Yesterday I saw the madman, when I went to arrange for water. I have always seen him, but yesterday I looked at him longer than usual. He was about to smoke a cigarette. He had empty cigarette packs. He probably had smoked them all or found some empty packs on his many walkabouts, to add to the proverbial madman’s load.
Intuitively, I assured myself he was going to get more cigarettes, once he finished the last stick. Cigarette was probably his only consolation. Saving the packs and stack of papers, he seemed to care for nothing more. Held very carefully, he drew in, as if his life depended on it.
A dirty rope held the papers together. Was I expecting a madman’s load to be any cleaner? My keen observation of the madman baffled me, but for a moment. I discarded the bafflement and looked on.
The papers were written all over. He was writing on another while he smoked. I concluded he would add it to his load, get more to write on, then add to those already in his possession.
The madman must have been learned, before he lost sanity. “But why am I even thinking all these?”, I asked myself. I was yet to answer when another thought occurred to me.
Writing on those papers could be something the madman unconsciously chose to do; that way, he wanted to show there was nothing wrong with him. A way to disabuse his own mind from seeing his madness. I heard stories of mad people, who did anything to simulate sanity. Unfortunately, the sanity simulation only made the madness more obvious.
I was once sick; not mad. It was a strong malaria. At a time, I began to laugh. I had no control over the laughter. I thought of something, which was hilarious to me. That was the trigger. Nobody understood me. Mother became agitated.
She thought her son was losing his mind. I knew I was, but I could not help myself. Mother screamed my name. With both hands on my arms, she pulled and pushed me to and away from herself. She was not angry at me. It was the common expression of panic. She was confused and feared for me. She knew it was due to the strong malaria. She was desperate to end the terrible laughter.
At a time, I was annoyed mother was trying to stop me from laughing. She could not help me. I was sure when the laughter stopped, it did because it wanted to. I fell into a deep sleep thereafter.
This must be madness: a victim is out of control. A remote force, from within or without, determines the day-to-day routine of the victim.
This madman was different. They are always different anyway. After all, different things lead to madness. I walked past with mixed feelings, most times. Yesterday, I concluded this madman earned his madness. I could not explain this bad conclusion. “Did he choose to be mad?”, I asked, thinking of predestination. “He could not have escaped loosing his mind, if it must be.”I was sad.
It occurred to me I would be mad if I was predestined to be mad. At that point, I deleted predestination from my vocabulary and wished it strongly out of my mind; I succeeded, but for a while.
While I attempted unsuccessfully to delete predestination, other questions popped up: why is this particular man mad? What led to his insanity? Why should it be him? Why does he smoke? Who was he before madness? Does he have a family? Can he be cured? I was worried.
I became even more worried when I noticed some people. They pointed at his direction. I walked closer, hoping nobody saw me. Anyway, it doesn’t matter so long I only wanted to listen to them. Who knows, they might want me around self. I boosted my confidence.
I was right. They were talking about him.
All they said came from hearsay. They did not know the true story. There was one among them however, who spoke with conviction I almost believed him. No doubt, he knew something about the man. I only contributed at intervals; a word or two to show I was around. We were all curious to know something about the madman.
After a while we dispersed.
I walked down the road where meruwa often gathered. I saw them from afar. They sat idly on their barrows. It wasn’t peak time. I was sure to come at this time when I could get one without much haggling over price.
The closer I got to the water-fetchers, the more vivid the picture became; I remembered a seemingly madman during my student days. The madman spoke as though his sanity was not tampered.
From a distance, his appearance gave him away as a psychiatric case, still it was difficult to conclude he was mad. He was neither completely sane nor outrightly insane.
Another thing that struck me about him: he drew like a genius. The first time I noticed him, it was the artwork, tightly held under his arm, which caught my attention. Like reflex, I turned to the man beside me, with a smile plastered on my face, “A madman is at it again. He must have stolen the artwork.”
It was a pencil sketch of a beautiful lady. She was charmingly decorated with beads. She sat in a chair. Her legs were crossed.
I was shocked when he told me the madman was once a fine-art teacher. I supposed he was telling the truth. The madman spoke fine English. His diction confirmed it. He must have studied when Nigeria offered qualitative education.
Once, the madman crossed the road. I was with friends. He came to us. He said something. My lack of interest was too obvious. However, the artwork he held changed the mood. This time, it was a baby, wrapped in a shawl, eyes partially opened. He smiled thinly, beaming with innocence.
The water-fetchers ran towards me to offer their service. They brought me back to myself.
I sighed, hoping the innocent baby would not be mad or even killed prematurely. For a moment, I thought Nigeria a more dangerous tool of destruction than an ill-fated predestination.
I spoke with my usual meruwa. I was about to describe my apartment when he told me not to worry. “Haba. Oga, I know where your house dey now”. He wasted no more time. He dashed off to his water cart.
I wondered if those things were true. One of us said he knew the madman when he was not mad. He knew where he lived and that he had a family. I did not believe him at first. My doubt began to give way when he mentioned the name of the madman.
“Baye”, he said, “was his name when he was a sane person. He had a wife that bore him a son. He used a car. He had a relatively comfortable life when he was a sane person.”
This man spoke of Baye as if he knew him personally. His voice was heavy with sadness. One would not doubt him, going by the conviction in his voice. One thing we all agreed on, although we did not say it, was that Baye was once normal; he could not have been born mad. It was only the man, who spoke of Baye in that sadness-laden voice, who insisted he was sure of his name.
One of us said he was used to see the madman in a black uniform; starched and ironed. He used to carry a gun. He did not refer to him as a madman. He called him a policeman. He knew about his madness. “He was charmed with madness ni”, he claimed. “That madman was that police man who ran mad”, he was actually shouting as if to confirm his claim was true.
I did not believe his story, but listened on all the same.
Nobody knew the herbalist was a herbalist. Understandably, nobody would have known there was a herbalist in the omnibus. The policeman would not have stopped the omnibus if he knew what fate awaited him.
Upon stopping the bus, he refused to let it leave. The passengers were vexed; near bursting at the seams. They began to murmur. One could see they were ready to do anything to get their fare back from the omnibus-boy.
The omnibus-driver, apparently frustrated and tired of begging the officer, came to the bus. He would find a different bus to bring them to their destination.
A passenger demanded to know why they must be conveyed by another bus. He concluded the driver had refused to tip the policeman. The driver was forced to tell the truth. The officer wanted more money than he offered.
Thereafter, an argument ensued, at first between the driver and his conductor, then between the driver and some passengers. The police officer, who had stood a stone-throw from the quarreling passengers, came closer. He hoped to quench the wild noises.
His intervention did not help. The passengers became more furious. The intervention was an insult. After all, he was the cause of the whole mess in the first place. If he had not stopped the omnibus and demanded for a bigger bribe, there would have been no fight at all.
Before long, the herbalist, whose identity was unknown until then, got into an argument with the policeman. The scene got noisier ad wilder.
The policeman unlatched his booth. Some of the passengers thought he was about to fight the herbalist. Then he untied his top, trousers and underpants.
It only dawned on the passengers it was no intention to fight when the police officer started to dance. He was stark naked. He laughed loudly and his dance became intense. He sweated profusely, looking terribly wild and dangerous.
He fled into the bush when passengers attempted to hold him. They had wanted to clothe him when they eventually realized he might be mad. Unfortunately, the madness was already full blown.
A passenger alerted the others. He was sure the policeman, who had successfully made his way into the bush, last argued with the herbalist. Nobody wanted to confirm the allegation. The driver came back for the bus three hours after the incidence. They all fled the scene. Even the supposed herbalist took to his heels. Apparently, they were all scared. Nobody knew who the god of madness might strike next.
I came back to our compound. Men were seated drinking. I could not have gone past as if they were not there. A chair appeared from nowhere. The men shifted theirs to accommodate me. More drinks were arranged immediately. I sat and opened a drink.
We talked about different things; from the most beautiful woman in the compound to the latest infidelity gist in the neighborhood. One of us exclaimed, as if he was jabbed at, “na only women sabi the true father of their children”.
His word was received with thunderous laughter. We poured ourselves more drinks. Talking continued unabated.
I drank from my cup and stood up. They all looked at me. I lowered my cup which was half-empty. It was quickly refilled. I removed my cap, wiped my face and poured libation. I started a prayer. The men echoed amen in unison.
May we never be struck by madness
May our children never be struck by madness
May our days be long, healthy and prosperous
May we live our time in peace and our times always be joyous
In this peaceful compound and in the neighborhood.
The prayer ended. I talked about the madman and the orisirisi stories I had just heard about him.
“Tisa, you get time sha”, one of the men was referring to me.
“Yes, I used to know him too. Different stories about him, really”, another said.
We continued drinking and talking. I watched out at intervals for the meruwa’s arrival.