- The Storried Platform
THE RAIN THAT RID THE SKY OF DARK CLOUDS – By Ifeoluwa Aiki
She watched the man swallow the last morsel of fufu on the plate before him. The baby she carried was sucking her dress. Like other babies his age, he had taken to sucking some other thing when he found no breast to suckle. But unlike other babies, he didn’t cry when no milk came out. Maybe he knew that his mother had not eaten her usual one meal for the day yet, and no breastmilk could form at the moment.
“God bless you ma,” the man said.
She wanted to tell him he had eaten the last of God’s blessings in the house and that there was no hope of getting food anytime soon. Instead, she sniffed as the memories came again.
Life screeched to a halt for her the day her husband was caught by stray bullets from a bank robbery. She had soaked the pregnancy test result she wanted to show him that day with tears. Her husband’s family called the child in her a bastard when they found out she was pregnant. Her mother-in-law shooed her off at the gate of her husband’s house when returning from the hospital with her new born baby, shouting ‘Ashewo! Omo-ale*!’She had relocated to live in the prayer house her late clergy father owned up a rocky hill overlooking Abeokuta. With herself parentless and no one to call family, she had been living on the little savings she had before her child was born.
She wanted to throw the man into the battlefield her mind was, but she knew he had more than enough burdens of his own.
A sick and dying wife at the hospital, a retirement gratuity the government refused to pay, two sons that had no jobs, a daughter whose marriage was heading for the rocks because of childlessness – she heard his prayer requests anytime he came to the hill to pray. She would give him water at the end of his stay – usually three days. This time, he had stayed two days longer and had asked her for a meal. She wasn’t sure why she did it, but she had given him the last meal in the house.
A light snoring filled the house as she rinsed the plate and pot. She smiled at the figure of the sleeping man and sat on the floor beside the chair he was sleeping on. Her stomach rumbled loudly as the hunger pangs increased their intensity, weakening body and resolve. Her baby cooed in her arms the way he would when he wanted to sleep. Then, a thought that had been nudging at the edge of her subconscious came to surface. The thought had begun its formation when the man first came in to ask for food today and she had shoved it aside in disgust. Now, it faced her, fully formed and was gripping her by the throat. It wasn’t a choice, it was inevitable.
* * *
The man in the house woke up to a pounding noise. Rain? He moved to stand and kicked a shrouded softness on the floor. He withdrew his leg in surprise as the softness gave a yell. The baby’s yelp of pain jolted him to instant alertness and he bolted to his feet.
His heart pounded furiously when he realized what had happened. The realization was instant and he didn’t doubt it: the woman was gone and she had left her baby with him.
His mind willed his feet to the door and escape. But he remembered his daughter whose marriage was falling apart because she couldn’t have a baby like the one crying at his feet.
He bent to pick the baby.
“Shhhhhhh,” he said, smiling into his contorted face.
That was when he realized someone was pounding on the door. And it was the sound that had woken him up.
He doubted his earlier confidence that the woman was gone. Maybe she only went out to do a few things and was at the door.
He opened the door to find a man and woman.
“Good morning sir. We are from –“ started the woman.
“Please come in.” He interrupted her. The early morning air on the hilltop was chilling and the baby was beginning to sneeze in-between wails.
The woman sat on the chair. Her partner stood near the open door.
The man leaned on the wall and held the baby against his shoulder and rocked him gently, speaking endearments into his little ears. The baby had stopped crying and was sucking on the blouse cover. He looked like he was going to sleep.
“Continue what you were saying.” He prompted the woman.
“We are from MTN Nigeria and our mission is simple. We want to make our presence prominent here. We think there is no better way to make that statement than to brand this solitary house on the hill with MTN colours. We also want to erect a communications mast to serve this town and its adjoining towns. Our aim is to find a big enough patch of earth on this hill to plant it. Nothing will be more excellent if we can get that!”
She paused. Her partner took the cue and spoke:
“We want you to consider our offer for the house branding and let us know your decision. Rachael, give him your card.”
With his free hand, he took the outstretched card from the woman.
He twiddled the card through his fingers and made a decision.
“Will you come paint next week? And how much are you paying?”
* * *
She came looking for the man and her baby the day the painting work began. The men working on ladders leaning on the walls of the house stared at her as she entered the house.
Except for the chair that was no longer in the centre of the room, everything was the way she had left it. She saw the baby mattress first and the folded note held with a stone felt.
She picked it and her hand trembled as she opened it.
A phone number was scribbled in neat handwriting at the top of the page. Beside it was written: “Your baby needs you. That is my number. I will explain the house painting.”
At the centre there was another phone number and a short message:
“Call Rachael on that number. She has business to discuss with you.”
She felt a tear run down her cheek and drop on the paper.
For the first time since her husband’s death, she knew the tears would be rains that rid the sky of dark clouds.
She watched the man swallow the last morsel of fufu on the plate before him. The baby she carried was sucking