Just this evening I thought a ghost had knocked when I opened the tumbledown, termite-pecked door of my small one-room apartment. I’d looked out with a bent neck, looking down just in case the person was short. My effort proved futile. Since I didn’t see anybody, I safely concluded that I’d started hearing things. I was shocked to the bone when I felt a human hand on my left knee. My lips fell apart mechanically and my heart throbbed as I made a determined effort to look down at the person. What an unexpected… unwanted visitor!
‘Surprised!’ he said with a grin as he pranced inside my home with his brief legs.
Imagine! He didn’t even ask for my permission before he entered. And as for my response, I was tempted to say that I was surprised at the sight of him.
‘Hey, Malta!’ I exclaimed feebly. ‘So… How…?’ I spread out my hands.
‘Cut it… cut it, I know you are surprised at how I found you—’
‘Exactly!’ I kind of snapped. ‘How did you get my address?’
‘Yeah… trust me. I got it from Lere.’
Oh, God damn it! I imagined myself hitting Lere’s head and biting his ear off like Tyson did Holyfield. How could he! ‘Well nice to see you,’ I said with a feigned smile. ‘Have a seat.’
‘Oh, not yet… Not until I drag my bags in,’ he said, a bit cautiously, as he turned back and walked towards the door, which stood ajar.
‘Your bags!’ This time, I was loud and sincere.
‘Yes… They are lying in the corridor.’
‘Wait…!’ I bent over. I bent from the waist to make sure my hand touched his shoulder, stopping him from getting to the door. ‘Don’t tell me you are staying here tonight and beyond?’ I asked harshly.
He could deduce the coldness from the look on my face, so he became a bit grim.
‘I—I need… a place to stay,’ he stuttered with a sober face, as he dragged his head backwards to view me properly.
‘Please, just for a few days.’
‘See, I have some deals to run after here in Lagos, so I need a place…’
Looking at the short man in front of me, I was overcome with pity. The way he gesticulated with his little arm; the look on his face; the way he bent his conspicuous head and his subdued voice all ignited some kind of compassion in me—the type I never knew was there. I heard myself say, ‘Alright.’
So that was how I accommodated the small man beside me on my medium-sized bed. See, it’s not that I am unkind or lack empathy. I was still shaken because of how he had popped up unexpected. In all honesty, the fact is that Malta d’ dwarf is a menace.
I knew him back in the day—in the NYSC camp precisely. We were not too close, probably because our physical appearances were glaringly disparate. He was very short while I was close to 7ft. He was known all over the camp for his small stature. Oh, I forgot to add that he was not really in anyone’s good books. That’s because of his troublesomeness. He was a classic prankster—the type that pitched friends against each other.
I remember vividly the day after the campfire night. That morning, the boys had spotted a used condom at the base of a mango tree. The tree was rooted to a sequestered spot behind the boys’ hostel where I stayed. Meanwhile, a rumour had been spreading that a close friend of mine had sneaked to the spot with my camp girlfriend. At the end of the day, the rumour was dispelled when a Warri guy came out in the presence of everyone and claimed to have used the condom. He boasted that he used it on the second girl he caught for the night and it was definitely not my girlfriend. Initially, it was hard to believe him but with the way he beat his chest confidently and after displaying the remaining condoms in his pack, the guys gave him a pass and hailed him.
The puzzle that now bothered everyone was where the rumour sprouted from. Guys needed to unravel the truth and when we investigated, all directions pointed to one person. The last guy standing was not too far from the ground. The rumour had sprouted and spread through him like a virus. After admitting his fault, he called everyone’s bluff and told them to stop bothering him. The scene became chaotic and some of the boys threatened to pounce on him but they were restrained by those that pitied his physical predicament. Imagine if he were as tall as others. That morning, he’d been sober and admitted to mixing up the figures being that the accused, Emeka, had the same physique as the Warri guy. But the question on everyone’s lips was what he was lurking around in the dark for. From that day on, many of the boys hated him but I took some interest in him and felt that his negative energy could be transmuted into something positive. Since he was so curious about everything that went on around him, I advised him to be a journalist or a crime investigator. He told me that he had studied civil engineering in school and wasn’t qualified to be either of the two. He mentioned something about his parents forcing him to study the course.
Probably, if I had a bigger house, it would be easier to accommodate him. But considering that I came all the way from Jos to take up the low-paying job of a teacher in an lower-class secondary school, all I could do was worry about his living with me. The bed at the centre of my small room is the only significant piece of furniture I have. It doubles as my dining table and settee. Whenever I come back from work, usually at six, I would often sit on it or sit against its wooden frame on the floor. Then I would pick up my remote to turn on my fourteen-inch TV. Watching images and hearing sounds from the TV has always been my favourite pasttime. When I am not watching TV, I talk to myself— most times vocally, other times internally. I am afraid that with someone around me now, most of my thoughts will have to be internalized.
So with the little space available, you don’t expect me to take in another human. But come to think of it, this human doesn’t look like he can consume much space. As he lay asleep on the bed, I looked at him from head to toe, without moving my neck and with just a gaze of the eyes. He is so petite! I’d first met him five years ago and he still looks the same. It’s like he has refused to leave the ground alone. He’d earlier mocked my tiny head, which he pronounced ‘ungrowable’ on top of my tall frame. I’d given it back to him. I told him that the only part of his body that appeared to be growing was his big round head. In reality, it was twice the size of mine and all its features beat mine hands down. His lips in particular are three times thicker than the flat ones I have. With a chuckle, he had retorted that God gave him a big head to accommodate his large brain. What a funny guy.
I begin to ponder over the clothes he had on. Are clothes made for adults of his size? I can see a pair of branded blue jeans on him, but his shirt has to be made with the intention of serving two-year olds. What a contrast! I shake my head from side to side.
Before he slept—close to midnight—Malta had narrated all his futile efforts at securing a job to me. He’d gone to several construction sites but had been rejected. He’d even gone for several bank interviews. All to no avail. So he lost his confidence and developed a mindset of failure. Within me, I pondered if it was his shortcomings that had failed him or his size. I reasoned that he might not have been a top-notch student in school. Maybe, he’d spent most of his time nosing around. Then I imagined him as a banker, positioned behind a counter. The customers wouldn’t even see him. That implies that he could never be a cashier. Maybe he could get other jobs in the bank. Unfortunately, most banks are in the habit of recruiting people initially as cashiers or marketers. He wouldn’t fit into either job. On second thought, who says he can’t be a profitable marketer; playing on people’s compassion to bring in the cash?
As I looked at him, I kept on wondering why they had to reject him. Humans tend to attach charisma, capability and attraction to a person’s size, and especially height. For instance, being a tall person myself, I have observed that women feel safer and even more attracted to me. Even men take notice of me easily. Shorter people might have to work harder to be recognized by the ladies. Not only the ladies—people in general. So if someone as short as he is was ever to be considered above taller humans, he has to be smart. Perhaps, as smart as Einstein.
Maybe the government should pay special attention to people of his kind. I remembered the advice I had given him in camp. Hmmm… even if he ever tried to be a journalist, he might not fit in. While reporting, he would have to be lifted up to interview people or otherwise bend people towards his microphone. He would probably be lost in the scene of events. But who says he can’t be a pharmacist, an accountant, an editor, a writer, a surveyor, or an architect. These professions don’t need tall people but he would always be looked down on. He would need to be exceptionally good to find space within these professions. The fact is, the structures that define most professions are not built to suit people severely disadvantaged in height.
He told me repeatedly that he’d developed a mindset of failure and I began to investigate where the failure was living within him. He’d never revealed any sign of worry ever since I met him. With all the challenges, I have never seen Malta sad. He was always full of life and was fun to be with.It occurs to me that dwarfs have always found solace in the entertainment industry. Some become attachés to entertainers, amusing taller people with their antics. But what happens to the naturally serious minded ones?
The next day, Malta came back in the evening, having left the house early in the morning. He was all smiles and lively. I wondered why a jobless man like him would be so full of life. I suspected he must have had a good day and his supposed deal must have gone well for him. When he’d changed his clothes, he brought out a big loaf of bread and a tin of sardines from a white plastic bag which he’d earlier dropped on the fridge.
‘My sure guy, have you had dinner?’ he asked with a broad smile.
‘Of course, it’s past 9 already. I don’t eat late.’ I replied casually.
‘So you want me to consume all of this bread alone.’
‘It’s a free world, you can, if you are capable,’ I said as I watched the 9 o’clock news on TV.
‘My guy, I am very capable o.’
‘Of devouring a loaf as big as this!’
‘Yes o, on a good day sha, but this night, I need to take half of it. I am watching my weight.’
His last statement struck me but I instead imagined where the big loaf would occupy in his body. He is shorter than most dwarfs. Then I remembered the statement… I think he must have said something about watching his weight. I needed a clarification on that. ‘Watching which weight,’ I retorted, with a critical look at him.
He was more than happy to explain himself. ‘You see, I want to be the most sought-after actor in Hollywood. I have been selected to feature in a comedy.’
Oh, now I see why he travelled all the way from Abuja to Lagos. Trying to get a waka pass role in a movie was the deal he referred to yesterday. So much for running after some deals!
‘I went for the audition today and I was chosen…’
‘But how will this local comedy land you a role in Hollywood?’ I asked with a wicked sneer.
‘My guy, it’s a matter of time o. Look at Aki and Pawpaw. Are they not making it big now. But I will surpass their record. Just watch out for Malta!’
‘Gbenro.’ I called his real name to attract his roving attention. ‘Looks like you’ve forgotten that you are of a different kind from Aki and Pawpaw. Those two made it because they look like children. One look at you reveals how old you are.’
‘Oh no, I wouldn’t be acting the role of children, neither would I be acting as some stubborn man-child. I would make things happen by simply being Malta or… perhaps different kinds of Maltas.’
I didn’t know how to react to his statement. Maybe it was because I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on in his big head. I reasoned that he was making some sense. If he played his cards right, he just might be that mischievous dwarf always up to no good in movies. He might just be able to carve a niche for himself, who knows?
His dream might not be too tall for him after all.
Born in Lagos, Seun Ogunbiyi grew up drawing Super Heroes, especially the Ninja Turtles. While studying English in the University of Lagos, he was inspired to improve his various literary drafts. His debut novel, Ojo Veracrz is being represented by an agent in New York.. He presently lives in Abuja, working as a civil servant and intends to write full time.