Obodeh Azubuike Michael
Graphite and charcoal
My Nigerian Week
Ohuche Mercy Kalu
On Monday, I leave my house elegant and lively, but I get to school sulky and late. Why? Because my cab driver was left on a spot for two hours. Why? Because he did not find something for the boys.
On Tuesday, I set out optimistically but have to trek the rest of the distance because there's traffic. Why? Because a police van has blocked the road and a driver who dared complain of their unruly driving, is being flogged by the policemen. He is frail-looking. He may be 50 or 60 I do not know, but onlookers beg for his sake, as they discretely make videos of the drama.
On Wednesday, my class ends at exactly 6:30 pm. I am famished but must wait for others so we can walk to the gate in groups. Why? If I do not, I shall lose my handbag and phone. I may be threatened with a dagger if I resist the miscreants who want to hustle my belongings. So with staggering legs and a rumbling stomach, I wait. I do not have fuel money to quicken an investigation on my behalf.
On Thursday, I am home early. While I watch the news, I see that bus drivers in the state are rioting. They say their colleague was shot dead by a policeman, who boarded his bus and refused to pay. The policeman says the deceased called him stupid, so he mistakenly shot.
On Friday, I pray that God sees me through these 24 hours. Then I muster courage and thrive through my day. The day moves smoothly, so I'm glad.
It's sleepover night, with the girls and we have all we want, except suya. The suya man on the next street makes the tastiest suya, but it's 7:45 pm, and there's a checkpoint belonging to the Special Anti Robbery Squad, on that street. Even though we have our ID cards, it's risky to be out as a group of girls. We would be labelled promiscuous. We would then be arrested by the men of this Squad, and carted away in their rusty van, alongside other young men who have been arrested for donning dreadlocks and strolling back home with iPhones in their hands. Before we are taken to the station, these officers will make a stop at the Zenith Bank ATM just along the roadside, and order the men to make withdrawals and settle their matter quietly. Those who oblige will be allowed to go. And those who do not will be beaten mercilessly- boots kicking their faces, sand, and blood staining their teeth. When we finally reach the station, the already wounded men will be tossed into a cell, while my friends and I will be ordered down a passage. We will be shoved inside an empty, poorly lit room, with the stench of urine hanging thickly in the air, maybe human urine, maybe rat urine. And we will be told to take off our clothes. When we tearfully refuse, slaps and kicks would follow. While we cry and scream, our clothes will be ripped off our bodies and our wigs will fall off. The leader will declare his right to eat first and while the others point their guns at us with unbridled lust in their bloodshot eyes and wolfish grins circling their blackened lips. The rest of the story would be tweets by our enraged friends, bearing hashtags to end police brutality, or end SARS and give us justice.
When we think of this, the hairs on our bodies stand and our bladders get heavy. "See let's just leave this Suya," I say, "It's even about to rain." So we boil some water and make some ginger tea.
Love In A Time of Peril (an excerpt from the novel)
AUGUSTUS WAS BEMUSED. He opened his door around two o'clock at night after being awakened by a loud noise. At first, he believed it to be a dream, but the noise was too deafening to be from his subconscious, it had to be his reality. He was groggy at first as he attempted to block the noise out but failed terribly. He then, foolishly he later thought, decided that if no one was going to check the noise he would. He just however, could not wrap his head around why the noise only seemed to disturb him. It was as if it targeted him and had a special place for him in its heart filled with enmity and space in its mind brim with malevolent thoughts. He got up already worn down from the heat in his room. It was pitch black and he had recently run out of kerosene for his lantern. He stretched awkwardly for at least twenty seconds. No intervals. Then he put on his raggedy singlet and commanded his feet to go all the way into his slippers, for he was still half asleep. He proceeded then to open the door slowly but immediately closed it after seeing what he thought was something conjured up by his sleep-deprived brain.
The cries began to flow like an imperial waterfall and the baby seemed more in distress the longer it took Augustus to acknowledge its presence. His only reaction was to pick him up from the terribly crafted makeshift cradle and hold him up while shouting random names intermittently to garner the attention of his neighbors. "Taiwo!! Ejike!! Patrice!!" He screamed. No one dared answer for they were either fast asleep or they purposely avoided getting into what they perceived to be another altercation with an armed robber. The baby appeared lost, he thought. He even started to drunkenly ask the baby how he ended up there, why his door? He would have asked him if he owed him any money, but he was not that sleep impaired. Augustus could tell it was a boy by its obscure, yet humorous penis unveiled when his mother's wrapper came off.
The introduction of father and son was truly like no other, for it was as if the father and son were asking each other the same question. The young Francis asked him where his mother was while the stammering Augustus asked him the same in return. The plumb yet already troublesome baby boy was left wondering if his soon-to-be dad was going to invite him in, while his bewildered father was scheming up ways in his mind to throw him out. In this shanty yet palatable part of Lagos, an illegitimate prophecy was being fulfilled unbeknownst to its main protagonists, the air was ubiquitous with the laughter of the gods and the remnants of suya meat; while this confused man gazed upon this innocent yet consequential child with incredulity, ignorance, and disgust all at the same time. Judging by the baby's continual crying, Augustus remembered that he had some bread and packets of tea in his flat. He thought about how he had saved it for tomorrow morning, yet the never-ending tears and the deep hollow of the child's eyes quickly stunted his cupidity. Before he retreated inside, he stopped and stared at the boy for a while, asking him playfully if he liked bread. The young Francis looked back at him helplessly as if to say anything would do. With this, Augustus held onto the boy tightly and proceeded to go inside but was stopped by a detectable piece of paper which glistened in the dark. He opened it and struggled to read it. He then let out a huge gasp. "Chiwetalu!!" he shouted. Francis himself was frightened by the sudden burst of outrage and the sound of his absentee mother's name. It quickly dawned on Augustus. He did not even have to finish reading the ill-written letter to realize that he did not just offer his breakfast to a stranger, but to his firstborn.
FOR THE FIRST FEW WEEKS WITH HIS NEW SON, he cleaned up vomit approximately four times, woke up in the middle of the night at least ten times, took care of feces seven times and contemplated suicide once. He stopped going to work and visiting construction sites. He had to unwillingly replace the smoky smell of cement with the putrid smell of waste and his construction hard hat for a wrapper he would religiously tie with Francis on his back to get him to sleep. He wore the wrapper only inside his flat, in an attempt to still keep intact the masculinity of a single Nigerian father. An image that had already been shattered from the moment Chinwetalu left the baby on his doorstep. However, when push came to shove. He realized that he was simply running out of time and money. He barely had enough food in his stringent apartment to sustain both Francis and himself. He realized that it was time to man up and take responsibility for his actions. So, he packed the child's belongings (the very few he had recently bought) and took public transport all the way to Nsukka.
He had made the decision to return home. An unwilling decision it was, yet he still made it, he had to. He was very close to rejecting the idea altogether. Even if the situation was quite dire, he simply could not go back to the village to see his family, to see those people. The people who hailed and rejoiced him back home while he was on his journey. The people who he occasionally sent money back home to in neatly folded envelopes. It was a public shaming waiting to happen. Granted it would have been drastically worse if he were a girl, he dreaded the thought of even having to face them. He would not only be shamed, but banished if he was of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, given his genitalia, he was to be tolerated. Instead of being perceived as a fornicator or someone who committed a grave sin, he unknowingly made a mistake. Instead of being labeled an Ashawo who spread her legs for whoever passed by, he was simply a careless man who let his biological instincts get the best of him. On his arrival to the village, his relatives did not know whether to rejoice or mourn, the women did not know whether to cry tears of joy or tears of sorrow. His mother- Mrs. Adolisa Okoro who was excited upon hearing that her only son had returned; ran towards him with open arms and tears in her eyes to receive him, but moods immediately changed, and tempers flared on seeing the baby tied to his back. It was a symbolic return for the prodigal son of Nsukka - Augustus. The boy who left his village with nothing and squandered his earnings on beer and women, had now returned as a man with a sunken face and a one-month old baby to show for his hard work. His mother dazed incredulously and soon joined the other women in holding her hands over her head, kneeling down with open arms towards the ethereal blue sky, asking the gods why they had chosen to curse her like this. With a clutch of the red gritty earth which painted Nsukka’s ground, she scorned the woman who produced this abomination and left her son alone to bear the consequences. After the display of what Augustus believed to be mere hysteria, his mother got up from the ground. Too emotional to dust the red sand off her clothes, she looked at Augustus and then gazed at his son. She was not looking for the differences in order to prove that the child was not his, but she was instead looking for similarities; and soon enough she found them. Francis’s symmetrical nose was evidently a hereditary trait. His deep questioning black eyes, his complexion was not as dark as his father's but with time his grandmother knew it would eventually happen.
"Augustus, do you want to kill me? Augustus do you want to kill me?" She asked while staring directly into his soul. Madam Adolisa was a woman with a strong build, a tall yet firm bodied woman. She was very much intimidating and still after years of growing up in the same household with him, she still knew how to strike fear into the heart of her only son. Surprisingly during this ordeal, given his youthful innocence, Francis did not find his grandmother intimidating nor the tyrant the village children would sing about behind her back. In him she would find another son, a more caring and warm child and in her, Francis would find a confidant, someone he could move the world for. He would learn to love her as his non-existent mother and she him as her own son. However, for now, they were enemies, for Francis was the roadblock impeding her first son’s chance at attaining success and to him, she was the woman who would not stop shouting and offer him- a guest- any food.
"Augustus!!! Answer me do you want to kill me?"
"Mama, I'm sorry. I have lost my way, I was led astray mama please forgive me."
Augustus, knowing he was in grave trouble, began to sound more and more like a little child who had just discovered the purpose of his penis and used it mistakenly for the first time rather than a grown man who recognized the repercussions of his actions and sought to make amends.
"You lost your way? You lost your way? Mma gi aka nti, if I slap you here." She lunged at Augustus, he evaded her slap knowing it would only make the slap that would eventually land that much harder and painful.
"What would your father say if he was alive ehhh? Chimoo! You have disgraced this family. Did mama Onochie not tell me not to allow you to leave this village? Did she not say that when small pikin like you enters the city your eyes will begin to shine, and you would have forgotten where you came from? See it, see it ohhhh. Chai! I said no, not my Ogo. I am a fool, you have not only made yourself a fool but your own mother a fool."
The last time she referred to him as Ogo he was still a young boy, crying because his older boys had pushed him into the deep end of the river. "It is okay, ehh Ogo, do you want me to make plantain and stew for you?" His mood immediately altered and he looked up at her with a beaming smile as if to let her know that it was a rhetorical question. Thoughts of childhood bliss.
Now weeping, in an instant she finally got her hands on him and landed three slaps on his face. As dark as he was, his face fought the reaction of turning red and turned purple instead.
The child was still on his back, hanging like a burden which needed to be purged, a diseased leg in need of an amputation. Francis’ birth was not something to be celebrated but something to be mourned over. No kolanut would be broken for him, no cow would be slaughtered in his name, no feast would be held in his honor. No veneration to occur, no shouts of joy. For now, they would only be cries of agony and tears of disappointment. Augustus felt naked, he felt utterly useless and even though his veins were pumping faster with blood than ever before, he was all but dead on the inside. This was of course due to the shame that he had experienced that day, the loathe he felt from his former classmates who on seeing him, detested him for wasting an opportunity that they would have killed for. The prettiest girls in the village who all wanted his hand in marriage now looked down upon him with contempt and revulsion. The women who would have washed his feet just a few years ago now even dared to gaze upon his swollen face, for he was now spoiled goods and no amount of bride price would entice them to marry him. The stigmatization was simply too much to bare. What killed Augustus most were two things directly. One was his dead father who he presumed now was with Chukwu and the gods in the sky watching his great demise and wondering how his only son could succumb to such foolishness. Secondly and much more abominable was his son Francis, who could visualize what was happening, yet still could not interpret it nor contextualize the scene which seemed the product of a playwright’s pen. However, Augustus believed that his son’s deep and hollow eyes saw everything and his ears heard everything as well. He saw how his father failed not only as a man but as a son and as a future leader beholden to his people. His son saw his mistakes without sheets to cover them, he saw his rough and raggedy face without a mask to hide it, he saw his limp and impotent penis without boxers protecting it. He saw his father's nakedness, he saw it all. Augustus unknowingly allowing his son to see his mistakes at one of the most vulnerable points in his life, lead him to believe that he had failed as a father. This took precedence to Augustus’ father watching him fail from above , for it was not only about the spiritual complications that would arise from a son defiling his father's name while he was buried, but it was simply that through the wine and cigar smoke, the terse lovemaking sessions in the city, and the township outings, he realized something very important. From that moment on he knew contrary to his tradition that it would be wise to place more emphasis on the living than to dwell on the dead. It was easier to prepare for the living but impossible to make way for the perished, to plan a future for his son than to mourn his dead father. In that single moment Augustus had replaced Francis for his father. His son's future had taken precedence to his father's past, for he knew if he did not make that decision, then one day Francis's son might see his own father naked too.
Lynda Rubi Binos
Jimoh acquired his name by being the fastest working apprentice at Oga Segun’s tailoring shop. Not only were his hands incredibly fast, but his brain also worked like Usain Bolt’s legs. By the end of his first week as a tailoring apprentice, he had become so competent with the sewing
machine that his master was already delegating some of his work to him. The other young apprentices, in awe and envy, had found it fitting that he should be called no other name than a tailor who was swift.
It was one week before Christmas when Jimoh was rudely awoken from his nap by a thunderous knock at the door. He shut his eyes tight and hoped the goat would go away, but the knocking only grew louder. He leapt up from his sleeping mat and stomped towards the door. When he unlocked it, he found a furious faced Madam Yemmie in the company of a baton-wielding, black bedecked policeman staring back at him. Madam Yemmie hissed loudly upon seeing his sleep reddened eyes.
“So you were sleeping during the day ehn?” she bellowed. “No wonder our clothes are never ready” She brushed past him into the shop. The policeman and his baton closely followed.
“I worked throughout the night, ma” said Jimoh. “There’s no light now and my machine is electric, so...”
“Where is my Swiss lace?” Madam Yemmie huffed impatiently. Her ample bosom heaving up and down as she spoke. “I said where is my lace?”
Jimoh dragged his feet towards the white cabinet in a corner of the room and started to rummage through layers of fabric and sewing supplies in search of Madam Yemmie’s lace. Two weeks ago while cutting and ironing the lace for sewing, he had mistakenly burnt a hole in it. Madam Yemmie had graciously promised him forgiveness in exchange for the same quality of lace.
“You still dey find am?” Madam Yemmie thundered. “You better produce my lace now now o!”
Jimoh, who had been rummaging through the cabinet for the past two minutes, finally retrieved a red sequins and bead embroidered lace from the cabinet and presented it to Madam Yemmie. She took one look at it, turned her nose up in the air and shook her head vigorously.
“This cheap thing is not my lace!”
“Aah! I bought it for fifty thousand naira o!” cried Jimoh.
“Ehen? My lace was ninety thousand naira? You people are all the same. Thieves all of you. Who knows if you are just lying so you can keep my expensive lace and give me a cheaper fabric instead.”
Jimoh wanted to retort that he was not a thief, but the policeman’s baton, which was now raised threateningly, made him reconsider.
“I am not lying ma. I can show you the burnt lace,” he said instead. “Abeg abeg, just pay me my money let me be going. I will go and buy the lace myself”
“Ah! I don’t have money now, ma. Abeg give me a few more days to find the money”
“A few days bawo? Officer, take him away. I will use you as a scapegoat for all the useless tailors in this Lagos!”
Jimoh was awoken by the clanking of keys against iron bars.
“Tailor! dem don bail you,” a wiry limbed, pot-bellied corporal called out.
Jimoh’s wife, Titilayo was waiting at the counter. When she saw his swollen face and bruised body and how dangerously thin he had grown in the space of three days, she burst into tears.
“Shut up your dirty mouth,” roared the corporal. “This is a police station, so carry your yeye tears commot outside”
Titilayo stifled her sobs and made her way outside. Once outside, she turned her teary eyes towards Jimoh.
“So you want to make me a window eh?” she sobbed. “You wan die leave your pikin for me abi?”
“Titi, don’t talk like that”
“Why I no go talk like that, when you dey always disappoint customer? Just look at your body. Look at how they man-handled you. Why you no go change eh?”
“But this time it was not my fault now. It was a mistake.”
“Me sha, I don tell you my own o. This na the last time I go bail you.”
The couple trudged on in silence, each embroiled in their thoughts until Jimoh broke the calm.
“How did you raise the money for bail?” he asked.
“Alhaja agreed to collect the lace and refund the forty thousand naira”
“Forty thousand ke?” Cried Jimoh in alarm. “I paid fifty thousand naira for the lace!”
“It's forty thousand she gave me o. We were even lucky she agreed to collect the lace back. I borrowed the remaining eighty thousand from Mummy Shade.”
“Eighty thousand! How much did you pay at the station?”
“One hundred and twenty thousand naira.”
“But I am only owing Madam Yemmie ninety thousand naira!”
“Ehen? The remaining thirty thousand naira was for the police”
“Aaah! Nawa o!”
As soon as Jimoh had eaten some eba and egusi soup and taken a much-needed bath, he headed back to his shop.
Every tailor knows that the fastest way to incur the wrath of a Nigerian, is to not have their Christmas or Sallah cloth ready. He had already wasted two days languishing in the cell, but he was determined to work non-stop for the next five days to meet his Christmas deadline.
When he was an apprentice, he had sworn to never become like his master, Oga Segun, who was the typical Nigerian tailor, a living image of disappointment, but these are some of the issues.
When Jimoh says to a client “Your cloth will be ready in two weeks”, and they say “Jimoh are you sure? You know how you tailors are. Na so so promise and fail!” But he assures them that he is different, that he is the fastest tailor in Lagos. He tells them that they don’t call him Tailor Swift for nothing.
A part of him intends to keep his word, but then NEPA suddenly starts being more stingy than usual with the power supply, so he goes to buy fuel to power his worn-out I-pass-my-neighbour generator. But there is fuel scarcity, and the prices have spiked, and he deduces that if he splurges on fuel for sewing, he would not only be sewing for free, he would also be doing so at a loss. So he decides to wait until the power is restored, but while he is waiting, the orders are piling and the deadlines are drawing near.
Finally, the power is restored. He jumps on his machine and gets to work, but soon another customer comes knocking with new work. She says she wants it by tomorrow and he says to her, “Madam, this is express work o. You will pay express price!” and she says, “No problem. How much?” and when he tells her, she does not bat an eyelid. She does not haggle back and forth until the price is tethering on the edge between profit and loss. She counts the money and pays in full! In full o! Jimoh has mouths to feed, bodies to clothe and bills to pay. In that moment, the money in his hands means more to him than meeting all the deadlines in the world.
Jimoh’s machine was strategically placed across the window overlooking the street. That way, he could see approaching clients long before they reached his doorstop and he could quickly lock himself in, pretending not to be around if the client’s outfit was not ready. He had raised his head from the sewing machine to stretch and look about him, when he sighted Mrs. Patrick alighting from her black Toyota Land Cruiser. He rushed to the door and bolted it. He had completely forgotten that her outfit was due for pickup today. Which devil had whispered to him to sell her fabrics in order to raise money for madam Yemmie’s lace in the first place? His plan had been to save some money to buy them back from Alhaja before Mrs. Patrick came calling,but it was too late for that now.
There was a knock at the door. Mrs Patrick had arrived. Jimoh sat as still as he could and waited for her to grow tired and eventually leave. She knocked a few more times and then she gave up, or so Jimoh thought. He was hardly done heaving a sigh of relief, when his neighbour’s voice wafted into the shop.
“Madam, knock again. He dey inside. I see am now now when he enter,” he heard Agnes say.
The little witch! Thought Jimoh in despair. So Agnes had still not forgiven him for not making her wedding gown ready in time for her wedding? His angry thoughts were cut short by the loud vibrating ring of his cell phone. In his scramble to lock the door, he had forgotten to switch the bloody thing off! He frantically reached for it, knocking over a chair in the process.
“Jimoh, so it’s true that you’re inside ehn?” bellowed Mrs Patrick. “I don’t want to sew again o. You’ve wasted my time enough already. These fabrics are the aso ebi for my daughter’s wedding, so just open your door and give them to me, let me find another tailor.”
Jimoh remained motionless, as he waited with bated breath. Mrs Patrick knocked rapturously on the door again.
“Jimoh abeg now,” She said, this time in a conciliatory tone. “Truly I just want to collect my fabrics and go. I don’t want to sew again.”
For a nanosecond, Jimoh mulled over her request. He was exhausted from playing this never-ending game of hide-and-seek with his customers. If he explained everything to her, perhaps she would give him some time to raise money to buy back her fabric from Alhaja. He had made up his mind and begun advancing towards the door when Mrs. Patrick’s voice floated into the room once more.
“Jimoh, I say abeg now. I just want to collect my fabric. This fabric cost me one fifty thousand naira o”
Jimoh froze in his tracks. One fifty thousand what? Her fabric was almost twice as expensive as Madam Yemmie’s own! There was no way he could raise that amount of money in two days!
Jimoh quickly walked towards the window, jumped out of it and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. After all, they don’t call him Tailor swift for nothing!
We slid along the seam of sunset’s pouch,
you bred with me a silly reverie,
deluxe psychedelics redefined our limits.
When innocence dined with us.
We brew ignorance as art,
glances stolen and dashed beyond will,
You age, now a woman at heart.
I’m exhausted beloved.
Reeking is a buffet of sweet talk,
bouncing off teeth and gums is my truth as well,
inglorious is this dulcet tale.
At heart, I race still,
at cost, we stray still,
alas, evening delight lingers on lips still.
We Are Tired
We are tired, of it all.
We are tired of the harassment.
We are tired of the oppression.
We are tired of insecurity.
We are hurt,
We are bitter,
Our hearts are filled with sadness and grief.
Therefore, we cry out loud, we scream ‘change.’
We want an end to this all,
For the lives you've taken, without any remorse.
For the pain you've caused families.
We remember them all,
We remember Tina, she was just 16.
We remember Ifeoma, she was raped and killed by YOU.
We remember Jimoh, he was far away from the action.
We remember Kolade Johnson.
The list could go on, we remember them, to remind you in case you forget.
We aren't asking for too much,
We aren't even asking for basic amenities, that'd be like us wishing for a 12-day old baby to talk.
We are simply asking to stay alive.
Very absurd, but that's it.
And we aren't stopping soon.
We want security.
We want peace.
We'll do all we can to get that,
And that's why we protest,
But this is more than just a protest, it's more than an objection.
It's the beginning of a revolution.
Why We End Sars
My friend is my foe.
I make a mental note to raise my hands whenever he calls.
I know not what he wants,
still, I take precaution
because he is laden with loaded shells.
"Please, don't shoot!""
I plead for my life.
Staring at the tip of a barrel,
breaking into seething perspiration,
I pawn my belongings -
I want to stay alive.
"Take whatever you want!"
all my cash.
But please, leave my soul"
He giggles at my dread,
and cackles mockingly at my soiled pants.
"Oga, you too dey fear!
You no be man?"
My friend smacks my head and
jabs his gun to my side,
more than twice.
I'm still in pleas for my life.
"I go end you and nothing go happen,"
This is true,
but today cannot be my truth.
My swollen eyes blur my friend to a silhouette,
as he carts away with all I have.
leaving me to die beside my car.
At least, he left me my life.
The Man and Woman living in my parents' room always sneak up on me.
The first time I kissed my best friend;
my lips on hers, a tingling soulless questioning,
a thud at the doorway separated our tongues as hot knife to plastic,
our eyes lost seconds ago in each other’s gaze, drift to The Woman
from my parents bedroom sprawled on the linoleum.
They invite a priest, pull a white dress over my head force me to my knees
chanting rites of exorcism to levitate the queer evil inside my belly.
The priest dipped my head in and out
into water from the swimming pool behind our mansion.
They smile and declare me one again
with the Holy Spirit.
They tell me to pray whenever abominable thoughts, such as kissing
my best friend take form in my head.
To rebuke the devil and she will flee from me.
But they never show me
routes wide enough
to flee from myself.
Yesterday, Today, Tommorow
Yesterday births today with a smile,
The leaves turn towards heaven in joy
And the breeze slitters round and round in a warm embrace.
Yesterday, a man walked past and called his silence a disease,
A mother closed her eyes and woke up to see her eyes closed,
A father dug the earth and brought forth sand,
A boy crosses the road, his legs do not reach the other side
Yesterday we existed,
Yesterday we woke up to hear that Akachi lives only in his works,
that rainbows bleed faces when pricked,
Yesterday, smoke rose in the distance, today we find a fire
Today births a smile,
And though death begins with D the C that runs before it shall not hold us down,
Today births a smile,
Tomorrow will be better.
Plain tribes have settled nearby. Too close for the taste of the council. No, no, this called for a raid. For the first time, she is part of it. She knows if she succeeds, she will earn her woman's
name. She will not be known as "Survived a snakebite" anymore, a name she wore for more than 10 long cycles. She will have her real and definitive name, a source of pride, identity and moreover, adulthood. Adulthood means to take part of the raids and to have a voice at thegeneral council. Those were the ways to prove your value among the Jungle tribe. Be a good hunter and a good arguer. Sharpen your mind and the arrow will never miss. Sharpen your
mind and the lie will never hide. And she knows her aim is good. And she knows her ideas
will benefit everyone. But to be heard, she needs to earn her name.
The raid will start during the darkest time of the night. She is asked to come at the weapons centre and to equip herself accordingly. She has a preference for two good sharp seme and a bow. She is given the traditional living vine armour. That would not protect her enough against plain tribe warclubs, but it should protect her against any of their blades, without impeding her mobility. She thinks she is ready. At the first quarter night end, they start to sing for A’an their saint spirit of the forest. A'an will defend them against those cutting trees down to feed their overgrown animals. A'an will guide their arms and feet among the forest right to their enemies. A'an will forgive the necessary violence. And thus, the raid begun.
Plain tribes are fierce fighters but they are not favoured in difficult territory due their large size and heavy weaponry. Their humongous spears get stuck among branches and their oversized clubs cannot swing efficiently in restricted environments. Even their famous hunga- munga, cannot be thrown accurately in the jungle, as they could simply get stuck in any tree trunks. Jungle Tribe warriors on the other hand, are known for their hide-and-slash fighting styles and they thrive in places providing literally anything to hide with.
The plain tribe is asleep, and a few guards are to be killed for the raid to be successful. Others would need to be scared and beg to go away. Her heart is pounding, as the art of stealth killing is the way of their tribe. They are approaching the first guards, and the one for her is on the left. A young plain tribe man, looking fresh and robust, twice her size. She takes out her bow, ducked behind a broken tree. She breathes in the name of A'an, and aims at the throat. In one smooth move, she arms and releases the arrow. It is at that moment, when her focus is the arrow, that it meets its target's eyes. She loses focus and sees her target dodging the arrow in a swift forward swirl and her two seme are already meeting with the club of the tall young man. She needs to avoid the heavy part at all cost: the vine armour would not absorb the shock at full power. The clubhead retreats and starts a large sweeping. One tree blocks the shaft and she uses that mistake to jump over it and run to the young man. He drops the greatclub, and unsheathe another smaller club and their renown hunga-munga.
She has to dodge every blow, one being powerful enough to knock her out. She starts rolling over left and right, narrowly escaping attacks coming from above her head. The plain tribe brute force is compensated by a reduced speed, fortunately for her. She aims for the legs with success. The plain tribe fells over. All she has to do is to kill him, however the look of despair in her opponent's eyes rekindled the sadness she felt when hearing the loss of an older sibling along a raid. This one for sure was not that experienced in combat. Many youths of his tribe will feel shame and sadness upon hearing how he died on his first mission... the plain tribe is still looking at her, trying to gather his forces. He was angry.
She addresses him in the common language "- Give up, and I'll knock you out only."
He laughs and replies in a growl: " - Yes girl, you’ll break your wooden wrist on my forehead." He is still holding his club and leapt forward. She quickly somersaults backwards, but she has been hit on her left foot. He removes all of is armour and clothing and crouches. She is fighting a Setari, one of those who praises strength and anger on the battle,and this guy seems to only be getting started on his anger. These warriors are entering frenzies that can divert them from feelings of pains and tiredness. They would push their limits just for the sake of winning. She knows she has to end it fast or escape even faster.
She chooses to escape. She jumps back in the mangrove, hiding behind a low-root. But a few seconds later and he is on the root grinning at her. He had let his anger drives his instincts and she is not sure if she can hold him up in close quarters. She needs distance, but he will not let her. However, she is an expert in the deep forest and he would never dare follow her. She needs to reach the higher trees and she will be safe. She starts running in a straight line, spotting several hideouts all around her. When he gets closer, she suddenly hides and swiftly moves few meters away from him. And it starts again. They made slow progress but she knows where to go and he blindly follows. It should go easy. They arrive an especially treacherous place: some undercurrent water will swoop away any creature large enough to reach it. She dives, just far enough to avoid the fast tunnel of water. He follows. It cannot be avoided, it is only natural: being taller, thus heavier, he reaches deeper. And deeper meant being caught in the current. He struggles, until finally letting go. She is out of the water already, and running back to the jungle. He finally escapes the river further downstream, reaching a creek before some rapids. He chooses to give up, having swallowed enough river water already. And he is far from his camp too. He swims up to the shore, and walks back hoping to regroup with his tribe.
She is in a tree, safe and resting. She could follow him or let him go. For today, she would let him go. She has earned her names: few could brag escaping a Setari heading to full frenzy... Now, what could her names be? How did A'an helped her during that test? She pondered upon those serious questions while making her way back to her village.
Once Upon A War: 1967
ONCE UPON A WAR: 1967
The earth trembled and the bodies of men in army green uniform littering the ground
shook. Many of the bodies were missing their legs, hands and some parts of their faces
had peeled off. Their numbers depleted as the bloody heap of fallen soldiers increased;
the number of men standing less than those on the ground.
Missiles were fired continuously: left, right, centre, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. Soldiers dropped to the ground like the Northern tsetse flies as bullets penetrated their mortal bodies, their wooden shields doing little or nothing to protect them against their opponent's fancy weapon.
The air had grown hazy; a red mist had formed from the amount of blood that had been spilt. The red mist and the blue sky met, tangoed like two lovers recently united until the sky itself was blood red. They were being slaughtered, yet, they surged on, the cries of their fallen brothers as they laid dying fuelling them with adrenaline.
With shotguns pointed to their enemies, faces painted, heart pounding behind their ribcages, and blood rushing to their ears, drowning the sound of their enemies’ machines, they surged on. It didn't matter that the ratio of their enemy to them was eight to one, their machines more sophisticated. Still, they moved forward in practised unison; war was a sad business.
Okonkwo could hear the happenings going on above him. As a man experienced in the art of war, he could picture the events going on, something he had been doing for the past sixteen months since the war started. He wished he was there, fighting alongside his men. But as his gaze strayed to his only child, he knew he made the right decision. "Papa, I'm hungry," Ikechukwu, his son, moaned. His limp was visible as he strutted to his father, spittle dripped from the corner of his lips and onto his hairy chest. Okonkwo brought a finger to his lips, signifying for his son to keep quiet. He didn't care that they were in a tunnel underground which was plenty feet below the earth where his men were fighting bravely. He wanted him quiet.
He sighed, the tunnel was as dark as night, their only source of light being the red dot from the radio he had kept so close to him for months, praying and hoping for good news. He wasn't certain what he would do if the war continued, their barrel of food had gone dry, algae had formed in their water but they drank it, sometimes mixing it with their urine so the water would last longer.
Lizards had stopped visiting this part of the tunnel. The poor reptiles had probably figured out the reason for their decrease in population was because Okonkwo and his son fed on their kind to survive.
They couldn't risk going up. After so many days of eating raw lizards, rats and whatever insects they could find, their taste buds had adjusted. It might as well have been cocoyam and palm oil served in clay plates with the way they had used their teeth to separate the last lizard’s head from its body. They had been too hungry to care.
"Come," Okonkwo gestured for his son to come closer, patting the space beside him. The darkness was blinding but like two blind men, they had grown a sixth sense. They now had night vision and their sight would put the average man to shame.
"This is the last piece," Okonkwo muttered. It was the remnant of Okonkwo's left arm, the part of his body he had forced his fifteen- year-old son to chop off with their blunt knife. Hunger had sunk its evil claws into them, turned the father-son duo into cannibals. Their once robust frames had shrunk like that of a skinny model suffering from an eating disorder. If any of them cared to, they could have easily counted the ribs that poked from their rubbery skin that was stretched taut.
"Chi gozie anyi," Okonkwo murmured under his breath as his son divided the last bit of his flesh they had left to dry so it would be tastier; time had taught them that.
Ikechukwu couldn't understand why his father still prayed or why he had carved out the crescent moon sign of the goddess, Ala, on the tunnel wall. It made no sense to the teenage boy but his father believed that she had kept them alive for this long.
How else could he explain his strength as he had laid on the ground with only a thin strip of material around his mutilated arm? A normal man would have bled to death. Or, the mysterious lack of injuries on his son's body as he had rolled violently on the floor when having his usual seizure; the first and last since they went into hiding.
When they finished eating, Ikechukwu crawled onto his father’s lap and Okonkwo stroked his son's overgrown hair with care only a father could possess. His son was epileptic and would convulse at will. Sometimes, he would throw himself to the ground or stare into blank space like he was conversing with the spirits. It scared him.
After many years without a child to call him papa, the goddess had blessed him and his wife with a child, a sick child, but he couldn't care less. Ikechukwu's parents could not figure out his triggers so they had restricted his outings, paid attention to his every need. It was demanding, almost the same as having a grown-up child. And when his wife had run away, unable to bear this curse of such a child. He had taken over the role of father, mother, sibling and friend to his only child. He loved him more than life itself.
His thoughts wandered briefly to Olanna, Ola, as he would fondly call her, she was the love of his life at some point. Okonkwo wondered if she was alive or ever regretted leaving him and his son, he still cared deeply for her however much he tried to deny it, a typical case of you never forget your first love. But he was glad she left long before the war started, she wouldn't have been able to survive here with them.
A crackling sound pierced through his thoughts and he tapped Ikechukwu gently to get him the radio, the source of the noise. His movements had gotten slower but Ikechuwu was more than happy to be his father's arms and legs. He adored him.
"Beat it very well," he whispered as his son returned with the radio, the red light looking even brighter than before.
He considered the radio's survival even with their lack of batteries as one of the goddess many blessings. He had owned it before the war, it had seen better days.
"Stop there ... No, go back," Okonkwo instructed as his son fiddled with the knob of the radio, his ears perked for the anchor's voice.
"War ... Death ... People dying."
Okonkwo sighed, piecing the news together; it was the same bad news all over. He knew what it felt like to have his hopes built only for it to be crushed like empty cans that had been run over by heavy wheels but he never stopped hoping; he had to keep faith. However, today was one of his bad days, he was tired; drained. An end to the war was all he wished for, that wasn't too much to request from his goddess. After all, she had done greater things for them in the past, this shouldn’t be hard for her.
He requested of his son to return the radio to its resting place, tomorrow might be the day. It was his mantra ‘tomorrow might be the day’, the one he reminded himself of daily after every news report. He had to keep faith. He couldn’t lose hope like his son.
Okonkwo simply longed for the sun on his face, he didn't care if he would be sunburned; then his freedom, that of him and his son. He missed the village stream that was free of piss, algae and every iniquity their water here had. Oh, how he longed for a change. How he longed to dip his feet inside the river. He would never shout at the youths that stayed longer than they should at the riverbank having water fights. He would sit on the wet sand, ignore the chill from the water that would seep into his abada, admire everything around him and inhale the salty air with a newfound appreciation for nature.
"People are dyi-" "Ikechukwu, I said you should turn off that radio." His voice had grown stern; a tone he never took with his son but who was to tell whether the radio would work tomorrow. Ikechukwu’s shoulder slumped, he knew his father was getting frustrated and so was he, he was angry at everything. He didn't want to disobey but he wanted to hear the news completely. Sighing again, he reached for the control of the radio, reducing the volume to the lowest. He needed to hear the news to the end; he needed to know. "War-" "Ikechukwu!" "-is over. The war is over!"
Ikechukwu didn't know when the radio fell from his hands but he felt the cold metal brush against his feet as he rushed to his father, hugging him tight like a groom that had found his long lost bride. Warm liquid rolled down his bareback - the tears of his father. Ikechukwu sniffed, his father had never cried in front of him until now.
Individual vs Community
Among my race, it’s sounded like a gong
‘One cannot be right, and society, wrong.’
Some tribes killed twins, deemed theirs abnormal birth,
circumcised girls, what misery to provoke,
tortured widows, left widowers untouched.
Columbus proved the Spaniards’ view a joke;
the truth they knew was that the world was flat!
A continent from slavery’s thrall awoke
when Frederick Douglas rose against the scourge.
With birth control did Marie Stopes provoke
the wrath of realms which later practised it.
By seeking fellow women to unyoke
did Mary Wollstonecraft enrage the world…
The list of those who public’s rules revoke
then lives uplift, is one without an end.
Minorities endure society’s yoke.
It seems that much that’s wise or right evolved
when one rebutted words society spoke.
How wrong the view that’s sounded like a gong,
‘One cannot be right, and society, wrong.’ e