Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Work in Progress

Below is an excerpt from a story I began working on in the summer of 2009 [sigh], however, I plan to add more to it over winter break. Right now, it is quite wordy and not devoid of errors in both syntax and grammar. So go easy on it and on me. Thanks.

There is only one way to get back home. Take the bridge down Ahmadu Bello Road over the Kaduna River down to Barnawa. It was always Barnawa until the riot turned it into New Jerusalem with the Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other.

It was almost dusk. The call for prayers went out as the flock began to return home. They understood the call and poured into the compound in single file. The older rams rubbed their sides against the wall as they entered while the lambs frisked around. Mallam Umaru rolled lazily on his bed. He had been in the same position since he finished his dinner. Dinner was tuwo, a corn meal staple and soup made from okra. The soup was very thin so that the okra lay in clumps at the bottom of the bowl while a whitish liquid floated on top. There were two chunks of meat in the soup.

Actually, the chunks weren’t really meat. They were bones the butcher saved for people who could not afford to purchase meat. The bones were typically filled with thick yellow marrow that oozed out and hung limply by a thread-like film.

The bones were kept in a bucket covered with swarms of bluish green flies. The flies were usually loud and the butcher often had to yell above the sound of their annoying chorus. His yelling coupled with the rhythmic slamming of his knife made him look sinister. He never gave a bone away. He sold every part of the cows he purchased. The testicles too, every part had some value.

Last week, Mallam Umaru had to severely whip his youngest son Yahaya. Yahaya had toppled the pot of soup as he tried to gnaw off some of the meat on the bone. The crashing of the pot to the ground woke the entire house. Mallam Umaru unleashed his wrath on the young boy, letting the horsetail whip inflict stripes. He couldn’t decide on what to be angry about, the fact that his son had tried to eat the meat off the bones or that there would be no dinner the next day.

Finally, he planted his feet on the floor rubbed his eyes and then smoothed the fuzz on his head. He let his fingers linger much longer in the middle, circling his bald spot slowly as he fixed his gaze on the door. His eyes dropped down to his prayer mat and then he looked at the corner of the room where his golden kettle was nestled with several plastic kettles. He heard the call again and finally pulled his weight off the bed.

As he opened the door to exit the house, the rams stood up and walked away from under the awning giving him room to make his path. He walked hastily towards the gate his long robes fluttering softly in the wind. As he walked down the road he thought about Salamatu. She had been with him the previous night and would be back tonight. As the thought of the previous night crossed his mind a smile formed on his face. He didn’t see the young man on the bicycle and he didn’t have the time to jump out of the bicycle’s path. The bicycle was old and rusty. The brakes would have been useless even if the driver applied them.

Mallam Umaru felt the left handle bar plow into his sides and then he was knocked off balance. His kettle lodged itself by the front tire of the bicycle and his mat lay a few feet away on the ground. As soon as he landed on his bottom an orange fell into his lap. A few minutes ago, the orange had been sitting in a carefully arranged pattern with others on a metal tray balanced on the head of the bicyclist.

The young bicyclist began to curse at him for not looking out. Mallam Umaru rubbed his head again this time, but he did not let his fingers linger on his bald spot. He ran them down quickly and let his hand slide past his belly button all the way down. The cursing grew louder and a small crowd started to form.

“Dan Iska” the boy yelled, “Open your eyes old man and look where you are going.” He continued.

“If you’re too hungry to keep your eyes open for long then pray in your bedroom.” He said, his voice rising higher.
Mallam Umaru looked up, trying to find a sympathetic face among the crowd of strangers. A younger man in glasses with his prayer mat slung over his shoulder stepped forward and offered to pay the boy for the oranges. The boy stated an inflated price and stuck his hand out defiantly, a look of anger on his face. The bespectacled gentleman put a wad of notes in his hand and begged him to forgive the old man.

Mallam Umaru sat in bitter silence, wallowing in the shame of the whole incidence. He was grateful for his long robe that ran to his feet. It masked the telltale signs of his thoughts just before the accident. With the help of another gentleman he propped himself up and thanked the bespectacled gentleman. The gentleman pressed some money into his hands and told him to praise Allah he was okay.

A young boy blind in one eye with unshorn hair handed him his kettle and mat and asked if he was okay. The boy lingered for a few minutes starring at the crumpled notes in Mallam Umaru’s hands. The boy had already filled his enamel bowl with the dust-covered oranges he gleaned off the floor and through his good eye he looked intently at Mallam Umaru, expecting a note or two. As he gazed, he raised his hand quickly to smack a fly that had perched itself on the thick mucus that ran from his nose. Grateful for the distraction, Mallam Umaru thanked the onlookers, mumbled an apology to the young bicyclist and continued on his way to the mosque.