Fiction: On Sun Baked Street

November 27, 2015 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

By

Ibeh Leonard Ebuka

 

 

At first, when I heard the shout of “Onye Oshi! Thief! Thief!” I was startled, a part of me stood still. I watched the old man who was being chased about by a group of mean-looking young men, clutching bamboo sticks and shouting, calling the old man a thief. I watched him, running feebly, slightly bent downwards, clutching his chest faithfully as he ran. It was futile, his little, weak efforts to get away. They would get him in the end. We all knew, of course.

Finally, he stopped and fell, deliberately, or so it seemed to me.

He looked tired, panting heavily. From afar, I could not see his face clearly, but he looked familiar. I wasn’t sure. The boys grabbed him, jerking him roughly as though to shake out the little life left inside that frail structure. Their loud angry voices resounded around the market.

“All this useless men in this town!” shouted a robust woman that sold frozen chicken in the shed next to the man that sold shoes, where I had earlier stood with James and Chimuanya, helping them in barganing for a pair. “Chei! Thank God he was caught. Oh! I wish my son was here, so he would look after this shop while I join those boys in beating the life out of that useless idiot!”

I stared at her, marvelling at the venom with which she spat out the words with so much hate in her eyes and voice. Maybe she had been robbed.

I was suprised. The man looked well. He wasn’t dumb. I could hear his faint pleas. He wasn’t deaf, and from what i noticed, he wasn’t blind or lame, so why did he chose stealing as a lifestyle? How come he left his house this morning, well dressed as he was, only to steal?

My suprise gradually gave way to a subtle rage. The woman’s voice resounded in my memory. ‘Useless fool’. Maybe that was what he actually was, a useless fool, otherwise he wouldn’t have done this. I watched him, he could be someone’s husband, or someone’s father, or uncle, and here he was, crumpled on the sun-baked floor, begging with his last strength for his life to be spared, both hands lifted as though in supplication, partly to plead with the angry mob and partly to prevent the slaps and blows that seemed unending. Here he was, disgracing his family. I wondered if his wife was here, if she could see that her husband was sprawled on the floor like a heap of cloth, begging for his life. I wondered if I would ever know this man.

I turned to go. Whatever led the man into this, it was his business, not mine. Papa would be home by now and he would not like it if I came back late. I sighed. Useless idiot. Somehow…it applied to Papa. Here I was, barganing with a shoe seller for shoes I would never wear. I did not mind much. I did not mind that I hardly ate breakfast in the morning before leaving for school, that I was the only one whose uniform smelled of age and strong detergent (due to the endless washing) and had the clear look of fabric that had undergone stiff scrubbing for years, but what I did mind was wearing my worn out school shoes on my graduation day, when everyone would dazzle in their new smart looking outfit. I had told Papa sternly, violent hate in my eyes, that I would not wear my school shoes and uniform, and that I would wear new clothes and shoes like my mates. Was it too much to ask? Papa looked pained while I said that, as always. How would I care? It seemed unfair to me. My friends in school returning from the weekend to tell stories of how they went to Genesis, or Hotel Presidential, or Spar, while I watched, smiling that uncomfortable smile, wondering if they could tell that I had spent the weekend in Papa’s empty dusty shop, and that while they had their fried rice and hamburger, I ate garri and soup so watery that my garri remained almost white, even after dipping it in the soup.

Papa was something I kept aside whenever I discussed with my friends, a name I talked about in quiet whispers even if I was alone.

I was ashamed of him. I watched my friends talk about their parents with flush and ease, with that unfamiliar aura of wealth, and voicing papa would spoil their fun, so I kept quiet. Papa was something unacceptable, like dirty underwear, better kept in private.

Now, the man lay there, crumpled on the floor, slick blood running down his battered face and neck. He was covered in dust.

It was like fate intervening, a strange force propelled me to turn to the woman and ask. “What did that man steal?”

She looked at me oddly for a while before she said “A shirt, a trouser and a pair of shoes.”

I stared, stunned. My mind was blank, I was blank. For a long time, my ears could hear nothing. My brain about to burst, I felt lightheaded.

A shirt. A trouser and a pair of shoes. That was all I asked Papa for.

A shirt, a trouser, and a pair of shoes….

“Oya! Oga. Bring the tyre! Sharp sharp. And fuel too. Abeg plenty fuel.”I heard a man say, he was frowning bitterly, his pidgin sharp and crisp, his bass voice echoing round the noisy market.

“Please.” The man’s voice was feeble, but I could hear him. “I did it for my son”.

I stopped. I stood still, stiff. I could feel hot liquids running down my ears. The boy carrying the fuel was running towards the mob, and by then, they were already trying to force two tyres down the neck of the old man, who struggled feebly, with weak resistance. I willed myself to run, to shout, but for minutes that seemed more like hours, my legs and lips refused to move.

“Chibuikem, let us go.” That was Chimuanya, tapping me gently. I didn’t even realize they had already won the man over.

It was that hand on my shoulder that jolted my senses into consciousness and potrayed the reality of the situation. They were going to burn that old man. They were going to burn papa. My legs gave way, and so did my lips and my faith. I was hysterical, shouting, running. Everyone paused to look at me. I ignored them and forced my way through the crowd. There sat papa, with a tyre round his waist and a litre of fuel above his head.

I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t even want to think anything. I fell on my kness and hugged him, inhaling the smell of dust, sweat and fuel, all the while feeling the hotness from the sun baked floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ibeh Leonard Ebuka

Ibeh Leonard Chukwuebuka was born in Nigeria in 2000. He started writting at the age of eight, and has since then written sevral shortstories and plays including ‘The Power of a Rain in January‘, published by Tuck Magazine, and ‘Price’ which won the JohnVic Interschool Shortstory competition. He cites Buchi Emetcheta and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as his models. According to him, “‘Second Class Citizen’ and ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by two remarkable African women I respect so much irked something inside of me, made me see the need to pen down my thoughts”. Ibeh Leonard Chukwuebuka has been described as ‘”a writer to watch out for.”

3 Comments

  1. Ubosic Chuks November 27, at 11:12

    Wow! This is really breath taking! So much sorrows and pity commanding! A great writing it is!

    Reply

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