The Artist at Work

Sometime in the early month of May, in this present year of our Lord, the brilliant reclusive artist who resided at #27 Dan Wilson Street completed his long awaited masterpiece.
It had taken him more than two and a half years to finish it. That was two and a half years of blood, sweat, loneliness and absolute solitude. For two and a half years he had locked himself up in his little studio behind his house staring at his wide plain canvas all night and day, neither going out to see his numerous friends nor wishing to be seen or heard from by them or by well wishers or even his family … except for his Cheshire cat, Thom.

He never came out much during this time – except for crossing the street during the evenings towards the roadside sellers to buy cooked food, oranges and kola-nuts. During this time he seldom went out to the market either but stayed indoors swallowing cups of coffee and eating large amounts of junk food, which he prepared for himself. He lost a few pounds because of this but still he wasn’t bothered. His recent girlfriend after much fuss, fits and complaints had walked out on him into the hungry waiting arms of his neighbour next-door, but even that never bothered him. Not one bit. 

Though his eccentricities wasn’t a new thing. Even when he wasn’t working he still kept to himself, never getting involved with people’s arguments, quarrels or thoughts, even if they invited him to, though he never refrained from buying them palm wine drinks whenever they asked. Yes, he did smile and laughed at their crude jokes even when they were directed at him but he seldom involved himself with them; and when he spoke, his words were soft and few. Time and time again they tried to indulge themselves unto him without much result. He would at times become unusually quiet and distant. Still they loved and worshiped him for whom he was, but deep inside, they feared him. No one around ever thought about picking a quarrel with him – for what reason would they? 

Indeed, everyone in the village knew of his persistent seclusion whenever he sat down to begin a new painting, which was quite often … but this time it had been too much for them to bear. 

On the street corners, in the marketplace and roadside eating/drinking spots, all the villagers talked about was him. They whispered of him, argued about him, recalled past tales and chance encounters with him and in the end laughed about him. It wasn’t long before one could barely separate what was truth and what was rumour. And why should they – after all, he was their favourite neighbour, their number one icon; the one person they wished their wayward sons would emulate and become and whom their supple daughters would hopefully one day marry, that’s if the good Lord so wished it. 

“I hear that he has gone mad … utterly and completely!” 

“My God, will you please keep quiet! You’re always over hearing nonsense.” 

“You who’s talking, what do you know besides drowning your mouth in a beer bottle.” 

Uproarious laughter. 

“What I heard was his painting got the best of him so he locked himself up the other night and slit both his wrist.” 

“That what you heard? I heard he opened his throat – ear to ear…” 

“Well, that wasn’t what I heard. I hear he’s working on something much bigger and greater than his previous works …” 

And on and on the rumours travelled like an ageless nursery rhyme, sweeping all over the village, infecting all whom had an ear or two to listen. 

Day and night they stood watching from across the street, balconies and opened windows; drinking beer, cracking dry jokes, swapping stale gossips and reading old newspapers, watching and waiting anxiously to be among the first to see his studio doors creak open. Their doubts had slowly begun to evolve into fear till one of them – though till today nobody could actually recall whom – stood up and approached his back gate, followed by several others. 

Silently they crept across his littered backyard like thieves and pressed their nose against his studio’s dirt-stained windows. A heavy sigh of relief came off their breaths as they were once more happy again when they recognised the artist, naked from the waist up, standing with his back towards them, a palette in his left hand while his other swished a paintbrush across a wide canvas in front of him while Thom, his cat, purred by his feet. They stood there for a long time, talking and whispering excitedly amongst themselves till finally the artist came out and rudely told them to leave. Distraught though they were, never the less they left with a much warmer heart and mind. 
The next day had brought a new sunshine into the village. Everybody, from the newspaper vendors, to the bar tenders, to the Reverend Father who presided over the Catholic church in the village, to the roadside food sellers, to the ragged winos and drunks sitting by the gutters, to the ever grumbling postman, to the little kids going to school and the young lads playing football by the sand field all day. They were all very nice, polite and bright to each other and it could be said that throughout that week, nobody exchanged so much as an angry word, threat, or malicious glance at each other. The artist was alive and kicking behind his work and that was all that mattered to them. 

The next item on everybody’s mind was about his upcoming work: was he through with it or not? And if not, when? What was on it? How beautiful was it? Did he intend on selling it, or sending it to one of those profitable Art houses in the city, or was he keeping it for himself? Or if indeed he was going to sell it, then how much would it cost … and could either of them afford it? 

Abstract guesses and rough estimates were made but before that, the final question was asked: had anybody actually seen the painting? Few stood up and bragged that they had but neither one’s description tallied with the other, thus it was hard to know whom to believe. But still at night, they all secretly dreamed of possessing it. 

The fishermen down by the harbour all day thought about how much quantity of fish they would have to catch for it. At night the market women dreamed about how many yards of wrappers, clothes, or quantities of food stuffs they could sell for the upcoming weeks to afford it; others began cajoling their husbands with sweet words and sultry promises about purchasing it while the young ladies desperately pleaded with their boyfriends and older lovers about wanting it as a special gift for their upcoming birthday present. Some of the men began cutting down on their late afternoon drinks and other regular frivolities just to save money for it with the silly excuse that they were trying to cut down for their children’s sake. House rents suddenly doubled; debtors began hiding themselves away. Relationships, which were once ripe, all of sudden grew sour and fights and quarrels occurred almost every week. 

It was sometime in the early evening on the second week of May that the artist finally dropped his brushes, palette and paints, changed his clothes and walked out his gate. A heavy rain had fallen the night before and the streets still bore much evidence of it. People walking along the street immediately stopped and stared at him with awe. He looked just as young and handsome and vibrant as the last time they saw him – like he had all the while sneaked off to a lush Caribbean island for a little fun and sun. He said a few hellos and waved at them before heading for his destination; some of them who weren’t busy doing anything decided to follow him. 

He walked over past the small fishing harbour to Aliwu’s bar/restaurant, which overlooked the sand field area. Everyone, including the proprietor, Aliwu, was just as happy and surprised to see him, and he and his workmen welcomed him as if he were a crowned prince. He immediately set up a table for him at the end of the room and served him himself. The artist ate his meal in silence after which he relaxed himself and ordered for some palm-wine while several of the people whom were in the restaurant and others standing outside by the windows watched him. After paying for his meal, the painter shook hands with Aliwu and walked past the large crowd and headed for the park where he boarded a taxi heading for the city. 

The rest of the day was ripe with talk and gossip. First off much of the people were upset and angry at how the artist had treated them. They had yelled his name, slapped his shoulders and smiled at him, but rather than acknowledge them he had simply shrugged off their embrace and stared at them as if they weren’t there while he walked away, leaving them standing there on the road like lonesome beggars. 

Even Aliwu had added his own share into the brewing pot. He spoke with a grumpy look on his face (and a glowing touch of hidden pride and self-esteem in his heart since he was for the moment being the main focus of attention in the midst of a growing gossip mob) about how the artist had refused to tip his bill as he often did on numerous occasions but had instead complained to him that his fish hadn’t been well prepared. 

This was all a total lie but neither of the village folks knew and they eagerly accepted it. Though some of them did have their doubts about everything but they were too few and weak-mouthed to speak out. By sundown the news had spread to the other end of the village and the old folks all folded their arms, shook their heads and wondered. 
Excerpt from: The Artist at Work

Frailty

stock-footage-silhouette-of-hand-with-gunI’m in my car heading downtown, towards the city harbor. It’s my last day on the job, my last night as a city detective. I’ve been a cop since the month before I turned twenty-one. It’s a job I loved, cherished, and despised at the same time. I’ve seen a lot of things, done a lot of things, and have been there when things have been done to others. Though tonight was going to be one of those few nights where I get to be the one doing the deed.

Tonight was the night I settled a score with an old enemy who’s been dogging me for ages; an enemy that just wouldn’t die.

I reached into my jacket pocket and took out my cop shield. I held it in my hand, feeling my thumb over the metal, taking warmth in the feel, before throwing it into the glove box; tonight was one night I knew I wouldn’t need it. I reached for my holster and took out my six-shooter – this was all the luck I knew I was going to need. I flipped open the chamber and glanced at the bullets resting inside. I’ve got additional ammo in case I ran out of these ones. I returned my gun to my holster and took stock of the situation as I continued to drive.

A little girl was missing tonight, had been missing going on two days now; the description of the mastermind behind her kidnapping matched the perp whom I was after. He’d even called less than ten minutes ago before I tore out of the station, describing to me exactly where he would be. He had a reason for taking the girl, and he knew that I knew too. His specialty was little girls. In the past couple of months, five of them had suffered despicable deaths; there was no way I was going to let another happen, even though I had less than an hour before midnight to still be carrying around my badge.

I arrived at the harbor and drove past the open gates. His phone call had told me to come by the east end of the jetty, where much of the buildings there were old, crumbling warehouses. As I got halfway close to it, I turned off my engine and decided to proceed cautiously on foot, my six-shooter drawn out.

All around the jetty was eerie quietness; in the distance came the sound of a ship’s foghorn. My feet made slight crunching sounds as I proceeded to investigate a large empty warehouse building that was in front of me.

A light inside the building suddenly came on and it focused downward on the little girl in a green dress, tied to a chair in the center of the building’s empty space. She looked up at me with teary eyes as I approached her slowly while eyes scanned the dark interior.

“Hi there, Abbie,” I called the girl by her name. “Is the bad man around?”

She nodded, too frightened to speak.

“Don’t worry, I’m with the good guys. I’m going to get you to your parents, I promise.”

At that moment, my body became still as I sensed something coming directly at me in the dark. I threw my head and my body to the left as I heard a swooping sound connect with my shoulder, making me cry out. I was lucky – if I hadn’t ducked in time, the piece of wood would have knocked me out completely. I aim my gun where the wood had appeared from but was too late as I felt it slam on my wrist, knocking the six-shooter off my hand. I couldn’t really make him out from the darkness in the room, but I knew it was him; his breathing felt loud in my ear. I threw myself against him and we both fell to the ground, grappling. I rammed a knee to his groin, heard him grunt, and followed it with a fist. I struck his jaw before prying the wood from his grip. I came to my feet and clubbed him with the wood, at the same time cursed at him.

“There you go, you bastard! How do you like it, eh! Hurts, don’t it!”

Each time I cursed, I swung the wood hard on his head, heard him cry out more. I could also hear the girl scream out, but at that moment, satisfying my rage was I wanted. I went in search of my gun and came back and shot him three times.

There was the sound of my heart beating fast, and a pressing ache in my shoulders and knuckles as I stood there letting my body return to calm. I dropped to my knees, took out a torch from my pocket and brought the light down on his face.

I stared gape-mouthed, the sound of my voice died in my throat as immediately I recognized whose face it was. Though I’d battered it to a pulp, it was still enough for me to recognize Simon – my son.

There I sat right next to my killer son’s dead body, crying, too weak to even move. Then I felt the little girl come and hug me. “Thank you,” she said, “thank you for rescuing me from the evil man.”

I hugged her back, sniffling back my tears, and said: “It’s all right, Abbie. You’re safe now.”

I picked her up and carried her to where I’d left my vehicle. I left my son’s remains for the rats and other tiny creatures in the building to feed upon.

 

I Gave You Power!

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Too many talk in the U.S., about gun violence and the scars it leaves behind in our lives. I’m not writing this post to join in the conversation. Too bad we fail to see things from the gun’s perspective. What would it seem if a gun were allowed to tell its own story? Such was the theme behind this old story of mine:

STORY FROM A GUN

Oh men … why can’t fellas just let me be? Look at the way they scramble about just to get a-hold of me: pick me up after trading in some cash, then use me however way they want before dumping me just when I’m starting to grow hot, I just can’t understand none of this.

It’s like I’m a gun. That’s all I am, a stupid cold-hearted gun.

 

There I was on that day, lying between some stinking underwear clothes in the depths of a cabinet drawer, trying to catch me some early evening snooze, when suddenly a light came on and I felt my owner pull out the drawer and delve his hands between the clothes and pulled me out. The fool checked my clip underneath, wanting to make sure I was fully loaded and ready, and then said: “Okay homeboy, let’s go do this.”

He tucked me into the waistband of his jeans and together we bounced out of his crib. He had a ride waiting on the alley round the back; he had several other fools from his goon squad waiting for him. After a brief exchange of handshake and cat-names, he jumped into the back and that was when the car came to life and we headed out into town.

There was Rap music floating out of the stereo. Someone lit up a reefer and passed it about as we made it along the city traffic. At least for now, until whenever the action started, I had some brooding time to myself.

It’s at times like this that I absolutely hate myself, hate what I am and everything that comes with my lifestyle. Why can’t I somehow be an instrument of Life, I wonder. So much I wish I could find myself in the hands of working doctors and surgeons, instead of keeping company with ingrate fools such as these ones.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at our destination at some dark looking building somewhere close to the city docks. The boys brought their heads together and quietly whispered among themselves, wanting to know who’s going to be the one to go up there and do what needs to be done. My owner raised his hand, saying: “It’s been a while since I pulled my heat. Let me be the one to cap that fool!”

The others agreed and told him it’s on. He jumped out of the car, pulled me out of his waist, cocked me up and together, as quiet as two mice we made our way into the building while the others waited. Unknown to my owner, I too have long been waiting for a moment such as this, and for a long time now I’ve searched for just the right opportunity to spring my surprise on him.

Soon we got to the door where my man’s enemy was waiting. He tensed for a moment before kicking in the door, aiming me at the guy who was inside the room.

“I’ve got you now, SUCKER!” he yelled, just before pulling my trigger.

And that was when I sprung my surprise at him.

All he heard was a click and nothing more. You ought to have seen the shocked look that was on his face when he squeezed my trigger three more times before it registered in his mind that it was actually jammed.

It was enough time for his enemy to pull out his own weapon and aim it at him; unfortunately for my owner, his didn’t jam.

I heard the shot explode from the other dude’s gun barrel and heard my owner cry out before dropping dead on the floor, bringing me down with him. He was finally dead. I felt I would miss him but I didn’t. All the times I’d saved his life, he’d been one thankless bastard – at least I gave him power while he was alive.

And there I lay for a while, feeling happy about everything. I was now free with my life. But that ended when the cops arrived and I felt someone else pick me and locked me up in an evidence bag.

Damn!

 

 

 

Son Came Back

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While I was convalescing in Maine, touring the city of Bath, Woolwich, and Portland, I usually walked around with copy of classic Robert Frost poems. One of his poem which caught my intriguing ear was titled: The Death of the Hired Man. The narrative was so moving, I couldn’t help writing a story based on it, titled: Son Came Back. The story does feel a lot American, I wish it didn’t. The idea was more Nigerian to me: about a mature couple bickering over the changed life of their only son. The reason behind the son’s changed life being a certain book the father once handed down to him. The book, for those unwilling to attend to the allusion, is the Bible. But I thought it won’t be good if I referred to it that way.

* * * * *

Son Came Back

Mother sat at the kitchen table with just the low flame from the lantern to comfort her. The windows stood open and from where she sat she could see the large plot of harvested farmland and the pathway that led through the grown stalks of maize crops, leading all the way towards town. There was the shadow of a quarter-moon revealing itself as the yellow sun sank gradually from all eyes down the edge of the world, taking the sky along with her.

There came a high rustling sound that sounded like a horse carriage being drawn to a halt, followed by the neighing chatter of horses—Father was home.

Mother left the table, taking the lamp with her, and hurried towards the front door of their cottage. Father had jumped down from the carriage and was busy stumping mud off the sole of his boots when Mother came out to the porch to meet him. Father looked up and caught right away the worried look in her eyes; immediately he knew something was wrong. He was about to enquire this question when Mother came to him, placing a hand on his chest as if to prepare him for the worse.

“Son was here,” said mother, then quickly added: “Please don’t be harsh.”

Father was speechless. He looked past her at the open doorway that led into their homestead as if expecting to see Son stumble out after her. A pressing wind blew at his face.

“When did he—”

“This afternoon,” Mother answered. “He was here this afternoon. I was attending to the farm with the extra hands that came from town when he showed up.”

“He didn’t stay for supper?”

Mother shook her head. “He wanted to, but he was afraid of you.”

“Yes,” Father muttered with a huff to his breath. “He has every right to be afraid. The little fool. I promised breaking his neck if next time he showed his face around here.”

“Please, Father . . . enough. He’s still your son.”

“Wrong, Mother! He was my son, once. That was before he began loving the Book. Then he had the nerve—the stupid nerve—to call me ‘ancient’. No . . . no, son ever should call his Father such a word and then expect to remain my blood. Not now and not ever.” He resumed stumping his boots.

“But it was you who gave him the Book—remember? You promised long ago that when he turned fifteen, you would give him the Book, and that was what you did.”

“Do not lecture me on promises I made and kept, Mother,” the man barked at her. “Yes, I made him that promise, and by my word and honor, I kept it and gave the Book to him the same way my Father too handed it to me when it was my time. But I was never consumed by it the way Son was. The Book swayed his mind. It took over him and turned him away from us.”

“Face it, Father. We could no longer keep him to ourselves. It wasn’t in our interest to keep doing so.”

“Nay, it wasn’t. Why else do you think I wished he’d never been ours in the first place?”

Mother couldn’t think of what to say to this. Father returned to the carriage and rode the horses around the back towards the shed where he then uncoupled the carriage from the horses’ handles. He locked up the horses for the night, leaving them with enough hay and filling up their bowls with water before taking off his jacket and returning to his home. Dusk had arrived; the crown of the sun was but a speck in the horizon, gone the next minute. The moon had taken its place.

Mother had drawn a bucket of water for Father in the bathroom and passed him a towel as he entered the bedroom and began taking off first his boots, then his work clothes. Mother left him to clean up and went into the kitchen to see about supper. While she worked the stove, her mind went to her son. How many years have passed since last time she and Father saw him. Since the last fight both men had and he’d promised running away and Father had sworn to bludgeon him if ever he caught sight of him again. Not a word had been exchanged after that. The following morning, Mother had gone searching for him in his room and found his bed empty. He had taken nothing with him, no clothes, nothing . . . except for the Book.

Father, done with having his bath and now dressed in his house clothes, trundled off to the kitchen where Mother had laid his meal in readiness for him. She sat across the table from him, a sad look on her face, and watched him settle down in his seat. Father unfurled his napkin, picked up his knife and fork, and without further ado, bent his head and began attacking his food. The lantern stood on the table between them. Outside the evening was dark and gloomy; a wild dog barked endlessly in the distance. Mother, seeing he was nearly through with his meal, got up and poured water into a cup for him. Father reached for the cup without a word said, and drained it down his mouth. He muttered a belch, raised his rump and farted, then kept on devouring his meal to the last bone. At last he looked up at Mother, wiping snot from his nose.

“Did he say anything about when he’d be coming back?” he asked.

“He didn’t say,” said Mother, getting up and taking his plate to the sink. Her hand-picked up the sponge and lathered it with soap. She looked out the window while her hands washed the plate and cutleries. “Didn’t say either if he would.”

Hunh. I wouldn’t expect him to either.”

“He’s still your son.”

“Not anymore is he.”

“All right then . . . he is still my son. I still love him.”

“You can love him all that you want,” Father snorted derisively. “I don’t care. Just as long as I don’t get to see his hide again under this roof.”

Mother turned from the sink to glare at her husband; tears stemmed down from her eyes. “Don’t say that, Father,” she snarled at him. “Don’t you dare say that. Of course he’s welcome to this house whenever he wants. It’s his house, too.”

“So you say?”

“Yes, so I dare say, and more.” She became deflated, having expended her anger for the time being, and turned around to resume her washing. Her voice became sombre once more. “He’s our son—yours and mine to love and cherish. Yes, he did wrong calling you names, but so where you. You and him need to sit down and talk to each other—Father and Son.”

“Would he want to ever talk to me,” asked Father who was now fighting to remove a morsel of food that was caught between his premolars. “Remember he cursed me that day. Said he regretted the day he called me Father. Is that what a son is expected to say?”

Mother, having washed the plate and cutleries, placed them to the side to dry off. She picked up a napkin to wipe her hands dry before turning around to answer him. “It matters not what’s happened. That’s all in the past, and that’s where it should remain.”

Father got up from the table and approached the back window, staring at the doors of the shed with its roof-top light that acts as a solitary watch to the building.

“How did he look?” he asked. “What was he wearing?”

For the first time since she set eyes on her son, Mother’s lips turned into a smile. “He was looking very different. He has grown fine and handsome. He had on a brown suit and a hat. The way he stood there by the front door with his hat on . . . he looked far different from last time I saw him.”

“It’s the Book!” Father exclaimed, turning to face Mother. “It’s the Book that’s changed him. The Book almost always does that when you start soaking up its words. It has a strange type of power, that Book has. Father too was like that whenever he read from it. Once I asked him about it. He said the Book is truth. The sort of truth that never dies.”

Mother looked at Father astonished. “Your Father said this?”

“Aye, this and more he told me.” He returned to the kitchen table and dropped himself back on his chair. There was a contemplative look on his face as he pondered on the past. “He said the Book wasn’t one to be trifled with. And that it belonged to the people. Whatever he meant by that I just don’t know.”

Mother brought a chair beside Father and sat next to him. “But Father, all the time you had that Book, never once did I see you read from it. Why?”

“You know why. That Book is strange . . . but cursed. Cursed, I tell you. It would have changed me. I would have been . . . different. I was afraid of it. I couldn’t make sense of its words. So I locked it up.”

Mother didn’t say anything. Father looked at her and gave her a reproachful look.

“The Book was dangerous, I’m telling you, Mother. It would have changed me—taken me away from you like it did with Son, and I couldn’t let that happen.”

“You’re saying the Book was what took him away?”

“He said it to my face that day we quarreled. He said something about going out to spread the Word, whatever that meant. But I got a feeling he meant the Book. He said others needed to hear of what the Book was talking about. Even then I knew I couldn’t stop him . . . but I so much wanted to. I mean, who’s going to tend to the farm and the land once we’re gone?”

Neither of them said anything; their fears wouldn’t allow them to. Father noticed the flame of the lantern was starting to waver and grow dim.

“The kerosene’s almost finished,” he said. “We’d better go to bed now. Let the morning come and the day will take care of itself.”

He took Mother’s hand and helped her up. Mother and Father gazed into each other’s eyes for a moment, and saw the love they had for each other, and for their son who wasn’t there. Mother picked up the lantern’s handle and together they made their way towards the bedroom. In the distance, the dog’s persistent barking filled the night but was soon swallowed by it.