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The International Writers Magazine
A Bigger Life

Mill of Passing Warmth
Lakunle Jaiyesimi

As if the body grows to length overnight, I roused myself from sleep one auspicious morn and discovered a startling old image of self before the mirror. Have I slept all my life? The beards and complementary moustache have reached full maturity. The number of scars and fresh pimples that tattooed me all over might be a clue to the number of years I’ve spent on this rollercoaster of an earth.

That babyish smile I always had was no more, being replaced by this smile of pride; someone had described it as mischievous. What had happened to my teeth that always plucked out at every opportunity, with new ones sprouting? They were now large, carious and yet, they didn’t pluck out themselves anymore. I’ve been required to visit the white collar extractionists, who made use of their versions of swords, shears and shovel to dig out my teeth from its earth of gum. It replaced the babyish pleasure of fallen teeth with the pains of excavation.

I beheld myself with the awe of a stranger, stumbled on by fierce-looking extramanic men; but I thought I had amnesia at that moment. I remembered next to nothing in relation with my past, but an extra effort activated my antennae and was able to have a glimpse at retrospection. In a surreal state, I heard the voice of dead grandfather when he gave his counsel, "Age is no thing, but what stuffs your small brain. The important thing is the wisdom you acquire through the passing years to cope with the years ahead of you." He would also add, "Your name makes a lot of difference. Preserve it like a treasur…." Grandfather had passed on with those words unfinished, hanging on his lifeless lips, amidst tears and cheers.

And there, he lay supine, dead to self and the world around him with his body crevices stuffed with white wool. Just this once, he actually resembled the Santa Claus he always described to us while he yarned. It had been pinned and spread in the air that he had died, and there were counter-reports that he was killed. The difference between dying and being killed, no matter how subtle, is major as a consideration in my part of the world. To me, however, it was inconsequential; ‘grandfather was dead’! So I had thought when I was really a kid, happy with the mound stains of clay and laterite; and played about the ‘couple’ with lady friends, the ‘biro wrestling’, the ‘elbow twist’, ‘hide and seek’ and a host of other games very much unknown to a colleague of mine, who never had an adventurous childhood. That was then, when I had no beards and complimentary moustache; no scars and no pimples; and when I laughed in anticipation of a tooth to be plucked and mocked self over the gaps created by a tooth that ‘jumped out of the queue’.

Now I know better, neither was grandfather dead nor was he killed. He only underwent a transmogrification, beyond his will and control. He gave up to the mill of passing warmth, as mild as it might have been. He was, ebullient though, strong and warrior-like in literary injections, which strived to pitch the revamping of the identity of his people. He was up for the propagation of societal ideals, which helped in building the home; even though this brought disparity between him and colleagues. It was only at such a thought that an autopsy was demanded to be conducted on him to determine if, according to hearsay, he had been killed by his dissenting colleagues with a poison. However, and in confirmation of my assurance, the stethoscope-carrying bespectacled family doctor brought his report, announcing that grandfather never died of poisoning. Grandfather had always boasted of being above the death of known causes; he would rather sleep and pass on with no knowledge of it. He proved that severally to me in escapades that baffled me. Once, he had attempted slicing himself at the tummy with a freshly sharpened home knife, but this only came down as the play with plastic ruler. It never cut a bit! At other times, he would introduce a quantitative portion of labeled poison into his food; and as it was usual, it would only turn out as another spice in the food.

There were others he subjected himself to that ordinarily would take the life of man, but not an extramanic man, as he would brag, ‘like me’. I had wondered, always wondered what made him strong and invincible. Was he sinless; as some would believe sinners are the only ones prone to death, but you are above death if you are above sin? Or maybe he was Akanda! That is the special creature that is beyond the limitations of mortality. Was he created with special features? I doubted that since he had the same, or even more primitive, appearance than most of us.

The saving consolation was that grandfather was an old man, dying when he was well over three-and-a-half scores. Such was thought to have completed their assignments on the planet; and grandfather was not an exception! However one thing stood out, he was agile until death and as healthy as youth. He was physically present and did a number of rigorous exercises. He was so strong as to still be given to weightlifting and football tapping. He had had a good innings. There were many questions begging answers pertaining to his life and death; but such rarely got resolved. It remained a mystery to our probing knowledge and the doctor’s scalpel. Grandfather died, but no one was able to tell of what; yet, it was certain not of old age, since the youngest of his dead ancestors died at 85.

In the neighbourhood where grandfather had lived and died, it had become customary to burn their wastes and use up all waters available. No rubbish was left to decay for the scavengers to pick, but a duty of all to burn; and no water was abandoned to stagnate. All waters were utilized; even the clogging waters were diverted to farm use and to wet the roads. Everyone had lived long and well until things changed and negligence set in. Everyone locked him/herself in the cosy rooms of large compartmentalized buildings and churned out bags upon bags of wastes, domestic and otherwise, that never got burnt. They littered no one’s house and no one had the streets, such that no one became everyone. The greedy gutters gulped up the waters and never gave them up, harbouring the seeds of flying ‘ants’ that sting. Even when the waters leak, they do onto the roads and gorge the potholes, forming the crèche for nursing mothers of sucking ‘ants’. It was only then that contemporaries began to die; the warriors who went to war and returned unhurt; men, who adorned themselves with muscles and terrifying figures; those who picked up the coats of the bull to challenge the obstinacy of the wall and fire. They began to fall, giving no sign and sound, to the clasping cold hands of death, incognito. Without pain, without tears, but with the opportunity of a parting word, they gave up and sneaked through the dark tunnel, a chasm of soul departure. Their muscles failed them; and confidence, built over the years, deserted them at the crucial time. The bull in them was silent and they were sure to surrender this time to a tiny proboscis, smaller in size but greater in clout than the piercing bullets at the warfront. They all gave up, those who never gave up to war even that of attrition, to this mill of passing warmth. They were there and grandfather was there too!

Malaria swept the country and took them all along with it. The most powerful members of our town, even the extramanic man became subject. It ravished the entire landscape and the cities were becoming deserts, for want of men. It lurks around, in the gutters, on the roads, in bins, at yards and now everywhere with its snouts, seeking the pure and poisoned bloods to mix and drag kids, their parents and the childless along with it, to a place where muscles and special creation matters very much less.

As I do not believe yet that I have stretched my bones beyond childish comfort and age has added to my doubts, manifested in the beards and moustache that plague my smiley face, I have come to pose questions, questions and questions about this passing warmth that leaves but cold and turgid body, supine with stuffs of wool. Lifeless bodies of warriors and heroes! What, Malaria; what have you done to crash brothers against brothers and tout those trailers of yours after them; until they are, and we are, beaten down perplexed beyond a wake.

© Lakunle Jaiyesimi June 2007>

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