Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Watchman

A glass cup placed on a wall, with one’s ear then placed on it, can not help isolate one from the sounds around so that the voices behind the wall can be heard. I proved this eavesdropping tactic to be a myth, as I tried, twice, to hear the sounds behind my uncle’s bedroom wall with a glass cup. But I heard nothing. I was curious to hear those sounds that my mind envisioned filled my uncle’s room. In that time of my life, with confidence, sometimes blind simmering in me, I was certain that there had to be the moaning of the woman under my uncle, or him releasing a groan on reaching some point. It was hunger, a ravenous brand of hunger that engulfed me, as I desired to hear even the creaking of the bed, my uncle and his woman lay on, or the tussle of their intertwined legs. But I never heard anything, but the silence that echoed back from my uncle’s bedroom wall.

There was the day my uncle strolled into the living room with the same woman he had brought over, a few days before. I, with my back on the throw pillow that had animated images of Polar Bears and clover leaves imprinted on it, stood up, on seeing my uncle walk in with the woman. Of course, I did not rise as though I was acknowledging the presence of a superior or commandant, but I stood up because, on seeing the woman, I suddenly realized that the manner I lay on the throw pillow with my right foot on my left knee, made me look childish, innocuous. I greeted my uncle and the woman, and then she giggled.

“I am Cordelia, remember I was here four days ago”

I shook my head, remembering her and how she had come into the living room and could not stop gaping at the Arabic words inscribed on the flower vases my mother had bought from Dubai. I remembered her very well, but confused her name with the girl, my uncle had sneaked into the house,the night before. The girl, or should I say very young woman, had short curly hair that was slightly above the length that the girls at the Government college were meant to keep. From the way that her skin gleamed a dark black different from those of the other girls in the estate, it seemed it had been coated and cast with coal and then oiled. I had first seen her when she came to fetch some water from our house, during the one week power outage in our estate in Port Harcourt. She carried a plastic white Jerry can on her head, with a cloth rolled into a spiral separating her head from the Jerry can's abrasive bottom. The white Jerry can leaked and so caused a trail of water to stream down the groove in her back visible under her white blouse. Her name was Ini and she was the housemaid of the family in the estate who owned less than two cars.

My uncle after waiting patiently for Cordelia to end her conversation with me, ordered her, jovially, yet not discarding his authority, to come over with him to his bedroom. I turned my head away from them, trying to hint that although I knew what went on in the bedroom, I had no interest, whatsoever, with what they did. Of course, this was fallacy. With them gone, I went back to my childish position on the throw pillow, switched on the television and then looked away from it. Music from MTV invaded my ears, as I looked up at the ceiling. It was somewhere in between my gawking at the perforations in the ceiling and glancing at the music video , that an idea, or more aptly, scheme occurred to me. But come to think of it, it was not really a scheme; it was only a thoughtful idea to let my uncle, who was busy in his un-shut bedroom, know that I was leaving for a friend’s house. Rising from the throw pillow, I concluded that it was only polite and respectful that I let my uncle know my plans for the day. And so I walked up to his bedroom door, and with two swift, three-second, yet revering knocks on it, I opened the door.

One would think that with the anticipation that I had of not only hearing, but also seeing what went on in my uncle’s bedroom, the first thing that I would have sensed would have been an image, something for my mind to capture and immediately store, for future viewing and relishing. But my first sensory perceptions had been auditory. It was my name that I heard first, before my eyes saw any thing.

“ Baddy, Badero” my uncle called out to me, his voice trembling.

“I’m going out now, I needed to let you know, in case you were looking for me. Sorry” I said averting his stunned gaze, and Cordelia's under him

I closed the door. I rushed out to the terrace and placed on my slippers. Throughout this time, my mind was not cluttered, but free like an open grassland with sparse trees, each of the sparse, spiny trees being the images of things my eyes saw around the terrace and my mind usurped and stored. It was not until I left the house and stood in front of the gate of my friend’s house, that my mind, without my control, began to play the images that it had saved from my uncle’s bedroom. There had been the burgundy silk cloth that had covered my uncle from the small of his back to his knees and had shielded part of Cordelia’s breasts. The veins on my uncle’s forehead were enlarged and more visible like the fibrous roots of Palms trees that reached close to the soil surface and bulged out. Cordelia’s face had been turned away to the wall, and so I could only see her garish red weave and how it had a similar hue to the reddish brown of her neck like the shaft of groundnuts. I saw one side of Cordelia’s unclothed buttock, and how it had formed cascading folds where it pressed on the bed. My uncle had not yelled out to me or spat pejorative Yoruba words at me or ordered me to get out of the room. He had only shook his head, still on top of Cordelia and replied to my thoughtfulness

“I have heard you. Thanks”

In this place where grey iron poles and chipped pillars evenly separated, hold up three storey buildings, I often wonder if what I saw in my uncle’s room on that day lead to my presence here. When I search through the dim, dusty archive of mind, I often wonder if my adolescent curiosity which fomented the other yearnings to see and hear what happened when a man and a woman were isolated from the rest of the world in their shut rooms, made me dismiss and reject offers from other universities, both here and abroad. Was my sudden curiosity in religion and the desire to attend a Seminary a way of dismantling the burdening guilt I might have felt on humiliating my uncle, and most especially Cordelia? Perhaps it did not end there with my uncle and Cordelia, and that me being in the seminary was a way of atoning for the sin I committed when I peered through half-shut doors, hid in
wardrobes, just to see those couples going at it. But that could not be, as I did not, or ever did feel that kind of guilt that people claimed festers in and corrodes one’s insides. And sin, its very concept was something that I never did accept to feel heavy whenever I did something that others considered sinful. In that case, if my being in the Seminary was not a means of seeking divine redemption, then it certainly was my route of escape.

In the seminary school here in Owerri, the routines are, at first difficult, sometimes inane to follow, but as one lives here, the routines become a second nature. At night, fluorescent bulbs, with insects congregating in front of them, light the verandas where students stroll to study rooms. The white light from the bulbs illuminate the Ixora hedges and Frangipani trees that line the front of the
verandas. The white Cassocks of prudish and reputation-conscious students and off white of the less-hygienic ones gleams when the white light showers on them. The white light of the fluorescent bulbs is essential to the boys here in the seminary, because out into the field and surroundings exists an enveloping kind of darkness, since the lamps are usually not switched on when the generator is in use.
But for those boys who engage in clandestine activities, the darkness is often a relief and shield from the predatory eyes of the head boy and housemasters.

I am a Seminarian and an altar server here in St. Barnabas. Not with the intent of sounding self-ingratiating, unlike the other altar servers who were selected for their father’s position in the church, I was chosen for my remarkable academic performance and outstanding self composure. On Sunday mass, that some other students complain of being dreary but I find immensely engrossing, I assist Father
Andrews in performing the Eucharist. With his back to me, I hold out the Paten containing the flaky, cracker-tasting body of Christ. Father Andrews inured to the routine of the Eucharist, does it a robotic manner, uttering the creed, as though not thinking of it or even realizing that he is saying it. He places the bread
on the lips of the communicant, places the grail containing wine on their mouths and then wipes away the spit or lip marks with a kerchief. If one does look at Father Andrews and sheds off, from one’s eyes, those misty scales of reverence accorded to priests, one sees disillusionment in Father Andrews’ eyes. His disillusionment seems not to sprout from his doubts in the Catholic beliefs indoctrinated in him, but
emanates from his observation of his congregation, of the world.

I have seen Father Andrews drink beer and sip brandy in his room. It was one of those nights, with an enveloping darkness and I had gone to respectfully inform him that a suspicious looking man had walked in with a bag, and left his room with nothing. When I peered in through his door, still left half-open by the suspicious-looking man, I saw Father Andrews drinking alcohol. He seemed, at that moment, not to care about anything, about the half-opened door or the possibility that someone peered in through it. Father Andrews staring into nothing in the room and seeming to ignore, yet at the same time listen, relish the Jazz music from his radio, looked like a man who had finally unravelled the secrets and lies of the world, and concluded, disappointingly, that it bore so much resemblance to the animal world. When he finished his beer bottle, he let it oscillate, as he seemed to ponder on how this race to attain so much wealth, and survival of only the most ambitious and the neglect of the inept ones, the casualties was similar to the primal rule of the survival of the fittest in the animal world. Then Father Andrews smiled a tired smile, and let the beer bottle rest in the middle of its oscillatory path as though he was mocking himself at choosing to be at the periphery of the world’s rag race and surrendering himself to be what; a puritan! A celibate man!

For a while, the seminary did offer me escape from the outside world and the curiosity to see others in their most intimate of human connections. But my eavesdropping on Father Andrews and he catching me ended that. Father Andrews, a disillusioned man, had stared stoically at me from his room. Without him speaking, his expressionless eyes were able to order me walk into the room.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asked.

“Not long Father. I’m very sorry”

Father Andrews stared back at me, his face still blank, yet demanding a precise answer.
“Two minutes, Father”

“I could have you severely punished for trying to steal from me” Father Andrews said, looking directly into my eyes.

“I am very sorry, sir. I was only going to report to you that a suspicious man had walked out of your room”

Father Andrews let his eyes linger on my face, and he pushed his head backward almost as if to get a clearer view of me. It was when a smile slowly formed in his face, that I knew he had found in me, a useful gift.

It might have been the way that I gave the excuse of the suspicious looking man as though it were truth that I even believed or that, for a short moment, he actually did believe me, that endeared me to him. I became Father Andrew’s wingman, and helped watch out, when he had a woman with him in his room. The women, most of them miracle-seeking and husband-searching, were the ones who sneaked into his
room, averting my gaze. But there were those tense moments when a student would want to file a complaint or a priest would want to see Father Andrews, and I would, inevitably have to badge into Father Andrews’ room to warn him of the incoming danger. These moments were rare, and when they came I used them wisely, my mind usurping every image it could in the short moment I stood in Father Andrews’ room. I would storm in making it seem that Father Andrews was busy attending to me, and the other people, therefore, had to wait. In the dimness of Father Andrews’ room only lighted by a half-dead orange incandescent bulb, I would see the woman first murmuring her discomfort, and Father Andrew chuckling as he engulfed her with his weight. In the dimness and stuffy room, they would be drenched in sweat and so their skins glimmered. Father Andrews would raise his head to me, stoically, and order me to go tell the person to wait outside, where he would attend to them.

Escape eludes me. Father Andrews’ midnight trysts have awakened in me, curiosities buried beneath my years of routine and devotion in the Seminary. Now, I can no longer stare past couples and hold myself from wondering and imagining what they were like in their most intimate moments. Now, at mass, as I stand behind Father Andrews, Paten in my hand, I imagine how the couple, both young and
old do it. I question under what lighting they do it, and if their breathings compliment or repel each other. Even the Nwabueze’s, a strange looking couple, with the husband being a scrawny man and the wife being overweight, rekindle my curiosity. I wonder if Mr. Nwabueze on top of his wife, which is most likely the position they take, almost sandwiched between her thighs ever unintentionally
holds on to the bed and then realizes “very big mistake, wrong cushion”. Now that I am upended by my curiosities and constantly wish that they free me , I experience the boredom and frustration the other seminarians feel. The seminary no longer offers to me, the escape which it used to. I have to leave. I have thought of going back home to Port Harcourt, and letting my family know and maybe their
repulsion and consequent pity would make me change. But I doubt if I can bring myself to do this. A viable option to me, at this moment, is a Sanatorium. Certainly, it would be a drastic change; moving from the jailhouse of the Seminary to the den of a sanatorium, but what else am I to do, in this eye-popping conundrum.


NaijaBabe said...

Omg. Awesome. See I don't even know what to say. I guess the seminary has lost it's meaning.

How are you though? It's been a little while.

Afolabi said...

@ NaijaBabe- I know its been a while, even if its the summer, I'm still busy with work. But I''ve decided to find time to devote to writing and blogging and reading.
So how you doing?

NaijaBabe said...

Aww pele.

If you've got to work, then you have to. Take it easy though.

I am very well thank you.

The Invisible Man said...

Hey Afolabi hope u are doing great. Just passing by

Osondu Nnamdi Awaraka said...

This is great. Well done man! Well done!

Anonymous said...

hmmm.. nice


Afolabi said...

@ invisible man : I'm doing alright. Interesting blog you have there.

@ Osondu: Thanks man. You writing any new stuff.

@ J- :):)

Eshuneutics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eshuneutics said...

A finely detailed and richly observed piece of writing. An intriguing photo too!

Mamarita said...


Afolabi said...

@ Eshuneutics- Thanks for the comment. I was a bit worried that I had put too much...

@ Mamarita- Long time!! How's the summer going for you?

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