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SIRENS

 

By Unoma N. Azuah

 

Sunday, April 11, 2010.

 

Kaito made sure he had the two addresses his family gave him. One was for Abuda who left  for America 12 years ago. The other was for Kamalu who had been gone for only three years and was studying at the University of Quentin. Kaito was also certain to follow the directions the train driver gave him--straight up the wide road leading away from the station to Lennon Street. At the end of Lennon Street, on the left, was Brooke.

 

            Kaito could see the name Brooke in bold white letters on a dark green sign. He flipped through his address book to look for the exact house number--1437 Brooke. He looked up the street and could see house 1431 but not 1437. He walked ahead faster. On each side of the street, he saw houses surrounded by trees. They looked like castles towering into the sky, and their well trimmed lawns were a luxuriant green. Except for chirping birds, not a sound could be heard. This was a far cry from Kaito’s home town in Nigeria where at this time of day, the average block would be bustling with throngs of people walking by or standing around, chatting. A slight wind blew across his face. He looked at the address for the tenth time and continued scanning the numbers on the houses. 

 

Still, there was no sight of 1437. He started getting worried because the afternoon was drifting into early evening. He decided to stop by the house closest to him to make inquiries. This huge white house was draped with clinging vines.  Its walk-way was littered with broken bicycle parts that Kaito was careful not to step on as he approached the front door. Stems of leaves crawled into its cracks and hinges. He stretched his hand to knock, and then an automatic sprinkler came on spraying sharp whooshes of water. He was startled. The water swirled in large circles, showering the surrounding grass and flowers. Finally, he tapped on the door. A boy of about six peered through the window near the door and disappeared. Kaito knocked again—this time lightly. A window cracked open above him, and a bald middle-aged white man emerged yelling.

 

            "What do you want?"

            "Sir, I am looking for number 1437 Brooke."

            "Well, this is not 1437 Brooke. Try the East side."

            "Ok, sir. Thank you."

            "Where are you from? Is that an accent I hear?"

            "I am from Nigeria. I am looking for my brother, Mr. Abuda."

            "O Africa! I have a friend in South Africa. He brings home interesting tapes of   the Zulu dance clan. Do you know the group?"

            "No, Sir."

            "Alright, the East side is quite a walk from here; go to the end of the street and take the G5 or the red line."

                                                                   *

            The train station seemed deserted.  He swallowed an imaginary lump. His eyes followed the glittering train tracks into the horizon, hoping the train would return. From the moment he got to the airport, getting directions right was a problem. The signs were confusing. When he got to the baggage claim area, and retrieved his bag, he was not sure about which direction to take. He walked aimlessly around a number of times before finally asking a teenage boy for assistance. The boy allowed Kaito to walk with him as he was headed the same way—downtown. Breaking into Kaito’s thoughts, a train started approaching, and he smiled at the sight of it.  

                                                     *

            The dwellings on East Brooke were not as impressive as the ones on Brooke. Most were rundown row houses or crude looking brick houses that were at best moderate in size. There were children playing on the street corners, and men with bare chests were playing basketball. When Kaito knocked on the door of 1437 East Brooke, he felt relieved. A few minutes later, a woman yelled from the door, "Who is that?" Kaito said, "It's me, Abuda’s brother from Nigeria." This mulatto lady who could have been in her mid fifties showed her face through the half opened door that was bound from behind with a chain. She asked again, "Who did you say you are?" She asked again; a mop of hair covered half of her face, and she reeked of cigarette smoke.

 

            "I am Kaito, Abuda's brother from Nigeria."

            "Who?"

            "Abuda's brother,” Kaito said.

            "Well, Abuda is dead and does not live here anymore."

 

            “Dead? When?” Kaito asked. His eyes were wide and a vein on his neck bulged. He placed his right hand on his chest; his heart throbbed faster as if it was about to pop out of his chest. If Abuda was dead, how was he to complete his journey? He may get killed if he ended up sleeping in the streets. He had seen a lot of guns and violence in the American movies he saw back home, and what becomes of him, if he ended up not finding even Kamalu? And why was Abuda’s corpse not brought home? As an elder, he was supposed to be buried in his ancestral graveyard, not in a foreign land—that was an abomination. He could feel his palms getting moist. “But, what happened to him? How did he die?” He asked.

 

            "He is dead to me. I threw him out months ago."

            "Oh! He is not dead then. Thank God! How can I find him?"

            "I don’t know!"

            "Please, madam, can I have a drink of water and then rest for a few minutes.   I am so hungry and tired.” 

            "Hell no! I don't know you."

            "I am Abuda's brother," Kaito said. He dug his sweaty hands into his traveling bag to fish out Abuda's picture and showed it to the lady.

            "That's Abuda alright. How do I know you’re not some fake ass nigger with some fake ass African accent trying to rob me?"

            "Please, if you can tell me where to find him and allow me a few minutes of rest, I will leave. I promise."

            She hesitated and then unhooked the chain. He entered. Her living room air was clouded with wisps of cigarette smoke. Kaito coughed lightly and sat on a leather couch close to the door. Beside the couch was a small table with five scattered coffee stained mugs. There was an overturned ashtray on the floor.

            "Can I have something to drink, please?"

            "Soda?"

"Soda?" Kaito was confused. In Nigeria, Soda was a type of soap. The lady saw the confusion on his face and tossed a can of coca-cola to him. He caught it mid air and uttered a “thank you."

            "Here is some left over chicken, and my name is April by the way," she said, placing a bucket of fried chicken before him. In bold red print was the inscription KFC on all the sides of the bucket.  

            "Yes, thank you." He had never seen so much chicken for one meal in his life.

            "Help yourself. I will go upstairs and search around for the numbers of Abuda's friends. They might know where he is."

 

            Kaito polished off the last bit of chicken and guzzled the entire can of coke. He belched and settled back on the couch feeling much better. Then, a sharp pain pierced through his stomach. He grabbed his stomach with both hands and cringed in pain. He let out a loud fart and had a sudden urge to use the toilet. "April!" He called. "Where is your toilet?"

 

            "To your right!"

             He had barely pulled down his pants before a loud spurt of feces splashed all over the toilet seat. He sat down on it desperate to relieve himself. The stench was intense. When he finished, he grabbed a can of air freshener from the windowsill and tried to spray, but it was empty. He then wiped the seat with long pieces of padded toilet tissue. Before lowering the lid, he flushed the toilet several times, but the odor held strong.  

            "Hummmm! What's that smell?" April shouted from the stairs with a distorted face.

            "O! It's the toilet."

            "What? You? Please, out!"

            "I'm sorry."

            'Take your sorry stinking African ass outta here, Mothafucka!"

Kaito begged as April violently opened up all her windows. She left her door open and dragged a chair outside.

            "Really sorry!"

            "If you don't get off my property I'll call the cops, heifer!"

 

Kaito was shaken. He didn’t understand why somebody would be upset over a smell. He hurried on to the sidewalk. He didn’t understand why anybody would be upset over the smell of shit. If it was home in Nigeria, they would laugh over it. At home his family felt free to even fart in his presence. His father would often blurt out a loud one, and his mother would hurry out of the place, and then come back to scold him. It was never an issue. His father may apologize later, but he was never ostracized for a shit or fart odor--nobody was. Besides their toilet was not far from their main house and habitually strong odor of excrement hung in the air, nobody complained.  He was distraught but determined to find Kamalu and even Abuda.                                                        

 

                                                                *

Frustrated, he groped his way back downtown. He could not find any buses with the number 27. This is the bus the cashier at the station told him to take in order to get to the University of Quentin. At the bus stop, every person he asked about the bus schedule either backed away or ignored him. A couple of people assisted him with directions eventually. They told him the bus number to look out for: 27. He scampered to the next bus that stopped near the sidewalk, and it was the 27. He boarded and asked the driver to let him know when they got to the University of Quentin.

 

            Kamalu’s dormitory was a four storey brick complex. When he entered the lobby, he was struck with the aroma of brewing coffee. The white lady at the reception desk asked if she could be of assistance. She had a wide smile. Her black hair was held in a ponytail with a blue band, except for a few strands that brushed her ear. She informed Kaito that she had not seen Kamalu for days. She phoned Kamalu’s room, but there was no answer. She told Kaito that Kamalu normally returns at 9:00pm unless he was out of town. He usually traveled south for extra summer classes.

 

Kaito sat in the well-furnished lobby. A movie was playing on the giant screen TV, but he was uninterested. What if Kamalu never turned up? He thought. A few minutes later, the lady at the desk joined him with an extra cup of coffee. Her red lip stick was smeared at the edge of the white mug. Her face powder didn’t quite hide the light wrinkles on her face.

            “What’s your name again?”

            “My name is Kaito.”

            “Coffee?”

             “No, thank you.”

             “It might help calm your traveling nerves.”

            “You are right, thank you. What is your name?”

            “Beth.”

             “So you believe that Kamalu is out of town?”

             “Well, I haven’t seen him in quite a few days. Are you related to him?”

             “He’s my brother….from my village.”

             “He didn’t know that you were coming to visit?”

             “I sent him an e-mail and left messages on his phone, and while I hadn’t heard from him, I purchased a ticket anyway because my travel visa had kicked in.”

            Beth’s eyes settled on his muscles. “You look quite fit. Are you an athlete?”

             “No.”

             “You and Kamalu are from where again?”

             Nigeria.”

             “And the name of your village?”

             “My village is called Iwu. I’ll show you pictures.” Kaito retrieved some pictures from his bag.

            “The lake in the photo of you fishing is beautiful.”

              They spent some time going over the pictures until a little after midnight. Beth’s shift had ended, but there was no sign of Kamalu. She sat with Kaito while he waited. At half past, there was still no Kamalu, so she announced that she was ready to leave.

“Do you know if there’re any cheap hotels around here?”

“What do you call cheap?”

“Seventy dollars is all the money I have.”

“That wouldn’t pay for more than a night. Well, I tell you what, give me fifty bucks and you can crash at my apartment until Kamalu comes back. But we have to make sure no one sees you. If my apartment manager suspects that somebody is staying with me, I could get evicted.”

“Ok, thank you. Thank you very much.”

Beth’s red Toyota corolla was cluttered with pieces of papers, a couple of half torn novels, empty cups of coffee and stubs of cigarette. She gathered the piles of papers on the passenger’s side of the floor; she asked Kaito to toss the half torn books, which were on the seat to the back, then slotted in a CD into a rectangular hole on the dashboard of the car; a loud screechy music blasted out. “That’s Girls of summer-Aerosmith.”

“Ok.”

 

Beth nodded her head to the sound of the music; Kaito found it noisy and wondered what she enjoyed in the music.  A few minutes later, Beth drove up to her apartment complex, which sat at the top of a narrow drive way on a quiet but cluttered street. There were trash bags lying around. Huge plastic containers were overturned too. They walked up a creaky flight of steps to her door. She held Kaito with one hand and opened the door with the other. The living room was unfurnished except for a CD player and TV in a corner. The only couch in the room was in the middle. She brought cans of beer and what she called peanut butter sandwich. As they finished eating and drank some beer, Beth brought out a piece of paper, rolled up some weed in it, and asked him if he smoked weed. He hesitated, then took the wrap of weed. They smoked into dawn.

 

            When he woke up, he couldn’t tell when he slept. His groin hurt and his pants were at the opposite end of the room. Beth was not around. She left a note telling him that she had gone to work and was grateful for the night. He smiled at the note. He couldn’t wait to tell Kamalu and his friends in Nigeria that he had a white girl. For the first time in his life, he slept with a white girl.

 

Days and weeks passed Kaito started getting restless. Beth kept replenishing the food as well as the packs of condoms, but the pain on his groin didn’t go away.

 

Unoma Nguemo Azuah is an award-winning Nigerian writer and an important new voice in African literature. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Fiction from the Virginia Commonwealth University and has edited literary publications in Nigeria and abroad. She currently teaches in America and she is awaiting the publication of her new book.

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