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.

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.

————————————————————————–

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.

To eat and dream.

I lay in the trunk of my Father’s small ‘danfo’ bus. It was bought many years ago, long before I was born. A priced possession of my father. The only source of income for our family of three. My parents had me early. Though my mother tried for many years to have another child, she eventually gave up.My father was unlike many men in our town. He never cared for another child.He resisted the pressure to take on another wife. I always heard him tell my mother: “This one is worth more than a thousand!”

I had feigned an illness to get out of school that morning. My mother knew I was lying. I had no fever and had consumed my breakfast of ogi and akara with gusto. ‘You are spoiling him’ my mother protested while my father prepared to take me to the motor park with him. My father shrugged his broad shoulders and carried me on his back towards the vehicle. From the corner of my eyes I saw the beginning of a smile tug at my mother’s lips. The sun had risen with a vengeance and my body quickly drenched in sweat. For a brief moment, I almost regretted getting out of school. Just then, I caught a whiff of Mama Wosi’s ata dindin. Mama Wosi was the sole local caterer of the motor park where my father ferried his customers back and forth. I loved her food. Her culinary expertise was known far and wide our little town of Ekunkan. I could tell from my vantage position and without opening eyes eyes she had just added iru to her famous sauce. My stomach started to rumble.

Suddenly the weather changed and dark clouds gathered overhead. I felt the familiar gust of wind heralding rain. The cool breeze calmed my initial clammy skin and I quickly closed my eyes in pretense as I saw father approach. He shrugged off his old lace agbada and covered my body, partially obscuring my vision. I felt him touch my temple and the gentle brush of the palm of his hand on my head. Public display of affection was frowned upon generally in our clime. It spoiled children…. many believed. Love your children but don’t show them much fondness. Hard love. Something that was completely foreign in my relationship with my father.

On sensing my father’s departure I opened my eyes to peep through the holes of the agbada that partially covered my head but the full length of my body. My father sat a few feet away sharing stories with Mama Wosi. She always sat before two big black ajase pots frying dundun, dodo and her famous ata dindin. Her wares, though simple were a delicacy. She tied her ankara wrapper over a brightly colored blouse. Her hair always well hidden by a loosely tied scarf. Her pearly white dentition exposed as she listened to my father…her faithful customer. She was never without her smile, even early in the mornings while she prepared her pots and pans for the day…while she brushed her teeth and tongue with her pako. I always wondered what her hair looked like under her scarf. Was it jet black and full like my mother’s. My mother’s hair was thick and hung like a curtain down her shoulders whenever it wasn’t woven.My father loved to run his hands through her hair when no one was watching. He loved it when she braided it in shuku and always clapped his hands in delight whenever she returned from her onidiri.

I could tell Mama Wosi liked my father…very few people didn’t. When she listened to other customers..she didn’t smile as wide and she always sent food to me. My mother noticed, too, but she was a very emotionally secure woman and apart from teasing Father about Mama Wosi once or twice, she never batted an eye lid to the constant stream of food.

I watched the exchange between them and while the tantalizing smell of her sauce pervaded the air around me, I fell into a fitful sleep.

I watched from a half cracked doorway as Olomitutu -my paternal granduncle, the local seer brought out his divination mat from his ‘power house’. Olomitutu was widely regarded as the voice of the gods, though many in our little town had gone the way of western religion, a large percentage of the older generation were still partial to him. He was a kind man with several wives and many children. Many of his children were older than Father but he still had a couple of children I went to school with. He was a small, dark man whose head was always clean shaven. He always wore a long loose white cassock. His eyebrows were snow white and he spoke in a big, gruff voice that didn’t seem to belong to his body. He carried a cane; it was short and black with a brass knob on top.

Olomitutu muttered under his breath a prayer: Aranmalo bring me good tidings today. My stomach is empty. My wives and children are hungry. Make a way for us today.

A woman appeared in the horizon with a limp child straddled to her back. The baby’s head flopped from side to side, like a rag doll being tossed by the wind. It’s eyes were closed and its mouth was wide open…like it was about to shout. The mother was screaming…. very agitated; the father- a burly man was struggling to catch up with his wife…his face contorted in tears.A small crowd followed closely behind….all headed towards Olomitutu.

Baba e’gbami! The mother continued to scream, stomping her feet…raising dust. The baby was now in his father’s arms..who stuttered and sputtered his words drowned in his wife’s wails. Olomitutu ran into his power house and returned almost immediately with a small gourd  which carried a murky liquid. He held the baby’s head with his left hand and poured some of the liquid down the child’s throat. Barely a second later, the baby gurgled a cry and then sneezed. There was instant jubilation from the massive crowd that had swelled from the pandemonium . The mother wiped her tears and broke into a dance while the father straddled his baby across his shoulders. A ram was slaughtered before my grand uncle. The parents were well-to-do. Olomitutu’s prayers had been answered.

Alabi! My father shook me awake. The agbada had fallen aside. It was getting dark. My eyes caught the yellow bowl Mama Wosi always served my meals in cradled in his right hand. My dundun and ata dindin was ready. My stomach rumbled loud enough for my Father to hear. He threw his head back and laughed. I squinted, stretched and swallowed saliva.”Come and eat boy”.My father smiled. We must all eat and dream, I thought as I took my first bite.

 

Mr and Mrs Jones

How did I get here?

When we met, I had so much fire in my belly. I was this fresh faced, bespectacled law and economics double majors student. I was the great activist. I would mount the podium at those fiery meets spitting Socrates and Machiavelli. I would raise my right fist high over my head at the end of my speeches and walk with the swag of a conqueror, the ends of my bell bottom pants gliding gracefully around my ankles. The students union president. A black panther.

We met at one of such meetings. You were the vice president of the students union of a neighbouring college. Back in those days, it was not a common feat for a woman to hold her own in a fora seen as male dominated. We were in awe of you. In your signature styled blue jeans, turtle neck sweater and beautiful blue- black Afro….I was struck. I had always been a man who was captivated more by what was between a woman’s ears than what her statistics were. I was never preoccupied by the opposite sex,  not for their lack of trying or by a lack of virility. I just found social activism more of a turn on than a rump between the sheets. In retrospect, I can say honestly, I also lacked the emotional maturity to give a woman the right emotional succor that would be expected in a healthy relationship. Social activism was my woman….until I met you.

If I before I had purpose, after I met you, I became driven.

I went ahead to graduate with a first class was snagged by Ashland and Smithdt. You went ahead to Uganda for a year to teach English. I was so proud. We got married after your return. I had never been so happy.

Then, the twins arrived the fifth year of our marriage. God kept on giving. With the demands of our growing family, you stayed back home to care for the children. I was happy to take on more responsibility to make up the difference of your income. When the children were old enough to be in school full time, you faltered at getting back in the workplace.  I didn’t mind. I wanted you to take your time. I did notice, though, that there was a difference in interests. I still wanted fiery discourse on social justice and economics.I wanted to discuss the details of my job that encouraged economic empowering of otherwise disadvantaged. Your conversations were peppered by the Real Housewives of ‘whatever’ and Tele Mundo.  Now, I knew being the primary care givers of two babies erodes the brain cells of anybody but you…my darling were not just anybody.You were my copilot!

I bought books. I started a book club…yes, a book club to encourage the development of more cerebral material. You grew sullen and resentful of my efforts to create more opportunities to bond with you. You would start pet projects….all none increasing our economic empowerment but eroding it. I was never one given to work for the purpose of acquiescence.  For me, my work gave me purpose. I loved giving law and economic advice to people. I loved watching start ups grow exponentially from my input. I loved being part of a company that gave millions of dollars in grants to people who normally would not have access to such resources. I was doing it long before I joined Ashland, remember.

While the constant networking with people of like minds have helped grow our bank account…I am growing tired. I am no longer twenty five with fire in my belly. I am a forty six years old man with smothering embers. I have no more desire to amass more wealth. My hair is thinning out, my shoulders are slumped and even though my eyesight has been corrected by laser surgery, the light in my eyes have deemed. I have encouraged you over the years to get a job, lessen the pressure on me. You whine, pout and say we can manage on one income. I am tired of being an ATM machine. I am also tired of talking about it.

The children are now in college. Thanks to scholarship and the fund I started when they were born, their future is well ensconced financially. At my last doctor’s appointment, I was advised to lessen my workload….my health is failing.  And so, I have decided to do just that. Since I made partner five years ago, I have not taken a full holiday. I have informed the board I am taking all my accrued paid time off. It totals five months. I have also informed them, I intend to take a back seat. The details in ramifications to our finances are of no importance me. I will be taking off for a month. Alone.

When I return, we will re access our relationship.  If you are willing to stay in this marriage, fine. I will not die while catering to a lifestyle that milks me of my wholesomeness. If you decide to leave, fine. Be warned though, I have sharpened my skills for twenty years knowing the law….you will only get what I am willing to give you. Marriage should be mutually nurturing. It serves me no purpose if I am dead.

 

My friends and I.

My friends and I had been a trio for as long as I could remember. We latched on to ourselves in the sand box many years ago, all three of us not yet school bound. I remember our mothers initially sat apart, watching nervously as their children hung on to each other, pouring sand into buckets, holding hands, singing songs we taught ourselves and speaking in a language unified in love. My mother was African. She braided my hair and added beads to the ends of my corn rows. She dressed me in brightly colored tie and dye dresses and adorned my neck with white cowrie necklaces and my feet shod in matching sandals. Her hair was full and more often than naught left to frame her round, lovely face. She wore long ankara skirts and thin strapped tops. My mother’s attire always matched mine. She show cased her heritage with brio and carried herself with such grace, people were always drawn to us. Like bees to honey, we had quite a following on the playground.

My friends were Lily and Anna. Lily’s mother was Japanese and we all called her Pearl, even her daughter. She was a tiny slip of a woman with hair the color of night. Her hair was long and full and hung like a curtain just below her bottom. She always wore dark colored pants and bright colored flip flops. Lily was a smaller version of her mother, her hair cut in a mullet. Anna’s parents were from some Scandinavian back water. They had migrated when she was a little over a year old. Her mother was a good head taller than mine, blue eyes, blonde hair, built like an athlete. She always wore trainers and sweat pants, her laugh was infectious. She was my favorite. I called her Mana, even though her name was Rose. Anna didn’t look anything like her mother though, her hair was dark, her nose a cute little button, her limbs were dimpled.

The mothers were united in their circumstances. My father worked long hours. My mother was satisfied being my primary care giver. Memories of my father back then was of a huge birth of a man who swung me into his arms while I teetered in between sleep and consciousness. He would hold me close to his chest, his stubby chin scratching my soft cheek. He would kiss me all over my face and whisper “Iya mi“. As the years plied on, my father’s hours were reduced and my mother took on work as a librarian in our district. I spent more time with him. When I spoke to him about those nights when I was younger, he blinked back tears and expressed such joy that I remembered. I had small crevices in my heart where I hid delightful memories of my childhood. We all lived in the same apartment building, which housed the play ground where we first became friends. We all attended the same school and always sought ourselves out during recess. No one could penetrate that bubble of love.

As we grew older and a wave of financial prosperity enveloped our parents, we saw a potential pulling away. My parents were talking about buying a home in the suburbs and leaving the city. Anna’s parents were eyeing property in another state, her father had taken a higher management position and had moved a year before. The back and forth between states over the weekends was taking its toll on his sensibilities. Lily’s parents were talking about going back to Japan. Her paternal grand father had passed away, leaving a tidy fortune behind-there was no need to struggle for the American dream; the Japanese dream had become a reality. It was possibly our last summer together, we were thirteen respectively. When my parents asked if I wanted to go to summer camp, I said no. I asked if I could take a trip with my friends knowing they were making similar requests. There was a lot of debate, the mothers speaking to themselves on the phone. A lot of whispering during car pool, with us three seated at the back. I felt a sense of panic as summer approached.

Eventually, our parents decided to take us to a family camp. The day I was told, I was ecstatic. I packed my bags and told my parents, I wanted to ride with Mana. My father chuckled and said if Mana didn’t mind, he didn’t care. The drive to Lake Huron was shrouded in a fog of sleep. I had been so giddy at the prospect of the journey, I hardly got any sleep the night before. And so, the minute I strapped on my seat belt, I fell into such a fitful slumber-I have no recollection of the beautiful landscape my friends captured on their cameras. They also mischievously made a short video of me snoring loudly with fries stuck in my corn rows.  We all stayed in log cabins, a cabin for each family. Lily’s father surprised us in the morning with fish and fries for breakfast, he knew it was our favorite. We ate all our meals outside facing the lake, on wooden benches, our paper plates cradled on our thighs. By evening we had forgotten about the benches and taken permanent residence on an old blanket Mana brought with her. We took long swims and chased ourselves around the cabins, played hopscotch and monopoly.

It was the first time in a long time all our parents were together. The quest to provide had ensured an incomplete circle. My friends and I stayed up long into the night, Mana had brought along a tent big enough for us three. The tent was pitched strategically from all three cabins; each parent had a view from their bedroom window. We talked about our past, spoke incessantly about the present and shied away from the future. At the end of the summer, Lily had started her period-another stamp on change. My parents also seemed to find something that summer. Long hours apart and the routine that befalls married couples had put a damper on their relationship. By the end of the summer, I noticed an awakening between them, a light in my mother’s eyes, a bounce in my father’s step. They lingered more in each others arms and seemed to see each other more clearly. The jaunt had brought a great gift to us all.

Our journey back was cloaked in silence. Each knowing, each accepting. I hit the ground running when I started high school in the fall. Lily and her family returned to Japan. Skype made the transition easier. Anna and I stayed united for longer. Our parents moved to the same suburb and we attended the same high school because her father was transferred back. We both did our happy dance to Pharrel’s song when we found out. Though we know change is inevitable and distance will eventually separate us, for now, we will bask in the euphoria of the added lease our bond has been given.