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Okonga outdid himself multiple times, creating mushroom shaped clouds and ringing its foundations with smoky circlets.

*

We would gather near Rosa’s house; a rickety castle of wood and zinc behind the old church. The back of the competitors would face the swamp; our crab farm and Rishe would carry me on his shoulders while we cheered them on. It was easier to see the competitors. It was fun watching smoke roll down their nostrils like it does, up the chimneys uptown. Okonga (a mutation of Hulk Horgan) was the champion from the last time. We also called him dragon owing to his inextinguishable prowess with smoke. He would spend hours consuming wrap after wrap, emerging subsequently from his backyard, insulting our fathers and the devil. His lean tall frame and ghostly eyes are a sure sight in Madam Kpetu’s bar, emptying bottles of beer and weed. In his ‘much earned’ praise we would yell, “OKONGA!!”. Once he could focus in our direction, our felicitations were returned with a raise of his fist before he waved us along. Our Mothers’ calm advice; ‘Okonga no go let this thing kill you o’ would be met with his empty grin and shady retort ‘na once man dey craze, na once man dey die’. Aside his amazing dexterity with wraps and gin, he was our local Don Juan. We were almost always certain to catch him fondling someone’s breasts or thighs behind backyards when chance or infant ‘curiosity’ tutored our feeble steps. His gifts of crisp notes of 10s and 20s would pacify our inquisitive minds… until next time. One day, we wandered into his compound and found his lips all swollen and red. He waved us along and off, all week with an irritated snarl. We heard later, from our mothers’ gossips amidst the boom of pestles, that he had taken loads of fists from Madam Kpetu’s husband, when he was caught ravishing their daughter behind her bar.

*

The other competitors were equally good with the dope. They were all incredible smokers as most of them were masters of cultivation and distribution. Like some of our brothers and Baba Agba, they already had large farms of hemp deep in the forest; deep in places safe from our mothers’ prying eyes. But we knew these farms, because we helped make most of them. On one misty morning or the other, Rishe would place careful knocks on our rickety ashen door, all ready for school. After donning my decoy attire – my uniform, I would follow him and other boys with my little hoe to an un-ravished part of the forest, through routes with twists that would shame the labyrinth. These visits with our cutlasses and hoes meant someone was expanding – a business man from one of the cities, or our very own. It didn’t matter. We were needed. It is the supreme taste and touch of manhood to bake our bread and make our own butter. We knew the routes to get to these parts. Some by swinging vines, pushing canoes or a knee deep trudge in the smelly swamp water. In an hour or so of dark dense travel, one would sweetly tumble into a copacetic haven of green and grass.

*
They would hold these competitions at uncalculated times and it always began from a fight. A fight of who downed weed better, who knew clever ways to twist smoke with their lips into wisps of grey and shapes as it tumbled out of their mouths, who could last longer without passing out after wasting wraps of hemp on tots of Madam Kpetu’s homemade gin. It began from an argument of who was the king of weed. It was a game of men, a game of endurance and ghetto fires but most importantly, it was a restatement of their first competition, to reenact that which served as an initiation into their world of ‘men’, making them free to engage in the trade and cultivation of greenery. I would make mama let me watch under a pretext and she would let me go, more in a bid to get my hungry nagging self out of her sight, than to accede to my request. Once out of her sight, we – I and other children, would race to the grounds like kites in harmattan, our eyes hungry for the spectacle awaiting us.

*
It was one of the very mornings when the sun stayed its fierceness. They were the last to come and we all turned and made way as they trudged into the ‘arena’, their wraps rolled and ready. Once baba told them to begin, they would light up the wraps and swallow smoke thick enough to blind an infant.
Baba Agba is as old as my father, but richer. His many plots deep within the walls of green gave him the pecuniary will to maintain the three women he called his wives and the television within his ramshackle we all came to love and adore. Okonga and the other young men regarded him as their mentor and father, on the path they hazily toed. Aside his comrades, we all respected him outside the walls of our homes. It was our custom to wait at his house whenever Rishe, told us he was on his way home from the town. That meant crisp 20s and 10s for our feeble rapacious fingers, a tell tale sign of successful commerce done.

*
Okonga strolled in like the wind, his hands in his pockets. He wore a faded black jean trouser and a yellow T-shirt with the buttons undone. Most of his opponents were naked, save clothing on the lower part of their bodies. We were warned not to speak as Agba handed them wraps of the dope and seven kegs of homemade gin. They lit up before he got to his seat on a tree stump and began their communion with sheets of smoke, their lips and tongue curled in different shapes and twists, creating smoky wisps of patterns and art. Their dexterity evoked shouts and ofcourse cheers in favour of the most creative puff. They kept at it for about an hour or more, punctuating chains of drags with tots of gin. Okonga outdid himself multiple times, creating mushroom shaped clouds and ringing its foundations with smoky circlets. Wrap after wrap vanished from the stump and with just three remaining, Baba Agba stopped them and announced Okonga the winner, as his opponents were all sprawled on the ground murmuring, with their heads stuffed full and free, with the flavor of burnt weed and spirituous gasses. But Okonga raised his hand when baba came close; we waited wondering what this meant.

*
‘Make I finish am. ’ he objected, his voice rasp.

*
He gestured to the remaining wraps on the tree stump. Agba tried to prise his hand open, to extricate the fiery wrap in its grasp but Okonga pushed him away to assert his seriousness. Baba Agba returned to his seat while most of us sat back to watch. Some of us children went back home, or to pluck succulent mangoes close to the school. Knowing Okonga as the new winner there wasn’t much else to see. He kept at the wrap for longer than usual, his eyes like jewels forged straight from hell. He trained them on us like one of those zombies we see in Baba Agba’s television, smiling vacantly amidst puffs and drags. A few seconds into the last roll, he stopped moving, he stopped helping the wrap make the short commute from his mouth and away. While we watched the smoke drift continuously from his nostrils, we waited rigid, our eyes keen. This was the defining moment; the reason Baba Agba stops the competitors and announces the winner when their eyes finally turn dead rubies; a deft move to reduce the mad men in our hood. Baba Agba stepped forward again, but was forced to his knees, with a stone breaking punch from Okonga’s fist. While we stared wide-eyed and alarmed, Okonga stood up, looked up at the sky like a dragon surveying his domain. He spread his hands to his sides and flapped like a bird about to take-off and as the smoke fairies put an invisible crown on his head, he bounded down the street before our very eyes.

*
#word_from_the_hood
#fiction

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