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.