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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When My Heart Could Love


I used to be capable of love, of trust, of sundry mushy feelings. My heart once beat to the rhythm of someone’s name. It’s not been so long. Then I could break into poetry; say a thing so profound and quotable. It’s not been so long. I could  turn a simple meal to a feast, a stroll together into an unforgettable date. Love heightened my senses. I could really hear the nursery rhyme melodies of the ice-cream man; could smell from a distance the corn and pear roasted by the the roadside women. So intense was nature that everything had a meaning: the twittering of birds, the swaying of trees, love-calls of toads by night. Then I died to myself, to my whims, to my caprices. All that mattered in the world was the object of my affection. I wanted every conversation stretched just to watch the smooth glidings of his Adam apples.

A love where I had a voice that was not only heard but listened to; not the kind of love where your voice is muffled beneath the bubbles of slavish loyalty. Not the kind that your name always sounds like a surprise on the lips of the caller and your moans so rehearsed. I speak of the kind where for the first time, I found someone as intriguing as my favorite soap that I never wanted to see season finale; he was to me a fascinating event I relived in his absence. He lived across the street, handsome but broke and you know such compassion elicited between have-er and have-not. We were age mates and we were planning a future together. When my older lover dropped a check, I’d cash it and give it to this younger man. We were saving for a brighter day, we were saving for my bride price, to wipe the shame off my parents' face. In a short while, the world would be a better place. Love made me a dreamer, for once I believed. Is it still in vogue, to dream and believe in beautiful hopes? Haha.

Then my older lover discovered; a pair of briefs in the closet that wasn’t his. I denied it. I admitted it. I wrung my hands and pleaded. After all I’ve done for you, he said, this is the way you repay me?
 He did not hit me. He was too cultured to do that. But he sent thugs after him, my true love, the young man who was eating all the money he sent me and making a public spectacle of a big man like him. They hit him,  so hard he lost a tooth. I went to his house to console him but he pulled a machete from under his bed and gave me a chase. I ran forgetting my shoes. And he cursed me for the tooth he lost and promised vengeance.

 One night, on my way from a friend’s place, with only a lone star in the sky, he and his gang lay siege on the road and they took their turns. It was there, when I was lying on my back on the wet bush, looking at that lone star, when my voice had become weak from pleading  and the oscillatory motions of their thrusting made the star swing like a pendulum,  that was when my heart forgot the techniques of love.


(Excerpt from Chronicles of A Keot Woman)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mother says....

Mother says
The world has gone rife with perversity
So we look at it
Only through the windows of the living room
 "Don't play with the kids outside
 For they are below contempt."
So we sit in front of the TV
Ladled with oily snacks and big toys
To the escape the perversity
Of the world outside.

But what we see in the box
Mugs our childhood
Leaving us more rotten
Than the kids who play outside.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2015

We will crouch to kiss your paws
We your area boys
Just hand us our bundle of mints
And we shall sing your praises even in our sleep

We will wear your face on our chests
Grind in the streets to the songs of your name
We will glue your posters on our fences
Defacing the walls for our hero

But when you win and the 'Hurrays!' peter out
These posters will lose their gloss
After our tropical sun
And our heavy rains
Have rained on them
Though the fences heave in relief
Our skins will still glisten
With the snake oil you sold us

Then after your four years of pomp
Or – yes– even eight years of pageantry
Your vaunted name shall fizzle out
7Up left open for too long
Our eyes will squint in slow remembrance
As we shuffle through the files of our brains
To remember you,our hero past

And all your achievements–
Gaudy castles on quicksand
Will tilt and crumble
By just a slight poke of a gentle breeze

(image courtesy www.weekinbehia.com)









Monday, June 10, 2013

The Things That Didn't Become


All I can say of my life is that some things have not gone exactly as planned. Like in elementary 3 when I shared a bench with Torti Silvanus, a certain boy with infectious unquietness.  We were caned so often that I had to think up a device to save my bum from further ruin. While we dressed for school one morning, I stole my mother’s girdle and wore it beneath my P.E shorts, holding the loose sides with a clothes peg.

In class, I and Torti talked and whistled and made faces at the busybody class captain as she wrote names of noisemakers. I would have been disappointed if my name was not on the list. We were called out in front of the class to take our whipping. Torti always gave a spectacle; he’d wind his pelvis and take his strokes with stylish grunts. His bum was made of dead cells, I bet you; that dude never cried. When my turn came, I thought, Bring it on Ma'am, bring it on! For I know my defense is sure! But when Madam Nwaubani grabbed my shorts across my bum, I guess she smelled foul play. She increased her horsepower and I cried and cried and cried, my defense failing me.

 In my first year in boarding school, I couldn’t understand why the meals were so sparse and the tea too hot and transparent. So one night during prep, I wrote my mother a faux suicide note to be delivered by my guardian, a teacher who lived on the same street with us. All I can remember in the note is, “If I die… if I die…, HA HA HA HA!” The plan was that my mother would come the next morning, have a row with the teachers and beat up all the seniors that bullied me and then bundle her darling daughter home. Well, she did come but there was no row with no one. Neither was anyone beaten up. But at least she came with homemade food which I devoured at the gateman’s post and I went on to spend six more years in that school.

 Was it the failed plans of becoming a nun (whoever put that idea in my head); a doctor, after I flunked the first aptitude test and suddenly realized I was a misfit and too restless for the medical world; when I thought I’d be the last born forever and my mother showed up from the hospital with a brand new baby? The list of dreams long perished goes on. At 14, I decided to write my life’s calendar. I asked my mother, “When did you get married?” and she said 22. I wanted same for me, so I marked it down, forgetting this is not 1980-something when men came easy. Or is it when I had to stay home one whole year as I waited admission to the university…? So many failed plans.

But none of these things move me. Rather I’m on my knees, rubbing my palms together, grateful to God for those things that could have been but did not become; the things I wanted to be but did not become. If that girdle prank had worked, I might have still been ridden with Torti’s rambunctiousness, for the next day, I pleaded with Madam Nwaubani  to take my seat far, far away from his.

Had I left boarding school, I would have been sent to one of those bush schools nearer home and I would not have learned the grace to endure, how to abase and how to abound, to be content, whether hungry or full. Thank God for that denied admission, for that extra year at home that inflicted me with severe loneliness. Without it, I would never have put pen to paper and become the writer that I am. And thank God it didn’t happen at 22. For the way it is with me and how ambitious I can get, who knows, I could have had 7 children by now!


(image source: drupalcdn.bounty.com)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Of Animals And Lovers

There I sat at my corner, seeking answers within my soul, and I realized that in love, romance alone is just not enough. It is only a trifle compared to the main thing. Mere animals with their little reasoning also know how to be enamored with each other.
For I looked outside my window and I observed two dogs licking each other's lips, taking time to smell each other's bottom.
I saw the seedy billy-goat mount the nanny-goat in plain view- they are so enraptured they do not deign to take cover, defying motorists and passers-by.
I saw the impassioned cockerel give the little hen a spirited chase.
If these beasts devoid of much reasoning know the throes of passion, then more is expected of men.
A love based only on the hinges of coitus and passion is missing the forest for the trees.

Sexual Epiphany


I was nine, my fifth year in elementary school when one day, out of curiosity, I pulled out my mother’s Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and looked up the word 'sex'. I wish I had spared myself that knowledge for suddenly, my little world took on a harsher hue. The second meaning of the word was not as intriguing as the first-it was just a synonym for ‘gender’. But it was the first meaning that took preeminence; it handed me a ticket to the theatre of the adult world. Now I knew what my King James Bible tried to hide from me when it used the word ‘intercourse’. I knew what was in those movies grown-ups watched behind locked up doors after they shooed us away. I knew what might be in those books and magazines my aunties hid from me and slapped my hands whenever I touched them, shouting, "This book is not for small children!”  
So this was it. Really…? I see….



Sadly, I was alone in my discovery. It was too risqué to share with fellow playmates and too risky to confide in an adult. Prior to then, I thought boys only differed from me because they wore shorts to school and I, a gown. In class, I shared a bench with two boys- I sat between them- but after my discovery, I saw the boys in a different light. They piqued my curiosity and it was hard for me to keep up with the notion that they were ordinary playmates.

September came and I was ready for boarding school. My mother sat me down and spoke to me softly, about what was happening to my body and what more would happen to it. She told me why my chest was gathering and why the pubes were appearing; why I shouldn’t be scared and why I should not cry like the bush girls in her school days that woke one morning and found stains on their beddings. She told me how that with just a little frolicking with the boys, another being could form on my inside. I was not shocked on receiving the new knowledge she passed down to me. This news weren't so incredible to my mind for my imaginations had fully prepared me.

It was when I arrived the gates of my new school, an all girls’ secondary school that my situation dawned on me. I was ten and for the next six years I'd be here, there'd be no boys. The following years were filled with lessons on being ladies, lessons on how to be mannered, how to be witty without being sassy, how to eat the lean and very annoying food with forks and knives (didn’t they know how hungry we were?). We in turn taught ourselves how to strut, keeping time to the music playing in our heads. These were all in preparation for the ‘wider world’, as our principal loved to call it. But to me, the phrase 'wider world' was just another euphemism for the word 'men', just as my Bible called sex, "intercourse". So I learnt my social graces with much vigor. I could not wait to show them off to the 'wider world'. I could have given an arm for that world. I so wanted to meet men.

When I came home on breaks and holidays however, incidences that adorned my home life scared me a bit from that world. When I waked from my sleep to the ‘you-will-kill-me-today’ cries of my neighbor as her husband disciplined her; when I eavesdropped on my aunties’ kitchen gossip as they pitied that Big Madam that took on an ascetic lifestyle, preferring to walk the length and breadth of our town rather than buying herself a car, all for fear of frightening off suitors; when my aunties returned from the market with the tales of two women-a wife and a mistress-fighting and tearing each other’s brassieres( in the marketplace!) over a man; when I saw the shame smeared like mud on the teenage mom’s face and that popular warning that came with her condition: ‘Don’t let that child call you mummy so you won't ruin your chances’; when I saw how ostracized the divorced woman was and the plight of the widow after her in-laws have picked her clean of every inheritance; all these frightened me. Are these the sacrifices to be madeSo much to give and so much to bear for the ‘wider world’!

I was young and hearing these stories and observing these occurrences made me think that  whenever a mosquito bit a woman, it must have been a male one.Yet amid these woes, it didn’t stop these women from knocking on our doors, presenting my mom with invitation cards, their faces beaming. “Madam, rejoice with me oh...,” one would say. “God has finally caused his face to shine on me.” And they would make haste to borrow me from my mother to be one of their flower girls.

On those Saturdays, we’d be dolled up alongside the bride, the whole world in various shades of glee; the bride filled with so much laughter that she'd be unable to blow off a candle if you had placed one before her.But with time, I discovered something and I wondered if I was alone in my knowledge this time.

I observed the suppressed vivacity of the bride few months and years after that walk down the aisle. Where there used to be nail varnish, now there lay chipped nails. Where there used to be smart skirts, there were boubous. Where there used to be lissome bosom, I saw flaccidity. It was as though when she said, “Yes I do” to her man, she turned around and said, “No I don’t” to her ambitions. The 'wider world' wasn't as rosy as I had thought.

Only when I came to maturity and began forming my own thoughts, deciding to disregard what thoughts my environment tried to hand me, that was when I realized there was really nothing to break my head for ‘the wider world’and those who chose to break their heads and wreck their lives did so out of ignorance.  I discovered what little differences lay between a man and me. We were two souls living in different bodies and these souls of ours were gender-less; they had no sex to them. The only differences were in our bodies and in our senses. Where he had heftiness in his chest, I had suppleness in mine. Where there was a baritone in his voice, there was softness in mine. His frame was built with more sinews than mine to bear the weights I could not carry.I discovered that I was only a woman in my senses. If he touched me right and gently, I will open like a flower in bloom, but if he hit me with his fist, I will give a cry that will shake his teeth in their gums. If he loved me right in the dead of night, by morning, I will awake, singing while I make his breakfast. In a union I knew my role and it was in debatable.

But whenever I leave the confines of our love nest and I come face to face with a world repressive of women, I needed to let my sexless soul emerge without losing my feminine composure- those lessons on social graces were worth it after all. In a world where someone might try to sit on my promotion because of my sex, I needed to let loose and set free my gender-less soul.

It is sad to see the optionless life many women lead because of how successfully their minds have been repressed to inactivity. If a man can be, why can’t I? What hinders a woman is not her body or her sex but her poor mind and her ignorant soul. A weak soul would yield a weak person, male or female, just as a mean soul yields a mean-spirited person.  Quoting Daniel Defoe, "The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond; and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear."

 I am no longer of the school of women that believe the 'wider world' is sole reason for existence, women waiting for a men to give them their voices -they’d so wait! It is just a handful of men that are willing to keep mute to let me speak, for every man loves deeply the timbre of his own voice. So amid the chorus of a million baritone voices, I have decided to make my voice unique enough to be heard, to lead a life not limited by the presence or absence of the 'wider world' and to keep refining my sexless soul.






Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Waiting For Midnight


He was waiting for midnight.

The harmattan air was bitter and when they inhaled, it felt like pepper in the nose. They shared a pillow, and looking at his lips, she thought they looked like he had just eaten akara. He had on the bottom of his pyjamas and she, its oversize top. He depressed a button on the phone and the white light illumined their faces.

“Eleven forty-two,” he said as he got out of the bed.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To pee.”

“Don’t pee on the fence. They will fine you.”

“I can’t use that toilet this night, it’s too dark.”

“Take the torch.”

He took it and flashed the dim light on the wooden wardrobe fastened to the wall. The door was weighed down by an assortment of male and female apparels hanging from nails stuck in the board. He took off his slippers and killed two cockroaches. “God punish you,” he muttered as he gathered the corpses.

He left the room, shutting the door unsuccessfully behind him. Someone outside was pulling the starter of a generator but its motor would run for a short while then sputter. She listened. The operator was bent on his task. He pulled and pulled for a while longer, then hissed and went inside.

‘Thank God.”

Her skin was dry and itchy. She reached for the plastic rack that held her woman things and applied oil to her skin.

He returned and lay on his back, breathing loudly through his nose. Then a short while later he reached for the phone.

“Eleven fifty- five.”

She pulled the blanket over their bodies. “Why do you keep checking the time? Put on a shirt, are you not cold?”

“I saw Isiagu today,” he said as if that was the answer to her questions.

“Where?  How is he?”

“He looks worse every year than the one before.”

“Where did you see him?”

“I was inside a keke when he flagged us down but we weren’t going his way.”

“Did he see you?”

“No.  I wish he did.”

“Why?”

“To show him that I am still alive and breathing.”

“He wasn’t looking well?” she said and let out a sigh. “Maybe because of his shop that burnt down.”

“A pity …” he began then sprang to his feet.

“Where are you going to again?”

 “Wait I didn’t shut that door well.”

After much pushing and poking at the hinges, the door pretended to be closed.

“It’s open again,” she said and he got up and redoubled his efforts.

Power was suddenly restored and the ceiling fan began spinning with a clanging sound. He reached for the switch and turned off the light.

“Why?” she asked. “I haven’t seen light for 2 days.”

“You know I don’t like sleeping with the lights on. .”

The sound from the fan changed.

“The power’s out,” she said and sighed.

 “Why did they bother with it in the first place?”

‘It will come on again.’

“How do you know? Do you have a boyfriend at NEPA?”

She chuckled, “I used to know someone who worked there, Isiagu’s neighbor.”

“The one that rides a Vespa?”

“No. Remember the tall one with the 80s afro?”

“Okay… the one that was always scratching. Why won’t I remember him? I can’t forget anyone that lived around us then or  who had anything to do with that rogue. I just wish I was smart enough to have stolen my salary from that crook without waiting till infinity for him to pay up.”

She patted his chest. “Not stealing from him was a noble choice. Honesty always pays.”

“Look where nobility has us.” He took her palm and traced his stubble. “ Look where nobility has you, saddled with a broke man.” He turned to catch her eyes in the dark but she turned away. “You don’t like looking at me when we talk.”

“You make me shy,” she said, her voice muffled by the pillow.

“Look at me.” he said, pulling her from the waist.  “My shy little kitten with a backside that makes me want to kill a goat every time I see it.”

“Indeed! How many times have I eaten goat-meat since I married you?”

“A patient dog….”

The fan began clanging faster.

“Your battery must be low; I think you should charge your phone.”

“I am using it to check the time. I don’t want to keep walking across the room to find out what time it is.”

Rats scurried outside, knocking over the refuse bin.

“Did you buy the rat poison?” he asked.

“No. Landlady said no one should buy rat poison before her dog eats it and dies.” And right 
on cue, the dog began barking outside. He hissed. “One day, I will kill that Landlady’s dog.”

“Leave the dog alone,” she said leaning closer into him, urging him on.

He reached for his phone as he pulled her closer.

‘It is twelve o’ clock, my love. I wanted to be the first to say happy birthday.”





Monday, June 3, 2013

Portrait Of My Ideal Man



I would begin with what he wouldn’t be.
No metrosexual. There are things I would not share with my man. My relaxer, my nail hardener, my lip gloss. There is only one woman between us and it’s not him. All I require is his cleanliness: let the shirt be crisp and the pants be ironed; let his hair lie low and his breath be fresh. Can his nails be well manicured? Can he wear cologne and can he please shine his shoes? These would suffice, my darling, thank you very much. Leave the titivating and fusing over a pimple and pouting in front of the mirror for me. That way, we would not suffer any confusion when we are out in public and another man ogles and winks. I want to know who he is ogling and winking at: my man or I?

He'd be no burgeoning artist of any kind;in music, in writing, in photography or in arts.
I have met no vainer people than young artists (of which I am chief). They hug the spotlight and are unwilling to share their little fame. I can't stand the gaudiness of an upcoming artiste and  the forceful vocabulary of the young writer(don't sweat it, you mustn't sound like Soyinka).I can't stand the misfiring jokes of the new comedian when we are out on a date and I can't stand the touchiness of the young artist who thinks it's a mortal sin that I don't like his painting. I have my own vanity to deal with and I can't bear the brunt of another's.
But supposing he has a stint with the arts, say the literati, let him be a writer gone past the beginner's stage, who would help bring me crash-landing to earth when I get lost in the thoughts that I am the best thing to happen to the literary world since Shakespeare. That way, he would save me cost of finding an editor,by calling shoddy work what it is: shoddy work. Or he could be a devoted lover of the written word without knowing a fig about how to string words together, just as I get goose bumps listening to good music without knowing the hows. Let him be of the school of thought that  writers should be the next beings to be revered after spirits. That kind of guy that introduces you with awe in his eyes, "Do you know my chick is a writer? Like seriously, she writes."

Now here comes what he should be.
Let him be a jealous man. Jealousy here doesn’t indicate over-possessiveness. No, don't put up a fist fight over me in public. But let him notice I have been grinning ever since I got a call from that former class mate. Notice my glee when I am about to have a sleep-over with the girls. Notice the guys flirting shamelessly. Don't notice and keep mum. Notice and vocalize. Nothing turns me off than a nonchalant lover.

He should be a liberal man.  In simpler terms, he should possess a ‘chop-my-money’ mentality. I am no leech but I am among millions of women world over who enjoy being lavished on while still feeling the warmth of their own money in their pocket. You are my man, aren’t you? I am not asking you to hold-up a bank. If you get caught, I will deny you more than three times. All I ask is, with the much you have, don't hoard. Wasn't I sitting quietly at my corner and you came professing your interest? Show yourself liberal and I’d be simply devoted to you.

Let him be a praying man. The beauties and virtues of a praying woman have been so extolled. But I too want a praying man, so that when I am too tired to importune deity, all I have to do is throw my legs on him and 'tap anointing' while he kneels by the bedside.

Age is not a factor to fuss about. If he is my mate, OK. Older? Beautiful. But younger? Well, well, well.  I am too proud to be a cougar and I cannot stand the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding them,(Demi Moore as case study) .


So in return what do I have to offer? I shall do well to inform him now that I am not endowed. Endowed in the sense of our artistes and how they portray 'endowments' in their music videos. I am proudly unendowed.  All I can brag of is that I am 5’5 with a remarkable face and well chiseled dentition.  But do not be discouraged; what I lack in size, I make up for in wit and grace. And as time flies, grace becomes more endearing, wit becomes wisdom. But for endowment, you cannot know and should not bother. Tide and market come and go and so shall endowments.


(image source:www.shoebuyblog.com)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

When War Comes ( by Guest Blogger, Olisaeloka Onyekaonwu)




If there was anything that could make Ajoanu, the chief rain-maker of Umuita to commit murder, it was for him to be asked to repeat words. There was nothing he despised more that saying a second time what he had said before. Repetition made him feel like a fool,like someone still learning the art of speaking; it made him feel as though someone had given him a maddening slap in the face.

Once, we heard he slapped his mother for asking him to repeat something he just told her. This rumour made great waves in Umuita for almost two weeks, especially at the market place. But that was dozens of decades ago when he was a youth. Even now at his old age, he was widely known to be a man of few and unrepeated words more than the great rain-maker he was.

So Ajoanu was  infuriated that late afternoon when his first son asked him, "What did you just say?" after he had taken so much time to break his words in prescise details, when he tried so much not to speak in riddles. Still, the son asked, "What did you just say?"

Ajoanu felt like telling him to go and eat shit. But he held his anger firmly. "You heard me well; I'm not repeating myself." The anger in his heart could be heard in the thickness of his voice.

"But father, you cannot ask me to do that. You cannot tell me to go and marry my brother's betrothed." Achike replied.

"Well, I'm now asking you to. The son that his father sends to steal breaks the door with his leg. Do not be afraid of anything. Go and take Isiegwu as your wife. She's rightfully yours"


"No, she is not! I can't marry Isiegwu; Chioke is not yet dead. I can only take Isiegwu once Chioke dies. That is the custom"

Ajoanu welled up in anger but he held himself. He smiled, showing he was in full grip of his emotions. But the smile was tight and sour and did not last long. " I'm glad that you know the custom of the land. That  is good. I asked you politely the way a father would ask his son, to marry her not because I cannot bring her into this compound and declare to the umunna that she is your wife. No, I didn't do that. I chose to be polite. Now I think it's a mistake that I even asked. Maybe I shall bring her here and push her into your hut"

Ajoanu saw his son's face harden. He wasn't surprised when his son's words sounded as hard as his face looked. "You cannot do that! Did you hear me? I said that you cannot do that. I've always respected your decision in this compound because you're my father. But this decision of yours, I cannot accept. It is I who decides who I marry and who I do not marry". Wildness crept into the young man's eyes. "I didn't join the christians because you told me not to, whereas behind me, my younger ones had already. I didn't join to fight in the war at your order just because you hate Ojukwu's beard. Now Chioke hasn't returned from the war and here you are, telling me that I must marry his betrothed. Father, do you think I'm a child? I'm a grown man with a wife and children. I haven't . . . "


If Achike knew what rage had entered his father's spine he wouldn't have said so to his face. But it was too late. Ajoanu lost control of his anger. "It's enough! I said it's enough!"

"No, it's not enough" Achike rose to his feet. " It will be enough the day you stop giving me orders like I'm a child"

Achike made to leave his father's obi.



"Achike!"



Achike stopped. He stood,facing the wall.



"Achike!"

Silence.

"Is it not a human being that I called? Since you have learnt to shout in my face, perhaps you'll tell me between us who gave birth to the other"

"Father, I want to sleep"

Ajoanu bit his lower lip.  His son's anger startled him. He tried to calm his own nerves before something bad happened. He sensed Ekwensu's handwork in his son's immediate anger for Achike was a very quiet soul. He could count the number of times he saw Achike being angry.

"Achike, you can go to sleep and wake up during the next Ita festival. That concerns you. I want to tell you that Egbedike's son, who also went for the war with Chioke returned this evening with news" he paused to see his son's reaction. Achike's back still faced him. "Well, you just have to obey this very command of mine and marry Isiegwu because Egbedike's son said that the vandals captured Chioke in Awka"

Achike swunged, facing him. There was shock in his eyes.


"Start making preparations towards marrying Isiegwu because Chioke was killed in Awka by the federal troops."His voice was blunt- emotionless.


Achike was silent for a moment. Then he let out a scream.