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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Somadina

An earpiece is a sad thing to lose.

This is not to say that it is not easily replaceable abokis hawk different colours of it in the middle of traffic– but when you have had one faithful companion for so long to keep at bay the loud noises of every day's humdrum or to help you draw deeper into your cocoon, losing it is to be left vulnerable and stark.

It was a gift from my last boyfriend but its sentimental value was not the reason I mourned its loss. When I still had it, it was what it was- a phone accessory. I remember the day it was gifted me. A certain scruffy looking boy had come to the office bearing the earpiece for sale. The circumstance of the transaction was shady enough to make me believe he had stolen it. When my boyfriend offered him a paltry sum, the young man parted ways with the item. At the close of work, Somadina squeezed it into my hands. I guess he was tired of sharing his. I had been without an earpiece for too long and I received it gratefully.

That relationship I and Somadina– was my most memorable affair. It was fraught with so much anxiety and mistrust and twinges of distress. Of course we had pleasant days of sneaking kisses in lonesome office lobbies, of shared meals and gifts and sleepovers. But the ill-feelings were so overwhelming in their wake that they hold chiefly in my thoughts of the romance. The clandestine nature we had to maintain because of the fear of ridicule from colleagues made me feel like a child bursting over with good news she was prohibited to share and this further heightened my misgivings towards our relationship.

Over time, people at work began to notice how affectionate we were to each other and of course we were brought to ridicule. But no matter how playful the ridicule was, their unwelcomed interference brought much discomfort to Somadina. But I liked it, this interference. I was tired of the hide-and-seek we played. If this was love, why should it not be brought to light? Why should it not be noised abroad? Yet in general, no one took us seriously. They felt we were "helping each other's ministry" and simply burning the fires of youth. They often asked, how could you date someone you saw every day?

 But I took us very seriously – I built flamboyant castles in the air and filled it with precious dreams of kids and the sound of cooking and the noise of laughter. In retrospect I could say that my youth made me prone to such folly – I was 25; women of this age are ambitious in romance, hoping  that every love would eventually lead to matrimony. 

Somadina too was young and heady and very boisterous. He was also pleasant to look at. The latter factor was why we hit it off instantly soon as I began work at the firm. But his beauty was a two edged sword and contributed to my distress.  My chest would tighten each time a customer flirted with him and this was capable of ruining my entire day. Such was the affliction I put myself through daily. But with time, his charm began to wear away in my eyes and my heart did not palpitate too much at the sight of him with another woman. The realities of the affair and all the misgivings diluted whatever it was that made me think he was too handsome to let go of.

He too was given to jealousy, often to a petty degree. My endless camaraderie with colleagues and pleasantness to customers drove him to frenzy. In those days, I was given to hugs that lingered too long and he found it very disturbing and undignifying. 

Our mutual jealousy was like a ghost that stalked us endlessly. It crept up in midnight conversations, after office work was done and forgotten. The endless need to explain ones actions and debunk it of any significance it held in the other partner's mind became such a bore. 

And I cheated. Uncountably. It was the only way I knew to vent the frustration this love garnered. Once we had a fight, I quickly called up any man I liked who was paying me heed. I would go out with him and act like I was not committed to anyone. It was the best way I could forgive Somadina. I was certain he too was doing same and I was in a joust to outwit him and fill my emotional arsenal with enough misdemeanours to counter any of his wanderings.  But afterwards, I would be so stricken with guilt and doubt my capabilities at true love.  I wondered if I was naturally inept at this form of human transaction and if better circumstances would make me love someone else better.

But gradually, my stark interest in him and his goings on began to fizzle out. I wanted more from life, not necessarily love. The fights I had to put up with everyday did not seem worth the energy. The fear of loss and failure wore off and I began demanding more from myself and  from people and when these scales fell off in bits from my eye, I recognized the disrespect I had lived in within the duration of this romance. 

Quitting was sad, long and painful. Distance was always my alibi to end affairs that grew awry.  But I saw Somadina every day and I could not invoke the powers of distance and every day, I was made to remember that intimacy did happen between I and this person. As I struggled to let go, some days would present me the possibility to try again and get it right this time. But the disrespect, both  self-afflicted and the ones perpetuated by him,  held sway in my mind and held me back from that familiar path.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Market In My Town

There's this market in my town. On arriving, you'd hear the calls of the herbal drug sellers with their megaphones blaring atop their old Peugeot cars, promising cures for gonorrhoea, syphilis, 'scratch-card diseases', toothache and infertility; and just a few meters from them are the men peddling rat poisons and repellents to all things creepy, trying to outdo the megaphones with their loud, coarse voices.

When you hear "Uzo! Uzo! Uzo there or..!" -those are the voices of the barrow pushers asking you to make way. You'd notice the contrast between the rippling of the beautiful muscles of their forearms and the sweaty scowl on their faces. Quickly move aside for them and their vehicles laden with bags of rice,beans,dried pepper or cartons of provision. They don't mind toppling over whatever stands in their way, including you.
There are the young carefree hawkers balancing their trays of bananas and groundnuts, Gala and Lacasera, plantain and potato chips on their heads without holding or touching the trays, and you'd wonder how the trays sit comfortably on their heads as they count their money or check their worn NOKIA phones for text messages. They sell to tired passengers in buses and sometimes when the driver grows impatient, they'd run after the moving buses to get their change.
Don't feel embarrassed when the men selling female underwears pull them by their elastic bands and dangle them in your face, calling out to you, "Baby! This is your size...Baby I know your size."
Even the men at the meat stalls would try to guess your name: "Ezinne...Chi-Chi... Uloaku...come and buy my meat. I will put jara for you", while they swipe their knives' with magician skills as they whet the edges. And if you hold a fancy phone, say a blackberry, the market women would call, "Pinging baby! Come and buy my Pinging tomatoes...My pinging onions...pinging ginger. It pings like you."
However, if you require to buy grains that would be meted out in cups, you need to be vigilant. Or haven't you heard of these traders' profound cunningness? Some fill in their measuring cups with candle wax, and if you are not watching, they'd use the bottom of their cups to met out to you, and when you get home you'd check your bags for holes, wondering where all your grains leaked out to.
Don't be a sentimental shopper. One day an old woman selling stock fish said to me, "My child please buy my stock fish. I haven't sold any since morning." I took pity on her and bought her fish, but when I got home to prepare it, they were all ridden with innumerable ants. I was so shaken!
Haggling is an indispensable skill you have to master if you are coming shopping. But don't feel so bad if perchance you come upon an uncouth market woman having a bad day. Perhaps she sells greens.
"I sell a bunch for N150," she'd say to you, and in your attempt to haggle, you'd reply, "Won't you sell them for N50?"
She'd look you up and down and yell at you,"This early morning...? This early morning and you want to bring me bad luck?". Gently move away before she starts to throw you carefully selected diatribes: "May your head harden like coconut! May a rabid dog lick your eyes since you want me to sell these my lovely greens that I suffered to tend for pittance....Mtchew!"
And you'd better be careful not to knock down an angry woman's pyramid of oranges. She won't let you go scot-free.
The young men who own make shift boutiques could be aggressive. When you pass by, they'd run after you,grab your hands and try to pull you into their shops, "Fine babe...come check out my shop. I get the latest designers wear..." When you push their hands away,the naughty ones would feign anger and shout as you walk away, "You no fine sef! See your bom-bom flat like blackboard!"
Whenever it rains, shopping could be a very bad experience. On those days, never wear heels for you'd need to skirt around puddles of murky water and if you fall, the traders would be kind enough to say "Sorry" and offer you water to clean up, but they'd spice up their pity with chuckles and dramatize your fall. If unfortunately the rain meets you while shopping, the waters may come up to your knees. One day I saw a shopper take off his italian shoes as he waddled in the water and when I looked at him askance, he said to me, "You don't know how much I bought these shoes?"
When you are done shopping, do not forget to be kind and give alms to the beggars- those children from Chad that hold on to you, touching their bellies and mouth claiming they hadn't eaten for days; the blind woman being led by a child. But don't feel cheated when much later, you find the child and the cleared-eye beggar in a corner counting their spoil with much eagerness. They've made a mess of this profession no one can tell the truly blind folks from the shysters. Just shake your head and go home. Tomorrow is another day.







Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eulogy for Omalenze

Omalenze.
An intoxicant. A drug I am self destructing on.

Omalenze.
You must have been brewed by a liberal God; He did not skimp on your components. One shot of you and I am reeling over.

Omalenze, I mutter your name in rapturous nights and in daylight thoughts of you make me shudder.

You.
You who have afflicted me with cupidity.
Omalenze,
Hands that strum me like stringed instruments till I cry for joy.
Mouth so fluid and generous with love that the sun rises on your smile.
You.
Look at those teeth. God took a day off  to chisel them to perfection.

Legs sturdy and beautiful. Legs that run miles for me.


Omalenze.
Tonight
I listen to Coldplays “Skyfull of stars”.
and I think of you .

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lost Cause


You are not a lost cause
I wrote this poem
For your blackened eye and missing teeth 
Your midnight whimpers and lonely fears
Your shuddering shoulders and weak choices.
May these words put some heart in you
Be your lamp at midnight 
As you sit in the dark
Devising your exit. 

You are not a lost cause
This poem is for your quirks and bad hair days
Your shy gait and your stutter
For your never-looking-life-in-the-eye
Let these words remind you
That we were not all made
In sunny days when God felt high and brazen
Some of us were moulded on winter nights
With shivery hands
Yet with wonder 
Yet with fear


You are not a lost cause
This poem is for your feet
Dangling in the cliff of indecision
For your misplaced priorities
For the missed chances
Let these words remind you
That we all at diverse times
Have dwelt in the cusp of uncertainty 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Another Bride




She scrubbed away with a burlap sponge and locally made black soap. She had never been able to work around the bars of soap that the shopkeepers brought from the city, for they made her sneeze. Two lizards held privy of her through the window, nodding in relish as they beheld wet body. They scurried away just as she threw a bowl of warm water at them. 

There was peaceful commotion in the compound. From the bathhouse which was separated from the other buildings, she could see the smoke rise from the pots cooking on different mounds of fire woods. She could hear the women in the compound call each other to duty. The were pounding melon, sifting crayfish, winnowing rice, wrapping fufu in foils. She threw her wrapper around her and left the bathhouse.

She excited a flurry of activities and the women greeted her with affected eagerness, their voices hushed, their efforts doubled. "Good morning Mama Nnamdi."

She nodded her response but her mind was far away.  She thought of her name, Mama Nnamdi, her real name lost in duty, swept under the carpet of motherhood after the grand entry of her first son, Nnamdi.

In her room, she looked at her naked frame in the large mirror propped against the wall, grabbed a fold of flesh gone loose with age. Can this handful cellulite vie with the blithesomeness of youth? 

Mama Agnes, her neighbour entered without knocking. She had come to help her tie her gele. She observed Mama Nnamdi's gloomy face.

"You know you are a spoilt woman, don't you? You only have one co-wife to deal with and you are beside yourself with self-pity. What about those of us who have to deal with two or more co-wives?"

Mama Agnes enjoyed her role as senior wife. She had come to sit handsomely in it. She lorded it over the junior wives and was often mean to them.

Mama Nnamdi could not come up with a reply. She sat still as her head gear was done. She had been married twenty five years to him. She felt embarrassed that she had ever believed she sufficed for him.

She ought to be inspecting the women cooking, who could be hiding salt and pepper in their wrappers to smuggle home, but her mind was not in order. She feared her sentimentality would get the better of her and shame her to tears in front of those gossipy women.

But how could she not be moved? Together they had sired sons and daughters. A man she had adored no end and loved without skimping. She had helped till the fallow farmlands that yielded crops, that made him wealthy, that he was using to wed another. Years of utter devotion downed with oblique rejection that came in the form of another bride.
                                                   *  *  *


Amidst her hopes and wishes that this was another bad dream, the new bride arrived in regal procession. The young girl had been a pawn in a game her husband had partaken in. When he was declared winner, the young girl was added as recompense. Her skin was virginal, dew on morning grass. She was shy, almost kittenish. She stood before Mama Nnamdi, paying obeisance, barely looking at her. The older woman hugged her; told her she was no rival. She would take her as her own child. But what she meant to say to the girl was that they were both victims of the same fate, handed down without no one caring if they had a say. And a young girl like her ought to transcend to higher height and not to be saddled with an old man like their husband.

The hungry peasants who came to see how beautiful the new bride was, were seated,
devouring their meals with immense gluttony. 

The husband came out in his regalia and the drummers beat the drums and the new couple danced, with his huge hands resting on the girl's slender waist. The sight of them dancing haunted Mama Nnamdi's dreams for days and she kept muttering, Those hands have touched me; those hands have held me too.