Mr No face – Ibadan 1987

Every morning promptly at 9, he sets his prayer mat down on the defaced and eroded sidewalk and prays for passersby, goading them with blessings, yelling at the top of his voice… “Sissy, Broda, Allah bless you” He calls out once too often.

But rarely does a coin land in that shallow calabash and rarely still does anyone see or hear him. Of course the eyes watched and the sounds touched ears…

His prayer beads move gracefully between remnants of fingers and my book falls into the gutter beside him. I glance into the deep void of eyes long gone and fearfully look away. I drop something into the calabash and race away. Through the back of my head I can still see the face, devoured by leprosy, no nose, no ears, no eyes, the white bone of his chin contrasting with the sunbathed ebony skin. Tightly wrapped turban depicts capabilities and strength without a face. I hear the prayers as he rains Allah’s mercy on me. I feel the eyes pierce my back and I quicken my pace…

Little hands grab my blouse and I struggle to release myself. Looking back in an effort to free myself from the persistent blond beggars, I see the old man scratching his gums with a knife while staring sightlessly into a mirror. As I enter the embrace of the university gates a lone tear creeps down my cheek.

The morning I left for Lagos, he was still sitting at the gates side, calling on Allah to help passersby. And I saw a newspaper boy drop 10kobo into the calabash.

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