THE ROLL CALL
Sunday evening came and number 225 Katakata street came alive again. Papa Efe saw to it that there were plastic chairs strewn all over the new frontage that evening. Inhabitants settled in quickly and found their way there for what they dubbed ‘the great reunion.’ They had bought soft drinks and biscuits and groundnuts for their entertainment. Neighbors from numbers 223 and 227 were not left out. Even they miss the craziest neighbors in Lagos. There was no formality to what the evening was about. Everyone was talking to everyone at the same time.
“How have you been?”
“What happened yo you?”
“You nor dey call person?”
“That place good for you o!”
“I no know say you go come back!”
Mr. Zubi and Mr. Cosmas kept their self contains. The others chose their new rooms in the order of their arrival. Papa Efe had reserved for himself the first rooms downstairs as you entered the corridor. From where he could monitor all the comings and goings in the compound as the caretaker. Mr. Kingsley moved upstairs and chose the rooms closest to the kitchen and toilet to the dismay of Sister Esther. Ndifreke went upstairs too but took the first two rooms where he would always be the first one out on the balcony. Nurse Jo retained a place upstairs as before, but this time she took the rooms opposite Ndifreke’s. And then the surprise returnee, Josiah the carpenter, who had fled when Agbonyibo promised to shed blood what seemed like a lifetime before also took a pair of rooms upstairs.
So the roll call saw the following key tenants present: Mr. Zubi and family, Mr. Cosmas, Mr. Kingsley and Sister Esther as a couple, Ndifreke, Mkpoikannaabasi, Nurse Jo, Papa Efe and his son, Mama Cowbell and her husband, Mama Kike and her family, Achike, his wife and mother-in-law, Chisco was around only for the meeting as he told everyone, the Alfa was there too even though he was yet to bring his family. There were still three double rooms available to let. Lukman was still looking for money to pay to return fully but he was at the reunion.
Josiah was the first topic once everyone was settled.
“Josiah, you ran away. You abandoned us because of Agbonyibo! Why did you come back?” Even though Mr. Zubi said those words, the only thing in his voice was mirth, which drew good-natured laughter from all present, for they too were happy to see that Josiah was well and that he had returned.
“I did not run away my oga. It was a strategic readjustment of geographical space necessary at the time. I missed all of you. When I heard that a mini rapture had taken place here and Alhaji had fixed the sinking ship and that my rascal boy did not know what to do with my shop, I decided to do you all a favour and return.” His laughter was infectious, Katakata Street would not stop laughing.
“Oga Josiah I did my best,” Irikefe said. These people are too stingy. In more than one year nobody made a new chair or wardrobe or anything. It was only broken kitchen stools they kept bringing for me to repair.”
“How will we give you our furniture to make Irikefe? Even your father here cannot be that brave.”
The banter went on until Mr. Zubi called the gathering to order.
“Okay gentlemen, ladies, children. Welcome everybody.”
“Thank you Mr Zubi.”
“You all will agree with me that Alhaji Sirika has done well. Even though he did not give us self contains, what he has done here is remarkable. We are grateful. Tomorrow, Cosmas and I with Papa Efe will pay him a visit and express our thanks, I thought I should mention that here to everybody.”
“It is a good idea.”
“We are with you.”
“Tell him no increment for two years!”
“Alright,” Mr. Zubi resumed. “As much as we are happy to be back and are happy to see that we are all in good health and thriving, it will be insensitive of us not to acknowledge the happenstance of our final days here the other time. I mean the unfortunate passing of Mama Akunna, Agbonyibo and Mama Tobi. Brethren, It is only right that we accord them some respect before we continue. Please rise on your feet everyone. One minute of silence.”
There were shuffling of feet as they made to obey Mr. Zubi. There were a few who were reluctant, chiefly Irikefe who turned to his side and said “Castro, your papa don start o!”
“I just tire for this man!”Castro said.
“Him for just leave those witches to dey burn for hell in peace. Who tell am say we dey miss dem?”
“Shhhhhhhh” someone urged.
“And may their gentle souls rest in perfect peace, Amen.”
“God abeg punish Agbonyankie for me for wetin him do us amen,” Irikefe said.
Mr. Zubi scowled at his son and his friend and shook his head and continued.
“I am happy that we are all here. As you can see, the compound feels like new. The best appreciation we can show to the owner is to take care of this property as if it belonged to us. Please, dear families, away with the bad habits. We will as usual draw up a cleaning schedule that we will all follow. If anything is bad in your rooms, speak to Papa Efe. If you are unhappy with anybody, speak to the council of elders. Oh yes, the council of elders will return. Let us live in peace and harmony like we always did. And when we have new neighbors, let us welcome them and treat them well. Let us surprise them by proving that we are the best neighbors anywhere in the world.
“It is unfortunate that our return has coincided with the coming of this coronavirus. We have to stay aware and protect ourselves.”
“Mr. Zubi, face mask and sanitizers are now more expensive than gold.”
“You can make do with washing your hands as frequently as possible and don’t touch your face with your hands and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze.”
“I heard it was a Chinese man that raped a fowl that brought the coronavirus. It was all over the internet. Old man fucking a chicken.”
“Please mind your language Achike. There are children here.”
“What is important,” Mr. Cosmas said, signaling to Mr. Zubi that he now had the floor “is to know how to protect ourselves. First things first. Don’t panic. You may not hear this everywhere but it is going to be much harder for this virus to thrive in our climate. I foresee us beating it very soon. Wash your hands as Mr. Zubi has said. Since we are humble people, we have to explore alternative means of prevention and even treatment were it to happen to any of us. A Chinese traditional healer treated patients with garlic with great success. He chopped plenty of it and boiled it and gave the water to sufferers to drink and they showed improvement.
“Drink plenty of hot water for prevention. As long as the body maintains heat, the virus will stay at bay. Eat more ginger, garlic, and pepper. Avoid cold areas. Exposure to the sun will kill the virus as well. If anyone falls sick, we will first quarantine the person in any of the empty rooms here before we report to the government to come and take them to Yaba. But if we follow these safety precautions, embrace everything hot, we will be fine.”
“That means the heat in this Lagos is God sending us remedy ahead of time!”Josiah said. “And let me add Cosmas, drink plenty sepe, alomo and shave your and armpit and the other side regularly.”
“Where did you get that from Josiah?”
“Just do it and thank me later.”
“You know, they canceled Friday jumat prayers in Iran. Saudi also canceled pilgrimage. The Catholic church in Nigeria has modified its service for the time being – no handshaking, no direct administering of the holy communion – all quite laudable. But you see those miracle people, they are saying nothing! They are encouraging people to come and crowd the churches where they will sell holy water now that sanitizers are expensive. They are also fighting among themselves to prove who predicted the virus first. Have you ever seen people like us?”
“This outbreak of coronavirus is not without spiritual implications I must say now. For as long as humanity has failed to reconcile itself to nature, nature will never hesitate to revert to balance since the forces of nature dictate this. The coronavirus outbreak is a serious spiritual warning to mankind. The great purification is here. Man, how do you stand? The clock chimes past midnight. There is no time left.”
“Cosmas you have come again.”
“See them running helter-skelter. The Mongolian president confined himself to self-isolation after returning from China. An Iranian Parliamentarian has died. For the first time on earth, humankind is beginning to come to the stark reality that other things exist that supersedes the power of religion, money, and politics. That singular power that supersedes all this is the fear of death! Only a coronavirus can force humankind to bury their ego without the usual trademark cantankerous hegemonies.”
“That’s it. I don hear enough” Irikefe said and began to pull away.
“Where you dey go?” Castro said.
“I dey go find person daughter wey I go quarantine this night.”
“Mad o!” Castro enthused and tagged along.
“You no notice as those chics just dey comot one by one dey enter compound?”
“Maybe dem dey go piss.”
“So make we go survey na. We need to understand how these new bathrooms and toilets dey work. We need to understand how de door dey work. We need to discover or create new peepholes for the doors. We need to see how under the staircase be. We need to understand our new environment guy, no dulling here.”
“Irikefe one of Ugheli South!”
“Na me my guy.”
“ I missed you brother.”
“Oya make we move.”
It was about 9 pm and Irikefe and Castro discovered as they entered the corridor that they were not the only ones who had left the gathering. They saw others, mostly children and teenagers on the corridor going to their respective rooms or still getting reacquainted with themselves.
Then as they moved towards the backyard they heard something that caused them both to stop.
“Did you hear that?”
“I did. Surely it can’t be!”
The sound was soft at first, then it became louder. “Kpoi, kpoi, kpoi, kpoi!” it was the sound of a pestle on mortar. The sound of pounding they were used to hearing every night at about the same time.”
“Irikefe!” Castro gasped.
“Blood of Jesus.”
“Let’s get closer. It can’t be.”
They went closer. The sound came and went. They both entered the kitchen. The pounding stopped. There was no one there. But the hairs on the back of their necks stood. They could feel it that they were not alone in the kitchen. Then sudden cool breeze touched them, accompanied by the sound of soft laughter. They recognized the voice.
Irikefe was the first one out of the door. As they ran he kept saying “You see wetin your papa cause?”
“How him cause am?” Castro panted.
“No be him call dem? You no dey there?”
“Oh Lord? My good Lord!” Castro cried.
They stormed back into the gathering just as Nurse Jo was wriggling her waist to the admiration of all. Someone had suggested that they all got up one after the other and talked about their lives away from number 225 Katakata Street in the past three months and Nurse Jo was the one to go first. But she stopped when they saw the desperation on the faces of the two returning boys.
“What is it this time you rascals!” Mr. Zubi bellowed.
“Mama Akunna!” They said in unison.
“She is pounding. She is pounding as she used to do every night. Listen all of you.”
“Mama Akunna is dead and we were all at her burial!”
After a minute of confusion, Mr. Zubi urged everyone to keep quiet.
They all did.
TO BE CONTINUED.