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Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Crush For An Aunty

Whenever Aunty Chi-Chi cooked, everyone in our yard would salivate. The married women would grumble -I have often heard mummy say whenever she heard the sound of something frying in Aunty Chi-Chi's kitchen,"Must she cook everyday?" before letting out a loud hiss. The married men would sit outside, jaw in hand and daydream of pitching tent until their wives called them in to serve them their routine dinner.

One day I asked Glory,my nanny, "Why does Aunty Chi-Chi's food smell so good?"

"Because she is looking for husband" she replied with a hiss. Then she added, "She would not even mind snatching another person's own. I bet her food will not smell so nice when she gets married."

Everyone said Aunty Chi-Chi was a bad woman but I saw no evil in her. She held my mind in bewilderment. When she walked by, her backside rolled like drums of joy. Bright rouge was always printed on her supple lips. Even her dustbin held a scenty mystery,and when Glory dozed off like she always does,with her big mouth dripping saliva, I would sneak out and join the other children in the yard to poke at her bin which never ran out of supply of strange balloons, empty perfume bottles and empty roll-on containers which we would smear in our armpit. Glory found out one day when I had sneaked back into the house smelling funny, and she made mummy beat me without mercy.

Aunty Chi-Chi did her laundry every saturday morning. Whenever I saw her outside, I would grab the plastic chair daddy bought me and race downstairs to sit beside her. I would watch her wash, wondering what magic prevented her acrylic nails from melting in the sudsy water. There was style to everything she did -even in the way she scratched her hair, tapping her head lightly and closing her eyes dreamingly. I could watch this woman forever.

One day, it rained all day. Glory had gone to visit her parents and mummy had placed a curfew on Junior and I,fearing the weather would make us catch cold. We yearned after the wet world outside, looking at it through the window in the living room; someone had left his clothes outside and some lay limp on the clothes line, some sodden on the ground. This was the day I had planned to teach junior how to torment earthworms and it was sad watching it pass by. From the living room, I could hear mummy's stertorous breathing. Junior looked at me, our eyes met. He was wearing his slippers on the wrong feet but that was not my problem at the moment. In an instant, we were tiptoeing down the stairs, careful not to touch the squeaky railings. The pockets of my jean skirt weighed down with a nylon bag of salt. We sprinted when we got to the end of the stairs and stopped when we came under the awning above Aunty Chi-Chi's window, standing there a little while to still our hammering heart before the expedition.

I found a slab of plastic and began digging with Junior squatting beside me. We saw an earthworm lying unsuspectingly.

"Take," I took out the nylon bag and handed to Junior. "Sprinkle salt on it." He did and we watched the worm wriggle and flip its tail in saline pain. Junior was in glee and I felt like the wise one from the east; I always enjoyed filling his four year old life with tricks. Yesterday, I had thought how to take hot food in his mouth and blow off the steam like he was smoking cigarette.

Junior's lips always drooled whenever he was lost in something and just then, my evil genius took over me. Mummy had told me to flick his lips with my fingers to teach him how to suck it in. And that was exactly what I did.

His sudden wail awoke someone.
"Who are those children that would not allow someone to sleep, ehn?"bellowed a man in Aunty Chi-Chi's room. We shook in fright. Junior's cry died as instantly as it began, his lip drooling still. After seconds of lull, he resumed,with hiccups, not giving a fig about whoever he might have roused from sleep and who he might awake. I leaned closer to him to placate him covering his mouth with my hands, but he dug his tiny teeth in my palms. I retreated in pain.

A short while, Aunty Chi-Chi emerged with a pregnant looking man. She was adjusting her bra straps and checking for stains on the seat of her red skirt.

"Good evening." I greeted the man. He did not respond. "Good evening Aunty Chi-Chi." Junior sucked on his thumb and was in no mood to offer greetings.
"Evening sweetheart, " she said. "How are you?"Then she turned to the man, "The kid is greeting you, now."
The man grunted and walked away and she followed him to his car.

"I will tell mummy when she wakes." Junior said. "I will tell her you begged Prisicillia for sweets and when she was not around you watched film in Uncle Moses house." I stuck out my lip to him.

Aunty Chi-Chi was walking back towards us. "Now who is making my husband cry?"she said, squatting and taking Junior in her arms. He buried his head in her ample bosom, turned around and pointed at me, thumb still in mouth.

"Ezinne! Junior!" We looked up in unison. Mummy appeared, standing on the balcony, her face swollen with sleep and anger. "Who told you to go down stairs, eh? Come on will you come upstairs immediately!" My bum sucked in instinctively in fear and anticipation of what would follow.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ASUU STRIKE: A NOTE TO MY UNDERGRADUATE FRIENDS (by guest blogger, Chimaobi Ugoala)

First, you have to note that you are in good company. ASUU strike did not start with you and may not end with you. So you might have to brace up and shed that abiding optimism that the strike will be called off soon.
It may not be so. Therefore you have to prepare for the long haul just in case.

As an undergraduate under the hawkish Obasanjo regime (as civilian president), I witnessed two ASUU strikes. One lasted for 6 months while the other 4 months. Initially, majority of us needed the strike, just to have a break from the suffocating lectures, assignments and term papers. Two to three weeks after, we were yearning to resume school. We then became automatic newshounds, scrambling for every piece of news on ASUU-FG negotiations, and of course roadside negotiators too, analyzing and apportioning blames between the two combatants.

By the end of the first month as the strike dragged on without any hope of resolution, our optimism has turned a blistering frustration. The boredom was biting hard. Family tensions and uneasy parent-adolescent relationships were resurrected, threatening to develop into a fracas yet none of the belligerent combatants was showing any sign of standing down. We cursed under our breath as we reminisced school days and idealized our friends (oh how we missed them especially in the absence of social media then). By the end of the second month, we had completely relapsed into a secluded resignation. The strike may as well last forever.

In all of this, we the students were the ultimate losers. ASUU will eventually force the FG to either sign agreements they don't intend to honour or hand them out some enhanced package akin to a placating tokenism. We, the students bore the brutal brunt of the needless feud with our academic calendar ruthlessly distorted and our expected graduation time elongated. Worse of all, a portion of our lives has been wasted. That's the point of this whole write-up. This is a time that can be easily wasted.

ASUU and FG can distort your academic calendar, elongate your convocation date but don't allow them to waste your life. Employ this time wisely. In doing this, you basically have two options – You either engage in some brisk entrepreneurial activities and make some money for yourself or you maximize this time for aggressive self development.

I will vote for self-development, after all its ultimately more rewarding in the long-run. Its curriculum has never changed, it comprises the usual fundamentals – read as widely as you can (you can make that a bit more strategic by focusing on areas of your comparative advantage and long-term interests), listen to as many audio tapes as possible, enroll for training on acquisition of vital skills and if you can, go for conferences and workshops.

You also need to know that you have some new enemies now and they are neither ASUU nor FG. They might be friends you usually engage in idle chit-chatting with, the truckload of DVD films you've acquired or borrowed, the cable news channels, with engrossing soaps and addictive reality shows and yes, the social media. Flee from your enemies.

Finally, this period might be the most exciting and rewarding time of your life or it may turn out to be the most frustratingly boring. Goodnews is – the choice is yours.

Being Given Away( A child-bride's tale.)

I kept fiddling with my fingers, shyness and nervousness getting a better part of me. Whenever I raised my head I caught the man gazing at me and when our eyes met, he'd wink. This may have been a strategy to get me shy and it worked.
Tiny wet cells in my armpit conversed endlessly. If I made the mistake to look up again, I'd catch him smiling, running his hands over his neat beards, winking still.
"You see," my father was saying, "when Ngaji my first wife was coming in and out of labour with tiny female tots, I felt like I was the only accursed man walking the face of the earth. That was when thoughts of taking another wife danced in my head and I could not resist the temptation though I was warned against it. I could not resist even though right now,I have borne the brunt. A new woman comes with a brand new set of palaver. New responsibilities, another brick house to erect, more school fees to pay, another woman prattling and bending your ears with her naggings.
"But now, years later, I see the profits. The handsome dowry, haha, I have come to see that daughters are a certain kind of treasure. I don't know if you are getting what I am saying, the point I am driving at."
"Mmhn" The men nodded in agreement. "We get your point."
My father delivered his long lecture, his area of specialty but all the while my gaze never left the man just as his hands never Ieft his beards.
So these are the hands that would knead me in the dead of the night like pounded yam, I thought. The same hands that would hit me if I became uncontrollable. Are these the arrogant eyes that would watch over me, my goings and comings, the face my children would take a semblance to? This half-man, half-hipster would lord it over me? I shook my head.
"My son has always been at the city apprenticing for his uncle but last month his uncle established him and he branched out. He came in few days ago and I believe he has found what he came for."
"So son, what exactly do you do?" Father asked.
"Importation and exportation."
"Mmmmm,' my father's mouth watered, 'that's impressive. You must be very industrious."
"We give God all the credit." He replied. What a modest man! I thought.
"Mgbeke, you can go now, let the men discuss."
As I arose I became overtly conscious of myself, I felt their eyes were boring holes in my backside. As if on cue, the other man said, "Ah, those hips were made for the birthing of sons." Till this day I can still hear their raucous laughter, that kind of laughter that triggers your own laughter.
So I was leaving… no I was being given away and would be sent back if I misbehaved. One would not call this leaving for one left willing, on her own accord. I was being traded for with a goat, stock fish, bags of rice, tubers of yam, cartons of milk and tin tomatoes…just name it.

(Excerpt from 'A Certain Kind Of Treasure', a story that appeared in The Kalahari Review

Monday, July 22, 2013

Police Benediction

May they forget to strap on their seat belts
May they forget their drivers' licences
May they carry overload
And may they over speed.

May their cars have no inner lights
May there be thick hold-up
May they have some loose change
To slip into my fingers.

Let there be no robbery scene
I have no energy to pursue
No hit and run driver
I have no time to investigate.

But let there be a generous tip
Let me catch a drunken driver
Let there be a thick hold-up
Today I need some loose change.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When I get Older, I will be stronger...

I think in pictures, in motion pictures. So when the issue of child-brides became dominant in my head due to the constant publicity it received this week, all I could see was a greedy man trading his little Amina, nine years old, to an old senator just to curry favour from him.

Then this hoary man drags little Amina to his dark room....

He takes off his clothes and his pouch droops and he takes hers, he's not that romantic. He orders her to take hers off and he leads her to the bed...

And his old stalwart penis stabs her and stabs her and stabs her....

And the song that plays in the background as her vulva weeps blood and her eyes bleed tears is K'naan's "Waving flag".

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When ASUU Strikes

That day, the school park was jammed and the students let loose their rascality, flying into the buses through the windows when they couldn't get in through the doors. The buses plying the nearby cities were crammed to the full, seeing that everyone had been asked to vacate the school premises with immediate effect and head homewards. There was no other option but to jostle for a space, and risk getting your clothes torn. Some of us were getting bruises and resulting to fist-fights when the occasion rose to it.

Like most youngsters, I like it better in school than at home. These two places were evenly compartmentalized in my head: school for scholarly pursuits - well you could throw in a large chunk of social activities; and home was for domestic goings-on: going to the market, scrubbing floors, washing cars, throwing the garbage…. Holding up with school work at home has never been my forte. I liked it better in school because school set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, the ability to make your own choices between what was vain and what was worthwhile without anyone’s overriding opinion. This to me was the essence of being an adult, the gist of real life. It summed up freedom for me. To say, today, I shall go to church and also give a heartfelt offering, or I shall move in with my boyfriend, go clubbing each weekend, and knowing that whatever happened to me, whatever befell me, was brought upon me myself.

But home left you few choices; it only set before you life, and the town where I lived in is such a small and quiet place where everyone guarded their reputation in their loins; in all your doings you had your parents’ fragile emotions to consider.

Had the school calendar not been disrupted, I would have been preparing for the second semester exams that were coming up the following week. But here I was heading home, even though so reluctantly. In the bus, we sat in fives. The girl in front opened a food flask and started eating rice that she had just made before the orders came, sweating profusely as she ate with the stew flavor  filling the entire bus. When the boy seating beside her scowled at her, perhaps meaning to ask her, Umuahia is such a short distance, why can’t you hold yourself and quit making us all salivate? She ventured into a long tale, of how hungry she was after a long day at the lab and on setting her table to eat what she had just cooked Voila!, the orders came. “And I am still very hungry.” she said. “What was I supposed to do? Throw the food away?  I don’t think I’d make it to Umuahia on an empty stomach. If you don’t mind, you can join me, please.”

Third week at home. Before ten a.m. I had all my chores done and my parents would be off and about their business. So the entire day stretched before me like the expanse of a vast panorama. I’d return to bed, awakened in few hours by the sound of my own snoring to take my shower. I was so idle that I’d interest myself with watching a cockroach crawl pass, muttering to it, Dude, today’s your lucky day,  or I'd watch the brown sugar ants as they moved up and down the wall, salaaming when their heads collided.

My school books lay piled on the table neatly arranged and unopened. I could not bring myself to touch them. I felt betrayed by them but if anyone had challenged this train of thought, I couldn’t bring up a proper defense for my feelings. But I felt betrayed nonetheless. In my heart I asked them, would your contents really play a major role in my life? Those nights of tireless efforts, reading your tiny texts with the dimmed brightness of my rechargeable lantern, were they in vain? Would they come to naught?

 I thought of my tutors, the bad ones and the good ones whose hearts were in their teaching. But like any laborer, no matter how zestful and brimming with vigor he was, if he entered the woods with unsharpened tools, his zeal would be made nonsensical of. I thought of them with their wages coming in trickles, and how no sooner their enthusiasm to pass knowledge to us ebbed away like the tide. And as for my course mates, where they in bed too? What were they up to?

I became enthralled by power, how very defining it was and the sheer strength of it. That a few men would sit down, put heads together and decide the fate of a large number of people, and if their counsel was good, the people rejoiced; if their counsel was bad, the  people were done for, like we were, having to sit at home for months.

Radio offered an escape some days. I’d listen and take part in the call-in relationship programs and offer advice to imaginary people with imaginary issues. My husband and the maid…or the secretary, oh what should I do? The cars had a louder wheeze as they drove past.  In those days I had enough sleep to last me a lifetime. Then when power came, I’d watch TV, dozing off till the people in the TV began watching me.....