PLEASE STAY WITH MEMORY
By Louis Ogbere
Friday, January 07, 2011.
You told Mother you did not kill Memory. She was by the kitchen door when she’d asked that night. The bush lantern glowed from the centre table where it was placed. Intermittently the frogs croaked away in a puddle of mud in front of the house. Their croaking made you uncomfortable because you knew it would be just the two of you. The neighbours did not always interfere when it was night. Sometimes you lied but this time you told her the truth: You did not kill Memory.
Mother looked at you and shook her head. You could see her lean-framed shadow against the wall as she approached. Your face tightened. She moved closer to the chair where you had leaned; talking so you would not suspect anything. The cane was hidden behind her back. She reached for your red shorts and you felt the silky material tighten around your buttocks. She squeezed it again and flung the cane. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! It landed on your skin. She had flogged you on the spot just above the waist band. The pain began to suck in. It flowed forcefully to your head and you heard yourself scream:
“Please don’t kill me Mama! Please oooo...! Mama, please oooo!”
With every plea you made afterwards, the force with which she lashed began to reduce. Because you did not suck in your breathe again, she left you and you dropped to the floor. But you kept on crying. You did not cry because you were not man enough, after all you were fifteen years old. You cried because you were being punished for your innocence.
Earlier in the day, you had sat in front of the television watching the serialised Lion King that you hardly missed. You heard a knock on the door and went to answer it. You thought it was one of the boys that hung around the window outside to watch the program too. Or it was one of those that stole sweets from the kiosk outside the house. They would later tell you they wanted to buy just two while deep in their pockets, they had four. The door handle creaked as you twisted it. Then you saw him. Peter had tears on his chin that dripped onto his bare kwashiorkor-like stomach. He stared at you and fumbled with his tiny fingers. He twisted his hand this way, then back that way. Between his sobs and narrations, you heard: “Memory” and “dead”. Then you realised you had not seen him right after Mother left for the market. You jumped over the three flights of stairs at the veranda. “Memory!” You shouted, your hands on your head.
Peter led the way. He took you along a bush path that led to St Gregory’s Church. At the front of the church, he pointed towards an adjacent street. You watched in amazement as he cut through the lines of cars; the two holes behind his shorts making an up-down-up-down movement as he led you to the spot. How did Memory get here? You asked yourself. Memory hardly left the house. And if he did, it was usually the new neighbour’s. They always offered him biscuits. You asked Peter the question too: “How did Memory get here?”
Of course he wouldn’t know because he lived far away from your quarters.
Memory lay in a pool of blood. The blood trailed from the middle of the road – it seemed that somebody had dragged his mangled body to the other side of the road. His left leg was smashed, the flesh mixed with sand and a brownish substance. You knelt down beside him and ran your hand across his body. The heaviness began to build up in your eyes. You turned around but Peter was gone. You wanted to thank him. You wanted to offer him sweets for being so nice and brave. There was something else you wanted to tell him. You wanted him to help you lie to Mother. When she left for the market that morning, she’d pleaded with you: Please stay with Memory.
You remembered the first day you saw Memory. Mother had insisted you wash the plates that evening. Angrily you took the dishes to the back of the house and dumped them on the sewer slab. Then you heard something whimper in the shrub beside the house. A puppy – Labrador – walked out some seconds later. You had never seen this breed before. You did not even know it was a dog until it barked and walked to you. Your first thought was to send it back from wherever it came; dogs were not your best of friends. But the puppy rubbed its furry hairs against your leg and you felt this calmness around him. Later when you showed Mother the dog, she suggested you take it to the veterinarian some houses away. It was then you knew what breed it was and the sex. You told the doctor you did not want to keep him. You told him to find who the owner was. Or send it to the police station, since it was a stray dog.
You were surprised to see him again some days later. You saw him at the exact spot where he had brushed on your leg. How could a puppy like this trace its way back here? You were impressed. That’s when you took him in and pleaded with Mother that you keep him. She agreed and asked you what you would call him: “Memory,” you said and felt his saliva on your face.
You and Memory became inseparable. In the evenings you would take him out for a walk. You became known as the boy with the oyibo dog. His brown fur alone showed enough of that foreignness. But one day Memory made you angry. Maybe that was when your hatred and lack of interest in him began.
Mother had gone for their market women’s meeting. She told you she would come back late. She told you to stay in the house: “Keep it locked,” she had said. As soon as she’d gone, you went to the door and twisted the lock. You tested how secure it was by pulling it then you put the key in your pocket. Somebody knocked on the door some minutes later. It was Alero, one of the girls that lived some houses away. She had come to buy Tura cream. You told her it was finished, but she asked that you open the door. It was really not the cream she had come for. She came to watch The Lion King and maybe enjoy your company too. You were barely fifteen years old and she was twenty. She sat down beside you on the brown three sitter couch and asked to watch something mature. You slotted in Pocahontas, because that was the only mature movie you had. It got to a part where John Smith held Pocahontas’s hand under Grandmother Willow’s glade and you felt her hands on your tiny lap. She squeezed gently and you felt the wave rumble inside your head. She looked in your eyes and said:
“Gbenro, you are so mature.” What she did not know was that something below your waist had began to mature too. Later when she noticed, she asked you to take her somewhere safe. She was scared somebody might be watching from the window. You took her somewhere safe. Somewhere only You and Memory knew. In the safeness of the room you brought out your penis, she felt it and smiled. You liked the way she smiled. You liked the way she held it between her fingers and rubbed gently. The wave rumbled again in your head. She knelt down in front of you. With your right hand you held your penis and used it to poke her breast. That was when the door opened. The lights blinded your view at first. Then her shape covered the door post and blocked out the lights. Memory ran up to Alero and dragged the green comic-designed bed sheet she’d used to cover her nakedness. Angrily you kicked him on his side. The dog yelped and ran towards Mother. That night, she held your shorts and lashed your buttocks. She forced you to make a promise that you would never bring out your penis from your shorts again: “Except”, she said, “for the purpose of wee wee.”
Memory avoided you after that incident. He would yelp or growl anytime you swung your legs. Maybe it didn’t matter if you just wanted to stretch the legs across the centre table, or simply kick an imaginary ball. Mother noticed your attitude towards Memory one day and over dinner asked you about it. You told her it was nothing. That you did not feel like playing with the dog at that time. She looked at you in that self-accusatory way you hated. It made you hate yourself afterwards for telling cheap lies. Out of anger you carried your plate of jollof rice from the table down to the kitchen sink. You went into your room, locked the door and cried. What you did not know was that Mother had come to your door, and heard your cry.
You became close to Peter soon after Memory’s death. You no longer allowed him to watch the movies from the window. He would walk into the parlour quietly and sit on the grey rug. You even shared your food with him most times. One day he came in and sat on the grey rug to watch Seven Lucky Ninja Kids, but you told him to seat on the couch. You had raised his status to a trusted friend. The two-year age difference was inconsequential.
A day came when you did not see Peter. You parted the grey cotton of the parlour window to see if he was outside. Some boys scampered as soon as they saw your face through the squared metal protector. Peter was not among them. You became scared. Maybe he’s been taken back to the village by his aunty, you thought. Or maybe something bad had happened to him. Then you felt relief when his step-brother visited your house.
Jerry had come to buy groundnuts in your house when you asked after Peter. He said Peter was not feeling too well. He had been given series of injections that had left his buttocks sore. He was bitten by a neighbour’s dog and was undergoing treatment for rabies infection, he told you. Jerry told you how Peter had lured the dog to the back of their house. The dog had gone straight to where the fish bones laid. Peter stood behind and watched the dog eat; the log of wood hidden behind his back. When the dog was deep in the enjoyment, Peter swung the wood. The dog fell beside his meal – the trap. And as it stopped shaking, he walked closer and kicked it. At once the dog sprang up and grabbed his leg. Peter threw the stick deep into a nearby bush and screamed. “How did you know all these?” You asked.
He said he was watching from the toilet window behind the house. You did not believe his story because you thought he wanted to enjoy the same privileges as his brother. But when he told you how Memory had died, you believed him. He told you the exact road it had happened and the bait used. Only this time, it was not the Coca-Cola truck driver you had assumed. How did he know all these? He told you he had initially been conscripted to lure Memory, but was later sent to the village – at the time – by his parents. You clasped his hands in yours and pleaded with him to tell you who had done it. He looked sideways, drew closer to where you stood and whispered the name of culprit. Then you remembered the brownish substance at Memory’s death scene. That was the bait.
Peter recovered some weeks later and came to visit you. You were happy when you heard his voice. But your heartbeat betrayed that feel of happiness. You heard his voice from the outside as he drove the window-hangers away. The boys raised their voices in defence. That was when you came out. He smiled when he saw you and quickly relaxed his expression when you did not smile back. You walked up to him and pushed him. He tipped against the edge of the veranda and screamed as his buttocks hit the ground. Before he could say anything, you punched him on the nose. The blood trickled. He began to swear his innocence about Memory’s death but you had walked back inside. You had seen his blood trickle down to the ground, mixed with the sand.
Louis Ogbere holds a degree in Banking and Finance from Madonna University, Okija, Nigeria. He currently works in a commercial bank and is a member of the Abuja Writers Forum.