, let’s not have this talk right now, let me come in, your jealousy is clouding your senses. Having a co-wife is not the end of the world, after all it would ease the workload for you and it’s a tradition of the Prophet, you should not be reacting the way you are please.”
“Don’t give me the silly religious line please, you have shown your true colours, traitor, who knows how many times you have even slept with her…”
It is the resounding sound of father’s palm on mother’s soft cheek that brings me back from the bewildered spectacle I am watching, and I wander disoriented from the silhouette of father screeching away from the garage in his car to the dust left by the car’s wheels settling on mother’s wet, swollen lips.
Throughout the night, I stare at the ceilings, decorated with zigzagging webs of spiders, curling up onto the sofa, my tummy playing a squeaking sound, teasing me and I wish it would just be quiet. I wish the heavy sobbing of mother would stop too. I wish father would sound his double-honk again, so I can open the garage for him to drive in quickly; so I can read the sports section. I will not even mind if he does not bring the goody-goody chocolate with him. Let him just devour mother’s meal in the usual way he does, and let him smile to mother while she collects the rich smiles, spreading and painting them across, making the house large, bright and spacious. Tonight for the first time in my life, I dream. I can see a woman with red lipstick poking mother in the eye, while pulling father away with a rope tied to his leg. I can see Osama and Tsoho laughing together while pointing at me, sited on two very long buildings. The four walls of the house close in on my sofa; a bright fire is burning on my chest and darkness oozing from my Father’s mouth consumes me.
*Mai-Kosai: Bean cake fryer
*Wiwi: Indian hemp
Sada Malumfashi is a practicing Pharmacist from Nigeria. He is an emerging writer and poet.