I am Talib. Named after Talib Khiyarr, Jalisul Mustapha. I was born in Kiang. Yes, Kiang, where all the big bellies come from. Except Ado, who comes from afar where a small number of people attack a large number of people and they still won. It reminded me of the oft-repeated Battle of Badr, where finger-counted Muslims defeated the Meccans. Badr inspired Uhud; Mankamang inspired (or triggered) Busumbala. Yes, we are finally heading back to the Muhammedan era. Only this time the wars are political jihads.
I have no idea when exactly I went to Guinea Bissau with my wanderlust dad. I just saw myself growing up in that country before it became war-torn. I picked cashew nuts as a child and trapped squirrels in the fields. Thorns pinched my often bare feet as I chased squirrels and I would excruciatingly step on a hot brick momentarily to neutralise the tetanus. That’s the traditional way of disinfesting fresh wound. From my first day on earth to my formative years, no iron-fortified cereal, no Nutrilac or Cerelac, no avocados, no cheerios; just breast milk. Pure, nutritious and blessed as my twin and I fought over it in spite of having two sources; each of us glued to one. But we still fought. There was nothing else to feed on.
My dad, because of my legendary secluded nature, envisioned my life as a revered marabout. You know, I would occasionally visualise myself wearing a 10-metre ruffled waramba, a Tuareg-like turban, a cane, 10kg of juju like ‘Mr No-Stress’ who got fired even before starting work (maybe the jujus aren’t working anymore) and a few clueless disciples praising my name. That hasn’t come to pass yet but, if like-father-like-son is anything to go by, I might switch professions in the future. And, when the prophecy finally comes true, I will be the revered and feared marabout.
I am Talib; a guy with ten lives, sort of. Only that I have lost eight already; two to women, two to arrogance and four to poverty. I am poor. Very poor. Poverty is sordidly displayed in my being. I eat once a day because I can’t afford three meals. I yawn on my desk and pretend to be sleepy instead of hungry. Everyday. I wear a D25 charah; proudly carry a gifted bag pack and wear a Mauritanian haftan….like a Mauritanian. I buy used clothes at midnight in the streets because that’s when they are cheaper. I get angry each time my phone vibrates because it reminds me how ugly it is. In chilly weather I don’t bathe, I sprinkle water on my feet and apply shea butter or Vaseline, whichever one I could afford. The rest is unpleasant to narrate. I board a cab to work. No, I board a scrapped van stunk with dried fish which usually emanates from the apprentice himself or I walk to work. I don’t even have a bike. I lay on the floor eyes fixed on the leaky ceiling, peeking through the cracks to count the stars. I get bitten by insatiable bed bugs, sucked by Bundung mosquitoes and haunted by ghosts in my dreams every night. Yet, I wake up each morning with a contagious smile like a Jammeh-era pensioner who hits a jackpot.
I am not her. She who buys a Brazilian hair costing D25k; an iPhone 6Plus; a luxurious Cleopatra handbag; a French floral-print bow blouse; a British sequined embellished skirt with zinc zippers and a Jimmy Choo shoes with gold earrings. She practically wears my entire life’s earnings in one birthday night. But, on the ugly and true side of her (which she herself hates), she would fight with an apprentice over a coin, gracefully take a D3-change from her little brother who walked miles to buy her buttered bread. Get in her house and you will see a 10-year-old bedsheet, fissured sponge, a plastic chair, back-torn pants, a brick wrapped in a tattered shirt as a pillow and, another brick that blocks the corrugated door from opening in wee hours to wild animals. Not thieves because the only thing worth stealing in the house is you. The fake you that becomes real you when you are in your house. One million Gambians are living under the poverty line. You are not among the haves, who are you fooling? No, I am not her. She who claims to have a stern dad; an angry Muslim dad who hates dating her daughter; who frowns at any premarital hanky-panky. She would say if dad sees you with her, be ready to receive a punch, a mortar or, if every other physical effort failed, a spell on your entire lineage. If you were me, you would understand that ‘dad’ is figurative. The bed. The room. The sheet. The pillow. The door. All of it symbolizes the dad: Scary and inhabitable. No, that is definitely not me.
I am handsome. Very handsome, like Kazakhstan’s little Yusuf, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dimash. I force girls to gossip about me, admire and crave me. Wherever I go, gazes and wolf whistles follow me like my shadow. Call it natural seduction. I seduce by just being me and I always give the impression that she’s not alone. It is a defensive mechanism against treachery of libidinous humans. It is always a deterrent. I am smart; probably because I used to read a lot. Now, I just watch movies and listen to wise ‘men’ but I have changed my mind about that having watched Hamat’s theatrics on Kerr Fatou. I have stopped listening, at least to him.
I am stupid. Very stupid. As stupid as that old clueless dandy who said it is Ado who set up the African Commission so Fangbili could face justice, little did he know that the only thing Ado knows about the African Commission is its location. That’s even charitable. Period. I loved and unloved. Loved and unloved. The more I loved, the more I unloved. Then I unloved for good. I realised I did it one at a time. The magic becomes clear: love many at a time. Sounds religious, no? But, that is me. The real me. I am not him. He who has a Range Rover; spends thousands on a girlfriend’s party. Then spends thousands on another lover.
And another. The list is endless. But, tragically, your mum sells netetuwoo at the market. Her best day is D100 sell, which she would spend all at the market to shop for lunch. Comes home at 1pm and cooks for the family. But you wouldn’t eat that, would you? Because you have cash to splash on classy ladies at McCaesar’s. Your single mum grapples with poverty on a daily basis thinking she’s fighting for your future. Not knowing that your future is certain because you have some cash but your ‘that’ future has no space for your mum.
She wears the same outfits throughout the week, feet splintered due to long walks with sweat glittering on her forehead, striae all over her blessed body and ashy like tapalapa eating leftover slippery super kanja for breakfast. Despite these disturbing realities at home, you still buy your lover(s) La Prairie Skin Caviar to apply, Caron’s Poivre perfume to wear and MacDonald’s pizza to eat; in fact, you help her eat it as if she’s suffering from Parkinson’s and you call it romantic. Your wife, who legally and religiously should enjoy instead of your side chick, is enslaved at home. She sweeps, mopes, launders and, when you return from your chicks, she’s already exhausted. She does all that but you still choose to sleep with someone else who has no use for you except to satisfy your masculine devil. You’re a slave master. You’re a terrorist, killing emotions on an industrial scale. No, that is not me. I am Talib. My mum is my life. My dalasi is hers. When I eat good food she crosses my mind. I remember her in my prayers, in my dreams. I am her. She’s me. I fan her when she’s feeling hot. I massage her feet. That is me.
I know I am good. Really good. But what I also know is that despite the power of the sun, it is always night on half the planet. No matter how good I am, there is always darkness that occasionally rears its ugly head. I have both. I am imperfect. Call me a racist bigot, a misogynistic sexist, an uncouth fool full of unbelievably cartoonish hyperboles, a burdensome clown and a walking contradiction. That is me. The real me and I won’t change it for anything. Not even a girl whose waist beads are strung with gold coins; penetrating blue eyes like Firdaus houri; curvaceous physique with magnetic attraction or hypnotic whispers like Lucifer. I am Talib and that remains until Big Man in the sky changes it. Nothing moves me except the true me lodged in someone else. Life is too short. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not because it only spoils your chances of actually becoming that something.