I remember when he first arrived in the barracks. It was the day after I turned sixteen, two days after Meredith had let me deflower her as an early birthday present because she would be travelling home for her grandfather’s burial.
I remember because I’d gone to see Rita, who lived two houses away from Meredith. She had also promised to sleep with me as a belated birthday present. Her family would be in church, she said, and she had feigned malaria in order to stay at home.
I had just taken off my clothes and was fooling with Rita’s bra strap when we heard the knock and froze.
“Jesus!” I said. “You told me they went to Kingdom Hall.”
I got dressed fast and we crept to the living room.
“Who is there?” Rita called out, adjusting her blouse. She was shaking; my need was a distant memory.
“Hello, I just moved in and I want to borrow a hammer, if you have one.”
We sighed with relief as Rita opened the door and gave the man her father’s hammer.
I studied him through an opening in the curtains. He was about five-ten, with a line of too-white teeth that contrasted with his dark face. He wore a green vest over camouflage shorts and was obviously an officer because enlisted men weren’t allowed to keep their hair that long.
After shutting the door, Rita pointed to my open fly: “Junior, your pingolo wants to cry.”
In my haste, I’d forgotten to pull on my boxers.
Rita and I laughed, relieved, but though she tried to coax me awake, I could never get up to do what I had come there for.
And that was how I first laid eyes on the Harbinger; he had moved into the house between Rita’s and Meredith’s. I never forgot that meeting because that was how I ended up not sleeping with Rita, who was admitted into the university that year and got married when she came home for her first-semester holiday.
-Excerpted from The Harbinger, a short story published in American Short Fiction.
Toni Kan, the author of the piece, who turns 50 this day June 11, 2021, is a prolific, flowing, deep well of stories. Mr. Kan continues to be a journalist, writer, public relations and marketing practitioner; a publisher of two websites with daily (This is Lagos) and weekly (The Lagos Review) newsletters and a broadcast entrepreneur. His own published literary work includes When a Dream Lingers Too Long, which received an honourable mention by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); Ballad of Rage, a novella published in 2004, shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature; the wildly popular Night of the Creaking Bed, a collection of sometime hilarious, sometime uproarious, short stories. It won the ANA/ Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize; Songs of Absence and Despair, a collection of poetry and The Carnivorous City, a full length novel. Outside of Literature he writes, with partner Peju Akande, biographies of select members of the Lagos Peppersoup elite. One of the latest of several such bios is A Safe Pair of Hands, a painstakingly delivered account of the rise and rise of Austin Avuru, founding Chief Executive Officer of the London listed Seplat Petroleum, which is also Africa’s largest homegrown hydrocarbon firm.