BEING BRUNO (Episode 6)

BEING BRUNO (Episode 6)

Previously on BEING BRUNO



If your life is represented on a bar chart, with the years that had gone by lined up on the y-axis, and how happy you were in each year sketched on the x-axis, 2009 would have the tallest tower. It isn’t like one huge thing happened to make the year memorable; it was more like a collection of small things that clicked together to make a phenomenal year – much like how tiny little piece of a jigsaw puzzle come together to form a beautiful picture when completed.

It was the three boys that sat around you in class Monday through Friday, at your all-boys secondary school. They differed in ways that made them interesting as individuals, but shared a lot in common. It was like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, only you were on the set, watching the action live and not on a TV screen. They would come to school on Monday, loaded with lots of cash and even more stories about how fabulous their weekends had been. Friday night spent in a night club, in the VIP section with a generous man who owned several shops in Main Market; a hot afternoon spent swimming at Top Rank Hotel with a friend that had come from Abuja; a long night spent in the company of a man at a TB party, he had rewarded them with a new cell phone.

The stories confused you as much as they entertained you.

It was the two close friends you made the previous year – Emmanuel, the smartass Casanova and Okey the withdrawn pal. You would visit each of them every other weekend, play Mortal Kombat on their Sega, or listen to them talk about girls, or about music, or about a billion other stuff you can’t remember anymore. Never about soccer. They both knew that you did not understand the first thing about the sport and usually spared you the embarrassment of trying to grapple with the flow of the discussion of how Ronaldinho had scored from the bench or how Mourinho had executed a spectacular save to guarantee Real Madrid a win last night. This was your only other relationship with other people apart from your family.

It was about the self discovery you made that year, learning a lot about your personality, temperament, and sexuality. With the knowledge came acceptance. Your fat nose ceased to matter, your feminine gait you embraced. What other people said about you came to matter less and less until it became a murmur in the background.

It was the relative happiness in the house. You had come to care very little about your relationship with your father. You stopped wondering why he wasn’t as close to you as other children’s fathers were, and accepted your fate. Sometimes, the two of you would go days without seeing each other, and when you did see face-to-face, you would say less than twenty words between yourselves. Bliss.

Your mom had gotten a better paying job. The job meant that you spent less time with her, but it also meant that you fed better, even though your father reduced the amount he usually gave her for food for each week. Moreover, you couldn’t help but be happy at how happy she was. It seemed that her increased financial independence did more to boost her mental health than church had done all her life.

One of your fondest memories from that year was on a cool evening when you were playing Whot with your mom. She was off duty that day, so she had made a pot of Egusi soup with Turkey meat that made your tongue melt and your stomach rumble. You had eaten till your stomach was protruding, and only then did the two of you slowly sit on the floor across from each other whilst your sister, who was nine at the time, was completely engrossed in the TV.

After you had won the game three times in a row, she smacked her knees with her right hand and said, “I have let you win enough times now. I will show you pepper now!”

You laughed out loud. “Let me win? I thrashed you the whole time. This last game, I won and your hands were heavy with cards. You could have bought a car with the sum you were carrying there.”

You watched her smile, a smile that reached her eyes and warmed your soul. You couldn’t help but smile back at her. As the game resumed, she pointed at the television screen where Desperate Housewives was playing. “That woman with hair the color of palm oil must like her job as a cleaner.”

The laughter escaped you before you could even think of holding it back. “Mummy, she is not a cleaner. Her name is Bree Van DeKamp. She is a housewife. That’s her house. And that is her daughter.”

She frowned as she placed a card on the open deck on the table. “She lives with a daughter as old as that and she still does all that work? Why? These white people and their foolishness sha…”

You shook your head the way you had seen your grandfather do so many times when he heard something he believed to be ludicrous. “They are not stupid. They just understand that children are not unpaid laborers. Moreover, Bree actually enjoys doing all this work. It calms her down.”

“That means that she isn’t alright in the head na. Who in their right senses enjoys house work?” she said as she placed another card on the table.

You looked at her with a sly look on your face, telling her that she had just scored a point against herself. You would be using her words against her the next time she asked you to do chores.

“And who said that children are unpaid laborers? Do you know how much food you people eat? Then, rent? Tuition? Clothes? If people didn’t have children, there would be a couple more billionaires out there!”

“I don’t eat too much! That is your daughter’s area of expertise,” you said defensively, pointing at your sister who was curled up on the floor, fixated on the television. She looked like she ate a lot, with her well-rounded, plump stature, and she did eat a lot.

“Egbe ada! Gunshot! How many cups of garri did you eat this afternoon?”

“That was an exception. The soup was so good, I couldn’t help myself.”

“And the loaf of bread we bought this morning?”

“I was so hungry from all the work I had done in the morning na.”

She laughed out loud. “Bruno, tell yourself the truth!” she said as she dropped another card on the table. “Last card oh!”

Your eyes shot up. That couldn’t be right. You had only just started the game, hadn’t you?

You looked at her hand; she had only one more card to go. You looked at yours; you were with seven cards and none of them matched the shape or number of the card atop the deck. Triangle. 3.

“If you don’t have a card, collect one, na! If your hands are full, you can keep some on the table, there is plenty of space,” she mocked you with a smile.

Unsteadily, you picked up a card from the stack that lay face down in the corner. You sighed with relief when you saw that it was the same shape as the one lying face up on the table.

She raised her free hand and reached for the stack of cards that lay face down. Your heart soared. She wasn’t going to win yet.

But then, she drew back her hand and tossed a card on the deck. Triangle. 1.

When you raised your head from the stack to her face, you saw her sticking her tongue out at you with a goofy smile on her face.

You couldn’t help but smile back at her. It never felt so good to lose before.



When the bus you boarded in Enugu two hours earlier slowly drove past your Alma Mata, a wave of nostalgia hit you. As the bus climbed, up and down, the two bumps that were ten feet apart on the tarred road, your eyes travelled along the compound as far as they could see. The blue-and-white painted classroom blocks, the school hall which had been named after a sitting governor at the time where you had received many seminars, and the hostel where your former senior prefect had been caught pants down with a girl in the middle of the act.

You shook your head, trying to dispel the images. Memories of those years past used to bring smiles to your face, but on that day, they only reminded you of how happy you were and that made you even sadder than you already were. When you walked into your parent’s apartment a few minutes later, you felt like the prodigal son who had gone away with so much expectation but was returning a disappointment.

You barely noticed your siblings hugging you at the door, circling you like dogs with tails wagging, waiting for treats. “Brother Bruno, what did you buy for us?” they asked in their typical sing-song voices. You vaguely remember plastering a smile that didn’t touch your cheeks on your face as you dug through your pockets to produce a few notes of Naira that you shared between the three of them. When you got into what used to be your room but was now the children’s room, you flopped unto the bed with your earphones jammed into your ears, listening to Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die album.

You do not know how long you lay on the bed whilst Lana crooned and moaned and whispered words that made your misery very enjoyable, before the door opened and a dark-skinned man stood there, his hairy chest and protruding stomach bare.

“Bruno…” he said.

You looked him over, trying to recognize him. The fat, pronounced nose and prominent forehead were familiar. You saw there a bit of the image that stared back at you when you looked in the mirror. But that was it. The curly hair that used to be jet black was now salt-and-pepper, some strands so silver they were almost transparent. The skin on his face was glowing like a recently polished shoe, but there were deep creases that you did not remember seeing there before. The hair on his stomach and armpits were so long and tangled, you wondered if he would consider braiding them.

“Good evening, sir,” you said perfunctorily.

“When did you come in?” he asked, ignoring your greeting. “It was Mercy that told me that you were in here.”

“Some time ago,” you answered, simply because you could not even guess how long it had been. It felt like minutes, but the sky outside had gotten darker and you could hear mosquitoes buzzing somewhere in the room.

You tried to imagine how the conversation between your father and your three-year-old sister had gone. He would have opened the door so quietly that the kids, engrossed in whatever animation had their attention at the time wouldn’t have heard him come in. He would stalk over to your mom’s room, peering in at first, before opening the door fully in search of something he had never found. Then, he would hurry through the sitting room to his own bedroom, at which point your two youngest siblings would follow him, replicating the same greeting they had given you minutes ago – you hope it was just minutes – with fire in their eyes and sweetness to their voice. They would watch him withdraw his wallet and the key to his bedroom door before he would let them hug him. They would give a haphazard summary of their day, at which point they would mention your arrival just before he unlocks his door and shoos them away. He would enter the room and lock it behind him.

“I see,” he said. “So how is school?”

To unsuspecting ears, the question might seem like an indication of genuine interest in what was happening with your academics. A curiosity as to whether you were making friends, or if you were struggling with your studies. But over the years, you had learnt that the question was mechanical – a duty he had to perform. You had come to learn that your own part in the charade is to give the correct answer, and for him, there is only one correct answer.

“Fine,” you said flatly.

You had come to learn that the hard way – through experience. In the past, when you said something different, when you told him how you didn’t own a single textbook, or that you were finding it difficult to make friends, or that you couldn’t decide whether to go into the sciences or art, he deflected your concerns as frivolous needs when compared to his issues – how he is making less sales these days, how he had noticed a dull ache in his chest just the previous day, or that it hadn’t rained like he had expected. Then, he would retreat into his bedroom from whence will escape a dull aroma of fried chicken and cracking sounds as his teeth crunched on bones.

Saying “Fine” was harder than usual today though. You were not fine. You knew that. Any adult with half a brain would know that. And the fact that your own father couldn’t hear through your lie pushed you one rung lower in the ladder of depression.

But that was it. The two of you had reached the limit of your conversations. He would not ask about your uncle or grandparents, or how you had recovered from the bout of sickness that kept you away from school only three weeks ago. You had nothing to ask him. You knew almost nothing about the man that had donated the sperm with which you had been born. You knew very little about his business to ask any meaningful question, and frankly, you had come to not care about that. Asking him how your siblings were performing in school was like asking Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia what was really going on in Hogwarts School of Wizardry – he knew very little about the subject since he didn’t participate in the program anymore than catching stray sentences from conversations.

“Okay,” he said after a short uncomfortable silence that had become all too familiar for you. Then, he turned and left the room. It was only after he left that you realized that you had a sinking feeling in your stomach, like your internal organs was resting against your waist and their weight was weighing you down.

Later that night, as you sat next to your mother on a white plastic chair, staring at the raised platform with purple and white decorations, an uncomfortable silence reigned. The ceiling fan rotated above you, your eyes rotated around the large room, anywhere but on her. It was an unfamiliar occurrence with her, but you understood it.

You knew that she had been greatly disappointed by what she learned about you. She hadn’t said as much in many words, but you could read it on her face that was cast in a frown that looked permanent, in her eyes that were glazed and unfocused. You knew that she needed time to heal, so you respected her by giving her the silence she needed to process whatever it was she was thinking. You knew that things had changed and you wondered if they could ever go back to the way they were before… before you took the damned test. The fact that you couldn’t do anything about that made you feel inadequate and desolate.

You had followed her to the church to meet the man of God that-healed-all-diseases and broke-all-yokes, never speaking to each other directly. You knew there were things to say, but the unsaid words, however, hung in the air, filtered in to your nostrils and swelled in your mind like leavened bread.

“Bruno…” she said, the sound of your name on her lips spurring you.

“Ma…” you answered softly, finding your voice meek and lifeless. You looked at her face fleetingly. You didn’t like what you saw there.

“You have to pay attention. We didn’t come here for you to be woolgathering. Pray. Ask God to use the pastor to solve your problem. Look into yourself and find faith. Only God can take this mantle away, and you don’t find God’s face unless you look for it.” She patted a sheet of paper on her lap.

The paper was wide, thin and blue with black print. A bank deposit slip. You read the handwriting clearly. She had paid fifty thousand naira into the church account.

You looked up from the paper and met her eyes. You wanted to ask her why she had done that, where she had gotten the money from but you only bit your lower lip. You didn’t need to ask. All she wanted from you now was faith; faith in a Creator that had the power to correct your mistake. That shouldn’t be so hard, is it? You had very little faith in yourself at that point, but you could find some reserve for this Man that could give you a second chance, right?

So, you looked toward the altar, closed your eyes, but instead of praying, you called yourself a fool in as many languages as you knew and imagined the many ways you could rid this woman of the burden you had become by turning the switch that moved you from a present tense sentence, to a past tense sentence.

Written by Uziel

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  1. Mandy
    April 28, 12:37 Reply

    This Bruno’s background is tough o. What a father to have. SMH.

  2. trystham
    April 28, 18:22 Reply

    POC That Aunt Petunia knew too much about Hogwarts, Dumbledore was prolly too afraid he’d be letting in Voldemorta
    Perhaps it is me and the ppl I roll with, I have not seen father-son relationships that are not so filled with monosyllabic convos.

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