ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER REQUIEM
I am certain today, there will be many flowery words.
That bouquets of roses and carnations will be plentiful.
The priest to extol, in a lengthy eulogy,a fellow he may never have set eyes on.
The mourners to gaze in pity at the casket, piety starched throughout their dark garments.
Dark mournful garments!
Whilst the welcoming angels and their wings will be in radiant hues;
When the streets of paradise,where they all affirm the one is headed, are covered in brilliant and blinding light!
The old lady checking her wrist clock intermittently, hoping her presence has been registered by the grieving family!
The younger ones typing on phones, their minds long departed here.
The landlord, sat there by default;pondering how long will be polite before writting for his rent.
And am sat at the back, sad at another demise,yet bored of the usual things.
Nnamdi Wabara, 2018.
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Where the waters flow,
Meandering over stones and rocks,
There you will find me.
Visible in my silence.
Complicit in the serene quiet.
Watching stars fall out the sky, yet remain.
Hearing the owl awaken with the dusk.
The shadow of the moonlight upon the silver stream.
The shuffle of drowsy feet echoing in the darkened hallway.
A chapel on a working day.
A school on a holiday.
Till I hear the wind, walking amidst the graves;
Shifting the dying flowers ever so slowly, burnt out candles.
I am the sole citrus by the Cemetery gates;
Largely forsaken by man and beast.
I am the shade in the grove of trees.
I am the empty patch in a sea of flowers.
I am the home, where harmony once dwelt.
Friday, 10 November 2017
……my mother now newly single,
thrown out for her lack of fruits.
To wipe her tears, I pledge to stay,
but oh! I already feel the wanderlust.
- Ogbanje (Broken echoes…etcetera c.2017)
In the beginning, I was back again; in my favourite shade under the huge, leafy trees. The floor was grassy and made for a lovely plain field for gamboling spirit-children. The trees extended like forever, lines upon lines of giant plants. Massive roots entwined with the earth, branches stretching horizontally like a man with arms outstretched seeking answers from the elements.
The trees were thick above, but below nearer the ground was sparse enough for me and my friends to run around, play hide and seek, and other games as we made merry without a care. The sky above was invisible, blacked out by the treetops. Some of the trees seemed to go into the skies as they stretched like forever to my little spirit eye.
The thing I liked most of this realm, was the lack of time! There was no sense of time, infact there was nothing like time. We could play and run around for what passed for earth years without tiring. Our games only broken up when one of us was called away by a guide, which was often. The guides always appeared from behind one in an instant, their tall cylindrical hats tilting left or right, depending on the nature of message they had for the one.
In this realm too, there was no colour! There was only a permanent dawn, an everlasting twilight. Everything was seen in that dullness. There was no hue, all was grey and slightly blurred.
Who needed colour anyway? In this realm the thoughts were the words that were exchanged. There were no spoken words, but we understood each other just fine as we picked up the other’s thoughts and feelings easily. There was a transparency here than I had witnessed on my sojourns to earth. There was an animal instinctiveness and openness in the grey realm. It was not possible to lie or pretend here, to put it succinctly- we had no need to blush!
I felt a tug on my shoulder. It was my friend, Nedika. He was back. I was yet to see him since his current return. We embraced and soon began drawing trees in the grey sands. Another four spirit-children soon joined us, a male and 3 females.
Geicka, one of the females wasn’t playing with us. She was downcast, devoid of thoughts as well. We soon stopped playing and sat around her. Waiting to pick her thoughts and send ours. She sat with a stiff back and stared deep into the trees, all the while leaving her mind blank.
Then the pain washed over her again, and I picked up her recollection of her session with the guide that had returned her. She had been born to a woman back on earth. The woman named ‘uwaezuoke’, whose name in the earth language of that region meant ‘one could never have it all on earth’, despite her affluence had yet to bear a child. Then she had birthed Geicka, now Geicka was gone.
Uwaezuoke had cried for days on end. Uwaezuoke had committed suicide! Driven by the pain and frustration of her loss, weighed down by the guilt she felt as she had left her on the pram, parked for only a minute, to pick her change from the cashier at the window. Then that ear-piercing scream.
The parked pram had rolled onto the busy motorway. There had been an on-coming truck, the pram stood no chance. Uwaezuoke was inconsolable. She had fainted! She had to be heavily sedated and restrained within the hospital ward. Upon her release months after, she took her life. The sad news made the rounds in most of the local dailies.
The thing poor Uwaezuoke didn’t know was that the baby had been a spirit-child. One of us. Her spirit had long left the body before the truck pulverized the pram. Besides, it wasn’t Uwaezuoke’s fault. We had all been there. All the spirit–children in our group from the grey realm were there at that moment. Infact, it was Nedika who had released the parked pram’s hook, when Geicka hadn’t been watching.
Gecka had been growing fond of Uwaezuoke. She only had good thoughts about her. Geicka had refused to fall ill and die like she was meant to. That was what spirit-children did. She wouldn’t budge. Nedika was our self-appointed leader, so acted before it became late and we lost her forever. Nedika didn’t care for others’ thoughts, his was to ensure our togetherness and quick return to the grey realm.
All spirit-children are able to converge with any other on earth through a totem stick. We all had totem sticks buried in the grey grounds of our realm. Each stick had an individual spirit-child’s name written on it. All twenty sticks had been in a calabash buried at the four points junction, where East, West, North and South met, there our sticks were buried. The sticks had been bound with a piece of string and inserted deep into the ground.
Geicka was hurting. The guide had been hard on her in the aftermath of Uwaezuoke’s suicide. She had never seen the guide so upset, or any guide for that matter. The guide’s hat had been so tilted to the left that Geicka feared it might fall off to the ground. So began an angry dispute between Geicka and Nedika. Angry thoughts flew fast and furious between the two. “You should never have done that”, Geicka thought. ‘It was all your fault’, Nedika thought back in response. “I would never forgive you for this”. She stormed off deep into the trees.
The mood was soured. Every spirit-child present, now wandered off, all seeming to avoid Nedika. I chose a spot much farther from Nedika. This was clearly not his finest hour. I sat down against a tree. Thoughts were flying within me like a whirlwind.
I had just returned myself, from Earth. I had already lost count of how many times I had been born, and how many times I had returned to my friends, always before the 7th month was up. I have been born in virtually all the countries of the earth. I have been born in all the different continents of the world at different times. It had been the same for me. I have been born to all manner of women, the very tall and the not so tall. I had once had a mother that was very rotund, I had once had a mother with a very prominent moustache that got painted from drinking milk or a bowl of soup, I had once had a mother with the saddest eyes ever, big round tear-filled eyes that begged me to live, to stay. I didn’t.
I have been a son to a Pakistani family, an African chief, an American slave merchant, an English royal’s love child. There were some countries I had incarnated in over and over again. I still had scarifications from my last earth trip. I had been born into West Africa, my twentieth time in Africa. My parents had firstly taken me to a witchdoctor when I began falling ill regularly at 5 months of age. Our home had been in a remote small seaside town. The witchdoctor had told my parents that I was a spirit-child and that my playmates had begun calling for my return. He had actually said this with a sweeping arm gesture towards the corner of the room where Nedika and the others awaiting my death were, as if he could see them. ‘Ogbanje’, he called me. Then proceeded to make tiny incisions on the sides of my face and small of my back. He said the scarifications would make my friends desert me and make it easy for my parents to recognize me if I dared return as a new child in their household.
Father’s friend had recommended the witchdoctor. He had come visiting with his family. They had stood and stared at me lying in my parent’s bed, covered in my mother’s best wrapper, the red one with the boxed design. I hated them for not refusing Father’s offer of hospitality. We weren’t well off and I felt bad seeing my parents spend most of their little savings on me. Yet here were these people, clad in their ‘Sunday dress’, eating the last of the ‘chicken-soup’ because they were visitors!
Over the next month, I became worse. I began to regularly throw up the infant formula, which cost my low earning parents a fortune, to ensure I starved the little body. The long journeys to the witchdoctor’s hut and my deteriorating state combined to twist my father’s hand. He overruled my mother and promptly wheeled me to the new town office of a fast-talking new preacher making the rounds then.
He regularly appeared on the television and his voice could be heard bellowing sermons on the radio. “My God answers by fire”! “Thus says the lord……..”. I had been urgently wrapped warm and driven to the preacher’s by my parents. The preacher asked that I be placed on a special cot beside the altar. My mother stayed behind, sat on the front pew, her eyes never leaving the cot. My father had to get to the bank.
The preacher knelt farther to my left on the altar, and began speedily praying and quoting passages interjectionally from the holy book. One of his followers, a fair complexioned female, clad in a white gown and a yellow sash with the inscription ‘Zion’, held a little drum in her left hand which she beat to match the tempo of the preacher’s loud prayers. As she swayed, she mouthed ‘yes lord’, ‘hosanna’, ‘el shaddai’, severally in no particular order.
I couldn’t see the preacher’s eyes as he had hidden them behind a pair of sunglasses. He was of a strong build and if I had been introduced to him at a sports centre as a wrestler, I would have believed him to be a very accomplished one indeed. His rippling muscles made his suit tight and stretched. Or even as a boxer, as he had huge calloused hands. He would have fitted right in, at a gym house. His chest was the size of a mini wardrobe with room to spare.
It was mother that noticed the goings-on in the cot and screamed at the preacher, “my son is foaming at the lips”. The preacher quickly felt my forehead and frowned at the high temperature. I had begun having severe chills at that point. The preacher dialed a number on his mobile phone, “Hello Sir”, he began. “Please come at once to pick up your child”. “The Holy spirit says we have done our part, the rest is for the doctor. Come take him to the hospital at once”, he concluded.
I had been on the altar all through with the preacher and hadn’t heard the phone ring, I had missed the Holy Spirit’s call. Mother was already beside herself in lamentations and grief. She grabbed me and held my fever ravaged little body to her bossom. I felt loved and wanted, but the call of my playmates was stronger. The grey realm awaited with the lush grasses and lack of time.
I never made it to the hospital. I had left the little body just before the hospital workers came running out with their stretcher and life support items. I hurriedly said goodbye to the other spirit-children who had come to escort me over the threshold of yet another death. I had long stopped counting. I went behind the nearest tree to await my guide. The guide was prompt as always but disappointed that I had contrived to return to the grey realm yet again.
I have spent centuries now coming and going. Sometimes I wondered how come there were no other children in the grey realm, except other groups of spirit-children. Could this realm be one for abnormal spirits who had refused to grow up? Was this some kind of purgatory? These thoughts deeply troubled me as I had never seen my existence in that light before. Was it my last view of Mother as I left with the guide? She had sat on the ground tearing out her hair! I feared for her health but couldn’t inquire from the guide if she’ll be alright, as the guide was clearly in no mood to respond.
‘Maxila, maxila’. I knew that thought density. It was Geicka! Her thoughts were happy and loud. They were of euphoria and elation. I had never seen her this excited over anything before. “I have been given another chance “, she thought towards me. Yes, right behind her was the guide, her guide. The guide’s face was bland as all guides tend to be, devoid of thoughts and feelings until they have a message to be delivered.
“But Geicka, you just came back”, I thought towards her. “Yes Maxila, but my guide told me it’s already 5 earth years”, she thought. “I am just excited to get this opportunity, my friend”. “I have not been able to get my last earth trip out of my mind, especially the suicide”. ”One last thing Maxila, I would not be coming back”! “I am going to try and make good this opportunity”, she concluded the series of quick thoughts. Then she grabbed me in an urgent bear hug. I just knew that I would never see her again in the grey realm. Her guide now took her hand and they melted into the trees.
Nedika and some of the other spirit-children then appeared. His thoughts were those of bedlam and disorientation. I quickly learnt that Geicka had dug up the calabash of totems and gone off with her’s. Nedika was going to make a dash along with the other spirit-children currently in the grey realm to the ‘departure bridge’, the point of departure for all spirit-children. He would appeal to Geicka before her totem was lost. Nedika feared losing Geicka would diminish his authority amongst the other spirit-children, and with it his exalted status.
The departure bridge is the busiest transit point in creation. There were always thousands moving across it to be born while thousands were returning from time expired on earth, at the same time. It teemed with all manner of spirits at all times.
“Maxila”, he thought towards me. “Please hold onto this calabash until my return”. It was Nedika. “You know you are the only one I trust in this realm”. His thoughts towards me now ceased as they quickened their paces in hot pursuit, soon swallowed up by the trees.
I quickly thought of Geicka. I understood her pain. My earth life before last, I had been born to an American soldier stationed in Kabul. He was on his way back, halfway around the world on a week’s pass, to see his new son. I had pleaded with Nedika to allow me stay till the soldier, father, arrived and his week was done. Nedika wouldn’t budge. I was gone before they returned from the airport. I sometimes wonder if they carried out their threat to prosecute the poor Filipino nanny. I had heard most of the angry exchange, as I sat behind the oak tree in the front lawn awaiting the guide.
My guide now appeared again, startling me from my reverie. There was an opening for a child. Since I was the only one left behind in the group, would I take it? Even as I had been back a mere 2 earth years. Yes, I thought. I wanted to go.
My guide held me fast, and we were soon at the ‘departure bridge’. It still retained the bustling activity all around. Now he gave me a pat and a slight shove on the back. I felt the familiar rush of air vapour again. That falling feeling. That zapping of thoughts from roaming lost spirits and the hushed tunes of malevolent spirits singing. The wild thoughts of newly expired spirits as they pondered the futures of their funds, children, parents, spouses were all around us.
I awoke. I had an earth body again. A tiny one once more. All was quiet save a booming sound up above. I was back again in a woman’s womb. The woman that would be my new mother. I could hear sounds again. In my excitement at having made it to earth again, I tested my new right leg. It connected with some tissues, then again, then again. It felt good.
“Honey”, it was my new mother to be. She was on the telephone. “Honey, it happened, he just kicked”! She continued, “Just like the Gynecologist had said he would in this fifth month”. ”At first it had felt like fluttering butterflies, then I felt it hard”, she said. “It’s going to be a strong boy”!
The husband at the other end began sobbing. The deep sobs of a man who had lived through 7 years of endless IVF treatments and hospital visits, without the bundle of joy they craved. He began pledging to her, that he would always be there, that he would be a great father, and their child would never lack for affection.
I felt really welcome. I will finally get to go to school. Ride a bike. Grow to an adult age to vote, and be able to buy a drink. I will get to know the joys of earth life this time, and really savour them. Watch the sun rise, the sunset. Hear the birds sing, dogs bark.
I was certain of this for I had tossed the calabash of totems into the air vapours as I left the departure bridge. Yes no spirit-child could ever find me again. I had said my goodbyes to the grey realm.
It is finished!
Saturday, 26 November 2016
A TURBULENT TIME
It must have been the loud noise that woke me from my nap barely thirty minutes after take-off. I struggled to stand to my feet, but somehow couldn’t. I was weighed down, held in place, kept in check by something I couldn’t fathom as of yet. Then I heard it again! It was the same sound. A scream by a woman. Very loud and shrill. It echoed several times inside my head as if trapped in a void, the scream rebounding from one brain cell to the next. It was painful and jarring. I opened my eyes again. There was a glint. Something shiny. It was a seat belt knuckle! That was my jailer all this while, keeping me locked down in my seat.
I remembered I was on an Air flight. Sat on the aisle, seat 7D to be exact. I had been sleeping, the sleep of a traveler, tired yet light on the feet. Prone to sudden jerks of awakening, drowsy eyes adorning an alert mind. It must have been the scream. It had crashed into my dream. My unremarkable dream, like that of any wayfarer. A dream of fits and starts, having neither depth nor colour, neither length nor significance.
My senses gradually returned, as my eyes began to focus once more. The last I remembered was the Pilot announcing that we were 35,000 feet above land, before my eyes closed in sleep. The lady had stopped screaming but was now praying loudly. Sweating profusely inside the air-conditioned cabin. She kept making references to the ‘God of Elisha’, the ‘God of miracles’, the stopper of ‘untimely death’ as she prayed in that shrill voice.
The Aircraft made a big sudden swerve. Shouts of ‘My God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Allah’, rent the air. There were many voices praying at the same time. Prayers were being uttered in different voices and tongues, in diverse supplicating postures. A nun in seat 7F was going haywire. She held her rosary tightly and kept chanting. The volume of her chanting strangely was proportional to the balance of the Airplane. Going up with every slight tilt of the Aircraft’s wings, and going down with any brief stabilization experienced.
The upheaval had wrought havoc inside the Aircraft. There were dozens of small suitcases freed from the luggage-hold above. One had fallen quite next to me on the aisle. The Air-hostesses were doing their best to calm the passengers and clear the aisle of the fallen suitcases. As one came to pick a suitcase close to me on the aisle, the Airplane shook and tilted steeply to the right. The sharp movement threw the long stockinged hostess across me into the empty seat 7E, hitching her skirt up in the process.
The hostess became quite animated, rushing to seat herself up and pulling down her garments that had ridden upwards. Her eyes glared wildly at me, questioning, seeking answers on what I had seen, if I had seen. I returned her stare with a disinterested parsing of the lips. I was not a voyeur by any means nor did I salivate at such exposures, but it was hard to miss the big tear at the upper limit of the right stocking, hitherto hidden away beneath the upper reaches of her garments.
I wondered if it was her modesty or ego that was wounded and how such should matter when there was chaos on board. Why she would stress over an unsolicited peek when there was no guarantee that we would make it out alive. She began saying ‘Excuse me Sir……’, it was never finished. A sudden downward plunge of a few feet by the Airplane had her grabbing on to the seat in front. There were shrieks all around. In the melee, her perfect hair got stuck on some protruding button on the seat in the 6th row. She was left devoid of her ‘hair’, the ugly patchy scalp revealed. She was now beyond caring over such trivialities like looks, when there were no certainties over surviving the current situation.
A child began crying. Her mother tried ceaselessly to placate her. She wouldn’t be soothed and began wailing loudly. She couldn’t have been more than 7years old and I remembered meeting her earlier looking lovely and resplendent in a yellow satin dress, her hair tied in 2 corresponding yellow ribbons. She had lost one of the ribbons and her dress was stained with vomit. I felt children would have been more comfortable in the crisis, as the yo-yo movement of the plane resembled many a roller-coaster ride popular at resorts and parks. Must be the wild screams and loud prayers, I thought to myself.
Then I wondered what would happen to us, to me. Would I survive if the plane failed to hold it together? Or would I be condemned to an unmarked watery grave? Would I make it to the ocean underneath or would I give up midair? I wasn’t the best of swimmers either and records show the earth being covered by more water bodies than land. Did I have a chance if I fell into some ocean along with my co-travellers or if our troubled plane plunged into the depths of some foreign sea, pulled in by unforgiving gravitational forces?
If I lost the battle, would I be sent to rest in ‘the bossom of the lord’, like advertised in the obituary announcement for my Uncle Damian. Uncle Damian, impulsive liar and land grabber who had reduced many a widow in the village to penury. Same one. I had told Mama, that it was unlikely for Uncle Damian to end up anywhere close to the Lord’s bossom when he had been so mean in his lifetime, besides having died from a stroke suffered while clasped to the ‘bossom’ of his married lover. His long suffering wife was still in shock and try as the family did to hush it up, the story was now common knowledge even in the local parish where Uncle Damian had been a Deacon. I told Mama, Uncle Damian was more likely in Hades suffering, but she had scolded me, saying ‘we are not allowed to speak ill of the dead’.
I wished I had listened during the demonstration by the hostesses prior to the flight, on the procedure for emergency landing. They had demonstrated how to strap on the life jacket in accordance with some aviation rule. They had even shown how to blow some whistle but I had been having trouble remembering much these days when I even bothered to listen attentively. There had been some talk too of a mask to be worn in event of sudden loss in air pressure. I knew it was meant to drop down from somewhere, but where?
A man who had been trapped in the loo all this while just maneuvered his way back to his seat. He had returned clad only in a singlet and a pair of shorts. He must have been caught up during the worst period of the flight, poor man! Whatever he was running from, taking off his other clothes, still accompanied him as he returned. Striding a-pace with him were smells of ammonia and fecal matter. The air in the cabin became charged and the little girl started crying again.
There were quite a few murmurs over the returning man and the accompanying odours. The nun by the window was highly upset at the man and the subsequent change he had brought. She began muttering many an unprintable swear word at the man. She suddenly realised I was watching and resumed praying once more, rosary in hand. I was shocked at her conduct as she was a nun. Also her blouse had a badge that read ‘I am Jesus’s bride’. I felt it strange that any bride, especially that of the Lord Jesus would speak thus. It also seemed out of place for all her chanting and incessant prayers if she was the “Lord’s bride”. One would have thought she would be keen to return to the groom. Tut, tut, tut.
The thing is as a child, I did have a vivid imagination. Sometimes I imagined things further along than where they were at present. ‘A turbulent mind’, Mama had called it when I asked her not to leave Sister Lisa alone with the Landlord, as his wife wasn’t home. The Landlord had assured Mama that the wife had only gone on a swift errand, with her return imminent. ‘Go away with your turbulent mind’, she screamed at me when I, worrying over Sis. Lisa, pointed out the funny way the landlord had been staring at Lisa when Mama wasn’t looking. Then as we walked to the bus stop, she remembered she had forgotten to leave Lisa the house keys. I was to wait for her swift return. Her return had been anything but swift and she had returned with Lisa in tow! Lisa’s top was newly torn at the collar and her wrists had marks like they had been forcefully held together. I never got to know what happened to this day, but I remember Lisa crying all the way home and mama continually thanking all our village gods that she had returned just in time. A week after, we changed residence.
My thoughts returned to my immediate family, the missus and the kids. There were two kids, the girl who was older and the boy. The girl seemed to have been hewn out of my own ribs while the boy was a photo match of the mother. The girl had all my good qualities and also inherited my turbulent mind. She cared not for money and the rest fripperies that often got her mother unduly excited. She was the one that bonded best with the dog and nursed a little rose garden. She had asked me last night, in that thoughtful way of her’s as the heavy wind blew the curtains about, if the flight wouldn’t be affected. I shouldn’t have merely dismissed her worries with a wave of the hand! I should have listened.
Now here I was, condemned to die ‘intestate’; having penned neither will nor last testament. The missus was my registered next of kin and would get the little that was due me as terminal benefits. Would she be glad? Yes, I thought. The marriage had been convenient for her in the beginning but one could sense things were so adrift, she could barely stand the last throes. I could see her in my turbulent mind’s eye as the casualty list is read out on the radio, caught between acting the pained wife for the girl and her brother, and locking herself behind the bedroom door, laughing in that hysterical way she does, reveling in her new found freedom.
Act 1 Scene 2, enter the grieving wife being severally consoled as she entertained guests on the “untimely” exeunt of the husband. Clad in dull attires, sparse with words, hands in laps, eyes intermittently shut in adhoc prayers. And then the interment. I wondered if she would wear black. If she would shave her hair as custom demanded of widows. She would tell all those who asked of course, that I was always against such hideous customs, which was true; yet there she was, all shaven to please the land and the gods, so they allow me continued rest in the bossom of……..
There was a sudden cackle on the announcer. It was the Pilot! “Good day once more, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to announce that we are now past the extreme turbulence and should be landing within the next 20 minutes at our destination. The weather there is currently 28 degrees and windy with chance of light rain much later in the evening. Once again, accept our wholesome apologies on the extreme turbulence”.
The Fasten Seat belt sign that had been on for what seemed forever, quickly went off, and as if plucked from the air, hostesses once more appeared and began picking up fallen luggage and other debris cluttering the aisle. The hostess beside me stood awkwardly, her hair and ego in tatters. She stopped briefly beside me, and I nodded reassuringly to her. Her secret was safe with me.
The passengers as if on cue began applauding the pilot as the plane taxied to a simple touch down devoid of the drama experienced in the air. There were people simply shedding tears at getting another chance to see family members again or in the case of the nun on seat 7F, not getting to see her groom as of yet.
I made a mental note to myself to see my lawyer upon my return from this trip. Maybe to draft a will, maybe to discuss separation. For I had been embarrassed, when the rest passengers were scrambling to place urgent calls to loved ones upon the successful landing after a near mishap, that I also followed suit and tried calling the missus. Her response had been harsh as per course, ‘what is it again’? ‘Please I am watching my favorite soap’. It wasn’t so much the harshness, but the way the receiver went cold upon my dialing once she spoke. Felt like watching a window frost over as it snowed outside. It was in turns painful for i had still held that impossible hope. i had been a man reborn, saved from the ire of the air elements by the kind gods, given another shot at life that i had reached out again.The newsmagazine I glimpsed in the arrival lounge, had the screaming headline, ‘A Turbulent Time’! There was no method to the current madness in the land, it claimed. A little known team had recently won the English Football Premiership on incredible odds. Against all the polls and knowledgeable predictions, the British had voted to leave Europe and the Prime Minister had resigned! Also in the USA, after a mud-ridden campaign, a startling result had emerged. Pollsters over there too were running around confused, analysts bewildered. These are no ordinary times, the magazine warned. I hailed a cab as I stepped outside the lounge. Reclining in the back seat, I thought to myself, ‘Turbulence on land just as it is in the air’. Indeed, a turbulent time.
Nnamdi Wabara, 2016.
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
John Ofor was still pinching himself, as he sat waiting in the living room of the Rectory. His arrival had already been announced by the steward, and so the parish priest should materialize any minute. John had travelled down from the Northern city of Kano where he lived and worked to his hometown of Isuofia to officially notify the kinsmen, elders, parish, women’s union and all manner of sundry groups of the death of his mother.
Mama was 85 years old before she died. John had been barely 7 years old when he lost his father and so had little knowledge of what went into a “befitting” Christian burial. He had rarely visited when distant uncles passed, and remained blissfully unaware of the various accompanying rites and traditions. Till the day after mama died!
Firstly, was the task of getting the parish priest’s consent to announce a date for the funeral. It had to tally with the parish’s programmes, and this was only given after obtaining “clearance”. John had come with Mama’s tithe card, which only had the last month she had been away visiting in Kano, in arrears. The priest though had upon his belated entry, sent for a voluminous register and was now checking page by page. Thus far, pending pledges towards the new transformer, re-kitting the female choir, re-roofing the main church, purchase of a new lawn mower, support for the out-going Monsignor’s farewell party, had all been unearthed.
John was dazed. He had yet to meet with the ‘umu-ada’, or the ‘ikwunne’. Each of these female groups was demanding a live cow before attending the burial in ‘official capacity’. The church choir had indicated that a bag of foreign parboiled rice and a carton of soft drinks would do for them. His car booth still harboured 2 cartons of Schnapps drink, to be given the ‘umunna’, to seek their attention before ‘officially’ to them. This was outside the list of items to be fulfilled in their favour upon breaking the news.
No group thus far had volunteered to help defray any cost or execute any service. None had bothered, even his immediate kinsmen, to donate to the outrageous fees charged by the village Mortuary or the absolute fortune expended to ferry her corpse home all the way from Kano State, a distance of 820 km. All respondents had been more bothered about choosing and acquiring the uniform fabric,’aso-ebi’ to be distributed to and worn by extended family and friends at the burial ceremony.
Then there were fees for the traditional rainmakers, who you only ignored at your peril. Then gift items to be distributed to attendees as souvenirs. Hiring of chairs and canopies. Entertainment of guests. Provision of private security for guests and corpse! Yes, corpses had been known to be abducted before by diverse interest groups, from those protesting the burial site to those seeking to draw Government attention to their own grievances.
John couldn’t shirk the duty as he was Mama’s first son and it was a role traditionally reserved for him. In Kano where he lived, the residents were mostly buried same day after confirmation of their death with minimal fanfare. John resolved to start a campaign on social media upon his return to Kano, to seek a change to these Southern customs. #Letthedeadburythedead! Away with the fanfare, after all death was for the spirit, not for the living.
In High School, he had often marveled at the story of Julius Ceaser. It had been his favorite school text, aside being his much read novel. Now he understood his kindred spirit Marc Anthony, whom said ‘I have come to bury Ceaser, not to honour him’! Poor man must have been trying to avoid the likely huge clearance involved. John couldn’t dare such a stunt with any of the village factors though. The rainmakers had been known to create a major storm just overhead a particular location, over any perceived slight by the organisers who had ignored them. No, he wouldn’t subject Mama’s weary spirit to another battle. Ceaser had been a General, this was different.
John looked up. The Priest was still barely halfway through the thick register, furiously punching the calculator. John shook his head and closed his eyes. It was going to be a long day.
Nnamdi Wabara, 2016.
Saturday, 8 October 2016
‘Uda aki-ilu, abughi uto ya’. (The sound of the bitter-kola as it’s being munched, is not a measure of it’s sweetness) - Igbo Proverb.
Lily Nze opened the door to her two bedroom apartment and stumbled in, hands laden with groceries. She had visited the shops from her office on the Lagos Island, where she headed their audit section. Lily had barely dropped the grocery bags in the kitchen when her mobile phone began ringing.
It was Aunty Nneka. It was always Aunty Nneka these days. Aunty Nneka was a much junior sister to Lily’s Dad. His only sister as a matter of fact. Since Lily turned 36 years old last Friday, Aunty Nneka hadn’t given her a minute’s peace. She was so determined to match-make her, in her own words ‘before it is too late’.
Lily picked the call. ‘Hello, Aunty Nneka, how was your day? Aunty Nneka ran a big-scale boutique, a street across from Lily’s office on the Island. She wasn’t so much older than Lily as well, as she was just 45 years old. Aunty Nneka however was determined that her niece wouldn’t miss out on eligible husband-materials, like she had in her heyday. Aunty Nneka was still a spinster and belonged to the school of thought that believed Marriage was meant to be a woman’s crowning glory.
‘My day was great, Lily’. ‘Are you back from work?’ ‘Yes Ma’, Lily replied. ‘Good. Now have you given a thought to my suggestion?’ Aunty Nneka asked. Lily was lost for words. She had been through this severally with Aunty Nneka. They had nearly had a fallout that she now acquiesced and asked for some time to think about it.
It had to do with the latest suitor Aunty Nneka had found for Lily. He was a migrant businessman, resident in Italy and brother to Aunty Nneka’s friend. Her friend too was new, a recent acquaintance she had made in the most recent church she just began attending; “The Believers’ People Assembly”’
Aunty Nneka had been born a catholic but had virtually gone round most of the churches in Lagos and some. She was in constant search of not only salvation, but also of ‘strong’ pastors and ministers, who could assure her that her future was secure and her present in tandem with the traits of heaven-bound folk.
‘No I haven’t, Aunty’, Lily replied. ‘I promise I will give you an answer before this weekend’, she finished. They said their goodbyes and Lily hung up. Talking with Aunty Nneka was becoming more uncomfortable by the day. She was asking for far too much. Firstly to accept the migrant suitor, then to join her in attending the new church!
Lily termed herself a ‘non-committal’ Christian. She didn’t go every Sunday, but when she really felt like it or to attend weddings in church. Aunty Nneka had set about changing all that. She bombarded Lily with daily devotional messages on social media. She had already on her own registered Lily into the female ushers’ group in the Believers’ People Assembly, even though Lily had only been there twice as an invitee to attend as Aunty Nneka gave testimonies on both occasions before the whole congregation. Aunty Nneka also kept Lily updated on declared fasting days and forwarded recorded sermons to her email address. Lily was under a siege!
A sharp scream followed by a torrent of abuse. Lily knew who they were. The Jafars’ barely 8 months married, yet the union oscillated between two extremes all the time. They were one of the reasons Lily was mightily skeptical over the topic of marriage. When they loved, they loved. They had woken Lily up that day in the early morning as per course, with their loud moans as they pleasured each other. They also kept her up most nights when they fought each other. Today’s fight had kicked off early as it wasn’t even 8pm yet.
‘Go and google me o, useless man’! That was definitely Mrs. Jafar. Lily could recognize that shrill voice bordering on a cat’s squealing and a dog’s whelping even in her sleep. She had been asking to be googled for a few months now. A top manager in a financial institution with branches nationwide, it was a wonder how she changed during matrimonial bouts. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde state of affairs. Their last quarrel spilled over into the complex’s staircase. Lily had been involved in getting Mrs. Jafar to relinquish the machete, which she held while threatening to lunge at anyone who came too close. Lily wondered if Mrs. Jafar’s records with Google might show that she was proficient with machetes, or that she may have been deranged at some point in history.
From the maid that reported fortnightly in her rooms, Lily finally learned some facts about the Jafars’. Mrs. Jafar had caved in to societal pressure and allowed herself to be swept off her feet by Mr. Jafar. Mr. Jafar was as evasive as they came but the sex was great. In the cold reality of post wedding life, Mr. Jafar’s lack of tertiary education began to stick out like a sore thumb. Mrs. Jafar wouldn’t allow him escort her to financial lunches and meetings that went on all the time. Mr. Jafar began to resent her late returns home. Fear quickly changed to hate. Now all they had in between arguments and massive fights was great sex.
Lily said her night prayers and decided to give Aunty Nneka her response the next day. She would agree to see this Italy based suitor despite her misgivings about the marriage institution and relationships generally. Lord, give me strength, she prayed.
“Mbuari- mbuari, ka eji ere mbe”. (It is only by carrying a tortoise around different venues, that it gets sold) - Igbo Proverb.
Lily was sat at the back of the church, next to Aunty Nneka. Her Aunt’s eyes were closed as she waved her hands in the air, like most others in the church that evening. It was a special programme targeted at the ‘single and ready to mingle’, scheduled on a working day. On the flyer advertising the event, there had been a rider, proclaiming that no single would depart the venue empty handed. Thus far, in the four hours they had been there, none had approached either the Aunt or herself despite the great lengths they had gone to look humble and non-descript, so as not to scare them off. This had been the Aunt’s latest idea. In the last two months she had toured all the churches in the city, with Lily in tow. She said they wouldn’t stand still as husbands weren’t standing still either. No program venue was too far for Aunty Nneka, she had even taken Lily to Cameroun to attend a similar programme organized by an African prophet based in Paris, France.
Lily had long tuned off once the officiating minister began speaking in many tongues. To Lily, that was a tell-tale sign of improvisation and therefore always raised her ‘red flags’ over claims of genuine close audience with the Almighty. The staccato verbal outpourings always seemed to her a little contrived and manufactured. “Me-ka-ta-la chi-ma-se-ke-ke”. “Du-kpa te-le-la chi- ma- se-ke-ke”. Lily rather imagined this as a call to prayer, to kindred lost and disillusioned spirits than communication with celestial beings. After 5 rounds of an “offering basket” going through the attendees, the programme was ended much later that night. Aunt drove Lily home with her as it was quite late to return to Lily’s own side of the town. While Lily felt it had been another failed venture, Aunty Nneka reprimanded her for not knowing the ways of the ‘spirit’!
As Lily lay in bed reminiscing, her mobile phone rang. It was Peter, her migrant suitor. He had arrived impromptu on the Alitalia flight that morning from Milan. They had been chatting for some days now over social media. He had gotten a little break from the office and had returned to Nigeria to see his ‘Lily’!
It was a whirlwind week with peter. He was a gentleman and an even gentler speaker. He was keen to meet her people, to get to know everybody. He even tried to initiate ‘unprotected’ sex with her. That was a red flag. Lily paid a lot of heed to red flags, they had saved her thus far. She had learnt to trust her instincts, her gut feelings.
So she delayed the plans. She gave excuses. Her parents were not available for now. Maybe in December when he next returned. He only met up with Aunty Nneka of the whole extended family. Aunty Nneka as she was wont, couldn’t be contained. Excited was an understatement. She urged Lily to hasten things up, that marrying Peter would be great. She insisted that Lily obtain his address in Italy, that she go visit, the grass being much greener over there than back here in Lagos.
Peter returned to Italy the next week. Lily missed his European accented Igbo dialect. Lily had her lingering doubts though. Why would Peter want unprotected intercourse when he didn’t even know her HIV status? Or did he need her to get pregnant? Why? To tie her down? Hmmmn.
A month later, Lily got an email from her Travel Agency. It advertised some holiday packages. There was a modest one to visit the Vatican City in Rome, amongst other packages for exotic locations. Lily made the necessary arrangements to fall into her planned vacation for the year. She wouldn’t tell Peter though, she would surprise him and lay her doubts to rest. The days passed in a blur. Her travel date soon arrived. Lily was excited as she had only been to the United Kingdom in the whole of Europe before now. If it went well, they’ll conclude the marriage plans before she returned back.
After four wonderful days touring the Vatican City, Lily was sat in the Eurostar travelling to Milan from Rome. She had learnt some Italian words to pass her through the shops, an Italian language crash course in 3 days from the elderly tour guide. She hoped Peter would be pleased at her smattering Italian. ‘Buongiorno’, for good morning. ‘Ciao, mi chiamo Lily’, (Hello my name is lily). ‘Grazie’, thank you. ‘A presto’, see you later. ‘Come vanno le cosse’, (how are things)?
Piazza Del Duomo, 22423, Milan, Italy. Navigli district. Lily arrived at the door. It was answered by a woman, an Italian blonde. She squinted her eyes at Lily. They were used to immigrants knocking at odd hours. ‘Cosa vuoi?’ What do you want, she asked Lily. Lily was going to ask after Peter. She thought there must be some mistake. Then a little girl and her brother disembarked from the School Bus that had just pulled up in front of the street. ‘Mummia’, they screamed as they ran into her embrace. ‘Mia cara, benvenuto a casa’, their mother replied.
The children were both mulattos. They were a cross of Italian and Nigerian parentage. The boy especially had Peter’s eyes and ears. It was so uncanny, it felt like seeing Peter in his earlier years, though in a lighter skin. ‘Sbaglio’ (mistake), Lily replied her. ‘Perdonami’ (forgive me), Lily finished, then turned and ran, dragging her luggage behind her. Luckily there was a passing taxi. She hailed it and hopped in urgently, needing to get distance between herself and Peter’s home. ‘Aeroporto’ (airport), Lily told the driver, before the sobs came pouring out. Her shoulders shook as all that feeling threatened to explode her tear ducts.
Aunty Nneka was still on Lily’s case. Lily wouldn’t say why she had blocked Peter on all her social media platforms. Lily wouldn’t say much since she returned from Italy. Lily wouldn’t even agree to share her testimony in church, after all the prophesy of the Minister about the ‘Green Grass’ had come true for her. Lily wouldn’t budge but only uttered a word as they sat eating Italian chocolates, Lily had purchased in Rome; ‘deluso’ (disappointed)! She wouldn’t even look at pictures sent by Peter on Aunty Nneka’s mobile, of sundry wedding dresses and shoes to select from. She merely shook her head several times and whispered “Mea Culpa”!
Nnamdi Wabara, 2016.
Saturday, 18 June 2016
HER HUSBAND, HER WIFE
Judge Francis Okafor was irritated. Never being one to disguise his feelings, he was having a hard time keeping the building scowl from breaking the surface and appearing on his face or light glares in his beady eyes. He was going to be Sixty-seven in a few weeks. Had been made Judge in the twilight of his career. In the twilight of his health. He had just a few years left to the new official retirement age of Seventy.
Judge Francis's climb to being the Judge in the State High Court 8, had been an arduous one. He had been a magistrate for 10 years, until this movement to fill the vacant space in court 8, as the then Judge had passed. This was the principal reason the Judge easily became furious, when any Attorney addressed him as 'Your worship' in open court. That title reminded him of his many years of slaving away at the magisterial level. He was a High Court Judge now, to be called, 'My Lord'. Judge Francis had once committed an attorney to two nights in the State holding facility for referring to him as 'Your worship', three times while giving his opening address. 'Served him right', the Judge remarked to himself. None other had been so unlucky to be remanded but the Judge often made furious comments on such slips in his court.
Judge Francis was currently being irritated by his second least favorite thing. The attorney for the plaintiff was committing a cardinal sin in Judge Francis's book. Judge Francis adored the common law form and practice, as handed down by the Colonial British to the state and had been drawn to Law as an occupation and field of study. The young Francis adored colonial movies showing the polite but curt communication between the attorneys and the Judge on the bench. It was all so formal, serious and without unnecessary frills. He had fallen in love with the long white wigs and dark robes, but had been most fascinated by references to the Judge, as 'my lord', by all that appeared in the court.
The plaintiff's attorney,barrister Joseph Nwosu began addressing the Judge once more. 'Meeeeeeeee Lorrrrrrrd', he drawled. The scowl broke out fully. What ever happened to good old , my lord? What was all this affected drawl and attempt to sound well- travelled? The Judge made a mental note to self, to address the attorneys in Chambers before the start of tomorrow's court session. 'Meee lorddd, I will like to submit my client's sworn affidavit of facts in reply to the respondent and cross-petitioner's petition', he said.
The Judge was shaken out of his reverie about the list of punitive measures he might invoke against the barrister for drawling his words. He looked at the affidavit in question, just handed him by the clerk of the court. His eyes were quickly drawn to response number 2. He chuckled to himself , suppressing it inside.
It read "the accusation is wholly false as the respondent/cross petitioner only cooked at will for the petitioner, and her will is most seldom". The Judge chuckled once more to himself. 'Welcome to my world, folks', he said to himself. The Judge was twenty years older than his wife of fifteen years standing. His wheezing breath, increasingly beady eyes and loud snores were definitely not doing him any favours in the attraction department. She had since moved fully into the guest room. He had managed to coerce her to bed on their anniversary last week, but he had gotten all excited and things had quickly gone south very fast. His latest weakness had chosen that moment to show up. Weak stomach muscles. A sound had escaped his backside. It was a terrifying sound in the nightly stillness only punctuated by the sounds of desire and need. It had been more of the booming sound than the smell really, more thunder than lightening.
She had excused herself , and stalked off to the guestroom in a huff. He had been left stewing in the afterglow of rejection and remnant echoes of the fart in his head. So dear petitioner, you are not alone, he thought to himself. His own wife too related to him conjugally at will, and her will was much, much overly seldom.
Judge Francis dragged his thoughts painfully away from his situation at home. The case before him was unique in its novelty. A woman suing another woman, to retrieve her properties and land titles with the other woman. This was different though, the other woman was a spouse to the first woman, Yes Sir! She was her wife, yet both were heterosexuals. Many cases had been decided in Judge Francis's court over the months, but this was different. Two spouses, each at different ends of the age spectrum, one quite old whilst the other was quite young. This was even more seldom than the Judge's conjugal nights.
In some sections of the Igbo speaking areas, there are certain customs/norms that persist to the current day. One of which was woman to woman marriage. A woman without children was within her rights to marry another woman into her home like the case before Judge Francis. The marriage was usually conducted under the guise that the younger bride was being wed to the late husband of the older woman, but everyone knew the older woman as the defacto husband of the bride and was to care for and protect her as well as the expected off-spring till errrrrrr 'death did them part'.
Sometimes an old couple could lose their son or sons prematurely. Prematurely referred to their death being before having their own offspring, especially male so as to keep the family's name from going extinct. Judge Francis had long come to the conclusion that the Igbo culture was obsessed with the male child. In some cases , the couple or the wife would initiate wedding to some young woman of their choice who will be expected to reproduce male children. The marriage was usually contracted traditionally and was not a common law marriage. In the case of late sons, the bride is highlighted as being wed to the deceased son, but in reality only wed to the old woman who performs the role of parent to the resulting children from the union.
The petitioner had alleged that the respondent had rebelled against her choice of lovers for her and subsequently ran away with sundry gift items and other documents of title. The petitioner had married her on a platter with a very cheap dowry, as she was already expectant for an unknown father. She had been impregnated from an act of rape and her family had been very ashamed and highly desirous to give her away and cleanse their family name. At such times, the appearance of the 'female husband', to marry the seeming 'damaged goods', was a lifeline for the family and win-win situation for all.
The family married off their daughter who had been unfortunate, whilst the petitioner had gained a bride with a promise of children in the future, who will keep the family name going as well as ensure the compound retained a human presence and didn't fall into ruin. It was common to have young men virtually stalking the female husbands. They offer to run errands and undertake tasks for her. They also help to cultivate their farmlands and often worked shirtless, so their strong muscles and toned torsos will be viewed. The female husband would reciprocate in kind and bestow her bride to her different choices, on different days and for different reasons.
Judge Francis was angered at the copious levels of copulation being bandied around freely while he was getting none. The sudden effort to keep his grimace from spreading produced another effect. He broke wind. His weak stomach muscles betrayed him yet again. This one had a malevolent odour to it. Clearly more lightening than thunder. Judge Francis squeezed his facial features taut and stared down the court clerk who sat directly in front of him and had been bearing the brunt of the relentless gas discharges since three months now that he resumed. His serious face and frowning eyes dared the clerk to look in his direction again. The clerk lowered his eyes.
The Judge felt for the poor clerk. He was the sixth clerk since the Judge resumed in High Court 8, two years ago. 4 of the previous clerks had been driven to resignation by the relentless gas. The fifth had been sacked for contempt, yet over gas related matters. He turned up to work one Monday in a gas mask! Sometimes the gas was released gently, diffusing through the Judge's weakened trouser fabrics towards the clerk, who sat immediately below the Judge. Times, it came with a shudder and was all the Judge could do from keeping his poor trousers disintegrating at the seams. The clerk had so far borne the brunt with dignity, but the Judge daily wondered for how much longer. The ceiling fans ensured the odours, no matter how dreary, diffused fast and barely reached where the attorneys and sundry members of the public sat.
Sometimes Judge Francis got a kick and an inner chuckle as the lawyers and those sat close to them exchanged suspicious glances over the more smelly versions which seeped towards them. They often stared disapprovingly at the men blessed with extended and massive stomachs or some of the female attorneys with rather bogus derrieres. Why they associated wide hips and bulbous backsides with ungraceful release of gas, the Judge couldn't fathom , after all he was a man of slim build with rather narrow hips.
The Judge struck out the case and fined the petitioner as well as the respondent and cross-petitioner, N5,000 each for wrong filing.' Such cases are not for the common law system but should be referred to the customary court. The marriage was contracted traditionally and so all such properties as may have been purchased, bequeathed within that period was still under the customary law system and was to be determined there', he read.
"As the court pleases", they all chorused whilst scrambling to their feet as the Judge made his way to the chambers behind. In Chambers , the Judge brought out a pill from the tiny box, handed him earlier by the doctor. He swallowed with a glass of water. The instruction was to take at least an hour before any planned conjugal liaison. His home was just thirty minutes away. He had texted his wife earlier that he would be home soon and to wear her best negligee. He had then sent the driver to buy chocolates and a bottle of wine. He was to take the other pills for gas twenty minutes before. An sms came in to the mobile as the driver drove off. She had replied that she was attending the late neighbour's wake keep and wouldn't be home till the morning. The Judge himself was also being expected at the wake keep. Most seldom indeed the Judge thought, coitus interrupted before even began. Hmmn, he sighed.
Nnamdi Wabara, 2016.
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