Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gathered Things

I find myself sweeping up the shards of something I broke. A now unidentifiable thing that fell from my hands moments before, as I was still lost in some place between consciousness and the alternative.

The broom I am using has a long, crude wooden handle and as I sweep furiously, gathering the pieces in a blurry heap and raising enough dust to make my eyes water, my hands begin to bleed.

It is then that I hear a voice which surely must be my mother's telling me things I already know. You have left too many things unfinished. There have been other things shattered and gathered. You go too close to the brink. Too close.

I do not look up. A voice is nothing to see. I finish gathering the pieces as a pale drop of blood trickles down the handle and disappears into the head of the broomsticks. I tell myself that the breaking of this thing will be different from my other failings. This one will not have fallen to the earth in vain.

I step carefully across the yard of swept up pieces. Spitting the phlegm that has gathered in my throat as far as I can. I let the broom lean against the mud wall and and sit on an overturned mortar in the backyard. It is then that the real tears come.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I am talking about Nigeria, the colonial contraption that is our purported Motherland. She has an appetite that is unhealthy, unwholesome, and ungodly. Nigeria feeds on her children. She is no tree of liberty to be watered every now and again by the blood of tyrants. Indeed, despots of varying ideological and sartorial persuasions have violated her whether it is by unbuckling and pulling down the khakis, or by furling the babarigas.
Our mother is abused and weary, a victim of Stockholm syndrome who returns to molest her offspring.

And now in the delta, she eats yet again, her children and her elderly, two-by-two but in a way that even Noah would not approve. The Nigerian State is at war with the Nigerian Citizen. The Nigerian citizen is doomed, because his compatriots believe that his murder is justified, and that his mother is well within her rights to commit infanticide.

Nigeria, my heart-wrenching country is adopting the tactics of Al-Qaeda in Iraq i.e.: kill the innocents, and the enemy will be pressured to retreat. The murder of the very old and the too young is the subject of the most callous statements on the floor of our parliament. A supposed joke was even made of the entire scenario in the House of Representatives. I can tell you now with all the conviction I can muster that nobody represents me in that house.

Our President is sick, but I do not speak of his body. I’m talking about his mind. He continues in office, the worthy heir to the murderous legacy of his predecessors. He may have declared assets worth a couple of million dollars, but the man is morally in the red. People -poor people- are being killed every day in this onslaught. So if you are sitting at your desk in whatever locale, and you think that this is okay, or necessary, or justified, I can assure you my friend, that you are complicit.

The details upset me too much. I do not want to write, but at the same time, I cannot be quiet. As a friend said to me, to not say anything simply because I do not want to write would be self-indulgent, and I dare add, wrong.

Nigeria eats her children to applause and without remorse.

I’m angry and sad and deeply ashamed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Thinking Man

He thought a lot of things when he came back from the hospital with his head in a turban of bandages that gave off a steady antiseptic whiff. He thought the staircase that led up to the flat looked narrower, the steps higher. He thought he saw the shadow of feet in the tiny space at the bottom of his neighbour's door. He thought someone was looking at him through the keyhole (he thought he saw an eye blink in the keyhole). He thought of his mother rotting in a cramped coffin, in a crowded cemetry.

He unlocked the door and stepped into the livingroom. He thought it looked the same as it had looked when he had left, and gone out to get a motorcycle accident. He unbuttoned his shirt and let it slide off his back and unto the floor. He turned on the fan, and sat up in the couch under it. He really wanted to lie down but he knew his head would hurt if he did.

As he sat there listening to his cellphone ring out again and again, the ground thumping beneath his feet, he thought of how tragic it would be if the whistling ceiling fan were to drop from its hook and slice his head off untidily –thuck.thuck.thuck- with its dusty, blunt blades. That situation would be beyond doctors and bandages. he wondered if headless corpses, and corpseless heads could get tetanus. He slid off the couch, breaking his fall with his bruised and plastered knees, and crawled to a corner of the room. There, beneath brown cobwebs, he lay down into a dream about his childhood.

His sister returned from her boyfriend's house at 9pm, half-singing, half-humming whatever song was thumping from the flat below theirs.

You are sick, he thought she had said, pointing to his head. But when she repeated the words and giggled, he realised she had said 'Sikh'. She was fond of puns.

'Low wit,' he sneered, tracing the ridges of the bandages with his fingertips to make sure the thing hadn't come undone. He watched her do a little dance, throwing her hands high above her head, and moving her feet in a way he could not. He told her what he thought might happen with the fan.

'Seriously?' as if that was a proper question. As if she should not find a corner for herself, for her safety. She looked up at the fan for a moment, and then fixed him with a stare. Her stupid grin had faded and was being replaced with worry. He watched as she tossed her keys on the coffee-table and began to search her huge handbag for her phone. She found it soon enough.

'Who are you calling?'

'Your doctor.'


She held up a hand and began to speak. Not to him, into the phone.

It was then it occurred to him that there was petrol in the house. Cellphones were not allowed in petrol stations. An explosion was imminent.

Risking decapitation by the ceiling fan, he leapt from his corner and snatched the phone out of his sister's hand just as she was saying something about side effects and paranoia.

'Hey,' she said, but he was already tossing her phone and his out of the window.

'You have totally lost it' she screamed with huge eyes. He thought it might be a pun. Was 'it' one of the cellphones? He stretched an arm and turned off the fan.
His sister had run out of the house like a mad woman, as if her phone could be salvaged. She had lost her head. He smiled and recited the first few lines of his favourite poem If by Rudyard Kipling.

IF you can keep your head when all about
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too...

By the time he flopped down on the couch, his head was throbbing but still safely attached to his shoulders. No doubt.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


They had to have a proper wedding, with a willing church and with representatives of both families in attendance. They needed a wedding dress adjusted in the middle, bridesmaids who weren't so willowy they'd out the bride, a big bright bouquet, and their game faces.

Of course, for the bride, there would be no spitting, no long naps, no indulging her intermittent cravings for strange-yet-edible things, and no bilious palavers with the groom on the day about whose fault what was. The groom would even wear the lacy white gloves without a protest murmured or otherwise.

The prayers-for those in the know-that the couple stay together would be earnest. The prayers that they be blessed with the fruit of the womb would be redundant in a way, and deserving of mortal strikes of thunder in another.

The ceremony would be somewhat dull, almost anemic. A lot of their friends and acquaintances, mostly those from their church, would not attend, either because they weren't invited, or because they had declined the invite with tactless tact and eyes-to-the-ground politeness.

The feelings of the couple which cannot be described in words, would be glimpsed for years after in the wedding photos; behind the grim smiles, in the stiffness and care of the body language, in the abscence of the bride's father, and in a lot of little things present and amiss.

The couple would go off on a honeymoon, to a friend's house not far from the groom's. There would be no coupling on that very night. The honeymoon would segue into the gravest months of the wife's ante-natal torment and after the birth, the new mother would return to her parents' house.

The husband would visit often, accompanied by his people to try and sort out the balance of the bride price which seemed to have swollen in inverse proportion to the wife's belly.

The husband would complain at some point that his wife, and his child were being held hostage. He would even go as far as mentioning the words ransome and militants in reference to the requested sum, and his new in-laws respectively. The wife's people would fail to find humour in this, not in those times, not in Port Harcourt.

Their annoyance would eventually be financialized so that the husband (or potential in-law as the wife's younger brother was fond of saying) would have an even greater bill to offset.

After a final amount had been agreed upon and contributed by the groom, his family, and his drinking buddies who had organized themselves into a pro-active Committee of Friends, the new mother and her newborn would move into the groom's 2-bedroom apartment in his father's BQ.

Their lives together would begin and continue with a lot of bitterness and regret. The husband would spend a few years applying for jobs he would never get. He would also become a vicious wife beater, sending his wife to the hospital on too many occassions. He would, at the age of 38, became a prolific marijuana inhaler, and a philosopher of the slurred, incoherent kind. He would eventually land a cosy political appointment courtesy one of the members of his Committee of Friends. He would compensate for his long abscences with even more frequent beatings, and with even harsher words during their routine verbal jousts.

The wife would forget her ambition to become a doctor. She would bury it along with other things planned and desired in the past. She would forever associate her singing voice with the turbulent, never-ending scene that her life had become. She would hardly ever sing. She would hear stories of how other girls in the choir had been seduced by her NowHusband in his role as the ThenChoirmaster. She would come to the conclusion that she was the one stupid enough to get pregnant for him, and stay that way. She would also believe sometimes, in the middle of their troubles, that God was punishing her for the sin they had committed practically in His temple.
They would have another child, a girl. The wife would think of running away with the children, and starting afresh in a new town. The husband would dote on their daughter. This attention would make his wife and son very jealous. He would call his daughter his dearest princess. For his son, he had only one name, one word.

He would matter-of-factly call his son Bastard.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mother Love

They’ll love you in L.A Mum, I just know it. The City of Angels will finally have a genuine piece of the divine. You will get an agent, and a trainer, and a bunch of lawyers and a business manager and a publicist. You will get a personal assistant and bodyguards and a personal stylist. You will have an accountant and a yoga coach and a number of charities you support. You will be a celebrity.

You will go on the Oprah show and talk about how great it is to hit the limelight after 50, and you and Oprah and the one billion or so women watching will have half a dozen Aha! Moments and then you’ll sing. You will teach Martha Stewart how to cook an African dish on National TV. Please Mum, keep it simple. Fry dodo, or if you must cook soup, let it be egusi. Oh, and small balls of eba for the swallowing Mum, small balls for the swallowing.

You will move into a big house with a pool and a history. You will remodel the house and reinvent yourself. Inspite of your strongest urges, you will become a vegan. You will finally lose the weight you gained from bearing three strong sons, and from gathering for yourself the largest chunks of meat and fat from every dish you cooked. You will live on the treadmill until you are thin enough to jog on the beach with your trainer and your bodyguards, and the paparazzi.

You will get a famous yogi-to-the-stars and dabble actively in Pilates. You will do your best to get your body in its best shape Mum, and then you will use other procedures to add and subtract as you see fit. But all things in moderation. do not forget Kanye's mother and our very own Stella. I trust you will exercise your judgement as you always have. And don't worry, there are surgeons who can be counted on to do a good job on the down low, very hush hush. They say discretion is the better part of L.A.


Even though you are an L.A-based celebrity, you will not forget Nigeria Mum. You will speak of the country of your birth with nostalgia, but not too much. Measured wistfulness, Mum. You will romanticize your childhood: the 10 mile, barefoot journey to school, your struggling mother, your days in the village choir, especially Sunday services when you would unfailingly bring the entire congregation of quasi-heathens to tears with your gospel solos. Mention as often as you can how grateful you are to be in the Land of the Free. Stay away from those Naija people in Houston. They are bad news. Speak favourably of Nigeria, but do nothing to shatter Western myths of impoverished Sub-Saharan Africa; the junkyard of pity, and aid. The bastion of famine, and conflict, and AIDS.

You Mum, will be the continent’s brightest export, brighter even than blood diamonds.

You will take a leaf from Hip-hop. You will ‘have a beef’ with an established and successful female singer, preferably black. I would have suggested Whitney Houston but it would be a waste of time. In short, forget all the African American singers. Forget Mariah, forget Diana, forget Patti, never mind Mary J. and don’t even think an uncomplimentary thought about Tina or Beyonce. You do not want to offend Oprah (way too powerful), and Jay-Z has been known to stab people.

Call out Makeba (for her perpetual mama-ness), or Sade (for her irritating sultriness), or Kidjo (for her suspicious man-ishness, and also for that nasty haircut) -in short, whoever has an album that’s showing up on the charts. If you go to France, be sure to say something really mean about Asa. If you are in London, try and record a song with Amy Winehouse, but make sure Mark Ronson produces it, and keep a bodyguard and a can of pepperspray close. That girl can be a handful. Then when you are safely back across the pond, tell a magazine or E! Entertainment news how horrible it was working with Amy.

Beef can do wonders for careers. Just go to Lagos and ask Ruggedman, that's if he's not in London performing. Don't listen to that crazy Afeni Shakur and Marsha Wallace telling sob stories they've been telling for many many decades. Since the 90's.

Then there will be Vegas and Broadway. I can see it now: your being approached to have your own reality show. We'll have giraffes and Zebras on the lawn, and there'll be constant bickering among us, your sons. Who knows, you may be seeing a nice gentleman at the time, and maybe we'll lety him feature on the show as well. Whatever you do in L.A. Mum, don't act like Mariah Carey and have a marrige that will be an embarassment to your boys. Don't carry on like Hulk Hogan's wife or Ivana Tramp.

We'll be instant stars, all of us. But first you'll have to get the Network to talk U.S Immigration into forgiving my past deportations and letting me back into the country. I look forward to my first authentic U.S visa.

I will tell you more later Mum. But you better believe it. Your time, our time has come. I guess all that tithing and praying and fasting has finally paid off. I hope you renewed your pasport as I told you to months ago. I swear on my mother's life, mum. They'll absolutely love you in L.A.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Too Have Fought For CHANGE

My surname ain’t Obama
But I too have fought for change
Been the villain in a five-minute drama
A physical role which for me was strange

It was at the end of a bus ride
From Mile One to the old town
I got my money on the upside
And lost my temper on the down

The fare was hiked to fourty naira
I grudgingly gave a 50 note
This was 2 minutes before the conductor
Felt my strong arm grip his throat

Gi' me my 10 card im no gree
The small boy been dey waste my time
I don see im whole strategy
No be me im go use take shine

I haven’t told this tale to my mama
I have a feeling it’d make her ashamed
But even though my name isn’t Obama
I too have fought for change

Sunday, May 18, 2008


children on the net

The hook up seemed a lot like a set up. It’s not that I didn’t like the girl or that in those days of receding innocence and overwhelming pubescence, I hadn’t lusted after her more than once. The problem was that I hadn’t told anyone I liked her, but here I was, being urged by my friend Osa to ask her out. I felt invaded. How could Osa, the most insensitive of God’s creatures possibly have knowledge of a thing that I had buried so deep? Was it so obvious? Had he made me talk in my sleep? It was the sort of thing he could do, after all he used to go around the hostel on some nights, covered in a white bed sheet, fastidiously applying Close-Up toothpaste to the eyelids of sound asleep, then he would slap them out of their slumber and watch as the toothpaste got into their eyes. As they lay there writhing in pain and screaming screams that reverberated throughout the building, he’d run off, a malevolent, cowardly wraith in the night. The next morning he’d gleefully tell me about the ‘painful sight’. That was the kind of person Osa was.

I was also suspicious because YY, the girl in question, was Osa’s cousin. We were all in JSS 2, but in different arms. If Osa was a rabid, untamable beast, then YY was the opposite- quiet and kind, but with a sense of humour and a certain glint in her eye that rumoured a capacity for great mischief. Sometimes she’d come to talk to her cousin when he and I were standing together, and we’d exchange a hello and no more. She was slim in a way that suggested she’d grow up to be a tall woman. She was beautiful even then. Of course that was a time when few of the girls had curves of any kind. They were straight in their housewears, and even straighter in their pinafores. A couple of unfulfilled lumps on their chests declared their femininity and promised a future harvest of womaness. But at that time we didn’t care. Some girls of course, were already somewhat developed. At those ones, we sniggered and behind their backs we called them old, and maybe really lusted after them. YY was as beautiful as an 11 year old could be, and even though we barely spoke, I wanted her, or wanted to be a part of her, or something.

Osa was always on my case. I know you like that girl. You had better go ahead and ask her out before someone else will. She has already turned three guys down this term. That was how encouraging Osa could be. I’d feign disinterest and question his motives. I know you like her. She’s my cousin and you are my friend. Again I’d deny, and then I’d ask him if she liked me. Ask her out, and then you’ll know. The thing was getting more and more dodgy. I swore to myself that I’d never make the foolish mistake of asking her out. Knowing Osa, it may well have been an elaborate prank designed to humiliate me. But still I wondered if she had told him she liked me and would want to go out with me.

Back then going out meant little more than holding hands and taking walks with your girlfriend or boyfriend during sports time, occasionally hanging out and sharing snacks at break periods, getting furtive hugs, and if you were really daring maybe even kisses once in a while behind some hedge. It meant writing love letters during night-prep, and finding creative ways to courier the letter from one prep hall to the other without it falling into the wrong hands. Personally, I wasn’t too big on the whole going out thing. I was the cynical kid who spent his night preps writing love letters for people in exchange for cash, or canned food.

Fast forward to a Christmas Carol Night we were having. I was standing with Osa in front of a choir which featured some of our friends. Osa was trying-with some success- to distract them by making silly faces. I was bored and sleepy. Next thing I know, YY sidles up next to her cousin. They start talking; I pretend to be interested in the choir, anything to avoid her gaze (assuming of course, that she’s actually gazing at me). Moments later, Osa grabs me and says we should go somewhere quieter. I have no choice in the matter, but there are alarm bells going off in my head. We get to a spot behind the crowds. He tells YY I have something to ask her, and then he disappears into the crowd no doubt to do even more mischief somewhere else.

My heart is pounding. Indecision, anger, weakness, fear, excitement, everything. A few yards away the choir is singing Glory, glory, Hallelujah!

It occurs to me that Osa is an inglorious bastard.

YY stands there, looking at me. Her left foot is playfully digging into the grass, her long, pretty arms are folded across her almost-flat chest. The Christmas lights bathe her in a soft stream as my awkward seconds tick away. Finally she cocks her head to the left, raises an eyebrow and says so?
I respond with a huh, or something equally lame, and then I try to seize the moment.

From the second the words start coming out of my mouth, I know I’m on the inexorable journey towards asking her out. I can’t remember what I said, but I must have spoken for about three minutes. An unnecessary, boring speech with the phrase 'I’d like us to go out' worked in somewhere near the end. I finish, feeling stupid, and manipulated. I make another empty personal vow to kill Osa. She has been watching me throughout my ordeal with as much expression as the famous Benin mask. She let’s me hang for a few moments more then she opens her mouth, and with her braces glinting menacingly in the light, she gives the orthodox response ‘I’ll think about it’ (or ‘I shink aboushit as I vengefully narrate to Osa later that night). At that moment, I’m not sure I like her anymore. I even wonder if I suddenly hate her. I have no doubt that she will return some days later with a big NO. I will be the fourth boy denied that term.

Two days later, she sends word: we may go out. By then I don’t know how to feel. That afternoon we spend sports time together, walking around (but not holding hands), and conversing in fits and starts. By that evening everybody knows we are going out. Osa urges me to send her a love letter. I refuse.

School closes for Christmas that same week. Over the holidays we talk over the phone a few times, and I get to start liking her again. By the time we resume in January, I’m pretty sure I’m in love with her. Her braces still make me uncomfortable, and I almost ask her if they’ll ever come off.

The removal of her braces is for me, like the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain disappears overnight, and East and West come closer. What has metal got to do with passionate pressing together of lips and eager excursions of tongues into previously unexplored mouths? For a while we live bliss. I write her one letter, and no more. She tells Osa to beg me to write her every night. I refuse. In my nightmares, my letters to her are read by the entire Girls’ Hostel and then photocopied, enlarged and pasted on their Notice Board.

Between us, there suddenly rises a wall of grievances unspoken. She sends someone to tell me to try and be like other guys. I send a retort asking if she wants me to start bouncing or sagging. She tries to tolerate me.
The final straw comes on her birthday. The tradition is that when you are going out with a girl, you spend an insane amount of money buying her gifts on her birthday. I simply buy her a box of chocolate and a book of poetry, in it I write that she deserves more words than a Hallmark Card can hold. The gesture does not go down well with her. She thinks I’m being cheap. She sends Osa to tell me she has broken up with me. I’m hurt by her misunderstanding of my gesture, and by this materialistic side she has shown. She immediately starts going out with some guy who bought her three different perfumes.

Many years later, she calls me and asks me to write her a poem. I can only remember the end:

…The next few lines will end this poem
Like a year December will close
My fire for you may be out
But this ember still glows

YY has indeed grown into a tall, beautiful woman and will be getting married to the Three Perfumes Guy this Christmas.

Osa is still alive and still very much an inglorious bastard.