The ban

War is a terrible thing.  A plague that touches all lives it comes in contact with.  It ravished all in its path. My life was a simple one. I had my brother, my parents, my friends from school. Then, the gunshots started late one night and darkness fell like a blanket…covering every ray of light in my life. In my mind, the night came and stayed.

My father was a custodian in a non-profit. His income was meager. My mother supplemented his income by sewing. They pulled their resources together and made it work. I never heard her complain. My brother, Maha and I went to school on a scholarship fund from the non-profit. My father’s income bracket made us beneficiaries. My father always told my brother and I…he washed each tile…each toilet…with valor..knowing his labor was giving us an education. Education. My father said it would give my brother and I opportunities. The first time he used the word…’opportunities’. I scampered off to get my dictionary. I remember the swell of his chest and the brightness of his smile, when I read the meaning of the word:opportunity.

My mother always used to say I was born an old woman. I was fully potty trained a month before my first birthday. I found words and spoke with the gush of a waterfall.

When the gunshots started my words became muddled in my head and my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth.

School. It was the only place I didn’t hear the uneven snap of crackers. That’s, what gunshots sounded like in my head…exploding crackers. My favorite teacher was Mr Farouk. He was a tall, gentle man. He spoke in a low, hoarse voice…like he was recovering from a head cold. Then, one day I heard the crackers go off during recess….I heard screams and saw people running in different directions.

Mr. Farouk lay in a pool of blood. His left shoe was missing, his head….lay at a twisted angle. Blood creeped from under his body..in different directions…down the stairway, past my feet. His assailant didn’t care we were children, he didn’t respect the sanctity of life…he was a product of the times. I stopped going to school.

I stopped eating my favorite sauce. It was thick and red from the beet vegetable that grew in our back yard. I couldn’t eat it any more.

I, who had been potty trained before I could walk became incontinent.

At night, I would hurdle in the corner of my room. My chin deep in my chest, my arms around my head….a puddle of urine circling my body. My parents were referred to a therapist in the eastern province by a facilitator in the non-profit.

His diagnosis… fear. Fear had stolen my voice and robbed me of my dignity.

It took a couple of months, but, we eventually were able to secure documents to enable us travel as a family. My father’s place of employment paid the fare and provided us stipends for our upkeep. The United States of America would give us opportunities. Opportunity. I heard that word over and over again. My father held me close to his bony chest…’you will thrive again my little flower’. His voice cracked with unshod tears.

The trip was long and drawn out. The long drive through dusty roads…the numerous check points. Each soldier with a gun, each word spoken in a high octave sent my stomach knotting in anxiety. My bladder gave out so many times….each time I was grateful for the old rags my mother had swaddled me in. The flight was a blur.

Maha was bopping up and down on his seat. “We are here!”I remember holding tight to my father’s bony fingers….being led down a long corridor. I remember sleeping on a cot…being fed a warm bland meal, drinking a sweet juice from a box..from a straw. The days blended into themselves. I lost track of time and settled into a muddled existence, where I slept, ate and used the bathroom.

Then, one day a tall man came into the room. He was lanky, his hair was thick and black, with sparse dusting of grey. He wore a black suit, like the ones Mr. Farouk used to wear. He spoke to me in hushed whispers…touching my temple, massaging my hands. I kept my eyes fixed on my Father’s kind brown ones…and listened to his voice while he sang my favorite lullaby. The next day, we were taken to a half way house. I remember being coaxed off the cot I lay on. My feet recoiled on touching the cold floor….I caught a glimpse of my face from its reflection in the mirror. My eyes were glazed, my lips cracked….my hair in clumps around my head. My underwear was dry.

My twin’s choice.

I woke up startled, my eyes caught the remnant of a roadkill splattered on the road….as the train whizzed past the highway. I felt a kink in my neck, reminding me of the awkward position I had fallen asleep in. I straightened my torso and picked up my blanket- it had fallen on the floor while I slept.

I was almost there. I had taken the train after work to meet up with my brother, Kolade. My twin and I used to share a loft in the city,  till he found a new job and moved to a quiet suburb a couple of hours away by car…or at least the job is the excuse he used to move away.

We are identical in features but our varying taste in clothes made it easy to tell the difference. I favoured tailored shirts, pants, and sports jackets….my twin was more than likely found in his baggy jeans, colorful t shirts and timberland boots. And then those dreads! In our senior year in high school much to the chagrin of my conservative Nigerian born parents, he decided to grow dreadlocks. My parents eventually gave in. I was certain he would out grow the look. I was wrong. We were in our late twenties and the dreads had surpassed his waist in length.

In college, we shared the same apartment. We had the same friends, hung out in the same social circuits…and up until two years ago, we basically were two peas in a pod…co existing with each other in absolute synchrony. Our relationship has never been with tension. When we were younger, if Kolade favored a toy, I always gave it up. If I wanted something he got to first, he always gave it to me. We never fought as children and even when we became teenagers and started showing interest in the opposite sex, we never favored the same type of girls and so there were never issues on jealousy.

My brother always liked quiet, deep thinkers. Which was laughable considering his appearance. He was into jazz, poetry and subtle sexuality. He spent hours on the weekend in jazz holes, playing his bass guitar and sharing lyrics with mutual friends. For as long as I knew him, he never overlapped when dating a girl. A strictly one woman man, that was my brother.

I, on the other hand was the opposite. I juggled my dates with the dexterity of a sybarite. My ability to remember names and conversations in details made me appear as deep and intuitive to the opposite sex. Women loved men who payed attention to details and listened to them. They lapped it up and found me irresistible.

One night a couple of years ago, I bought home a girl after several dates, Mabel. In the morning, while I rushed off to work…Kolade made her breakfast. My brother knows my attention span when it came to the ladies never went beyond a couple of months….at most. As I rushed off to work, I felt an alarm go off in my head. ‘Why is Kola making this chick breakfast?’

As usual, I started ignoring her texts…calls and emails. I had moved on. Then ,the calls stopped. I didn’t think much of it. After all, she wasn’t the first and definitely would not be the last. So, imagine my surprise when I got home early one Saturday evening and I met her watching a movie with my twin. Her hair was russeled, she was wearing his favorite metallica t shirt. They were both all snuggly on our black leather couch.I wasn’t angry. Far from it. I did worry though about the awkwardness dating her would have on our relationship. My love for my brother defined who I was. It was absolute. He followed me into my room.

I knew he was nervous. He had a durag on his head…covering his dreads, customarily his indoor look…my eyes were fastened on his Adam’s apple….it bobbed up.and down as he swallowed saliva. I raised my eyes to his…my gaze unflinching.  “I like her Kole”. He got out, his voice soft. I shrugged. This will get awkward bro. I responded. He knew I didn’t care and my concern was for him.He assured me it wouldn’t.  I smiled and shrugged again.

To say it got awkward was an understatement. She always stopped speaking whenever I came into the room. She lingered too much when Kole left the room. Her eyes followed me around the apartment, despite not speaking. The tension was building, my brother seemed oblivious to it.

On our birthday later that year, she bought him a beautiful case for his guitar and awkwardly handed me a wrapped square box. I was taken aback. ‘Why?’. For the first time in months, I felt a smarting of shame at my behaviour. It’s your birthday, too. It was the outstanding on a collection of books I had been hunting for. I thanked her and left for dinner with my friends.

It was easy to move on after breaking up with a girl. I never felt an attack on conciense before…until now. Even though guilt wrapped itself around me like a blanket, I tried to shrug it off. None of my conquests have ever stayed back to date my twin before. It was a weird feeling. I had no interest in her and had deliberately forgotten every detail I had initially had in the fore of my mind….details that had endeared me to her. ‘Selective amnesia’ was a gift I switched on when it benefited me. A couple of weeks later, my twin announced he had found a job a couple of hours away. In my heart, I knew the awkwardness that settled on me had caught on to him. She helped him pack while I was away on a business trip. I returned to find him gone. My brother was gone. We still spoke every day…always late at night.  From time to time, she would insist to speak with me. Her voice always a bit too high…a tad breathless. I always felt the beginnings of irritation when our conversation was over. For the umpteenth time, I would wonder and hope my twin had no intentions of marrying her.

He had invited me to visit so many times, I always found an excuse not to. When he mentioned Mabel was away visiting her parents, I immediately bought my train ticket. He was my twin….my ‘pea in a pod’. This weekend,I was going to do everything in my power…with subtlety of course, to ensure she was not going to be a permanent fixture of our future.

Uber’s Cindy

It was a cold winter morning and I decided to take a Uber ride. I had the app on my phone but never bothered with it. It was a black sedan.The ride was swift and smooth. I wished I had taken one earlier.

My driver was a slender woman with blonde hair that looked straight out of a bottle. Her bangs were uneven, her eyes were bright and friendly.  Her name was Cindy.

She had a basket of candies in the crook between the back and the front seats. She asked me if I wanted a chocolate bar. I shook my head and smiled. She used to drive for a trucking company. She said her job entailed driving for an average of eleven hours daily. It was an industry where women comprised 8% of the work force when she  started eight years ago.

“I remember driving to small towns in Illinois and seeing people get out of their cars and homes….all wanting to see if I could park my semi. I used to be like..really?!” Her laughter was contagious and girly.

She wore a black tank on black jeans. A blue- black tatoo of a fire breathing dragon curled from her right shoulder to her elbow. It was beautiful.

‘Driving for uber gives me flexibility. I have a two years old son and don’t have to pay for child care. Plus, I get to spend more time with my son. I work from 3 to 11 am every day.’ I express shock at her start time. She tells me she doesn’t sleep much….might as well make money instead of tussing and turning. She tells me about her teenage years….her bad choices. She says she is trying to do better…since she knows better.

I feel my eyes grow heavy listening to the soft lull of her sing- song voice…and quickly roused myself.

I looked out the window. It was snowing. The white crusted crystals fell quickly and melted almost immediately they hit the window. My eyes strayed again to the dragon on her shoulder. It’s fiery eyes red embers. I looked away.

Crossroads.

I walked with the basket of vegetables expertly perched on my crown. My arms were stylishly poised around my waist….like Nne Ngozi’s. My neck didn’t ache. I had practised in from of my mother’s full length mirror before I left home. I’ve been practising for weeks. Today I have been allowed to visit Chuka alone. Prior to today, on all my trips I had been accompanied by my older brother, Emeka. Emeka was free to roam with his  friends now, or visit with Nneka…. his intended.

My waist was adorned by four rows of brightly colored beads.  My thick curly hair were in six shiny corn rows. I wore no shoes. I never did.

Marriage. The word unleashed a plethora of emotions within me. All my older cousins had married earlier….sixteen, seventeen. My mother said she came to my father’s homestead a week short of her sixteenth birthday. So, I guess at eighteen, I would be considered over the hill. My mother had requested I finish high school. My father reluctantly agreed. “She will bring more to a marriage well schooled”. He didn’t argue. All their bantering on the subject had been done behind closed doors. She won. I won. As my slender limbs drew me closer to my destination I thought about the many suitors that has made their intentions clear. There was Mazi Ochuko, the village carpenter.  My skin crawled. A short, stocky fellow with a unibrow. He always drooled like a lecher whenever he saw me in the market.  When he came to ask for my hand in marriage, my father threw his head back and laughed. My father was a tall man with broad shoulders. His skin like polished wood. His teeth a sharp contrast to his complexion. Read More

Pink

I awoke to the distant drums of a thousand screams. Screams of those who had gone ahead of me. Mothers, sisters, aunts…a path drenched in blood and vaginal fluid. A path my mother had told me the night before, in hushed whispers would liberate my tinted soul. Why was my soul tinted? Why did I have to be purified? My head was heavy. My sleep had been plagued by tortuous dreams of being chased by familiar faces……my mother, father…. aunts and uncles…people who loved me. And yet, that morning whilst slumber dissipated from my weary eyes…I knew something was going to die within me. I am twelve. I know… this… is not right.

I married young. My husband was a decade older. A successful business man from a neighboring town. Prior to my leaving home with him that cold dusty harmattan morning, I had seen him only a couple of times…spoken to him twice. My marriage was contractual between our families. I was not an active participant. He was never cruel to me. In hindsight, I can say he was a good man. I was lucky. However, I was never really happy. I had four children in quick succession before I knew who I was as a human being. I wished I could have been allowed to mature before being saddled with marriage to anyone, not to talk of a stranger.

I tried to leave him several times. His parents would visit mine with their pastor in tow…speaking in hushed muffled voices..while the voices in my head screamed…almost driving me mad. He was a violent man, just like his father. His mother never left. She was docile. A quiet woman who enjoyed the financial security of being married to a wealthy man. A politician who built an empire brokering deals between the government and the Niger Delta militants. My husband was his crown prince. If I am honest, I had seen in close quarters his propensity for violence while we dated but I was ensnared by the comfort he represented…the security. The pastor always parroted what the father wanted. He had scriptures to defend the indefensible. I knew my father in law bankrolled the church youth development building, the pastoral house and bought him a new vehicle every year. I suspect if they succeed in killing me..the imbecile would officiate at my burial.Three years in, a broken jaw, broken ribs….and several black eyes later…. I have realized the error of my judgement. I am aware he will never change. Can he deny the genetic code that determines his choices? Can he unmake what his orientation has made him? My father had warned me but I didn’t listen. I did a mental calculation of my private stash. Once I was well enough to travel I was leaving him…and the fetus that thrived in my womb would be an unfortunate consequence I intended to do away with. Nothing would tie me to this part of my history.

Misogyny is not always genital mutilation. A cultural practice that denies a woman her right to sexual satisfaction and leaves her ill equipped to cope with child delivery. A practice that is still upheld by many communities…..a dark cloak that disables a girl-child long before she becomes a woman. She grows stunted, bent over…a far result from who she would have been. Misogyny is not always about brutal acts towards the female. Its not always about domestic abuse. Its a culture that strangles what could have been, it kills the butterfly while its still a caterpillar…starving it of nutrition…..creating a hostile environment..and so when the butterfly emerges..its wings are shriveled…unable to fly, its legs are frail. Its a culture that places premium on the male child. It unconsciously or consciously makes the women subservient to the men. A system that encourages the belief that a woman exists for the purpose of a man’s pleasure. A belief that gives a married woman an advantage in status…so much so, that a woman who is single is diminished in worth is so very wrong. And how do we change this belief? By consciously making the right choices. Educate….educate…educate.

A person’s worth should not be determined by what lies between the legs.

Ode to Nne.

Her slender form was wrapped in a brightly colored Abada wrapper, tied in soft folds around her bosoms…it flowed in rippled layers around her shins. She was bent over the mortar- putting pieces of cassava into the dough made of yam. I watched her slender fingers kneed the dough, then, she lifted the pestle and continued to pound…the thud of the pestle on the mortar making a distinct sound..dum… dum….dum. I watched the bead of sweat drip from her brow..in sync with the pounding…her eyes firmly on the contents of the mortar.

Her hair closely cropped to her scalp, a blue black hue….a sharp contrast to her complexion. Her mouth was slightly agape; her feet shod in a pair of leather male slippers…several sizes too big for her slender feet. Slippers, I guessed belonged to my Beloved. I moved closer to the window lattice and watched the shadows play on the concrete floor of the kitchen. The lantern was dimmed low….if it was bright, it hurt my Beloved’s eyes. I could hear the low murmur from his lips as he slept, I smiled, he always spoke in his sleep. The mattress creaked under his weight as he turned on his side, I shied away careful not to wake him as he unconsciously reached for me-my eyes fixed on his mother.

She had stopped pounding and was sitting on a beautifully crafted wooden stool. A stool she used only in the kitchen. It had been a gift from her paternal uncle shortly before the birth of my Beloved. She pulled the mortar close, straddling it between her thighs….using a wooden spoon she scrapped the inside of the mortar of the last bit of dough into a porcelain plate. She dipped her wooden ladle into water and molded the dough into a glistening sphere. She stood on her tip toes to carry a big pot out of the alcove. She opened the big lid and stirred it’s contents…..it’s familiar spicy aroma hit my nostrils. She poured an assortment of meat and thick broth on the pounded yam. I saw the beginnings of a smile play on her lips. Her face was immersed in a bright glow, light from the lantern was playing tricks on me.

The door creaked open. Efe. She called softly without raising her voice. Nne. I responded.”Bia… come and feed my baby“. I swung my swollen torso off the bed I shared with my husband, grimacing as I felt a sharp nudge at my side. Everyone was asleep. It was almost midnight and my cravings did not follow a time table. While I ate, she cleaned out the mortar….humming a lullaby under her breath.

A history of violence

We found each other by accident. I was looking for a way to burn time while my spouse was working. I didn’t have any children at the time. She was a cardiologist…. moonlighting as a zumba instructor. My spouse and I had recently moved to a town in New Hampshire. Him,looking for a better paying job. Me, hoping the the change in location will help me conceive.

She told me she was a second generation immigrant. Her parents were originally from some Scandinavian backwater. Her blues eyes always seemed to look elsewhere whenever she spoke of her family. My kinky, black ringlets were the attraction. Africans were not a common feature I found after we moved to Azure. My stint in the zumba class was short lived; I discovered I was expecting my first baby. Ad midst much celebration, for our class was a small, close knit one…I hung up my leotard and focused on my new status. She continued to call on me, which was remarkable because of her busy schedule. In addition to consulting at the hospital as a cardiologist and zumba, she ran a low income private clinic with one of her siblings.

She was a breath of fresh air. She helped me navigate the medical insurance landmines; introduced me to a good gynecologist, pointed me in the right direction for Lamaze classes. She always seemed to be available when it came to me.

When my baby finally arrived, my husband was out of town on business.With no family to help me….she was my life saver. She ferried me to the hospital, was there holding my hand through the delivery. She stayed with me through it all; feeding me ice cubes, wiping my sweaty brow. It was her face Azuka first saw when he opened his eyes, not even mine. Never complaining. Always smiling, always encouraging.She was my main stay

Ours was an unlikely sisterhood of sorts. Our hearts spoke the same. And even though she knew so much about me, I knew very little about her. I knew she had three siblings,all younger. I knew her parents had recently divorced after over four decades of marriage. I knew, even though she admired my relationship with my spouse, she always said she would never marry.

Sam, I called her fondly. Even though her real name was Adele. “If you were a man Samson would be a perfect name. And strong she was, for someone so small. She was a few inches shorter than I was. Her slight frame was quite misleading. Once, at the end of my third trimester  I slipped on some ice during winter.She caught me, and I was amazed at the strength of her grip. Whenever I asked her questions towing on relationships, she would smile and say: Ameze good men like yours are rare.” She told me she had no use for a long term relationship. And when I ask her about children: Don’t you want to have children? She would laugh and tease me. We are not all built for maternity Ameze.

It was almost three years into our relationship before she told me of her mother.

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Raised a staunch catholic, she married her high school sweetheart. They had five beautiful children. The marriage was a tumultuous one. Sam’s father struggled with substance abuse. Her mother was left isolated and stranded as a result of verbal,physical and psychological abuse. Leaving her husband was not an option for her.Marriage was to be endured. Leaving was not an option. When they migrated to North America, Sam was about a year old. Her childhood memories are riddled with her mother’s tears,screams and blood. For years she watched her mother suffer. She learned at an early age to bind her mother’s wounds. In fact, her first visit to the neighborhood library was to look for a book on how to stitch a particularly bad gash on her cheek. She found the library and became hooked. The books were an outlet to the horror their lives had become. She would go to the library after school with her siblings and stay till the library closed, not minding the growling pangs of hunger in their stomachs. The thought of going home to see their bloodied mother…. intoxicated father……. kept them reading.

She said she found herself in the quiet hallways of the library. She believes  there was no bone in her mother’s body that had not suffered some kind of trauma from her father’s fists. Once,after a particularly bad beating, her mother unconscious was not able to stop Sam from calling for an ambulance. Her mother had suffered a skull fracture, several broken ribs. It was a miracle she lived, the doctor said. When she was asked what happened to her mother…..Sam said she told the truth. Her father was nowhere to be found.

Her father disappeared for days. When the police came to their door, herself and her siblings hoped…no, prayed it was to tell them he was dead. If only they were that lucky. He had been arrested for drunken, disorderly conduct.He had begged a policeman to tell his wife. He needed her to post his bail . He could not remember he had beaten her to a pulp, broken her jaw,nose and ribs. He did not remember beating her. Sam said she told the policeman where her mother was, what her father had done to her. When the police corroborated her story,her father was sent away to prison for almost a year.

‘The system has changed Ameze. Now,if my father did the same thing..he will be locked away for the rest of his life. But not back then…..her voice trailed off. Justice really is half blind.”

I remembered Nne Chinye. She lived in a small squat opposite my family when i was a little girl. Her husband would beat her black and blue. She never left him. He worked for the railway service. A tall dark handsome man who always greeted my parents with a smile. A smile that never reached his eyes. His wife was always dressed in a wrapper and a mismatched blouse. Her scarf always tied crookedly…hiding a discolored eye, a swollen temple. She walked with a stoop. Her children very beautiful but always cowering behind their door. I remember coming back from school when I was ten and learning from the hushed whispers of gossiping neighbors she had died suddenly. For many months I would wake up screaming….the dream was the same. Nne Chinye was lynched by a faceless crowd. She would lay eventually immobile, covered in blood and gore…Though a child I felt a sense of guilt. Guilt… that nothing was done to save her…..from the monster she married.

By the time he was released, there was no home for him to return to. With him in prison, there was no income to support the family. We lost the apartment. A kind neighbor employed me in her dinner. She also helped my siblings and I secure a small apartment. For two years I worked and attended night school to enable me care for my siblings. My mother needed therapy.She was in a facility for almost a year. In the midst of all that madness,I found joy and peace because Papa was gone. My siblings did beautifully well in school. We had hit rock bottom,the only place to go was up.

When my father came out of prison,he reconciled with my mother. I had no expectations of her. Her choice to hold on to a dead marriage was not going to destroy my siblings and I. My years of living in the library paid off. I found an attorney to represent my siblings and I pro bono. I appealed to our neighbors who had stood idly by as my father continuously abused my mother to stand has witness for us. They showed up en masse in court to support myself and my siblings.I was old enough to file for custody of my siblings and was ready to make the sacrifice to keep us together. My parents cried that day in court. Both clinging to the other. Their tears made me angry. Very angry. The judge ruled in our favor. My parents wept hysterically that day. They kept on begging…. calling out our names. My brother’s face was blank but I knew he was crying inside. My sisters were too young to really understand what was happening but years of turmoil and chaos had taken its effect on their sensibilities. All they knew was, our father was not in the picture and that….. for them, was more than enough.

My parents would come around to the small apartment I shared with my siblings. They would bring groceries and always maintained a united front. I never saw a bruise on her again. He enrolled in a drug rehab program. I guess the loss of his children was the catalyst he needed. When they visited, I would either go to the library, or work extra hours. I couldn’t afford to soften towards them. If I did, we would be back to square one. I couldn’t risk it. I did not go back to school until my last sibling had gotten into high school.

She raised up her hands: These hands, Ameze, have been working for almost twenty two years.

When her siblings started to date, they made bad choices. She said her youngest sister always seemed to be attracted to the dead beats of the society. Men that would take her money.Her other two sisters too made quite a few judgement calls. Her brother dated women with questionable characters. Women, who took his money and gave him sexually transmitted diseases.Each misstep a throw back to their orientation. After series of heart aches, the three girls found relatively stable relationships. Herself and her brother stayed single. She did not trust men. She did not trust herself to choose well.She looked at each man that approached her as an actor. They were all caricatures pretending to be something they were not. The monster would soon escape from the pressed shirt, tailored pants and attractive exterior. She would never marry. She would succeed in dodging the bullet that threatened her mother’s existence.

Her brother was her succor. They encouraged and validated each other.

Her parents, she avoided like the plague. Her mother had tried several times over the years to reconcile with Sam, her father same. They never gave up on her. My friend says they are both poison. Her father was a monster and her mother was worse. She allowed them to be held prisoner because of her fears.She lost her childhood because of a misguided belief in a God that her mother served. When we have conversations on religion and divorce. Sam would say, many of these so called preachers should be sent to the gallows. The pastors tell the women to forgive,they tell them to be docile…to love the man and be submissive. They read their bibles upside down. They keep these women in dead and evil marriages. When she rattles on…. passionate and angry; I listen and smile. I know where she has been and so I do not judge her. I think back to my gentle and loving father. He gave me the blue print of what a good man should be. I shudder to think of what my life would have been if I had her kind of father. I didn’t watch my father raid the family purse to quieten his cravings. I didn’t have to sleep hungry days on end; stitch holes in clothes too small to wear….a father, I prayed fell into a gutter and died.

Our relationship was one of mutual respect. I saw her more clearly after I knew her background. I loved her more, too…if it were possible to love her more than I did before. Perhaps in my love for her, I could make up for the misguided guilt I carried for Nne Chinye.

 

 

The antidote.

Below the cluster of the banana trees, under the velvety beauty of the half moon..my Grandfather immersed me in the murky depths of the Crystal pond. The pond was his crystal ball; where he beheld the future…saw visions. When a custodian of the gods died, before his corpse was committed to mother earth, his tongue, two thumbs and heart was retrieved from his remains. The heart-his experience, the extremities-his works and his tongue-his oratory talents. Which seer could function effectively and efficiently without any of these?

My Grandfather came from a long line of seers and wizards. He was given up to the gods early in age. His exact age at that time not known. Record keeping wasn’t the best back then. He was a promised child of his parents, a proverbial Samuel. His mother had him late, her only child. He never married, custom forbade the custodian of the gods to cater to a mortal woman but he had one son. A son he raised with single-mindedness. My father. My father was sent off to learn a trade when he became a teenager in  neighboring town. He excelled and was very successful. How could he not be? He had drunk from the crystal pond. The pond that gave others light surely will go before the only offshoot of its caregiver illuminating his path and flooding him with favor.

As a child I would visit Onilekeara, my grandfather frequently with my father. I would sit and play across the yard while they spoke in varying undertones. He was a sight to behold, my grandfather. He wore six long braids, from his temple to his nape. Each braid adorned with white cowries, the braids were long and stopped before the swell of his buttocks. He always wore a snow-white loin cloth indoors but out of his abode, his beautiful ibante covered his upper torso and a while long wrapper his lower body.He was a tall man with muscular arms and an immobile face. You could never know what he was thinking, his eyes a deep pool of brown pebbles, his skin like polished mahogany. That he loved my father and I was obvious though. We were his only family. My father he called Ife. Love. And I, Ifemeji. The love of two.

My father feared for my safety. He worried being a girl-child I would be subject to less-of-a-life. I was young with keen ears and the wisdom not to share with my mother whatever I heard during those many visits. Later in life when my choice of spouse was determined by my father but my heart chose another, I was accused of adultery. My husband was several years older and successful. My father chose him wanting to secure my future. My in-laws didn’t like me…I was too powerful a force in the household and they wanted to get rid of me. I maintained my innocence even though I knew I was guilty. His family insisted I insisted I drink a mysterious brew from their village necromancer. The brew would unleash instant death on the guilty after the victim foams in the mouth and undergoes a seizure. My husband’s protests were drowned out by his mother, an old shrew…my hatred for her was mutual.

On  that fateful dawn, on my knees before the village square with my husband and his family in tow….all foaming in the mouth with hatred like a bunch of vampires before their prey. I took the gourd which contained the brew with steady hands and raised it to my lips. I drank my fill and jumped to my feet. I smashed the empty gourd on the stony ground, stamped on the broken pieces further with my slender feet. My husband lounged forward prostrate before my feet, his arms around my ankles…..crying…poor man. His mother swooned in a dead faint, she never recovered.

From the corner of my eyes, I saw the flash of white of his ibante…and under my tongue a cowrie-the antidote.

For the love of God.

My friend Elisha is going to be fifty. The big 5-0! We met twenty seven years earlier at NYSC camp. It was a sunny afternoon. I was sitting on the ground after the routine early morning exercise, practicing my toasting skills on a very beautiful light skinned girl from Anambra. Funny, how after so many years I can still remember the state she hailed from but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name. He reminded me of the wrestler Mighty Igor. Something about the build of his torso..the set of his shoulders. I was a mad wrestling fan back in the eighties. He was from the east…spoke the same language as the chick…and she preferred him to me. I didn’t mind. Before camp was over, he had moved on to other waters. He was a great orator. I enjoyed listening to his stories, his experiences. I came from the south-south and though had schooled in Lagos orientation was quite similar. He was raised by staunch Catholics, so was I. That was part of the attraction,I guess. Our parents religious leanings made our upbringing so familiar.

As life drew us in different directions, our bond waned and we lost touch. We met again a couple of years ago in the banking hall of Guarantee Trust Bank; where I had gone to open a domiciliary account. Elisha was the customers service manager and had sighted me on the queue. We stayed in touch since then. He was ‘happily’ married to Malinda.I was and still remained a bachelor. We would meet one or twice a month. Dates that always coincided with his meetings at work, so Malinda would not burn a gasket. He still was a great talker. We would discuss politics, his relationship with his wife and then religion. I would listen to his woes on his marriage to an insufferably insecure woman. I couldn’t understand why he stayed with her. I am not a religious person. I mean, to be honest, I said my prayers every morning but I wasn’t one of those people who ‘marked register’ in church every Sundays like Elisha, my parents and my brother-Albert. My younger brother had chosen the Pentecostal route. All his sentences were peppered with..GO said this…and GO said that...like he couldn’t think independent of whatever the general overseer of his church said. It wouldn’t irritate me half as much if he quoted from the bible…but no..it was always a quote from his g.o.

Anyway, back to Elisha and his ‘cross’ Malinda. She was the last fish his hook ever sunk into while wading the youthful waters during our NYSC days. I never got over why he married her. He told me then she got pregnant..and her religion forbade abortion. I told him then, her religion forbade what led to the pregnancy, too. All of a sudden, she became holier than thou after the shagging brought forth it’s reward. I never pass judgements anyways….Lord knows I would have dodged that bullet. Back then, I always thought their relationship would eventually fizzle out…so many do when you are younger, grasping for straws in the darkness of immaturity. So, imagine my surprise when we reconnected and he told me he had married her. And not just married but had four children with her.

She was a difficult woman at best, belligerent at worse. A very insecure girlfriend who counted condoms and smelt under wears. She would start a fight with any woman…young or old who lingered after exchanging pleasantries with Elisha. In marriage, her insecurities grew leaps and bounds. My friend had withdrawn from family and friends alike more out of the embarrassment of constantly having to apologize for her bizarre behavior. Despite the difficulties he faced being married to her, my friend was determined to make his marriage work. He said since she found the Lord in church…she was more ‘manageable’.

At least, until a ‘sister’ in church decided to spend too much time with Elisha trying to discuss the process of opening a second checking account for business purposes alone. Malinda had been waiting in the car for him…and had come looking when he still had not come out of the church. On sighting the sisi who had ‘blocked’ her husband…all hell literally broke loose. She dragged the lady to the ground and proceeded to kick and punch whilst cursing her out loud. Elijah said it took, two security men, two deacons, himself included to pull his wife off the poor woman. And it only happened because Malinda paused for a second to re-tie her wrapper which had become undone…exposing her ample buttocks to the full glare of gawking church members and on lookers who had been attracted by all the raucous.The woman had to be hospitalized. Elisha was marked as the brother with the crazy, possessed wife. Elisha said that was the pivotal point in his marriage. I’m thinking..talk about being long suffering. He decided to take her for deliverance. I remember he looked at me like I had suddenly spawn a tail and an extra head when I suggested, maybe, just maybe what she needed was a therapist.

So, today I am visiting his church. There’s a special thanksgiving program for his 50th birthday. I want to see up close and personal what kind of message they preach. What kind of  water do they drink. Elisha has been with his ‘cross’ for almost twenty seven years. He has grown in patience and resilience…but it takes a special anointing which I want to partake of…no joke…to stay hinged to that kind of fire.

At least, until a ‘sister’ in church decided to spend too much time with Elisha trying to discuss the process of opening a second checking account for business purposes alone.