Burnt Head (1)

by Tolulope Adeniyan

They came naked and were clothed. They came with nothing but were given much. Even much more than they deserved.

Can anyone be undeserving of good of a certain level?

No one would know the answer in the beginning. It is the end that will do justice to the question. How it ends, and the end itself could never be the same with everyone.

So, my answer could be different and I say: Yes, some people were and are still being given much more than they deserved.

Love came after a long time that Mirabel my first daughter died.

He was all shades of beauty. The beauty of an infant is believed to fade at a certain time to the normal level it will maintain through life. But Love’s beauty was maintained until he began to burn no other part that could easily be hidden but his head.

No one had ever lighted his or her head in his presence before, except on the day I crocheted my sister’s hair. His childishness might have made him believed that it was cool to get his head burnt, and get the compliment that he is beautiful from me. He was four years old. I think I didn’t get to tell him that most of the time and he felt jealous that someone received such complement from me in his presence. He must have thought that the burnt hair was the reason my sister was complimented on the first day he saw it happened.

I have always liked and wear my low-cut like a precious ornament not to be touched anyhow. On the other hand, my sister, the one we nicknamed ‘Bob Marley’ because she doesn’t like to get attachments fixed to her hair, came to my house with a big braid on head, unfinished.

She was wearing a frown that speaks volume, the kind that said “Ask no question.” And I didn’t ask until she begged me to help her crochet the hair.

“Ogini?” I said, making sure she understood I won’t start not without telling me what happened.

She stretched her hand to carry her bag from the table before she answered. “Do you know that woman’s husband returned from outing and she withdrew her hands from my hair immediately?” She paused, and began to remove the wool from the nylon pack where it’s neatly arranged.

I turned to look at my son, as he was standing in front of the television, very close to the screen, watching cartoons. I did not like it when he stands like that. Thumping the longest chair, I said, “Come and sit on the chair,” almost in a whisper because if my voice is loud, he would pretend he didn’t hear me at all or would have told me, “Mummy, you are shouting.”
He stepped back and sat on the longest sofa.

Turning to my sister who was still ruffling her bag for the remaining wool, I asked “What happened to her hands?” in a bid to make her laugh, and I laughed. She didn’t.

“Nothing,” she replied, dismissively.

“You better laugh so I can help you finish this thing” I said, touching the braid.

“Abeg, I no fit laugh” she said very fast like someone with hot yams in her mouth. That even made me laugh more.

“She said her husband told her to not braid hair anymore and she had deliberately told mofto come today because she thought….” she paused again to remove a tuft of wool wrapped around a finger and continued “…he would stay long with his friends at the party. She also told me she doesn’t have money to buy birthday gift for me. She wanted to do the hair for free. Anyway, I told her the husband is a killjoy.”

“May your mouth not cause your death.”

“Love, reduce the volume of that television. I’ll go deaf if you don’t!”

“Did you ask her why the husband doesn’t want her to braid anymore?”

“The husband doesn’t want her to work. He prefer to sit in front of her after he returns from his workplace to be looking at her face because he loves her. And he also want her to concentrate fully on taking care of the children.”

I laughed.

“Why do you like laughing like this?” My sister looked up from straightening the Brazilian wool on her thighs. “You laugh too much on meaningless things.”

“I don’t really know why, but it’s like the baby is dancing and whenever the baby does, I can’t help laughing but am actually trying to cry.”

She laughed and pointed to my belly, “Stop dancing and let her stop laughing like that,” she said, pretending to reprove the baby before going back to arranging the Brazilian wool.

I held up my hand. “Abeg, let her come to the world before you start scolding her.”

Standing up, I began braiding the unfinished hair at the back of her head, my belly touching her back.

Love watched intently with opened mouth as I lighted the tip of each braid with the burning candle in my right hand, and rubbed the burnt tips with my left hand fingers to make it smooth. I knew he might try to burn his hair.

“Bikonu, Love.” He looked up at me.

“Please,” I tipped my body forward, over my sister’s head, “Don’t try this. It is improper.” It was improper to have used improper to pass the warning to the little boy. He may not understand. I found a means to tell him in another way.

“See, it is not good to do this to your hair. This is not her hair. It’s wool.” I said, demonstrating by touching the wool and stretching a long strand to its full length to make him understand fully that it was really wool.

He was still looking at me as if something was missing from my face and he was trying hard to figure out what it was. My sister did not utter a word and after a while he went to sit.

“See,” I called his attention to at least show him the consequence of doing it to himself. He reluctantly climbed the chair with his hand resting on the back of the chair.

I continued, “If you put lighted matched stick, this candle or any lighted material to your head or hair, you will cry like this.”

I made the face of a person crying with pain. He nodded and sank down on the chair. I thought something was wrong because he didn’t laugh. He often laughed like me.

“Love, what happened?. Are you okay?”

“Yesss” he replied, pressing the remote.

I finished the braid and complimented that my sister, who was busy gathering the tufts on the floor back into a black nylon. “You are beautiful.”

“Thank you, sister. I am. In three days time, the world will see and it will reach the heavens that it is my birthday. Even you will attest to that.”

I had wanted to talk about the birthday I’d forgotten and now I thought it wise to tell my sister to not bring in men into the compound, men that father would order out of the compound.

“You like to fume. The world will see and the heavens will hear yet, there is no malt, no biscuit, nothing; nothing for the world to know, talkless of it reaching the heavens. And please, don’t bring guys that will come to fight into the compound. You will hate Papa.”

She laughed.”Guys, my sole! Even when it’s just a minute, the world will see that the heavens will know.”

“Na you sabi. What do you want from me for your birthday?” Being tired as a result of standing for a long time, I went and plopped down in the sofa beside my son.

“Don’t worry. On that day, I’ll make you give me the gift I want.”

“Okay. Thank God. You are making me save money,” I replied. But I started thinking about what gift to take along so that I would have peace of mind staying in my parent’s house for hours on her birthday.

The next day, which was the day Love first lighted his hair, I was inside, wrapping the gift I wanted to present to my sister on her birthday. My son had gone to play with my neighbours’ children in the compound. I put the first clothe in the box and put another and a white handkerchief on the second one. I was about covering the box when my throat felt chirped and dry. Dropping the box beside the pillow on which my legs were stretched, I rose slowly to go and get myself a cup of water when I stumbled on my son in the doorway. I almost doubled back not having expected to see him there.

“See my face,” he pointed to a badly burnt part on his face.

“Who burn your face?!” I almost screamed. “Follow me!” I barked at him and stormed out of the flat angrily.

Marvin, the little boy of our tenant whom the adults nicknamed Wrestler, was holding his sister’s clothe and punching her in the belly.

“Stop it!’ Why did you burn my son’s face?” I asked him while suppressing the urge to dealt him a very bad knock on the head.

“It’s not me.” His sister stared at me.

I turned to my son. “Ngbo?” I asked my son in Yoruba. He stood looking at me.

“Can’t you talk?” I shouted.

“It’s Rabel.”

“Which Rabel is that? Where is she?”

Wrestler’s mother came out and I asked her who the Rabel was. .She told me she didn’t know since none of her children bore Rabel.

After checking his face, she went and brought a first aid kit and treated him. I thanked her.

Back in my flat, I asked my son whom he meant by Rabel. He was quiet and it seemed to him, the scar was nothing.

‘Love, you are beautiful.’ I said to him while I grabbed a pack of cornflake and prepared it for him and an apple for myself.

“Don’t go burning your head. It makes you ugly, ehn?. You are beautiful without the burns,’ I assured him.” Do you understand?”

He nodded.

During my sister’s birthday, I was in the kitchen blowing the husks in the rice mama wanted to cook. Papa wasn’t at home and my elder sister had called that she wouldn’t be coming. My younger brother was the DJ and my son was sitting beside me, putting chunks of stockfish in his mouth.

Earlier when I’d arrived, I gave Nyelugo –my sister – the gowns I’d packaged from home as a gift for her. Nyelugo rejected it bluntly and told me she would collect the gift when she wanted, before she walked towards her room. I dropped the gift on the table and replying loudly, I told her she should make sure the gift is not an expensive one because I have plenty money. The ‘plenty’ in the context meant I didn’t have much money.

Where I sat blowing the husks, I heard a sharp piercing cry from Nyelugo’s room. I didn’t wait to hear it the second time before jumping to my legs and leaving my son behind.

Nyelugo was in my younger brother’s hand, her waist to her leg sprawled straight on the bed. My younger brother’s chest was bare and he was rocking Nyelugo’s head frantically. Her friends who had arrived earlier were shouting her name and the bed by then had become wet: a bucket was on the bed at the nook.

Mother sent one of her friends to stop a taxi while we carried her. At the hospital, Nyelugo was confirmed to have been brought in dead.

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