I starred with teary anger at the plate of beans Sike dropped on the ragged mat. “What it is this?” I asked her, choking back the angry tears that welled up from the hungry depths of my stomach. The beans must have been the capital city of weevils in the neighborhood. They had big crack holes, still smelled of weevils, the tiny black insects soaked in red oil could not hide the ugliness of the food . I kept staring at a dinner I knew I’d still swallow with desperation, ” I know it’s too little to satisfy even a three year old boy, but it’s the last food in this house o, manage it” Sike said as she strolled to the big metallic junk we called a fridge. It housed all the insects in the house, cockroaches were the kings of the metallic kingdom, they lazily infested every part of our cramped one room apartment. She brought out an uncovered bowl of water from the fridge, two dead cockroaches floated on the water. What luxury I thought to myself, even the bloody cockroaches were living in heaven, they even had a swimming pool in this rat hole of a house. Sike murmured an apology,snatched ten naira from my torn trouser and went out to buy sachet water. I still gaped at the ugly beans turning cold.
I eyed the room as I awaited Sike, the ceiling was so low I could touch it without stretching, the white was slowly turning a humid brown, the rainy season will expose all the hidden holes, I prayed for a miracle as I thought of how itchy and irritated Sike became when the rain leaked into our room and mildew spread like wildfire, consuming our clothes, bed and the little food we had. Our mattress was an insult to the ones called ‘sleep and die.’ To use that expression to describe it was an understatement. The foam had become a thin dusty layer without covering, it smelled of sweat, rat urine, cockroaches, ants, female juice and cum, no matter how long we dried it in the hot sun, the smell still sneaked into one’s nostrils . The old mattress was not even worthy to house bed bugs.
Sike entered the room with a sachet of pure water, “I thought it was five five naira but one pure water is ten naira now, we have to share it” I nodded my head slowly as I picked up the rusty dry spoon to eat my dinner of beans and weevil sauce. What was water that I could not share with Sike, after all she has shared my poverty stricken life with me for two years. I promised her we were going to be comfortable but my guts tell me we will be in this rat hole for a while. I chewed the beans with disgust as I eyed Sike’s full breast, I imagined our love making will taste sweeter than these ugly beans.
It came with the wind that carries roof in October, sometimes blowing at night. There was a day it didn’t fear the day, it knocked my neighbor to the ground you would think they were having a boxing match.
Soho was just a man, his heart felt even tougher, for he had prepared for such days when it would be his turn. First as a child when his father owned the only farm in the village. Then he grew to be the first to school outside the confines of his glowing lineage. Yes, Soho had waited while he was serving as a soldier, prepared his guns, and wore his vest, he put on a helmet and laid quietly waiting for that day.
We still cannot explain what happened to his farm, how fire would start burning in the middle of a storm. Whatever happened to his animals in the fields, rumor has it the Earth felt hungry and opened its mouth on them.
While Soho laid in the bush waiting for it to come, Poverty had only made Soho become another of his stories. It was known to be the epic of all sweeping
Nike knew she had sucked the last drop from the bottle turned upside down on the coal stone. There was nothing left to give to Tomiwa. The rains wouldn’t appear now even if they were invited. They had their bylaws and they held them sacred. The wells didn’t even notice the plight of Nike’s community. They sunk deep underground and covered their faces with sand. Tomiwa’s face had welled up enough water to quench the thirst in the community. She couldn’t stop crying. Nike looked like she was dying. She left Tomiwa on the mat and dashed out of the cubicle. The speed she disappeared with wore a promise; she wasn’t going to return without a drop.
This isn’t the first time Nike was going to experience this. The three before Tomiwa came with same affliction. Bolaji had already left with another woman, but he’d always return when the kids are grown. The roofs had holes that served as lightbulbs. The cracks in the wall made a befitting living room for termites, and the abandoned sacks of clothes was a bedroom for rodents.
Nike stormed back into the room and picked up Tomiwa. She finally found just a few drops which were already forcing their way through the spaces her fingers made. Drop after drop, she let it go into Tomiwa’s mouth who was busy gulping as if to chew her mum’s fingers. It wasn’t long before it finished, and Tomiwa let out another stream of tears.
Nike had never lactated, and all Tomiwa needed was only some drops from a hand of milk.
At 11:05pm Ohinoyi was awoken by different beats produced by his stomach, roaring like hungry lions waiting to devour a fleshy prey; only he had nothing to devour himself. He went to the clay pot in which his mother stores water to get some liquid to cool off the war threatening in the middle belt, but was greeted with a dry pot which looked hungry itself.
Having a wallet was too much luxury he couldn’t afford. That money he’d used to buy some garri that’ll take him and mama a few days, he thought. The farm he worked on at Ihima which belongs to a tyrant, an oppressor and a stingy businessman who sees it abominable to pay his workers as at when due, still owes him from two farming seasons. Only if he had listened to Adeiza when he warned him against working for chief Akatapa.
Things weren’t this bad when his father was alive. What was once a happy family now knew only sadness and hunger. They had enough to eat and more to give until the government revoked his father’s farmlands leaving them with nothing but the tiny hut father built when he had things going well as mama always says. Father’s heart was too soft to bear the pain, he suffered blows of heart attacks and strokes which shortened his life before I was born. Mother used all the money they both saved for father’s treatment before he died. She became sick and weak that it’s only by the grace of God she’s still alive.
Daily, all I think of is how to get something into my stomach; fresh, burnt, raw ,cooked or even rotten. Food is food to me if it quenches my thirst and hunger. I live life by faith, not having hope of a plate of food for the day. I have lacked all my life; had no father to look up to, a mother who could hardly take care of herself talk more of taking care of me nor did I have even the basics of life.
Poverty truely is worst than death.