by Olumide Abimbola
He had been watching his son since he started the game. The boy had been chasing a red-head lizard for about thirty minutes, and now he had finally got him. He held the wriggling lizard by the tail and went outside. Still holding him he came back into the parlour of their room and parlour apartment with a bowl and a forked stick. His father wondered what he was going to do with them but he did not ask him anything. He did not want to say anything.
The boy went to a corner of the room and took some water with the bowl from a large, half-full container. That water, his father remembered, was fetched last night after standing in the queue for over an hour. Still he said nothing. He did not say anything not because he did not want to disturb the boy, but because he already knew that he would not get any response. If he asked the boy would probably simply pack his things and go out of the room to continue somewhere else. Instead of asking he decided to watch quietly from where he sat.
Their relationship was strained, very strained. He always tried to be good for his son but he never made it. He knew that the boy respected his mother far more than he did him. Of course, that was expected. For some time it had been his mother who had been providing for him. In fact, he had stopped coming to his father for anything because he knew that he would not get anything from him.
He was a seven year-old, primary school boy. He was not old enough to understand, or to even want to understand, what the case was with his father. His father had become a pest of sorts to him. If he were given a choice he would have loved not to have a father; a mother was enough. The man was a hopeless drunk. Whenever he was drunk he would come home and beat him and his mother. How could a man like that be called a father? Two nights ago he was carried home by some of his less drunk drinking partners who were laughing deliriously as they banged on the door to wake his wife. Throughout yesterday he was sick and could not go out. In the evening he did his first domestic chore in over a week: fetching three buckets of water.
He once had a job, but that seemed a long time ago. The boy could vaguely remember when his father would come home as early as seven in the evening and bring things for them. Sometimes he would bring bread and suya, and they would all sit together and eat a meal that was not even part of the three regular meals of the day. His father and mother would talk about their works. His mother was a petty trader and she would sometimes tell her husband that her wares were almost finished and he would promise to give her some more money.
He could also, through a now very foggy memory, remember the night his father came home with a letter that he gave to his wife after she asked him why he looked sad. When she read it she knelt down and started crying and asking God why he let that happen to her. The boy could remember that he asked why she was crying, and that she replied that his father had been sent away from work because the owners of the company had sold it and the new buyers did now want too many workers.
However, what he remembered very well was that his father started coming home drunk not too long after he was laid off. He used to go to look for work but after a while the only place he went after leaving home was the small corrugated iron-covered structure down the street. There, his friends would buy him drinks. Then he started beating them.
His father watched with shock as he placed the lizard in the bowl, careful enough to leave his tail only after securing his neck with the forked stick. The lizard fought with all his power but he pinned him down with all the anger in him. The lizard opened his mouth to breathe but water rushed into it and he quickly closed it. When he could no longer bear it he again opened it, and then, as before, he quickly shut it. All the while the lizard was thrashing in the bowl of water. After thrashing for a while he became still.
When the boy stood up and turned to face him, his father saw a dark and sweet smile on his face.
Olumide is a Berlin-based Nigerian anthropologist. He is also a NigeriansTalk coordinator.