Originally Posted On Feb 24, 2012
Authors: Oshibodu Mayowa and Apooyin Abiola
The pap was getting thicker. It was not like it had a choice. I liked waiting for sometime before I stirred, waiting patiently before I buried up all those bubbles that erupted from the yellow pap. The stove was already burning low. I kept on stirring; I was tired of adjusting the old thing. “Is it not ready?”My father called from inside. I smoothened the surface and took the aluminum bowl off the fire, blessing the warm wooden handles. “This is it”. I said dropping the pap on the dining table. I steadied the bowl which wobbled helplessly, its bottom dented and uneven from thousands of falls from the kitchen shelf. “There is pap on that book.” Tiwa, my younger sister remarked. There was nothing there. I hissed and steadied the wobbling bowl. “Couldn’t you hear her when she said there was pap on the book?” It was father. I bent close to see the fat yellow blob sitting idly on the paperback book. It wasn’t my fault. I was short-sighted, and I was tall. “I couldn’t see it.” I replied, wiping it off with my index finger and dropping it on the tattered rug. I was lucky he didn’t see that. “You see, you need to start behaving like a mature person. You are about entering the university you know… ” That long inspirational speech again. I was sick and tired of hearing how I wasn’t a baby anymore and how I needed to start using my common sense. Besides, this night wasn’t a particularly happy one for me. I nodded throughout the speech.
I remembered how much I labored, how much I sweated at the backyard, how much I endured those mosquitoes with fangs, how many hours of sleep I lost writing that manuscript. I almost broke down in tears when I remembered the gusto with which I bounced to the cyber-cafe to send my short story to those people. I was already imagining how getting the admiration of the board of whoever-reviewed-manuscripts would be like. I imagined the look of admiration on his face after reading my story. I had already pictured myself on T.V, with a medal on my chest and a plaque beside me, telling the world about the message my story was sending. I had already pictured myself receiving the Nobel Prize and exchanging high-fives with Wole Soyinka. I had already started planning my speech for that day, planning on the things I was going to do and how my story was going to be a success. I was all gay and happy after submitting it, telling myself to calm down, that I shouldn’t kill myself with excitement a few days before I became an icon. I was all gay and livid with expectation-until yesterday.
Yesterday was when I saw the list; the list of the stories that were picked and their authors. I scrolled down and scrolled up again, expecting my name to just pop out somewhere amongst the listed people. It didn’t. That was where it all ended-the joy, the expectations, and the dreams. They all abandoned me, leaving me to face the crushing defeat that looked me full in the face, through the veil of the names and story titles my eyes took in at that moment. “So next time, always use your common sense. I have told you a couple of times and you know I don’t like to repeat myself.” Father concluded. I sighed. Finally the speech had ended. I didn’t even hear anything he said. “Okay sir.” I said, glumly rubbing my stained index finger on my faded yellow shirt as I walked out of the room. I couldn’t explain what filled my heart that day. It wasn’t disappointment, it wasn’t anger; it was just this blank nameless feeling that pushed me to the verge of tears and dropped me into the abyss of anger at the same time, making my face pale and blank and emotionless from the tug-of-war between the evenly matched extremities. It was just me and the screen. No joy or sadness to arm me.
“Ayo!” father called again from the sitting room. “Sir?” I responded quietly, walking slowly into the parlor. I watched him as he slowly spooned the pap into his mouth, picking it with his teeth, and making irritating clangs as his yellow teeth hit the spoon. “So what are we eating tonight?” I didn’t understand. “I thought we just prepared the pap?” No, I didn’t just think-I knew. “So pap and sugar will be our dinner tonight.” He said sarcastically, smiling at my younger sister who was making faces, sticking out her yellow tongue and her irritating pap-smeared lips at me. I should kill these people. “Okay, so what am I to buy?” There was no need arguing about how nutritious the sickly pap was, and how it replenished our water levels .Father would always cut me short with a cold “I’m not interested.” and would even threaten to start his much dreaded speech again. So, I sat down and collected the five hundred naira, ignoring my little sister who kept saying “Ayo see.” She now had the sticky pap all over her hands and was tapping me to draw my attention. Seriously, I should kill this girl. “Buy yam from that woman living beside that mosque by the road. When I passed there some minutes ago, she wasn’t around and her son was talking rubbish about the price. I wonder why some people don’t use their common sense. Why should you leave a small boy like that…” and father burst into another extemporaneous speech. I wasn’t angry. My ears had adjusted to this kind of thing. They just switched off, and I continued thinking about those heartless people that wasted my effort on that manuscript. Father’s mouth kept moving, but I heard nothing.
He gave me a poly-bag, telling me to put the yam inside it before I put the whole thing inside the big sack he gave me and how I shouldn’t put the egg under the yam and… “What is wrong with this man?” I asked myself. When he finally finished, I went to the backyard to get my mummy’s phone-my only companion; the only thing I benefited from her traveling. I quickly clicked Facebook from the bookmarks and put the thing in my pocket. I was practically dragging the big sack behind me as I went to buy the food. That disheartening list flashed across my brain for the umpteenth time that night. There was one name that caught my fancy. It was an Ibo name; short Ibo name. It sort of stood out from the other complex back-breaking ones with dashes and hyphens all over them. I searched for her on Facebook. Choi! She was fine. Friend request sent. From her info, I went to her blog where I read two of her stories-just two, and I was fully convinced that I was the crappiest writer the world had ever known. I read the stories over and over again. She wasn’t even that good sef. I looked at her sunken eyes, her long nose, and her flabby lips. I couldn’t believe she looked beautiful at first. I remembered my manuscript, how many times I stayed up at night typing, how many hours of my bejeweled sleep I lost, all for my story to be rejected by those stupid people. I slept fifteen hours every normal night. When I was writing that manuscript, I had to cut it down to a mere… “Ahn ahn! Ayo! You are still there!” Father bellowed from the window. I quickly opened the gate and ran out, the sack trudging behind me.
It was almost pitch dark, though it was just eight o clock. As usual, NEPA did their job of speeding up the night very well. I walked slowly, looking at the phone and cursing the poor network coverage. I put it in my pocket and began to walk a little faster, whistling into the night, chirping crickets and the roaring generator nearby, my solitary itinerant friends. I got out of our close and into the main road. Unlike our deathly silent close, this place was alive with the bustle of children playing, armed only with their pants, and hungry mallams chatting, their hoes slung over their tired backs. The stalls were alight with local lanterns, shakaboola or whatever they called it, which was made of tomato or milk tins, filled with kerosene that kept an inserted wick alight. I checked the phone. Finally, the slow thing had gone. I scrolled down my page, laughing at a raunchy Photoshopped picture an imp had uploaded. Obama would murder these guys if he ever saw this thing. Without warning, my left leg sank into the wide gully in the middle of the road, sucking me along with it. I only managed to still hold my footing, holding mummy’s phone high in the air. Nothing must happen to that one. ”Eeyah. Sorry.” Some women chorused from the nearby stall. “Don’t mind him, he was pinging on the road.” another woman said quietly. As I turned to go, I added her to my to-kill list. They all laughed loud and long. “Blackberry madness.” Another put in. I hissed loud enough for all of them to hear. Stupid people.
She showed me the yam. “It is three fifty.” “Let me pay three hundred.” I bargained, suddenly wondering where the courage came from. I never bargained for fear of sellers beating me up, even if they were my age mates and of the opposite sex. She chuckled shyly as I put the shapeless tuber into the poly-bag. I smiled to myself, she had to be shy. I had impressive features-I was tall, broad-chested and my faded yellow shirt showed my six-pack considerably. She had no choice. I bought the eggs and tomatoes without bargaining. It would spoil my big boy. “Goodnight.” I said, and walked out. She chuckled again. Was my back view that good? I passed he stall of the to-kill women, carefully eying the meter-deep gully, “pinging” away with mummy’s Samsung. My mind went back to my rejected manuscript. It was the first one I would ever send. It was really vexing and disheartening to be so rebuffed at one’s first try. They couldn’t even send a proper rejection letter.
I remembered Buchi’s article about writers’ rejection in our English textbook. Her experience wasn’t that bad, it was even pleasurable. The gnawing pit in her stomach and all those other metaphors just made her experience more interesting. Back then, publishers still had the mercy (and the sense) to send well typed letters telling you why your story couldn’t be published. Now, you just looked at the list of chosen people and you were left to figure out the obvious.
“Look at this yam.” Father said. I bent down to see it. There was a big rotten portion at the head. “Couldn’t you see this thing when you bought it?” I looked on, dumb. “You see, you have to start…” then it hit me. The shy laugh, the coded chuckle. Oh, I had been such a fool. Of course I knew I was far from attractive, I had never for once gotten the interest of females in my life. What was it about that girl that suddenly bloated my flat ego, making me think of what wasn’t and couldn’t ever be? “What? Why?” I asked myself. “This thing is not even worth two hundred naira.” Father commented trenchantly. There went my courageous bargain. I had been thoroughly duped. I almost wailed aloud. For once, I agreed with father’s speech. I was an idiot. I needed to start using my common sense. As I sliced the yam, half of which was bad, I realized that I hadn’t been myself of late. I was never this careless. I rarely got more than one of Father’s speeches in one night. Something was wrong, and I knew what it was. Those people were behind all that happened. Those publishing people. My hopes were raised so high and my expectations, so boundless. I was already calling myself a renowned author, boasting to all my friends about my killer story. I was well mannered and good to everybody-until I saw that list. That changed me; that changed everything. That was why I was so irritable, so whatever-I-was. I brought out the phone. I was going to the publisher’s blog again. I was going to see the list once again, but this time, I wasn’t going to let the defeat crush me. I was going to look at the list with a look of triumph on my face. I wasn’t going to groan in rejection for the rest of my life. I checked the phone. “Ope oo. It has gone.” I thought aloud. It was fast this time. I scrolled down, yam water dripping from my fingers. My eyebrows jumped; I had seen something. I saw the much dreaded list, but that wasn’t what drew my attention. They were calling for another set of write-ups. Another ten people would be chosen.
I quickly finished washing the yam and put it on the stove. I hurriedly pulled up the wick and adjusted the old thing. I was going to write again, yes, but this time, I didn’t care whether I was chosen or not. I didn’t care what they would think of what I was going to write; to hell with them. I was going to voice my thoughts and tell them of what they made me go through, the board of whoever-reviewed-manuscripts. They could tear my entry and scatter it all over their boardroom table for all I cared. They could curse and heap abuses on whoever wrote my story, I couldn’t care less. I was going to be a great writer, I was going to write great stories, but first, I was going to tell these people how heartless they had all been. I knew I wasn’t the only one rejected, we were hundreds, maybe thousands, fine, but I didn’t care. They could call me selfish, inconsiderate, and self centered; I didn’t give half a damn what they said. Yes I was going to write again, but this time I wasn’t going to freak myself out ensuring there were metaphors and figures of speech that would catch their fancy. I remembered all what I went through when I wrote the other story, how I laughed at the funny parts, though I had read it over a hundred times, just trying to encourage myself, all for nothing-not even a blank mail. Now I didn’t care what anybody said or thought about me, I was going to let loose that insane voice that screamed for expression in my head. I put some salt in the yam and walked to the backyard, book in hand.0