Things of nature are talking. Outside, I hear the male goat sniffing and yelling at the female goat in the bottom to stand still for him to climb on. I sit on the stool and watch as my mother moves from here to there, gathering things to prepare our lunch. She unties the nylon and brings out the green vegetable for efo stew. The leaves stretch out and inhale deeply, before collapsing together on the table my mother drops them.
‘God! These humans are horrible.’ The leaf that says this has been covered up by the other leaves. Its voice is tiny and hollow as though its throat is squeezed.
‘I miss other leaves. I miss my branch and stem and how we hold still in the air before one dirty human cuts us off,’ another leaf says.
I look at them intently, rub my face, and shake my head to be sure this is not a daydream.
‘Why is this little human staring at us?’ They all turn their eyes at me from their sprawled position. I look away. They hiss.
‘Tayo, get me the spoon.’ My mother’s voice sends rain trembling into my body. I shudder. Her voice sounds like wind tearing places down. I jump down from the stool and walk to the holder that the utensils hang on. I remove the soup spoon and underneath it is a tiny black ant, scuttling off as I expose its cover. As it scuttles off, it searches for another place to hide. When its head hits a stop, it turns to another direction: turns right, hits something, turns left, hits something, finds another direction. It stops at a point, and I try to press my finger on it. I resist as it prays, ‘God, please don’t let this human kill me.’
‘And how many minutes does it take you to bring an ordinary spoon’, my mother’s voice jerks me out — why does my mother’s voice sound like the roar of a lion? — and I rush towards her. She puts a fat onion on the table and makes for the knife. As she peels the onion, it weeps. Blood starts to leak out from its thick center-bottom. My mother places the knife right on the split of its mouth and cuts it down. Its voice fades down with the thrust of the knife. Its blood melts on the knife, and I start crying.
‘The onion hurts your eyes, abi? It is hurting mine too. This onion, too strong,’ my mother says, with her voice cracking like an alp crashing down.
I wonder if my mother cannot see the blood as it spills on the table and melts on the knife. She cuts the onion into pieces and packs them into the boiling water. The pieces shrink.
She asks me to bring the vegetables. I look at the leaves on the table and their eyes are closing. They need air. They need photosynthesis. They need their branch and stem and root. I want to take them out and dig them into the soil and water them, but my mother would beat the hell out of me for wasting something she bought with her hard-to-find money at the market. The leaves inhale and exhale their last breath, they die. I pick and drop them before my mother who would cut them into pieces and pour them into the boiling water to shrink just as the onion. She unpacks the pepper and rinses them in the water inside the bowl. They are dead. They are air-choked. She pulls them out of the water and puts them inside the blender, and adds half a cup of water. The blender spins and spins and the peppers disintegrate till they become liquid, blended with the water. She empties the blender but their white seeds cling to the inside of the blender. My mother washes them down the basin, away from their mother-peppers. They will never meet again.
She adds the red oil and closes the pot. The fire burns under the pot, hitting the pot hard to boil harder. I can’t stand it. The wails and cries of the onion and vegetable pieces flicker in my head. I run out of the kitchen and sit on the pavement outside.
The air softly blows into my face. I inhale deeply, and hold it up to suppress the bulge tightening around my throat before releasing it through my mouth. The leaves on the mango tree stare at me with their green, flat eyes. I rest my head against the pole and let the fair air blow through my hair.
‘Ka, are you counting my voice?’ I shudder. My mother’s voice, again, calls me out like a thunderstorm. Lunch is ready. I step into the kitchen, filled with the soup aroma, and sit on the stool. I feel uncomfortable sitting on this stool and placing my hands on the table. The planks that built them were also sliced out of a complete, living tree. We are deriving pleasure from broken things.
I eat my lunch — amala and efo riro — in silence. My stomach wiggles from each drop, each morsel. The soup tastes delicious in my mouth but my heart abhors it; it abhors it so much that I want to throw up. I gulp water hurriedly down my throat and force the morsels hanging there down. The pepper makes my mouth hurt. I blow air in and out through my mouth, forming sharp hisses, to lessen the pepper’s hotness. I don’t blame the pepper for hurting, that is its only way of taking revenge. When I finish the amala wrap, I feel awkward eating the meat. This flesh is just like mine. I throw it whole into my mouth, chew it hard and fast, then swallow it down. I wonder how my mother could chew the flesh in her mouth. She rinses her hand and walks into the living room. I wash my hand in the bowl and pack the plates to the basin to wash them.
* * *
At night, I cover myself up in my duvet and listen to the song of a far-off bird. The night is so silent that the tiny voice of the bird blends clear and loud with the night. The bird’s voice is soothing but the lyrics of its song are nostalgic. Night is the time the moon sets out and the stars shine up high. The lyrics are clearly different from what I used to interpret her voice to be. I don’t know how this is happening but the bird’s song doesn’t sing like a bird’s song. It sings like a human with a tiny voice. I switch sides on the bed. My bed squeaks and disturbs the night’s silence. When the disturbance from the bed’s squeak dies down, a mosquito flies through my ear. As though the mosquito’s voice summons the rest, four more whistle across my ear. Their tiny voices flute words that break out as they fly through. We. Come. Suck. This. Asleep.
Their voices morph from a tiny whistle to rumble. Their voices bang in my ear drum, beat it so hard that my head feels like a balloon, swelling and swelling and swelling, as though it would burst, splash blood and people it against the walls of my room. I pin two fingers into my ears hard and squeeze my eyes. I squeeze my eyes as though I want to pull them to the back of my skull, to suppress the voices of the mosquitoes. Then it stops.
I start to remove my hands out of my ears slowly to be sure they aren’t suppressing the bang. When I remove them finally and the bang has really stopped, it doesn’t sound or feel like a night. There’s an absence of dead silence; I start to hear some beeps.
I open my eyes, and a fluorescent bulb flashes. I close my eyes. I start to open them slowly, to familiarize my eyes with the light. I open them widely and my mother’s face hangs above me, wrinkled. Her eyes are wet and two drops of tears drop from her cheek. I look around.
‘Mum, what am I doing in a hospital?’ I ask.
‘It is alright baby. I’m glad you’re awake now.’
Ahmad Adedimeji Amobi is a Nigerian creative and freelance writer. His works appear in Voyage YA Journal, Hobart Pulp, Popula, Isele Magazine, and elsewhere.