Kokoka: A Short Story by Ike Adegboye
Kokoka: The Song about Shoes
There was a song Aunty Lizzie loved to sing to us as children—it was a song about shoes. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but we all got excited when she started clapping her bony hands to the rhythm. Folake, the most playful girl in class would bolt out of her seat, shoulders up, strutting around the classroom; David would drum; the rest of us swayed, following Aunty Lizzie’s lead, clapping our little eager hands to the beat of kpa-kpa-kpa-kpa. A song was always better than reciting the multiplication table anyway, and as much as I wanted to remain the sullen, unhappy little boy in class, I couldn’t deny the catchy tempo. It carried an enticing warmth of optimism and the syntax of the syllables would get any 6-year old bobbing and clapping in a second.
Each time, after the song, Aunty Lizzie would face our smiling faces, and tell us what it meant—that if we worked hard and studied our books, the heels of our shoes would go kokoka. Was it true? That our shoes would click? Aunty Lizzie’s shoes didn’t click but she seemed fine selling the idea to us. In the reality of the song, clicking shoes symbolized wealth. Who wouldn’t want that? So I worked and read and studied, straining my eyes in the flickering light of the candle; I studied through father’s yells and mother’s screams. Maybe one day I could make them stop if I bought them shoes, maybe if their shoes clicked…maybe. I studied through entrance exams, through promotions, and University. There were a few distractions along the way. Girls— distracting, tempting. Of all of them, Lucy stood out. We were married as soon as school was over.
I found a job. I was paid chicken feed and eggs. I worked for Mr. Louis, an old Togolese farmer who managed a 20-chicken poultry and planted orange trees which bore dry, small fruits. All he could afford for renumeration were eggs and feed. We ate the eggs and sold the chicken feed at the market but stall fees were almost as expensive as my income. So I hawked chicken feed. It was my third month working with the farmer when Lucy made my favorite food—eba and ogbono with beef and offals. She settled down next to me on one of the two plastic chairs in our living room and told me she had been to the doctor’s office. She wasn’t showing yet, but it was time. Her smile was nervous, she rubbed her palms against the cotton of her skirt, her eyes focused on my face.
Was I happy? She asked.
I stuffed my mouth with a full hand of soupy eba, avoiding the question and her hopeful eyes.
Her excitement spilled more news.
There were 3 of them.
I sucked in my breath and the slippery eba went the wrong way. I coughed violently. She screamed and the neighbors came around, someone held me in a hug from behind, and in three short squeezes, the bolus flew out of my mouth.
The wretched bolus. It lay miserably on the floor. A failure.
I kept the neighbors around as much as I could, thanking them over and over. I could feel her staring at me as she shrunk into the plastic chair— small and without the satisfaction of a husband’s delight. I avoided her in the coming weeks, spending more time with Mr. Louis and his chickens. So when she began to bleed, she blamed me. When she lost two, her tongue lashed, and when the last one came out still-born, she moved out.
She took her things, and left the things for the baby, she also left one pot and a plate but took the cutlery.
Our families stepped in but her parents blamed me and my parents blamed each other—father yelled, mother screamed.
I tried to find her but she had vanished. Her cousin said she had found a job in Port Harcourt, then another in Ibadan, then another in Taraba. At the end of it, I was broke from traveling and her cousin mocked my new eagerness.
I soon found a job at a manufacturing plant on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway as an inventory controller. It paid enough. Then one day at a friend’s house, I met Bello. A burly, cheerful man with more hair between his elbows and wrists than on his head, sleepy eyes that made him endearing and an joyful habit of slapping his thigh when he laughed. He was a dealer. A car dealer—I had assumed, like Mr. Akim who I knew as a child. Car dealers were always rich.
Bello had laughed. Car dealer? He dealt in many things but the most lucrative of course, was his investment in pharmaceuticals. The recreational kind. He ran his numbers by me. He had quit his job two years ago.
His shoes were brown leather, they shone and rising from them—lightly scenting the air-conditioned air along with the spicy cologne he wore— was the defiant smell of the seasoned leather. They clicked—these shoes— when he got up to use the restroom. Their clicking, a polished, high pitched kokoka. My shoes were quiet and their rubber sole made an irritating squeaky sound.
A drug dealer.
An investor in pharmaceuticals, he corrected again and again.
He offered to get me in the first transaction. 60-40 was the deal. Maybe Lucy would take me back.
The pen quivered in my hand. It all came down to it—squeaky shoes or clicking shoes? As the pen came down on paper, I heard Aunty Lizzie, saw Folake dancing, Lucy crying, blood—so much blood, graduation hats flying, chicken feed, the sun, the heat, flies hovering, leather, Mr Louis’ old face, my first class certificate now frayed along the edges, tucked away in my wardrobe. The point of the pen hit the paper.
Bata re adun kokoka ti o ba kawe re…*
Aunty Lizzie was wrong.
Copyright ©2018 by IkeOluwapo Adegboye