AUGUSTUS WAS BEMUSED. He opened his door around two o'clock at night after being awakened by a loud noise. At first, he believed it to be a dream, but the noise was too deafening to be from his subconscious, it had to be his reality. He was groggy at first as he attempted to block the noise out but failed terribly. He then, foolishly he later thought, decided that if no one was going to check the noise he would. He just however, could not wrap his head around why the noise only seemed to disturb him. It was as if it targeted him and had a special place for him in its heart filled with enmity and space in its mind brim with malevolent thoughts. He got up already worn down from the heat in his room. It was pitch black and he had recently run out of kerosene for his lantern. He stretched awkwardly for at least twenty seconds. No intervals. Then he put on his raggedy singlet and commanded his feet to go all the way into his slippers, for he was still half asleep. He proceeded then to open the door slowly but immediately closed it after seeing what he thought was something conjured up by his sleep-deprived brain.
The cries began to flow like an imperial waterfall and the baby seemed more in distress the longer it took Augustus to acknowledge its presence. His only reaction was to pick him up from the terribly crafted makeshift cradle and hold him up while shouting random names intermittently to garner the attention of his neighbors. "Taiwo!! Ejike!! Patrice!!" He screamed. No one dared answer for they were either fast asleep or they purposely avoided getting into what they perceived to be another altercation with an armed robber. The baby appeared lost, he thought. He even started to drunkenly ask the baby how he ended up there, why his door? He would have asked him if he owed him any money, but he was not that sleep impaired. Augustus could tell it was a boy by its obscure, yet humorous penis unveiled when his mother's wrapper came off.
The introduction of father and son was truly like no other, for it was as if the father and son were asking each other the same question. The young Francis asked him where his mother was while the stammering Augustus asked him the same in return. The plumb yet already troublesome baby boy was left wondering if his soon-to-be dad was going to invite him in, while his bewildered father was scheming up ways in his mind to throw him out. In this shanty yet palatable part of Lagos, an illegitimate prophecy was being fulfilled unbeknownst to its main protagonists, the air was ubiquitous with the laughter of the gods and the remnants of suya meat; while this confused man gazed upon this innocent yet consequential child with incredulity, ignorance, and disgust all at the same time. Judging by the baby's continual crying, Augustus remembered that he had some bread and packets of tea in his flat. He thought about how he had saved it for tomorrow morning, yet the never-ending tears and the deep hollow of the child's eyes quickly stunted his cupidity. Before he retreated inside, he stopped and stared at the boy for a while, asking him playfully if he liked bread. The young Francis looked back at him helplessly as if to say anything would do. With this, Augustus held onto the boy tightly and proceeded to go inside but was stopped by a detectable piece of paper which glistened in the dark. He opened it and struggled to read it. He then let out a huge gasp. "Chiwetalu!!" he shouted. Francis himself was frightened by the sudden burst of outrage and the sound of his absentee mother's name. It quickly dawned on Augustus. He did not even have to finish reading the ill-written letter to realize that he did not just offer his breakfast to a stranger, but to his firstborn.
FOR THE FIRST FEW WEEKS WITH HIS NEW SON, he cleaned up vomit approximately four times, woke up in the middle of the night at least ten times, took care of feces seven times and contemplated suicide once. He stopped going to work and visiting construction sites. He had to unwillingly replace the smoky smell of cement with the putrid smell of waste and his construction hard hat for a wrapper he would religiously tie with Francis on his back to get him to sleep. He wore the wrapper only inside his flat, in an attempt to still keep intact the masculinity of a single Nigerian father. An image that had already been shattered from the moment Chinwetalu left the baby on his doorstep. However, when push came to shove. He realized that he was simply running out of time and money. He barely had enough food in his stringent apartment to sustain both Francis and himself. He realized that it was time to man up and take responsibility for his actions. So, he packed the child's belongings (the very few he had recently bought) and took public transport all the way to Nsukka.
He had made the decision to return home. An unwilling decision it was, yet he still made it, he had to. He was very close to rejecting the idea altogether. Even if the situation was quite dire, he simply could not go back to the village to see his family, to see those people. The people who hailed and rejoiced him back home while he was on his journey. The people who he occasionally sent money back home to in neatly folded envelopes. It was a public shaming waiting to happen. Granted it would have been drastically worse if he were a girl, he dreaded the thought of even having to face them. He would not only be shamed, but banished if he was of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, given his genitalia, he was to be tolerated. Instead of being perceived as a fornicator or someone who committed a grave sin, he unknowingly made a mistake. Instead of being labeled an Ashawo who spread her legs for whoever passed by, he was simply a careless man who let his biological instincts get the best of him. On his arrival to the village, his relatives did not know whether to rejoice or mourn, the women did not know whether to cry tears of joy or tears of sorrow. His mother- Mrs. Adolisa Okoro who was excited upon hearing that her only son had returned; ran towards him with open arms and tears in her eyes to receive him, but moods immediately changed, and tempers flared on seeing the baby tied to his back. It was a symbolic return for the prodigal son of Nsukka - Augustus. The boy who left his village with nothing and squandered his earnings on beer and women, had now returned as a man with a sunken face and a one-month old baby to show for his hard work. His mother dazed incredulously and soon joined the other women in holding her hands over her head, kneeling down with open arms towards the ethereal blue sky, asking the gods why they had chosen to curse her like this. With a clutch of the red gritty earth which painted Nsukka’s ground, she scorned the woman who produced this abomination and left her son alone to bear the consequences. After the display of what Augustus believed to be mere hysteria, his mother got up from the ground. Too emotional to dust the red sand off her clothes, she looked at Augustus and then gazed at his son. She was not looking for the differences in order to prove that the child was not his, but she was instead looking for similarities; and soon enough she found them. Francis’s symmetrical nose was evidently a hereditary trait. His deep questioning black eyes, his complexion was not as dark as his father's but with time his grandmother knew it would eventually happen.
"Augustus, do you want to kill me? Augustus do you want to kill me?" She asked while staring directly into his soul. Madam Adolisa was a woman with a strong build, a tall yet firm bodied woman. She was very much intimidating and still after years of growing up in the same household with him, she still knew how to strike fear into the heart of her only son. Surprisingly during this ordeal, given his youthful innocence, Francis did not find his grandmother intimidating nor the tyrant the village children would sing about behind her back. In him she would find another son, a more caring and warm child and in her, Francis would find a confidant, someone he could move the world for. He would learn to love her as his non-existent mother and she him as her own son. However, for now, they were enemies, for Francis was the roadblock impeding her first son’s chance at attaining success and to him, she was the woman who would not stop shouting and offer him- a guest- any food.
"Augustus!!! Answer me do you want to kill me?"
"Mama, I'm sorry. I have lost my way, I was led astray mama please forgive me."
Augustus, knowing he was in grave trouble, began to sound more and more like a little child who had just discovered the purpose of his penis and used it mistakenly for the first time rather than a grown man who recognized the repercussions of his actions and sought to make amends.
"You lost your way? You lost your way? Mma gi aka nti, if I slap you here." She lunged at Augustus, he evaded her slap knowing it would only make the slap that would eventually land that much harder and painful.
"What would your father say if he was alive ehhh? Chimoo! You have disgraced this family. Did mama Onochie not tell me not to allow you to leave this village? Did she not say that when small pikin like you enters the city your eyes will begin to shine, and you would have forgotten where you came from? See it, see it ohhhh. Chai! I said no, not my Ogo. I am a fool, you have not only made yourself a fool but your own mother a fool."
The last time she referred to him as Ogo he was still a young boy, crying because his older boys had pushed him into the deep end of the river. "It is okay, ehh Ogo, do you want me to make plantain and stew for you?" His mood immediately altered and he looked up at her with a beaming smile as if to let her know that it was a rhetorical question. Thoughts of childhood bliss.
Now weeping, in an instant she finally got her hands on him and landed three slaps on his face. As dark as he was, his face fought the reaction of turning red and turned purple instead.
The child was still on his back, hanging like a burden which needed to be purged, a diseased leg in need of an amputation. Francis’ birth was not something to be celebrated but something to be mourned over. No kolanut would be broken for him, no cow would be slaughtered in his name, no feast would be held in his honor. No veneration to occur, no shouts of joy. For now, they would only be cries of agony and tears of disappointment. Augustus felt naked, he felt utterly useless and even though his veins were pumping faster with blood than ever before, he was all but dead on the inside. This was of course due to the shame that he had experienced that day, the loathe he felt from his former classmates who on seeing him, detested him for wasting an opportunity that they would have killed for. The prettiest girls in the village who all wanted his hand in marriage now looked down upon him with contempt and revulsion. The women who would have washed his feet just a few years ago now even dared to gaze upon his swollen face, for he was now spoiled goods and no amount of bride price would entice them to marry him. The stigmatization was simply too much to bare. What killed Augustus most were two things directly. One was his dead father who he presumed now was with Chukwu and the gods in the sky watching his great demise and wondering how his only son could succumb to such foolishness. Secondly and much more abominable was his son Francis, who could visualize what was happening, yet still could not interpret it nor contextualize the scene which seemed the product of a playwright’s pen. However, Augustus believed that his son’s deep and hollow eyes saw everything and his ears heard everything as well. He saw how his father failed not only as a man but as a son and as a future leader beholden to his people. His son saw his mistakes without sheets to cover them, he saw his rough and raggedy face without a mask to hide it, he saw his limp and impotent penis without boxers protecting it. He saw his father's nakedness, he saw it all. Augustus unknowingly allowing his son to see his mistakes at one of the most vulnerable points in his life, lead him to believe that he had failed as a father. This took precedence to Augustus’ father watching him fail from above , for it was not only about the spiritual complications that would arise from a son defiling his father's name while he was buried, but it was simply that through the wine and cigar smoke, the terse lovemaking sessions in the city, and the township outings, he realized something very important. From that moment on he knew contrary to his tradition that it would be wise to place more emphasis on the living than to dwell on the dead. It was easier to prepare for the living but impossible to make way for the perished, to plan a future for his son than to mourn his dead father. In that single moment Augustus had replaced Francis for his father. His son's future had taken precedence to his father's past, for he knew if he did not make that decision, then one day Francis's son might see his own father naked too.