ONAEMay 28, 2020
The vendor threw the last newspaper of his enormous bundle on the verandah of the last house in the estate. He hopped onto his bicycle and rode away, whistling a monotonous tune, something done more out of reflex than actual will. He was done for the day. Now he had to make sure he got to the office before the bell chimed noon. Today was a big day in the office. The cabinet secretary for Education had just released the official results for the national primary school examinations. Orders for newspapers were flying in right, left and center. He just might make a little overtime cash. The thought of money was inspiring, he cycled faster.
Mama Onae was beside herself with joy. She had waited since the time when he was born for the day when Onae would show his father that he was good for something. There were times when she, too, doubted the possibility of this happening. Nevertheless, today, Onae had stirred his mother’s heart and she could not wait for Baba Onae to return from his night shift to share in the good news. Onae had always been an introvert from the time of his birth. He kept to himself almost awkwardly, He had no friends at school, and he spent most of his time reading comics and watching cartoons. The latter especially sent his father into fits of fury. Baba Onae came from an ancestral lineage that boasted of famed village warriors and community leaders. It was a mystery to him why his own flesh and blood would be such a far cry from the values that his surname represented. Time and again, he made his thoughts on cartoon watching known. Yet each time, Onae’s mother would come to his son’s defense. Trust a woman to spoil a good thing! Over the years, Baba Onae learnt to accept that his only child was a wimp. Some disrespectful people might even call him a sissy.
While Onae was awkward socially, he was something to talk about academically. The boy had no peers in academic excellence. He was second to none in his schoolwork year after year, he continued to earn himself more accolades and amaze all and sundry with his power of mind. His teachers were a proud lot and during school meetings, no woman could compete for radiance against Mama Onae. Mama Onae always felt that she had to do her son justice with the way she looked. So she always dressed, perhaps overdressed. Perhaps she even managed to make people not notice that Baba Onae never attended those meetings. Not that Onae seemed to mind. The boy never asked for an explanation for his father’s absence. A wall had been erected between father and son, and no one seemed to be interested in tearing it down. Well, except Mama Onae but her efforts went unnoticed, and had not borne any fruit, at least not yet.
This particular day, Mama Onae had been in the kitchen, washing dishes. She heard the familiar whistle of the newspaper vendor riding down the estate. She counted to ten and just as she mouthed the word ‘ten’, she heard the thud of her newspaper as it hit her verandah, the last verandah. She heard the vendor ride away, without even saying hello as he customarily did. The morning rush must be crazy, she thought. She made no attempt to pick the newspaper, as she did not think anything really important was therein. The political season wasn’t due in another four years, and there wasn’t any big controversy in government. She got busy getting Baba Onae’s clothes ironed, he was almost home from his job as a night watchman in the estate’s fight club. By the time she was done, the newspaper on her front door had been dragged away by the neighbor’s dog. The thought of fetching her newspaper from her neighbor drained Mama Onae’s energy. Her neighbors were a mean, well-off family. I mean, they kept a German shepherd. Those little beasts put a decent hole in your wallet. Yet she knew she had to go get it.
Mama Kwisa was smiling broadly, to the molar, stammering over a vocabulary of pleasantries .
“Karibu sana, Mama Onae…. Eeeh, siku mingi sana….Majirani hawapoteleanagi hivyo….H-hata usitoe viatu….ingia tu…..Hata umefanya vizuri kukuja….Ndo tunakunywa ka-breakfast.”
Mama Onea wasn’t sure she was in the right household. She entered the house cautiously, like a fly flying in a heavily webbed area. The first noticeable difference between this house and hers was the availability of electricity. The telly was story telling when she entered. The surprise told on Mama Onae’s face. Her own son, Onae Junior, was on the screen. Well, at least it was his picture. And beneath his photograph, the words,” LITTLE KNOWN ESTATE SCHOOL PRODUCES TOP BOY”. Before she found her tongue, Mama Kwisa came from the kitchen with the newspaper, followed by the maid with a tray full of foodstuffs. She handed Mama Onae the newspaper and the headline screamed, “KCPE RESULTS TO BE ANNOUNCED TODAY” Mama Kwisa was saying something gleefully but Mama Onae wasn’t listening. Her head was a whirlwind and she was confused. She felt like screaming out loud, but her voice had gone deep into her stomach. Mixed emotions have a way of rendering you motionless. Mama Onae sat there transfixed on the chair. She thought of how happy Baba Onae would be with this piece of news. She found her voice and managed to excuse herself weakly, standing in slow motion and clutching the newspaper possessively. She managed to drag herself back to her sitting room, and then suddenly she felt fresh energy flowing in her system. She was distracted by the ringing of her phone, and she found sixteen missed calls. Her phone was constantly ringing and she still had to warm water for Baba Onae to bathe. She was alive, thriving in that field where women are sole masters: Multi-tasking. She was warming water, making a phone call, choosing clothes for herself, and writing a message to her son, Onae Junior.
Baba Onae had had a busy night at the club. The management was planning a money fight weekend and security needed to be tight. Baba Onae did not understand why human beings needed to fight for money. That notwithstanding, he worked tirelessly to make sure plans for security were tight. By morning, he was exhausted. He was parking his uniform into his bag when his workmate tapped him on the shoulder and said
,” Naskia Kijana amepita sana. Congratulations bana.”
Baba nodded his head absent-mindedly and went on with his parking. He was thinking just how people love to gossip. ” This one wants me to discuss my son and laugh in my face because my son did not join NYS.” The National Youth Service was a national youth program that recruited form four leavers each year, based on their raw body build. Onae had missed out. Since then, he had been holed up in his grandmother’s rural home. Baba Onae did not think much of his son, and he rarely discussed him with anyone. He threw his bag over his shoulder, and he started a descent down the stairs. To Home. To Mama Onae.
Mama Onae carefully carried a basin full of water into the bathroom. She hung a clean towel on the nails improvised to serve as hooks and placed a piece of soap on the dish below it. Baba Onae would be home soon. The thought had hardly matured in her mind when the familiar knock on the door reverberated across the room. She literally did a Usain Bolt to the door and opened it with her most seductive hello. Baba Onae looked at his wife and stared. What had gotten into this woman? Why was she looking at him like she wanted money for something?
” Niko Salama, Iko nini?”
” Ha-Hakuna, kwani inakaa kama iko?Oh My God, Don’t tell me you feel it in your veins?”
” Of Course I do”
Umeona kwa TV hata wewe?”
” Ati TV? Kwani nahitaji TV ndo niskie uchovu? Umeanza kuvuta matawi mbaya Mama Onae?”
Oh, thought Mama Onae, the old boy is feeling tired, not his son’s success. Damn. Baba Onae walked past his wife and walked into the bedroom to get ready for his shower. It was while there that he noticed the commotion in their neighbor’s home. There seemed to be a lot of Camera people and Mouthy, well-dressed young men and women with microphones. The Press. Ah, he thought, they must be here for the Fight Club event. Their neighbors fit the profile of an advertisement. He chuckled softly and got in his bathroom. At first he wasn’t sure if it was the soap in his ears or the noise was really in his modest compound. He threw three handfuls of water on his face and stuck his head outside the bathroom. And stuck his head right back. The well-dressed mouthy people were crawling all over his compound. Baba Onae was confused. What was the press doing in his modest home?
He was dressed in a pair of faded jeans, and a Shujaa t-shirt. He stood out in the crowd, despite his height. The press had arranged for his transport from his grandmother’s. Now every camera was clicking away, careful not to miss the emotion storm about to precipitate. The mother came out first. She went Nigerian, almost grabbed the earth along with her son. Onae was smiling shyly.” Mother, put me down, they’re going to think I’m weak.” He whispered. Mama Onae brought her son down but hugged him continually, almost choking him. Baba Onae walked into this scene, and was utterly disgusted. But the cameras were in his face, so he smiled. And smiled for the rest of the day. Interviews drained the family of energy.
That night, when the family was finally alone, Baba Onae dropped the bomb. He wasn’t going to pay school fees for Onae. He was sure Onae was bright, but where was the place for a weak man in society? Mama Onae could not believe her ears. She was silent for a second and then said, ” Baba Onae, sasa wewe umevuta matawi mbaya?” Onae was withdrawn already. He was tapping the side of his chair with his index finger. His tapping became more rapid as his parents’ voices grew louder.
” Kwani mtoto amefanya nini? Ulitaka nikuzalie Tyson?”
” Mwanamke umejisahau?”
It got more insulting. The tapping grew harder. The Fight Club was getting loud. Mama Onae slapped Baba Onae. A pause. More finger tapping. A slap back. All daggers were drawn now. It was like a mashemeji derby ensued. Furniture was thrown this way and that. A glass window was broken. The neighbors heard screams and rushed to the scene of sin where all of a sudden, Onae was nowhere to be seen. The neighbors came to solve a domestic violence, but were suddenly dealing with a missing persons case. Onae had run away. Baba Onae said something about women who couldn’t take care of their children. Mama Onae heard him vaguely, and the search party was delayed for a second as Mama Onae shared her manicure with Baba Onae.
It had all been quick, premature, anticlimactic even. One minute, we have the star in the building, the next minute, the star had staged a disappearing act. One minute, Mama Onae was a loving housewife, preparing bath water for her husband. The next minute, she was clawing at her husband’s face. Someone managed to separate the two lovebirds and another hushed the group, and brought the attention of all and sundry to the screaming of Onae’s name at the fight club.
” Onae!! Onae!!”
The group stampeded to the fight club. He was standing in the middle of the ring. He looked like a duracell advert. If you have read the David and Goliath story, then perhaps you know what I’m saying. He was teary, and kept mumbling to himself. Baba Onae took a seat, Mama Onae was at the VIP table, taking the fight outside the ring. She wanted to cancel the fight but it was too late, Onae had voluntarily agreed to fight. The prize money was 50,000, if he won. 50,000 because he had odds of 25.00. A boychild might translate that as an outsider’s shot at the trophy.
50,000 was 10,000 more than Onae’s required fees for first term. The bell rang. The question will remain; would nature prevail over nurture? At the end of 12 rounds, we would know. Onae’s future was in his hands, literally. Now, dear reader, tell me, do you believe in happy endings? Then I won’t ruin it for you. Might you also be a fan of twists and dark resolutions? I won’t spoil your party either. My only worry is, must a boy be a man at 13 years? Then if so, we might as well have a 25-year-old president.