Jimi got off the motorcycle when it arrived at the junction that led to Jericho Villa, a sly smile plastered across his face,
“Cheers to the first of its kind,” he muttered as he enjoyed the charms of the odd hour.
Whenever he came home in the past, there was always the stream of evening traffic, rolling in from everywhere; cars, buses, motorcycles, and curses from their drivers. However, here he was, the firsthand audience of a walk in the night to his house. Or father’s house.
Jimi took one last look at the huge grey gate and glanced at his wristwatch. The time read 10:40pm. His old man would be mad. Even though Mr. Lade is known for incessant night travels, he never allowed his children to be out late.
“It’s well-deserved”, Jimi muttered to himself before banging on the gate.
He would have used the doorbell, but his shadow willed that he worked his sweaty hands on the gate instead and he obliged. After banging for a while, Jimi heard a soft voice asked who it was. He smiled. Even though his mother was shouting, Jimi could barely hear her across the Jericho wall that stood between them.
He replied in his native language, “emi ni ma.”
“Akinjimi omo mi, is that you?”
“Beni, I am the one.”
Only his mother ever calls him by his full name. His mother rushed back in, got the keys and opened the gates. This gave Jimi the time to be scared of whatever lay on the other side. He brushed the fear away with a whisper, “worst off, heaven falls”. That was his maxim whenever his father came with his boiling pot of unnecessary troubles.
“Eku ile ma,” Jimi said bringing himself flat on the floor in the compound.
“Welcome my son, how was your journey? Hope you are not tired? Do you have any load outside? Emeka is on leave tonight, so there is no one at the gate, I’m sorry, have you been out long?”
“Okay, let’s go in.” She did it skilfully, but Jimi caught her. He knew her too well to miss her silent words. She mentioned everybody but one, fear tugged at Jimi’s chest.
Jimi’s mother led the way and opened the door to a large sitting room painted yellow and brown, with white horizontal stripes slashed across the walls. A big portrait picture of all four members of the family was the first to catch Jimi’s eye. He suddenly could not see himself in the picture even though something told him he was there. The room had other portraits too, ones that he thought he was in, but the same voice told him he wasn’t.
“What is the time?” Mr. Lade’s husky voice roared across the room. His eyes fastened to a Yoruba Movie. Jimi always wondered how his father stuck to these dumb Yoruba movies when others preferred news.
“Good evening sir, it is 10:45”
“Is this two hours after the 12:00pm I called you?”
“It was 2:14pm, sir”
His mother gave him a stare and he knew to let that be.
“It was auntie who delayed me.”
“Why did you go to her place?”
“I hoped she’d give me the money she promised.”
He knew that was the end of the discussion so he went in. Another thunder flashed outside and this time the sound of a downpour as heavy as Sango’s rage in battle filled everywhere.
It all started with a wrong ring at the right time.
Tunde’s phone rang while Jimi balanced plates of beans and garri on his lap. His mother never ceased to wonder how he managed to balance two plates of food on his lap.
“Hello. <pause> Yes. <pause> Jimi? <pause> Yes, he is here. <pause> Alright.”
Tunde passed the phone to Jimi sitting to join in the meal.
“Hello. <pause> Ebenz? <pause> My dad? <pause> For real? <pause> Okay, I’ll talk to you later.
Jimi looked up and said, “Guy. My pman say make I come home today.”
“I no sabi”
“Call him to find out?”
“No, he will just say I should come home tomorrow.”
“I think he is just worried since your phone is damaged and there is no way to reach you, and…”
“Covid-19 is in town, abi?”
“No, we agreed when I went home last Friday. He said I should do whatever I want.”
“So, where is this coming from?”
“He talked to someone”
“Don’t jump into conclusions.”
Jimi inserted his own sim card and dialled his dad’s number. He dropped the call without saying a word.
“His mind is poisoned,” Jimi said with a straight face.
“What do you mean?”
“He threatened to disown me if I don’t get home tonight”
So when Jimi got to the grey gate that Monday night, he knew things wouldn’t be different.
“This is one of the times I miss him.”
Jimi wrote in his blue pocket diary; he didn’t write who. The diary knew it was his brother. Jacob was the star son, skilful with working on the garden, while Jimi preferred to be found reading the latest book in the library, even though everybody knew the unspoken rule: the library was to be loaded with collections of expensive, rare, first edition books that were never to be read. Jacob was an ideal picture of a perfect son, father called him “the diligent.”
He blinked his left eye when he realized it was the first time he had called him father since that call ruined his breakfast at 2pm.
That night, Jimi did what he hadn’t done in years, lying there with just his boxers on, he cried himself to sleep.
Jimi woke with a mild headache and inability to move his body, sleep paralysis. He wanted to remain there till it left but the sound of his father’s car leaving the compound supernaturally strengthened his limbs. Mr. Lade does not leave the house earlier than 8:40am.
As if reacting to the wave of a mystic wand, he noticed the light that was struggling to peep in from behind the heavy curtain that shielded his room from outside, “No, this is not true.”
He did not check his watch, did not bother to wear a thing, he just dashed downstairs to meet his mother clearing dishes off the dining table. The family had done the early morning devotion without him.
“Ekaro mama” Jimi went full length on the cold tiles.
“Kaaro omo mi, how was your night?”
“Mama, what’s wrong? Why did you pray without me?”
“I wanted to prepare his meal, you know he doesn’t let anyone else do it. I told him to call you while I got things ready in the kitchen, but he asked if it was the two of you that prayed yesterday. I guess he wanted you to rest from yesterday’s journey”
She was doing it again, making it seem like it was no big deal but it was. Everyone knew how Mr. Lade never joked with the 6am devotion. No one was exempted, not for any reason. Once, Jacob had been so ill that the devotion had to hold in his room and Mr. Lade made sure he didn’t sleep off.
“No, mama. Tell me what’s wrong. Ki lo shele?
There was no escape anymore, she knew how stubborn her son was when it came to stories, fiction or not.
“It was Mr. Ade”
“I knew it”
“He came here on Sunday, followed your dad to drop Jacob at school. By the time they got back your dad became unnecessarily edgy. Mr Ade also asked me how we could let you decide for us”
Jimi kept quiet. How did she even end up with him? He thought to himself while he allowed her time to continue her speech. He knew she hadn’t said much in that statement.
“After he left, your dad asked me for the number you called me with the other time. I gave him and that was all.’
She didn’t have to say more, Jimi knew the story from there. His father had called Ebenz and instructed that he be told to come home as early as possible the following morning. Ebenz couldn’t reach him because he had left to stay with another friend. When Mr Lade heard, he must have thought it was a lie so he told the boy that if Jimi doesn’t come home that day, he’d disown him. Ebenz was scared and thought hard before it occurred to him where Jimi could be, that was what led to the wrong ring at the right time.
“You be careful with him, maybe you ask and beg him when he comes home tonight.”
“Thank you mama, I know what to do”
Mr Ade was a family friend who had a problem with minding his business. He was the first pain in Jimi’s ass when he went to school four years ago. He told Mr Lade that all Jimi did in school was to post poems on Facebook. Mr Lade had called Jimi, reminding him of his duty to himself and the family before hanging up.
“Since when did poetry become a distraction?” was all Jimi could think of for a whole week.
Wasn’t that the real distraction?
His father’s annoying habit of holding an outsider’s opinion over his family’s. Another time, the man had informed Mr Lade that his son uploaded a WhatsApp status that read “home is boring”. Mr Lade made sure home was hell for Jimi that break. Jimi however did make sure to block him from all his social media accounts. Now here he was after four years, still a wound in the ass.
Four days passed and all Mr Lade said to his son was a nonchalant good morning. Four days since Jimi last had his bath. He was at his window—he liked to call everything in his room his own. This gave him some sort of entitlement to his own space since his father had the keys to all the rooms in the house. The cashew tree was close enough for him to reach through his window and pluck its leaf, if not for the silver-coloured crisscross of mosquito netting covering the glass.
It was the dry season, and the line of thick rose flowers that fenced the garden had lost their sweet scent. Jimi prefers the word “stench”.
“Perhaps, that’s me”, he whispered, “a damaged plant erred by the soil that nurtures it.”
After all, like himself, it was not the soil’s fault. It all made sense now, why his father always struck him as a knight void of swords. Designed the house himself, oversaw the morning devotion and kept malice with his son.
He did not fault his decree, but even if he did something wrong, a man should punish his son. Yoruba fathers beat their son, not ignore them, after all oke oku loku n re, baba omo lo ni omo—a child is his father’s no matter what. The silent treatment was something that happened in novels or movies, but here he was, his father fighting his 18-year-old son. That may be something mothers did with their daughters; but not fathers with their sons.
He wrote in his diary,
“COVID-19 has infected my home, not with its disease but with a dis-ease.
Like a deadly hurricane, my life has never been stable,
Perhaps, the bliss after now is.“
Jimi drank the content of his father’s cup and SLEPT!
Mr Lade and his wife battled the remains of their meal when the doorbell rang. A man in a brown polo shirt was accompanied by Emeka. The word “courier” inked in yellow paint on the shirt.
“Good evening Sir and Ma, I am Joe from Phileo Courier Services. I’d like to see Mr Jimi Lade. He has a letter from the University of Illinois and I need him to sign.”
“Can his parent sign for him.”
Mrs Lade was shocked to hear her husband reply. Then she thought, of course he would, if the letter is what she thinks it is.
“Yes, you can sir. I just need an appropriate identification card.”
Mr Lade signed and collected the letter, his face beaming with pride.
“Congratulations Mr Jimi Lade. The scholarship board…”
Mrs. Lade did not wait to hear the rest. She knew it, it was the news that would end the conflict that pervaded her home. She was going to order the boy downstairs.
A scream summoned Mr Lade, the arc the stairs made required that the railings be held for a fast flight to be possible. Mr lade entered the room to meet his wife weeping, she was holding her son, his son, in her arms.
“What is wrong?”
Her voice sounded like she wasn’t in the room;
“This is on you.”
It was the first time she ever spoke to him like that.
A shadow clouded his face. A shadow Jimi had desperately fought to hide since he got to that grey gate. Fear.
Theophilus Ogundeji, with the pen name afrophilus, writes from Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State. He is a student journalist in the said institution but can be whatever he wants when he reads or writes. He can be found on Instagram @afrophilus.