The Roadman by Ifeoluwa Watson
He tore out of the bushy pathway like a wild animal; eyes bloodshot, nostrils flared and teeth clenched. His clothes were torn in several places and dusty as if he had been rolling in the dirt. His lips moved fastidiously as if he was reciting something like a prayer or an incantation. But it was a silent whisper as no sound of words came out of his mouth. He jerked his head as if in sudden comprehension of his environment. He started walking across the road and stood rock still when he got to the center. With his head sunk deep into his chest, he looked like a lifeless statue.
A taxi with tires screeching grounded to a halt before him with the driver screaming obscenities – “Mad man, if you wan die no be me go kill you! I beg comot for road jo!” He just stared ahead with vacant eyes and made no move to leave the road. The driver got out of his taxi and pushed him roughly to the side of the road but he struggled and went back to stay in the middle of the road. By now, a line of cars had gathered and they blared their horns in anger.
A respectable-looking middle-aged man alighted from his car and walked up to him. He placed his hand on his shoulder – “My dear friend, looking at you closely, I can see you’re disturbed and you’re going through a lot of pain. I want to help you. I want to listen to you. I am a doctor. I treat people with mind problems. Will you come with me?” The roadman looked at the mind doctor for some seconds and then looked around. He held out his hand like a child to the mind doctor and a tear rolled down his cheek.
Shouts of ‘Where are you taking him?’, ‘He is a ritual killer,’ rented the air. The mind doctor calmly addressed the people – ‘He is my friend and I’m going to take care of him.’ Is it not funny that the same people who had been previously belligerent towards the roadman should care about his fate?
They rode silently in the car and the roadman became somewhat relaxed. He released his clenched fist, closed his eyes and was soon fast asleep. The mind doctor smiled at him.
The mind doctor gently prodded him awake when he got to his house. For a moment, the roadman looked confused but when he heard the reassuring voice of the mind doctor, he relaxed. He took him inside his home.
“We need to clean the outside first. Although the mind is more important, as you can see, the state of your mind has resulted in your drab outward appearance.” The mind doctor led him into the bathroom and showed him the soap and sponge. The roadman came out minutes later clean and sweet-smelling.
The mind doctor smiled and thought to himself – “At least, he understands what I’m telling him.”
“Good, now we can work on the inside.”
He led the roadman to the dining table which were displayed in abundance, fried rice, chicken and even a bottle of wine. At the sight of the food, the roadman burst into tears and ran outside the
“Torture”, that was the first word the roadman uttered. “Pain”, he continued as he wrinkled his face and touched his heart. “Heavy”, he said holding his head between his hands. “Light”, he said bending to touch his legs. “My life”, he said wringing his hands at the empty space of air. The roadman collapsed at the mind doctor’s feet.
The mind doctor brought him back to the house. He stretched him on a sofa. He looked lifeless in his lying position on the sofa and the mind doctor placed his hand on his chest to check if he was still breathing. His heartbeat was slow but regular resembling the tick-tock of a clock.
The mind doctor switched on the T.V to listen to the news. He turned the volume down so as not to disturb the roadman. The roadman suddenly sat upright and fixed his eyes on the T.V, He shouted – “Murderer, thief, they took everything from me.” His eyeballs were dilated and his fingers quivered as he pointed to the governor on the T.V screen. The wild look left his eyes as suddenly as it had entered and he lay back on the sofa, closing his eyes.
The mind doctor went to his side and placed a hand on his forehead. It was cool; a contrast to the obvious raging fire that was ignited in the man’s brain. He placed his mouth close to the roadman’s ear and whispered into it – “who did he kill?”, “what did take from you?”
At first, it seemed as if the roadman was asleep again. But, he suddenly opened his mouth and began to speak as if in a trance:
That day when I got to the office, the letter was already on my table. I used to arrive early so when I checked the other offices, most of them had not yet resumed. I went back to my office and stared sightlessly at the paper in my hands. It was almost a page long but all the words just swam before my eyes and the only word that kept resurfacing on the paper was ‘retrenchment’. That was the only word that mattered at the moment. The long explanation of the statistics of the loss and profit in the company and the need to cut down on the quota did not make much sense to me. I would have continued staring into space the whole day but I was jarred back into the present with a knock on the door.
“The director wants you to hand over all company’s property in your care before leaving, to the appropriate departments,” the director’s secretary recited, avoiding looking into my eyes. I finished writing my hand-over notes and putting everything in order at exactly a minute to 12 noon. The timing seemed significant as my life had just slipped into its noon status and I silently wondered when it will degenerate into night for me.
I walked home that afternoon as my car; the company’s car had also been taken away from me. My wife saw me approaching from her shop in front of the house and she rushed out to meet me. “What happened? What are you doing at home at this time of the day? Did your car develop a fault? Are you sick?” She went on and on with her barrage of questions. I just stared at her without opening my mouth. But as the days went by and she saw me waking up and staring out of the window, she began to understand my malaise.
My wife was very nice at first and she carefully stepped around me in the house as if she was afraid of breaking my shell. But my apathy soon got to her and she began making hammered knocks on my protective shell.
“Are you the first person to lose a job in the world? Ehn! You just sit there day after day not talking and doing nothing. You are scaring me to death and you had better start talking or I will just take you to your family house in the village. Who knows, maybe this is a spiritual attack!” she berated.
Then my daughter started swelling up. It started with her feet. Some people first thought it was elephantiasis but her face soon started swelling. People looked at her strangely and my wife quickly explained to them that she was adding weight. Adding weight! What a twist of irony! How can she be gaining weight when our main meal in a day consisted of soaked gaari and groundnuts.
My wife applied hot compresses on our daughter’s body every night. She said it will help melt the fat in her body. Then one day, my daughter could not urinate and by the next morning, her screams of pain could be heard three houses away. Our neighbours started trooping in, offering different solutions but none worked and as a last resort; we took her to the hospital.
That was the day I awoke from my stupor. The doctor took one look at my girl and reprimanded us for having kept her at home for so long. He told us that he would have to run some tests to know the extent of damage on her kidneys. I started running around to get money and I went back to the hospital with just enough money borrowed from my friends to pay for the tests. The doctor gave us the results some hours later and pronounced that our daughter had suffered a kidney failure and she would need a transplant to function well in life. In the meantime, he said she would have to undergo dialysis twice a week to remove wastes from her body.
Our world came crashing, the dialysis will cost about twenty thousand naira and the transplant will cost millions of naira. My daughter lay there in agony because the hospital would not treat her without payment. My wife wept copiously for days. I felt crippled and castrated. I started doing odd jobs around. I even cut grass for some people. My wife also went around begging for help and she eventually got a Good Samaritan that was paying for the dialysis. We heaved a sigh of relief and for three months, our daughter received good medical care.
However, our reprieve was short-lived as the doctor called us into his office one day and told us the sad news that a transplant was needed urgently or our daughter will die in some weeks’ time. We tried everything possible. The hospital staff even helped us to get on air; on the radio and TV but the weeks passed by and the money was just coming in slow trickles. On a dark moonless night, our daughter heaved her last breath. Dried eyed, my wife packed her little belongings from the hospital and we went home.
I couldn’t stop crying. Each morning, I woke up and thought of my failure as a man. Then, I noticed my wife had stopped talking. It was not exactly that she didn’t respond when talked to but she stopped making sense.
One day, I asked her where she put the keg of drinking water because I wanted to check if it was empty. She looked at me and said, “I am floating in it. There is water everywhere in the house. Don’t go and look for it anywhere.” Then she burst into a deranged cackle of laughter. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I looked at her far-away eyes and heard the sound of her dry laughter. She moved around the house as if she was automated and she started nursing our ten-year-old son like a baby. She will hold him on her lap and try to breastfeed him and when he scuttled away, she will burst into tears. So, I thought if she had a new baby, she might come back to life.
As she lay asleep in bed that night, I reached over and loosened her wrapper. I caressed the flaccid flesh in my hand. Her skin seemed to have shrivelled since the last time I had touched her. She moaned softly and encouraged by her response, I mounted her. She reacted viciously like a tigress; screaming and tearing at me with her nails. I quickly got off the bed to my feet and watched in amazement as she tore at her hair and body, muttering gibberish words.
The next morning she woke up with bruises all over her face and all day long, she complained that she was attacked in her sleep by a witch who was killing her children. She said she was going to kill the witch herself that night. I just looked on; nonplussed.
One day, my son went to school and did not come back when the other school children had already returned. My wife became hysterical; saying that the witch must have caught him on his way back home. I went out to look for him and I kept looking for six months. My son had disappeared into thin air.
I started forgetting small simple things. I forgot to take my bath, to eat and even to button my shirt. I started talking to myself on the streets and I saw people pointing at me and shaking their heads in pity.
One evening, I came back from work. I was working as a carrier at a building site carrying water, sand and cement. I met the house empty. It wasn’t as if this was strange because the house had always been empty even though my wife was there. This time, it also smelt empty. It smelt like a garment that had been kept in a wardrobe for so long without being worn. It was stale. I didn’t bother to look for her. I just sat down in the dark room without moving.
The next morning, I woke up to loud knocks on the door. As I opened up, I saw a little crowd of people clasping their hands on their heads and hissing with dismay. I saw her lying on the floor with a piece of white cloth wrapped around her. I looked up at the man talking to me – “We found her floating in the Obokun River this morning and one woman recognised her as your wife.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but no sound came out. I left it open and continued to widen my lips; shining my teeth.
The smile became laughter. I laughed out loud in a ringing tone and the crowd scattered in fright. Then, I broke into a run; running to complete the cycle of my fate.
I saw the woman carrying the child on her back. I saw the girl lifting a tray of plantains on her head. I saw the boy playing football with his friends. I saw the man picking a man’s pocket on the street but I couldn’t see myself on the road. I started looking into the faces of people, some trembled in fear and some grimaced in anger. I have looked everywhere and I will continue looking till I find…
The roadman’s lips snapped shut and his teeth in a spasm crunched against each other as if he was having an epileptic fit. The mind doctor wiped tears from his eyes. He now knew what the others on the road did not know – The roadman was not a mad man, he was an everyman.
My full names are Ifeoluwa Omolara Watson but I write under the name; Ife Watson. I see myself as a writer enclosed in a cocoon but I believe I’m emerging day by day. I discovered my flair for writing since my stint in Junior Secondary School with the Press club and my love for creating tales in my head which I told to my friends and family members. I’m a graduate of Literature-in-English and at present, I’m pursuing a Masters Degree in the same field. I believe writing and writers fill in the blanks of the silent, unheard and forgotten history of a people.