The Story After Before

February 12, 2024

We had mutually agreed to pursue eternal goals, dawdling in lavishness and idleness. As the apple of nature’s eye, we believed nature would tend to every need of ours. Then, wishes became horses, and we found ourselves to be delusional beggars who couldn’t even afford anything.

 

After a long, tiring journey from the sky to the earth, droplets of rain collapsed in the plastic bucket’s flat bottom. Understanding their concern, I adjusted the bucket, so it would accommodate every droplet.

“One drop…two drops, one more drop, and I will go and take my bath,” I muttered, as I observed the bucket in front of me. My lower back ached from my prolonged squatting position, but I kept counting, as though I’d leave  when I counted to twenty.

I wondered if the heavens did the same. Counting my efforts and struggles in a wordless vigil, as if they would aid me once they could count no more.

I heard an echo, from the back of my mind:

“Sisters are like limbs, and money is like clothes. People without limbs can go about in public, but people without clothes cannot.”

I sighed. Picking a strong, elongated stick from the basin of the coarse floor, I began to write  a dilettante haiku;

“Good things don’t last.

Cloud disperse, tiles break–”

Before I could complete my scribbling, nature extended its mystical hand and shut me up. Raindrops wiped my haiku away. It was like my mother’s voice, whenever she scolded me.

“Nguko! Go and take your bath. The water in the bucket is enough already. You’re not a bag of sand.”

I held onto her voice, like one longing to go back into their mother’s belly. As though my sister would amble out of our residence and take her place.

“How can you sit in the rain? Do you want to fall sick?” she would say.

I waited against an empty house, as though I forgot that all my sister left me was a text message. A message which had left me flustered:

“Which money was she referring to? How much is our sisterhood worth?” I had thought.

I sighed. Then, I cast a questioning gaze at the sky. “Hope you counted this, too?”

The sky responded with an epic skyquake. I shuddered. Grabbing the bucket of water, I hurried inside.

There I was, coughing hard after shedding my skin with a bucket of cold water just to keep it clean. It’s not like I don’t love myself. Love left me hanging on for hours after I scrubbed my body.

I had sought other options to evade directly pouring the cold water on my skin. Can I just use a towel and wipe my body? But that would leave me slippery and full of soap. Should I dip a towel in the bucket of water and rinse my body with it? I had wondered.

Fear clung to me like a Giant Tiger Snail sticking onto a moist wall. Taking me back to the feeling I usually developed at the sound of oil droplets. I have deep-rooted trust issues when it comes to hot oil. While I was preparing my marketable buns earlier that day, I had kept my distance.

To save time in the bath, I encouraged myself with the theme of bravery in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and emptied the bucket of water on myself. I shivered out of the bathtub. As I made my way to school, my legs delayed me with their constant shivering. Picking up the airtight container in which I had placed my marketable buns, I lowered it to the level of my legs to keep them warm, unconsciously winking at my feet as if to say, “I got you”.

The school bell rang as soon as I arrived. I was scurrying into the school when someone called my attention.

“You now teach?”

I simpered, readjusting the airtight container beside me.

“ASUU said we should sit at home, but I like school too much. Since I can’t be a student, I decided to be a teacher, you understand?” I said, looking at her askance.

“I do… I do,” she said, amidst chuckles. Ignoring her I scuttled into the school. In my head, I repeated the phrase “He that knows where he is going, does not seek direction.”

Handing the marketable buns to the school canteen coordinator, I scuffed my right hand on the airtight container.

“Everything here is one thousand, eight hundred Naira only. My money is one thousand, five hundred Naira, you understand?” I said, looking at him.

He nodded in affirmation.

I almost made it to the assembly hall, but the school proprietor led me away.

“Meet me in my office,” she muttered.

“If Asa’s mother pays her children’s fee, you shall be settled.” Her previous words to me rewound in my head. I smiled.

The rain had wiped away my haiku. But perhaps good things are meant to stay, I reassured myself.

“Miss Nguko, Asa’s mother, just withdrew her children from the school,” the school proprietor announced to me.

I heard a crack, “krrrram.” I didn’t know whether it was from my head or from my heart.

“What? When they are yet to pay up last term’s school fees?” I snarled.

“She complained her children’s education is costing her the amount of money plenty of graduates are yet to make,” the proprietor said, rubbing her right palm on her head. I sighed.

“Did anyone drag her to a private school?” I muttered to myself. 

She continued, “Today she came to announce that nothing meaningful is being taught to the students and that we don’t give enough assignments. So, she is withdrawing them.”

“That’s not true,” I blurted, clenching my jaw. She sighed.

“You and I know the reason she withdrew them. Many people are finding it challenging to feed their children, yet they send them to school,” she said, as though trying to also convince herself.

“They are just trying….” I muttered, turning away.

“You know what this summons implies,” she continued, but I was no longer paying attention, so she sighed and left.

It was time to go home. To pick the shackles of my life where life had scattered them. The school was having a hard time. As the auxiliary staff, I knew I was going to bear the first brunt.

“What about me? Am I…am…am I a thing that least needs survival?” I stuttered.

Shaky feet had taken me to school; shaky feet brought me back. Though the cold of the water was already gone, the cold in my heart triggered the latter.

I walked into my room and slammed the door. The black nylon I had carefully placed inside my pillow felt my touch once again, when I pulled it out and brought out the money I had stacked into it. It was three months of my salary. The man behind my scholarship was already one with soil. That money would get this year’s school fees off my budget, as far as my university education was concerned. It was rumored that the strike would be over soon. Every disappointment is a blessing, I thought as I made some calculations.

For being able to keep my salary intact, I will give half of the proceeds from today’s buns sales as an offering to my God. I will try as much as I can to find a handy job that will take care of my feeding and expenses henceforth”.

 

My hands roved around the frame of the pillow, but met an empty nylon. I shuddered. 

If we can’t aim at forever in lavishness and idleness, can’t we in loyalty and hard work?

I held the decrepit door from falling as soon as I pushed it. They say home is where your heart is, so I went there to find an ear for my heavy words. My mother stamped her grubby paws on the adjacent table and stood up.

“I have carried you in my womb for nine months and fed you for nineteen good years. You are a grown up. You cannot go back to my belly again.” 

 

Vanity wrote the story after “before.” 

I wished someone had told my mother that I wasn’t there to ask for her help. I was only seeking a shoulder to cry on. 

I will find my sister someday, and that day I will show her:

“Sisters are like limbs, and money is like cloth. Many people with limbs walk around with clothes on.” 

 

Sandra Uche Delumozie is a Nigerian writer and poet who believes she lives to write. She is a fresh graduate of English and Education at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria. She lives in Nigeria.

 

Featured image by Amritanshu Sikdar.

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