The sun will rise today; its spidery phalanges will stretch over Basking Creek and warm the stale hopes that nest at the tip of Maukara Hills. I know this because the boy in the mirror said so. His name is Salad and he knows things. Salad, joyless and soulless, just like the ones Mama forces me to eat after dinner. Salad says he is my other self. I don’t believe him because I have ceased being joyless and soulless after Papa’s funeral. I moved on. Salad did not.
“Same eyes. Same oblong face. I am you,” Salad continued to pester the poor life out of me.
“I don’t want to be you. Your face is plastered with gloom. Your eyes are burdened with the weight of the world,” I quipped, balled my fist and thumped it on the mirror. Salad thumped back. The mirror rattled and silver flakes bounced off its transparent surface. “Same attitude.” The smirk on Salad’s face widened. He sticked out his tongue and asked, “Who do you desire to be?”
“Bobo; the boy with puffy cheeks whose photograph hangs beside Mama and Papa’s wedding picture. I want to be happy.”
Salad laughed and pursed his lips. “Happiness is a silly affair. Better to be sad forever than to taste happiness and return to gloom. That is worse.”
I turned the mirror around until Salad’s nose kissed the wall. “Killjoy,” I mumbled and sat on the bed.
The rusty floor of the bedside drawer jammed as I pulled it out. The raw metallic edge snagged at my left thumb, left it bleeding, and made me cringe in pain.
“I can barely breathe,” Salad shrieked. “Suffocating me won’t give you what you want.”
I rummaged through the drawer for my piggy bank, ignoring Salad’s rants. The shiny coins jingled as they fell on the floor. I counted the coins before shoving the whole lot into the back pocket of my trousers. I pulled up a stool to help me reach the top of our wardrobe where Mama keeps rent money.
Today, I am going to buy enough happiness that would give me dreamy chuckles and make me not to be like Salad.
“Hey, what are you doing with all that money?” Salad asked. He has managed to turn the mirror back. “It’s none of your business,” I snapped.
“I’m going to tell your Mama.”
It was my turn to laugh at Salad. Mama would fling the mirror into Gworo Pit if Salad ever shows up his scrawny face when she is around.
“Good luck with that.” I snorted my nose and slammed the door.
Mama was pounding millet in the backyard. Her muscles, glazed with perspiration, rippled with every thud of the pestel on the mortar. Guilt welled up my throat as I went up to greet her.
“Mama, the sky has risen.”
“May we never rise from our ashes.” Mama’s response, as always, had the coldness of salt left open during harmattan.
“Bobo, where are you off to this morning?” Mam asked.
“To do some laundry for Miss Piper. She promised me a bag of groceries and an ointment for your knee cramps.”
“Make sure you come back before your kunu gets cold.”
Mama’s voice was tinged with a forlorn sadness. The maroon skin-bags around her eyes were beginning to ripen. They will burst before Monday and wet the bedroom floor with pulse. Maybe I could also buy a little happiness for Mama. Happiness will bring her laughter that sailed, like rushing air, along the peeling walls of our house. Happiness will restore those days when Mama replied my morning greetings with; “We have risen with grace.” Happiness will smear gloss on Mama’s cracked lips.
It was a new day in 042 Town. The magpie sellers were already unrolling their tents and dusting their cages. Ikele, the woman who read palms, sat beside the sidewalk and beckoned on prospective customers. “Come and see the future in your palms,” she called out. Chipo and her clique of Spirit-Children were lounging on the pink toadstools and sharing juicy gossips.
I wrapped my straw coat around my body and blew hot air into my palms for warmth. I took a left turn, passed the scented candles hawkers at Tanyoro street, and stopped in front of Sky Mall. Sugarcoated happiness-pills were sold in silk purses at Sky Mall. Miss Fish, the shopkeeper, has scanty locks of brown hair hanging loosely on her peanut-shaped head. She sweats bile and slime trickles from her eyes.
Miss Fish was nothing like happiness.
“What do you want?” Miss Fish demanded as I walked into the mall.
“Happiness-pills,” I managed to stutter.
“How much do you have?”
I laid out the coins on the counter. My hands quivered as I counted the shiny metals. You can never be sure, maybe the rascals beside Carp & Carp Café had slipped their withered hands into my pocket when I walked pass them.
“Ah, do you think I’m selling dog poop? This can only fetch you a quarter millisecond of happiness.” Miss Fish pushed a tiny green pill into my clasped palm and gathered the coins into a china bowl. “Swallow up, I ain’t got all day.”
The pill melted before it touched my tongue. I stood still and waited for happiness to surge through my veins like tepid spring.
“I did not feel anything,” I groaned.
“It’s for a quarter millisecond and not a year. What do want to feel?”
“A tickling ecstasy.”
“Then you need to buy the mega pills. It costs 678990 coins.”
Disappointed, I hit the road for home. My feet felt like whisked cream under me. Mama will skin me alive for using the rent money.
“Where have you been all day?” Mama was sitting by the fireplace when I came home. Her voice barely carried over the crackling fire.
“Miss Piper kept me long. What are you burning?”
“Sadness. I scraped the slag of sadness on my chest.” Mama continued to feed the fire with a dark mass. “Tomorrow, I’ll pay the janitor and you’ll wipe clean the windows to welcome happiness.”
Mama hugged and kissed me goodnight.
In the days that followed, I discovered that happiness transcended the sugarcoated pills at Sky Mall. At night, Mama and I stuff our ears with pillows to lessen the janitor’s banging on our door.
I thought I would never find happiness. But happiness was right under my nose; in the tiny crevices of my heart where contentment dwells and in the places I overlooked.
About Innocent: Innocent Chizaram Ilo is a writer and a final year economics undergraduate at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He was the second runner-up at the median edition of the YMCA Africa Competition (Short Story Category). He believes he can change the world through words.