Nobody slept the night before. It was like preparing for an occasion. Some even took it upon themselves to paint their houses overnight in the colours of the new state. Oh how far we have gotten?
They all assembled on Carter bridge where the beggars and society misfits slept, none of them cared about the flies visiting family at the beggar’s side or the pungent smell which assaulted their nasal glands. Their screams and celebrations, the thumping drums, the rumble in the hay of over-excited teens, their virginal moans, all this merged and it carried as far as G.R.A where the last of the British lived.
The families remaining were experiencing ambivalence. They were excited for the Africans but not all too happy to be leaving. Only one of them had a straight peculiar feeling. James Earl. He was bitter. In Britain, people introduced him as ‘the drunk’. He was a failure. It was with much persuasion that lady Chatham, the famed new mother Teresa, his sister had dragged him to Africa where he finally felt he found some purpose in his shitty life. He felt he really had a goal, chasing after the local girls and most times having his dick sucked by one of the dirty prostitutes at Carter bridge.
And now this? He had began to suspect something was wrong after his sister was called back by the queen. Her sod of a husband was being knighted. People had always said to him ‘you’re the brother to lady Chatham, how proud you must be’. Those statements however only amplified his failures. Splashed on the newspapers, talked about in hushed tones at society parties like an issue of the bloody penny dreadful. He’d contemplated suicide once, one night on the full moon when he could see the entire constellation, but a coward, he could not go through with it.
There was a talk about independence eight months ago, but he never expected it to come to this, now the bloody queen had even congratulated the new state? what nightmare is this?
He walked down the stairs to the bar and filled up a glass with whisky to the brim. He could hear the din of what he imagined must be thousands of natives. He strode to the window and jammed it shut. Something caught his eye, a long paper pasted on the notice board.
FOR JAMES, READ IT CAREFULLY, HOPEFULLY SOBER
YOU MUST FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS, WHEN THE GARDENER(WOLE) COMES FOR HIS MONEY, GIVE HIM THE BROWN ENVELOPE, THE BIG ONE! DO NOT MIX IT UP WITH THE GATEMAN’S.
He saw the large brown envelope marked gardener’s(Wole) five months salary. James took out his lighter and held the envelope to the flickering flame. It caught on, burning slowly. He threw the pieces into the dustbin and smiled. He’d been wronged and he surely would have the last laugh.
The sky was a light shade of blue and it reflected the feelings of the people below, they were happy because they had gotten their freedom. The colonial masters have begun to leave, their great state was theirs again. They had been slaves and now they were free.
Down at Capital street, food sellers were everywhere because people were hungry, literally and metaphorically, hungry for change.
Wole and his son, Maximilian were walking. Maximilian was thirsty but he knew Wole was in a hurry, so he didn’t bother. They walked through a narrow path leading to Carter bridge where thousands of people were still dancing. Father and son were lost to each other for seconds but eventually, Wole pulled the scared boy away from drunken celebrating men. Finally he got to his destination, his workplace. Ogunde, his friend had said to him, last week that the Chathams were going to be among the first to leave, that the lazy brother would stay a while.
The young boy was beside himself, he had never seen the workplace of his father.
“Is this where you work father?”
“Yes, this is Lady Chatham’s house, now grab that rake beside the gate, I want to teach you how to work, Ogunde is not here, so you’ll be my new partner….you see the grass? There are two different kinds of it-”
“This one here? which one father? The one with the red spots?”
“Yes, it must not be cut from the bottom, only from the top, it is part of the Chatham’s garden, you understand?”
“Then this one you know–” Wole pointed to the ground, his work boot nudging several weeds scattered across the ground. “This one must be uprooted, it breeds snakes, the white people are afraid of our green snakes, don’t laugh, I tell them that it is not dangerous but they say no….okay let’s start from the left, don’t injure yourself with that thing, use it wisely.”
“Okay father, I think i’ll like to work here too.”
“No, you will go to school, that is why I work here.”
Wole spun around, he heard a voice. It was James Earl and he was not looking good, usually the fool was always full of smiles and mirth but now he just looked drunk.
“What are you doing mister?” James said.
“I’m working sir, my last portion before I collect my salary.”
“What work? Has my sister not told you that we are leaving? Why are you so dumb?”
Maximilian was awestruck, he had never seen a white person, that close before, he had always seen them from across the streets. This one is more red than the others, he thought.
“I have come to work today because it is the last day of the month and because Lady Chatham, even before she left…promised me that I was going to get my salary on this day, for five months, I have not collected my salary, I’ve just been taking and carrying the food and fruits that lady Chatham herself has been giving me, she’s a great person–”
“What salary? Are you mad? Why do you think I will give you a salary now? Why can’t you go to your new government and ask them for your fooking salary!” James said.
There was calm written all over Wole’s face but only Maximilian knew that something was wrong somewhere. The left side of his father’s jaw was twitching and whenever that was happening, his father was definitely angry. Maximilian had witnessed it once, when his father had got into a fight with the newspaper seller for daring to speak ill about Max’s mother.
Wole stammered something, he could not find the words necessary to say what he was feeling. He dropped the machete and he raised his fists.
“What do you mean no salary, I have been working here, a long time now…I signed a form! A proof!”
James Earl laughed. It was harsh, and Maximilian wilted inside himself. He did not like how this man with the brown teeth, so in contrast to his skin, talked to his father.
“You signed a paper? That’s funny, you’re a fool! And even if you signed a paper, you did that with my sister and she left three days ago with all her stuff, except you want to fly to Nottingham? there is no proof that you actually even worked here.”
“What sorcery is this? What is going on? I deliberately left my hard-earned, rightful money in lady Chatham’s care because I know that I’m a worthless spender and my wife is very ill, my son must go to school, this why I did that and now you’re….please, don’t play me with this cruel joke.”
James sighed. He swatted at a fly and he chuckled.
“That is sad actually, I’m moved but sadly your money is gone and I happen to be the master of this house now, so I will do as I see fit, I never liked you people, you think you’re special, I never liked the idea of you people having too much power, your fucking government is practically throwing me out…oh, but I will have one last laugh, I said that to myself….it’s not my fault that your wife is mentally insane and…-”
Bam! The punch was delivered so quick that even Maximilian didn’t see Wole throw it. James fell to the ground, the left side of his face split open, his eyeballs unfocused.
The gate man watching the event from the gate, ever the loyal bastard started shouting and slowly James got to his feet and began whistling to let the dogs out.
“You shouldn’t have said that about my wife!” Wole said.
“You will regret this,” James said. “You will.”
The dogs were getting closer, two of them, one bulldog and a sturdy terrier. Maximilian hated dogs, they always chased him in dreams. It was with that trepidation that he mumbled “father”.
“The dogs are coming for you,” James said, “And they’re going to attack, that’s what they’ve been trained to do, you know that, remember that unfortunate incident with the beggar?”
“Max! Run!” Wole said to his frightened son.
“Run! I will be behind you.”
Maximilian sprinted across the garden, completely abandoning reason, screaming his head off and crashing through the flowers. He did not hear his father behind him nor the dogs. When he reached the gate, he stopped and turned and he saw his father far off in the distance, two dogs at his heel. He knew his father had drawn them away from him and it made him sad.
The dogs were dogged but Wole was furious and that gave him an edge, he scaled the fence and the dogs could not follow. Gasping for breath, Wole sat down and began to cry. How was he going to be able to take care of his family? He should have listened to Ogunde then, when the latter told him to collect his salary every month and save it in a box, he had chided his friend then by saying Ogunde was too untrusting. Now look what happened?
Wole stood up after a while and walked towards Carter bridge where he was sure Maximilian was going to be, he had taken a few steps when he realized that he wasn’t wearing any sandals. He must have lost it when he was being pursued by the dogs.
There was a boy singing. Rain. Rain. Go away. Come again. Another day. His mother was telling him to shut up, there was the drunkard and the cripple who were playing a game of air chess. And there was Maximilian, standing at the foot of the bridge where other kids were seated, but he wasn’t playing with them, he was searching for his father.
After a while, he got tired and sat on the embankment just below the bridge. He dozed off until Wole shook him awake.
Maximilian noticed that Wole didn’t look him in the eye, but he didn’t say anything, he just followed. When they finally passed the shuffling pedestrians and were on their way home, did Maximilian ask a question.
“What is mental insanity? Why did that man say mom is that?”
“I don’t know son, he’s just a stupid man.”
But Wole knew and he lied.
(Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Dog)