“The Parrot”

a short story by Dipo Kalejaiye

 

My name is Moji. I am a Yoruba from Nigeria in West Africa. The story I am about to tell you is important. Don’t squirm. I mean it. It is important enough to me that I have decided I am not going to carry it around in my head any longer. I must tell it so that the sound that keeps beating upon my chest will evaporate and I will become calm again as the Alamuyo River of my village at dawn.

 

 I won the lottery. No! It isn’t the one you think, not the type you can win in America here that gives you millions of dollars. I mean the lottery that gives you a chance to come to the United States from a foreign country like Nigeria. It was two o’ clock in the afternoon. I was busy doing the usual household chores - you know, washing, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of my six-year-old son OLA. Ola’s brown eyes, and often intriguing smiles, is a joy to behold. I read the letter from the United States Embassy to my son. I had indeed won the lottery!

That was how my husband, Akin, my son, and I, arrived in the United States. It has been years now.  We have lived here for years. Everything was fine until one night I rolled over on my side of the bed and I told my husband I was tired. “Tired?” He screamed in his usual husky voice. “What do you mean by that?” I couldn’t answer him, or better still, I didn’t want to answer him.


I knew when not to answer him. There was usually a sign which told me not to answer. The sign would be his flaring nose. That’s right. Whenever he got angry, his nose would flare up intermittently like the bellows of a forge. His breathing will become shallow as if he was going to pass out. His entire six feet frame would contract and he would look as if he was a mere five feet six inches.

He would be muttering like someone from the insane asylum. The muttering will be half to him and half to me. Ola was six years old. He knew and understood everything. That was another problem. A knock at our door just when we were about to start was like ice cold water on a splinter fire.

We could never get back to it. “You know where the refrigerator is” my husband would scream in his husky voice. First there would be silence, and he was afraid of my husband. He cowered when he was around and followed me around the house. My husband made things worse by teasing him. He called him “Mama’s boy.” Ola hated to be called that, but my husband insisted he was just “playing with him.” “Why can’t the boy take a joke?” He’ll ask in his monotone voice.

As for me; I didn’t mind. He was my boy. I tried to get up but my husband pulled me back down. I can see his nose flaring again. “You are spoiling him . . .  He is going to be rotten and it is going to be your fault. Let him find the refrigerator and pour himself a glass of juice.” The whining outside our bedroom door continued. The boy would not leave. There was silence. My husband   put on his pants hissed and sighed heavily.  “I am sorry . . .  I  . . .  We can try again when he is back in his room. I mean in a couple of hours  . . .  when he is asleep”

“I’ll be getting ready for work then . . .  That will not be a good time for sex.”


“We can try again tomorrow”

There was no answer. He switched on the light and shuffled toward the bathroom. I heard the water running. He was mumbling to himself. Yes, he mumbled to himself a lot, and I was afraid our son was beginning to copy that.

 

The next morning was important. I had to make a decision.  I had been considering a divorce. I loved my husband, but he had been a pest, ordering me around even when I was tired from working. He worked two jobs but I don’t know what he did with the money. The bills had been piling up. I was supposed to pay half of all the bills I didn’t mind that, but he had some very strange rules he thought I must obey.

 For example, he wanted me to get rid of our pet parrot. The parrot was Ola’s. He loved birds. When he was younger, he talked about flying like a bird all the time. So I got him a pet parrot from a pet store. Next my husband hated my friends, and the Pentecostal Church I attended he made fun of it and this infuriated me all the time. Ironically we attended the same Pentecostal Church when we were in Nigeria. It was in this church that we first met. As soon as we got to the United States, he changed. He hated all my friends especially the African American ones.


 One of my friends Sharon, hated coming to my house. My husband called her “a witch.” Never mind the fact that Sharon was my co-worker, my confidante, and part time baby-sitter. Sharon was a very nice woman, a stunning beauty originally from North Carolina who moved to Maryland when she was eighteen. At twenty -eight, she still looked eighteen. She had a graceful smile which could disarm anyone. Whenever she smiled, the gap between two front teeth would be revealed. Her natural long black hair shone like gold. Once I thought I caught my husband staring at her cleavage but it could have been my imagination!  Sharon was talkative. She could talk so much as to wake up a corpse. She was never short of a topic for discussion, or a subject for which she had a comment. This presented a problem. It was always a duo performance between her and the parrot. The parrot would be screaming “Aiyekoto” The Yoruba word my husband taught her which meant “the world refuses the truth.” Of course it didn’t take long before the parrot was able to say Sharon’s name.

 

It was Friday of that week. That was my only day off form my job as a Nurses’ aide at a convalescent hospital in Silver Springs Maryland. Sharon was visiting me.

“I want a divorce.” I said staring blankly into space and not knowing why I changed the topic from the “Nigerian party” that was coming up the next week, which Sharon wanted to attend.

It was going to be a big party. Another Nigerian was turning fifty.

“A what?”

“I said I want a divorce.” I screamed the words out at her. Tears were beginning to swell behind my eyeballs, but I was fighting it.

“Okay  . . . okay . . .  take it easy now.”

“I mean it Sharon; don’t tell me to take it easy”

“Don’t you think it is a little premature? ... I mean  . . .   you ought to think it through  . . . girlfriend?”

She always called me “girlfriend.” At that moment it seemed as if she was trying to stall me in order to prevent me from what I wanted to do.


“Look I mean it. I have had it with him. Six years of his meanness is all I can take.”

“He is paying the rent ain’t he?”

“Yes he is paying the rent, but that’s about all. The rest of the money  . . .”

“All right now girlfriend what about the rest of the money?”

“I don’t know where it goes. He sends so much to his family back in Nigeria. They have him in their pocket. When they say jump, he says: How high? His primary responsibility is to this family not the extended one across the Atlantic in Nigeria.”

“So why are you telling me this?”

“Because he won’t listen to me . . .  he won’t listen to anyone. The only one he listens to is his mother in Nigeria. Now she is asking him to send ten thousand dollars so that she can open a business.”

“Ten thousand dollars?”

“I mean it”

“Look girlfriend you gotta face this man. You gotta to tell him what you are telling me. If he ain’t gon listen, scream it in his face. Make his ass listen to you. Damn, you are his wife, ain’t you?”


The discussion ended when Sharon switched topics and began to talk about the “Nigerian Party” that was coming up the next Friday. She had been to several of such parties and loved the music, the traditional attire won by the party goers, the Nigerian dishes, and the dancing which went on till the wee hours of the morning. The party meant nothing to me.  I wasn’t going. My husband mocked such parties, calling the organizers “Nigerians, who have lost their sense of direction.” Then he would continue in his husky voice by saying “Aiyekoto.” This would set the parrot off and she would be saying “Aiyekoto” in so many ways that she would eventually break into a song using only the phrase “Aiyekoto” My trick for getting the parrot to be quiet was to throw more parrot feed at her. She would ultimately fall into a munching mode. So much for her singing. Sharon left but not until she had repeated her demand that I must come to the party. Even as she drove off I could hear the parrot muttering Sharon’s name and saying: “Sharon where are you going  . . . , Sharon where are you?”

The parrot had begun the composition of another song perhaps entitled “Sharon where are you going?”

 

My husband came home late that night. As a Restaurant Manager, and part time Computer technician he thought he had direction. He would quit his job as a Restaurant Manager as soon as he was done with his studies in Computers. Ola greeted him from his spot on the sofa where he was playing a game on his “game boy.” “Mama’s boy, how are you?”

“Fine Daddy” he replied without looking at him. His arm shot up with glee because he had reached another level within the game structure. My husband opened the refrigerator.

“No milk? Why don’t we ever have milk in this house?”

“You know Saturday is the day I go shopping. I’ll get it first thing in the morning. Ola finished the rest of the milk minutes before you walked in.”

“I don’t want to hear that. You know that I eat a bowl of cereal every night when I come back from work. That is me. Now you want me to eat my cereal without milk?”

“I don’t care what you do  . . .  You have come again with your problems. Just leave me alone. You can get into the car and get yourself a gallon of milk from Seven Eleven”.


It felt good. It felt good to take him on. Here is a man from Nigeria who couldn’t get a fresh gallon of milk to buy in Nigeria, agonizing about no milk in his refrigerator. I thought he looked stupid standing there with his shirt unbuttoned, his mouth agape, and his eyes blood shot. His eyes got bloodshot when he was really angry. I was not afraid, just sorry for falling in love with him that day when I first saw him at The Evangelical Pentecostal Church of God the Father in Nigeria.  The church was commonly referred to as the E.P.C.G.

I had gone there to pray to God about my problems. I had been invited by his sister who was my classmate in High School. The church was in Lagos, near the famous Yaba roundabout. 

The charismatic leader of the church a Superior Apostle as he was called was leading a prayer vigil. The humming of silent prayers reverberated from the congregation. The simmering heat was unbearable, the ceiling fans twirled around lazily, providing no relief from the tropical heat. The church’s air conditioner was broken as usual. When I looked up from my semi-recumbent posture, my eyes caught his, and then he looked away and resumed his own prayers. This happened about three times. I thought nothing of it until he walked up to me after the service and began talking to me as if we had known each other for a long time. He made me laugh. He was funny. I tried to refuse his offer to walk me home, but he insisted. I didn’t mind after all; I thought he was a handsome man with a nice soft voice. His voice was not husky at the time. I almost asked him why he was not in the choir, but I thought that would be prying too much.

“Go and get me milk”

“No!”

“Oh! I see Sharon has been putting ideas into your head Ehn?”


“I have my own mind”

“We will see”

He grabbed my arm as if he planned to yank it out of its socket.

I slapped him. That was it. He began punching me in the face and the groin until I started calling for Ola to call the police. I didn’t feel any remorse for slapping him. Blood was dripping from my nose, and down to my lips. I could taste my own blood. He was also hurting my arm; I wanted him to stop. Ola began to cry, then to my surprise he put down his Game Boy, and walked to my husband and started to kick him!

“Get away  . . .  Go to your room. This is between your mother and me”

”Stop hitting my mother  . . .  stop hitting my mother” the boy replied, kicking him harder with every word of his sentence.

 

After that incident, I moved out for Akin and filed for a divorce. I took Ola with me partly to deflate his ego, and also because I cannot bear life without my son. I wanted to opt out for “A home for Battered Women” located in the Silver Springs Maryland, but Sharon discouraged me from doing that. She maintained that I deserved something better. She offered me a place in her huge town house. She was buying it and could do whatever she wanted with it.

 

It was a week after I moved in with Sharon. I was in my room. Ola had been pressing me about going back to my old place and imploring Akin to give up the parrot. I had called Akin about it, but he sounded so much like a wounded lion that I hung up the phone, preferring not to listen to his roar.


My plan was to go there the next day and retrieve the parrot. As I was telling Ola this, there was a knock on the door. It was Sharon. I let her in and she told me that she had something very important to tell me. I sent Ola to the big living room and asked her to sit down.

“I like you” she began, with a smile that was warm and sincere.

“I know that already, so why are you telling me?” I asked.

“I like you more than you can ever imagine”

“I understand”

“Your husband does not deserve you”

“I know that. Why do you think I am here?”

“I mean I really like you in a very special way” she continued moving toward me and putting her arm around me. Then the same hand slid under my blouse and reached my bra. I felt the warmth of her hand on my breast even through my bra. I was stunned. I jumped up, backed up and walked backwards toward the door. My mind was racing. Everything came back to me. Now I know why she had been staring at me the other night I was in the bathtub taking a bath. I shuddered. To think that I had allowed her to undo my bra before I got into the bathtub? Perhaps that was why her hand was trembling so much? I reached the door and decided to speak my mind. “I can’t do it Sharon, I am sorry, but I can’t . . .” I wanted to say more but I felt a lump in my throat. My mouth merely opened and closed. There was this burning sensation in my stomach. I broke into a sweat. I didn’t know why.


“Maybe you need time  . . .  Maybe you need time to think about it.” Sharon concluded as she walked out of the room, with a wry smile on her face. My phone rang. I thought about picking it up but thought the better of that. It was Nine O’clock at night. It must be Akin wanting to know when he could see his son. He always called at nine o’clock at night. There was a click. The answering machine came on. I could hear myself doing the obligatory greeting and asking the caller to leave a message. Akin’s husky voice came on. “Hallo! This is Akin; I am calling about two things. One I would like to know when I will be able to see my son, and two, that I have gotten tired of the parrot, and I have let her go. I have no time to feed this thing that talks my ears off every night, asking for you and Ola. Birds are better in the wild anyway. In the wild, they can be free.” The phone clicks off abruptly when it seemed he had one more thing to add. That night when Sharon was asleep, I moved out of her townhouse into a home for battered women. Ola kept asking me for the parrot instead of his Dad. He seemed to be happier without his dad, but sad that the parrot was gone. It took me a while before I could tell him that the parrot was finally gone, that it was free. It didn’t end there. He forced me to make a promise that I will get him another one. The next day, I went out looking for a parrot.