THE BARRACK BOY!

THE BARRACK BOY!

A Story by Rex AZ
"

Life as a boy growing up in the slump. The thought of growing up as a boy.

"

Sometimes he would wonder if there will ever be a time when the cold hands of destitution employed by the huge pangs of distress would slide away. Moments after moments, interesting fantasies about big bungalows constructed by the Japanese, one of those cars driven by foreigners in the movies and a woman with a face to hope for, would surface and be the factor responsible for the only smile he might have for the entire day.

 

He would wake up quite early with the mornings, hoping to smell the air that his father would always tell him is the "real breath of life." So much heat and stickiness clanged around the room. Sweat dripping from his chest, even after bathing twice before going to sleep that night. It wouldn't change anything if life does not give everyone a chance to create something, after all, those who had so much affluence may need a lot more diligence and consistency to maintain the change they create. He imagined electricity as an affluent side to life, a burden to bear if it was always continuous. "Such an ambiguous standard it will be to exist with constant electricity", he imagined. He would sit close to the window gazing into through the torn mosquito net, hoping to smell the "real breath of life" and at the same time expecting to see a night flee perching their tiny self on the old dusty hollow net. In the deep gloominess of the young morning, still from the same hole, his eyes peered horribly at the darkness, but sure to say, he saw very nothing coming out from it. He would rub his sleepy eyes with his hand and keep them opened against his resolute neglect of slumber; something his mother has always worried about every moment she beholds his eye bag, "see your eyes, you didn't sleep again today abi. Ah! This boy, you will not kill me o." Even when she complains, and his eyes are conspicuously showing the resultant bags from his sleeplessness, he would still cover for his lack and tease his mother "mama that is how my eyes are. Or have you forgotten that I took after your beautiful eyes?" His mother would chuckle mildly at his silly joke and prepare the merchandise for his venture for that day. Yes, he hawked stuffs for a living!

 

Now, before all of that, he would rub his eyes again and again until they began to bleed tears- not emotional though. “Let me wash my face, that would help”, he exclaimed. The kitchen was not in the same room they slept in, so he knew that if he wanted to go there, he had to raise his legs a little higher than normal to prevent using his siblings' heads as football when moving; even though football remains his best sport. But he needed no victory or bestowment at that moment, so he moved with great care. He would have to open the noisy door that has been like that for several months. Earlier in the day, the woodsman asked for 3,500 naira man-hour. "Ah, it’s too much oo", his father's lamented. He wasn't worried about the noisy portal so he walked right through it and along a narrow passage ducking when necessary to avoid close lines. Most times he forgets these lines, so his neck bears a soft stigma to that effect. Until he gets to the zinced door that tells him where the kitchen is, he would not stop touching the closed walls that aided is movement along the way. When he finds the kitchen entrance, his hand would reach for the light switch, 'kpam kpam kpam kpam', as the switch goes. "Ah! No light?" The perplexing look on his face was phony, as if to say he wasn't coming from the room where darkness blossomed. Most times he would look at white skinned people on their monochrome television and imagined if coming from a different world where electricity wasn't a big deal is actually real. He only sees white people as white because they come out white on the black and white TV, whether they are coloured or not doesn’t make any difference. He called them oyibos like every other Nigerians would. As a fact, he would argue that the other people who aren’t black in the TV are the coloured people, and not Africans. He was such a controversy to so many people, especially adults. He didn't think that was a problem because he was just being normal.

 

He was looking for water in the kitchen, so he found the barrel. After he washed his sleepy face with the liquid and tried drinking a little, he still didn't find a reason good enough to explain drinking water at that early hour of the day. He listens to professional rumours that water is so good for the body, especially when one drinks it quite early and eight glasses too. Now, he would argue, "how has water become nutritious, is it food?" Most lessons he got from his Integrated Science Teacher- Mr. Olayinka, he feels, are simply what he (Mr. Olayinka) has been told to tell the pupils. It was not like he (Mr.Olayinka) even knows or believes what he teaches or reads. He would wonder, "If my teacher doesn't believe these stories about water, why does he even teach them anyway?" He then remembers that teachers get paid for talking and writing people's names and addresses in a big blue-covered leaflet note called register. "How pathetic to be a teacher", he would imagine.

 

Just a sip from the cup, which was the quantity he drinks on such occasions. It wasn't because he thinks water keeps him healthy when taken at that undesirable hour, he just wants to keep calm and enjoy the tranquillity of the juvenile morning. The noticed the floor was cold and sandy, giving way for nocturnal crawlers and sticky insects to come out and do their monkey businesses. His feet were bare, but no one goes into the kitchen barefooted, at least that was their father’s instruction. "Oh, I remember Mama poured some sand in the kitchen yesterday. Ah, no wonder. I can feel the sand on my feet. But why would she even do that?" Yesterday, his mother tried to cover several holes dug by rats and millipedes in the kitchen walls and floor, so she felt sand was the only available and costless adhesive. The rats from the neighbour’s kitchen do come around to steal and befriend the ones in their kitchen; surely the only way to send messages and visit each other is to create channels through those walls. Those holes were really big. 'Sometimes these humans hold meetings to close our doors, let us create an underground tunnel to give us easy passage while they worry about the walls.' Of course, the rats in his place do think like that, especially when stealing and sharing food. His mother knows that even though the covering wasn't effective, it still covered something. So, he tiptoed out of the kitchen, ducked again for the close lines along the passage and entered the room.

 

His mother seeing him coming back into the room, "did you clean your legs before you entered the house? Shey you know I poured sand on the kitchen floor." His mother was surely awake as a result of the noisy scrunching sound the door made when he went out, and quite aware of whom that was, she didn’t worry to ask. "Yes Mama, I did." His mother, who is already aware of his habitual waking up and staring at the window every morning didn't even bother asking why he was awake and not resting his head like every other person. "Make sure you sleep o. Remember you have to go and sell by 5am." He wonders if there will ever be a time when he will quit hawking and be like every other kid on the block with so much time on their hands; it was not like they do anything with it though, they just play it away. He doesn't play that much, but football has always been his favourite leisure engagement. "Yes Mama, I know." He gave a bright smile in the gloominess, even though his mother has already fallen back to slumber, but it was positive to him, because he needed it to continue his ritual for the day. He tapped his mother at this time, "Mama, I am hungry. Can I take some beans from the remaining one in the pot?" He always does that whenever he is awake; eating and keeping vigil. His mother sometimes wonder if that's one of the reasons he always wakeup that early. "This boy, you are disturbing me oo. You are beginning to form a bad habit. You don't eat when others do, must you wait till this time before you decide to eat. Hmm, I won’t give you again the next time. Did you hear me?" That’s what she said yesterday, that's what she said two days ago, and that’s what would always say. But she can't seem to stop giving him, maybe because he hardly eats like others or because he selects food a lot. His mother would always remind him that they don't have the luxury to meet such selective needs of his at the moment; that he should perhaps select meals when he's able to cater for himself in the future. Who cares, to him, those were sermons from his lovely mother who wouldn’t refuse him any good thing within her reach. Still again, his mother would look for something close to his need and give him, not lending hears to his father, who has always complained about spoiling the children with over-pampering and unnecessary attentions. He (the father) would always say he doesn’t know what to call that.

 

As usual, he would have to go back to the kitchen for his habitual late night meals, so the process was now a piece of cake. He ate and felt satisfied as typical, and said thank you to his mother who was already snoozing in dreamland. It doesn't matter, he still said it anyway, a custom expected in the house as family courtesy. Whenever he finishes chomping, he would always keep guard for others; looking out for mosquitoes and cockroaches with torch in one hand and a broom in the other. Sometimes he goes as far as slapping his elder brother on the face just to kill a mosquito perched on his (brother's) jaw. Of course, a cry would ensue. They were still young, so who wouldn’t cry at the heat of a slap. “Who slapped me?” He would dodge and pretend to be sleeping until his brother mellows down. While on the floor, he would laugh sheepishly at the reaction of his brother and later continue in his quest. He only does the face-slapping to his brother because, he thinks others wouldn't stand the pain, and Chika was the eldest, so let him have it. They were four in all. "Good for him, he beats me sometimes, so let me slap him small." He would laugh at his gentle revenge, but he was only doing it not to pay an eye for an eye, but to scare the mosquitoes away, as he alleged. Not so good an idea though, he would reflect. Sometimes when his father gets paid his meagre salary from being a civil servant, the entire family would plan the murder of these nocturnal creatures by buying a locally made multi-pest killer. It wasn't as if that was the industry way to eradicate these pests, it was just the local and cost-effective way to follow. “These things were made of petrol, or better still kerosene, how do they kill pests?” he would query. As expected, the product, which only smells of petrol or kerosene would scare these creatures away, only for a while. They sure surfaced again when the coast was clear. That night was a case study.

 

He was tired but needed to gaze one more time through the net. He was now cold and also needed to sleep, but something tells him to still keep awake, as if to say, something spectacular was about to happen, something that was going to define the shape of dread. Yes, he always listens to himself, so he stayed put. Waiting and still staring, he began to remember stories and tales as told by distant neighbours who live at the other side of the community. Grown children in the neighbourhood would always relate and exaggerate stories of how someone who saw someone who knew someone in the barracks that was a friend to someone whose sister was confronted by a dead person when she came out to urinate. True, everyone there comes out to urinate because the toilet was never in the room, it was in the kitchen. News of how dead people appearing from nowhere and scaring others became a bestseller in the area. He does not always believe those stories, but like most enthusiasts, he would sit and heed, as he likes listening to them for the pleasure of well-crafted scary tales. Surely he was going to hear a different version of the same story elsewhere; maybe the ghost wasn’t actually a male, but a hairy female with white robe. Ghosts sure wear white robes everywhere they go, but that is in the movies though.

 

His eyes began to fail him as nature called for sleep, but he persisted to defy as usual. He stroked them with his cloth and opened them even wider. Alas! Something then happened. The scare he was waiting for, a gentle pat on his back. With a lurid cry for help “Oh God! Who is that?”

 

Story Continues...

 

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A short story based on the life event of the writer.

© 2014 Rex AZ


Author's Note

Rex AZ
please ignore the words in italics.

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Added on September 19, 2014
Last Updated on September 19, 2014
Tags: barrack boy, george rex, rex az, ghosts, scary, poverty, destitution, mother, controversy, growing up, living, mama, father