The sight of Jonjo in Maya’s room and the degree to which it breaks my heart changes my life.

I turn from the ghastly sight and slowly make my way back in the direction from which I came. I refuse to be affected by the desperate eyes of the observing troupe who saw Jonjo arrive and match upstairs while I sought counsel with Mr Cosmas. They had taken positions behind doors and along the corridor pretending to be busy when I followed shortly after. Curiously, no one sneers now. No one coughs or guffaws, as they are wont to do in these situations. They stand like sentries while I take one slow step after the other away from the scene of my latest ignominy. They search my face for any clues of anguish. Somehow, I find a resolve that seems to set my face aglow, if Irikefe is being truthful.

“Bros wetin con dey make you smile?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

He shakes his head and continues to study me where I stand observing the delightful chaos of a typical day at 225 Katakata Street.

Boys are kicking a football about without a clear aim. Usually, they play a three or four-a-side ‘monkey post’ considering the small space of the concrete frontage. But today someone just shows up with the ball and they started kicking without any system. Each does whatever they please when the ball gets to them. A boy joggles it for a bit, earns cheers for each successful control and passes it to another who takes it on his chest and knees it to another. It gets to Carbondioxide and he aims a shot at a watching young girl and fires. The little minx as if expecting it, turns her backside and it bounces off onto the feet of another to rapturous cheers. Everyone is now calling for the ball. They revel in the chaos. I enjoy their uninhibited laughter. Mama Cowbell swears at them from where she sits by the gutter washing the coats off a bucket of soaked beans for tomorrow’s moi moi. “If them born una well make that ball reach here! Stupid things!”

The Undertaker stands to one side supervising a Mallam mending his shoes. He has a book in his hand, which he occasionally glances at. I smile at him and he narrows his eyebrows and looks away. I look up when I hear a rumble in the sky. It is the rainy season after all. The boys sense a special occasion. They quickly make small posts and divide themselves into five aside. The girl who had been kicking with the boys insists on playing.

“When rain start you go remove your cloth o! Na rain ball we wan play and na only pynt we go wear.”

She is a blooming adolescent who is wise to the antics of the boys. Lanky with clear signs of approaching puberty, she stretches and jumps on the spot as professional footballers do on television before taking to the field. “I go remove everything make una nor worry,” she says coyly and the boys begin to argue amongst themselves about the team she should play for. Another rumble in the sky and she quietly slips into the corridor and disappears.

“Elsie! Elsie! Come back here!”

“Yeye geh!” Another boy hisses and passes the ball to a teammate from his own half.

Prince White yells at Carbondioxide to go to the backyard and remove their washing from the line because of the imminent rain.  Carbindioxide theatrically blocks his ears with his fingers and continues playing, an action that brings Prince White shooting out of the corridor towards his son with more cheers from the onlookers, especially as his squint eyes make him appear to be looking in a different direction from the one he is running. I join in the cheering as father and son run rings around Mama Cowbell who is almost bursting with rage. Irikefe approaches me.

He stands beside me looking undecided. He is now twenty-five and only an inch shorter than I am. He is no longer the wily nineteen-year-old I first befriended when I arrived Katakata Street in 2017. Six years have seen him dethroned as the oracle of number 225. That title now belongs to Castro’s little brother Willy-willy. If Irikefe thought he knew everything that happened in number 225, Willy-willy believes he wills things to happen so that he would have content for his mischief corner. He commands a strong following and even organizes a meeting of teenagers he convenes right after the council of elders’ meetings where they analyze everything they garner from the adults’ meeting from a distance and discuss them more ‘factually’.  Willy-willy recently said to me “When you people wonder why there is so much fornication in this compound, we go ahead and investigate the facts of the fornication. For example, the day Aunty Maya’s sister entered your room, we went to the shops after you went to buy things and found out that it was pepper soup and bread and coke you fed her before you people continued till daybreak.” As I think about it now, Willy-willy looks in my direction and smiles, even as an opposing team member fires a shot through his legs.

“Bros you sure say you dey all right? Irikefe says.”

“Oh sure my man, why?”

He looks at me and averts his eyes when I look back into his.

“Bros Freke, I understand that it is difficult for you seeing that you will not give up on Maya despite everything. But I take God name beg you no come crase join. See as you dey look everything dey smile like baboon wey just enter township zoo.”

My smile is even wider now. I see his sincere concern for me. I feel a tinge of regret for the way I treated him following the sexual assault matter that effectively ended our friendship from my perspective. He looks at me now as though he would readily drag me by the tether to a healer if he thinks I need one.

“I am perfectly fine my friend. It’s a lovely afternoon, well, except for the coming rain. See the life in these kids; see the beauty of their games and their unbridled joy. There’s Mama Cowbell over there doing the Lord’s work ensuring that we have the world’s best moi-moi every morning. Look at Mr Kingsley in his weird elegance. See our neighbours coming and going, all full of life and laughter despite what we see in the news. Can’t you see the beauty? Can’t you see the harmony? Look up. See the clouds. Have you ever really observed these phenomena? It’s awesome. By the way, whose daughter was that that the boys were just teasing? I never saw her before.”

“That’s Mama Kike’s lastborn. How will you see her when all you look at is Maya and her Sister? Then under his breath, he says, “Or maybe you will see her when she develops bigger breasts.”

I laugh as if I have just been tickled and bend over holding my midriff. Irikefe looks around and then back at me.

“It’s not that funny bros. I don’t like what you are doing.” He takes me by the wrist, and we move towards the soak away, out of earshot.

“Bros, I don’t know how I will say this for you to get it. I wish I could slap it into your head aswear. Maya is not worth it! I worry about that chick. She is the most confused woman in this world. Okay look at this. You are born into abject poverty. God blesses you with a job and an opportunity to leave this place. I hear she had a flat in Lekki or somewhere. Then after a while, you leave everything and come back here with pregnancy. Pregnancy o bros! A situation when you want the utmost comfort! But you abandon it for here where you were violated, your mother died in disgrace and your brother ran mad and vanished from the face of the earth. Bros, is this not the type of situation when normal people would curse this ground and depart to never return? Yet our girl comes back. Not only that, she sends her sister to go and sleep with her boyfriend and the alleged father of her unborn child. By the way, bros, if you accept that baby don’t ever talk to me again! That man that is there with her right now is the father! That is why he came! That is why he will always come around. So as I was saying, you are ready to share your man with your small sister. And when you go to talk sense to her she be looking at you like you are looking at me now like Mr Bean. Is this normal? Okay she has been here for some weeks now, it looks like she is living what she thinks is a new life, and your hopes go up. I saw the way you marched to her room. I told Castro that you looked like a man that is about to go and propose. We saw the man go upstairs. We did not want to stop you so that you could see for yourself and maybe receive sense. Then you go upstairs and see your bride in another man’s arms and you come downstairs smiling like a Christmas goat and kicking ball with children. Abeg bros stop smiling na. You are scaring me!”

I am not forcing or faking my smile. I do not feel any hurt. I appreciate his concern and I understand his argument but I feel well. The wind increases in velocity and the clouds begin to drift east. It may not rain after all. The boys remain ecstatic. It did not matter that rain brought flood and filth to Katakata Street. Prince White and Mama Cowbell and the rest of the adults are worrying themselves sick because of the change in weather. But the children don’t mind. They want to take off their clothes and enjoy the rain. Why can’t we all do that? Then suddenly it looks like it may not rain after all. All that angst from the grownups for nothing!

“Brother, did you notice that it may not rain after all?”

Irikefe’s eyes widen. He takes two steps backwards and then comes closer and feels my forehead with the back of his palm.

“I am fine and I heard you. But the weather has improved and we will have a good day after all. Even if it does rain, it is still a good day. We can play in the rain.”

“No na bros.”

“I am fine. Truly I am. I have lived in this compound for six years and I never saw the harmony in this wonderful chaos. I never really noticed these children at play. I never recognized the wholesomeness in their activities. I never saw Mama Cowbell for the angel she is cooking for us come rain or shine. There are children here I never saw before. For once, impending rain does not feel like doom. I breathe and I feel whole. Maya? It doesn’t even matter.”


“Yes, Irikefe. And I’m sorry for the way I treated you that time.”

He says nothing but continues to look at me suspiciously. I smile and his pupils dilate again.

“Please don’t do it, bros. I beg you. Don’t.”

“Don’t do what my friend?”

“This is how they say people who want to commit suicide behave. They suddenly become happy and talk like wise King Solomon and then thirty minutes later you find them hanging from their ceiling fans. Bros abeg no do am. She is not worth it.”

“I am not killing myself. If anything, I feel like today is the first day of my life. It feels wonderful and I like what I see all around me. I’m not thinking about Maya. I’m not thinking about anything.”

“If you say so boss.”

“I say so my friend.”

“I’m leaving this compound bros. I should let you know.”

“You are the caretaker. How can you leave?”

“Alhaji has made it impossible for me. I can’t live with that man and his son anymore. Besides, my job in Mushin isn’t so bad. I am now managing the printing press where I work. Unlike you guys, now that I have saved some money and have good reason to leave, I will.”

“I understand.”

“And besides, the calamities here are becoming too much. Mr Zubi made the point. This compound has buried more people, seen more police cases and hospital admissions than the rest of the Street put together. Mr Cosmas often says that we were put here together for a reason. Whatever the reason is, there can’t be anything left to experience, except maybe my own death or I commit murder because all of una still dey make me vex. See that albino enter my house con dey behave like say hin be my papa. Bros I will leave. I already paid for a place at Mafoluku.”

“It’s all good my friend.”


I move over to where Mr Kingsley is standing. The Mallam has peeled off the old soles from the pair of boots he is repairing and is sizing up the new ones he wants to attach. As much as Mr Kingsley does not like people and company, he always stays to keep an eye on those who work for him. Whether it is a trouser, a shoe or a pot he is having mended, he stands there and glares, never saying anything. If he does not like something, he looks at it and looks at the repairer with eyes like a cobra’s and they knew automatically what they needed to do or redo. The Mallam looks up now and meets those eyes and quickly looks away and continues his work. I know Mr Kingsley senses me approaching because he turns a hundred and eighty degrees to ensure that his hairy bareback becomes a wall blocking any further approach into his world. I greet, even though I know it is a waste of time. We are by the window of the first room occupied by Irikefe and Prince White. In making sure he does not talk to me, Mr Kingsley is now facing the window directly and backing the frontage. If the occupants of the room part their curtain, they would come face to face with the grumpy giant who is steadfast in his moose-like self-seclusion.

I stand there and say nothing. Mama Cowbell has finished washing the beans and has gone into her shop. The boys are still playing. With the threat of the rain now past, more neighbours come out to the frontage. I see Josephine in her immaculate uniform going to work. She smiles at me and lifts an eyebrow seeing The Undertaker standing in an uncomfortable position beside me and looking like he is willing me to disappear. I believe Josephine understands what is happening because she shakes her head with her smile still intact and continues on her way. Others offer similar gazes as they come and go. I greet everyone. They return my greeting with varying degrees of wonder. A danfo bus has its hind tires stuck in the mushy street, a given on Katakata Street until November when the rains abate. There is an angry whirr from the engine as the driver tries to free his vehicle. No one pays him any attention. Motorists in the area all know to avoid Katakata Street this season. Now the driver has to come down and beg for help. The boys stop playing and wait for the driver to approach them. I see Willy-willy licking his lips. He has just figured out how he will secure rice and beans from Mama Cowbell tomorrow morning. I bring my attention back to Mr Kingsley. If only he would relax.

There is commotion in the corridor. Someone is clearing the way. Mama Kike’s girl is the first to emerge followed by Jonjo carrying the fully pregnant Maya and making for his car. He could not bring it closer because of the bad road. So he has to carry her a distance to where he parked at the beginning of the Street where the ground is dryer. The driver in distress is forgotten. In Katakata Street, nothing could be as sightly as a man in designer clothes carrying the girlfriend of another who has just gone into labour with a child whose paternity is suspect. It is doubly stimulating when the possible father of the child stands by and watches as they carry his woman away. The boys almost piss themselves in excitement. That could well have been Jim Iyke carrying Osas Ighodaro while Ramsy Noah stands by watching.  

Maya and I lock eyes as Jonjo crosses the gutter gingerly. I see a plea in her watering eyes. I nod ever so slightly and she closes her eyes. No one else notices the exchange. A crowd tail them to Jonjo’s car. The driver of the stuck bus looks on with hands on his hips and shakes his head. Mr Kingsley is now at ease beside me. He still does not utter a word, but I do not feel the repulsion of earlier on.

“I pray she has a safe delivery,” I say and glance at Mr Kingsley. He strokes his beard. The Mallam finishes changing the soles of his boots. Mr Kingsley fishes in the hip pocket of his khaki shorts for a thousand naira note hands it to the shoe mender and looks away.

“Na one pipe oga,” the Mallam says.

Mr Kingsley says nothing. He continues to stroke his beard. One thousand naira was fair for that quality of rubber soles. Any other person would have made the point. The Mallam senses a lost cause and gathers his things.

Mr Kingsley remains where he is despite having a good reason to leave my presence now that his shoes are fixed. I wonder if he is thinking up the right quote for me following what has just occurred. I decide to help him.

“I remember the last time you said any words to me, sir. Such a long time ago. When we were leaving the house for the renovation.” He shuffles his feet and inclines closer. “The immortal words of Paolo Coelho…if you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. I wonder if that is what you might say to me now.”

He still does not say anything. Silence, when a thousand words would have been spoken, is such an underappreciated force. In just being close and saying nothing, he offers me camaraderie that no words can match. His silence allows me to be. And in just being I see the perfection in everything.

One by one, those who escorted Jonjo and Maya return. They seem surprised to see me still standing where they left me. They seem even more surprised to see that Mr Kingsley is now shoulder-to-shoulder with me. They form clusters and continue to whisper. They cannot resist occasional glances in my direction. The danfo driver gets the help he needs and parts with one thousand five hundred naira. More people come out to the frontage. If the men wish to hold a meeting of the council of elders now they would have a quorum.

I watch the painful preoccupation of my neighbours as they make my supposed problem their own. I see in them who I have always been and shudder at the realization. You would think there is an outbreak of meningitis with the grotesque way they twist their necks just to keep me within their sights as they gossip in groups. Even the older men pretending to be discussing politics also keep their eyes on me. If I as much as cough now they will circle and begin to deliberate the scandalous abduction of a pregnant woman by a strange man when they that saw Maya grow up and me, her rightful boyfriend are here if it is help she needed. They will pontificate, evaluate and adjudge all to the glory of their little egos. They will put an arm around my shoulders and say they are with me when in reality they are having the time of their lives with yet another sleaze to pore over, the very reason we are all in number 225 Katakata Street.

How is it that they cannot see that I am fine? Maya fell into labour, her guest helped her, and I am enjoying a beautiful day and even gaining an understanding of the mysterious world of Mr Kingsley. What happened between Maya and me yesterday has nothing to do with the reality of the present moment. What will happen tomorrow is moot because we cannot tell what the next moment holds. I feel more alive than I can remember. I glance at my companion and see that he is also contemplating me. After what feels like an eternity, which in reality is, only a few seconds, I understand that he is reassuring me. Then I remember that little look I exchanged with Maya as Jonjo crossed the gutter with her. I don’t know if Mr Kingsley had seen it. Then he says, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes – Arthur Conan Doyle.”

There is no point in asking him to interpret. I know having listened to him for six years that you mostly needed to pay attention to the keywords in his quotes. In this case, it is obvious. What is obvious? What was obvious in the exchange between Maya and me? If what is supposedly obvious is obvious, how do I reconcile the fact that Jonjo may at this moment be draped in scrubs and peering down the birth canal of the woman I have loved for six years as she is being delivered of my baby?

Mr Kingsley smiles. A rare phenomenon. He picks up his just-fixed pair of boots and makes for his room.

My neighbours are still wide-eyed and disconcerted. The sun bursts through the clouds above and confines the recent threat of a downpour to distant memory.