Boy: Tale of the Ghetto

BOY quickly finished his breakfast of watery beans and a piece of stale bread that was a left over from Father’s meal of the night before. It wasn’t nearly enough to fill Boy’s empty stomach and, in spite of the trace of mould that was already growing on the bread, he relished the meal. He even had to clean the plate with his tongue. There was no telling what the next meal was going to be like, or when it would come, for that matter.


But the first time he saw the police do a crackdown on the joint, and all the “big,” weed-smoking Rastafarians take to their heels desperately, with the gun-toting cops on their tails, Boy…wanted then to be a policeman more than anything in the world.

In boy’s family, food was scarce and nothing was ever wasted, no matter how bad it was. Food was preserved at all cost. The black and white TV atop a bench in the small room had long passed its usefulness. But Father considered it extravagant to discard even a scrap. Boy would have to beat it hard before the volume came on. At other times, the pictures didn’t show.
“Harder, Boy!” Father would growl impatiently when it didn’t work the first time and he needed to watch a live football match or the newscast. “Hit the damned set again!” The antenna was broken and the local repairman said some internal components of the TV were bad. But when he said how much it would cost to fix it, Father didn’t send for him again.

Kindle Unlimited free trialAfter breakfast, Boy rushed into his school uniform. He was quite late because he had to go out first thing in the morning to hawk a tray of bread and some wraps of ogi. Part of the proceeds from the sales would be needed to get him a new uniform to replace the tattered and downsized one he’d been wearing as long as he could remember.
Mother had slapped him awake just when he thought he was beginning to enjoy his sleep. He hadn’t really gotten much sleep, though,for his evening chores were as demanding as his morning’s. He would need to take some items to the nearby market as soon as he got back from school everyday. At night, the perpetual power outages and the “blasted” mosquitoes would not let him be, as he tossed and turned for hours on the cold, hard ground. Father and Mother, who bounced on the cranky spring bed, making strange but funny noises, sometimes interrupted sleep too.
“You mustn’t come home, Boy,” Mother told him, as she placed the tray on his head, “until everything’s sold, or we can’t afford to buy a new school uniform for you. Teacher would have to thrash you all of next week then.”
Boy looked at Mother with little, sad eyes. “And the notebook?” he began forlornly. “Our teacher…”
But Mother sighs and cut in mildly, though with a tinge of despair.

“Yes. That, too.”

Boy trudged along the dirt streets, through the row of wooden shacks and garbage dumps as he went to school. His stomach, still flat, rumbled with biting hunger. He felt tired and his sandals were all cut, so he didn’t try to hurry. As Boy put one skinny leg in front of the other slowly, he fell into a daydream.

Boy was a child of the streets. Born in the slums, he’d known no other life. But deep in his soul, Boy knew there was something big out there waiting for him. He could feel it. His home was a small one-room affair in a face-me-I-face-you apartment building. The house itself floated on the brink of the swamps, surrounded by daunting bushes and algae-infested ponds. Somewhere along the street, a septic tank had burst open and its unsightly content flowed freely into the gutters. Boy was used to seeing that.

He was a happy and carefree child, nonetheless, making use of every opportunity to indulge himself. He had many fond dreams for the future. He hoped that one day, he would live large like some movie stars he’d seen on TV. “Easy Street,” he’d heard them call it.
Ditches and potholes marked the streets on his neighborhood. Often, whenever it rained, Boy and his friends thronged the streets with rain boots that they allowed stranded people to wear across very bad spots for a fee. The next day at school was always a jamboree after a rainfall.

Boy also dreamt about becoming a reggae star. He’d seen several musicians from his area make it big. Often, Boy would go to the local reggae temple across the street, where a lot of would-be-stars hung out. There were a lot of live shows and rehearsals every week. Boy felt inspired just to sit in a corner and watch them dish out some “powerful flavors.”
But the first time he saw the police do a crackdown on the joint, and all the “big,” weed-smoking Rastafarians take to their heels desperately, with the gun-toting cops on their tails, Boy thought the cops were cool. He wanted then to be a policeman more than anything in the world.


“You must go to school, Boy,” Father had said, not sounding convinced himself. “Or you’ll end up poor in life…”
Boy wondered why Father didn’t go to school if he was sure it was important.

──────────── ★★★ ────────────

Boy was a simple unfortunate child. He loved his family very much. He loved his two deceased siblings; one having died of a preventable childhood disease, the other suffocated under Father’s weight when he slept on him after coming home drunk with ogogoro. Boy also loved Baby, though it was still in Mother’s tummy. Sometimes Boy just sat and stared at the tummy.

But Boy hated school. Every time he woke up to a school morning, he hated it. He hated the almost empty classrooms, the teachers’ angry looks and very quick canes, the broken furniture and blocks, and the subjects, which he could never understand. He often wondered why he had to go to school.
“You must go to school, Boy,” Father had said, not sounding convinced himself. “Or you’ll end up poor in life. You don’t want to be like me, do you?”
Boy wondered why Father didn’t go to school if he was sure it was important.

──────────── ★★★ ────────────

Boy was dragging his feet. He was dreaming and walking. There was a crash, suddenly. Boy stopped abruptly. Girl grabbed Boy by his shirt, tearing it like paper. She was crying.
“You go pay me my money today!” she wailed in pidgin English. “You don break my egg na! Wetin I go tell my mama? Give me my money o.”
Boy sighed speechlessly. He knew it was going to be a long day.

Copyright © Idowu Addison


Also by Idowu Addison, The Hunter and the Forbidden Forest: soon on Amazon.

The Hunter and the Forbidden Forest book cover


The Granta Book of the African Short Story

Presenting a diverse and dazzling collection from all over the continent, from Morocco to Zimbabwe, Uganda to Kenya. Helon Habila focuses on younger, newer writers – contrasted with some of their older, more established peers – to give a fascinating picture of a new and more liberated Africa.
These writers are characterized by their engagement with the wider world and the opportunities offered by the end of apartheid, the end of civil wars and dictatorships, and the possibilities of free movement. Their work is inspired by travel and exile. They are liberated, global and expansive. As Dambudzo Marechera wrote: ‘If you’re a writer for a specific nation or specific race, then f*** you.” These are the stories of a new Africa, punchy, self-confident and defiant.
Includes stories by: Fatou Diome; Aminatta Forna; Manuel Rui; Patrice Nganang; Leila Aboulela; Zoë Wicomb; Alaa Al Aswany; Doreen Baingana; E.C. Osondu.

Available at Amazon


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