One of us fell into the gutter on our way back home. He heard the familiar sound above and looked up to watch the bird, and imagined the rich that must be in it until he fell clear into a gutter with stagnant water.
He looks so filthy and all now. There is a smutch of green on his white uniform, making Ehim look like a flag, a flag of beauty smeared with a small but wide patch of something that should be good(since spirogyra is a useful part of the plant system) but has turned out bad.
I lead us to our community like that, with the joy of going to find our mothers and food.
But our mothers are all seated on the platform, with a few of our fathers, on plastic chairs; all looking somehow.
I go to my mother and ask her what is wrong. I look around the platform again. “Where is Iya Risi?”
When my mother starts to wail, and other women follow, I know what has happened. I just know, and I leave the jetty and our community and run away…I just run, air filling my lungs till I can’t breathe well, and I start to feel like I will fly like the planes we trail with our eyes. I know it can’t change anything, but I keep running.
Mr. Tunde brings me back home around “radio time”. Only my mother really notices and doesn’t even have the strength to scold me well.
The children have joined them too on the platform, looking morose and old and hopeless. I hear Iya Risi’s wailing voice inside, and other consoling voices.
No radio is on.
Mr. Tunde sits with me on one side of the platform, our legs dangling over the smelly water.
“Her baby just started to crawl,” I suddenly say.
“Hope you aren’t one of those who would blame it on the parents?” He asks.
I look at him. “I am sure most of us do but never say it out for anyone to hear. We act as one in this place.”
“The poverty and degradation binds you.”
“How many have fallen into the water like that?”
“About 5, I think.”
“Then why don’t you people do something about the water?”
I look at him.
“Maybe for this, you all should stop playing the victim card to the environment and government and whatever, and just try to do something worthwhile to change something.”
“Can anything change?” I wave my hand across the water and the platform.
“It’s where you are. You might not be able to fix Nigeria and its problems, but you can change where you are so you can, at least, struggle to survive better there.”
I look at him again. “After all, we are all just struggling to survive…” I say it like it is my own revelation.
“You function as one here—that’s a great power available that you all haven’t harnessed. If this community was Nigeria, it would have sorted out its problems by now.”
“But the whites are part of our problems.”
“I never taught you that.”
I am confused.
My head and stomach ache…
I wonder if it is from hunger or the fact that everything about Mr. Tunde is always so contradictory.
But I can’t ask him to go over school lessons here.
“Talk to your mother tomorrow when she has finished crying; tell her to tell everybody that it is time for solutions.”
My head continues to ache, and now, I know it’s from thinking too many things at once.
“But, sir…what is the thing you want us to do when we see whites and planes?”
He looks hard at me and my soul… “Tell them ‘bye-bye’, and really face your own business!”
Someone puts on the radio…
The news is over; a woman is singing the national anthem.
I look at the white stars and green trees—I can’t really see—and imagine Lilian Williams and Benedict Odiase talking in a plane…