The JRB presents new short fiction by Jerry Chiemeke.
The piece is written in Warri Pidgin English, a dialect of Nigerian Pidgin, and is our first published work in this language. It tells the story of a boy growing up in a suburban neighbourhood in southern Nigeria in the late nineteen-nineties.
Day never even clear eye finish when the whole air gather weight unto say person dey cry. The way the cry be ehn, even if you be the kain person wey dey sleep like who him spirit dey travel for night, e no get how you no go stand up. E never reach five minutes wey the cry start, compound don full, because for this area, everybody dey like shook eye inside wetin dey happen for the other person doormot. E be like say the cry loud no be small, because one of the people wey enter we compound still carry toothpaste full for mouth, based on say him never brush teeth finish before him come.
The noise carry body full the compound sotay e come be like where mosquito dey hold general meeting, but last last person still manage see wetin happen. Na one woman wey her face be like who don pass fifty years but who never reach sixty years; she dey hold her pikin for hand, dey press him face for her chest as the volume of her cry dey burst brain like DJ wey dey club. The pikin body no gree move at all, blood dey the corner of him mouth, and the corner of him shirt wey cover him belle be like where tomatoes don soak finish. E be like say dem been cover him body before but the woman come remove am, because one big white cloth been dey lie down for corner.
‘Hey, Oghene, Oghene o! Dem don finally get am, dem don finally get my pikin o! Oghene, wetin I do dem? Wetin I do dem o!’
Next thing o, the woman begin use her hand tear the hair wey dey her head. She been wan even begin use head knack ground, but two boys come hold am before she kolo finish. Small time, everybody begin go their different house: afterall work dey that day, and all man need to hustle. No be say dem no like the woman, or dem happy as that boy kpai so, but the thing be say no be the first time wey we don see say person drop; na normal thing for this area.
This yard, na Ugborikoko dem dey call am, and na for inside the area wey dem dey call Warri for inside Delta State e dey. Warri na like three local government togeda, and the main town dey for the one wey dem dey call Warri South local government area, but based on expansion levels, and make everywhere dey easy to describe, dem come group other towns togeda, come start to call all of dem Warri: Effurun wey dey Uvwie, Aladja wey dey inside Udu, even all those DSC people wey be ajebutter, dem start to gather us, come talk say all of us, na Warri we dey.
Na for this Ugborikoko naim dem born me: I still know where the ward dey for inside that hospital wey dem dey call Family Clinic, because from when I start to waka till when I do my six years birthday, e no get the year when I no dey go treat injury, based on say I too like rough play and I no dey stay one place, like person wey soldier ant full him pant. I still remember the day when I burst head because I been dey jump from table to table for school like say I be Bruce Lee; dem talk say I no open eye for like thirty-six hours, and na cry my mama dey cry throughout.
The time wey dem born me, na soldier been dey rule the country, and that time you no just fit come dey open your mouth talk say you no like wetin government dey do, because you fit just miss, and before dem see you again, you go don turn dead body. Nothing like human rights dey that time, and dem fit carry you go prison based on say you troway dirty anyhow or you dey drive anyhow for road. That same time too, Coke na ten naira, bread na five naira, and we been dey complain: if to say we been see say for future that ten naira no go fit even buy pure water, we for dey thank God as things be.
School sef get as e been dey do me: I no dey fit write complete sentence for my exercise book, but if you play ‘How Do You Want It?’ or ‘Hit ‘Em Up’, I go yarn all the things wey Tupac Shakur talk for those him music. E no get the month wey dem no report me give my mama based on say I dey fight for school, even though na dem dey find my trouble, but when e be say na class teacher or headmistress pikin naim you fight, na only one way the matter fit go. My mama sef, na teacher she be for another school, so those three long cane wey dey our parlour, e no dey hard am to show me say no be for decoration.
My mama dey like buy expensive wrapper that time, and sometimes, she go wash one wrapper and person for the compound go borrow am; she no go see who borrow the wrapper, and the person no dey ever bring am back. E kon reach where if she wash finish, she go siddon till the wrapper dry, but wetin she fit do? Na so things just be for the yard.
We no plenty wey get TV for our compound, so anytime we put video cassette make we watch film, yard people go just gather for back of our window. E reach where we tire to drive dem, so we just carry that curtain up permanently make everybody watch. E get the day when we put one James Bond film. As James Bond dey carry head near one babe face, we just start to dey hear ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’ from that window side. My mama just dey shake head where she dey, but that na part of the things wey dey make life sweet.
That time people no get cable TV for Ugborikoko, and even the ones wey get no dey gree let person enter house, so na video club we dey go borrow film wey we go watch. That time ehn, if dem don release one new film wey Jackie Chan or Jean-Claude Van Damme dey inside, me and my senior brother Aghogho go kon rush go collect the cassette, so that we go fit dey raise shoulder for we classmate dem say we don watch film before dem. To borrow film that time na thirty naira, but e get one big girl wey go just come collect cassette, and the owner of the video club no go collect any money from the babe, and him go come dey laugh like mumu on top. I been dey wonder why that kain thing dey happen, until Aghogho tell me say one night him dey stroll for back of the video club, naim him see the girl dey hold caravan wall as she dey bend her nyansh give person. According to Aghogho, him know say na the video club guy because the person wey stand for the girl back wear red trouser wey don wash, and na the same trouser wey that guy dey wear every blessed day.
Na Mama Oghale, our landlady, naim been dey control things for our compound. Her husband wey thin like broom no dey do anything except to drink ogogoro and sing Bob Marley every day. Na Mama Oghale dey work, na she dey cook, na she dey collect rent, and every afternoon their two go quarrel sotay nobody go fit sleep, but for night we go come dey hear some kain funny funny sound from their bedroom window. People don talk say na that bedroom level and the way him dey make her laugh naim make her never drive the man comot for house. Once-once, him no go come house for night, then she go come go find am, pick am from the gutter wey him fall enter, sleep put.
Mama Oghale been get five pikin: Oghale naim be first born, Voke and Efemena naim follow for back, then Elohor, before she use Ofejiro close belle. Voke and Efemena sabi shoot catapult and dem sabi catch bird too, and boys dey steady come find Elohor for house even though her mama go come beat am after. Holiday time dey sweet ehn, because all of us for compound go come dey play ‘war start’ and ‘catcher’, and during hide-and-seek Ofejiro go come block me for back of water tank so that she go fit try lick my mouth as Michael Douglas lick Kathleen Turner mouth for Romancing the Stone. Na so so spit dey full our mouth, but wetin we know? Na oyibo film we dey try copy.
My mama dey like do business, and she been dey sell for one small kiosk for front of the compound. People dey come buy things well well, but she no dey like as Oghale dey wan collect beer and condom on credit. People dey come buy cigar make dem smoke, but the day when oversabi make me go shook empty stick of St Moritz for inside my mouth, my mama beat me like say na me don dey thief all her wrapper since. After, she give me one sweet Nasco biscuit, but that beating make me no near cigar from that day.
One thing about Ugborikoko be say, everybody wan comot, but you need to plan your movement on the low: no be place wey you go carry dey announce say you wan comot. E get one guy that year wey dey talk say him wan enter Lagos go hustle. Him boys come dey laugh am, dey talk say him never reach Port Harcourt finish, na Lagos him wan go. The guy still dey broadcast him plans, start to sell him things sef. Him been suppose travel one Thursday morning; dem see him dead body wey bullet don scatter inside bush on Wednesday night. Na Ugborikoko way be that: antelope no dey tell hunter the side wey him wan run follow.
Oghale matter ehn, the thing tire everybody for area. If no be say dem catch am dey thief money this week, e go be say him don give another girl belle next week. Him dey enter police station as person wey dey purge dey enter toilet, but based on who him mama be for the area, the case go just dey die like fish wey don too tey outside water. People just dey vex say as dem dey manage survive for area wey government no dey too reason, naim one yeye pikin wey no gree get sense go come dey cause wahala for everybody. E come reach where if Oghale waka pass anybody workshop, the person go need to count everything wey dey inside make e no be say something don miss.
Everybody know say as life dey go, Mama Oghale cup go soon full for all the cover wey she dey cover her pikin, but nobody know how the thing go take happen.
Oghale no dey take eye see woman, everybody know that one, but him come go do the one wey e no suppose do: him go slap one girl because she no gree let am press her breast, and e come be say the girl brother na one guy wey dem dey call Skippo. Everybody for Ugborikoko know Skippo. Dem know say him just come back from prison after six years because he use bottle burst person head die for Okere market that year, and dem know say him no be person wey dem dey take play. Skippo dey wear cap like Baba Fryo wey sing ‘Denge Pose’, and him dey like wear eye patch like Captain Blackbeard for inside that book wey dem dey call Treasure Island. When Skippo hear wetin Oghale do him sister, him no make noise, but everybody know say Oghale don march line, and no way no how, gbege don set.
One day as Voke dey play ball with some other pikin for Ugborikoko Community Secondary School field, naim Skippo and some of him boys show. Dem go meet Voke direct, ask am weda him na Oghale brother. As Voke use him head talk yes, naim dem troway am put for ground, start to kick am, dey march him head. By the time wey dem finish, Voke mouth dey bring blood and all him face don swell up, but as dem come dey go, him start to shout, come talk say Skippo no know him real papa and him mama kpekus dey smell like fish wey don spoil. As Skippo hear that one, him just turn, bring out one knife from pocket. E waka meet Voke as e dey stand up, forget the knife for Voke belle, then e quick-quick draw am comot.
As dem carry Voke body enter compound the next morning, Mama Oghale for knack head for ground if no be Oghale and Efemena wey hold am. Everybody know who do am, but dem still know say e no get wetin wan happen, because na so the area just be: na Oghale go shook hand for tortoise nyansh, so anything wey him see, make him take am like that, and if him talk say him wan revenge, na kasala go just dey the full community.
My papa dey work with people wey dey do environmental sanitation, so na only weekend we dey see am for house. Him no dey ever get our time, so the thing shock us the day when him just come back from work, talk say make we pack our things because him dey carry us comot from Ugborikoko go our new house for Asaba. We no even know where we wan start from, but based on street code and things, we no fit tell anybody say we dey move.
As we dey carry our travelling bag enter our papa Peugeot 504, the thing pain me no be small; I for like tell Ofejiro at least, and I know say she no go ever forgive me if she just wake up see say I don comot and I no tell am. But when I really check am ehn, na better thing as we dey move: this kain place no be where pikin suppose live him life, and e don kuku reach like six months since we see light last; na radio we use take know wetin happen for Atlanta ’96 Olympics.
E reach like twenty years before I see or even hear anything wey consain Ugborikoko again. Na one day wey I go chop afternoon food near my office for one law chambers wey dey Victoria Island for Lagos, naim I just hear person call my name two times. I look up, come see say na Efemena. If you see the way I shout as I rush hug am ehn, I no send weda other people dey look me.
Efemena look my face, tell me say him know say I shock as I see am. Him tell me say true true, him finally leave that yard, and e never too tey wey him finish school, start to work as engineer for one construction company inside Lagos. Him come ask me about my people, naim I tell am say my mama and my papa don separate, while Aghogho don enter Canada unto say country hard and government no just gree do youths well at all based on employment levels.
As I ask Efemena how things be for Ugborikoko, him face just change. Him wan nearly start to cry as he dey tell me how Elohor take die as she dey try comot the belle wey she carry for one bike man, then how dem kill him papa that time wey Urhobo and Ijaw dey fight Itsekiri; him talk say na the same people wey dey follow him papa drink ogogoro naim carry stick scatter him head. Him kon still tell me say Oghale don turn pastor. I just start to imagine Oghale dey hold Bible dey preach, naim I start to laugh: if Oghale fit repent—the same Oghale wey I know—then e mean say devil still get chance. I be wan ask am about Ofejiro, and e be like say him know from the way him come dey look me, but I just decide to collect him complimentary card, tell am say I go pay for him food as he dey waka comot from the restaurant. I for like tell Ofejiro say I don sabi lick girl lips well well now. I for like ask her if she don dey do wetin Angelina Jolie do Antonio Banderas for Original Sin, and I for like know whether she don dey reason marriage sef, but I just reason say sometimes e good make some things just dey as dem be. I find am for Facebook, I no see am, so e fit be say my eye and her eye no suppose jam again, because inside that her eye I go see the Ugborikoko wey I dey talk say I don forget.
- Jerry Chiemeke is a writer, cultural critic and lawyer. His works have appeared in Inlandia Journal, Agbowo, The Republic and The Guardian (Nigeria), among others. A lover of long walks and alternative rock music, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria.