Playtime, by Ovo Adagha

It is Friday afternoon, and a crowd of children from Major Street, and the adjoining Asaba Street, have converged on the large square of sand inside our compound to play. In the heat of the afternoon, their staccato voices ring sharply in the dusty air. I spectate from a vantage position: on the sofa by the big window of our upstairs flat, whose louvers – brownish rows of rectangular glass panes – open to a view of the playground. Everywhere is spectacle. My eyes follow a scrum of boys running after a soccer ball, and also the girls who are swinging a long skip rope.

Also on the watch are my three brothers: Whiskey, my next in line who, from time to time stirs from his torpid state, stretches his body and settles back on the window like a bored guard dog. There is Ethiope, Whiskey’s next in line. He is squatting on the armrest of the sofa, reticent, his two hands firmly wedged between his neck and the headrest. This has been his position since Mother locked the door and left for work in the morning. Like Whiskey, his dark face is burrowing into the louver panes – but he is looking at something else – and when I follow his gaze, to the far corner of our compound, I see a group of young children his age throwing colourful chewing gum cards at a wall. Then there is Ejoor, the midget, who has let himself down with a heavy thud and begins to cry.

“What is it?” I ask him in a soft tone, as Mother said I should make sure he does not cry.

He points to the door and blurts out, “I want to play!”

Ejoor is four years old and, short and sturdy, he is used to having his way. His appetite for play springs from obstinate unreason and is difficult to restrain. He looks up to me, his little face filled with tears. He has a hazy awareness of our situation, and perhaps he thinks I can open the door. Looking at him, I can’t help but feel sympathy. I have been conscripted to be his shepherd, a gatekeeper who himself is imprisoned by the gate. At fourteen, I am caught in a barren place where I am too young to be an adult and too old to be a child. Yet I am familiar with all the anguish incarceration can bring to a child’s heart.

I look around the living room for something – anything I can use to soothe him. There is the huge black and white Sanyo television, sitting serenely on the room divider, but the TV stations don’t come on until 5 pm.  Attached to the divider is a small bookshelf crammed full with books, some with peeled and outmoded covers. When I look closely at the bookshelf, there is the heavy Book of Bible Stories that Ejoor loves; but he only likes reading – or rather, books being read to him – at night. At the far end of the living room, lying carelessly under a chair, is the Snakes and Ladders.

I make an offer to him: “Do you want to play Snake and Ladder?”

“No!” he says, sulkily, and points to the door.  

And perhaps to drive home his demand, he yanks the cushion from the chair next to him and slams it on the floor. He then begins to wail and roll his legs on the carpet like a bicycle rider.

“Foolish boy!” Whiskey says, investing his voice with much venom.

I try to think fast. There is some ice cream in the fridge. Mother didn’t give us permission to eat it, but she also said that I should make sure he does not cry.

“Do you want some ice cream?” I ask him. He sniffs, wipes his eyes, and nods his head.

“Come with me.”  

We arrive at the fridge, and I put some ice cream on a plate for him. His face brightens at this.

“Goal!” Whiskey shouts, banging his fist excitedly on the sofa.

When Ejoor and I return to the window, my attention is drawn to Appollos, my arch enemy, who has just scored for Major Street. I watch him wheel away in celebration. He runs to the girls and begins to wriggle his body in a Michael Jackson style. The girls are laughing and clapping for him, including Aishat who ignores me all the time.

On seeing this, bitter thoughts cascade through my head. How I hate that boy, Appollos! Who does he think he is? He is such a clown, always showing off and trying to take what belongs to me. Perhaps he thinks Aishat likes him. And why, why is Aishat laughing and encouraging him when she does not even speak to me?

Soon the ball is flung back and forth again. Asaba Street is pushing hard to equalize. Mutiu, our goalie, is blocking shot after shot. The two sides chase after the ball with gusto. Mikado, our captain, swings a mistimed tackle at Afam – the Asaba Street captain. They both go down in a heap, and then a fight erupts.

“Do you want to break my leg?” shouts Afam, twisting Mikado’s neck in a headlock.

“Leave me alone,” says Mikado, as he struggles to free himself.

It is a proper wrestling match, this. The two boys have the same height and frame and it’s hard to tell who is stronger. One of the boys from Asaba Street, Quick, kicks the ball at the two gladiators.

“Stop it, you animals, stop it,” Quick says.

As though on cue, the onlookers take turns to shoot the ball at the tangle that is Mikado and Afam. The ball hits the back of Mikado, and spins, high over the wall, into the gated compound of Dr. Egesi. Dr. Egesi’s dog, Willie, a vicious brute, responds with some sharp barks.

At this, the boys clasp their heads in grief. The gate is locked and there is no one at home. Play is over; one by one the crowd disperse, disappointment on their faces.

“We’ll bring a new ball tomorrow.” I overhear Afam saying to Mikado. They are already friends, their feud forgotten.

From the window we watch them all depart. After the entertainment of the afternoon, the ensuing quiet is almost stifling. With nothing else to view, I draw the window curtains shut.

2

It is evening. Our parents are yet to return from work. We sit in the living room to watch Danger Mouse, our favourite cartoon show, on channel 8. The living room lights are on. Suddenly the lights go off as though quenched by an invisible hand. Darkness, pitch blackness, swiftly descends on the house. The last thing I see is a small white dot disappearing from the centre of the television.

I sit very still, adjusting my eyes and listening to the strange and familiar sounds emerging from the darkness. There is the ticking clock, growing louder with every tick. I can hear the distant murmur of traffic. From outside, comes the raucous notes of Mama Ebere’s voice, clamouring loudly from her provision shop. She hurls some ugly curses at the “inefficient and unreliable NEPA people”, and then screams at her children to pack up the shop quickly, with a dire warning that armed robbers were lurking in the dark, ready to pounce. On hearing this, I feel some relief that our door is locked. Our neighbour from upstairs, Mama Ronke, is not as loud as Mama Ebere, but she is just as assertive. She commands her daughter, Ronke, to fetch the lantern and matchbox from the kitchen.

I try to imitate her: “Whiskey, go and bring the matchbox and the lamp,” I say.

Whiskey does not speak for a long time, only breathing heavily. In that untimely pause I hear a mysterious rustling noise somewhere in the house. After an eternity, Whiskey’s response is delivered in the defiant tone he uses when he wants to disobey me.

“I don’t know where it is,” he says.

Whiskey’s disobedience, I think, is fueled by a sense of self-preservation. The rustling sound is likely from the big rat living inside the kitchen door. Father was shaking the door last night to kill it, but it slipped out and ran away. On some days we have heard it cracking and chipping away at an object in the kitchen; and on a few occasions it had run past us in the hallway. Perhaps in response to Whiskey’s refusal to fetch the lamp, Ejoor promptly decamps from his seat and climbs into mine, taking care to tuck his feet safely away from the floor.

“Mummy and Daddy coming back?” Ejoor says.

I am not sure how to respond, for I can’t quite tell if it is a question or a statement of conviction, but I squeeze his hand reassuringly.

In the dark we wait for their return. Headlights of returning cars sweep by occasionally on the street road, revealing, in their temporary flashes, the huddled shapes of my brothers. Each time someone moves through the gate Ejoor will incline and cock his ears in the dark. I listen too, for the sound of Mother’s footsteps and the sound of Father’s Peugeot car.

A car drives up to Dr. Egesi’s gate and honks. Willie responds with some sharp barks. It sounds like Dr. Egesi’s Volkswagen Beetle. I can hear the familiar squeaking sounds of bolts from the gate being loosened. Lights from the car briefly illuminate our living room. Soon, a mechanical drone, the sound of Dr. Egesi’s generator, unleashed by a whining cord, erupts. The lights come on, and stray rays from his lighted house reach our living room. I feel the hot air of Ejoor’s exhalation on my face.

Mother is not long in coming.

First, I hear a quick flurry of footsteps, like the futile flapping of a chicken’s wings attempting to fly. This is followed by two authoritative raps on the door (Mother always seems to forget that she is with the key). And then I hear the scratch and scrape of the key as it turns the lock. In the next moment she swings the door open.

“Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” We burst forth in relief, jumping around the table to get to the door. Mother is standing at the door, a silhouette carrying a large cellophane bag. I can perceive the sweet aromas of the bons and chin-chin snacks she bought for us.

“Why is the lamp not on?” she says.

“Mummy, there is mouse in the kitchen,” Ejoor says, pointing vaguely in the direction of the kitchen.

Ethiope’s interests appear to reach beyond the open door, for while we are celebrating Mother’s arrival, he tiptoes forward, looking left and right.

“Ethiope!” Mother’s voice is like a lash of cane and Ethiope jumps back into the house as though he had been stung.

3

Later that night we sit again in the living room to watch television. There is a late night movie showing on Channel 11. On Fridays we are allowed to watch. But Mother is holding the remote control. She switches the channel any time people are shooting or about to take off their clothes. Father is watching too but soon he falls asleep on his chair, snoring gently.

The movie is Goldfinger – a James Bond film. I can see that Mother is not happy because she is frowning and gripping the remote control tightly. I follow the film’s progress apprehensively, hoping that James Bond will catch Dr. No quickly and that people will not take off their clothes. But our fate is sealed when James and Pussy Galore take off their clothes and start touching each other. Mother utters a loud hiss and I realize our time is up. She turns off the television and sends us to bed.

Back in our room – which is really Mother’s room, where she keeps a long wooden wardrobe for her clothes and shoes – Ethiope says, “When are we going to watch films to the end?”

Well, with Mother as our omnipresent chaperone, there is really no chance of that happening soon. Even with all the checks she applies to our viewing sessions – turning off the volume when there is a hint of swearing or bad language being exchanged, changing the channels intermittently to find other content she deems appropriate, taking the remote with her when she goes out so that the TV is fixed on a cartoon channel, and, in our speculation, instructing NEPA officials to turn off the electricity any time we are about to watch something she does not approve of – we never seem to watch any movie to the end. There is always an act of corruption cropping up on the television to truncate our viewing. And as long as I can remember, watching television in our house was an exercise in fear and frustration.

I say to Ethiope, “When we grow up.”

“Are we not grown already?” he asks.

I can tell that he is unhappy, but I did not have an answer to this question. So I let it hang in the air, watching over us, as we fall asleep.

4

The next day is Saturday. Saturday mornings are tedious for us, with Mother the unrelenting task master. She gets us up early in the morning to dish out a list of  “do or die” orders: Whiskey’s task is to sweep and mop the floor; Ethiope has to clean the dusty windows; Ejoor is to scrub the chairs and tables; and I have to wash Father’s car, shine his shoes, and arrange his uniform.

Father is in the bathroom having a shower. Mother is in the kitchen, singing war-like gospel songs and making breakfast. I enter their bedroom to do my job. Father’s khaki uniform has to be pressed every morning and his military boots have to be polished to a gleaming black. I set about the task with a mindless familiarity: I retrieve the metal buttons, the badge, his name tag, the whistle and the striped lanyard, from the shirt he wore yesterday, and transfer them to the freshly-ironed shirt.

While working the clothes, I hear a stark jingling of metals. Thinking that it might be some stray coins, I search the pockets. What I find is a bunch of keys belonging to Father. Among the bunch is the key to the front door.

It is not the first time that I am seeing Father’s key holder – after all, I was going to use it to wash his car – but on this occasion it unlocks some unlawful thoughts in my head.  

I remember that today is Saturday, and Asaba street boys will be coming to replay yesterday’s aborted match. Why, Aishat may be there too. What if I take out the key and replace it in the evening when he returns from work? Father almost never uses it, and Mother will not suspect…

“Esiso!” Mother calls my name, charging into the bedroom with an abruptness that alarms me. She is accompanied by the smell of fried eggs and onions.

I feel an immediate thrill of fear on seeing her, standing at the doorway. Mother is tall in height, and broad, with an omnipresent bulge in her stomach which she blames on our pregnancies. The varicose veins on her forearms are in full view. Her thick black hair, cropped in a pyramidal mass of braids, hangs stiffly on the top of her head.

She gives me a suspicious look. “What have you been doing?” She says, coming closer to me, like a hawk advancing towards prey.

“I’m fixing Dad’s uniform,” I say, afraid that she is reading my thoughts.

After what seems like a long pause she says, “Go on, hurry up and wash the car. Do you want your father to be late for work?”

When she leaves the room I heave a sigh of relief. Hastily, I remove the front door key from the bunch and slip it into my pocket. I return the key holder to Father’s trouser and make my way out of the bedroom.

Outside, washing Father’s Peugeot, I find it difficult to concentrate. I hear a voice singing inside my head: “You have the key! You have the key!” I splash cups of water on the car, scrubbing the body and the windscreen. I spend the rest of the time day-dreaming and looking at cars and people passing by. Our compound is in the middle of Major Street – a long rambling line of shops and houses winding up a hilly cul-de-sac. I observe Afam emerging from Mama Ebere’s provision shop. He has a loaf of bread in his hands.

“We have a new ball,” he says, beaming.

“I’ll play today,” I tell him. We wave to each other and he continues down the arterial road.

One by one the parents depart the street to go about their businesses. Ronke’s parents are the first to leave in their Passat. Next is Aishat’s mother. She is a petty trader at the local market. To my grief, Aishat is with her. They both exit the compound with heavy bags. Presently Willie starts to bark from his kernel. And it’s not long before I hear the sound of Dr. Egesi’s beetle coming to life. The car yawns and coughs and, after an exasperated hiss, stirs to a stuttering start. The gate opens with a creaking whine; the driver wheels the beetle into the street and they are away.

I finish with the Peugeot and return to the house. Father is already dressed and is having breakfast in the dining room. He looks up and says, “Did you wash the tires?” I nod my head. Father always likes his wheels in sparkling condition.

I try to keep my normal routine: I go to the kitchen and eat my breakfast. The tea and the egg sandwich are tasteless to me. My heart is beating so fast I find it hard to swallow. I try to wash the plates, but I am distracted by Father’s movements. He is restless, pacing around in the living room, the soles of his boots hit the ground heavily, and expressing his disapproval to Mother. He yells at Mother to bring her make-up kit to the car or he will leave without her. I listen nervously, afraid that he will notice the missing key. Then he strides off towards the Peugeot, starts the car and presses hard on the horn.  

“Peeeeee…” chimes the Peugeot. It sounds like a furious warning issued in dangerous traffic; it is so loud and fierce I almost jump out of my skin.

At this Mother appears, all rustle, hurrying from the bedroom to the living room. She grabs her hand bag and exits the house, but her fragrance, the smell of vanilla and incense, an inauspicious reminder of her presence, hangs heavily in the air. She locks the door afterwards and joins Father in the Peugeot. We wave them goodbye from the window.

“Be of good behaviour,” she says, wagging a finger at us.  

“Yes, ma,” we chorus obediently.

My heart is thumping violently inside my chest, but I wait for the Peugeot to disappear before showing the key to my brothers.

5

An almighty clatter greets my revelation. Amid several joyous whoops and banging of the centre table, Ejoor flies to the door and starts pulling the door handle. I urge restraint.

“Let’s wait a bit,” I say to them.  

An hour later we gather at the door. I hold the key in my hands, a symbol of mischief, and it is at this point that a morbid fear enters my thoughts. I am afraid of Mother’s trouble. Disobeying her always brings consequences – consequences that were often administered by the wicked rattan canes she keeps, out of reach, on the top shelf of her wardrobe. I fear the scorching attentions of those canes. Several parts of my body bear the long stripes of their past ministrations. I have no doubt that she will hold me responsible “for leading the gang astray”, as she likes to say.

But having disobeyed Mother before, and knowing that I am about to disobey her again, the temptation to play football with my friends is too much to resist. It is almost twelve thirty and already I can hear them coming into our compound. Ejoor is tugging at my sleeve. “Hurry”, he says, “open door.”

“Keep quiet!” I say to him. There is a shaky tremor in my hands as I put the key in the lock. It clicks and the door is open. Ah! The sweet air of freedom. I revel in it. It is as exhilarating as the rush of fresh warm air that embraces us.

Ejoor is the first to get out. He flies past me like a dove departing a cathedral. Midway in his run, he stops and utters a cry, the cry of a lonesome wolf, as though warning a pack that he was about to join the fray.

And so our playtime begins. When we enter the playground we are greeted with a slate of boos and cheers. After being locked up for so long we are like untethered sheep, eager to make up for lost time. Ethiope joins his card-throwing group. Ejoor is running around in circles like a possessed child, chasing after flies and chickens. The other little children are running around with him. They are screaming and throwing sand in the air.

Whiskey and I join the soccer match. It feels so good to jump and stretch my legs. I have been chosen as the striker ahead of Appollos. I want to score spectacular goals that Aishat will hear about. But the decision does not go well with Appollos. He angrily refuses to concede the position to me.

We exchange some harsh words. And then he resorts to blackmail: “I will tell your Mother you came out to play,” he says, sticking his tongue at me.

His threat hits me like a body blow. I had quite forgotten about Mother and the dreadful consequences of being caught. Appollos, like the rest of children in the street, knows that we broke jail. I am afraid, and I beg him not to report to Mother. “You can play as a striker,” I say to him, “and I will play behind you in the centre.”

“That”s better,” he says, smiling triumphantly at me, “but you must pass the ball to me any time you get it, you hear?” I nod my head and walk away from him.

Before the match begins, another argument breaks out between us and the boys from Asaba Street. They bought a new ball and they want us to make a contribution.

“We have lost too many balls in this compound,” they say.

“We have no money,” we say.

“We won’t play until you pay your share,” they declare. It looks like they meant it, for they begin to file out of our compound.

Perhaps sensing that his day in the sun is about to fritter away, Whiskey runs towards them and tries to snatch the ball from Afam.

His enthusiasm is checked with a violent push that sends him crashing to the ground.

“Ah, my leg! My leg!” Whiskey cries out, grabbing his leg, his face contorted in pain. We gather around him. He seems to have sprained his ankle in the fall. One of the girls hurries inside and returns with an ice pack which we place on his left ankle.

Afam, looking contrite, relents and agrees to play. But only after he issues a warning that no one should kick the ball high.

A short while later, the game starts. It is a scrappy, frenetic affair. We chase after the ball like a pack of piranhas. Whiskey complains that his leg is hurting and then limps off to watch from the sidelines.

Dust and sweat are in plenty supply, with a lot of kicking and shoving. I whack the ball towards their post at every chance I get, but the tireless industry of Asaba Street boys make it difficult to score.

Mid-morning extends into afternoon, but still we continue to play until, just before sunset, we are interrupted by a commotion at the gate.

Mama Ronke is back. She enters the compound in a huff, shouting her indignation. Immediately her children, Ronke and Mutiu, run upstairs.

“You useless scallywags, don’t you have something to do at home? Stop corrupting my children!” She screams in a shrill voice, tightening her wrapper around her waist.

Her arrival breaks up the match, and all the children file out of our compound in small groups. We agree to play another match on Monday.

It is getting dark. I sense that our parents will return soon. So I look around for my brothers.  

Whiskey’s ankle is swollen. He is limping in an awkward manner. Ejoor is looking very dirty, his shirt is torn and there is sand all over his body. I call out to Ethiope and he emerges with a handful of cards.

“Let’s go inside,” I say.  

In the house, I instruct my brothers to change their clothes and wash their bodies thoroughly. While they are having their bath, I soak the dirty clothes in a bucket. I also sweep the house, taking care to brush the sand off the door mat. I lock the door.

5

Later that night, we gather in front of the television to watch the Brazilian soap, Secrets of the Sand, on Channel 11. My brothers seem enthralled by the story of Don Juan and the twins. But I feel some apprehension at my parents’ imminent return. I do not want Father to return before Mother. I do not want him to find his door key missing.

At 8:30pm there is a click on the door lock. Mother is back. Instinctively, I reach for the key in my pocket. I feel some reassurance to find it there.

Mother is instantly suspicious. There is usually some boisterous clattering from us when she comes home, but this evening the reception is somewhat subdued. I think she senses it, for she is looking at us like she is seeing us for first time in many years, and as though in that time we had somehow mutated into strange, unfamiliar beings. Her eyes sweep through the house like a police torch light, taking in the carefully – perhaps too carefully – arranged curtains, the well-set furniture, our clean hands and legs, and a bucket soaked with clothes. She takes off her shoes and starts walking barefoot, I think, to feel for sand particles on the floor.

At length, she says, “Why is the floor of the house so clean? Who swept the house by this time?”

She looks at Ejoor, who does not know how to tell lies, as though prompting him to bear witness against us. Petrified, I say: “Ejoor and Ethiope made a mess in living room, so I asked them to sweep it.”

I expect a cross-examination, but she only looks at me, with searching, quizzical eyes, and shakes her head.

After putting away her bags, we return to our seats to continue the Secrets of the Sand. Whiskey is walking with a weird shuffling gait, in a bid to hide his limp, but Mother’s prying eyes follow him to his chair.

“Why are you walking like that? What’s wrong with your legs? What have you been up to?” The questions fly towards Whiskey like bullets.

Whiskey appears to be reeling under the impact, and in a flash Mother is beside him and holding up his legs to examine them. He opens his mouth in small moan, like the whimper a dog emits when its paws are being squeezed.

“What is this? What happened to your leg?”

Whiskey starts to stammer, “I…I…hit…eh…hit my leg on the table when I was running.”

“What? Running? Why were you running? Where were you running to?” Mother’s eyes are flashing, and her voice is rising higher and higher.

Whiskey looks confused; his eyes appeal to me for help.

“We were playing inside the house.” I tell Mother. She jerks around to look at me, her eyebrows widening, it seems, in anger and disbelief.

“Shut up! Was I talking to you?”

She turns back to Whiskey, “You mean you were playing inside the house and you injured yourself like this?”

“Yes ma,” Whiskey says. He looks like he is about to collapse. Already, small beads of sweat have broken out on his face.

“Get up,” Mother says, “come and show me where you hit your leg.”

Now that his situation is out in the open, Whiskey makes no further attempt to hide it. He limps forward, wobbling as if he is walking on a bed of hot charcoal, his face a picture of pain.

He appears to be heading to the dining room, with Mother close on his heels. The old mahogany table and the stiff straight-back chairs, with their long wooden legs, are a conspicuous bunch. They have given us the odd tackle in the past. It looks like he will blame them for what Afam did. But there is a power outage just before he gets there, and again the whole house is swallowed by darkness.

With the lights gone, Mother’s investigation blows out too. And for once I am grateful for the timely intervention of the National Electric Power Authority.

6

Sunday morning. I overhear my parents talking at the dining table. They are having breakfast. I stand behind the door and listen to them.

“These dining chairs are too old; we need to change them,” Mum says.

“Mmhh,” Father grunts, his mouth full of food.  

“They are getting rickety and hurting the children.”

“Mmhh,” Father grunts again, “they look alright to me; I’m sitting on one.”

“Whiskey says he hit his leg on the table the other day,” Mother says, clapping her hands in her regular manner of showing disbelief.   

“That boy is too rough. It’s his fault not the table,” Father says, dismissing the matter.

I tiptoe away from the door, wondering if Mother is still suspicious. But by noon time I forget all about it.

7

Sunday afternoon. We are watching an Olympic football match on Television. It is Nigeria versus Brazil. Mother is away visiting a friend, but Father is watching the game with us. The TV volume is high and so is the tension in the living room. Nigeria is losing, and Father is furiously chewing kola nut after kola nut. Anytime the Nigerian players miss a chance to score a goal, he swings his leg at an imaginary object.

But they do score. Almost at the end of the match, when Father’s face had already twist itself in wrathful knots, Captain Kanu dribbles past two onrushing defenders and fires into the net.

“Goal!” the noise from the street is deafening. We clap, we dance and drum on the centre table. Father lifts Ejoor and throws him up and down. Ejoor is giggling.

Things are looking brighter and Father’s facial expression has returned to normal. But right after the celebration, Kanu scores another goal with a bicycle kick.

Again there is the big roar from the streets. We jump and shout like deranged people. Father is in shock. He leans forward on his chair, urging the referee to blow the final whistle. After the game he gives us ice-cream and then goes to the beer parlour to celebrate with his friends.

At night in my bed, I find it hard to sleep. I cannot stop replaying the Nigeria vs Brazil match – its tension, the excitement and spectacular goals. Lying on my bunk bed, I practice some bicycle kicks, swinging my legs to and fro, back and forth, until they begin to hurt. At last, mercifully, I fall asleep. In my sleep, I dream of scoring a goal with a bicycle-kick. I dream of happy faces, fans of all shades, rising up in their seats, screaming my name. I dream of Aishat hugging me.

8

Monday morning. I wake up with a headache and a sore throat. At first I feel lethargic, but on remembering my dream from last night, the key and the accessibility it brings, it’s not long before I am sprightly again.

I rise from the bed with visions of stardom growing in my head. I am eager for Mother and Father to go to work, and very early I begin to make preparations for their departure. All morning I find myself thinking about the impending match with Asaba Street. I want to score with a bicycle kick. I am eager to showcase my new skills.

Not long after my parents depart the house, it starts to rain. Undeterred, I unlock the door and let my brothers out. Immediately Ejoor runs to the backyard, squealing with joy. Whiskey is acting as referee and coach from the sidelines, shouting and directing his hands like a choir conductor. Soon the rain stops, but we splash around in the muddy puddles it left behind. I try to play like my hero, Kanu, throwing my legs in the air several times to make a bicycle kick. I jump over tackles and zigzag past the Asaba Street boys with ease. I begin to feel invisible as the game goes on. When I hear Whiskey call my name, I assume he is spurring me on. So I charge towards the ball and attempt another bicycle kick. This time I connect with it and fall acrobatically to the ground. In that instant I see the limping figure of Whiskey hurrying away from the playground.  

When I get up a strange cold feeling comes over me, and in that moment of confused alarm I feel as if an unnamed peril is about to finish me. I look around me to dispel the thought; but I see Mother standing at the gate, a punitive force, smiling a terrible smile.


Ovo Adagha is a Nigerian writer. His poetry, fiction and non-fiction works have appeared in several online and print publications, including One World: A global anthology of short stories, Caine Anthology, African Writing, Eclectica magazine, Angle Journal, Every Writer and Santa Fe Writers Project. He was a runner up in the 2008 UK Bath Spa University Creative Writing Competition. He currently lives in Alberta, Canada.

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