Promise To The Gods

18 Park Road Aba 2

In the next yard, the man whose name is Pastor, who sells Indian hemp, continued to walk around the blocks today bare bodied. He was between the alley gates of the next yard and that of 18 Park Road. He was bent over a woman. Now, he begins to raise his voice and started barking seriously. He stops suddenly and abruptly breaks into a loud laughter. He cools to wide grin with eyes popping out. Then he begins to smile. His breaking into a soft tender smile with all his facial muscles relaxed sober. Then he again began to smile some more. Clutched under his invisible priestly paws he once again looked into the eyes of the woman he had preyed upon. He moved his hands down from the sides of her head, down to the plateaux of her shoulders and finally dropped by his sides. Face to face and a foot apart, the woman’s head was bowed and his shoulders were arced. He turned to go back into the next yard. A little boy who had watched the scene raised his gaze. In full face, his eyes met with the the boy’s, and he smiled more brilliantly, absorbing the golden rays glowing between him and the little boy.

He had a beautiful clean smile. He had the perfect set of white clean teeth. They were saying precisely what lied beneath his heart. Over of his heart, was a generous lump of tender flesh, kneaded to a seasoned dough, pampered and marinated under a brown ornate skin. His heart pounded and his gentle muscles rippled to the music and dance of the known distant vibes. Laced over his skin was the stems and pinnacles of the sprawling black hair, flowing from the Abyssinian mountains, plucked from the banks of the Nile river, to the dense foliage of her Mediterranean tributaries, glistening under the hues and shades of the ebony son, who has been crying and dying for the missing humanity in men.

His luscious black beard touched his heart because he tilted and bowed his head to the small man, and his teeth continued to swim in cleanliness, hedged by his umber brown lips, containing the pull of waters that gathered, and continued to gather as the smile prolonged.

His bare brown torso was tucked into a beautiful tailored pair of smart black trousers, flowing down to his knees, down to his ankles, to the embroidered yellow motif on the back of his black bedroom slippers.

He was still smiling, but his shoulder was now at ease. The woman he had barked at, was still serious and was explaining how she had no money and could not afford to send the boy to school yet. He encouraged her to do it. He said the boy sings the songs better than those who are going to school. He sings war songs, but he also sings school assembly songs, even when he hasn’t been there yet. He is a clever boy, he must have heard it from those who go to school. Send him there, we must survive the peace.

In the next yard, two of the little girls who had survived the war with their mother, were leaving. The uncle who lived with them had gotten a baby boy with their mom who worked as a nurse. They are moving to another part of town to resettle as a normal family. Uncles were becoming fathers. But this did not happen to the little boy and his sister. The uncle who lived with them had married another woman, where he had been transferred after he was called back by the Post&Telegraph. They had been eventually alone lately.

Street children worked the streets, even when school children walked on the street. Only one school wore uniform and their pupils were rarely seen on the street. The boy’s mother loved school uniforms and loved this school too. The number of children walking the streets also grew at the time of day when school children were returning from school. All children on the street had some clothing and those returning from school also had some clothing, but none of the fades and shades they wore were close to the colours or combinations of a school uniform. All children were street.

Back in the village, long before the war, the woman’s father did not have a male child. The dwindling of his estate, took the first dive, six months after she was born, the month her father died. The uncles apportioned what they had considered sufficient in, farm crops, palm and raphia tress for her mother to carter for her household. Later, everything was then taken from them, the year before the war ended, when the woman’s mother died. Since then, she has resorted to leasing land from others for subsistence, and to maintain her mother’s aged maid.

Being unmarried and a mother to a son and a little girl, living in the city and coming to the village from there was the perfect arrangement for a disinherited girl child. However she made frequent trips to the village, to support her mother’s aged maid, who became her step mother, after she gave birth to her only sister, who was now deceased. She leased land from others for her step mom to farm, and to support her living and feeding in the city.

In recent months she has made more frequent trips to the village. Now, it still seems, she might still make more trips to the village.

She pulled up the inner edge of the mattress adjacent to the wall under the pillow. She pulls out an old Van Heusen men’s black long tie, fallen unto the floor, under the coils of the eight springs bed. She carefully opens the wider end of the old Van Heusen men’s black tie. She carefully pulls out all the notes and coins. She carefully counted everything, subtracting the amounts her friend had given her to hide away for her from her husband.

The money fell short again by more than half of what her neigbour, Imios International Tailor who runs the little tailoring shop in-front of the yard, had promised her to make her son’s school uniform. She came to realise that, even with her frequent trips to the little village farm, the proceeds from the garri and palm oil would hardly bubble to the surface of a secure saveable secure. It all too soon, evaporated into higher levels of her unsaturated daily survivals and other expediencies.

She wondered what else would be the reason why her encounter with the man who sold Indian hemp, took her back to the solemn promise she’d made to her ancestors. A promise she agreed to, to deter the river Goddess from taking her son back to the great beyond. The promise that she will commit to sending him to school to be educated, to the best of her ability.

She also remembered, how recently, she had this promise day flashback, when, during the war, her son had walked past that famed ‘shelter of trees’, before the shelter was bombed that same afternoon by enemy planes.

This promise she made, perfunctory at the time, was gradually becoming her life’s purpose and a reason now, she wants to survive the peace. She strongly believed the ancestors had sent the man from the next yard, who sells Indian hemp, whose name is called Pastor, to speak to her soul.

Later that week, the uncle who lived with us, who had married another woman, when he was transferred to another town, after he was called back by the Post&Telegraph, sent us money.

My mother jumped at the money, ran to the second hand stalls of the Ahia Ohuru market, rummaged the charity wares and brought home some amazing and beautifully tailored boys clothes.

I was eight years old when I wore the school uniform she loved and dreamed of. A white shirt, a red short and a brown pair of school sandals. She took me to Constitution Crescent and enrolled me in Sancta Maria, the premium Catholic elementary school where the elite and their children were educated.

In the next yard, the police had made another raid to Pastor’s place, the second time in a week. The uncles who were arrested have been released for lack of evidence. They’ve come back to buy and smoke some little more and to thank the Pastor for the bail.

Leonard Chintua-Chigbu
Listening and Creative Communication Artist
BA Fine Art (Painting) University of Benin 1986