The Rusty Roofed House

Papa never bought me a bicycle. He always had a way of escaping my tantrums when I started. I began to think that he did not know how badly I wanted a bicycle. All my friends had a bicycle and they were always ready to share but I was not comfortable riding theirs, I wanted mine. I wanted to be able to ride along them when we went on our evening race rather than having to wait until one of them was tired.

Our house was a small enclosure with a rusty brown roof. So distinguished among other houses you could spot it from afar. Papa had built it himself, he only needed the services of a few laborers because he couldn't complete it in time by himself. I remembered how he placed one mound of clay on another and another and another until it was tall enough to house his eight children. After the building was erected, though lacked a good finishing with crooked edges and slanted windows, a roofing sheet was used to cover the top. A sheet so clean you could see yourself if you looked closely enough.

At night, when the moon shone, our roof was a gleaming sight. It reflected the moon so vibrantly you would think it was a newly discovered gem. Papa was very proud of his small house, I knew from the way his mouth curled up in a smile and his eyes crinkled at the edges when he told our visitors "I had to do it once and for all."

But now the roof was rusty beyond recognitions. When you saw our house, the first thing you'd notice about it was the rusty roof. The rest of the villagers used thatch, but Papa said sheet was better. And somehow I would have preferred thatch because Mama complained of being drained in her sleep when it rained at night. All those didn't bother me as much as the need for a bicycle did.

Papa promised me two years ago, when I was in JSS1 and he had not fulfilled his promise. He was quick to promise, perhaps to make me feel good but I thought I had grown past that, if Papa really couldn't get a bicycle, I would have loved him to tell me point blank, but he promised, making me to sit in the sand field where we played football sometimes, waiting for him, on market days. He always came back empty handed, save for a few slices of pineapple. My siblings loved pineapple so much, the fine heady scent that filled your nose before you ate it was irresistible. We all loved pineapple but since my cravings for a bicycle, my appetite for it died. My sister, Obiageli, offered me some but I always declined and sulk to bed all night. Being the first child, I had to pretend to be mature, and the way I handled issues mattered a lot because all my siblings looked up to me. Obiageli, the second child was very receptive and observant. She had followed Mama to the market one day, and when they returned in the evening, she arranged stones in a tray and sand in another tray, shouting: "Come and buy fresh rice! Come and buy fresh yams here!"

Mother was a petty trader, she sold practically everything with a price below N100 so how could she possibly buy me a bicycle? She had many mouths to feed, the twin gave her so much trouble as they competed on who ate the most. I did not even remember to bother her. Mama knew I harbored a little hatred for Papa but she told me "Everything will be fine." I loathed Papa for many things: that he couldn't pay our school fees, that he couldn't feed us, clothe us, or play with us the way our friends fathers did, and most especially because he couldn't buy me a bicycle. "I'm sorry Obiora, I can't afford it," he had finally said one day. All that mattered to Papa was his small house with a rusty brown roof. Every morning, he went around the house to check for faults; who had broken his windows, or who had thrown stones at his walls.

It was late at night, everyone else was asleep but I was not. I could not find sleep. I had tried every possible sleeping position but it still did not come. The imaginative picture of myself on my bicycle, indulging in all kinds of skills including folding my arms while my bicycle rolled filled my head. And the picture of me waiting till my friends were tired to borrow theirs made me cry. I didn't know the sobs were mine until I felt the tears roll down my face, hot and hurt.

I left for school with bloated eyes in the morning. At lunch, I was seated in the classroom, I did not feel like going out. My classmates did not ask what was wrong with me and it hurt me so much I had to let more tears out under my desk. My food was getting cold but I did not feel like eating either. A meal of akpu and onugbu soup that Mama had packaged for me, I was only sorry that her efforts were wasted, I was not hungry for food. Today was Eke Market day and Mama promised to get me "Something nice" before I left home this morning.

At closing hour, I said few words to my friends and walked home alone, along the bush paths that had crickets chirping loudly in them and butterflies dipping up and down, flapping their wings. I met only Mama at home, my siblings had probably gone to the sand field to play and Papa was rarely around.

"Nwam, you're back, welcome, I bought you something," Mama said as soon as she set her eyes on me, smiling. Mama always smiled even in the face of hardship, so it made no difference, leaving me nonchalant. She led me to the inner room where a brand new bicycle stood untouched, more like it was hanging in the air.

I did not know when I fell at Mama's feet, sobbing. "Mama, how did you get the money?" I managed to say after a long sweet silence.

"I started saving since the day your father told you he couldn't raise the money to buy you a bicycle. Obiora, I heard you crying last night."

"Thank you, Mama," I said, still sobbing.

My first instinct was to visit my friends and show them my bicycle, and by evening, we could trace together, and when I returned, it must have gotten dirty, I would wash it and hang it to dry, make sure its tyres were not touching the ground, oh Lord, I had so much to do!



Usman Ojochide is an author of a novel, The Fabric Red Rose, several short stories, and articles. When he is not writing, he is reading. His life revolves around literature, art and writing. He is a secret crush of Brandy. Usman is on Twitter @Lemmy_writes.



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