04 March 2008

Men Don't Cry By Adesola Orimalade

I switched on the television and was greeted by the sight of a man who was crying his heart out. The tears rolled as he recounted the horror of seeing members of his family killed by a mob protesting the results of the election in Kenya.

'A man is not meant to cry'

The words rang very quietly in my ears and my mind wandered to a time in the past. It was a few days to Christmas; that time of year when school is closed and children can spend the whole time at play.

A couple of my friends and I had decided to climb a mango tree and jump from the highest branch possible. We had chosen a tree that was far away from any of the main roads. We did not want any 'nosy' adult to come and spoil our fun. The tree we chose stood by the side of a small footpath that we regularly used when we went into the forest to set traps for catching bush rats and grass cutters.

At first it was a harmless game but after an hour, it became a feisty competition between Alao and I. Now Alao was a boy about a year older than me; tall and very athletic, he was that type of boy who spent a lot of his free time either swimming at the river not too far away from his house or playing football. He wasn't particularly bright and in class he could sleep through mathematics or English language class but his eyes would light up as soon as it was time for games and sports.

However I was much smaller and very nimble; advantageous attributes when jumping from a tree. It was my final jump; the jump that would have made me the local champion and granted me boasting rights for awhile. I jumped well but missed my landing very badly. I collided with the solid red earth with a loud crash. I thought I had broken a bone, my friends thought I had broken my neck.

I must have laid there for at least half an hour. My body ached terribly. After what seemed an eternity and looking as unhappy as possible I was led home by my three friends and abandoned at our door to my fate; which normally would have involved a long explanation first to my loving mother and my disciplinarian father. But I was glad when the door opened and standing there was not my parents but good old Uncle Goke!

Now I need to give you some background. Uncle Goke is my father's younger brother. They looked alike and sounded somehow alike but that was as far as the similarity went. While I took after Dad's athletic stature, Uncle Goke was more 'roundish' in stature. He had a large tummy that spilled over his belt buckle and he always sported a moustache and beard while my father usually preferred to be clean shaven.

Most importantly for me though was Uncle Goke's sense of humour. He was funny and could play practical jokes like a child. He could also tell tall tales and it was he who first told me stories out the Arabian Nights series. He never married and had no children of his own. He loved me and always called me his 'only son'.

He led me in and listened as I tried to conjure up a long story. My mother brought a bottle, filled to the brim with iodine. She quietly applied it onto a cotton wool and put it on my wounds. It stung. Tears welled in my eyes and as I struggled to cope with it all, Uncle Goke looked deep into my eyes and announced 'A man is not meant to cry and you are a little man'. I nodded; I wasn't going to disappoint my favourite Uncle so I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes and forced a smile. Then like a judge who had just announced his verdict he laid back and pulled on his pipe.

I saw him off and on over the next few years until one day when my father asked me to accompany him to visit Uncle Goke in hospital. It was the first time I would see somebody with a tube sticking out of his abdomen and it made a deep impression on me. I could not believe that the man who lay on that bed, somewhat shrivelled was my Uncle Goke. The once large, boisterous and cheerful man that used to carry me on his knee and give me sweets was barely able to talk. When my father left to go to the loo he smiled at me, his eyes lit up and he rolled them; as he used to do, at me.

On our way home I asked 'will he get better?'

Father smiled and rubbed his hand on my head but said nothing. I went to boarding house a short while later and only learnt much later that Uncle Goke passed on.

I woke up at 6:45am as I always did, said my prayers and proceeded to the communal bathroom at the back of the building for my shower. Then I spent my usual fifteen minutes getting ready and finally clad in my traditional starched and well ironed khaki trouser and white short sleeve shirt; a short thin cane under my armpit I marched out of my house, and started the thirty minute walk that would take me to Ikuola Primary School.

As usual, I arrived at about seven forty five and moved straight towards Class 4A. From the distance I could hear the early morning chatter of the boys and girls. From the corner of my eye I saw a figure emerge at the end of the corridor.

'Teacher Bode!'

I stopped and turned. Standing in a similar attire was Mr. Thompson Abegunde; the Head Master of Ikuola Primary School. The only difference between him and me; attire wise this morning was that his trouser was a shade too tight and his shirt was long sleeved.

'Good morning sir' I announced as I stood beside him, he motioned me into his office a man was already standing there. I could see from his clothes that he was a worker for the colonial government. A civil servant we called them.

'Good morning' we said almost simultaneously. He grinned. I nodded.

'This is Saliu Idris. He is from the post office at Ita Ogbooju, and he has brought this message to you'

The Head Master had a sheet of paper in his hand and made to hand it to me , but then stopped and looking at me said.

'Your attention is required at home. I will need you to go immediately'

'At home.' My knees felt weak.

'Oh nothing serious' Saliu broke in 'I received a telegram from one Aduni, requesting you to come home'.

'That's my sister.' Then I quickly added' that is also my mothers name'.

The Head Master handed over the telegram I opened and read the yellow sheet.

The message was simple.

Dear Your Attention is required STOP Come Home as soon as STOP possible

I looked up; both men were looking at me. I nodded at the Head master and turned. He laid his hand on my shoulder and led me to the gate

'Look, whatever you meet on the ground, remember God is in control' Then he smiled and gently pushed me on.

I was lucky, the next day was Thursday. You see I have the good fortune of working in Ikuola which is a small village in Western Nigeria. With a population of about three thousand; many of them farmers, there is no strong public transport system as every household had a bicycle and their two feet for transportation. So there is a bus that leaves from Ikuola to the city. The ride took two hours. Then I boarded another bus to Ibadan where 'home is'.

The drive took the best part of a day. The bus was at least 18 feet long. On one side were seats meant for two and on the other were three-seater's. I sat in the overcrowded bus- there were rows and rows of men with women, women with children, men with children, women with chicken, men with goats, women with chicken and turkeys. It was a few days to Christmas and it was a time people travelled home to spend time with family, and they often bring their festive turkey and chicken with them.

I was lucky to get a space on the rows of two-seater's. I did not fancy the three-seater rows because one often had the misfortune of sitting in the middle of two overly large women. That was better than sitting next to a woman with three children in tow trying to clam them down while they cried, played or simply slept; saliva trickling from their open gaping mouth. The seat beside me was empty until just before the bus left when a short, very dark skinned man jumped onto the bus and placed himself firmly beside me. He had on a large set of spectacles; one of the largest I had ever seen. He perspired heavily and once when he lifted his left shoulder, my nostrils were offended by the quality of the air, that seems to envelope me from his direction. Luck was really on my side. The man who sat beside me fell asleep almost immediately, we pulled out of the bus station; and he snored even in broad daylight.

Late afternoon turned into night as the bus coughed and wheezed slowly into the darkness and the direction of Ibadan. It was a very uneventful journey. The silence of the journey was punctuated by the regular bleating of the goats on board and the indescribable noise made by turkeys and chicken, while jostling for space in the small and cramped box they had been kept.

I closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep but it was difficult to clear the pictures that I saw as soon as the flaps of flesh called eyelids closed. There were flashes of first Dad, then Mum and the rest of the family. My mind was obviously troubled and I had every reason to be. Aduni was the name of both my Mum and my sister; so which of then sent the telegram? Most importantly, why did they send it?

The man beside me sneezed heavily. In the darkness it resonated all over the bus. A few people roused but soon went back to sleep; to snoring, to their dream world. My trails of thoughts were momentarily jolted. I sighed and pushed back into the hardback seat. It had been covered with a deep layer of leather and soft cushion, but over time it had worn considerably, and even now I could feel the wood that served as the backbone of the seat. It felt uncomfortable.

Once in the night, the driver stopped, allowing the passengers a few minutes to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. This is usually the most difficult time in a long journey. The issue is determining the length of time that an average person requires to perform, natures call. Some took only a few minutes and before others had even pulled down their zippers, they were back in the bus, having relieved themselves in seconds. Some were more ritualistic about it and could spend the better part of half an hour. A few of the women went into the surrounding thicket by the side of the road. After all this was 1963, and women were not used to having men around when they were using the bathroom.

I walked around the bus, trying to get some circulation into my stiff joints. It took the driver over half an hour, punctuated by short bouts of cursing and swearing, as there were altercation between driver and a recalcitrant passenger. When I returned to my seat, I found out that the man sitting beside me had slept through it all. He slept so deeply, like a man who had absolutely no worries in the world.

I left the bus station in Ibadan, just as the sun broke out from the back of a group of stubborn clouds that were threatening to keep it from view.

Ibadan; the largest city in Africa, at dawn is a beauty. My father had been born in this city and had spent his early years here. He met; or rather was introduced to my mother in this city and it was from here that he joined the Colonial Service as a clerk and moved round Western Nigeria. It was therefore appropriate, that when he decided to retire, Ibadan was the obvious choice for him. Ibadan is a city of two contrasts. On one side was the modern area with contemporary architecture resulting in buildings like Cocoa House, reaching out like lean fingers, pointing heavenwards. On the other were the mud walled houses and dirt roads, revealing the legacy of the city that was once the pride of the Old Oyo Empire. Popoola Street stood somewhere between. It was in that area of the town where the few educated, preferred to live close to the offices of the Colonial government.

The sun was still trying to break through the harmattan haze when I walked into Popoola Street. Our house stood at the end. As I walked closer to Number 5 I noticed that the street was empty. That in itself was not stranger after all it was early morning and people would still be preparing to go to the office.

In front of Number 15 stood Mr. Tamuno, he and I looked at each other very briefly, and yet in those seconds, I noticed something in his eyes that meant something then. But something I couldn't understand, but later I felt was a sign of pity. It was an unspoken message of solidarity. Mr. Tamuno had lived on that street fir as long as I could remember and he had seen me grow up. He knew me well. Though I was never really friends with any of his twelve children, I always remember the tall, wiry Mr. Tamuno, who rode a bicycle, and learnt from my father working as a bank cashier. He raised his hand very slowly and waved at me. I waved back and he nodded. I could feel his eyes on my back as I walked on.

By the time I got to Number 12, my feet felt like stone. In the distance I saw the outline of our house. It gleamed in the morning sun. It always gleamed because my father had insisted on whitewashing the walls at least once every year. About a hundred yards from the front door my eyes picked up the unmistakable noise of the clatter of pestle and mortar, as women pounded yam. People don't pound yam in the morning, except when there was an event happening. My heart skipped a beat. Then I saw something that looked like a piece of paper, stuck to the wall of our house.

I arrived at the front of the house. It was totally deserted outside. I looked into the dark aisle and at the back I could see people; mainly women gathered therein. Then I saw the poster on the wall. I moved closer and dropped my bag heavily. As I stared at the picture, thereon I realised, that I had never stood close enough to him to notice the features on his face. His dark round pupil surrounded by the white eyeballs, his well groomed moustache and his clean shaven face. I saw clearly the scars from his childhood battle with chicken pox. He looked so calm so happy so self-assured in that picture. I raised a finger and gently ran it down his face. Instinctively I raised my left palm and wiped away a tear. I remembered how many of his friends use to comment that I looked very much like him. Then I realised that I would never see him again; my father was dead.

I felt drained of strength. Someone came out of the house, and just stood there. For a few moments she said nothing and I did not notice her. Then she sobbed gently and I looked at Aduni; my little sister. My eyes stung heavily. The words of my Uncle Goke came back to me 'Men don't cry'.

I held them back and bit my lower lips. I held her and pulled her close. She rested her head on my shoulder and trembled as the tears came in currents. I bit deeper into my lips

'Men don't cry' The voice reminded me. How do you express sadness when you have just lost someone so dear to you? A loose tear fell from the corner of my left eye. I quietly raised one finger and wiped it off. Over the shoulder of the sobbing Aduni, I looked at the obituary on the wall again. I took a deep breath and gently pushed her away.

'It will be fine Aduni. Let us go in.'

I was now ready to meet the rest of the family.

'Men often don't cry on the outside, but weep, deep within'

Men Don't Cry was written by Adesola Orimalade.

Copyright © Adesola Orimalade 2008.

My name is Adesola Orimalade and I am a 37 year old resident of Lagos the commercial capital of Nigeria. I am a career Finance/Banking professional but love to write purely for pleasure. I am very keen on short stories; be they true -life or fiction. I also write articles that touch on socio-political and economic issues such as unemployment and armed conflict. I am happily married with a lovely daughter.


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