- Being Alphonso
A heavy rain can sometimes be an enemy. Today's heavy rain is a perfect example. Among the many things that confuse me about God, this sort of rain that seems to go on forever is one. I still find it difficult to understand why God would allow rain to fall for a whole day or two, nearly grinding everything to a halt. Floods overflow gutters and push out all the rubbish, scattering it on tarred roads for everyone to see. They expose rubbish as a prudish gossip exposes his neighbor's secrets—the purpose is shame. The only difference now is that shame packed its bags and ran away from this place. On many occasions, after hours of heavy rain which leaves roads and street-corners littered with rubbish, people walk by nonchalantly, ignoring the mess as if they did not contribute to it. The local government council seems to have given up on us too. I do not blame them. Every week, they are forced to replace all the signs near the huge gutters which read: DO NOT DUMP REFUSE HERE. FINE: 5,000. The signs are stolen as soon as they are placed or replaced. We still do not know who steals them. Sometimes I wonder what the thief does with them—sell them or use them for something else? Are there people who know who the thief is? Is it an organized theft? Because there are often no warning signs or the obvious presence of any task force to arrest and punish offenders, gutters manage to contain enormous amounts of rubbish. Always. And even if a task force existed, it would have to work around the clock because most of the dumping is done at midnight when there are no eyes watching. But often, in the middle of the night, neighbors meet themselves at the gutter right in the middle of their sins.
I have always thought that fate brought together this group of people to live in the Ibasi Layout. It does not take much mental calculation to know that you are not much different from the man who lives next door. I can swear that all my mates whose families live here also go to [End Page 133] Ibasi Layout Elementary School. On school days, it seems all the pupils pour out onto the street and head to school. Those whose parents have cars are driven to school while the rest of us walk the distance. Those chewing-gum children, they don't know what they are missing. On our way to school every morning, we have all the time and freedom to talk about things we should not be talking about. On some days, we stop on our way to copy each other's homework. One of us bends, offering his back as a desk on which we write, having no time to check if the answers are right or wrong. We just copy.
My best company is Chike, my classmate and friend who lives on the next street. Chike's mother, a born-again Christian, sells groundnuts, cashew nuts, kola nuts, alligator peppers, roasted breadfruits, dry gin, snuff, and cigarettes in a makeshift kiosk in front of their residence. She owns a megaphone with which she roams the streets every morning, singing gospel songs and warning people about hell fire. "Hell is real! My God is not happy with you! Repent now or perish!" she says and breaks into tongues that I believe she—let alone everyone else—never understood. We need no alarm clocks. Her voice is always there at 5:00 a.m. to wake up everyone on the street. No one has ever seen her hair. She always ties a red-striped scarf and wears no jewelry. On some days, she wears a beret and appears like an old French poet or artist, although I can bet she has never written a verse. I wonder if her family ever gets to see her hair. Sometimes, I like to humor myself by imagining that she has no hair at all.
One morning, on our way to school, I asked Chike if his mother ever unties...