You are eight years old, Nonso is twelve and you both live with your Grandmama inside her small flat where the walls are unpainted, and the floors are rough, gray and untiled. The flat is one of four in a house with no running water. And every morning there’s a race for who gets to first drop the leather carrier, a buga, down the well. The undisturbed early morning water looks clean, despite the grains of sand that settle at the bottom of the bucket. After that, the water is churned, murky and brown.
Even though Grandmama’s flat is located closest to the well, you and Nonso never get up early enough. Your buckets are never first; despite the alarm on Grandmama’s old Nokia phone; despite the sun that will begin to shine through the transparent louvre windows and the thin red-and-blue wrapper that acts as a curtain. You both wait until Grandmama folds her wrinkled short fingers and presses tiny pieces of your skin between her thumb and forefinger. By the time you and Nonso arrive at the well, all that comes up in the buga is murky and brown.
Nonso tells you that the water in the well turns brown only when the Thing inside the well is hungry; only when it smells breakfast. The Thing that lives inside the well is said to be long, black and slimy. It has red eyes and makes no noise during the day. But should you open the metal cover of the concrete well when the stars are out, it will growl, deeply. The Thing loves the taste of chickens, rats and skinny young boys. That’s what your brother, Nonso, says every time you threaten to report him to Grandmama. “Tell,” he always says to you. “Just go ahead and tell. You know what happens to rats around here.” And Nonso’s threats would quiet you; at least until you caught him smoking again.
You know you shouldn’t believe Nonso; there is nothing inside the well. He is only teasing you; because it’s what big brothers do. Grandmama says Nonso loves you deep down, that teasing you is Nonso’s way of loving you. But the teasing bothers you. It bothers you that Nonso whispers to you of how many slimy tentacles the Thing has – nine. He says the Thing wraps them around people’s necks, dragging them down the hollow cylindrical rings of the well to a watery death. Nonso’s stories bother you so much you wish that the Thing would take him away so you can sleep without your mind shrouded in fear as you dream of red eyes.
Every night, before you sleep, you assure yourself that one day, you will challenge Nonso and demand that you and he fight the Thing. Then you will no longer have to be afraid; you will no longer have to go to sleep with the fear that wraps itself around your neck at night, squeezing too tight for you to breathe.
Nonso has always told you that Mama went to heaven when you were born. So you stay in the small hamlet with Grandmama because Papa works in the big city and he does not have the time to take care of little boys. Your Papa has a big belly and his chin is full of hair and when you look inside his eyes, you can see that they are tired and red; that Papa looks like one of those men who can sleep standing upright. Papa comes to see you and Nonso sometimes. You like it when Papa comes. But this only happens in December; when the well is dry. This is when you and Nonso have to walk down the street to get water from the small stream that flows there.
When Papa comes he brings new shirts for you and Nonso. It is the only time you drink Fanta; it is the only time Grandmama really smiles. You have ten shirts now, all of them have different colors. But only the green shirt, your newest shirt from Papa, has no holes in it. The cockroaches in Grandmama’s room have not tasted it yet.