By Dan Akinlolu (South Africa)
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This was a story about how a man would have committed a suicide because of his superstitious belief that children giving birth to on Saturdays are often unlucky and probably with “sixth finger” (a tiny stubby-skin growth by the smallest finger) could cause further misfortune to his family.
That Sunday morning when Dad wanted to hang himself, there were few people in Jonjo Street. Everyone was in the church down the street. After we had a decent meal of bread and scrambled egg and Cadbury tea with Grandma, Uncle Thelma and his two children, they also left for church. Dad cut the bread so thin that everyone could see Uncle Thelma through it. Dad said that was how the bread could get to all of us. The twins thought the slice bread were handkerchiefs because they were cut so thin and transparent. I ate mine with small scrambled egg cooked by Dad but I was still hungry. No one ever liked it when Mum cooked white rice; it was always watery, looking like porridge, we had to use plastic straw to suck our rice instead of scooping with spoons and forks. Grandma too complained that Mum was a bad cook despite the fact that she raised her to be a good housewife.
After the breakfast, Uncle Thelma and his children left for the church, my other siblings- the twins, decided to visit Mum at the clinic with Grandma. She was there; she was delivered of three baby boys. The doctor’s report said Mum had triplet, it meant we would be six children in the family.
Dad hated the process of giving birth like rabbits simply because he wanted a baby girl. Mum wasn’t working; she was always at home manufacturing babies. She couldn’t get any job because there was no job. Dad had complained to Uncle Thelma and Lucifer’s father that he was tired of everything and tired of feeding a large extended family with his meagre income. If he had his way, he would ask the nurse to do something about his chromosomes.
Few years back when Mum’s pregnancy was about seven month old, the mid–wife predicted that if Mum laboured on Wednesday, it would be a “she”, and if on Friday, it would be a “he”.
Dad prayed that Mum should give birth on Wednesday; he preferred “baby she” to “baby he”. “Baby he” eats a lot and always causing trouble, besides that, we all were boys in the family but “baby she” was good for investment like bride price. Dad was seriously expecting a baby girl and he was excited about it.
One Thursday afternoon, people came to call Dad at the railway site and told him Mum was deliveredof a baby.
He stopped what he was doing and nervously asked,
“Is today Wednesday?”
They replied no. Dad asked again,
“Is today Friday?”
They also said no. Then he asked again,
“A he or a she?”
They replied, “Twins he.”
Then Dad shouted,
“Aha! Thursday is between Wednesday and Friday; twins are always born on Thursdays. I will never use that clinic because the mid- wife set me up.”
That was how the twins came to join the family and always sucked at Mum’s breasts as if they would drain her of her milkand we named them “Twins-He” because they made Dad angry.
Dad was always mad to see Twins-He sucking lustfully at mum’s breast, and he did as if to break their necks for their greediness while he grumbled about in the house and complained that we have drained his life, his finance and now his wife’s breasts. Mum’s belly came out again and she was in the same clinic with three baby boys coming out of her.
I was told the triplet looked like Dad. I haven’t seen them but before the delivery, I often sneaked to the clinic whenever there was a special programme for pregnant women in Jonjo Street. I would peep through the small window to the doctor’s room to catch a glimpse of what was happening to the naked pregnant women, lying on their back on the stretchers while the nurse on duty massaged their big belly.
The nurse would also talk about family planning while all the women are seated on long rows of bench. The community women hated the nurse when she talked to them about birth control. They felt it was criminal and sinful to stop the creative process of God. Most time, they complained and shouted at her with all sorts of comments,
“Shame on you nurse!”
“Children are gifts from God!”
“Jesus loves little children why destroy them with birth control measures?”
The housewives, including Mum, protested and whispered among themselves that it was bad to teach such thing when kids are watching.
On that Sunday, Dad asked me to get him a rope from Lucifer’s father in down town Jonjo Street. In Jonjo Street, there are many shacks built with cardboards, tarpaulin, plywood or corrugated sheets. But my parents lived in low budget communal flats. It was one of those old crumbling houses, very close to the railway station. They called it “Railway Quarters”. We lived there because Dad was a railway man and anyone who works, as railway staff would live there but Uncle Thelma’s family squat with us in our small but over-populated flat. Living in railway quarters made us somewhat special from other slum dwellers in Jonjo Street. Unlike Lucifer’s father, there are plenty families in their compound, most tenants had to queue in front of the pit latrine and bathroom, taking turn to take their bath. There was no kitchen except the open backyard, no drainage system but plenty of stagnant pool where we play when it rain heavily. At times, parents do often mistake their children for someone else’s. They shout about in the compound, looking for their own as if they were some kind of a lost pencil or eraser.
“Hey! Who picked my child from the backyard? He is short, sturdy with pouted lips.”
“I am looking for my daughter! Who has my daughter with him? She’s got two scratch marks across her face. Anyone who finds her should return her as soon as possible.”
Lucifer’s father was a very popular man in Jonjo Street, though some people called him Papa Bamo but he was well known as Lucifer’s father; and of course he was Dad’s best friend. They grew up together and Dad sometimes called him Papa Bamo too.
I didn’t like the idea of taking a rope from him because I didn’t like Lucifer. Every street kid hated Lucifer not because he was found on a refuse dump at eight month old and was christened Lucifer or because his adopted father (Papa Bamo) was a dubious church elder. Everyone hated him because he had six fingers. It was a small abnormal lump by the side of his smallest finger. Lucifer loved to show off with it and anyone with such ugly little thing sticking out of his finger was a potential troublemaker, and he had given mum a handshakeseveral times with it.
Lucifer’s adopted mother was a pious woman, dedicated and religious. She raised him in the way of God, but Lucifer was always causing trouble and asking bad questions in the church’s children department and Sunday schools. When he was ten, he looked liked he had a problem with his skin colour. His eyeballs would dangle loosely as if it would come out of their sockets.
During the Sunday school, our teacher asked him why Jesus walked on the water and Lucifer said because Jesus was broke and the ship ticket was too expensive. The ship left Jesus behind because the Captain he’s got no time for Jesus, then his eyes would make funny hollow sound – dangling noisily in his head.
When he was thirteen we both enrolled at the missionary primary school and we were supposed to do our baptism in a stream with other slum dwellers. During the baptism, some parents were happy seeing their children surviving the water after two girls drowned because the preacher was a small, thin man, who didn’thave enough strength to pull them out. So he kept drowning fat girls. Lucifer was eleventh on the list, they called his name but he kept shouting he wanted a life jacket to survive the baptism,
“I don’t want to drown! There are many sins floating on the stream! I don’t want other people’s sin to glue to my body.”
That was why I didn’t want to get close to Lucifer because Dad said he would put his bad luck on me.
Dad wanted to hang himself because Mum gave birth on Saturday night to three babies and with extra fingers each. When I came back with the stool and a rope, Dad was still waiting by the bush path leading to a dilapidated building, he wouldn’t tell me where we were going, he only asked me to follow him. He looked at me and said,
“Did anyone see you?”
“No.” I lied. I told Lucifer about it.
“Okay! Hurry up before they close heaven’s gate”
Heaven’s gate? He was going to heaven! I was happy because Mum said good people go to heaven. I was really excited about what Dad wanted to do. I had a feeling dad wanted to steal the heaven’s golden gate and sell it for Papa Bamo. I was sure Papa Bamo would buy it at good price.
We entered the dilapidated building. Dad did the rope in a special way I didn’t understand; he said nothing, but went on to tie the rope to the roof It took a long time to fix the rope so much that I was bored and disappointed. I kept thinking they would lock the heaven’s gate before Dad finished with the rope,
“Hurry up Dad, the golden gate will be locked.” I said
“What!” Dad snapped at me wildly.
“Who told you they’ve got golden gate in heaven?” he replied wildly.
I’ve never seen such brutal expression on his face before. He seemed to have something running on his mind.
“I said who told youabout a golden gate in heaven?” he asked again
“I…my…the Sunday school teacher.” I stammered. Dad looked at me for a moment. I guess Dad thought I would tell the police that he wanted to steal the golden gate in heaven to sell to Lucifer’s father.
After some time, Dad was sweating while he turned and twisted the wire. Then he tightened the noose around his neck. It was really fixed as the rope was suspended from the roof plank.
“Bring that stool.” he ordered.
I carried it to him and he stood on it. Again his countenance changed as he muffled inaudibly. He adjusted the noose on his neck, stepped down and murmured strangely to himself. I was worried about Dad’s attitude,
“Dad? Is the rope bad?” I asked.
“I am not talking to you! Okay?” he shouted at me so much that I was scared.
Dad suddenly smiled, he looked ready as he beckon at me,
“The plank is not strong enough,” he said pointing to the roof,
“But I will handle it.” Dad concluded and mounted the stool again.
“Now listen kiddie, when I count, one, two and three just kick the stool off my feet. You hear me?”
“One-two-three! Just kick, alright?” he said again and I smiled.
Dad tightened the noose on his neck, murmured some strange words then cleared his throat. He shut his eyes then counted,
“One…one…one…” he stopped counting, opened his eyes while he stepped down from the stool. I watched in silence.
“This stool isn’t good enough.” he said. I adjusted it but Dad was reluctant to climb again, however, he finally did. He shut his eyes, swallowed hard with sweat pouring all over his face. Dad’s face looked as if he didn’t want to do it. He cleared his throat and started counting again,
“One…one…one and half…two…ehm…”
I kicked the stool off his feet. I did it within a second. Dad twitched his feet while his legs dangled loosely in the mid air. His eyes bulged in their sockets as he made a whimpering sound from his throat like a dog. Dad’s body jerked in the air, struggling for breath. Then somehow the wire snapped and Dad collapsed on the dusty ground coughing with water coming out of his red dizzy eyes.
I was excited and clapping my hands in fun. I guess Dad was proud of me doing such an important task for him. I thought Dad would get up so that we could continue.
Dad wept. He held tightly to my leg and wept like a baby. I was confused.
“Why can’t you stop me…why?” he sobbed and wept loud,
“Those babies… are not mine…no…Lucifer’s father touched my wife. Why?” he wept loud again.
Lucifer’s father also had six fingers and I remember he always come to mum when Dad was out to work.
Dad was able to get back his breathing; he gave me a sinister look.
“You‘re a fool!” he snarled, it looked like he would beat me.
“Did I ask you to kick the stool? Ehn? Tell me?”
He shouted and gradually rose to his feet. I was scared and wondered what kind of a Dad this was, at one time he was happy and another time he was mad.
“What kind of son are you… you want to kill your father.”
“Sir, you told me at the count of three I must kick.” I stammered.
“Did I count three? Tell me? Did I? I only said ‘ehm’, is ‘ehm’ the same thing as three?” Dad yelled and swore at me over and over while he massaged his neck.
“Carry the stool, we’re going back home.” he hissed and walked out of the dilapidated building. I followed him. I was sad that I discouraged Dad from doing his task.
On our way home we met a small crowd of people and Dad’s friends from the church with a White man and Lucifer’s father. The white man said he was a correspondence from BBC and he’d been looking for Dad for some days because he wanted to interview him.
Grandma too came along with them. When she saw the rope on Dad’s neck looking likeanOlympic medal with dust all over his face and body, she knew what dad had tried. Grandma started wailing and gnashing her crooked teeth. She said,
“Why do you want to do this? Why? Why?”
She hugged Dad and told him he shouldn’t commit suicide because of a superstitious belief in six-fingered babies.
Grand ma said, “God who was in charge of over populated angels in heaven would help him to feed the triplet.”
The white journalist came forward through the crowd and introduces himself as Glen Mc Donald from BCC and requested for an interview with dad about the mysterious triplet. Then he told Dad that if God isn’t tired of giving him life why Dad should be tired of living.
Mr. Mc Donald also told Dad that he could help arrange for support from international organizations to raise fund for possible surgery for the triplet if he wanted it.
For the first time, Dad smiled and waved to the small crowd like a movie star,
“So I am famous!” He said
“Come home with me white friend. I am the greatest baby maker.” He told Mr. Mc Donald with such pride and enthusiasm.