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What A Child Sees Sitting…(3)

The morning papa beat mama again after the Bode “thing” is the day I knew about Pastor outside service days.

Papa beat mama because Mary did not come home at night. Papa said it was mama’s fault-she was raising whores (I did not even know the meaning), girls who will not even be useful enough to fetch him a big bride price. Papa said he won’t pay our school fees again, so I did not go to school that day. My school had already pursued me home for money two days before.

When Papa left for his job at the post office with his die-die bicycle, mama came from the backyard where she had been crying and washed her face and told me to change my clothe and tie a scarf that we were going to church.

When I asked her what would happen to her ugwu leaf she had to take to the market so they will not become dry like somebody’s under-leg, she said: “Don’t worry about it. Getting a child…a son, is more important now than getting #1,000.”

I did not understand. We needed #1,000-we always needed #1,000. But I tied my head and ear until what I was hearing became as if someone reduced the volume, and we went.

The church place had plenty people outside, mostly women. I became confused and wanted to ask my mother if the day wasn’t Monday again. But my small brain told me that these people were like mama; they were looking for great things and did not mind not going to work that day in order to get it.

Mama was given a number. Number 30! There was no list, but everyone knew who was after whom to go and see Pastor.

Many of the women came with their children, most of them looking hungry and tired of life. Their mothers were with canes, the ones for flogging the devil. And they were with things too-chickens; small bags of beans, garri, rice; kegs of palm oil; tubers of yam-things that I think their children needed more than the person they were going to give.

But I knew-we knew-that Pastor did not pray for or “talk” to any person without them giving him something first, even though the person giving already looks like he/she has not eaten for 40 days, and there might not be any strength to flog the devil when he asks them to bring out their canes.

There were only 2 men waiting to see Pastor, and they both had a goat, with the other things too. But they only brought goats; it made me think that maybe their problems were bigger than that of the women.

The church is just one building with spaces that are square for where windows should be. Then there is just one room that is Pastor’s office-that is the place the people that want to see him, disappear into and close the door.  There is one shed at the back that we call toilet, but no one likes to use because it is always dirty and is never washed. So the bushes around the church serve as toilet. So the church compound always smells bad-bad.

But it is still in this compound, outside the church, that the people wanting to see the Pastor to solve their problems stay. The young, langa-langa boy that runs errands for Pastor said they have to stay outside so that the people’s animals will not mix together, and their poo-poo will not dirty the floor of the church. But when it is the turn of somebody to go to Pastor, it is with this boy, sitting inside the church, that they will keep the things they brought and their children too.

The sun started to shine around 11:00am, two hours after we got to the place. The 20th person on the list had just gone in. She was a very fat woman, looking like blom-blom. In my mind, I believed she was also adding to the smell of where we were sitting, because she looked like somebody that will be polluting, polluting every second. She brought 3 children that were sick and were vomiting throughout.

They could not even sit on the sand like all of us, so their mother begged the errand boy to let them sleep on the church veranda that had small sand. I was pitying for the children, and so when it was their mother’s turn, I was happy for them. I believed that Pastor will heal them after he has taken healing money from their mother and poured the anointing water on their head and shouted for the devil in their bodies to die, till saliva will be falling out of his mouth by mistake. I wanted them to be well.

The woman and her children came out from Pastor’s office quicker than many of the other women who dropped their children with the errand boy did. Those women would disappear and spend more than 10 minutes inside the office, and when they would come out, their wrappers will be to one side, and they will be sweating. It made me imagine how much they must have been killing the devil with Pastor, and why Pastor could not buy standing fan if his office is like oven.

Sleep was starting to catch me, my eyes closing and my head almost falling to my legs in my front when mama tapped me. It was time to go inside.

 My stomach was making noise, and I wished I could eat someone’s chicken, even with the feathers and the blood. Only five new people were in the compound now. Nobody we had met was around again.

I looked at the new people… the five of them were women, and only one brought her son. Mama was holding my hand to go inside, but she stopped by the woman and greeted her, maybe because of her son. Mama greeted and would not continue going inside. She asked the woman what she was coming for. I noticed that mama whispered when she asked the question, and I wondered why.

“Hmm, na because of this my boy, oh,” the woman answered.

I looked at mama. Mama looked at the boy. The boy did not look sick. In fact, he was very fine-yellow, sef-like his mother. He was holding something in his hand and talking with it, playing with it.

“Wetin dey do am?” Mama asked, and I was happy she did because I wanted to know the thing wrong with a fine, normal-looking boy like him.

“Ah ah,” the woman began. “You no see the thing em hol for hand?”

We looked at him again. That is when my eyes saw that the thing he was talking to and playing with was a dolly-baby, the type that I had at home, though I could not find one leg of my own again.

The woman then told mama of how this boy always plays with the thing as if he is a girl. She said when boys his age mates were hunting lizards with their fathers, he would be crying and gumming her in the kitchen and be helping to taste stew. She said many other things my hungry head could not take. And then, when mama was still looking at her somehow, confused about what the name of this “sickness” could be, the woman took one leg of her slippers and threw it somewhere, and told the yellow-pawpaw to go and bring it.

My mouth and mama’s own fell down, open, as the boy stood up small-small, like snail, and held the baby to his chest with one hand and put the other one on his waist, and walked, one leg in front of the other, like a cat, to go and bring the slippers. I was looking at the way his waist was bending, to the right and to the left as he was coming back, and I put my hands on my head.

“Mama, take your slippers.”

His voice was high, as if they increased the volume of his throat, and blocked part of his nose.

When he gave his mother the slippers and sat down again, he crossed his yellow legs carefully and was talking to the baby again.

Our mouths were still open. The woman began to cry.

“You see. You no see wetin my village people dey do me? I know since sey dem bin no want make I see good husband marry. Now my son na girl-boy and my stomach dey reject my husband ‘things’. So I want make Pastor flog them bad spirit commot for em body, make em body dey like boy own wey God create am to be.”

“Eyahh,” mama remarked, pitying her.“But make Pastor take am easy for the flogging oh; you know sey na small pikin em be.”

“I no care for that one; make them flog the devil out of am until em well, be my own. Abi you want make my husband people pursue me commot from em house?”

“God no go gree!” Mama said and hurried us inside the church. Something told me it was so that the woman will not ask us why we came, because her eyes and mouth were already opening to talk again when mama grabbed my hand.

When I looked back at the fine boy, he was plating the baby’s hair. I shook my head and felt sorry for him and thanked God that I did not use to climb trees like a boy or else it would have been me mama would give Pastor to flog boy-girl spirit out of.

To be continued

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What A Child Sees Sitting…

My elder sister’s friend is a “lele”.

I know that she is a lele, but I cannot tell my sister. I cannot tell her because she will tell me what she always tell me—that I am just 10 and so I do not know anything. But I think I know plenty things, because I see plenty things just like the big-big people also see. It is as if in this place we come from, to be small means you cannot see, or you cannot hear, or you are just one olodo ,kukuma, that God just threw at two people who were disturbing his ears with prayers of pikin.In this place ehn, if you are small, forget it…you are not even alive yet to people.

So I have known that the Ngozi girl is a lele for a long time now. How did I even get to know sef? Ehen, I remember now. It is that day that I saw her and one other senior in our school, chooking hand inside each other’s pant in that our school’s smelling toilet. When I saw it, I just jejeli did as if my eyes were blind, and I tiptoed back.

Since I am just 10, and Ngozi is a senior, I have not been able to tell anybody what I saw with my two koro-koro eyes that day. But no matter how I try to forget about it, it is disturbing my brain as if the thing wants to jump out of my head and come outside from my mouth.

It is doing me like that because when I am sleeping, I am imagining that one day, Ngozi will teach my sister how to lele, and then when my sister now knows very well, she will now lele me too in the night on our small bed.

If she starts to lele me, I will not be able to tell her that I don’t want to be leled, that I don’t want to become a lele… I will not be able to tell her because mama says we should always respect our elders so that God will not strike our anus till we die.

Mama use to say that if we respect somebody, we will not tell the person ‘no’ when the person is telling us something. But since I cannot say “no” if my elder sister starts to chook her hand inside my clothes in the night, the best option would be to tell mama from now that my sister will soon learn the art of leleing from her friend, abi? But that one is danger!

Our mother is a churchy-churchy woman. I remember those times that she will tie her head, and tie the head of two of us, till we cannot hear word well again because she has tied even our ears join, then drag us to her church. Her church is all those olden days, boring people church that like calling “fire”; they will call fire from beginning to the end of the service till small children like me will start crying because the whole place and people will start shaking as if God true-true will throw down the fire from heaven and it will land on our heads and burn all our hair.

In church, it is mama’s “fire-calling” that use to be the loudest. She will call and call and call until she starts to sweat and the cheap white powder she rubbed on her face will start falling off like small-small white rivers. And then when the fat Pastor that is always shouting with his big belly says: “bring out your cane and ‘pieces’ the devil”, mama will be very happy. She will lose the rope she used to tie our 6 fat canes together, and take two, and then give my sister and me two-two too.

Then we will flog and flog the devil till sometimes I imagine something wearing black, crying, and then I will stop flogging because I use to pity somebody quickly. I don’t want the devil to die from my flogging, though mama always says the devil is a bad devil and needs to die. One time that I asked mama how she knows that the devil is a bad devil, she told me it is the devil that is making everything that is worrying us to worry us, and so we should always flog “it” with all the anger and pain in us.

From that day, I am always flogging with all my small strength, but still, I do not flog too hard so that it is not my cane that will kill the devil, because I don’t want to be dreaming bad dreams. In all those films we use to watch in the night, when somebody kills somebody, that somebody cannot sleep in the night because that somebody that the person killed will be appearing to him everywhere and every time.

I don’t want that type of thing to happen to me, because I know that if I start to fear-fear, and I tell mama or my sister that something is pursuing me in the dream, they will not listen to me. They will shout on me that I am behaving like a child…that I should stop behaving like a child, as if before, it is an animal that I am.

Mama doesn’t hear word, especially if it is not word that concerns going to church or flogging the devil, or calling fire on somebody that is looking for her trouble. Every time, she is reading bible, but she is not reading the whole bible oh; she is only reading the book of Psalms because David that Pastor says wrote the book is like mama—he too likes God to be punishing his enemies, and so his prayers are like mama’s own: “God, kill them”, “God slaughter them”, “God, let them choke and die”.

Sometimes, I wonder if God is like all those killy-killy people in the films we use to watch that use to wear black and hand gloves and go and kill people for money. If God is not like those people killing for money, then why does mama always disturb his peace with her fight-fight prayers? Or can’t God even appear to her one day and tell her to stop telling Him to kill people? I just do not understandabeg. And of course, nobody will tell a child anything. You cannot even ask anything sef.You should just always keep quiet and be looking likemumu because you are small.

So that is why I cannot tell mama that my sister—her daughter—will soon start dreaming about girls in the night. She will soon start to think about sucking their breasts and chooking hand inside their smelling pant like I saw senior Ngozi doing that day in the toilet. My sister kukuma will not listen because she thinks she now knows everything because all those thin boys like suffering iroko tree are giving her money to make big-big hair. Even mama cannot talk to her again these days. She will be doing like something is shaking in her brain when you try to tell her that she is doing something that is wrong.

Mummy says it is her age; that when a girl or boy starts to be big like that, they will be facing problems that they cannot understand or tell anybody, and so the thing will be making them to be stubborn and be doing bighead-bighead. This one that mummy is using to explain why my elder sister is behaving like a deaf person does not concern me oh, all I know is that somebody that does not hear word is equal to a goat, that kind that our neighbour has—the one that she will pursue from her yams but will still keep coming back to eat them with its black eyes that will be looking at somebody as if it is laughing at the person.

If what mama is saying is that we have to live with my sister not hearing word, then that means she will surely become a lele soon, the kind that cannot be helped ever again. This is because when we, human beings, start something, and the thing is sweeting us, it becomes very hard to stop. I know because that is what happened, abi what is happening to mummy and my sister. The things they are doing did not start today. It just started one day, and from that one day, it has become something that is happening every time-every time now. I don’t know the day they started those things, and I don’t know the day they will end, and I cannot go and tell them to stop what they are doing—I am just 10 years old.

 There might never be anybody to hear these things, the plenty things in my mind, so let me just kukuma say them so that they will not stay inside my heart and make it dirty and black. Let us start with my sister’s own, then later, mama’s own; on the road, the two might mix together sha.

To be continued.

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They Are Doors And Girls

I see the girl as I buy plantains. I see her the way we see people we do not want to see. I see her and hide my face. I hide my face because I can’t forget I had “stolen” her boyfriend, Richard.

I use the word “stolen” because that’s what the world associates people like me with.

To the effickos, I am a gold digger. To the fire-calling-praying wives, I am a husband-snatcher. And, to the elderly Yoruba women, I am the “gboko-gboko”.

I am all of these to all these people because of one man who had ditched his girlfriend to marry me.

And to add to my list of “jezebelic” sins, the girlfriend had been my friend. So, today, I jam the friend I had snatched from. She is leaning on a man’s arm, gold wedding bands glistening on both their fingers…And I hide.

I hide because it’s been five years since Richard married me, and it’s been two years since he ditched the children and me for his secretary.

I am just looking at my friend and “chooking” my face farther and farther into my hiding crevice. I cannot come out of my hiding and start to explain.

She wouldn’t understand that I accepted Richard’s proposal because he was the only one who had ever told me I was worthy of love, beautiful, and deserved the best.

My step father had treated my mother badly, and me, even worse. Richard had been cunningly wise to show me love.

I had been stupid, I admit, to have told Richard that part of me-that painful past of neglect and abandonment and child abuse I usually kept away from others, including myself most times.

And worse still, I had told him like I had always felt it-in a victimized way. His type surely knew how to speak with women like me who had opened doors in their pasts that kept them bitter by day and teary by night till they awoke to another “victim-claiming-day”.

Yup, I had been that woman-and maybe I still am-and he had talkedto my locks with the perfect keys.

She has passed. I am coming out to buy my plantains for the fatherless girls waiting for me at home, girls I will make to understand are loved, beautiful, and deserve the best.

I will tell them, so they wouldn’t have to be me one day, hiding from a person they had stolen from, just because they had always felt incomplete in themselves.

I wonder, though, if I will be enough to help my littluns from beings like their father, scattered all over the world; beings that are experts in identifying women’s weaknesses and insecure locks, and would never do good with the knowledge.

Females, because of Richard’s type, end up with many doors in one lifetime.

A woman never fully understands the world she has to live in; it’s just too “trappy” and mazy.

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Tears On My Birthday (2)

I am 17 now. It has been 4 years or so since I have been living with Aunty. By the way, her name is Tricia, and…I call her mummy now. It is no longer heavy in my mouth; because I have come to understand that she needs me to call her that, to make her feel like a mother of two since her womb or whatever chi is in her spirit won’t allow her to be the real mother of more than Junior, Junior that is no more stubborn and talkative. She needs me to be her daughter so that the love that her husband clearly is not showing her, because his people say she holds him in her love spell, can be gotten from the way I hug her after painting her nails, and the way Junior holds her when he has started awake from a nightmare, and from the way we three huddle together on the parlour rug on rainy nights when her husband has been nowhere to be found all day and all week. She always knows he is with the other woman, but she has since stopped fighting over it since that month he beat her and yelled about how she owed him her life for helping her grow the wealth her parents had left her, and nursing her back to health when her brain was shaking from the trauma of their tragic death.

It was from that month Junior stopped talking like he used to talk and began running to his room when he heard the sound of his father’s jeep. It was that month that Aunty came into my room one night, with tears running down her face, and told me sternly to call her “mummy”, if I didn’t want to die. The next day, she sent money and food and clothes and a car to my family in the village, as if she bought me; as if we all were now one family because she needed me.

I have become Aunty’s daughter, and Papa is now well in the village. His spirit has smelt money na, why won’t he be well? He has also stopped toiling in rivers the greedy people have polluted with oil they export and “clean mouth”, as if they don’t know the villages they took it from should have most of the money.

Papa and mama have started a business now. Papa sells yams, and mamahas workers who pound what is left, and serve it with varieties of soups. Her patronage is the Tower of Babel’s height’s mate.

All my siblings have gone back to school.

I miss home, but I am fully employed here in the city—I am somebody’s daughter, alove substitute.

I can stay here forever and keep being what a person needs me to be, but the question is—how long before we all admit to this charade? How long before all these things we think we have, balanced like a quadratic equation, shatter into the individual pieces that they truly are? How long before money becomes insufficient to sustain these lies we call“love”?

I don’t know, and I may never know, but since life is as good as it can get at the moment, I don’t mind playing along with all our unrealities.

I turned 18 yesterday, and mummy, with smiles wide and fake, and eyes twinkling and distant, threw me a party.

He came home for the first time in weeks just as it was all ending and Junior was leaving the house to sleep over at his friend’s. Mummy retired upstairs without a word to him.

By the time I was done making the living room look like a human being’s again, I heard him snoring in one of the guest rooms.

He crashed into my room at midnight with the thunder. When my eyes flew open and lightening flashed again, he stood at the foot of my bed. I came fully awake then and heard the loudrain outside. Power, of course, was out.

With lightening again, I saw he was looking at me with something in his eyes. He seemed drunk.

I scrambled up from my bed and did a quick mental check on where exactly my strong, block-heeled black shoe was.

“I want you,” I heard him say, and wished I could chop his voice box into little bits.

In the darkness, I scuttled silently to my shoe rack and felt for the shoe I knew could cause havoc.He soon saw it in my hand and laughed.

He surely was drunk, no doubt, but to what degree?

I moved.

“I have wanted you for years, but I was giving you time to mature.”

He was coming after me, slowly but surely, as if he had been in my room many nights and knew the dark version of it like his own name.

“She needs you.”

“I don’t want her; you both know that. I want you. You know I can give you money, and you can send it home.”

I wanted to remind him that the money isn’t his to boast in anyway, but I said instead: “If you don’t want her, then why do you torture her so? Why did you marry her in the first place if you knew you wouldn’t be there till the end?”

I heard him stop.

“If you don’t do this, I will take most of what she has, tell her you seduced me, and when she hits rock bottom, divorce her.”

My mouth hung open at his callousness, and he waited for me to make a choice.

My choice haunted me throughout the night. I cried and hoped I was doing the right thing. I was scared of the next morning.

The smell of food, like a hand, tapped on mummy and I, and beckoned us downstairs, seconds after each other, to the kitchen.

He was there in his boxers, cooking something. He looked so out of place there and in the house, but the real odd thing was the smile he gave us when he turned around, and set us into chairs at the kitchen table, and told us food would be ready soon, and made small talk.

He hadn’t been home for 2 months, and suddenly, he was this on a Saturday? Mummy was smiling sheepishly at him, but I didn’t like any of it. I wanted to know what was happening.

I did, midway through his spaghetti bolognaise…

“Honey,” he held mummy’s hand over the table, “there’s this business we should do. I have checked it out—the cost and profit and…”

My fork dropped from my hand, and my mind stopped hearing.

Uh—oh.

He is doing it. He really is going to milk her dry, rip me from her heart, and then leave her!

I broke out in a sweat, and told myself to trust her, that the drugs will help her keep a clear head for once and see through him.

But I knew, even as I looked up and his eyes met mine and he smiled that knowing, devilish smile, that he had her to toy with as he liked. If only she could stop smiling so sheepishly like a hypnotized person. How bad to need someone so much!

I was gone before she or he or Junior woke up the next morning.

My letter to her didn’t mention his crash into my room nor the truth about things. I left, still wanting her clutching to the hope that, somehow, he wasn’t as bad as that. I left, helping her retain the idea of the man she loved.

Also, I couldn’t watch her hate me, while dealing with the financially bummed state he would leave her in. And, I wouldn’t know how to be her daughter—a despised daughter, now—when he finally divorced her.

The eyes at home asked me questions, but I couldn’t say. How much would they understand about feeling like a sickwoman’s shield, but then not being able to save her because she was sickly in love with a wicked leech of a soul? How much could one speak of ties that weren’t made for “forever”?

20, today.

News of her death on TV begins the day for me.

“Suicide”, they say. She overdosed on her prescription drugs.

But as the newscaster flippantly refers to her as “the divorced billionaire”, I know the suicide didn’t kill her; she had died slowly, daily, way before that.

There, of course, is no mention of him, and as I sit in the dark and watch the ugly newscaster and her screaming red weave on, I wonder if he will feel guilty wherever he is.

I sit in the dark long after the news is done and a music video comes on. I sit until something wells up in me, and I start crying, chest heaving and all.

I wonder about Junior and what he will make of everything; of the improper background he is an everlasting imprint of.

I cry in the dark and wonder if I should go back…as a witness to a murder that love, soaked in money, had committed.

I cry till my biological mother comes into the parlour and hugs me from the back to say “happy birthday”. I cry as she sees my tears and holds me…

Concluded

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My Aunt, St. Humble (2)

So, Aunty Everything is a torn in the men’s flesh, and a solution is badly needed to get rid of it…what can be done?

The answer finally comes one Sunday morning in the guise of a tall, gallant, and totally different kind of dude from the ones in church. He walks in while the Pastor is preaching. He takes a seat at the back, but for some reason, everyone seemed to know that someone had entered, and so turn in their seats to lookback. Maybe it’s because of the way Pastor’s speech faltered when he saw this man. Even his gaze had shifted too. And well…people normally followed their leader. The man takes a seat right beside Madam who is fanning herself. She glances at him once and that is it.

For the first time in a long time, Aunty does not wait for the birds to flock around her after service. They see him leave first, and then she carries her past, present and future self after him. The women nudge each other, wide-eyed; the men gape, mouth open. They cannot believe their good fortune; one Sunday out of many forgone when their wives would be going home with them with ears empty of one human being’s “humble” but loaded words. This Sunday, they can eat their lunch with no fear of a hidden blade in the piece of meat. One Sunday without the absent but always present presence of one woman. Wow…God answered prayers after all!

However, no one is ready for what the Sunday’s surprise reproduces the following Sunday when Aunty and the new Mr. walk into church while Pastor is preaching again. This time, their entrance together does not just make him shift gaze and falter in speech; he stops altogether and cannot find his words until they sit at the favorite back position. And of course, everyone turns back to look. What meets their eyes, changes the life of the church forever. Bro now looks even more different from the other men than he had the previous Sunday; however, he seems one with the woman by his side.She is wearing one of her horrid looking hats that reminds one of death and hellfire. Her clothes are indescribable, honestly, so description is unnecessary and impossible anyway. He is dressed just like her. It’s crazy that they had put the clothes together in just one week of meeting!

Soon, the men start looking down at their clothes and then stealing glances at that of Mr. Aunty just keeps fanning herself, yelling her phonetic “hallelujah” periodically, while retaining a secret smile on her lips. Now, there is something stiff in the air…everyone can feel it. And, there seems to be a psychological magnetic field around the back area, clamoring for swaying, insecure and easily persuaded minds, and succeeding inch by inch in drawing them close.  Thus, the moment full stop is “heard” behind the closing grace, the church seems to part ways like the Red sea. Somehow, Mr. manages to move over to sit at the right side of the rows of chairs, and Madam retains her usual position, still fanning herself. The parting of the water brings the women to the woman, and the men to the man. The one group does not know what the other is talking about, but it is clear to the blind that things certainly will not be the same again.

Three weeks of Mr. being in church, the men have their own mission: different demands from the females in their lives; more complains; and, rising contempt for what used to be the undisputed status quo. The homes turn into a competition ground more or less—this one’s recently internalized desire trying to outdo the other; World War 3, as changes clamor for more money, time and effort to “purchase” them; wardrobes are going out, new ones coming in; freedom agenda are being drawn out; and, stress, futility, and anger problems resulting from efforts of feasibility to achieve the wanted “new life”.

Church is no different now—it is a sea divided into two genders, and then there is a silent, competitive war between members of each gender. Everyone wants to be different, to look better than the other person in acquiring the “awe-striking” personality of their mentors. And of course, the mentors keep telling of their humility, and smiling, and fanning, and coming late, and…Pastor keeps shifting gaze and faltering in his speech when two humans walk in.

The Sunday before Christmas is the day Pastor shocks the “Red Sea” with the news that Mr. and Madam are getting married and have relocated to London. Church turns into a grave yard that day, and men and women look at their changed and indescribable wears with new eyes. Eyes start to locate those of their partners, and by the time the last Grace is said, family members seek each other and hold hands. Everyone goes home early that day—no “group meetings” for the first time in a long time. Lunch is quiet; dinner, grave. The air is stiff with memories of foolish behaviors and their needlessness at the moment.

The following Sunday, everyone returns to a church that tortured the mind. They all still wear the funny, crazy, and different clothes, but there is no one to look…and nothing to prove to anybody. Pastor’s speech does not falter, nor do his eyes shift to notice anyone’s entrance. The two backseats are totally empty; but, brains are filled with the pictures of one man and woman: acclaimed demigods. The women can’t face one another; neither can the men. Their leaders are gone, but they are here, and their relationships with each other have been strained by stupid competitive ideologies and debased self-esteem. The clothes and agenda are useless now; only people remain…but, the people aren’t the same anymore, they just can’t be. They have changed, and change does not always suffice to be right.

Pastor finally addresses the church on what the problem is. Why are they all so cold? But no one knows…or maybe they can’t just tell. It would be too much to repeat the story of one’s stupidity. And so—hearts are drained; relationships strained; bank accounts compressed; but, mostly on the minds of them all, are the images of two vacant backseats…

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My Aunt, St. Humble (1)

Her “hallelujah” is usually the loudest in church; the kind said with such vehemence and attitude that made people look back at her—they have to look back because she always sits at the back. She tells people, oh so loudly, that it is a sign of humility; that the book of Proverbs advices to make one’s self of no reputation when at gatherings. The chapter and the verse, she never recalls, but she says it’s surely in there somewhere because she reads the bible from cover to cover, 10 times in a year.

Her dressing is usually as loud as her humble self—usually a combination of items both outdated, “indated” and postdated, for she sometimes designs things she says will be in vogue 50 years from now. Her hats, you would guess, are things from the 40s, often decorated with horrid looking feathers, multiple colored clothes (or rags), and sometimes stones she says were handpicked from Jerusalem during one of her yearly visits there. And her shoes, let’s not even go down there… They are usually literally indescribable. Most times, you catch yourself staring down at them for seconds, trying to make out the definite shape, material used, and ideabehind its wearing all in one, but that’s futile because just like everything that she wears (or that wears her), her feet are mostly shod in a combination of past, present and future.

For her makeup, I think if a movie were to be made of how Jezebel painted her face and thrust out her head from a window to seduce Jeroboam, she would be the perfect characterization for the part, with her heavily masqueraded face that reminds you of Joseph’s coat of many colors—I mean the complete combination of the Primary, Secondary and maybe even Tertiary colors. The arch she constructs to mean a brow is as long and hunched as London Bridge. Sometimes, Pastor’s smallest child cries when looking at her face. True, children are attracted to colors, but not when the colors seem to be fighting a World War 3.

Naturally, just like fire flies, things flock around her for her brightness. They can be called things because they behave just like things around her—they mope and clutch at her every word, listening with unwavering attention to the download she gives them of how the previous week had been, the clothes she gave out to charity (because she loved the poor), and her travel itinerary for the rest of the year, and maybe that of 5 years to come also. Her “tales by moonlight” always come on Sunday after church. Immediately the benediction is shared, she hardly blinks an eyelid before the women flock to her and she starts telling them this and that.

It is no secret that the Pastor’s wife is her friend; she tells the women it is only humility that could have brought her to such favor with the “high and mighty”. But, what the women do not know is that she had become friends with the “high and mighty” because she also, like the rest of them, sees this peacock of a woman as a demigod. This demigod became one because she’s different, and difference is something unique amongst women, since they usually just flock together. And the demigod talks good too. Her talks are very intimidating; it always makes them have something to quarrel with their husbands about when they get home, because their standard of living just has to measure up to hers, and since it cannot, the husbands prepare themselves for fresh trouble every Sunday afternoon.

Aunty Humble is not married, as you can guess by now. She says “love” and such weakly things are for babes; she, on the other hand, is like Mount Zion that can never be moved. She once told the women, though, that she practices “chop and clean mouth” …no strings attached, and they all stared at her in confusion. She had laughed at their “holy ignorance” of connotative expressions. But she had reminded them though-humbly-that she read the bible from cover to cover 10 times a year, and she had become their idol again, standing in gaping awe of her seated majesty.

But, to the men, Aunty Color is a “casting and binding” prayer point. She, not the devil, constitutes most of their nightly “Elijah prayers”. She is the reason why their wives, grown daughters, and girlfriends clamor for more clothes, more shoes, more restaurant visits…more trouble. She is the cause of it all; she does it so effortlessly, just seated in her usual back seat while the females in their lives surround her like she is some fairy godmother or something. Sometimes, she laughs out loud with the women, and at other times, she speaks in low tunes that make the men strain their ears in a fruitless effort to get a word of what she is saying. Every Sunday, they hope Madam Masquerade has not given the women the commission to kill them so they can be like her. The men never know what to do, for she never takes the women in fragments to gossip, and so what can they possibly report to pastor as her crime? All she does is be different and…well, make every other woman notice she is.

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My Mother’s Lover

I became my mother’s boyfriend when I was a little over twelve.

I developed rather early and very rapidly than my mates; so I like to think it is okay. I always want to think it is okay because I always want to defend her. I’ve told myself I will defend her till death…till they all die – the discriminatory society and world and we both lay down to rest peacefully beneath the ground, holding ourselves in hand, not as “mother and son”, but as “woman and lover”.

The day the busy bodied Iya Risi took her to the hospital, because she said she was acting funny, I wanted to cut off the woman’s flat nose and use it to cook ewedu soup. I wanted to ask her how a woman recently widowed ought to behave, if not funny.

But the woman dragged us to the donkey-looking doctor all the same. I stayed outside with Iya Risi while he conversed…or, rather, talked to mama for a long time. We went home later and mama started taking some pills daily.

On nights when she screamed awake, sweating profusely and calling dad’s name, I would run to her bedside to see the pills on the table where she had left them probably after falling asleep, or simply deciding not to take them. She was like that sometimes—deciding to starve me of food, to lock me in the toilet to sleep, to push me away when she had reached heaven… She pushed me away when all I wanted to do was lie with her all night, and hold her as her husband.

I have my nightmares too, but I don’t tell her because she’s the sick one; the sick ones should get care, and not the other way round.

In my dreams, I see him – the way his eyes seemed to burn when he was set for her. I hear the thud-thud sounds as he hit her against something or hit something against her, whichever one was faster at the time. I always wake up sweating and panting like he used to, because he would be short of breath and needing his inhaler.

I would fall asleep again and, this time, I would find myself outside their bedroom peeping, and hear them make out after what had happened. She would be making ecstatic noises, already accepting his unspoken apology. And even in the dream, it would break my heart as it had broken both of us in real life.

He dealt with her, but knew how to make her keep on loving him.

And so he played her soul and body well. And…she hid her bruised face and heart excellently.

So…When I was a little over twelve, the month after she started taking the pills I felt were a huge waste of swallow, she woke from sleep screaming. She screamed and screamed and wouldn’t stop until I cradled her head in bed and soothed her with endearments he had called her in good times. She still loved him so much that it worked. She soon held my eyes and touched me in a “woman and lover” kind of way. My body responded, and she taught me how to use my fingers… Till now, it always ends with the fingers because she likes to believe she is sane enough to not do too much, too much of an abomination.

But I’m all in – I try to make her see. I am hers for the working.

I love her so much, but it seems I can’t protect her from him in death, just as I couldn’t in life.

I singlehandedly thought it would be good for her to permit both of them to be apart for once, and for all.

So…on that day when I was a few months to twelve and I heard the thud-thud behind the door, I knew what would happen next, and so I hid his inhaler, even the whole pack he had somewhere on the fridge.

I ran to my room and started counting…

By fifteen, I heard mum come out and run through the house, obviously searching for something.

I kept counting…

By fifty, she was driving crazily out of the compound.

I didn’t stop counting…

By eighty, father stopped gasping, and the house went silent.

I’m fifteen now and my love for my wife hasn’t waned a tad. I still pleasure her body and try to please her soul… But, I see the way she looks at something beyond my eyes, and I know she is seeing someone else…missing someone else.

I wonder, sometimes, how else she would want me to show I want to care, protect ad love her like she deserves.

Many nights, I cry and cry till I fall into a wistful sleep.

Sometimes, I look at her pills and wonder how much will be tantamount to overdose. But…I look at her face and ask myself who would husband her if I’m gone to the other side to kill father all over again.

I can barely live, but I remind myself that she’s sick; I need to take care if her. She needs me and my fingers.

So I sigh and keep giving her the pills and die inside because she can’t be all of mine.

I burn and wilt and pardon her for it, because sick people should be taken care of and not the other way round… Though it’s not like we aren’t both sick.

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I Cover You With The Blood Of Me

A demon came into my mother when I was seven… I knew it was a demon because she had changed. She was now shouting at father when father shouted at her and yanked her hair; she was not crying and begging and hiding in my room again.

I think I liked her begging and hiding, because that was quieter; at least father would go out of the house after standing for about ten minutes outside my door, and would come back late at night or the next morning.

I liked  the hiding also because she fell asleep in my room every time, stroking my head and telling me “sorry”, like I was the one crying and in pain, till we both fell asleep. I never cried; she always did, but I loved the silence and hiding.

I used to try not to think then, whenever his shouting began; I just listened for mother’s cries and pleas and opened my door a crack, waiting for her to run in so I could lock the door and father could go out.

I was used to the pattern, and it seemed alright because, surely, mother must have been always doing something bad for father to always be handling her like that. Certainly, father’s a good man, and wouldn’t just be punishing mother for no reason. I learnt from that time that evil was evil, and good needs to punish evil, and I believed I knew the difference.

The demon came after she had been listening to all those things on TV about how a woman was this and that and bla and the other bla. She had also made a friend in a newneighbour whose perfume always brought out hands to squeeze my neck, and whose makeup gave me nightmares at night. I hated her so, and when mother would take me visiting with her, I was disgusted by the rolls of flesh on her neck, and I imagined how much father would hate her too because he was always telling mother, who had bones all over her body, that he hated the small jutting of her stomach, and that she had to do something about it because it irritated his very spirit.

  I liked that I knew father would hate this woman just by looking at her, and I knew he would be right in his “hating” because she talked too much, and made mother laugh too loud. I was not used to how she was making mother feel.

The demon came five months after the evil woman came to live near us, and it manifested itself when father sought to punish mother, surely for an evil again.

But mother did not beg or come to hide so we could sleep and know she had been cleansed for that day. No; mother talked to father in “Englishes” I didn’t even know were in her head and stomach. He was yanking her hair, and she was still talking and not begging.

That day, I locked the door and cried myself to sleep, because I felt sorry that an irremovable evil had entered her now, and would definitely not succumb to father’s purging, and would surely damage her.

I didn’t want mother to be damaged, but I felt she would be, because that’s what demons did to people. I knew our neighbour was responsible for mother’s demon, but then, father couldn’t go to another woman’s house to cleanse her of evil so that she could come and talk or laugh the demon out of mother.

The demon manifested itself two or three more times, and then the house began to grow silent…

Father did not rid mother of evils, and she too, could not manifest any demon again.

I did not like the silence; I still am not used to it after these two years.

I want the normalcy of the sounds of mother being cleansed I am used to.

Maybe I will just grow older and create the sounds that I now miss so much… Yes, that’s what I will do – I will take over from father and be a cleanser.

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Leave, Or Don’t Live

I have six siblings, and we sleep in the same small, hot room with just a window facing another house.

Mother is pregnant again, and I am wondering where they will put the baby, because there really is no more space. There isn’t even any space enough to fart without fearing someone will get cancer from inhaling the stench. But as usual, “God gives children; He will take care of them”, is what I hear till my brain boils and dries and then sizzles.

Mother looks frail and sickly, and that is not only because of the pregnancy, but also because father is a poor farmer, and the oil pollution in our community stunts the growth of his crops and also makes getting fish in the river difficult.

Our whole life stinks, and it is not only the oil and deadness of the water that causes it, but the fact that we are just too wretched.  The poverty stinks from the inside out, and when I look at our cracked mirror, the image I see is distorted and ugly like there’s a cruel artist inside me with the power to paint repulsive things to be seen on the outside. I know what that painter looks like…it’s been with me, with us, all our lives.

There is never enough of anything, the topmost of that being “food”. We are too “plural”; the food is too “singular”.

We always eat in silence, with veins coming out of our necks and heads because we are angry at the food…at everything. But my own veins are usually longer, stronger and darker because I am the angriest.

I am the eldest child. I see things more deeply, and understand night sounds more clearly than my siblings. The hardons that come with the nocturnal sounds don’t make me think of pleasure; they make me think of murder…Or suicide.

I blame my father silently for multiplying children thoughtlessly. I see the way we suffer, and it breaks my heart. The country is almost like a shattered glass; our region with its pollution, like broken pottery—why should we too be a sad combination of both? Why shouldn’t he be wise and leave God out of his stupidity!

Oh, my veins get as fat as poles many times.

Mother delivers triplets one midnight, and they look very hungry even as they suckle her shrivelled breast. I see as father looks like he wants to die.

We are 10 in the small, airless house now.

When we wake up the next day, father is nowhere to be found. There is no food to cook for the night; so starving and silent, we wait for him to come back.

But father never comes back.

I do not tell mother I am going away when I leave two days later; I just go.  I don’t even think.

If life is good to me, I might come back for all of them. But…where and how will life be good—I wonder, as I walk towards the bank laced with boats ready to take me over the oil-coloured water—when I am carrying the artist I have known my entire life inside me?

But I don’t look back. The artist and I enter the boat. I only hope to drop it somewhere inside the coloured water before I get to…wherever.

If the “it” is gone before I get to “where”, I might be able to become a whole and beautiful “him”. I might be able to get a life.

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Owl From The Dark (3)

I didn’t know where I would go to, a boy of sixteen, just done with secondary school, but I knew that I had to go.

I also knew—from the words of my darling woman on the radio talking about the Big Men that took our money and resided in the city—that the city was a viable option, if not the only one. I would go to the place where the rich people lived. I would go and understand how the brain of the rich people worked, at least. I would go and save my life from being sucked in and under by the thing that had gripped the rest of my family and would not let go. It seemed stupid to run away from a place one was almost becoming comfortable in, not knowing life anywhere else. Yet comfort was a luxury, one that cannot coexist with poverty.

I wanted to fly, and I surely couldn’t do that, remaining on the tree I had slept in all night long while other owls, like the nocturnal beings they were created to be, had ventured out.

There was a difference I needed, something I had to do, a place I had to get to, and I could only do all this and more if I ventured out into the world in the day, forgetting—choosing to forget—the fact that I was not used to this enterprise I was venturing into; choosing to neglect the voices of ancestors and families past, telling me, reminding me, that we were never meant to come out into the light, that it was the tradition to let ourselves be sucked into the darkness—that of starvation and degradation, of poverty and nothingness, until we died, achieving nothing, being nothing, our lives gone into the blackness of the night, because it was a tradition for our lives to be alive only in darkness.

But I was tired of the tradition of darkness and how long it had to last based on someone else’s timing; based on my environment’s comfort with stagnancy.

I wanted to be an owl of all hours. I wanted to be free to do and be with no rules for activity or rest, but mine. I wanted to be able to take charge of the light, and also own the darkness. I wanted my being me to work for me in all the ways I wanted me to be me. I chose to go. I had to go.

So, after one year—a year of much change and learning and growth—I have come back. But none of them has thought to ask me the most important question in the past hour they have been making such a fuss. None of them has thought to ask me why. It isn’t crossing their minds that there is a reason behind every action, every thought, and every life. They are not thinking to ask, and so I will not tell them.

But I know it in my heart that going out had been my best bet.

I had found someone to attach myself to in the city, learning to make clothes. And for one year, I have been seeing, firsthand, that not everyone in the city is a Big Man. Many of them are people me and like my family whom life gave the coarse side of the rope; but they, as opposed to us, had taken that rope and fine-tuned it into something better, something more profitable. I have seen in the past year what I knew as I left the village: it seems easier to settle for the norm, the rubbish, the darkness that life has put you into; but it takes purpose, a reason, a need for something to come out of that place and venture into the light that nature seemed to have been keeping from you, and go ahead to take that something you have left your sleeping-tree to achieve.

So I feel like a bird now as I watch them jaw-jaw: the owl, the unusual kind, most definitely. I have seen the light, and it is beautiful and foretells of more pleasant things to come.

They think I am tired and have come back to perch on a tree and wait for darkness to crawl in, but I am a different being now—a man on a mission, a mission that requires light so I can see enough to attain that something they have been wishing for all their lives. But I am not wishing—I am taking—and that is the reason why I left my home in the first place.

 They are still talking and jeering. The sun is starting to go down, and now I know it is time to declare my reason for coming back.

“I have come to take Boma with me to the city,” I say, raising my voice above their noise.

They all stop talking at once. You can hear a leaf flutter to the ground. And then, as suddenly as the silence had descended, it lifts again, with a flutter of questions from every angle. Pastor is silent, though. He meets my eye, and I nod. He, only, understands.

I ignore their questions and look on as the darkness – the darkness I had escaped from –  gradually descends.

The End

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