Fiction, In Memory Of...

Fatima Priscilla Gana (1971 – 2014)

Fatima GanaFatima Priscilla Gana (1971 – 2014)

I remember that day so clearly. We were in Form 3, first term.

We were standing outside the classroom block under the shade of the teacher’s car park, adjacent to the admin block.

We were having a conversation; I don’t remember what about but I remember clearly telling her I was broke. It was on a Friday, if I remember clearly.

On Monday, without prompting, Fatima Gana came up to me and gave me N10!!! Almost a whole term’s pocket money…I’m talking about back in 1983!

To say I was shocked is putting it mildly; I almost threw the money back at her. Fatima Gana had gone home crying to her dad that her classmate who lived all the way in Enugu was broke! She couldn’t understand how I could cope without money in boarding school. To make matters worse, I didn’t even have a guardian! In boarding school, miles away from home, no money, no guardian! The poor girl was distressed and in that distress, she couldn’t let it rest.

Not only did her dad give her the money to give me, he invited me to spend the Sallah (Eid) holiday with them.

I went over to their house on Rimi Drive in Ungwar Rimi. Her parents didn’t know me from Eve, not to mention Adam. They asked the usual questions most Nigerian parents ask, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What of your parents?’ and so on…but that was it. They welcomed me with open arms.

They were on their way to Niger State for the Sallah holiday but they let me stay in their house as I had no guardian to spend the one week holiday with. I could have stayed back in school but they were adamant I stay in their home.

I expected to stay the night; a day or two maximum but they didn’t even spend the night in their village. They got there alright but Grace, Fatima’s younger sister wouldn’t let them stay. She insisted that they go back home for me; it didn’t make sense to her that they left me at home with a maid or two while they travelled to their village.

And so they cut their holiday short…for me.

They drove all the way back to Kaduna that same day; night rather. They arrived at night.

They became my unofficial guardians from that day…from Form three till I left Kaduna in Form five.

That was the kind of people they were; that was the kind of person Fatima Gana was.

And now she’s gone.

I only saw her once; about three years after we left school, I went to Kaduna, heard she had trained as a nurse and was working at her uncle,  Dr Mama’s,  Lafiya Clinic. I went to see her there.

She hadn’t changed. Her gap-toothed smile…she welcomed me once again with open arms.

And now she’s gone.

Adieu Fatima Priscilla Gana!

Fiction

The 17:15 To Kaduna

Standing at the bus stop under the scanty shade of a hungry-looking mango tree, Debbie and Alice were chatting animatedly about yesterday’s events. It was one of those hot, muggy days that left the sweat trickling down those hard-to-reach places, when suddenly, there was a loud screech of brakes.

 Everyone at the bus stop turned to have a look. A bus had come to a shuddering halt. It barely managed to avoid hitting an old man dragging a reluctant he-goat, causing a fat market woman with a large, sweaty face and a torn abada blouse to shake her fists at the bus–driver and his conductor, showing her sleeves, stained with large dark rings from her sweat. Her basket of pineapples shook precariously on her head as she rained curses on them.

 You no see dat ol’ papa? You no see am? Foolish man! Idiot”!

The passengers on the bus, pushed the conductor aside, pulled back the sliding bus door and hurriedly spilled out, looking shaken. There were about ten people standing and waiting for that particular bus. Rather than the usual rush to board before all the seats were taken up, there were hesitations; each had a quizzical look on their face but no one dared ask what happened except the fat woman who was still cursing, her fists dangerously close to the driver’s face. 

 “…Ah, madam, take am easy, na aksident…”

“…Driver, yu sef, you no dey luk wia yu dey go”?

… e be like say e drink…”               

The people at the bus stop had found their voices; and so gradually, they boarded; Debbie and Alice were the last to get on. 

“It was a cat”, someone whispered loudly from the back of the bus. “It just ran across the road like lightning. The driver barely managed to keep it from hitting it”.

 “A black cat, Aluu! Abomination!” screeched another, shoulders raising and falling sharply with each word.

 “How do you know, did you see it? After all no one mentioned the colour of the cat and anyway, we were all standing at the bus stop and…”

“…one of the passengers that came out mentioned it!”, snapped someone else. “Ah ah, I know what I’m talking about!”

Ooo biko, don’t bite my head off, I was only…”

“I knew it, I just knew it! It’s an omen, Debbie; an omen”, said Alice in hushed tones, tuning out the other passengers voices.

“Remember, when we were leaving my house I stubbed my left big toe, and…”

“…and please don’t start”’, Debbie replied reproachfully. “Everything is an omen to you or a premonition or a sign…”

“… while everything to you, isn’t! You know something, Madam Debbie, sometimes you sound like an ‘ITK – I too know’!”

“And you Sister Alice sound, all the time,like the priestess of River Ndi-mmuọ.”

 

The bus arrived at the train station just as the 17:15 to Kaduna was pulling into the station.

“Chidebe, Alice!” shrieked several excited voices. “What took you guys so long?”

“Priestess Alice and her dreams and visions”.

“Debbie, they were no dreams or visions. I don’t know why you…”

“…Biko, Biko, pleeeease, this is not the time for your daily dose of arguments”, Nnenna cut in. “We have barely five minutes to get to the platform”.

They raced to the stairs, eight excited fifteen year-olds. Even Nnenna Haruna, the head girl, nicknamed ‘Ejuna’ – snail, on account of her slow-moving steps joined in the race. Nnenna was tall for her age and very skinny. Of Igbo and Hausa heritage, she had very unusual looks that made people stare at her just a little bit longer; people turned to look, not just at her, but this time at the excited group of girls racing up the stairs. Faces in the crowd smiling, a look of nostalgia here and there; memories of days gone by when they themselves would race like that shouting out ‘Last one is a coconut head!’

All eight raced on to the last stair, almost knocking over the ample ticketing officer who was standing at the top of the stairs, chatting to a tall, thin, bespectacled man clad in a tie and dye shirt and khaki trousers; his well-trimmed toenails peeping out of a pair of brown leather sandals. They came to an abrupt halt as the ticketing officer turned around with a disapproving look on her face.

Eni wokhana! These children, eeh! They never…”

“Am I meant to understand that there is some sort of emergency, or is this some new form of entertainment that I am not aware of”? drawled a sonorous, melodious voice. 

There was complete silence; no one spoke or moved a muscle. Even the air within the building appeared still as if in sympathy with the girls. 

“Haruna, do you have anything to say to this?” The teachers never called you by your first name.

“Excuse me sir, It wasn’t Nnenna’s fault, we all ran up the…” 

“…I wasn’t aware that you’ve now changed your name from Ọssai to Haruna”. 

“No sir…I haven’t sir…I mean I’m sorry sir…”

 “And you should be. Right everyone take their place behind the doughnut stand while we wait for the boys. Haruna, make sure everyone’s luggage is properly labelled and tagged. Miss Zaki should be along with the boys any moment from now.” 

Debbie stole a look at the tall, thin frame of Mr Kabir, her Maths teacher and 4b’s Form tutor, from under her short but thick eyelashes that always appeared to an onlooker, to be obscuring her vision so that people instinctively tended to rub at their eyes while speaking or listening to her. He doesn’t seem to have any other clothes except tie and dye shirts, khaki and jeans and he’s always picking on me, she thought. He’s such a stickler for rules that you dare not even breathe the wrong way around him if you don’t want to get into trouble. She felt a quick pinch on the back of her upper arm; it was Alice.

 “Just ignore him, don’t let him get to you. The day is too nice to let him spoil it”, she whispered furiously, quick to spot Debbie’s fingers beating a tattoo on her thigh- a sure sign that ‘her pot was about boiling over’.

Regardless of their incessant arguments and bickering, best friends Debbie and Alice, appeared to most people more like twins – not in looks, though but in the uncanny way they both sensed what the other one was feeling. While Alice was slight, with a flawless toffee complexion, Debbie was bigger-boned, a little bit taller than the average teenage girl, with skin the colour of sand-roasted groundnuts and plagued with a furious case of teenage acne across both high cheek-bones. 

“Is that something for the whole group to share”?, Mr Kabir asked, looking at Alice from the top of his spectacles. 

“No sir, I was just…”

“…Then I suggest you keep it to yourself” 

“Yes sir”!, Alice muttered darkly, miming a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. There were a few snickers and giggles but as Mr Kabir was about to reprimand the culprits, another loud noise in the direction of the stairs took his attention; a group of twelve boys were coming up, pulling and dragging suitcases and holdalls of different shapes, sizes and colours.

Miss Zaki came up at the rear. Petite and almond-eyed with flawless caramel-coloured skin, she looked more like a model for Cocoa or Shea butter than a Physics teacher. The students nicknamed her ‘Zaccheus’ after the man who climbed up the sycamore tree to see Jesus because ‘…he was of little stature…’and it didn’t help either that her named sounded like a diminutive of the same. Miss Zaki always had her hair braided in intricate inverted braids a là Fulani style. Eyes lined with tiro, sporting a twinkle in them, a smile always playing around her lips, Miss Zaki’s looks belied a core of steel at the centre of a straight, unbending spine. 

Cyril Udoka, one of the victims of that ‘spine’, had recently moved from Lagos to Enugu. Lagos was the nation’s capital in every sense of the word. It boasted of an international presence and facilities no other city in the nation had. This spilled over into the way most Lagosians in school saw themselves- as the centre of the nation – and Cyril was no exception. Matters weren’t helped by his having won the annual ‘Mr Kool’ competition, twice in row. He so was convinced that he could wriggle his way out of any teacher’s grasp that he handed in an incomplete Physics paper as part of the half-term assessment;after all, he was ‘Mr Kool’ and one of the brightest students in his set even though he relied more on his boyish charm than his brains.  Besides, hadn’t he been able to ‘miss’ Mrs Akinola’s test for that dancing competition in Bakori and did anything come out of it? When he found out that for skipping his Physics test without any concrete reason, he would have to cut the slightly overgrown weeds round the Physics laboratory in the burning sun, with the whole of Form 4a – f looking on, admirers and detractors included, suddenly, he didn’t feel so ‘Kool’ after all.

Mrs Zaki was what the students called ‘small but mighty’; Cyril had just found out the hard way; he swore never to be in her bad books again, ever.

“Right, are we all here”?, asked Mr Kabir.

 “Yes sir”!, twenty voices, some deep, some shrill, replied.

 “Okay, Miss Zaki, can I have you do a final head count before we board the reserved coach”, please?’.

 ‘Nnenna Haruna, Chidebe Ọssai, Alice Isiọma, Kikelọmọ Ibidapọ…”, Miss Zaki reeled off names from the register in front of her.

 Replies of ‘present Miss’ filled the air while the students took their places beside Mr Kabir as their names were being called out; they knew the drill – no talking, no fidgeting and definitely no crooked lines. Finally, it was time to board the train. Everyone’s luggage had been checked, a final head count taken as they got on the reserved coach. Each one settled down after a mad scramble to sit beside best friends. There was one final long blast of the train’s whistle and they were off.

 “This is the bit I really like, when the train picks up speed”, Debbie whispered excitedly to Alice, still conscious of Mr Kabir’s eyes, scanning the coach for those he labelled ‘troublemakers’ i.e. those who twitch a lot and don’t sit still’.

 “How he expects us to sit still for the whole twelve hours this journey takes is still a mystery to me”, she snorted.

There was no reply from beside her. Alice can’t have fallen asleep so soon, she thought, that would be record time. She turned to her right where Alice was nervously chewing her index fingernail and stealing fearful glances out of the window as the train sped past. Debbie knew that habit and that look; she had seen it this morning as they boarded the bus that brought them to the station.

“What now”!?, she snapped, angry at her mood being spoiled by another of Alice’s superstitions. “Abi you dey see ghost for dia”?

“Look, Debbie, I know you don’t believe in my premonitions, but I stubbed my left big toe as we were leaving my house this morning remember and I know that isn’t a good omen, it is not a good omen at aaalll”, she dragged out the one-syllable word as much as she could.  “Also, you remember the black cat that ran across the bus that brought us to the station…”

 “…It was not a black cat!”, Debbie snapped in exasperation.

 “How do you know it wasn’t”?

 “How do you know it was? None of us saw the cat, we just heard someone say so on the bus; besides, I’ve told you these your premonition wahala would get you nowhere…you’re still too young…”

“…And you, you’re Methuselah! Abeg, leave me jọ. If you like believe it; if you like don’t.”

 “You two at it again’, sighed Nnenna. ‘Una no dey ever tire to quarrel”?

 A grunt from Mr Kabir’s direction ensured that that question was never answered. Debbie held her breath expecting a sharp reprimand. Wonder of wonders! It never came. Gradually everyone quietened down and all that could be heard was the clackety-clack of the wheels of the train on the track and the sound of the train’s whistle when it approached a crossing.

 A few hours later, a loud scream from the back of the coach smashed the tranquillity of the coach. In a flash, Mr Kabir and Miss Zaki were standing over a frightened Audu who was staring wide-eyed at the door of the toilet, flat on his back. Laraba, the sports prefect, a strong, stout, fearless girl, light-skinned with a scattering of freckles on her nose was pointing with a shaky finger in the same direction, screaming continuously. Miss Zaki, reached up, placed her hands on Laraba’s shoulders and tried to calm her down. By this time, all twenty teenagers were awake, some standing on their seats and others, peering over each other’s shoulders, trying to see what the fuss was about.

 “Chidebe ‘Debbie’ Ọssai, did I not tell you it was an omen”?, Alice turned on Debbie accusingly, “ did I not tell you?”.

 “Priestess of Agbala, Alice Isiọma may your reign be long”! Debbie replied, bowing sarcastically. “We don’t even know what the wahala is about and there you are going on about omen or no omen”.

 A collective gasp ensured that the impending bicker ended there. Debbie and Alice turned to look. Mr Kabir was dragging someone out of the toilet. He was dressed in the garb of a cattle-rearer with long, flowing robes, a home-made shepherd’s crook and feet shod with ‘motor-foot’ – rough sandals made with pieces of car tyre. Mr Kabir managed to drag him out to the middle of the coach when Cyril, Audu (who by now had come out of his frozen and fallen state) and Emeka grabbed a couple of hockey sticks from the sports bag stashed away in the overhead rack…

 ‘Tsaya!!!’ shouted Mr Kabir.

 Another collective gasp and a suppressed scream from somewhere in the group; Mr Kabir never shouted. This is a first, thought Debbie. In fact there seemed to be a lot of firsts. Laraba was scared of nothing and no one; indeed she was nicknamed ‘Lioness’ on account of her fearlessness. She was also a formidable hockey player and had played for the state during last year’s inter-state championship. There were even rumours that she beat up Obinna ‘the beast’ Ikeogu, one of the most feared boys in the school, during sports practice, just before the championships; however, no one seemed to want to talk about it especially the boys- something to do with keeping Obinna’s pride and reputation intact. And then there was the shout from Mr Kabir. Not only did he never shout, he never, ever spoke anything else other than English, not even Pidgin.

 Principal Odion’s favourite saying was, ‘A breach of school rules is a breach of common sense’ and Mr Kabir took it literally; it was against the school rules to speak the indigenous languages because Principal Odion was convinced it created tribalism and segregation; English was the official language and that was that. While other teachers would and did indulge in the occasional ‘breach of common sense’, Mr Kabir stuck judiciously to English. The only thing that gave away his origins was not even his name which was Arabic in origin, but the tribal marks on his left cheek; the Gwaris of the north were the only ones with those distinguishing marks.

So who was this that got a shout out of Mr Kabir? Maybe Alice’s premonitions are not as far-fetched as they seem, Debbie concluded.

 “Can we all move back and sit down quietly while Mr Kabir and I try and get to the bottom of all this without breathing in your fumes”, Miss Zaki said, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

“Udoka, Audu and Okafor”, (the teachers always called you by your surname trouble or no trouble) she stood between the three best friends, “I know you’re known as the three musketeers, but right now, I need you to put your weapons down”

The nervous air about her belied her calm voice. She kept looking at the man on the floor and then at Mr Kabir and back again. The man kept wringing his hands as if to pull his wrists out of their sockets. Slowly, the boys lowered the hockey sticks on the floor, ready to pick them up at the slightest notice. The rest shuffled back a few steps with the exception of Alice, who remained rooted at her spot, whispering repeatedly to Debbie and Nnenna standing nearby, 

“It’s an omen. I said it. It’s an omen!” 

Everyone waited with bated breath to see what Mr Kabir would do. Even the man on the floor had stopped wringing his hands and pulling at his wrists. 

Ɗan’uwa, what are you doing here”? Mr Kabir asked in a tired, defeated voice.

There was a stirring from Laraba, Audu and all the others who understood Hausa; the rest looked on in confusion.

Ɗan’uwa, he’s your brother”?, asked Miss Zaki, looking bewildered. “What is he doing here… I mean why is he dressed…”?

“…He’s not just my brother, he is my twin”.

Fiction

Undercover

‘Dubem froze at the sound of the door opening; her hand hovering over the telephone. A myriad of options ran through her brain. What would be the best thing to do now? The most natural?
Without turning to see who opened the door, she picked up the telephone handset as if it just rang, held it upside-down and shouted,

” ‘allo! ‘allo! Speaking! Talking to!”

Nnenna narrowed her eyes; eyes that had been boring into ‘Dubem’s back minutes ago. She might be only nine years old but she knew something was off here; something wasn’t quite right.
For starters, no-one, apart from her mum and her dad’s goons were allowed into his study. (She learnt the word ‘goons’ from one of her older sister’s novels; books she wasn’t allowed to read even though everyone knew she had outgrown those silly, babyish books her dad insisted on buying for her.) So what was ‘Dubem doing here and why was she pretending?
Nnenna was sure she was pretending even if she didn’t know exactly what it was she was pretending about.

” ‘Dubem, her voice sharper than she intended, “What are doing in dad’s study? You know we’re not allowed in here.”

“Is dirty and madam say make I cleans everywhere. She say ‘spick and span’ so I am speaking in the phone after I will span the whole place.’

” ‘Dubem, what are you talking about?, Nnenna rolled her eyes, “Why don’t you just speak Igbo or Pidgin English, I’ll still understand.”

“Madam is said I should not…”

Dubem didn’t finish her sentence. There was the sound of angry raised voices coming towards them; there was no time for a quick retreat. She clamped a work-toughened hand across Nnenna’s mouth and dragged her behind the enormous grandfather clock sandwiched between two overpowering brown leather sofas. For once she thanked God for her employer’s taste in oversize, overpriced, excess furniture.

“Shh…not a sound”, she whispered into Nnenna’s ear whose eyes widened with the shock of hearing their apparently semi-illiterate, uninformed, unexposed house-girl speak so clearly and articulately. She sounded like she could have stepped out of Voice of Nigeria Radio station into her father’s study.

The raised voices continued. One definitely belonged to her employer, the other sounded like Justice Ukata’s unmistakeable gravelly tones but she couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. Suddenly, there was a muffled bang, like a gunshot, a sharp intake of breath from the young girl whose mouth was still covered with her hand, then silence.
The girl tried to wriggle out, rush to the sound but ‘Dubem held her fast, murmuring soothing sounds into her ear.

Then footsteps, a door closing, silence.

‘Dubem spoke quietly into Nnenna’s ear.

“I’m going to take my hand away from your mouth but you must be silent, completely silent. Then you must wait here while I go and check. I will come for you; do not follow me. Do you understand?”

Nnenna turned slowly and lifted her face to their house-girl, ‘Dubem, the shock of it all rendering her mute. Eyes wider still.

“Under no circumstances should you come out from behind this clock.”

Dubem crept out from behind the grandfather clock slowly, eyes scanning the room non-stop. Satisfied there was no threat, she approached the body and felt for a pulse; there was none. She turned the body over slightly, it was indeed Justice Ukata. The bullet hole had given him a third eye. A suppressed scream made her turn around sharply, eyes scanning the room for a weapon but it was only Nnenna. ‘Dubem was so intent on checking the body for clues, she didn’t hear her.

“So then it was my dad…”, eyes huge, voice a crack in the solid silence of the room. “And you’re not a bush, village girl either” The huge eyes back on ‘Dubem.

The heavy tread of sure footsteps prevented ‘Dubem for having to reply. She hustled the little girl back to the back of the grandfather clock and with a hand to the lips and a ‘don’t-move’ sign, she crept along the back of the giant sofa to get a better look.

It was ‘Dagger’, one of her many employer’s ‘cleaners’. Biceps the size of tipper tyres, he rolled the corpse round the rug where it fell and hoisted it effortlessly unto his monolithic shoulder. She could see him sweeping the room with those mamba-like eyes of his. Satisfied that the study was ‘clear’, he left with another of her employer’s casualties but this time with a witness; no, two witnesses – an undercover police officer and a nine-year old girl – his boss’s daughter.

The Making of the Word

Help! There’s A Teenager In My Home

Help! There’s A Teenager In My Home

Sulky

Moody

Happy

Unhappy

Where’s my vest?

My shoes are gone!

My trainers have disappeared!

Standing by the window

Eyes on the clock

Eyes peering through the curtains,

Into the darkness.

Help! My fridge was full…

…yesterday.

I thought I had a full bottle of pink nail varnish…

Did I leave my hair band on my bed?

Help!

I don’t know what’s happening to me

I can’t find anything!

There’s a party going on in my back garden

I am not invited

It’s my house!

So???

Help!

My questions are replied with grunts

Nods,

Eyes on the phone,

Computer,

TV,

Xbox,

PS3,

PSP,

Or rolling in their sockets…

 

Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

 

 

 Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

 

The school called again today

Sassy, back-chatting, lippy

 

The teacher is wrong and doesn’t want to admit

I was just pointing it out

Voice raised

Sneer

Muttered curse

Not to his ears though

What’s his problem?

Well, you’re not my dad!

Head of Year’s office

Stern looks

               Eyes everywhere but us

Muttered apology

Spat out like broccoli

Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

  

Skirt rolled up

Is that a weave or wig?

What happened to your own hair?

 

Kickers

Doc Martens

Golddigga

School shoes?

What happened to Clarks?

Hush Puppies,

Scholl?

Good old Bata?

School bag?

That’s my handbag!

Your handbag?

My school bag

Everyone has it!

 

Everyone has this

Everyone has that

Everyone does this

Everyone does that

 

Everyone is about to jump off the cliff!

Not even funny, mum…

Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

I’m going to Jack’s

I’m going to Jill’s

Did they go up a hill?

 

You know Jack broke his crown, right?

Well, they’re my friends not yours!

And Jill came running after…

..so what? Why judge her?

Not bringing friends home

Not talking about them either

Chatting with them

Fingers flying over phone keys

Fingers fly over my dishes and wash them please

Thunder and brimstone

Dishes are in trouble

 

Go to the shops for some milk please

Fire and lightning

Stomping and storming

Dark clouds are hanging

Hope the milk doesn’t curdle

 

Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

Mother’s day

Cleaned room

Washed dishes

Vacuumed carpets

 Invasion of the body snatchers?

A favour soon to be asked?

Mother’s day meal

A choice of three different dishes

My favourite dark chocolate

 The car is sparkling

Inside and Out

 

I’m hyperventilating

I’m dreaming

I’m hallucinating

I’m eating ice-cream and pop-corn

On the sofa

Legs tucked under; covered with throw

Watching my favourite program

No battle over the remote!

 

Help!

There’s a teenager in my home!

 

 

A hug before school

A kiss on return

Hunched over the computer

Homework…no hassle

 Taking baby sister out

Emptying the bin; the recycling bin

Using bike at last

Calling grandma on the phone

Calling aunty on the phone

Having a conversation with sister

No arguments

A CONVERSATION

Having a conversation with me

No grunts

No groans

No mutters

Real speech

Eyes on me

Not on the PSP

XBOX

NINTENDO

WII

Mobile phone…

On me

Smiling, eyes twinkling

Love you mum; you’re the best.

Thank God!

There’s a teenage in my home!