“You can play it on the piano then.” He did not say this like he was urging me. It was more like a command that he expected me to obey.
Motioning for me to follow him, he led the way to the half-opened door that led to the music room. As he pushed the door open, I almost ran back to the sitting room in horror. Sitting on a black wooden piano bench, sat two men, fully dressed. One of them wore native attire, complete with the agbada, while the other man wore a black suit. Both of them had their backs turned to the door and sat facing the piano. They sat motionless as if waiting for me to join them. This whole time I had thought that Uncle Alexander and I were alone. I was wrong.
“G-o-o-d A-f-t-e-r-n-o-o-n, sirs.” I stuttered.
Uncle Alexander didn’t miss a beat. He pulled another piano seat from a corner and sat on it with his back to the piano. The two men were on his right.
“Let me introduce you to the other two Alexanders: Alexander the First, my grandfather,” he said, pointing to the man wearing the blue and gold brocade agbada, “and Alexander the Second, my father,” pointing to the man wearing the black suit.
Still, no response.
“You see,” he said, continuing, “all three of us share the same name: we are all called Alexander. I, of course, am Alexander the Third,” he said half-rising to bow in mock salute.
I stayed put at the door. Part of me was still angry that none of these men had returned my greeting. I just hoped they had heard me the first time, knowing how particular elders were about young people greeting them properly. I wondered whether I should prostrate and greet them a second time. Since they did not turn around to acknowledge my first greeting, I decided that the second greeting would be a waste of time. I turned to my host for direction.
At this point, I wondered if Mama had returned home from work. I had not told anyone where I was going. In fact, no one except Uncle Alexander knew where I was at that moment. Should I go back home to check? I had still had not moved close to the piano, not even touched it, even though it was just a few steps away from me.
“Uncle, I was wondering, sir, can I go and check to see if my mother is back home? She will be worried if she does not see me at home.”
“What sort of video games do you play?” He just assumed that I played video games.
I named a few of them, video games I had played in the homes of friends whose parents could afford them. Mama did not buy me video games. “I don’t have money” was her usual response whenever I asked.
Uncle Alexander pointed to a wooden closet in the corner of the room. It was closed.
“All those video games you mentioned, I have them. We can play them together after,” he said turning around and placing his fingers on the piano keys, “we have played the piano. Together.”
Although he said “Together” he did not invite me to join him beside the piano. Instead, he just began to play.
“Mi, So, So, Mi, So, So, Mi, Mi, So, So, Mi, So, So, Mi, Mi, So, So ….”
He never looked at the piano book, which was planted right in front of him. But, he kept turning to his left, to look at the faces of the two men beside him. They did not sing along, neither did they move from where they sat. You see, I expected them to move. Uncle Alexander played for just five minutes, repeating the same line over and over again. It was the line in the story where Oluronbi promised to give her daughter as a sacrifice. He never went past that line.
“My grandfather taught my father this song, and then my father taught me.” Pausing and turning to me, he said: “This will be the last song I teach my son. It was the last song my father taught me.” And then he resumed his playing again.
Something about the way he said “My son” made me uneasy. I had already looked around the sitting room, and now this music room, and yet, there were no pictures whatsoever. No wedding pictures showing Uncle Alexander and his wife – if he had a wife. No pictures of Uncle Alexander as a child. No family pictures shot in black and white. No pictures of Uncle Alexander wearing a graduation gown, grinning and clutching a certificate, the pose I had seen replicated in many homes. No pictures of any children. No pictures of his son. And yet he had mentioned a son.
Mama would be very angry to find out that I had gone to a neighbor’s house without her permission. But maybe she would forgive me this once. I stuck my hands into the pocket of my shorts and felt something cold. I pulled it out – it was the house key! It had been in my pocket all along. I must have put it there that morning as I rushed to school, instead of leaving it for Mama to give it to Mama Peju. Well, if the key was here with me, then I had to go back home. I had no excuse for paying Uncle Alexander this unannounced visit.
“Come and play for me. I want to see how well you play.”
“Sir, I really need to leave now. My mother –”
“I will go back home with you and explain everything to her. She won’t punish you.”
I can’t tell you whether it was the promise of preventing my Mama from punishing me or the allure of having someone invite me to play an instrument I had been dying to explore. Whatever it was, I found myself sitting beside him in front of the piano. Almost as soon as I sat down, he got up, telling me that he would watch me from the door. I placed my hands on the keys and started playing the song from the beginning. He stood by the door watching me.
Then I got to the part he had repeated over and over again. For some reason, I cannot fathom, I stopped playing and began to leaf through the pages of the red piano book. As I turned to the Page 14, which was where Uncle Alexander had penned down the words and music to the Oluronbi song, something fell out of the book. I bent down and picked it up. It was an old newspaper story from The Daily Times, neatly cut out. The headline read: “TWO MEN MISSING – BOTH NAMED ALEXANDER.” A chill swept over me as I looked up from what I had just read.
By now, I was on my feet, still holding the piano book in my right hand. I turned my head to the left. In doing so, I faced the other two men in the room – the two Alexanders. For the first time since I had entered the house, I saw the faces of Alexander the First, and Alexander the Second. A muffled cry rose to my lips as I stared at their faces. The two men who sat beside me had grey, ashy skin. Their lips sealed were sealed together – they would never sing again. They would never speak again. Their hands were folded across their laps, perfectly still. Their hands would never play the piano again. But, perhaps, the most fearful part was their eyes – they were gone. Empty sockets stared at me, as empty as the heart of the man who had extinguished the light from their eyes. I remembered Uncle Alexander’s own brown eyes.
“They are dead,” Uncle Alexander was saying, as he turned a key in the lock. Then he turned towards me.
“And if I had a son,” he said walking slowly towards me, “I would name him Alexander. Alexander the Fourth.”