As Kingsley Ejikeme took his fifth bite of the spicy gala sausage roll in his hands, he suddenly remembered where he had seen the boy that had given him the gala before. His uncle was Ifeanyi Anyanwu, his old friend.
His forty-four-year-old hands shook once but he clenched them. Could this be coincidence? He shook off the foreboding feeling but it was too late. It had already taken root.
At home, that evening, his hands paused at the eba and Onugbu soup that was his dinner. The thought of swallowing his favourite meal made his already unsettled stomach feel like emptying itself.
His mind was on only one thing- A scene from years ago that had kept replaying in his head since that evening and even now he was watching it on the screen of his onugbu soup.
“Mary, come and carry this food. I’m not eating again”.
He relaxed his back on the chair waiting for the footsteps of his last born to get close.
“Daddy, you did not eat anything”.
“Yes, I’m not hungry”.
“Are you fine? Is all well?”
“Yes, all is well, stop asking questions and carry the food away”.
The next day, and the one after, he still could not stomach the idea of food. He was hungry but he could not eat. Except for one or two galas during the day. What was wrong with him? What had the boy done to the gala he had given him. He knew he would not escape unscathed if he refused to eat again tonight at home and he was right.
His wife served the food herself this time around and stood over him. She was spoiling for a fight but even for his favourite pastime, he did not have the strength.
“I’m not hungry”, he said looking at the beans and yam porridge.
“What do you mean you’re not hungry. When did this rubbish start? I’ll suffer to cook and you won’t eat? Who is feeding you outside?!”
He gathered his strength and walked out the door before she could stop him, not bothering to listen to her rants. After 15 years of marriage, he knew them all by heart.
He felt like a parasite was living in his heart. It was sucking all the life out of him. If he was sincere with himself, he knew the cause but what was he supposed to do? It was too late! The deed had been done. There was no going back. So why was this feeling not leaving?
Kingsley’s eyes opened even as he shot off from the chair at the same time. He looked around. He was at the Veranda. He had fallen asleep waiting for his wife to go to bed.
He could not remember what he had dreamt about either, but he knew it was horrible. All this torture because of a gala? Ha! All because of one hundred naira gala?!
The boy must have charmed it. He would look for him tomorrow and bash his head in. But even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. He had looked into the boy’s eyes that day. He could not have dabbled into juju. As an occasional user himself, he should know.
He shook his head. He should not have eaten the gala. He cursed gala company, then he cursed the boy. To think it was only three days ago, yet it felt like an entire lifetime.
The day he had met the boy with the gala had been one of those slow days. He was at his butcher shop when a racket had drawn every attention to the roadside.
Some cartons of biscuits and provisions were littered on the floor, very muddy from the rain that fell that morning. Both the wheelbarrow boy and the owner of the goods were hastily replacing the cartons on the wheelbarrow.
As she replaced the last one, the woman slapped him so hard in the face, it resounded. Collective gasps echoed from everyone watching the show.
“Ha, Madam, no be so dem dey do things o”
“But that is too much!”
“You never hear of ‘accident’ before?”
“Shebi na mistake!”
“O boy, slap her back”, his friend, Kunle shouted from beside him. They had been neighbours in this market for five years now. “Even if na woman, she fit slap her husband like that for house?!”
Kingsley’s eyes returned quickly to the boy. He didn’t want to miss anything. In the midst of all these, the boy’s surprised eyes went back to normal and he removed his hand from his cheek.
He said something to the woman and she with a perplexed look turned around and started marching towards the road where they had been heading. The boy took his wheelbarrow and followed after her.
The previously collected crowd slowly dispersed after watching such an unfulfilling scene. There had been no fight or even exchange of insults. A true waste of time indeed.
Kingsley had shaken his head as he stood up to go to the public toilet but if that was all that happened that day he wouldn’t be in this situation right now.
Just when it got darker and he made mental plans to start packing up for the day in 20minutes time, he saw the same young man leaning beside Kunle’s already vacant meat table.
The boy had a comely face. No, not a boy, he corrected himself but a man. A young man. He looked to be between twenty-four to twenty-six years but the obvious malnourishment and stress on his face gave him a martyred look.
“You can sit on that stool”, he offered him a seat. The boy threw him a grateful look before obliging.
“E never tey when you start work for here, abi?”, Kingsley had asked. He wanted to know the boy.
“Yes”. That was his one-word reply. He brought out a gala from his pocket.
He had not wanted to ask but something in him had pushed him. “You for slap that woman back.”
This time, the boy-man raised his head and he caught a slight hint of a smile.
“I could not”. He went back to turning around his gala.
“Why?” Kingsley was surprised how much he wanted to know.
He gave his first full smile then. “I have no hands anymore. Jesus took them.”
Kingsley’s eyes had dropped to the boy’s perfectly fine hands clutching the gala. Kingsley shook his head. He should have known. A religious freak. It was his kind that danced in church every Sunday, whereas they had nothing to drop in the offering box.
As the silence stretched. Kingsley realised he had seen the face before today but he could not place his hand where. He finally got tired of the silence and began packing his remaining meat.
“You no go like share that your gala?”, He heard himself asking to fill up the silence.
The boy had stared at him as if stabbed. He looked at his hands clenching them tight, then back at him.
“Take”, he gave.
And then he stood up and dusted his buttocks.
The boy was already a little distance from his stall when again, that push to ask. So he did.
“What will you eat this night?”
“Something”, was the reply.
He had not had the heart to eat the gala after that because he suspected he had just snagged the boy’s dinner. Yet he should not waste it seeing as he was the one that had asked for it in the first place. So he sat down to eat the sausagey gift.
But it seemed to him that with each bite he had been ingesting a mouthful of gunpowder. As if with each swallow entering his stomach, there was a piling of pain, or was it sorrow. He was not sure. Immediately he had the last bite he had placed the boy’s face. Akachukwu, that was his name.
Thirteen years ago, the boy’s uncle, Ifeanyi had come to him very angry with his brother for refusing to give him money to start another business after the last two had failed.
Ifeanyi his friend had promised to deal with the family. He, Kingsley was the one that had shown the boy’s uncle where to get the kind of poison that would wipe out his brother’s family so he could take their properties.
Akachukwu’s father had died mysteriously when he travelled to the village for the Umunna meeting. Ifeanyi had wasted no time. He had kicked his brother’s widow and three children out of the house in less than a month.
Akachukwu was the first son. He must have been twelve or thirteen when it happened. He must have seen him during the burial.
He should not have eaten that gala.
He sat on the floor, his head cradled in his hands as if to keep it from falling off as the painful bubble of three days ago suffocated him. He did not know what to do so he put his hands over his mouth and wept.
He tried to still his shaking but could not. An entire family was in shambles because of him. A picture of Akachukwu following the woman behind with his barrow rose in his head unbidden.
Anything he said now would surely implicate him. He knew, yet…
“What should I do…what should I do…what do you want me to do”, he screamed inaudibly to no one in particular.
In the darkness, an hour later, staring at the picture of two children on the wall the answer came to him. As he embraced it, the pain in his chest reduced and he dozed off on the floor.
The next day, he was on the lookout for a glimpse of Akachukwu. As he began to pack up again, the boy came to him just like the last time, in the same clothes, resting on his stall. He offered him another gala.
Kingsley looked at him carefully. He did not receive it. “I know who you are”, he stated.
“Who I am?”
“Your name is Akachukwu Anyanwu. I know your family”.
The boy’s signature wide eyes were back but Kingsley did not let him speak”.
“I was friends with your uncle from secondary school. In 2008, your father died. I was the one that helped him do it, take over his four shops and kick your family out. If you take me back to the village, I have proofs that will confirm what I have said and will help you recover everything back from him”.
Finally, Kingsley felt the painful bubble in his heart evaporate. He had done the right thing.
The only evidence that the boy had heard him was the shaking in his hands. His eyes remained wide.
Kingsley held the boy’s gaze. The shock should wear off soon. He was ready for whatever came after; crying, questions, punching or maybe all three.
He would answer every question. His eyes went to the gala Aka had brought for him. He was not a fool. He did not know what had happened to the boy since his father’s death or whom he had met but he was sure the boy was no longer ordinary. He would never even touch that gala even if the boy killed him.
[In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1) ]
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