Image Credit: Funmilayo Obasa
Your body lies still, one leg stretched and the other bent, like a frozen epileptic scene; the belly still held a lot of noise, so you wonder perhaps there’s a tint of life left. Two bottles of industrial DDT insecticide roll beside your bed, one empty and one unopened. Contrarily to how they show it in movies, the foams were just enough to create a tiny stratum above your lips, and a tiny trail of liquid strewn from your mouth to your jaws, dropping once every three seconds, into a little —No extra.
A boy is rounding up an evening masturbation when his phone rings. He presses the receive button, and for the first few seconds, only a mechanical humming can be heard.
Then he hears a voice tired from excitement: “Bruh, I checked the admission list, your name is on the first list, mine appeared on the second”. The voice was pitched, breathless.
The boy did not hang the phone before bursting to excitement. He buckles his belt, and goes out screaming. Careful not to let the door spring hit him as he release the door, and not to get his cloth torn by the nail on the door frame.
A boy is staring at a paper. CHE 101 is typed in bold ink on it. Behind him, a student is asking another for answers. An examination invigilator is sitting on a plastic chair, placed in front of the class by the third row. Like a cameraman obeying the Rule-of-Third. The invigilator receives a call, he nods, his face glistening with oil. He stands up, abruptly. He walks to the middle of the class, saying, “I just received a call now, the university staff has gone on an indefinite strike starting immediately. This examination is hereby rendered invalid”.
The boy stands to ask, “When will the school resume again?” There is a tingle in his voice, a trace of hope and uncertainty.
“Well, whenever the government pays our money.” The invigilator loosens his tie, and begin to walk out. He kicks the handmade blackboard duster lying on the floor, tainting the shiny black of his leather shoe. His walk is now punctuated by jumping, he raises his fist, shouting, “Solidarity forever, we shall always fight for our right.”
A boy is watching a TV discussion centered on the incessant strike of Ladoke Akintola University. The guests are a student, a university staff and a representative of the government.
The anchor asks, “LAUTECH has been on strike for over 23 weeks now, from your own perspective as a stakeholder, what do you see about this? We’ll start with Mr Bayo, president of the student union.”
“We students are tired of all this. The night has been a long one for us, we hope something is done. Presently, we have three batch of year one students taken in different sessions but have been unable to graduate into year two”. Mr Bayo doesn’t look like a student. His voice sounds coarse.
“Thank you Mr Bayo, can we have Mr Salami? Secretary of the LAUTECH Staff Union.”
Mr Salami begins with a quote by Martin Luther Jnr. Then he rambles on the cost of publishing in academic journals, the cost of keeping a family, the cost of coming to school every day, the cost of rice and beans, and the cost of being a staff in the university. He ends it with the fact that the strike is unavoidable and the government should pay them up. He finishes with a quote about trying ignorance if the cost of education is too much.
The government official says something about the lack of cooperation from the Staff Union and other arms of the government. The Program ends by playing the video of a fruitless dialogue with the state government. In the video, the governor is telling angry protesting student to accord him more respect, else he would leave. After all, only they would suffer the consequence.
As the video fades, a solemn voice describes LAUTECH as the university that runs on Time-Eternal, the dying system where Teachers who’d rather not be there meets Students who really don’t care. The walls where time loses effect, and everything stands still.
A boy is hungry. He picks his phone to call a number he has been dialing for the last two weeks. This time, the number is picked. He looks at the phone again, as if he did not want to believe that his was answered. Then he speaks.
“Hello, good afternoon sir.”
Whoever it was on the other line paused, then he answered. “Hello, booni. How is school?’
“I’m fine sir. How is home?”
“Home is fine, hope no problem, you’ve been calling incessantly for the past few weeks.” The voice was chucky, mocking.
“I wanted to remind you that I have not received any allowance for the past two weeks, and I haven’t paid my school fees sir”.
‘Ehen, the voice replied sharply. “See, I’m tired of you being a liability. You’ve spent the last 6 years pursuing a 4 years degree. Yusuf who got into school a year after you is already graduated and fending for himself, would you be coming to his wedding next month?”
“It’s not my fault sir, it’s the strike.”
“I’m sorry o. But I’m tired. You’re old enough to fend for yourself.
“Sir…” He would have continued, but the line was dead and all that was left was three beeping sounds.
A boy is sitting in front of a laptop PC. 11pm. The boy is caught in the middle of a cyber coitus. His roommate is dressing in black and red, preparing to go out.
“Baba, how far the matter wey I reason you nah? When you go join?”
“Boss, I dey reason the matter, I no get the mind. But I still dey think am sha. Anyhow, I go tell you.”
A boy’s room is being raided by the police. They find a gun, a mini axe and narcotics. The boy is arrested.
In the police station, they realize that though he isn’t a fellow cultist, he is a cyber-fraud. He is thrown into the station jail. Where he spent weeks enjoying the ambience of his own urine. One day, he is brought out of the jail and told that his family has come for him. Walking the jail to the car, he noticed the station has redone its paintwork after he got there. He noticed his uncle’s beard is now thicker, his nephews taller.
A boy is sitting in a street mosque, reading the Quran with a quiet sonorous voice. His head buried in the text. On the fence behind him, an Agama lizard stand nodding, as if listening with rapt attention. Soon, his voice fades to sobs, he kneels down and pray. The colors fade, he falls asleep.
A boy is sitting on a balcony, savoring the cold metallic taste of the spoon he uses in taking soaked garri. Somewhere in his memory, he replays the images of the day. A family meeting he wasn’t invited to. The darting looks of society. A mother telling her son to behave lest he turn out like him. He replays a slow scene of his younger brother with two cars, two kids, and a wife.
A buzzing mosquito go quiet, the lights go out, the door opens to darkness, a vigilante’s whistle, something stops in its track on the window, and a stray cat prances with a paw on the window. In that silence, and cold loneliness, he finds a false sense of refuge, and belonging.
A boy’s teeth is acrid and yellow, like the sanity left in his head. His breath is slow, but not calm. His journey to depression has been a slow and steady relapse. When he sits down at night, after a hard day work as a laborer in his brother’s farm, he replays his dreams. And yesterday when he sank his tongue on iced cream under the hot sun, it reminded him of his dreams. He think if he had a diary, or was a writer, he would write something and call it ‘Iced Dreams’. Somewhere in the dark abyss of his mind, a monster had woken.
A boy is held down by agile nephews. His eyes, like sunset on a hill, are cloudy, red, but beautiful nevertheless. An Iman forces him to drink liquids with horrid smells and loathsome thirst. When they release him, he refuses to eat or drink. He goes on rambling about mercy and a demon everybody else in the room cannot see. Yesterday, his rambling was about the spitting in his food. There’s a theme to his ramblings, they are never a thing to laugh at.
A boy sits with a family member, in front of a psychiatrist who diagnoses him with Schizophrenia and clinical depression. He prescribes some drugs. The psychiatrist’s writing is clear and readable, unlike the incorrigible italic others write.
The boy comes back some week later, this time, alone. The psychiatrist asks about his health, how well he has healed. Then suddenly asks,
“What color is the sky?”
“Blue, empty blue”. The boy answers with a foreboding, apprehension, as if asking the psychiatrist.
“What do you mean empty blue?”
“Blue that leaves me aching for darkness and comfort. A faux sense of happiness”. This time, his eyes were fixed on the standing fan behind the table. His eyes following every rotation.
“Explain?” The psychiatrist was now listening with rapt attention.
“I know something is wrong with me. I can see the question in people’s eyes. When the family gather around me every morning, I can smell pity thicker than their northern perfumes. I can see the hurt and rejection above the chromatic Ankara they’re wearing. I’m a liability, I know. I have always known”,
The psychiatrist is quiet, scribbles something on his pad, and declares the meeting over.
The week later, he would move the boy to a mental therapist who will charge him 15,000 naira per session. When the boy complained the price was quite much, the therapist would tell him it was not even up to 50 dollars.
“Tell me, what happened? If you could explain it, how would you?” The therapist would ask one day.
“I think I feel neglected. Even with my waywardness, I always kept my faith. I think after I went down the rail. I thought there’s always a God to go back to. But that night when I first felt the darkness fall, I was alone. I waited for a light, for hope from God. None came. The sudden proof that a God might not exist, or does not care about me. It broke me.”
“NO. Never ever say that there is no God. What do you know about God? I’ve read your files. If God was not merciful, you’ll be worse than this, never ever say that there is no God. If you want to witness him, then go back to him. Go back to his feet and beg him.” When the therapist finished, his voice was tense, angry. There was something similar with his face, it reminded him of terrorists reading propagandas.
Somewhere in the mind of the boy, the picture of a giant beast, crushing him with his feet as he lie down begging him.
When the meeting ends, the therapist tells him to stop coming if he does not pay up the last three sessions he’s had.
A boy dials his therapist’s number. And asks him where he can get industrial DDT insecticides.
The therapist contacts his family and tell them he might be having suicidal thoughts. They come meet him, and tell him to go back to God. That all his problems could be solved with a Swipe from God.
A man decides to make a bargain with God. He buys two bottles of DDT, pour one down the throat and ask god to prevent him from dying. He keeps the second one in case the first one doesn’t work fast enough. During the first few minutes, he plays Khalid’s Vertigo on repeat. And tries to sing along with the tinging taste of DDT left in his mouth. The burning sensation in his chest.
And then it starts. It starts with a soreness like that of an ulcer, then the diaphragm begins to flux. Minutes later, the alimentary canal is simply a long coiled tube. The muscles begin to deny it. Or maybe not, maybe all they want is to burn off all energy left. The jerks do not come from his will to not die, that left a long while ago. It comes from your body screaming the word betrayal to his face, it’s the last evidence that he truly is the darkness. Something hold within his head, like the sudden stop of electricity before a white bulb goes off, and all left is empty, dark nothingness.
You stand a foot above this inanimate object. First alone, then a man barges in, he seems to tap the object, but it’s just an object. You see the shock as he glances to the bottles on the floor. He barges out, comes back with his wife and sister. The ladies can’t take it, they break down in tears, just while the man goes to call the community Imam. He says some verses; a tear drops from the corner of his eye. The older lady comes to a realization, she picks both bottles from the floor, throws them beyond sight and says; “He died while sleeping”. And just before you fade completely, you catch the lines of Khalid’s Vertigo from a mobile phone that now belonged to no one.
Are we alive? Or are we dreaming…
After the ride… are we leaving?
Author’s Note: Merriam Webstar gives the first collegiate definition of a SWIPE as A Strong Sweeping Blow.
Olatunji Uthman Olaigbe is a writer who resides in North Central, Nigeria. His works are targeted to tell the stories of under/mis represented entities. His fields of interest include but are not limited to agriculture and rural living, mental health, and identity struggles. He is an Alumni of the Boot-Camp X Africa Leadership Camp. His works have appeared on Kreative Diadem and TEDxUnilorin Publications.