RUBBER BAND BOY by Fu’ad Lawal
Remember when we were kids, how they warned us every time never to talk to strangers, or collect sweets from them, or even to pick rubber-bands from the ground so you don’t turn to yam? They were right. I learn this at just ten years old.
School is over, and my parents, as always, aren’t coming to pick me early because they are still at work. That’s a good thing, really, because now I have enough time to play with my friends. There are several games to choose from; ‘police and thief’, ‘boju boju’, football. But today, we choose rubber wrestling.
It’s pretty simple. You stand from a distance, you and your competitor. Then you throw your rubber band to a distance, if yours overlaps the other rubber band, the two automatically become yours.
I started off with twenty bands and now I have none. My poor throw is about to make me lose to him. I hate losing because everyone laughs at you till your next win, so I search in the sand if I can find one.
I start to believe luck is with me as I find one after a few minutes of searching. It’s behind one of the classes, a place where no one really goes. I’m glad nobody does, because that would mean someone else would have found the rubber band.
This is not even one band, this is a bundle of thirty. Heaven. I bend over to pick them up, but this is where it happens. I never really get back up. I feel my insides press against each. I feel everything shrink. I want to throw up very badly but I just can’t. I see the rubber band get closer and bigger, or as I have come to realise a few moments later, I become smaller, and stiffer.
I’m not a very dark or hairy boy, but when I look down at my body, I see the brownest and roughest skin and the hairiest body. The reality begins to set in, just as I hear a voice not too far away.
‘Carry the yam fast!’
I want to scream, but I have no mouth, or no voice. And before I can fully understand what is happening, a hand lifts me, and I end up in a dark place, something I later understand to be a plastic bag.
Fast forward to the next time I see light.
It looks like a room, but it’s a barn; yams everywhere, hanging from the wall, lying on the ground, all shapes and sizes. I imagine some of them picking up rubber bands all over the city, behind their classrooms, around their homes. No yam is speaking. It’s as quiet as death.
A door opens and a man walks in. He looks like one of those priests from the movies. The type that speaks into a piece of wood and gets replies. Behind him is a much younger person dressed almost like him carrying a huge pot. Clearly his apprentice.
A third man follows. He’s dressed in bright red Ankara top and bottom and carrying a black plastic bag. Maybe the red in his cloth is from blood. The apprentice drops the pot.
‘Oya,’ the priest says to the man, ‘gbewa’.
The man obeys and produces a tuber of yam from his black bag, hands it over to the apprentice, who then drops it into the pot. The priest begins to chant incantations like he’s rousing unseen spirits to action. Then silence follows.
And from the darkness of the pot, a little boy rises, standing straight, still, with eyes staring at nothing. They look empty from here. He’s about seven. I can almost tell he was carted away with a sweet. The priest extends a knife to the Ankara man. I’ve seen enough movies to know what’s coming next.
The Ankara man steps up and stands behind the boy. The man is not so tall, so the boy is just below his waist. He slides the blade across the boy’s neck, left to right.
I’ve seen rams and cows being slaughtered for ileya. I’ve seen fowls go down on Christmas and every other weekend. I’ve seen them struggle as life gushes out of their body in bright red. But this boy is different. Blood is gushing out of his throat, down his little body, into the pot, but he doesn’t appear to be alive. There is no struggle. He just stares ahead. When blood stops running, they quickly grab him just before he hits the ground.
‘That is all,’ the priest says, ‘go and prosper’.
The Ankara man is full of gratitude as he leaves the room. A few moments later, the priest breaks the silence.
‘My son,’ he begins, ‘what do you think happens to this blood?’
‘Awon aiye have it for refreshment,’ he answers.
‘Don’t be foolish,’ his father says, ‘if the forces want to drink blood, they’ll go to an abattoir and lie down in the gutter’.
The priest appears to be giving his son time to think but soon loses hope. ‘It is not the blood that reaches them. It is the allegiance these people who come here make. The lengths they’ll go to get what they want is the shackles of their slavery. Everything they come here to own ends up owning them.’
His lets his son think about it for a while.
‘Now call me that woman,’ he tells his son, ‘some of these yams can’t be used. We can’t use people with strong ori. People with strong head are bad. Those ones, she’ll sell in the market, we can’t eat the bad luck. Just leave me to sort out the ones we can use.’
All I wanted was a rubber band, now I’ll be either sacrifice or someone’s breakfast. The priest looks round the room, hands on waist. He rubs his forehead with the back of his hand, looking at all the work he has to get done.