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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Kaleidoscope:Father’s Day Special.

I watch a quiet spectator as he carries his precious bundle strapped to his fore every Sunday. He sits usually in the second row of my beloved church. At the beginning, they were two. Both of them with hands intertwined. Later, her abdomen heralded a third would join their family. That they loved each other was evident for all to see.Her demise was heart breaking. We all prayed he would be okay. He still continued to come to church; seeking solace in the community that surrounded them with love. His precious bundle he rocked back and forth, at times he looking quite lost. As she grew older and bigger, his shoulders sagged under her weight. Someone remarked kindly, maybe, he should put her in a stroller. He smiled sadly and his response: Her heart beat assures me I will be fine.

My daily musings take me to the local library where I borrow books. On the table across from where I sat; I see him coloring with two toddlers, ages two and three. He tells me, he took a pay cut to enable him raise his two children by working part time. Sure the financial struggles are a daily challenge but he says these have helped him tap into his resourcefulness. His family rarely eats out and he has become a great cook. My kids’ needs are met and that’s all that matters.

He had three sons, I remember. His relationship with his wife, their mother was at best described as a troubled one. He says they married young. Both still discovering who they were and what they wanted. He says though their relationship did not go the direction he wanted, he purposed to stay because of his sons. When their relationship made their home difficult for their children’s upbringing, he decided to cut his losses and run; primarily because of his sons. He wanted to raise them in a warm and loving environment and he came to the conclusion he couldn’t do it while married to their mother. I salute his bravery.

He navigates between two continents trying to provide for his family. His spouse is the primary care giver of three prepubescent children, one of which is severely handicapped. His nights are riddled with Skype calls trying to keep up with his family: doctors updates, helping with the kids home works, encouraging while still dispensing of punishment when necessary. He wonders if its all worth it at times: the constant plane hopping, the sleepless nights, the constant tugging on his heart strings when he misses another musical recital; when his youngest asks again and again: ‘Daddy, when are you coming home?’ How does he explain the reason why he took this job was to provide for them; that the medical costs continued to increase while his income had stayed stagnant, that the recession bit hard and Mummy’s job was scrapped by the company in their need to stay afloat. How does he explain to a six years old, that, their mortgage would not have been affordable without this change? The choices that were foisted upon him.

Orphaned  in his teens, he has never been a sibling but a father to his brother. Their parents were taken when he was fifteen. His brother was still in diapers. Though he was doing well in school and could easily have gone on to a college of his choice, he knew he had to take care of his brother. He says the happiest day of his life was when his brother graduated from college. ‘He knows the price we paid to get him there’.

He mentors young men in his neighborhood. Those without positive male role models. He checks their homework ; tutors in courses they have challenges in; helps in building their character through a community center he volunteers in. He hates that he gets credit for helping the children. They are the ones giving his life meaning. My life without this program would be empty. I have found myself being a positive voice in a little brother’s head.

His daughter is my children’s pediatrician. A wonderful woman with a great heart. Over the course of my many visits we have forged a special bond. She was raised by a single parent, her mother passed very early. Her father raised herself and four siblings. She can not remember her father being absent for any program during their formative years.She once commented: He gave his all to us being our everything, there was nothing left to give to another. He never remarried.

My beloved is the voice of calm that helps soothe the tempestuous storm while navigating this journey we have embarked on. He is the voice of reason that helps calm my fears when I am overwhelmed. He is the strong arm of love that turns the rudder of our home-craft; with foresight as compass; with spiritual growth as sail.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men getting into the mud of life; willing to fight and wrestle for their seeds. For the great men who have said ‘yes’ to responsibility, who rise daily to face the fears, the joys, the triumphs of parenthood. I salute you.

A Father’s Day Special:Taxidermtopia

During the course of my daily walks I had passed her store window many times. In the cold of winter, through snow and slush I would still pause and peer through the ice encrusted glass to watch her bent over her work table. Her shelves held different kinds of animals in varying poses of life. Some looked asleep, some with paws raised, fangs bared, eyes strangely dilated-all life like. From her posture, hair and mottled skin I could tell she was elderly but her exact age I could not be sure. Her hair was wildly tussled, like she used her fingers instead of a traditional comb. From my vantage point-from her glass window I could see the spider veins that coursed her mottled hands. Nails chipped, fingernails a strange brown, possibly from the constant use of dyes of her trade.

She was always bent over her work bench. If it was winter she would be draped in loose cashmere sweaters, all ill fitting-an artist whose focus was on her trade and not her appearance. Now in warmer climate, she has switched her sweaters for colorful African prints. Today, I passed her store again and in habit, I stop and peer through her window. She looks up and waves me in. I look behind me, thinking me? She smiles and points at me mouthing “You..come in”. I only hesitated for a second. I take a deep breath and enter her shop. I had expected to be engulfed by some thing similar to the smell that pervades a morgue, or at least that deep disinfectant smell that pervades hospital corridors; instead I was awash by the sweet aroma of cinnamon.

She stood barely five feet tall, her eyes strangely out of focus, the left iris a milky hue-glaucoma, she told me, later. She spoke in halting English. An Eastern European country was her origin. Each product had a story. Some were once pets she had, some belonged to people she had known during the span of her over ten decades.

A cat she had as a little girl. A couple of dogs, one of which a lover had once given her, a sign of his undying love. The love was not ‘undying’ but the dog, she kept. A crocodile she brought home from a trip to the South Americas. She told me the horrors she faced at immigration but her cargo was precious. I was young and stupid back then, I wanted to be a modern day Noah. A cheetah, another gift from an old lover. She lay her head on the life-like head and took a deep breath…’..my love for him was great’-I wasn’t sure she meant the man. Two mongrels, an English spaniel and my favorite- a Newfoundland. A bear stood on its hind legs, its right paw raised, its teeth bared…a beautiful life like pose…its irises strangely dilated. A duck, an ostrich….a life time of collection. A beautiful bird caught my attention. It was mounted on a golden stand. Its plumage a gorgeous raiment.

The bird once belonged to her father. Her trade was once his legacy. She spent many hours in his shop watching, learning and growing. He was her only parent. A small man with a great personality. He taught her to live her life on her own terms and not to define herself by societal or cultural expectations. She was the product of a brief relationship he had with her mother. His only child. He raised her to see herself as her only resource, not to expect to find herself in marriage. In fact, her father told her several times during the course of her life if she never married and never bore children but was happy in service to humanity, then he would have raised her right. He believed a woman had to be complete first before finding success in any relationship. They lived a bohemian life traveling across Europe while he catered to his customers variety of needs. In the old country, his art was in high demand among-st his rich clientele.

When she desired to explore the world outside Europe, he gave her his blessing and enough money to live on for a year. She said she spent the last decade of his life with him. I can easily say, I returned to take care of him but the truth is I returned to dwell in his shadow. As her eyes lit up as she spoke of her father, I thought of mine. I think of his words of wisdom, our deep friendship and the landscape our relationship was. A landscape of deep greenery; tall strong oaks of trees giving shade in moments of down pour. Where misunderstandings have blighted the terrain in my youth but the manure of love had watered the rich ground to yield bountiful harvest, again. A landscape where I anticipate each sigh, where I interpret each frown and dwell in his shadow.

On my walk back home, my thoughts are still of my Dad and then my cell begins to ring. Without looking at my caller ID, I know its him. Happy Father’s Day Daddy.

Mother’s Day Special #3

*Andrea

I was born in the later 70s in the back of a towing truck. My parents had snuck off late in the night in my Grandpa’s Chevy. They were both seventeen and believed they were madly in love. Even after I was conceived, they still believed they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They were banned from seeing each other, which was laughable considering she was already pregnant. And so, that dark rainy night they were going to run away together to San Antonio. San Antonio was their choice because my Dad’s older brother was living there. Anyway, as they made their way in his father’s stolen vehicle…I decided it was time. In panic,Dad skidded of the road and I ended up being born at the back of the tow truck that was towing their vehicle to the garage.

I heard when both sets of grandparents saw me for the first time in the hospital, all ill feelings previously that soured their relations gave way. My mother was no longer the little whore who threw herself at my father and my father was no longer the little bastard that defiled my mother. My parents relationship continued to college, but, by the time they both hit their early twenties, they had outgrown each other. He wanted to go on to medical school….. she wanted to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa to teach English Language. They had me in common but that’s all that remained of their teenage indiscretion.

I was raised by both sets of grandparents. I did not grow up with hangups that came along with having teenage parents. I grew up seeing my parents more like older siblings, I mean, they were barely children themselves when they had me. We all grew together. My grandmothers were a force to be reckoned with. I was completely home-schooled till I was thirteen by my maternal grandmother and spent my weekends with my paternal grandparents. My birthdays were always a bit of a carnival in our town. My grandmothers always showed up in my high school with cookies for my teachers and class mates. I was the only one who felt the flame of embarrassment. They didn’t care.

At my high school prom, my parents and grandparents ferried my date and I in convoy to the dance. I thought I was going to die. They didn’t care. When I started dating, I would sneak around to avoid the barrage of questions. Our relationships were not without its tense moments, but, I knew I was loved spectacularly. When I broke up with my first boyfriend and thought the world was at the end, my two grandmas whipped my tears and took me shopping. Many years later, I found out they both slashed my ex’s tires that night after I had fallen asleep. They were feisty, fun and didn’t hesitate to test my butt when I stepped out of line.

When I decided to take a year off college to go on tour with my band, they encouraged me even though they were uncomfortable with the thought of a group of teenagers living rough for a year. They believed in me and that checked me. I only lasted six months before I ran back home into their waiting arms…and back to school.

I like to believe their love and investments in my life has made me a better person. I am extremely generous with my time when it comes to my family. I will drop anything and everything to be at their side, no matter what.

From time to time though, I wonder what would have happened if my parents had made it to San Antonio.

Mother’s Day Special #2

*Afeni

My mother’s first marriage was contracted when she was in her teens. I don’t know her exact age at the time. Back then, there were no voices for the girl-child. There were no social programs advocating for equality of the sexes. It was Africa in the forties. Where genital mutilation of the girl child was done in the cusp of her teens, or at birth…depending on your cultural leanings. My mother’s husband was a boy in a man’s body. He was raised to expect to be attended to by his wife. She was not to have a voice, a possession…an appendage. She had three children in quick successions; kept home and farmed his plot…a gift from his father as he attained ‘manhood’. I don’t know exactly when she decided she wanted to leave him. Her days were hard. The narrative, however, was not peculiar to her. She was surrounded by women who were doing the same thing.Her mother lived the same life, spurned forth nine children, farmed her fathers plot with her children while still fanning the flames of his ego. So, when she decided she wanted more from her existence, you can imagine the machinery that was unleashed to put her in her place.

She told me, she would have stayed married to her first husband if he allowed their children to have an education. The produce from the farm, she sold herself. She saw the economic empowerment she was giving a man who pissed it down the drain without investing in his seeds. Now, even though she could not read or write, she desired it for her children. She desired her son to do more than his father. She wanted her son’s perspectives not limited by the darkness of a lack of understanding and she desired for her daughters to have a future where they would not have to be sold into slavery on the platter of marriage. She knew better than to discuss her plans with her mother, or relatives for that matter. During the course of her farming his plots and selling the proceeds, she was able to amass a significant amount of money she used to liberate herself. She filed for a divorce in the traditional courts of their time. Did I mention she was the first woman to ever do such a thing in her village at that time? She did not care. I think it’s when a woman gets to a place where she stops concerning herself about what societal expectations are, what will people say, blah blah and blah will she truly be liberated. No one will liberate you. You must liberate yourself.

Her family ostracized her. Her mother was convinced her liberation was not self sustaining, after all, she had no money. Eye, which was what I called my mother was able to get a plot through a male cousin. Back then, she couldn’t even procure property on her own because she was a woman. She was hard working and her products were excellent. She enrolled my three older siblings in school and continued her trade. Now, older and wiser she knew whoever she decided to marry must be a man who would enrich her, not demean her progress. It took a a bit but he did come along. My father was an unusual man. He was confident. He didn’t pay attention to the side talks their relationship brought. He had kissed his own share of frogs masquerading as princesses. I was their first child together. Their relationship was not without it’s trials but they loved each other. They were 100% committed to not only themselves but their children. She spared no expense when it came to our education. When I climbed the podium on my graduation from college, she was besides herself in excitement.

When my oldest sister became a victim of domestic abuse, my mother was the first to encourage her to leave her marriage. She always advocates for strength in women.

It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman. It takes a wise man to recognize wisdom in his woman. She lived an exemplary life.