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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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Story Line

Owl From The Dark (2)

My senior
brothers and sisters were being sucked into the vagueness along with Papa.

The oldest
one, my twenty-one-year old brother at the time, was usually nowhere to be
found, and his name was always mentioned in things that had to do with the
theft of people’s yams and goats. Sometimes I wondered why he didn’t put his
criminal mind to better use. If he wanted to steal for a living, at least he
should be doing it with a bit of prestige and worth—what exactly would the
thievery of goats and yams add to his miserable life?

The twin
sisters, who came after the food-thieving brother, now talked about nothing but
marriage. It was clear that they had both lain to rest the passion and hope
they had had of studying Medicine. It had always been their waking desire and
sleeping dreams—I know it. I recall those times when we were younger and they
played “Nurse” in all those childish dramas we put up that had no defined script
or directing, just like the life we lived. But we didn’t know that then. We
were only children, innocent and naive, and were permitted to dream dreams
bigger than our head; somehow, we managed to carry them without our necks
squashing and our bodies crashing down…Until we didn’t anymore.

Timi, the
boy after the twins, got a bit of sense to start learning the art of shoe
making, and before long, he had carried Tari—the boy before me—along with him.
So the two of them seemed to be doing something with their lives; something
very useful, at least. But they lived in this same place we all lived in, where
dreams are born to die, and so the spirit of the place caught up with them.
Soon, they also reeked of alcohol and started to abandon their dreams.

So things
were falling apart. Everyone was trying to hold the pieces of their lives
together the best way their weary bodies and souls allowed them to.

With Papa
hardly around, and Mama caught up with her bouts of crying and sickness and
fatigue, and my older siblings being short of giving up on life altogether, my
junior sister and I were mainly forgotten and left to our own devices, or to
those of our personal angels—if they too hadn’t turned their backs on us, that
is. My sister was five years younger than me, and so I took responsibility for
her life.

Episode 4

Seeing the
way things were going and how we were all being sucked in by the filth and rot
and poverty in the place our ancestors had come to settle, I slept at night not
knowing what was in this life for me. But I knew I wanted more. I wanted to be
better, to be different; different from the rest. I wanted to be better than
what I had seen unfolding before my very eyes daily. So I began to read harder
and to listen to the woman on the radio with keener ears. Above all, I thought
deeper, asking myself questions I didn’t have answers to yet.

I knew I
couldn’t sit and wait for chance to find me in this home where everything was
falling apart and no one expected anything good anymore, but one particular day
made the knowledge come like an awakening. It was one night after I had
listened to my woman crush on the radio, and my hand had travelled down and my
body had jerked and spilled, and I had gotten up to go wash my hand in our
unsophisticated toilet. Somehow, I had come back to the sleeping mat angry,
very angry. And I knew why—I was tired, very tired!

And then,
there was also that thing I had caught Mama’s pastor doing to my
eleven-year-old sister when she had gone to him to ask for money for food. She
was hungry and there was no one at home—no one was ever home again because
there was no home to call home. I had been taking extra classes at school
because my final examinations were just days away.

When I got
to the house, she wasn’t there; she wasn’t at neighbours’ houses either, so I
went looking for her. My legs somehow led me to my mother’s pastor’s church;
why, I might never know.

I had never
liked mama’s Pastor. There was always something about his eyes and speech that
annoyed my spirit. So I didn’t go to her church even though she always tried to
turn my not going into a cold war with emotional blackmail as her major weapon.

He talked
too much too—that was another thing I realized about him. I hated people who
believed they had all the answers for things based on just what they knew.
Pastor James was fond of condemning people to hell on the pulpit in the name of
preaching, probably because he felt he was the only “holy” one.

But my
mother adored him as if he were the love of her life, the kind of love she
sought from her husband, most definitely. She adored him too much; she was
blind to the invisible thing I didn’t know how to define but felt within me
against him. But her loving and trusting him so much, so that she cried her
problems out to him weekly, did nothing to change the ‘shiftiness’ in his eyes
and awkwardness in his mannerisms that I never missed.

So when I
walked into the sight of him at his small church, lifting the skirt of my
perplexed-looking sister, trying to put his hand in, somewhere, my heart didn’t
stop for too long. A roar escaped my mouth after the first shock, and he froze
and jerked up from the chair he was seated on with my sister on his lap. I
wondered, as I saw fear and shame intertwine and dart around in his eyes, how
stupid and hungry and shameless he was to not have found a more concealed place
to demonstrate his madness. But then, he must have believed that nobody would
visit the church since it was a weekday; or he had simply been possessed by one
of the demons he constantly yelled at and cast out from members of his church.

He stepped
back, one foot after the other, scared witless, as I advanced towards him. But,
I really had no time for him and his stupid self at the time; I just took the
hand of my sulking, silent sister and led her to the door.

He seemed
like he wanted to say something to me before we went. I saw his lips move, but
I had stared hard at him with eyes that must have spoken volumes, and his mouth
clamped shut. I wondered, on the way to the house, what his words would have
been—A plea? An excuse? A bargain? A spiritual threat, perhaps? But, his words
didn’t matter, just as he himself didn’t. I just wished Mama would see it and
know it.

On the day
my exams finished, I packed a small bag and left the dilapidated place that had
been my home for all the days of my life hitherto. I left and never looked
back, except to turn into Pastor James’ parsonage to threaten the living lights
out of him. He must have seen seriousness in my eyes and felt guilt in his
heart such that he nodded his head, rather quickly, to my truce: he would keep
his bug-ridden hands off my sister, and I would not tell the whole village that
he fingered little girls for a hobby.

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Story Line

Owl From The Dark (1)

They are all sneering and jeering—they do not understand.
These people that call themselves my family know absolutely nothing about the
me they create conferences for, and table for talk. All of them are blabbing
now, and I am just sitting and watching them, thinking thoughts initiated by
the happenings of yesterday.

It was last year I packed my small kaya and moved out of the
house I had been living in with my parents and seven siblings—the house that
had been the entirety of my existence. It was like I was choking in that place,
crowded daily by family looking just as hopeless as I felt, and going to bed
just as hungry as I was. I was living with my family, but it had felt like
being incarcerated with inmates, all of us guilty of some horrendous crime or
other.

Now, these people are saying it is not right to leave one’s
home no matter what, but where do I begin explaining it to them? I do not know
how to let them see that it was not the lack of space, or hunger, that drove me
away, but something deeper than that; something that surpassed the needs of my
body; something that had looked into my soul and seen that my spirit would soon
die if I had to keep living my life like I did, no other way but like that.

The thing is Papa, who is shouting his lungs out now, has no
clue. Mama who has cried till her throat is now grating with dryness, does not
understand. For Pastor James, he knows better than to look me in the eye with
this his talk of God knows how to care for those who ask of Him, if they can
just be patient. He is murmuring his plenty words because Mama invited him to
the meeting, but I am glad he knows that he is an idiot, and deserves to be
burnt the way the Sodom and Gomorrah he often scares people with had been. He
knows, and because I am the only one present here that knows with him, he can’t
talk past his throat as I deride him with my stares. For the uncles and aunties
that were invited, I care less for their speeches; neither do I give a moment’s
thought to the amebo family friends and neighbours that are honouring an
uninvited invitation to come and hear stories—my story, that is.

I long to tell them, to make them feel what I had felt, what
had been running through my mind that day last year, when I was only sixteen,
and had finally made the decision that I would leave. Oh, I want to shout back
at them and tell them, all of them, to shut their mouths and cover their faces
in shame for us even having a cause to be holding this kind of meeting in the
first place. I mean…Why are we here? Why ever should we be here, talking of
these things?

There is so much to say, but I won’t say so much as even a
little. But my thoughts go back to yesterday, and I indulge my mind’s flight
back to it, leaving these people in my present to continue with their theories
and criticisms about something they know nothing about.

Papa was never at home when we woke up to Mama’s swipes with
a wrapper, indicating our day had started. And we seldom were awake when he
came back at night from wherever it was that he worked, bringing nothing home,
nothing but a worn-out face, stress-induced irritation, and mounting complaints
about how he could die soon from having so much to do and so little to eat.
When he complained like that, my sisters and brothers, the five of them older
than me, would turn their faces away, indicating that they had shut the ears of
their minds from his words, and were nursing the anger in their hearts at not
having enough to eat themselves.

 But I was different.
When Papa complained, I would re-evaluate our situation, think deeply, and try
to decide if I should pity Papa or not. Most times, hearing things from our
battered radio that we had to hit before it worked, I would almost cry for
Papa.

Times were hard and money was harder to come by. We lived in
the village, and food, satisfying food, was always a luxury because the land
yielded close to nothing, and the river and creeks were dead too.

It’s the oil…

Oil was destroying everything: Land, water, the air,
people…it was all being sullied and swallowed up by oil. And, we were
swallowed up by tales of Big Men in the city, who we knew about only through
our nearest-to-death radio. The woman who usually read the seven PM news, with
the sweet voice that would resound in my head all night so I wouldn’t be able
to sleep till day break, made us know that people were protesting against these
Big Men that stole the country’s money and sent it abroad along with their children
who schooled there. She would also tell of the boys from the creeks that blew
up all things blow-up-able, so as to pass on a message to these big men in the
city, and to the world at large. It was a message laden with the hunger, the
deprivation, the abuse, and the anger the region felt for being used and
forgotten like a toothpick. But beyond that, I knew, even as I would ruminate
upon the woman’s voice at night and sometimes find my hand straying to my
privates, that the message also carried with it the perplexities in my heart.

With every voice that spoke out against the greed,
wickedness and corruption of our leaders, was my voice, unheard, as it may
seem, telling the world that I never got to see my father happy and contented
because his farm yielded nothing, his nets caught only oil films on the water,
and the menial jobs he did could hardly get us through the weekly feeding.

With every pipeline blown up was the angry outburst I sent
to the world, telling it of the bitter things that rose to my throat as I
watched my mother’s perpetually tired frame, evidence of her aging before her
time, because there was so much to worry about and so little to use in fuelling
the body and mind that performed the task.

With the kidnapping of foreign oil expatriates by the creek
boys, I whispered to whoever was on the other side, the way I felt when I
looked at my siblings and me, wondering and asking what the future held for us.
None of my seniors had furthered their education beyond the free Community
Secondary School they attended, and which I was now attending, and which my
sister after me would attend. I often wondered what the point was in schooling
at all since we would all stop at the same spot, not able to go further, simply
because we had nothing, nothing at all but oil destroying Papa and Mama and all
of us—destroying everything.

So I pitied Papa at times. What could a man do when it was
as if all of creation was fighting against his full destiny and that of his
generations unborn?

But then, at other times, I didn’t think to pity Papa. I
didn’t because I knew—we all knew—that it wasn’t only his menial jobs that kept
him out late at night. No one said anything, but we knew from the strong smell
of alcohol that reeked in the house when we woke up in the morning. And then
there was that thing of Mama crying when she thought we were asleep, asking God
to kill the other her that would not leave her poor husband alone. Her husband
was poor, alright, but his mistress was definitely poorer than him, because he
seemed to get some from her every other day.

There were a lot of things this degraded place, this place
that I call home, did to people. My father was so spent and frustrated by this
place that only alcohol and rounds with a whore could save him from strolling
into the river to never come out again. For me, I didn’t know, yet, what it
would take for me not to run mad with the bleakness I saw before my eyes and
experienced as my life as I awoke to each stretched out, depraved day.

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Story Line

Green, White, Plain

One of us fell into the gutter on our way back home. He
heard the familiar sound above and looked up to watch the bird, and imagined
the rich that must be in it until he fell clear into a gutter with stagnant
water.

He looks so filthy and all now. There is a smutch of green
on his white uniform, making  Ehim look
like a flag, a flag of beauty smeared with a small but wide patch of something
that should be good(since spirogyra is a useful part of the plant system) but
has turned out bad.

I lead us to our community like that, with the joy of going
to find our mothers and food.

But our mothers are all seated on the platform, with a few
of our fathers, on plastic chairs; all looking somehow.

I go to my mother and ask her what is wrong. I look around
the platform again. “Where is Iya Risi?”

When my mother starts to wail, and other women follow, I
know what has happened. I just know, and I leave the jetty and our community
and run away…I just run, air filling my lungs till I can’t breathe well, and
I start to feel like I will fly like the planes we trail with our eyes. I know
it can’t change anything, but I keep running.

Mr. Tunde brings me back home around “radio time”. Only my
mother really notices and doesn’t even have the strength to scold me well.

The children have joined them too on the platform, looking
morose and old and hopeless. I hear Iya Risi’s wailing voice inside, and other
consoling voices.

No radio is on.

Mr. Tunde sits with me on one side of the platform, our legs
dangling over the smelly water.

“Her baby just started to crawl,” I suddenly say.

“Hope you aren’t one of those who would blame it on the
parents?” He asks.

I look at him. “I am sure most of us do but never say it out
for anyone to hear. We act as one in this place.”

“The poverty and degradation binds you.”

“Yes.”

“How many have fallen into the water like that?”

“About 5, I think.”

“Then why don’t you people do something about the water?”

I look at him.

“Maybe for this, you all should stop playing the victim card
to the environment and government and whatever, and just try to do something
worthwhile to change something.”

“Can anything change?” I wave my hand across the water and
the platform.

“It’s where you are. You might not be able to fix Nigeria
and its problems, but you can change where you are so you can, at least,
struggle to survive better there.”

I look at him again. “After all, we are all just struggling
to survive…” I say it like it is my own revelation.

“You function as one here—that’s a great power available
that you all haven’t harnessed. If this community was Nigeria, it would have
sorted out its problems by now.”

“But the whites are part of our problems.”

“I never taught you that.”

I am confused.

My head and stomach ache…

I wonder if it is from hunger or the fact that everything
about Mr. Tunde is always so contradictory.

But I can’t ask him to go over school lessons here.

“Talk to your mother tomorrow when she has finished crying;
tell her to tell everybody that it is time for solutions.”

My head continues to ache, and now, I know it’s from
thinking too many things at once.

“But, sir…what is the thing you want us to do when we see
whites and planes?”

He looks hard at me and my soul… “Tell them ‘bye-bye’, and
really face your own business!”

Someone puts on the radio…

The news is over; a woman is singing the national anthem.

I look at the white stars and green trees—I can’t really
see—and imagine Lilian Williams and Benedict Odiase talking in a plane…

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