1. Reading The Right Books
The sun was steadily making its way down the west. The shade on 18 Park Road yard was now on the side of the room doors, while the shadow of the one story building stood heavily on its concrete wet floors.
In front of the yard, cars, our cash and carcasses set on fire days after the war still smouldered. Ash and smoke strolled the air and skies like wiry cows parched for a drink.
In the next yard, the man who sells Indian hemp calls himself a pastor and those aunties who live there are not called prostitutes because they don’t live in a brothel.
Visitors who come from there seemed to wait at the gate for a little longer. They seem to contemplate whether to walk back into Park Road or saunter into Pound Road through the foggy misty alley.
In the alley, the children played happily. When one side scored a goal, the players on the other side took turns to retrieve back their football from the nearby gutters or refuse dumps.
The children will often stop kicking their footballs to make a way for visitors from the other yard who walk through the length of the alley, past the misty spray, the open gutter, the slippery fray slabs and refuse dump. They often walk with their heads hung down, often in total silence, even when the children called out a greeting. One always stood up pretending he did not just fall down. This will happen several times before he walked the length of the alleyway.
Inside the yard the row of rooms housed different families who had just survived the war and lost their time. Across the yard, the sun sparkled through the concrete wet floors, her rays of yellow flavouring brightness washing the dirty walls that demarcate the kitchen, the stores, the bathroom and the toilets in a row, redeeming its colourlessness with cleanliness and contentment.
The curtains on this side swayed and flirted with the gentle breeze while bouncing off the peeking curious eyes of probing adolescents.
From one of the doors, behind the swaying drapes, a gentle hand ran through the flowing edge, a woman peeped, looking at the space outside the room, next to where the doormat laid.
A slim smallish tall boy, sat on a short wooden stool, leaned one elbow on a long wooden stool and bent over an open book, placed on top of the stool.
The woman pulled her head back into the room unnoticed by her suspecting son.
In the foggy misty alley, water gushed out of a broken pipe. It is drain from the toilet and bathroom of neighbours who lived upstairs. When these neighbours had their bath or flushed their toilets, the gush sprayed wider into the air, while the rest of the drain flowed through the pipe into the open gutter, with the stagnant green pool. We didn’t flush ours, the night soil man emptied them because they were open bucket latrines.
The surrounding slabs were green too and some parts were slippery. Often children ran through the slippery slabs to retrieve their footballs.
The police men and the army men visited the next yard too. They came in their uniforms and they both wore straight faces when they came. The police men came alone and sometimes in a pair, when one policeman is introducing another colleague to the next yard. The next time they came, they came in a group, as policemen on duty, enforcing the law of the land.
The army men smoked when they came. They bought extra wraps which they put in their pockets and another wrap which they lit and smoked as they walked into Park Road. The army men were open in their straight faces and often they threw shinny brand new pennies to the children and the aunties.
In the yard, behind the curtains, the doors are open. From the transistor radios, through the open doors and swaying curtains, pale waves of enchanting soukous rhythm, breathless commentary from football stadiums and roaring fans escape into the quietness of the yard.
Today, the noise and laughter of children playing at the backyard has not quietened since morning. They said the mother of the boy who owns the football has gone to the market and she may not be coming back till afternoon.
At the backyard, the walls of 35 Pound Road; the Teachers Union building had fallen. It has given more breathe to the alleyway and the sanitation lane. Children now played more freely
Adults and visitors from the next yard also now walked past, without stopping the game. Children also played without noticing them.
The slim smallish tall boy, sat on a short wooden stool, one elbow leaned on a long wooden stool, his full trunk bent over an open book, placed on top of the stool.
Another boy had joined him. His mother has just returned from the market. He was sweaty, boisterous and outdoorsy, but he was calm now. He sat nearby, peeping into the slim smallish tall boy’s open books and going along with him carefully.
Those were the extra books outside the basic list of books for primary five and six pupils. The boisterous boy’s mother could not afford these books or find anybody who could hand down these books to her son. Her son had read all books in his book bag for three years and had repeatedly failed his secondary school common entrance examinations.
Three year have passed and the slim smallish tall boy has moved up to doing his secondary school entrance examination.
The woman behind the curtain drapes finally pulled her head back into the room, unnoticed by the suspecting boys. She also locked the room, unnoticed by the suspecting boys. The door next to hers was also locked. In some days like this, some parents locked their doors when their children played outside in the yard.
The boys went ahead to pass their secondary school entrance examination that year.
Leonard was admitted into the prestigious Government College Umuahia, modelled after the ethos of Eton College London
In front of the yard across the road, the paw-paw trees had green and yellow ripen fruits. Across the fence, under the setting sun, the Recreation Club field lay lush and on the other side of Constitution Crescent, the white building of the Ministry of Internal Revenue nestled among the tall rubber trees.
Listening and Creative Communication Artist
BA Fine Art (Painting) University of Benin 1986