Hemmed between a small bakery and Baba Wande’s half-plot compound, our home has the appearance of a rotund woman proudly reposed east-west and flanked on each side by a slender girl. As if the expected rectangularity of most houses annoyed him, Father had the side walls of our one story high home built aslant so that the bedroom windows of the west end unavoidably look down on the uncompleted bungalow of Baba Wande’s compound. Leaning against the window from my bed, I was often a spectator of the goings-on of their parlour. That room had an unprepossessing doom and gloom quality that even the quaint glow of their lantern, the ever-present sentinel in the centre, could never dispel. Sometimes songs would filter in through my window punctuated by harrowing screams that would join my silent tears to carry me off to sleep. They were songs of a woman ridiculed by drunken fists. That dutiful woman—she was undeserving of that husband of hers. She and I spent many a night in quiet, teary communion separated only by the distance between our windows. I remember more of her pain than I do of her. She hovers beyond reach; she flits across my memories of those days but she will not show her face.

In the sweltering July heat, the sight of Father with a shovel was as familiar as it was unwelcome. It informed Mother and I that it was time again for the ceaseless chore of collecting sand from the gutter outside the gate. The land was steep and so rainwater rushing noisily towards the river west of us replenished the trenches that families had long learnt to dig at the start of the rainy season. It was not uncommon to see mounds of fine sand piled in front of houses, waiting to be sold to the numerous tippers that came around. The tipper men were usually slovenly, red-eyed men with the complexion of spent lubricant to go with their soiled shirts. Though armed with shovels not unlike Father’s, they wielded it with an ethereal deftness that never failed to surprise me. A tall heap of sand would be ploughed through in no time at all. It made me question the sanity of my labor and I came to detest it so much that I would become irritable once he brandished that oaken shovel. It seemed, to me, an exercise in futility to carry bucketful after bucketful of sand from the gate to the part of the compound just opposite my window when the tipper men always had shovels at the ready. Why couldn’t we pile it outside where it was readily accessible to the tipper men like the other families did? I rarely had an opportunity to ask Father. He was always commenting about something to Mother in his usual acerbic style, oblivious of my indignant fuming. I did not know that I would, in time, accept my fruitless labor and in it, find an abditory for those of my words that Father’s overbearing presence stifled or that it would begin with careless words that thumped my nascent sexuality into the spotlight.


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