JOHN 'S POV
The loud shaking of the large cell gates woke me from my slumber as I squeezed my eyes to catch a glimpse of the intruder. A tall lanky man dressed in black dragged me by the collar of my prison wear from my bug infested bed to the Chief Warden's office. A sense of awareness stuck in my throat. What have I done this time?
I came face to face with the man that once ushered me into this large iron bars.
"You have been in a different world for the past seven years. You have now known what it means to live behind the iron gate. None of my assistants knew you before you were brought in here. The law brought you in.It is hoped that you will go out there into the real world and settle down to a normal life that will keep you out of trouble" He said sternly.
"Yes sir, I've learnt a lot here,I promise to be a good citizen when I get back home, thank you." I replied.
I responded in that way in order to sound pleasant and polite. As far as I knew,no inmate was taught any trade or any lessons on morality throughout my stay, they were always blaming their irresponsibility on poor funding.
As I turned the knob, he cleared his throat once more.
"John, lest I forget, have this." He threw a five hundred naira note on the dusty floor. I wasn't even begging for it.But I had no choice . I stooped low to catch it before the air and I swore I heard him laugh. The thought of punching his voluptuous stomach chilled my spines. Should a Chief Warden be unnecessary robust?
After returning the pair of shoes, clothes and a Nokia phone which was already smashed ,an officer gave me some papers to sign at the counter. A space in the boxes on one of the papers specified for the present date and I looked up to search for any calendars being stuck on the regular yellow and blue wall.
The date sounded familiar to me as I fiddled with the pen resting between two fingers. The realization kept me thinking until I started laughing and banging the counter too. It caused a few pair of eyes to check if my sanity was intact.
"It's my birthday." I said still laughing.
"Oga, fill the form and get out jor" The officer in front of me said chewing her gum loudly.
I grudgingly filled the form. A few minutes later,I regained my freedom.
Like a fowl just released from its cage, I strode along the road. It was familiar and yet unfamiliar. Seven years behind bars might have changed the country a lot.
But I knew my destination, how could I forget?
Like a robot, I moved from one corner of the city to another trekking like a person on an urgent business. I couldn't talk to anyone.
My bushy hair did not help the situation.
The city of Lagos was bustling with work.Cars filled the roads like ants. It was hard finding a bus.I opted for a bike instead. On boarding the bike popularly known as Okada. I begged the okada rider not to overspeed as that was their trademark. Children and women were seen holding wares at every speeding car. That hasn't changed still.I enjoyed the feel of my buttocks on the seat and the wind was enjoyable.
A drop of water settled at the middle of my head and I reached to pat it dry, unknown to me.It was the just the beginning and soon enough the rain came pouring down. The okada driver had an extra helmet resting at the front of the bike and still didn't want to share. I hissed inwardly. Perhaps I would pay if I asked. I used my hands as a temporary shield from the rain throughout the journey.
When I had reached my destination, the rain was already reduced to mild drizzling. I thanked the okada rider for his ironic hospitality and he zoomed off without a response.
Home was the final version of complete change. The once bright yellow walls surrounding the house was now dirty and unappealing. I walked, hands in my trousers and heart pounding.
When I was absent, I was still a boy but now I am a man.
How will Mama react on seeing me?
I was greeted by a sharp smell of ogbono soup. That was my my twin brother's favorite soup. The wooden door that once shielded mosquitoes was now rickety and weak.Flies buzzing in and out as I mentally slapped myself. The kitchen was extremely tiny as it consisted of two large gas cylinders and four large pots. But what I almost failed to notice was mama, happily singing to a Christian hymn while cutting vegetable leaves on a black chopping board.I cleared my throat which startled her and caused the knife in her hands to drop noisily on the bare ceramic ground.
"John, why are you here." She said putting her hands on her chest to steady her breathing.
That question had a thousand answers to me.And it shattered my heart into a thousand pieces. My head kept spinning with different comprehensions and therfore I put my pride before emotions.
I turned back smiling and headed for the living room and she followed curiously, not understanding my motive.
My eyes caught a portrait that smelt new and delightful. It was a picture of my twin brother, James wearing his judge outfit. I looked at the other pictures, I wasn't there. It crushed my heart that there were no pictures of me.I was like a black sheep being treated as a wolf.
"John I said what are you...." She said folding her arms around her chest.
I interrupted her while taking a seat on the large table facing the black and white television.
"Do you remember my second day in prison, You came not with food but with a paper that crushed a part of my endless love for you, You came with a form to push me out of the family register. And you even pushed a pen into my shaking hands. Did you ever think of how I felt that night. I felt lonely. I felt like nobody. You never came after. You never loved me.It was always James. Even if he did something wrong, you would still blame me"
I continued as she lowered herself on a couch adjacent me.
"The day I was sentenced by the court was the same day James entered law school. Isn't that ironic? I defended someone and I ended up being hurt." I said with finality trying to hold back sobs.
"I didn't tell you to kill someone" She said pushing her arms forward and demonstrating it by clapping in annoyance.
That sentence made the fire in my mouth that I vowed not to ignite coming back to bring heat in my folded hands.
"If I didn't fight for James, wouldn't it be the same case Mary?" I said standing up.
My mother also stood up in anger and moved close to me. As much as I was scared. I had a full box of bravery mixed with bitterness.
"What did you just say John, you called me by my first name? I, your mother" She said gripping my hands.
I laughed and stood a step backward.
"Don't tell me you have forgotten so soon that you disowned me, Are you trying to mock me?"
"As much as I know,you aren't my mother and I am not your son.You made that very clear. So let's call a spade a spade and drop the respect.
And I hissed and turned toward the door.
"Where are you going, Don't tell me you are going to see James. Don't go to him. Don't ruin his reputation." She said sternly.
That statement caught me off-guard and it also made my anger to swell like garri dipped inside cold water.
And I turned back and grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her on a nearby couch which caused her to whimper in pain.
"Everything is always James, Did you ever think for once about me and that's a good idea.Let me go to my great brother and see if he can save me from my misery. " I said whispering admist shaking sobs.
She didn't move. She simply watched like as I was acting a drama. I was already bored of everything. I only needed her to say one word and it felt so hard to her. Looking at her one last time. I gnashed my teeth and bit my upper lip.I bowed my head once last time and reaching for the door at the same
Happy birthday to me.
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