Uncle Solo looks nothing like the fifty something years he has spent on earth. He tries very hard to look thirty, and he succeeds. Mostly. He tries hard to look and act like he owns the world and that he could get whatever he wants at any time; the fattest girls, the fattest beer jars or even the very expensive whitish powder that sustains his life.
Uncle Solo is my elder brother, but calling him Brother Solo would be totally out of place. Not just because no one else in this entire area calls him that, but the gap between him and me and my younger brother, Edwin, is simply too wide. The legend is that after our parents gave birth to Uncle Solo, they had to wait several years – I cannot remember how many years exactly now – and pray, and fast and call on the God of Hannah, before they were able to give birth to Edwin and me. That meant that Uncle Solo was the only child for a very long time and he enjoyed all the privileges and pampering that came with being the first and only child of a wealthy man, a very successful oil dealer with about five petrol stations scattered around town.
Today though, there is only one petrol station left. And that one is the only one Uncle Solo is yet to sell. The only reason he has not sold it, I think, is because our father had already handed over the management of that station to one of his friends under a lease agreement which, if I am to believe what I was told, will last for about thirty years or so. So Uncle Solo has to really wait before he can sell that one.
One after the other, we have watched all the other properties our father left us disappear before our very eyes, and in exchange, we have been compensated with viewing Uncle Solo’s sexual escapades with different shades of women, through the keyhole of his room. Sometimes, when he wants to really feel and prove that he is still thirty, he engages two or three women at a time. Mostly fat-fat women. He has polluted my eyes and my mind, because now I know how to do things I never even should have heard about in my life.
We’ve also been compensated with regular drama. Uncle Solo no longer has a car, after he sold off the last car that was left because he needed to sniff on the whitish powder that keeps him alive. The only person who had the powder at the time had demanded for eight hundred thousand naira for the size of powder that was nothing more than the twenty naira garri with which myself and Edwin ate our beans on privileged days. Uncle Solo saw nothing else that was worth that amount to offer, except the 2005 Toyota Camry car.
So since then, he has become used to trekking, and we have also become used to seeing him come home drunk. Whenever he was getting dressed to go to the beer parlour, he would say, to no one in particular, that at the beer parlour, drinks could never be scarce even if you didn’t have a kobo because there would always be people who just won Baba Ijebu money and would come there to ‘declare’ for everybody. Besides, there were also people whose drinking habits he had personally financed in his hay days, so this was the time for him to enjoy the harvest of his seeds. People who leave home for work very early in the morning in our area have also become used to picking Uncle Solo up from gutters where he would be sleeping comfortably. They used to care initially, and they would come to knock on our door and ask us with pitied faces to come carry our brother out of the gutter. But they don’t care anymore because if Uncle Solo is not in the gutter, he is probably sleeping at the gate beside his alcohol laden vomit. Or, in his saner days, he would have been arrested by the vigilante people the night before and be threatening them in his usual way, asking if they did not know; first, the son of who he was, and then who he himself was.
“I will destroy you!” he would say, pointing his middle finger at his object of anger.
Once, he told us the story of how he almost destroyed a policeman who bothered to stop him at a check-point when those checkpoints still used to exist all over town. He had been smoking indian hemp inside the Toyota Camry and he was drunk, most likely. He didn’t tell us that part, but I know that it is the way Uncle Solo is. The policeman asked my brother to roll down the glass of his car, and this is what I think must have happened, because Uncle Solo’s version couldn’t have been the truth. The stench of alcohol, and igbo coming from his car must have been a rude shock to the policeman.
“Park well! Park well! Driving under the influence! Park!” That is how those police people talk.
Uncle Solo could not have obeyed, because he does not obey anybody. He told us that he laughed – a drunken laugh – pulled out his mobile phone, stared hard at the policeman’s uniform and then called his name out – “Kingsley O.N” before dialling the Commissioner’s phone number. He has a lot of friends in high places because of the foolish favours he has rendered and lavish monies he has spent during his lifetime.
“Edem-Edem! Commissioner Edem! The only man who knows where to locate the Garden of Eden. How you dey, how life, how pikin, how all ya girlfriends?” he must have asked rapidly in his usual way and then laughed another drunken laugh to prove to the policeman that himself and this commissioner were really best of friends. “All these ya boys wey you put for road dey disturb me o. I dey smoke my igbo jeje for my car, he say make I park under the influence. I go jam am o!” Then he must have put the phone on loudspeaker, so the policeman could hear the commissioner’s response. That’s how he got out of most difficult situations in those days.
Now that the reality of our hunger and poverty is really beginning to bite hard, we are no longer interested in the regular drama or his stories. Sometimes, we even ignore the keyhole when Uncle Solo is busy, but we still leave our ears wide open to listen to the moans and strange noises that come from his room. This is the only house left of the four different houses our parents left for us before death took them away suddenly in that fatal motor accident. I don’t like to remember it, even though they were very old. I was very young then.
I picked up music along the line when there was really nothing else to do after I managed to finish school. Several times, I have asked Uncle Solo to help raise some money for my demo, but each time I ask, he would ask me to sing my song for him so that he could tell me if it was something Nigerians would love to listen to. His idea of Nigerians, I’m sure, is his friends at the beer parlour. I would summon all the courage I could and sing him Ololufe, my best song at that time. It was also the only song I had composed. He would laugh, that stupid drunken laugh, and say something about how if a child’s hands is yet to grasp the dagger, he shouldn’t ask about the death that killed his father, and that I should go and wait for my time and continue practising.
Well, one day, something happened. Something strange.
Uncle Solo woke us up very early in the morning that day, and began to speak in a way I had never seen him speak before – in a calm, gentle tone. He started with several questions.
“Una like as everything dey happen for this house?”
Myself and Edwin shared a curious look.
“Una dey chop well?”
I wanted to tell him that we all knew this and that he should go straight to the point. But as we usually say here, dem no born me well to talk that kain thing, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Una dey make progress?”
I wanted to remind him that he wasn’t making much progress himself.
“Una no want make we move forward?”
He was no longer waiting for us to shake our heads to his questions. He went on and on and then said the one that got us worried.
“I don check all these things well and I don decide say, na prayer we need for this house…”
I and Edwin sat up without looking at each other.
“…and I don decide say we go fast for three days.”
That wouldn’t be difficult; we ‘fasted’ most days, anyway.
He handed me a clean two hundred naira note and asked me to go buy packets of candles – red, white and yellow. I wanted to tell him that those colours might not be available and that one packet of candle was one hundred and twenty naira, and the money would not be enough. But I didn’t want to spoil this holy mood that Uncle Solo was in, because I was sure that somewhere underneath this newness, was the Uncle Solo who would ‘destroy you’ for every slightest provocation.
As I ran to get the candles, to avoid missing out on any further drama, my thoughts also picked pace. I began to doubt the entire thing. It seemed like something those yahoo boys call format. Why would Uncle Solo suddenly turn born-again, overnight? Did he have a dream in which Jesus Christ suddenly appeared to him and told him we needed prayers?
I thought the fact that Uncle Solo suddenly realised that we needed prayers was the biggest shock of the morning, I didn’t expect what I heard when I got back home with the candles. I bought just two sticks of candle per colour and wrapped them together in a black nylon, so I could have some change to keep.
“I don decide say I go go mountain go do my own prayer and fasting, because I no want any distraction for here.”
Now I and Edwin looked at each other again. I could see laughter threatening to burst forth from his face. Dem no born am well to laugh.
Swiftly, Uncle Solo went into his room and some minutes later, he came out bathed and dressed in a white garment. He held a big bible and put the candles and a bottle of water into a polythene bag and started walking towards the door.
“Unkuul…please give us chop mo-o-neey,” Edwin stammered.
As if he had prepared for the question, he turned around and screamed, “Wetin una wan take chop money do? Person wey dey fast dey chop?”
“Unkuul, make I help you carry these things reach bus-stop,” I offered.
“No worry, I no need help, make nobody follow me o!”
That was when my suspicion grew. On a normal day, Uncle Solo would be the one to order you to carry his things and follow him. Why was he insisting that nobody should follow him? I smelt a very big rat, so I decided to follow him.
(To be continued)
– This fiction story was inspired by a yet-to-be-released song titled, ‘Uncle Solo’ by Wale Waves – the song performer for the award winning movie soundtrack of Kunle Afolayan’s Figurine – Araromiire. Watch out for the song).