a teenager busting his seams to fill his father's shoes finds his liberation in a cock.
(these paragraphs are just excerpts)
The family lived in a clearing in the middle of the forest-a great yawning void of trees in the middle of which the creepers hang like excrescence. The stout father was an active military government official, having cut a deal with the fragile administration and promoted into a Major in this rebel dominated mountainous region. There were two main rebel groups-one from his clan-which never bothered nor touched his family, and the other, a rival group, which was his main worry, as their threats were real. Everybody knew everyone else, knew where they lived, and how. That meant a mutual agreement but didn’t stop an occasional attack, which the forest provided the perfect cover for their retreat.
His other trouble was his son who fought alongside the rebels. This pitted him against his superiors for that established him to the rebellion they were trying to crush. His initial shock instalment had been when the young school drop out, barely in his teens, abused drugs, openly smoked marijuana and chewed khat, dragged the family’s name into a shameful nightmare. The mother, as most mothers did, sympathised with his son, and, when he showed up, she would try to persuade him to turn to better ways. But it wasn’t that easy to go on her knees begging her resistant son who had an example of Don Quixote and steer him.
He had been in with the rebels all week and when he camehome that mid-morning blowing his tambourine and marching, his rifle in his shoulder, as though he was a one-man detachment, he appeared haggard to the point of vanishing. His unkempt appearance told his mother that the rumours doing round were true —he was losing his head. His red eyes and stupefying stench revealed to her what substances were responsible. ‘Where have you been?’ she asked, looking at his weary and drained face.
‘Oh, chasing dem crazy baldheads and wetin di time fi St. Peter to open di Zion Gyates.’ He waved at his worn out tambourine.
‘You are doing right son… someone must chase them.’
‘Yes Ma. Di devil a bi strong en no pushover ting. But me ‘ave me tambourina wetin on di Judgment Time.’
‘Waiting for the battle of Armageddon, huh?’ she joked.
‘Is no gwan a be too much of a battle when Jah a guo wave dat Judgment Sword. People dem gwan a ‘ave a hell of time tryin to enter into Holy Mount Zion if di gyates a go no open.’
The mother realized that he was swimming in cloud nine. With the hallucinations, she wasn’t sure whether he was permanently losing his head or he was temporarily out of order under the influence of ganja. It reminded her once, after he had smoked the ‘spliff’, he had run madly in the courtyard, ducking and taking cover, thinking that the clouds were just about to fall on him. And there was laughter later on when he realized that the sun was trying to find gaps in the clouds and seemed to be playing hide and seek with the earth in the effort, therefore producing the effect that they were falling down on him like a pack of dominos.
‘You hungry? There’s bread and coffee.’The mother invited.
‘Nuh Madder, me and St. Peter stopped taking coffee long time. You’ve no idea how he suffers from this bread and coffee ritual. Caffeine upsets his stomach and the bread makes him fat because he eats too much of it.’ She smiled at him, there was affection between them, for this St. Peter sycophant had the qualities she would like in a daughter but deplored in a son.
‘Cock stew then?’
‘Yes I, that’s exactly St. Peter’s favourite. But make sure it crowed three times before you slaughter for him.’ He lit a cigar, began to smoke it with a self-conscious, and satisfied air, as if he had summed up the world in a phrase.
‘Didja knuo wen I’m in Holy Mount Zion…efery crack of duon me and St. Peter a go siddon by de gyate and smoke a spliff?’
‘Oh, yeah?’ cried the mother, but curiously looking out for the telltale signs of his cracking and stealing glances at him from across—for signs of lunacy or drunkenness. To appear astonished at her son’s speech was ingeniously part of her motherly amiability.
For the son, however, it hadn’t taken long to lose his respect for his father. He actually realised it only the previous day how his father was the biggest coward in history of the clan when he heard from the fellow rebels of how he had cut a deal to save his neck from the general, offering to inform for him and so shamelessly, in front of everybody! That’s why he couldn’t respect him anymore because a father who was an informer and a coward was betraying his own people. He wanted so badly to spit in his face for betraying the People’s Army.
And now, to top it all off, he, a voluntary and self-declared traitor, dared to accuse him, innocent and devoted to the cause, of betraying and informing on him? Didn’t he see how absurd that was? What had happened to his father? What had gotten into him? Was he actually the same person he had known all his life?
‘I asked you to leave my house. Go and lose your head elsewhere! The drugs you take messes up your brains. God knows what stuff they give you out there. God knows what oaths the general offers to you.’ The father ordered him.
‘Yo got to overstand dat ganja neva mash dem brains, it a guo reveal yo to yo-self en it only helps man overstand his own self better and face all dem bad tings dormant inside him! Furthermore, about me being a rebel, dat is de way I cyan survive en save me self in de bush and clean di mess yo sorry ass has made!’
‘You go round crowing that I cut a deal with the government to get a promotion? I don’t know why I haven’t shot you point-blank. Do you know what that did to our relationship? I can no longer call you my son, but a traitor who sings his heart out at the sight of ganja.’
The mother tried to defend her son. “He might have said something unintentionally –in front of someone he trusted by mistake –or somebody could have overheard him…’
‘I no seh anyting intentionally or not, me fadder’s working wit dem govermient is no secret at all. What troubl me ‘bout his suspicions is not his speakin’ up about dem or even dat he speak up so ruff, en he’s now bang belly wey tryin’ to mek up for by disowning me, but dat he can tink something laik dat at all! If me own fadder is able of tinking someting like dat about me for even once, den dere’s really no point in me stayin’ togeder.’
‘That’s the point. You have blown my cover and before any rebels attack us, you have to be gone.’ The father concluded.
The son stood dejected and stared dully into the entrance where the cock was busying himself shooing the chicken and crowing into the heavy dark clouds, echoing the legendary mountain Red Cock in the upper regions, itching to bring forth hail. He was wary for when the red bird of the mountain ruffled his feathers, there were hailstorms and lightening below and according to legend, his crow was believed to be the cause of the low blinding flashes from his thunderous wings!
Realizing that he had no other way, he shoved his tambourine in his left shoulder, held his gun on his right hand and crossed the floor towards his bedroom with the same self-assurance Hannibal put on while traversing the Alps. But his father impeded his voyage by standing in the middle of the doorway. They eyed each other for a bit before the old man finally shut the door with a precise little slam.
“Well, I go take me stuff in dere.’ He began.
‘Say what? Where is that ‘Sir?’
‘I need me stuff in dere.’
‘You need your stuff? In my house? Built and taken care of? For twenty years. If you need anything in here and I am in your way, you say excuse me sir. Like your mama taught you.’
‘Come on ‘Ol Man…I a go in there.’ And he made to contrive his way past the father, but was grabbed by his legs and pushed back violently. He began shouting curses but they never worked.
‘I have me fair share here too.’
‘You mean used to!’ he advanced again. ‘You will get in there over my dead body.’
‘You tink I afraid fi you?’
‘No sir? no excuse me sir? In my own house? Think am your doormat? To just walk on top? The father kept repeating, as if he had not heard enough.
‘Say wot yo go say.’
‘What impudence! You have no character!’
‘Please son, indulge your father. Just say excuse me.’ the mother admonished politely. But he never bothered to respond and behaved as if he never heard it.
‘Excuse yo! Yo mean no ting around here anymore! Is dat wot yo want to hear?’
‘Oh, I see…I don’t count here any longer.’ It finally dawned on the old man. ‘You won’t say “excuse me” to your ol’ Man. Suddenly after imbibing my food and grown up that your Ol’ Man is no man around here anymore, huh? Around here in his own house he built with the sweat of his brow. You have grown horns to the point where you are taking over? Taking over my house? Is that right? To wear my pants and go in there and stretch out on my bed? You won’t say excuse me ‘cause I am no ting around here anymore? Is that right?
‘Dat’s right. Yo talk a lot of bull. Nou, ol’ man, why not git ya sorry ass outta me wyei?’
‘I hope you have elsewhere to sleep and something to put in your belly. You have that, huh? You have that?’ he paused for dramatic effect, and it took shape in the son’s withdrawn face, the old man was happy to torment him further. ‘That’s what I thought.’ He smiled triumphantly. ‘That’s what I’m talking about! You hear that, huh? You are just young and foolish—the milk’s hardly dry on your lips—and in your foolishness you think you can live without me.’
‘You don’t know what I have. You filled my tummy with tasteless bread. That’s the sad truth! Don’t worry about what I have. Worry about your own useless life and I will worry about mine. Do not show me the steep and thorny way to virtue, while you took the primrose path of ease.’
‘Fine by me! Absolutely correct! Spent my fifteen years worrying about what you had. Now it’s your turn, see? I’ll tell you what… since you are grown, be a man. And act like one. Listen carefully, turn your behind around and walk out of this house. And when you get out there in the bush, you can forget about fifteen years and your share of the house. See? Because this is my house. Go out there, realize your dreams as a man, and get your own house. You can forget this. Since all this is mine. You go on and get yours. I’m through with worrying for you.’
‘Yo tink yo did any ting for me…wot didja ever give me? Yo never give me any ting except to step on me toes, scared I was better dan yo! Mek me fear yo! Tremble every time yo called me name en every time I go hear your footsteps in the house. Fretting all de time, wot Pop say if I did this? Wot he gwan a say if I did dat? Dat’s all you ever did.’
But the father got worked up and went towards him. He stood his ground. ‘What yo tink yo de do? Give me a beating? Yo can’t beat me any longer! Yo too old. Yo just an old man. ’
He gave him a push on his shoulder; the tambourine snapped from his shoulder, and before he could pick it from the ground, the old man’s experienced hands disarmed him. He was more concerned with the broken tambourine’s handle and he got so much incensed that his breathing seemed to cease as he prepared to retaliate.
‘See? Yo ‘ave broken me tambourina! Yo did it ol’ man! Do yo see dis tambourina? Well, it’s not me tambourina. It’s me broda’s tambourina, en me uncle’s, en dat of all the dead cousins in dis clan. En it has so much strength dat it can blow up dis house by de base, if I jus’ blow it. En let me start with yo, ‘cause I hear yo hellhounds en feel the clenched teeth of all clan in me so dat I can’t breathe easily.’ And he trembled after the pronouncement.
‘Waryah! That’s what you are. You just another crazy waryah and you know it! Get out now! You got the devil in you. Get on away from me!’
‘You jus’ crazy ol’ man. Give me back me gun … instead of talkin’ about di devil in me. Yeah, I go crazy! If yo don’t give me back me gun, I go show yo how crazy-baldhead I am!’
‘Go on fool…get out my house.’
‘Dis a traitor house. Yo coward! Taking money by betraying yo own people to put up such a house! I don’t doubt it but my innocence shall make yo false accusation blush and yo tyranny tremble.’
The father irritated beyond measure cocked his gun ready to shoot. ‘You get your black ass out of my house!’ The boy retreated back to the corner, waving his tambourine along, as the mother came in between them pleading the more. ‘Come on! Commot! I cyan go nowhere. Come on traitor!’ he dared. ‘Me muddah! Stop go protect dis beast! St. Peter! It’s time. Cockcrow St. Peter! Open di gyates. Me ready. Cockcrow St. Peter! Open di gyates. Yo get ready rait a nou.’
And with immense elaboration, he propped himself to bluster the tambourine, now without a mouthpiece nor handle. He put the end of it into his mouth and blew with a majestic strength, like a man who had been waiting some fifteen-odd years for this single moment. No sound came out of the tambourine. He strutted himself and blew again with the same result. A third time he blew, the cock crew, and then there was a weight of impossible description. The humdrum of the cock, the deafening tambourine and an indescribable blast pounded them, left them bare, and exposed them to a frightful realization—they were under fire!
Before he could say ‘cock-crow-St.-Peter’, the fresh round of urgent cackles from the chicken outside confirmed their worst fears; the announcement of the unexpected development that rival clan rebels had surrounded their homestead. It happened so fast that the cock did not have enough time to shoo the hens on this occasion but actually joined them in denouncing this intrusion—and he cackled the loudest.
The rebels were rough on them—ordered them to come out of the house, lie down on their bellies, and recite their last prayers. The son tried to escape through the rear window, but was met by a ruffian of a soldier, who reminded him not to run from the lizard, as he would probably meet the snake. The mother too, tried to retreat, crawling backwards through the backdoor, as if she was on reverse and couldn’t change gears. The worst was the father who made such a fright at the thought that he was about to meet his maker. For the rebel’s chief was rumoured to have killed more soldiers in one year than the mortar could destroyed in ten.
‘Chase him! Chase him!’ a soldier called out like a bass-voiced parrot. ‘Gwan, get him!’ and at that moment, the cock seemed to concur with the Ibo proverb: “It is true I do not hear English very well, but when they say ‘Catch Am!’, nobody tells me to take myself off as fast as I can,” for in an instant, the cock increased his pace to a maddening cruise.
He ran as fast as his fat legs could carry him toward the cock, which kept on dodging his steps each time he neared it. ‘Catch Am! Catch Am cock!’ They jeered at him as he rounded the house for the second time, and encouraged by his mind, driving him faster than his legs could push him.
Three confused hens protested by joining in the race for the cock, and ran alongside their beloved big bird. But the cock dodged them too, and looked resolute to his own death-as if saying that it was better he died at once than the hens, by redeeming him, should die forever in big numbers, then increased his speed swiftly as it rounded the house a fifth time, still not giving up.
The cock kept fluttering its wings and moving it’s thick feathers to the ground and began to croon and crow ‘Cock-cock! Cock-a-doodle! Nothing annoyed the boy more than this, for to him, it meant, ‘Bway! You are joking. You won’t catch me.’
He ran across his father’s threshold and courtyard the seventh leg, stumbled several times and fell over his face but the grass in the lawn was as soft and thick as a pillow; so he didn’t hurt himself. It was at this moment, as he ran desperately for the big bird, that he first grasped the futility of his adolescent liberty. Here he was, running for all his worth, looking like the leading actor in a drama- but in reality, he was only a ridiculous marionette pulled back and forth by the will of those laughing faces. That killed his morale and his acceleration even suffered, reducing his slowness to the progress of a caterpillar and as good-humoured as Mr Bean.
He perceived in that moment that, when a young boy turns a rebel, it is his own freedom, which he tears down. He becomes a sort of a void faked replica minus a free will. And it is the conditions of his freedom that, he shall spend his life trying to stir his so called independence and so in every crisis he had to do what his impersonation expected of him. He puts on a masquerade, and his features grow to fit it. He had to catch the cock. He had committed himself to doing it. A rebel has to act like a rebel, he has to appear determined, to know his own mind and do definite things.
To run and run, after a puny bird while soldiers watched, and then to trail away feebly, unable to catch the cock—no! That was not possible. Even the slowest chameleon learnt the hard way and ran faster when the forest was on fire! He had to ‘Catch Am!’ Or else what? The other boys would laugh at his defeat? But, his whole life, as with every rebellious adolescent life, was one struggle not to be laughed at.