Ọmọ London: The Sickl-Jide

The thing about SCD, is that it doesn’t have a face. What I mean by that is, there isn’t a distinctive marker to it. If you know anyone that has it, you’ll know what I mean. You wouldn’t know who has SCD until they tell you. It is a faceless killer, and it attacks its victims like a thief in the night. I remember one time, I was wrestling with a friend, like, real wrestling. OG rough play shit. All was good, all was well. The next day, crisis struck, the same person that was knocking me for six on the mattress couldn’t get up from said mattress. The contrast was nearly unbelievable.

Larenz Tate has sickle cell, but there is nothing on his face that will tell you that. SCD is faceless. But Larenz, this suit…is not it.

My uncle has sent me to the call centre to get credit, and I am on my way back home when I see him.

Jide. The sickler.

He is alone, no dog, no scowling older brother, walking ahead of me towards the market. If I am going to catch up with him, I’d have to walk past my house. I think about it for a second, and make my decision. I run for a bit, and slow to a walk when I come upon my house. Grandma is sitting on the bench, as she normally does every now and then when she is in the mood and her arthritis isn’t playing up. She sees me and I wave as I walk by, she has a bemused smile on her face, probably wondering where I am going. I look at a window and see my uncle peering at me through the mosquito net, the same thought probably running through his head. I look away and run for it.

I catch up with Jide, slow to a walk once more and match him for pace, I saunter beside him and offer him a cheeky smile. He looks at me, not slowing down, and returns the smile.

‘Benjamin’ he says simply.

So, he knew who I was. I mean then again, I am one of two boys from London in the area, the other boy being my brother, everyone knows me. My smile grows wider and I stretch a hand, he takes it and we shake and snap our fingers like men (albeit feebly, we are young boys and yet to master the technique)

“Jide” I say back, mainly because I had nothing else to say.

We walk for a few moments in silence, I think of ways to break the ice, and settle on small talk. Small talk always works right?

“So, where are you going”? I ask

“To the market” he replies, his voice is soft and the accent, less ‘bush’ than the ones I have come across. This is the voice of a rich kid.

“Your brother isn’t with you”? I query, as if it isn’t apparent.

Jide chuckles and makes a show of looking around, when he is done, he offers me a warm smile.

“I guess not” he says, and I feel stupid. Notwithstanding, I decide I like Jide. He’s sharp.

We walk and talk like this for a while, small talk with no purpose. There was something I really want to ask him however.

“Why don’t you play football with us”? I finally say, it isn’t the question I really want to ask though.

Jide looks at me and raises an eyebrow, telling me he knows there is more to the question I just asked.

“Are you a sickler”?

Jide winces ever so slightly at my question, he meets my gaze and a sad smile creeps on his face.

“I don’t like that term” he says. He is soft-spoken, but the way he delivers that sentence cuts me like a knife.

I avert my gaze, crestfallen and ashamed.

“Sorry” I mumble. Trust me to muck up a first impression!

“I’m not really good at football” he says, “and I’m not as strong as you guys”

“I know you’re an ajebutter” I reply, “but I was once like that, now I a small ajepako” I laugh, hoping that my attempt at banter would be well-received after my faux pas. To many people I will probably always be an ajebutter, a weakling, but as far as I was concerned, I had hardened a bit.

Jide laughs too; getting called an ajebutter is something we can both relate to, although for different reasons, he nods his head understandingly.

“I guess so, but its not like that for me” he says.

“You should play with us” I insist, “it will be fun”. Football was always fun; nothing beats playing on the roads and watching out for vehicles at the same time. Sometimes though, we’d get to play on a plot of land nearby; the owner didn’t mind us playing on it because we kept the grass from growing, but the bordering homes never gave us back our balls when they went over the fence. True enemies of progress.

“I will ask my mum” Jide says flatly. I glanced at him; his brows are furrowed.

“Don’t worry. Play on my team and you’ll be fine” I say reassuringly. It is a lie; compared to the other kids, I am just an average player, I have an eye for a killer pass and that’s about it. Dribbling and scoring goals were not my forte, but when it came to tackling, I will say I am good at that, I do this thing where I zone out and time slows down and I see the ball clearly even though my opponent’s legs may be all over the gaff.  

It seems to work though, because Jide relaxes. “Are you buying something from the market”? he asks me.

Damn! My uncle is going to kill me. “I have to go, sorry! I’ll come for you later to play ball”. He says something, but I am already on my way and I don’t hear what he says.

Later that day, I managed to sneak out to play football. When there’s no power there’s no reason for me to stay home, so I always leave to play football or visit friends in the neighbourhood. The lack of electricity and abundance of heat was a great recipe for an afternoon nap (trust me, it is; you wake up from the nap drenched with sweat and cooler than you were when you slept) and my gran and uncle were asleep. Sneaking out was too easy.

I got to the black looming gate of the Big House as it opened, the gate bore the golden head of a lion, it’s mane was wild, and it had ominous black eyes. Kunle’s mum had a shop close to the Big House and he and his siblings normally helped her out. Today was no different, but I could see their attention was fixed on the Big House; something was up. I went to them.

“See”? Kunle asks me, his arms are folded across his chest and he points at the activity with a finger.

“Wetin happen”? I ask. What’s up.

“They came for him” replies Wale, Kunle’s brother.

They? I wonder. The gate is fully open now and I could see Tayo standing, arms akimbo and a tense look on his face. He glances out, sees us all watching and turns his back to us. There is a white van parked in the compound and it has a red light on its roof. Painted on the van’s bonnet is a red cross. I realised I was looking at an ambulance. It is my first time seeing an ambulance in my area, you have to be rich to afford the cost of an ambulance in Nigeria. Rich and very ill.  A knot forms in my throat.

Wordlessly, we watch as Jide is stretchered into the vehicle, his mother gets in with him and the door thumps to a close. Two men in white clamber into the van and the driver starts the engine. The passenger says something to Tayo, and the van moves out. Our eyes are still fixed on the ambulance and we watch it drive off, sirens blaring. The siren is useless; the dusty road is bare and embroidered with potholes, so they weren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

A noise takes my attention away from the loud and slow-moving ambulance, and I look at where it came from. It is Tayo closing the gate. I run up to him before it closes, I have one eye on him and another on the dog.

“Is Jide ok”? I ask.

Tayo’s face remains neutral, never taking his eyes off me, he closes the gate without a word.

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