Small Girl Landlady

After our Landlord’s death, his daughter took over the house. We didn’t know he had a daughter as we didn’t know he desired women. Apart from himself, the man lived with no one. That’s how we remembered it. To us, he was a quiet man, we loved him, that ostensibly quiet man who lived up there. Until our wives smelled his body, the thick rush of decayed fish or rotted rat. We called the police, stayed locked in our houses while they downed his metal door. Days following this, none of us came out. That part was hugely important. Everyone knew police-people knew how to heap crime on men. We weren’t ready to add murderers to our names. Anyways it wasn’t our case.

Our landlord’s lawyer, a cow who cherished dusty coats and big files, called for a meeting. He said the girl was coming, from London, schooled there, that the girl was really young, that one of our sons might much end up marrying her. We took the news like one swallowed spit: a mindless task, without any purposeful repercussion to our lives. For we’d hoped the new landlady would be Jesus in many ways: that she would delay her coming, and even if she came soon, that she would be a plant pot, like her good father was: peaceful; draped in dresses we might admire and call sexy, dresses flowing beyond her toes, sweeping streets, dresses like glorious fountains, fountains which did nothing but proclaim beauty and purity. The new landlady arrived. She arrived in the evening. At that time, we were eating love from our wives’ vaginas. She drove a golden Benz, her Benz hooting, scrunching our cars, ramming our cars into walls, cars we’d begged the local mechanic to solder for us, cars we’d observed the local mechanic piecing together, from truck tires, microwave, and air.

From our windows, our bile surged. We hit toes against tables as we hurried down to the ground floor. But we air-kissed the tables for stopping us because this landlady came armed with fifteen muscled men, all of them guarded by guns. And so, we looked at each other, eye to eye, wondered what this small girl thought of us. That we were beasts? Then we shrugged, waved it off; our fingers swiping out our anger. We’d always known small people, how they show off, how padding their heads convinced them they’d conquered their lacks in heights.

We bent to rub pains off our feet but stood up at once because of a dazzling noise. It was the landlady’s dress. She’d arrived fully clothed quite alright. Only that her dress was a blue sea. The same dress our wives pointed out on the TV; the same dress our wives spoke of from their sleep; the same dress for which our wives took our penises into their mouths; their hopes higher than our ecstasies. Yet we jiggled our pockets, jiggled our pockets. Swore, even if we sold all the names our fathers left behind, we would never afford it. Our wives were good. They’d smiled, their dimples doing to us what fire did to rice. But here was Small Girl Landlady. To torment us? With her golden Benz? With this stupid dress? For a house that wasn’t even hers? Fuck death! Trouble was awake – we didn’t need anyone to tell us. For she was not only wearing a sea. She looked like the sea, thieving seas that stole waters from rivers and oceans. Therefore, we cursed the day her father died, the day he signed the house to her.

What we did first was what anyone would do next. Leaving our stores in the markets. But in the cares of our apprentices. Crossing Upper Iweka Road, we jumped big drainage systems, wandering from streets to streets, where, searching for new houses, we saw new houses but ran because the occupants threw rocks at us, told us to return home. They said we scratched our bottoms too much, that we smelled of rats, that our hearts were too dark, that we came to take what was rightfully theirs. They said, ‘Go back home.’ Some of us were adamant. Stayed glued until scooped away, with shovels and anger. The rest of us ran. Back at home, when our wives, opening the gates and stroking sighs off our backs, asked us what happened, we shook our heads. A man should never say all he saw at the war front because he might show fear then break down and cry. Which wife wants a crying man?

Our house was beautiful. We wouldn’t lie. Our house was a green six-storey building that germinated a penthouse on its top which was a big luxurious penthouse from where the new landlady watched us. It must’ve been how she knew we’d run off begging other landlords to take us in because the next day, the landlady sent us circulars calling for an emergency meeting. When we came down, we wore shorts. Our legs protected by hairs and mosquito repellants. She sent us back. She mandated us to go back, to drop our phones, to return in trousers, to return with our wives, to return with our children. We grumbled. But what else could we do but grumble and obey? Though for some of us, the sons had gone to military schools; lived there till it was time for another school fee. This was what we told her. But she shook her head, said, ‘Don’t play with my intelligence.’ We glanced at her head, saw another woman’s hair, not intelligence; scrunched up our noses. The next thing she did stunned us. Chuckling, she stretched okay-okay, her red lips rounding like a compass leading to whorehouses. She signaled her guards and when they came, she ordered them to distribute food to us. We stepped back, stopping our wives from hiding at our backs; are we not humans too? Can we not die? Food can be anything. Our bodies were full of shivers as we said no, whispered Hail Maria – our last time in church was when our mothers died. Still, the guards, with guns, with muscles, ran up and ran down, then dragged with them, coolers of rice, too many Coca-Cola, elephant-sized chickens. The landlady smiled and the landlady said, ‘This dispensation is new.’ Stepping on us, she pinned us to the floor with her scent like rain, entered her elevator, the elevator’s yellow light aligned with her skin, her almond-shaped eyes stealing loyalties from us. We stared, our mouths partly open, till the elevator’s door dinged, shut. That girl was clear-faced, like Christmas on a bright day, or maybe we thought her beautiful because she was fair? The other evening, we sipped Gulder while discussing fair girls, while saying fairness hides the flaws of fair girls.

When we looked back, our wives were eating, feeding our children. By that time, our terror was no longer the fear that the food might be poisoned; our fear was the new wings our wives had acquired overnight. We’d always measured the air our wives breathed. If they should laugh or cry, they would ask us. If they should lie down and sleep or stand up and sleep, they would ask us. We were our wives’ wisdom. So, turning and seeing them devouring rice and chicken without our approval? It unnerved us and we clasped our fists. But our children vomited. We said, ‘Poison?’ Small Girl poisoned our children? Our hearts pumped; our mouths lacked moisture. Fear became our bodies. Carrying our children, we ran to the hospital where the bills were too high that we had to ask the gatemen, ‘Oga, did you by any chance learn how to treat poisoned children from the doctors or the nurses?’ They said, ‘Ah. We could try sha.’ But they were good men. Because, before they proceeded, they pointed to fifty graves, said, ‘Those died from our treatments.’ Then they faced our daughters, ‘Patients, do we begin?’ We screamed, ‘God forbid,’ ran, ignored them hollering after us, saying they also treat dogs o, saying, spread the word o.

We stopped at a chemist shop. The chemist woman was doing an abortion when we jammed down her gate. We told her we would report, and she panicked so much we saw blood leaving her nose. The good thing was she agreed to check our children. After thirty minutes, she shook her head, ‘Nothing, nothing.’ That the sons were fine. That the sons reacted to the food because they’d never eaten such good food before. We wanted to rejoice but shame-eyed us, isolated us from joy. But then everything quelled. Everything turned out to be headless when the chemist-woman came back with the blood samples of our daughters, and our daughters were pregnant. We said, ‘What a lie.’ She said truths were too much in her mouth that her mouth had no space for lies. Our wives cried. We hissed. Stupid women, those wives of ours. To them, we asked: Don’t we sweat all day, making money to punch poverty in the face? Erm, poverty might pummel our jaws back, but at least, don’t we try? Don’t you eat, sit, and watch TV? What was our request? Just to stay home and raise children, isn’t it? Something that simple? Yet, you failed. Women, women. We bowed our heads to groan. Our wives’ rewards would be at home.

But for now, we turned our heads to scan our surroundings then begged the chemist woman, in airy whispers, to abort the fetuses. The chemist woman said, ‘God forbid,’ said she’d given her life to Christ. We asked her when. She said, ‘Now now o.’ She bent to buckle her sandals, stood to clap powder into her face, pushed us out of her store, locked her door. All of us pooled all the money on us, walking behind her, begging. Greedy woman, that chemist woman. She took all our money, took out the fetuses though. Put them in a red bowl, asked us, ‘Do you want?’ We hissed.

Right back at home, that night, our wives didn’t sleep. Our daughters didn’t sleep. We didn’t sleep. Our canes didn’t sleep. The only thing that slept was the obedience we beat back into our wives and daughters.

The next morning, we too vomited the food we’d eaten all our lives. For the landlady increased house rent. This house where we’d grown up, where we’d watched our parents, hunched, and crouching as they moved, grew grey hairs and died, where we’d seen our virgin wives and married them, where they’d given birth to our children. This same house and all those years, her father never increased house rent. We eyed our wives. Why didn’t we marry women whose fathers had houses? We knew why; hissed, turned in our sleep but fell off our beds, then snubbed our wives as they asked us why. Moving to the corridor to stare at the moon, we wished we were stars, small sparkles sharing the sky with the moon, something glorious that didn’t pay for its beauty.

In the morning, we grabbed our anger and climbed with it to the landlady’s place. This girl’s penthouse shone like the throne of ten gods. It was our first time being there; there hadn’t been any need to be there. The door was gold and it yawned open when it saw us. She must have loved gold seeing that everything in the penthouse was gold. We didn’t sit. Fear didn’t let us see where to sit. Or maybe the muscles of those guards of hers. Therefore, we stood, not fully, on our toes. Sniffing our armpits, we wished the ashy smell of our potash soaps would wring the life out of her small body. Near a gold clock were paintings of her body. In one, she was naked. Stark naked with her nipples looking into our eyes. The guards didn’t stop us from looking back which surprised us, so we closed our eyes in case they tested us. It was why we didn’t know when she came in, but when we heard her say Heyyy, we lurched up and remembered our anger.

She blocked the paint with her body, as a result, we thanked God for reserving small shame in her. But we changed our thoughts because, indeed, she’d no shame left. Which Adam chewed her shame? We knew from what she wore. She was dressed as if her penthouse were a sea, the rest of us sands. A green crochet bikini, her bare parts moisturized, speckled with shines, and then, a small moon tatted underneath her right breast. We closed our legs tighter, for we had goosebumps, something inside us rising, like balloons inflating on the lips of kids.

If she noticed, she didn’t say anything. She asked us to sit, asked us to eat, got a girl to serve us creamy biscuits, cakes, omelet with greens. The breakfast entered our tummies to inter our anger. We forgot our wives’ leftover beans, begged our shame to chill till later. It obeyed us, waited. Resurrected after we’d eaten. Our shame, our anger. We spoke up: ‘Why did you increase our house rent? Do you not know we are poor traders? May your father’s peaceful soul rest in more peace because he was, indeed, indeed, a nice man, a good man who never increased house rent. Why did you increase house rent? Why are you not kind like your father? What is your plan? Why tormenting us like this?’

Dropping her phone on the glass table, she laughed when we finished. With her laughter, she appeared like a doll, not a human. Stood up, still laughing with her shoulders shivering. With the speed of a snail’s crawl, as if she wasn’t laughing at all, walked in circles around us, flipped her hair close to our mouths, fanned herself with her right palm. The parlor wasn’t hot. It was air-conditioned. But she fanned herself with her right palm. We weren’t sure why. Maybe for aesthetics, the uniformity of her pink nails, all of them fluttering at the same time. The beauty got us. We just sat there, gawking at her, not sure what we enjoyed more. The food or her laughter. If she’d asked us to slice up our bodies and pay her with each flab, just to watch her laugh, we would have done so. Our tongues almost slipped – almost said we admired her, how we urged to worship her, how we preferred her to our wives. But the guards. Death stayed in their eyes like a promise, like death was their promise to us. So, we hid the love on the roofs of our mouths. What it did was bloat our mouths, our cheeks reeking of needs, sexual madness. If we didn’t know her father was a wealthy man and if we didn’t know she schooled in London Business School, if we had just seen her on the street, we would have carried her on our heads, pinned her with our penises, made her reel on poles in strip clubs, spreading legs and jiggling butt cheeks. God, we couldn’t sit well. We held our trousers, zapped to our flats, where, knocking pillows off, we pinned our wives to the beds. They called us beasts, and we wore it over our names, tatted it on our waistlines.

The next day, we became beds. We didn’t eat; we couldn’t eat. We stayed in dreaming of her, of her naked body, how her tongue could tar our penises. She passed another circular for another meeting, and we returned as men. All of us running down, all of us apart from our phones. The guards brought coolers of porridge yam and Fanta. The porridge, full of onions and smoked fish, was very orange, like Fanta, like Small Girl Landlady. We stretched our long faces as we filled our mouths. Eating, dancing even though there was no music. Until the landlady said, ‘Heyyy,’ winked, ‘I added extra money.’ ‘To the already increased house rent? What?’ She waved us off, her fingers almost hitting our faces till our bile rose. We asked ourselves: Who sent this girl to destroy us? Who did we harm so bad that they sent us karma in this girl’s form? To her, we pointed at our scrunched cars and said, ‘Your Benz did that, you know?’ Again, she waved us off, ignoring us the way Chelsea players ignored us when we screamed at them, when we shouted to them to score, to score for fucksake. Though, she did one thing that melted our hearts. Gave our daughters an entrance test; said, they would go to London Business School. We smiled at our daughters but recalling her naked portrait, remembering she too went to London Business School, we said, ‘No, not at all, so they will teach our daughters nakedness? God forbid it. Who will pay the bride price of a naked woman?’ We said no. Because her eyes widened, we breathed in deeply, then asked, ‘What will they do with it? In this our Nigeria.’

‘What exactly does that mean?’

‘Good. Because it’s not us, okay? It’s not as if we don’t like our daughters. Mba. Rara. But you see our daughters? They don’t belong. Not anywhere. Not to the father’s State. Not to the husband’s State. True. Just, just google it.’

‘I still don’t get you, but don’t worry.’

‘So? Our sons will go?’ She shrugged. It was night but we saw either her eyeballs going around or tears going around the eyes – was she . . . Anyway, her eyes were hers to do with as she pleased. To show we were glad, we dug into our dying pockets and ordered crates of Budweiser. And we danced, and she danced. And we wished to carry her on our heads, but her muscled men had eyes. Roaring eyes like ten thousand tigers. We saluted her instead.

As she promised. The next month, which was July our sons went to London for autumn studies. Things would have been great if we didn’t let our wives’ envies distract us. Every evening, there was merry. Small Girl Landlady slinging out, dressed, in scant gowns. Our daughters began to dress like her. All of them playing downstairs, hiding, seeking, whatever girls called games. Also, we would run out to watch, our eyes drifting to settle on her body. Sadly, it would be brief, like a stare at the sun – its rays chasing your eyes and spanking out tears. In that manner, our wives chased our eyes, screamed spits into our eyes, yelled, renamed us useless men. To prove we weren’t useless, we marched out to restore order. Screaming, bringing down birds, thunder echoing our manliness. ‘Enough is enough!’ We roared, like fast raps. Watched our daughters run to the houses, watched the landlady eat her pride, to vomit none of it. Our wives, powdering respect to their faces, knelt before us. Satisfactorily, we smiled well, patted our penises, hailed ourselves: ‘Kinihun of Agu the Lion King of Alphas.’ That night our wives killed the remaining chickens in our backyards.

The next day, we cursed fate for giving us new trouble. The sewage pipe busted. When our wives grumbled about it for the tenth time, we became tables. They wore white and barbed their hair which was an abomination in our cultures, for what it meant was that the husbands were dead men. But we were only tables, temporarily resting our penises, not dead. We prayed to Mary Mother of God and begged her to beg her son Jesus Christ on behalf of us so that money would come. Money didn’t come. We stayed as tables.

Our wives went to their fellow woman. But that landlady didn’t have the heart of a woman. She asked them to come back to us and collect the money from us. We became men, screamed. After which we asked, ‘How much?’ They called the price of ten cars. This was when we knew that women were mad.

‘Is it not just sewage?’ We asked in return.

‘Sewage, yes,’ our wives said.

‘So why is the money big?’

‘Because the shit is big.’

‘The shit is big?’ We adjusted on the cushion, turned eyes from the TV to focus on our wives.

‘Yes, very big.’

‘Hmm. Hmm. When do people shit?’

‘Ermm. How? When people eat?’ Our wives said, spreading their hands as if they were begging for wisdom.

‘Don’t question back. We swear if you question back you’re as good as dead. Answer, when do people shit?’

‘Sorry, forgive us. People shit when people eat, erm. . .’

‘Good. Because henceforth, no more food in this house. We all are on operation hold the stomach. No more food. Fast for Jesus.’


‘What is what?’ we eyed them, and when our wives said nothing with their mouths, shuffled their feet on the torn rugs, we said, ‘Our sons are in London so who else do you feed?’ At first, they said nothing to our question. Until we’d turned our eyes back to the TV, rubbing our stomachs, flipping channels. NTA Onitsha to NTA Asaba. Our wives gathered their mouths. They asked, ‘When was the last time you heard from our sons?’ We cleared our throat, said, ‘Yesterday’ which was a lie. We’d not heard from our sons since they left, but we were not afraid. We believed in London more than in Nigeria. For example: See Sunrise News at 9 pm. See the newscaster, fine woman like that, very fine like stars, with fine English too. But see shits leaving her mouth: Seventy road accidents, fifty collapsed buildings, seventeen burned markets, one hundred bombed churches, five hundred dead protesters, five million street children, and then finally, finally, wait for it, eleven corrupt politicians who, disguising as women, ran from the courts. Tell me, accountant-askers, why should we disturb our sons in London with news from Nigeria? We ask our wives while grabbing the remote, while knotting our wrappers.

When we passed the side of that busted sewage pipe, we tied our noses with our bandanas. Thank God we were men, for our noses were not very sharp. Our wives complained at night that the smells dressed as monsters and chased them in their dreams. We sneered. Our wives complained that hunger was killing our daughters. We asked them to prepare for marriages. At least there would be plenty of food on their wedding days. But it was when our wives refused to spread their legs that we knew that snakes were breathing. It was true that we forced open their legs and pushed our penises inside, but the sex was bland, like washing bruised feet.

The next morning, we went to the landlady. We tightened our lips when she offered breakfast even though the aroma of fried eggs climbed into our noses. We spat our grievances. She shrugged, pressed her phone throughout the many minutes we fried in our anger. Then she sipped from a pink teacup, set it back on a side stool. On the side stool were ash-plates, a packet of Dorchester, ashes, and half-burnt blunts. We hissed in our hearts, cursed her, our bile growing. To be honest, we thought about squeezing her like her golden Benz squeezed our cars, for our cars might be tin cars but we loved them. They got us around. Yet the muscles and the guns – those security men, those vegetable men with flowers for penises. We spat out almost, our saliva forming wet cotton wools, but we hugged our hands, swallowed the spits with anguish.

We said that girl didn’t have the heart of a woman, not even of a human being. Hers was that of one hundred thieves. She repeated the big amount of money and also said if we didn’t bring the money by the next day, she would throw our things out of the house. Remembering our friends who lost their eyes and heads and lives when we begged for houses, we ran to our stores in the market, stole our apprentices’ phones, sold them, then ran home to submit the money to her.

One day later and the landlady didn’t fix the sewage. One week later, the landlady didn’t fix the sewage. One month later and our wives still will not give us sex because the whole house smelled of shits as the landlady was yet to fix the sewage. We ran up to her penthouse only to discover that everything seemed newer. They were gold quite alright, the pillows, the chandelier, the wood floor, everything still gold only that now their gold was the glossier kind of gold, shining and convincing us to sit and stare at them for all twenty years to come. We closed our eyes for our minds refused to be lured away by luxuries. Also, we didn’t want to see more naked bodies as we didn’t want to become relic-men in a Museum Penthouse. Also, new anger was burning into our eyes as apparently this girl used all of the money to refurbish her home. Ever been too angry that you tear? That was us. We just stood there, not crying, our eyes red.

Our ears didn’t tell us when she came, but our noses told us for she smelled like fine flowers from the whole world. She must have seen the anger on our faces, in red flames, as she started laughing, said, ‘Give me time, give me time.’ Then she said the money we brought was not enough which was a lie for the money we brought could build a small house. We told her we would report her to the government for corruption. She begged us to open our eyes, so we squinted small, the folds near our eyes creasing in pain, but we screamed, ‘Aah!’ for she was holding very gold wristwatches. She said, ‘Take them. The watches. For you and your wives.’ We hissed, saying to her not to bribe us with time. ‘Fix our sewage because we paid heavily for it.’ We left her standing there, with her eyes, mouth, open; formed O in uppercase.

The next day we were yawning when our sons dragged back the tinies remaining of them. We frowned, ‘What, what?’ Oh, oh, we didn’t know. That girl abandoned our sons in London Business School because our sons were not her business. As if she didn’t send them there. No school fees. No food fees. No house. Until London people pushed them into the deportation planes, said, ‘Africa bye!’ This was how our sons returned to us: ashamed; scrawny; their stomachs longer than their bodies; their thin long heads telling us to look inward and remember Casper the cartoon ghost from our childhoods; our sons’ bodies shaped after the sufferings on Jesus’ cross; our sons’ memories lined with all the colors of griefs. Our sons had become women’s long thin heels. It rushed to us. That devilish small girl really came to crush us. We saw the plan too late, just too late. We cried, but we didn’t let our wives see our tears for, again, a man should never cry. We assembled, had a meeting, and in the next hour, we took placards to the penthouse, where, singing war songs, we hid stones and clubs in our pockets because her guards were the stones and the guns in her own pocket. We weren’t afraid of guns, or muscles as we shattered her new windows, pelting everything in our ways; why should we be afraid? Greater was he armed with a penis than ten women padded with money. We may not have a gun, but our penises were our God-given weapons, and we brandished them. She knew better too, yelled at her guards not to shoot at us. We asked her, why our sons? She yelled back that she asked for daughters, not sons, said sons were our businesses, not hers. And for the pride in her stupid reply, we threw more stones at her. She ducked, ran out. We maneuvered her guards and scattered her cushions, plucked her breasts from the naked painting, then clothed the entire nakedness with water. She hid, cried, like a big dog, as if she was sitting on a burning chair. She hid till one helicopter, milling the wind, came, bamboozling everywhere with its vacuum-cleaner noise, rolled out heaven-stairs, and cleaned her away, its white noise sinking our chants, but we didn’t care. We threw stones, threw stones, cheered like David, for our stones defeated Jezebel and Goliath who are her guards.

We returned home happy. Never mind that our heads ached long at night, to the extent that we were tempted to swallow paracetamols. Men weren’t females who take paracetamols because of simple headaches. So, we pulled our wives’ thighs apart, ignored them saying they were tired.

Small Girl Landlady was still on the run. All God planned for women were to be women, why want more? Now she wouldn’t return. We fed our sons, ignored our wives, married off our daughters, fixed the sewage. We didn’t pay rent, lived well. The kings God expected us to be. Thank God for wisdom. For now, no naked woman. No evil. Everything’s perfect, perfect, perfect. For months, stretching into a year. Beautiful, beautiful. Blue birds on their nests, slight rains, soft sun, credit alerts, quiet rivers, red leaves, fluffy flowers, tiny pebbles, new puppies, airy evenings, spicy food. Good news. Nothing to remind us of evil. Not even her Benz. Just vibes and goodness.

One evening, somewhere in November, while we were drinking pap and munching beans, sucking fish, and dancing glory to God. Police, Army, SARS. All of them in black uniforms as if someone died. So, we stood in pity, but they commanded us to keep the pities for our bodies. Rushed us, carried us, carried our sons, drove in Black Maria, then locked us up, as if we killed ten presidents of America. We asked, why? Said, ‘For protesting?’ We should let ants crawl on our skins without slapping them off? Those men in uniform said no, shook their jaws. Said Madam Landlady didn’t report any protest. Said Madam Landlady said we stole her Benz. And men in uniform believed her because women would never lie, but didn’t men steal all the time? Therefore, we stayed there in the cell, swearing that we didn’t know what happened to the Benz, nurturing in our hearts that maybe our wives planned this evil against us, against our sons. But we didn’t say it, for how would anyone hear that our wives had hands in our misfortune? Big men like us? Will our ancestors hear it and understand it? That we couldn’t control our women? God forbid. So, because we didn’t have access to water, we gathered our spits and swallowed our shame. But the shame didn’t digest for Christmas was coming. Again, we prayed to Mother Mary of God to beg her son Jesus Christ not to let us loiter in this cell, for Christmas was here. Our prayer was answered weeks later. Before then, those SARS boys ground us, played with our penises like they didn’t have theirs. Every morning, they would lie on us or run stones, tires, heavy metals over our bodies. They treated us like they were animals, and we were dusty feeds. They didn’t feed us. Our wives didn’t come for us. Our daughters didn’t come for us. We whimpered, before our sons, like small girls, paled like wilting leaves, begged till we forgot the rules of our languages, forgot our cultures, our names shattering into fine pieces, our cries clanging, piercing through but the prison walls weren’t Jericho’s wall.

Exactly eight days after New Year, the landlady sent her boys to bail us. They claimed they saw God but not the car.

That night, after our wives had forced welcome-back-from-cell sex on us, they slept and snored, and with our bodies full of pains, we swallowed paracetamols, then crossed to the balcony staring at the moon. We wished to sparkle like stars. We wheezed too, squeezing our faces, certain that nobody heard us crying. Even though the night was too quiet. We carried our mouths on our palms, cried bitterly, dragging our snots, wiping our tears with the back of our hands. Those guards at the cell called us pigs, beat meats out of us. Looking at our bodies, we touched our weapon penises, slapped them for failing us, for being too soft. The pain from our slaps shocked us and the penises stood up to answer, but we refused to look at our wives.

Our penises sat down when we saw a running car. We nearly ran inside scared for we believed the running car was driven by SARS or night thieves. But we squinted, stared sharper to recognize the golden car, and we recognized the golden car. It was the stolen golden Benz. We almost screamed for we thought finally who was this thief? Only to squint harder to see the driver was one of the guards and oh-god, the guard was driving the landlady herself. What? What? WHAT? We covered our mouths for that was all we could do. We had suffered for nothing. We wanted to say we were Jesus, but at least Jesus suffered for the sins of the world. Ours was for nothing. Small Girl hid her car but punished us for nothing? Because, what, why? This new knowledge saddening us, pushed sea-sized tears out of us. Our suffering was nothing. All the beatings. Those officers microphoning our penises. Our penises, are we not men? God, did you not say, Men, be in charge? God, what’s going on? Where are you while we suffered for nothing? For nothing. We were nothing. Nothing. Nothing? Everything failed us. We sat on the floor, hugged our heads, tried to hold our tears, but the sorrows in our hearts were more than the pride that called us men. We felt our manness become water, tickling down, sounding weaker than tap water into a tumbler.

The next day, the landlady passed circulars for a meeting. We tiptoed down; our bodies scared of walking. We went for we felt she might say sorry. Yet, if she saw us, it had to be in the same basic way one saw air, as something necessarily there, compulsorily there, but holistically absent. She danced with our wives. They took pictures, made Instagram videos, ignored that we were there. We could not confront her; her guards had doubled, her eyes were pythons, small brown balls of war. While we were meats, drooping sticks, nothing, nothing. Therefore, we placed our heads on our son’s sore necks. Our mouths, bereft of words, not even enough is enough. The only enough is enough we had was for ourselves. She shared a gold wristwatch; she said, ‘To celebrate my twenty-fourth.’ We stared, said nothing. When last were we twenty-four?

Checking for time, we took the watches, stared. Gold, full of shimmers, like a toy bought to impress a mistreated child. We would not sell them. Even though we didn’t know why, we yearned to keep them. She whispered to our wives like she shared something else; we burned, yet we eavesdropped, shifting our ears from our sons’ necks. But it was only advice she was sharing, some soft words about getting our daughters to London Business School. We shuffled our feet, ached to shout stop it, but the cuts on our mouths shocked us with so much pain. The pain stopped us. So, we told our sons to pat our backs, grateful to our sons, looking at the watches. For we may not stop the landlady’s nonsense today, but we got sons, and we got time.

—Adachioma Ezeano (Granta)