Just Dabbling

You see it in their eyes and hear it in voices: sympathy mostly, but at times trepidation. We are kept in the dormitory which has crisp white sheets and curtains festooned with pictures of women carrying baskets on their head. A regular meal is also a bonus, often provided by the juddering lady who smells like Chinese Tiger balm. The balm they knead into our skin when we get injured playing football in the yard. We also watch television in the big hall, mostly men hurtling around green fields with plenty more men shouting and singing and swaying. They all wear the same colours and seem happy. Our yard games do not have the same intensity and colour.
But there was colour in the forest. Red mostly. We became men who marched, ran, jumped and shot. The shooting is important especially now. People like the tales of shooting.So we tell tales of shooting. How we became friends with Mr AK 47 and Brother Berretta. Men with cameras and paper visit us frequently, and we like the attention. They listen to what we have to say and write it on their papers. Even the president came to see us the other day. Accompanied by men in uniform and white men who spoke in a weird tongue. We showered and wore our Christmas clothes before meeting the president and the other big men. The President’s stomach is big and it is as if he is pregnant. The men in uniform around him carry weapons which the other boys recognise and know how to clean. How does one clean a gun, I think? We usually talk to them in the big yard, beneath the big tree. Our stories fight each other, demanding attention. So I cheat usually. I listen to Samuel, and Joshua, and Gibril, and Moses and Sandaka. I fought alongside Mohammed who says nothing these days. He howls like a hyena and spends a lot of time with the American lady doctor who has hair like raffia. I therefore speak for myself and Mohammed, and through him, I get more attention. The other boys have the best stories though, and they usually share when the lights go out at night, or when we are taken swimming at the beach. Stories of explosions and of hands being loped off. Moses frequently tells fire stories, of the gallon-pan of kerosene he carried on his head, traipsing from village to village, part of General Mosquito’s army. How the kerosene was sprayed on houses before being set alight, with people screaming within. Of mothers lying dead in the sand as their snot-nosed infants wailed by their side.
When we go to the beach, we travel in the mini-bus which has a cross and the word “Hope” in giant red letters on its side. Other children stare when we arrive at the beach in the white and red mini-bus. They admire our clean clothes, and sports shoes brought from London. In bed, and on the bus and amongst the waves, I am silent. I am like a sponge that soaks up what the other boys say.
We tell the paper men about our forest names. Moses says he was called “Target”, while Gibril answered to the name “Baby Rambo”. I am “Gunpowder”. My name is cool I think. The television gets switched off at 9 and then we have to lie down. We giggle in the dark and tell jokes. And then like falling mangoes we drop off to sleep. Moses says sleep and death are cousins and that by sleeping we are practicing for death. He says when you become an expert at sleeping, you do not wake up. He laughs and tells this story always. He says General Mosquito used to tell it as they danced round fires in the forest. Some boys talk as they sleep and those who are awake tease them about it in the morning. Chuckling and pointing as we brush our teeth at the water pump in the yard. I never get teased or pointed at in the morning. Moses says that I am already an expert at sleeping. He laughs at me, his mouth overflowing with toothpaste.
The little girl comes to the gate of our compound frequently. We have the same eyes and she calls out my name. She bleats like a sheep being sacrificed at the end of Ramadan. She tells me to come home because there is sickness at home. I ignore her though and we call her crazy and tell her to go away. I do not want to know her. (Foday Mannah, May 2013)

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One thought on “Just Dabbling

  1. Foday, as always I am in admiration of your writing. It is so clean and alive and easy to read. It is visual and poignant. I will be visiting this page often to hear more of your vibrant and touching stories.

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