The Akintola house housed four families, one unmarried couple and a graduate. In total there are 17 people. Mama Solomon wakes up 16 people every day except Sundays. Sunday is Papa Solomon’s day.
Lateness is not of God but of the devil. This life motto is written in different corners where Papa Solomon’s eyes happen to wander to, in different rooms of the house; that is the kitchen and the sitting/bedroom. It was written lazily on the bedbug-infested mattress, written in the block beside the hole beside the light switch, on the edge of the freezer and in between the pots hanging from the nails in the wall. It is with this same energy he used in writing down this reminder for his family that he uses in screaming it at them on Sunday mornings. Mrs. Akintola sometimes joked that was the only English he could write down.
Solomon was running late that Monday morning. His lateness had nothing to do with the verbal war between his parents. The uniform he hung out to dry the evening before had fallen into the open gutter beside the clothesline. He knew it was Samuel, the son of the Yoruba neighbors living above their room. Solomon swore a week of pain on Samuel as he washed the palm oil and grease away from his shirt.
“Solo what are you still doing here?”, Papa Solomon came into the kitchen just as Solomon rubbed in a second layer of soap on a stain close to the collar. A slap that moved him from the sink to the front door was what followed the inquiry. Samuel will suffer was the thought that kept Solomon from crying his way to school.
The way to school was longer than normal. Solomon believed everyone that walked near him that morning was looking at the stains on his shirt. His class teacher was going to humiliate him in public. He won’t cry but the embarrassment will remain with him for a long time, especially if the new girl was around. He silently sent prayers heavenward that the new girl will pick today to break her habitual late coming.
It is in this state that he spotted Samuel’s blinding white shirt and perfectly ironed shorts standing close to the akara woman.
“Samuel!?”, Solomon called out.
Samuel turned left, then right. He saw Solomon and continued with his buying.
“Samuel!?”, still no reply. Solomon got closer to Samuel. The next Samuel he yelled; he was practically screaming into the side of Samuel’s face.
“Oga wetin?”, the akara woman took her eyes off her akara drowning in hot oil, scanned the disturbance to her morning in the form of a teenage boy.
The anger for the soiled shirt, his father’s slap, the looming possibility of embarrassment and Samuel ignoring him was what drove Solomon’s palms to Samuel’s right cheek.
“Aah!”, the akara woman exclaimed on behalf of Samuel.
Samuel was near tears when he finally found his voice, “What did I do to you now?”
“Wetin he do you?”, the akara woman completely unaware of the bad blood between the two supported her customer.
Ignoring the presence of the akara woman, Solomon launched into a detailed account of his unfortunate morning, starting with his discovery of his school uniform shirt in the gutter. Samuel tried not to smile through Solomon’s rant but the image of Papa Solomon slapping Solomon snuck into his head without permission.
“Why are you now telling me?”
“I know you were the one that pulled it down.”
“How did I pull it down? Your uniform had no peg on it. It was destined to end up in the gutter.” Solomon was nearing the edge of his anger and it was clearly written on his face. It was just Samuel’s luck that he had poor judge of disposition, he burst into laughter.
“Shirt like owner.” More laughter.
“No wonder. I’ve been smelling something. So, it’s you?” More laughter.
Solomon bent over and picked some of the soot gathered at the side of the akara woman’s industrial stove. Spitting into his blackened hands, he made to smear it over the front of Samuel’s shirt. Samuel reading his intention a little too late ducked to the right.
“Aah!”, the akara woman helped Samuel in exclaiming again.
Solomon’s fingers had managed to stain some of his shirt but that was not Samuel’s major problem at the moment. Samuel ducked right into the akara woman’s pan of hot oil.
By Anene Chukwudumebi B.