By Elnathan John
I fly when I sleep. Not the tatata wing flapping of pigeons and doves. More like the stationary gliding of a plane. My hands are my wings- I run, leap forward chest out, and will myself to fly. The engine that propels me is my mind, so if when my eyes are closed anything bothers or distracts me, I glide for a while, then start to descend sharply and crash. This happens at least one out of every five times. When it does I wake up sad and with a headache. But when I am happy, I soar so high I start to feel breathless.
Aunty Keturah asks me questions before she states her theories. Do my wings have feathers or are they wings-wings? Do I usually fly alone? How high do I fly? If my wings have feathers then I was a bird in my last life. If I fly alone, then I was an eagle and if I was in company, a vulture- but only if I was bad in the life before that. If I have wings-wings however, like a butterfly or a bat or the stiff wings of a plane, then maybe I was a bat or pilot. But God forbid bats, she says, God forbid bad creatures caught between lives, neither bird nor mammal. Bad people get trapped between world’s, between bodies, so that they are half this, half that; neither this nor that. You have to be really evil to become a bat. She is afraid of getting a child like that. A bad person from an old life.
I am normal so I must have been good in my last life. Except if this getting wings at night means I am part one thing and part another. Aunty Keturah knows so much of this stuff I wonder what she was in her old life. To know so much, she had to have been something great in her past life, maybe a seer, something that would have shown her these secrets of how and why we return as one thing or another. Sometimes, I fear for her because of her temper and swearing. I fear she may become something dreadful in her next life. “Your mother’s cursed womb,” she says when any of the boys on window duty forget to clean some of the louvers or leave them open at night or when someone wets the bed. Good thing though, she doesn’t stay angry for long. She protects us like a dog protects its puppies.
Once a man tried to lure Adnan, the albino boy out of the house. Adnan had wet the bed and tried to hide it by turning the mattress upside down. The smell was so strong she turned the entire dormitory upside down until she found the guilty mattress. She slapped Adnan and said that his penis would wither for making the whole place smell and told him to kneel down outside between the two cactus plants by the short broken part of the fence. The dark man wore a beard like Che’s face on the t-shirt I got from the clothes donated by the Cherubim and Seraphim church on our street.
The man was telling Adnan to climb over the fence and take something when she spotted him. She alerted the guard, Bimbol, with whom she went through the back gate. They caught the man. Another man on a motorcycle who was waiting to whisk Adnan away sped off. Aunty Keturah bit the man on the neck and hit him with the guard’s stick until she had to be dragged away by the Policeman who had come from the junction.
Aunty Keturah is not really my Aunty. She is not anyone’s Aunty. She started Kachiro Refuge Home when they told her in the hospital she couldn’t have children and her husband went off with a woman who had six toes. I have heard Aunty Keturah tell that to some visitors she was giving a tour round the Home. She refuses to call it an orphanage because she says the word orphan has too much stigma around it. Moreover, she says, most of the children are really not orphans. Many of their mothers, whose wombs she always curses, dumped them by the roadside, in garbage dumps, in wells, in churches or just left them in the hospital.
Our home is also a school. The school is mostly for the children who are in the home but we have some children who come from outside and leave every day after school. The rest of us, live in the dorms. The babies are in a house called the nursery. I have just started JSS3, the most senior class in the school and I am both class prefect and dorm leader for the boys’ dorm. There is a separate dorm for girls and no boy is allowed to go in there. Aunty Keturah says that the greatest sin you can commit is to insult God. The second greatest sin is to be caught in the girls’ dorm.
Far in the distance, beyond the football field, are the staff quarters. Aunty Keturah lives there as do the Principal and his family, some teachers, the school nurse and the cooks. No one is allowed across the football field. The Principal, a bald headed man whose suits have hands that are longer than his, has a quiet voice that people can hardly hear during morning assembly.
As dorm leader, Aunty Keturah expects only that I clean her office, early in the morning. I can take a junior boy from JSS1 or JSS2 to do the work, but I like being alone in her large beautiful office. She has many books and paintings and a fridge that she doesn’t lock. The big black table, the TV, the two cushioned chairs and three plastic chairs, the floors I clean every morning before school. The high cupboard, the books, the louvers, I clean once every week, and twice during the dusty harmattan. I clean the table last because then I sit and flip through the books on her table or check her drawers. There is always something to find in the drawers. Sweets, dates, left over biscuits. Last week I found a big old brown book called “Kachiro Memorial Refuge Home Records”. It has details about everybody. Names are arranged alphabetically beginning with Aaron and ending with Zichatt. There is no name under X. I can’t think of any name beginning with X. I started reading from the first page and after a few pages decided to read only a little, three pages, every day. Reading the book gave me then as it gives me now, a breathless feeling, like I feel when I fly too high. I feel my stomach almost empty and my heart suddenly fill my entire chest. Knowing everything about a person’s life, where they came from, where their mother dumped them, what sickness they came with, makes me feel I have some kind of power over them. It was in that book that I saw that Adnan was dumped by his mother in General Hospital. In the column called “Remarks”, she wrote that Adnan was abandoned because he was an albino and that the whereabouts of his mother are unknown.
(to be continued next week)