Where I grew up, the people loved to pepper their talk with adages. When they were unsure about a thing, they’d say, ‘Like the dog, I’d better dip my legs into my water before what’s mine becomes another’s’. If they had very tight schedules, you’d hear them say, ‘Like the mad man, I’ve got so much to do, including my dance at the market square.’
Of these many adages, there is one that I never loved, yet so true, so applicable and often used on me: ‘If it pleases a child, he can sit on the loo from sun-up to sun-down, his chores still await him’. On my mother’s lips, it was a final resolution, a dismissed case that the task you’ve been dodging would never be delegated to another.
Perhaps the dishes have piled high, or that crazy dog has defecated all over the compound; the dirty clothes in the basin are pressed down, shaken together and running over, or the cars needed washing. I’d run into the toilet praying, ‘Let this cup pass away from me,’ forcing out what was not there, in my empty bowels, lifting the plastic covering of the toilet seat high enough to let it bang so that the noise would warn everyone that I was doing serious business. But then a knock would come, “This child, what in the world have you been doing in there? Are you passing out your intestines?”
“Mummy my stomach….”
“You can sit there for eternity, those dishes still await you.”
“Please tell another person….”
“You must be joking.”
In those days, before the government thought it wise to create the Municipal Waste Management Board that employed those good people that came to take your dirt from your doorstep, taking out the garbage was my least preferred, most loathsome chore. It was condescending. But as a kid, I didn’t mind this task. It even posed as a kind of adventure to me; I, closely behind an older sibling, asking inane questions-That mad man that lives in the dumps, is he married? Why does he feed on the dirt if he’s married? Can’t his wife cook him a meal and then take him home and they would open a shop together? -until I was hushed and threatened that the object of my curiosity would pounce on me if I asked any more questions.
But when you have become pubescent and your own body becomes a perplexity, an entity of bafflement to your young mind-when you had to be careful so no one would elbow the small and strange protuberances budding on your chest and there happens to be a boy you were infatuated with down the lane who, however does not notice you; and there is another who stalks you unashamedly though you do not care a fig about him; taking out the garbage is just… ah, I just could not bring myself to do it. What if he ( my crush) saw me or maybe someone from school? Gratefully, with time, I did not need to bother my head with these. My saving grace was my younger siblings who still enjoyed the adventure the chore presented.
However on this occasion, being back from boarding school for the mid-term break and needing all the sleep that the accursed rising bell that chimed daily by five a.m. had deprived me, none of my younger ones were home (they were in a different boarding school) . The refuse bin was a quarter full.
To prevent it from filling up to capacity, I began throwing some of the dirt over the fence, surreptitiously, always on alert to make sure I wasn’t caught in the act. I threw them into an old woman’s farm, well, only degradable matter: the gutted parts of fish, egg shells, dead rats, orange and paw-paw and pineapple peels, stalks of vegetable and so on. My crime was benign. After all, the old farmer would need the manure.
A few days later, a malodorous air crept over the walls and into our compound. The old woman’s farm could no longer a dump substitute, I realised
Soon, at home, refuse brimmed to the edges of the bin.
I had been putting off the evil day when I’d have to take out the garbage and hoped against hope I could even escape back to school without having to do it…
‘This dustbin has begun to smell badly. Ezinne!,” Mother’s shrill call snapped me out of reverie.
I had been in bed. I quickly threw the duvet over my head, curled up and began snoring anew. Not today, I prayed, not today.
Mother walked into my room and yanked the duvet off me.
I stretched and produced a long yawn.
“Carry on so long as you can, but as for that garbage, it must be taken out this morning.”
“Do I have water in my mouth or is something wrong with your hearing?”
“This broad daylight? No one throws their garbage by this time. Please, let me do it at night.”
“Don’t let me repeat myself.” She strode out of my room.
The thing which I greatly feared had come upon me. Perhaps if I had begged her, my mother might have acquiesced even though her brows were set uncompromisingly and her frown, hewn of stone.
I dallied. It was way too bright for me to wheel a barrow. Supposing I saw someone from school, how would I re-explain to my friends that our house was not really teeming with a herd of domestic staff that took care of such a mundane task? Then on further probing, (those girls could probe, Lord have mercy!), what would become of my reputation when they discovered that there was no garage filled with exotic automobiles, no army of drivers, no swimming pool, no cousins abroad sending me beautiful fripperies, that these fripperies were actually from the second-hand clothing shop?
I braced myself, brushed my teeth and hair, all the while murmuring and grumbling. Afterwards, I spayed on a mask of perfume. In retrospect, it was a most curious thing to do but if I was going to be caught in my web of lies, I might as well be caught in a haze of pleasant musk.
I loaded the rusty barrow. The puppies in our compound yelped and yanked at my ankle-length skirt, begging to be petted. I pushed them away. This hour forbade sentimentality.
The barrow groaned loudly as I wheeled it towards the dump, its noise as miserable as I felt, an addendum to my shame.