I will rewrite this novel until a 'miracle' takes it away from me. So help me God.
His house was always dark but he wanted no lights – artificial or natural. For him, anyone who lived with lights lived with a permanent anxiety that gloom was near, and this was a looming disquiet that receded lives more than death.
As a younger man he learnt that darkness was a cover for evil; in prison he discovered that light had taken its place. So when he returned home from jail, he walked into the council flat he lived before his imprisonment wearing a piece of cloth over his left eye. He entered the sitting room, lit by a 30-watt amber bulb and shaded by coffee coloured curtains hanging down his windows. A dull amber brightness scattered itself around the area and it irritated him. He drew his hands over the curtains and felt the coarse settling of dust on the thin lines of the weave of fabric. The dust spread into his nostrils. He sneezed and coughed. His mother moved close to him and tried to tuck her handkerchief into his right palm. ‘I’ll wash the curtains or change them for one with brighter colour.’ He shook his head, left the piece of cloth to drop to the floor and moved away from her with his hands behind his back, overlapping his buttocks. He stared at the curtains long and then shifted his gaze to the room to assess the furniture: a bookshelf with chewed out newspapers, a transistor radio on a small table with a broken leg, two armchairs and a sofa. A flower vase with plastic hibiscus lay on its side in a corner of the room. Everything was clean except for the curtains.
‘Pele. Don’t be angry. I forgot to wash them. We were so excited about your release that we couldn’t do any major cleaning.’ His mother exhaled noisily and switched from her Ijebu dialect of Yoruba into the colloquial one, ‘Kayo and I just came to meet you at Kirikiri when those warder people called me then those press people will come and start asking us many-many questions. Thank God. I have been praying.’
He didn’t say a word. He wanted to give the impression that he was listening in defiance. He turned his gaze to the window blinds and nodded during each of her pause. Nothing was said between the three people in the room for a while, and it soon appeared like the quiet inside the house listened to the noise of liveliness on the streets until he stepped out of the sitting room.
As he moved into the bedroom he heard his mother say something to Kayo.
He paced the room, counting his steps back and forth. He did the same in the kitchen and then the bathroom, measuring the spaces between the furniture and the walls. When he satisfied himself that he was familiar with the area, he returned to the sitting room where his mother and Kayo were still talking. They stopped as he entered the room. He stood, watched for a while and trusted his senses to know that their bodies shook with fear at his entry. He looked round the room again before walking towards the light switch to turn it off with great conviction that he would never need lights again.
‘Was that a power outage?’ Kayo asked in a bird pitch, and cursed in English interspersed with Yoruba. When he knew that his friend was now quiet, he spoke in a quietness his voice found comfort in. ‘I put off the lights because I don’t want lights around me. Actually, there’ll be no light in this house from now on.’
‘Hope all is well.’
‘All is well, Maami.’
‘Joker! You don’t want lights again? I am glad you still have your humour,’ Kayo’s voice shook as he spoke, also walking towards the switch.
‘Don’t. Don’t do it. I meant what I said. I don’t want lights.’ He blocked the way as Kayo reached for the switch. He pulled back the cloth over his face and leaned against the door. The silence that followed seemed like pus inflaming an overripe boil until he cleared his throat, to squash it. He assumed that their eyes shifted about the room studying his outline and that the stiff air in the room hung on their chests and puffed it without a wish to be expelled as he entered. He cleared his throat to ease their tension.
After this number of years, his mother and best friend still feared him.
‘I think it’s time you left.’ He remained by the door waiting for his mother and Kayo, his friend of many years to respond to his words.
‘Thanks for your kindness. Thanks for your concern. You may leave.’ The words rolled out of his tongue in a whisper. He waved his hands at them, right then left then right again. Unpractised, yet it fell like a rap sequence. Perhaps, that was why Mama and Kayo didn’t take him seriously because his mother sat on the chair and Kayo leaned against the wall.
He moved towards his mother, nudged her shoulder and pulled her up to lead her to the door. ‘Maami, stand up and leave.’
Kayo stood straight and walked towards the door. He knew this because he listened to the soft steps of his friend.
‘Eni!’ She thundered. Then his full names came in the company of sobs that rose with each syllable, ‘Eniolorunda Durotimi Akanni. You are sending me out of your house, just like that.’ She spoke with as much energy as her now choked voice could give. Until the constriction parted way for a loud wail, like a cackle. He was unsure if she laughed or cried.
‘Maami, please I want to be alone. I want to live in this dark room. Forever.’ He folded his hands over his chest.
‘My son, you want me to go?’ In her tone he heard the many years of heavy baskets of cocoa ferried from the farm to the market so that school fees could be paid. Then there was the crying in front of prisons in different part of the country for the release of her only son.
He winced at his reminiscence yet stepped aside so his mother and Kayo could walk ahead of him so he could lead them to the door. When they hesitated by the door, he said, ‘You can help me with provisions. I will appreciate that. And when you bring it, leave it by the door. Thanks.’ He shut the door in their faces before they could react, while also ignoring the open mouth of his mother whose hands were placed in a crisscross over her head.
His friend’s attempt to push the door ajar met his hard voice; which even to him gave his heart a jolt. With just that word, his friend surrendered the door. It slammed shut and the lock’s tumbler fastened after it. But Kayo and his mother remained at the door and banged for some long minutes. He rested his body against the oak wood as they banged on the door, letting each of their strike vibrate against his body and sink through his skin.
After that day, his mother, as he expected continued to leave foodstuffs and provisions at his doorstep every fortnight. When she came, she knocked like a hen pecking grains of rice on a cemented floor. He sensed her presence all the times she came but remained in his chair waiting for her to leave, so he could pick up the supplies she brought.
There were days when he wanted to go outside at night, and the thought of lit electric bulbs on the streets kept him indoors. On the days he found courage to stroll down the streets, he left the house with a rusty iron rod which once served as a curtain bar for walking stick, covered himself from head-to-toe and tied a piece of cloth over his eyes so he could see nothing but darkness. As he walked the street, he heard rustle of air, clamour of voices, blast of car honks and sometimes goats bleating alongside the music blaring from audio and video CD shops to the street. He felt like an ant using his senses only. He perceived the way people moved away from him. He heard the rustling of hurrying feet that once approaching, diverted into another path just to avoid him. Sometimes, one or two bold ones offered to help him cross the road.
He bathed, cleaned, ate, washed and slept in the dark. He learnt to do his chores in the dark. He cooked his meals with an old electric burner which gleamed red like it was all bored with its service, and though it took longer to boil he preferred it to the flame of kerosene or gas stoves, which would bring light into the house. When there was no cleaning to do, he sat in the darkest area of his sitting room; which was dark but not as soot. For at night, a wan light strolling in from the neighbours fell straight on the arm of the chair opposite his. In the daytime, even though he drew his heavy curtains together to lessen the sun’s intrusion, a slight shade filled everywhere.
The first day, after his relatives left, he crept in and out of his rooms so he would not bump into anything. As the days passed he became confident the flat was familiar with him as he was with it, so he moved about; at first like a blind man born to his handicap – sensing when something was not in its rightful place. Later he moved about like paper lifted by the breeze and drifted towards directions but rarely bumped into any object. In a case where he grazed something, he took note of the positioning, counted his steps backward and forward to prevent him from hitting the same object twice. Then he resumed his activity like nothing changed.
Day after day, everything fell into place in the dark, until she visited. On her first visit to see him, he stumbled and fell over a stool in the kitchen, thrice in one day.