Friday, 22 October 2010

Nameless

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It’s a quiet night in this small Canadian city. We’ve all been entertained, saddened and made pensive by acoustic singers from Ontario and Iceland. I enjoy some parts of their performance, and don’t others. I guess that when acoustic music descends into being clich├ęd; the sort of thing any North American teenager in his room would play, I just get bored.

Somehow our conversation shifts from talking about how this one time a friend and I tried to pull a cart up a hill, to talking about what really moves people to action, to demand for change. We all first admit that for change to occur, there really needs to be charismatic figures able to inspire people to demand for change. An argument rises when we have different views on if charismatic people are the way they are by nature or by choice. A friend feels that one really can inch away from complacency and choose to act and speak out against what one simply doesn’t agree with. In my mind, I feel there’s a distinction between those who, by their natures, cannot do without fighting injustice and those who get on with life. I voice this to them. I feel that most people, really just want to get on with their lives, rather than risk it or property for the sake of voicing opinions and convictions that might end up not effecting any change. I realize when I say these things, that this idea has branded itself in my mind for a long time. It really is part of my world view. The argument sidles away from this theme back into what truly moves people to ask that the poor state of things become better. My very optimistic friend feels that people want change when the present state of things contradicts with their ethics and beliefs system; that their very existence and what constitutes it: their morals, values cannot co-exist with the norms or dogmas being enforced by their society or whatever governing body. In my mind, something completely different is there. To me, people are shaken to their very core to seek, fight for change, only when their very existence becomes unbearable. That to risk one’s life and the security which progeny could have, one’s present life has to reach a breaking point; a point where living isn’t really worth it.

I arrive at my apartment. Walk into my room and the fan whirs, and sends cool air at me. I want to throw myself at my bed, but I can’t. I’m bothered by love and my worldviews. I’m wondering what kind of a person I am when it comes to these two things. Love almost seems like a cross-examination of myself. Almost as if it watches me, gruels and laughs at me, to see what I’m willing to sacrifice, what I’m willing to be weakened and made foolish by. I digress. I really couldn’t just sleep, because I wondered where my worldviews really do come from? These opinions, principles that I try to keep, but sometimes forget are there in the first place, I wonder where they squeeze out from. I get confronted with news from my family of things happening back home, I have experiences here, good and awful and I decide what I think and feel about these things. Yet, I’m not satisfied that it is at these points my opinions take shape. I wonder why I hold such pessimistic views of what goads my fellow man to simply want something different, better for himself or his brothers and sisters. Why am I so convinced, from my very core, that if one section of society is being dragged down by poverty and oppression, and another enjoys peace and plenty, those capable of speaking will do nothing? I’m saddened that I hold such pessimistic views that come across as so archaic and the very mentalities that will not spark change. I want to sleep, peacefully, but I can’t. I can blame growing up in Nigeria, that country that I love so much and yet I am so pained by, for this worldview of mine. Or I can, conveniently, say that the view I have is the reality of humanity. But I can’t. A part of me, the part that writes this, is disappointed and wants better worldviews to take the place of these views that enmesh themselves to my mind.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Mahmoud's Letter.........i

In the letter Mahmoud wrote, he wanted the reader to sense the sort of man he felt he was. In the manner he described what he had seen and heard in ambitious English, he wanted the reader to know that, although, he had spent most of his life in rural Adamawa, he was a man still capable of being learned and refined. The handwriting was forced cursive, and so when one drew one’s head backwards and peered into the letter, it seemed the words were of a foreign language. Yet, the failure to sculpt events in beautiful handwriting did not deter Mahmoud from presenting the letter in the manner he felt was elegant. He had placed the letter in those air mail envelopes with streaks of red and blue across the four edges, and had presented it to my father, with his head bowed. His head remained that way while my father read the letter inwardly. After he had read the letter to himself, my father asked that I call my mother so he could then read it aloud. When my father began to read, he let Mahmoud’s words escape his mouth in a stoic tone, as though he had before hand braced himself for the daunting task of reading a letter laden with grief. The manner he read it out slowly, dragging out every word, made it seem like he was
reading an elegy. And this elegy was for my own death, because as I stood in the living room, that night, with my father reading, my brother disconcerted, my mother listening and her legs trembling, I felt that my consciousness would dissipate, vanish like ether on skin.

My family moved into our new house, before it was completed. The estate our house was located in was one of those areas in the outskirts of Port Harcourt, where land was cheap and had not been fully urbanized. There were only ten compounds in the estate, and in between them were unsold plots of land that teemed with thick, green shrubs, Yam and Pumpkin tendrils and wild Elephant grass. The road that lead to our house was unpaved, and was only a stretch of alluvium-covered ground. And so when it rained heavily, the alluvium became soggy, and would exhaust all its ability to absorb water. The road would then be flooded by a creek of coral coloured water. And for us to get to our house, my father would have to slowly drive the car, and we would have to raise our legs, as water streamed in. Sometimes, the engine would fail, after being clogged up, thick smoke would extrude from the bonnet, and we would have to walk, knee-deep, in the water to our house. On our third night in this estate, one of our neighbours had been robbed at gun-point, in his house, by thieves. It was then that my father had decided that we get two gate men.


When my mother could not swallow the fact that the roads were flooded because the gutters were not deep enough; she asked our two gate men to dig out the silt and garbage that had settled in the gutters.They followed her order. Mounds of black-brown earth with old, crumpled plastic bags in it, remained on the sides of the road when they were done. It was Mahmoud who tried to convince an unflinching Boniface that the dug-up earth would be washed back into the gutters by rain. But, Boniface did not budge; he seemed convinced that the black-brown earth would flatten itself, naturally, on the ground. They argued, until my mother settled the case, and ordered Boniface to clear out the mounds of black-brown earth, himself. It was situations like this that endeared Mahmoud to my mother.


The first sentence in Mahmoud’s letter reminded my father of the “deep and passionate reverence” he had for him and how he was “bountifully grateful” to my father agreeing to sponsor him in the university. He wrote on how he had always wished, back in Adamawa, that he could read and speak like an educated man. He wrote that he never wanted to go into the carpet-selling business that his father had, but that he wanted to be a lawyer, "a man of integrity". But these dreams of his never seemed like they would “come to past”, until he began to work for my “honourable and
with-no-doubting honest” father. After his praises for my father, Mahmoud then went on to say that he could no longer keep quiet about the things that had been happening the last few nights. When my father read this sentence out, my mother’s face livened from its former ambivalence. With her head raised, she glared at Mahmoud. She wanted to speak, most-likely demand that my father stop reading the letter and go straight into revealing the things that happened in the night. She muttered words and then my father raised his head to her, signaling that she hold her peace and listen first.

“The aim of this letter, sir, is to inform you that Boniface has done unmentionable and sinful things with someone in your family” my father read out. My elder brother, Bode, rumpled his face in suspicion. His eyes went to the guestroom, where Jumoke, my father’s younger sister, slept in. Jumoke had returned to school that afternoon. Bode then stared at Mahmud trying to see through his dignified, impenetrable look, if he had finally confirmed that Jumoke was the one tip-toeing out of the house every night. But, the hardy look persisted on Mahmoud’s face. My father read out the sentence where Mahmoud claimed that he was in a good position to see what went on in Boniface’s room at night. Mahmoud was speaking of the shack that he and Boniface
both lived in. The shack was by the gate, and it was built from planks of wood nailed and held together in some areas with cement. The shack was divided into two rooms. My father had promised the gate men, that when our house was completed, and all the finishing was done, then a boys-quarter made from bricks would be erected for them.


When my father was done reading the letter, there was silence in the room. No one
stared at the other person, but everyone’s eyes remained on the letter fluttering on the centre-table. My mother did not utter any words, but she looked like she was trying to pull together separate, puzzling thoughts like trying to stick together shreds of a torn note. And when she had finally placed the shreds together, so that they formed a whole, she stared in disbelief at this coherent whole fluttering on the table.

She erupted “Aye mi o!”-“My life!”

With her face now molded in disbelief and disgust, she demanded that someone drag Boniface to the living room to prove what Mahmoud had written in the letter. No one moved, not even Bode who initially seemed ready to go grab Boniface. Mahmoud who stood fixed at the door, only willing to move at my father’s command stayed where he was. It was only after my mother had screamed again, her voice almost guttural,
that Mahmoud hurried to go drag in Boniface.


That smile on her face was eerie in how it bordered amusement and anger. As soon as my mother saw Boniface at the door, she sprang from the sofa, and lunged at Boniface. Her finger nails struck Boniface’s cheeks. He wailed and asked, in an
incoherent and intimidated tone, what he had done wrong. His beards became matted, as blood flowed down into and coloured them maroon. Then the blood began to seep through his beards, as though liquid dripping from a sieve. The blood flowed unto his singlet, mixed with the sweat on his chest and formed an inverted, blotchy red gable.


Sometimes it seems that inanimate things can come alive, when the space they are in is sated in emotions. It is almost as if these things around us can borrow our emotions and then possess feelings of their own. My father’s stoic silence, my brother’s gnashing of his teeth and rumpling of his face, my mother’s screaming and my feeling of dying crowded the living room with too many discordant emotions, that my painting seemed to speak those things I hoped it would. My painting that my mother had finally agreed that I could hang on the living room wall now seemed to be a floating window into the life of someone. The eyes, each an hazel gem at the bottom of a sea of white, stared, curiously and entranced. Slender fingers joined as if woven together, swaddled a mouth. The deep-black hair of the young woman matched with the pitch-black of the night, as though night was a drape the person had powers to open and reveal her face in an unexcited peekaboo manner.

“We should call the police, this is rape!” my mother declared to my father, her eyes now misty.

“How long has this been going?” my father asked, turning to me.

“How long Eniola? Your father is talking to you! Wayward girl!”

“The last three nights” I said.

“Three times? You let him touch you on three occasions” my mother said, her face
looking like it would disintegrate.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

What one sets out for

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There are times when we meet certain people or have those experiences that make us question things we hold as true or set sharp lines between things we never saw the need to distinguish. I know a guy who in trying to stay true to his Dandy image of wanting to be among the elite, the higher class, tells these stories, that are beguiling at first, but after questioning them, one begins to see the incredulity and falseness of these stories. He knows that I see him as a bullshitter and that I wonder why he must keep telling these lies. But his defense and reply to what I felt was sort of profound. He said "Do we not have the right to lie? That it is in lies that we know who someone is, that it is in identifying our lies that we know what we truly want but conceal". I think that this guy, a friend I guess, wants me and people to believe that at the core of every lie he tells is truth. But there is the suspicion that he wants people to keep listening to his stories, regardless that they are mistrustful of it, until they begin to accept it as his truth. This man made me feel the strong need to separate the inventiveness and creativity in stories and books from deception.

When I was in elementary school, we would have these talent display shows at the end of the term. Some would whistle a hymn, sketch a Super-hero on the black board, but I was that big-headed, quiet and skinny kid who would go up to tell a story and transform into a different person. Most times I would retell a story my father told me and my other siblings in those evenings when NEPA usurped electricity from us. Other times, I would give my own version of an English book or Disney cartoon that I had previously seen. While telling these stories, I knew my classmates loved them and I saw my teacher's amused and sweet look. I saw how their faces changed at every twist and turn of the story and I would, sometimes, infuse my own twists to make these stories even more intriguing. Other short books that I wrote as a kid were meant to dazzle, whisk the reader out of the present into another world, an over-hanging sphere.

My father still reminds me, inadvertently embarrassing me, of the story The Chronicles of Lady Koi Koi that I wrote when I was thirteen. My story tried to give the origins of Lady Koi Koi as being a disturbed, high-heel wearing, morose and middle-aged matron, who was mistakenly killed by some students in an all-girl school. It described how the paranoia of these girls created in them a fear of the dead Matron-a fear which spread to other all-girl high schools in Nigeria. My stories, these days, are nothing like this. I think I now write, obliviously perhaps, with the idea that I need to reveal truths or shed from myself things that worry me. I don't think there is anything wrong with this only that this desire that hangs over my head, sometimes comes in the way of invention and lessens a beautiful story.

To tell a lie is to conceal truth, to try to dissimulate the real, and I do not think stories set out to do this. From what I hear from writers and what I feel, when writers begin to write a story, there is often the need to free from themselves a small, seed-like idea in their mind. As soon as this small idea is written,planted, it begins to grow on paper, quickly, other times slowly. But after that phase is over, what follows? What then does the writer set out for?
I felt different ways after reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. My feelings bordered between awe and disappointment. The prose is brief and yet she still has these nice sentences like how she writes about "Opera houses where music molded entire audiences into a single grieving or celebrating heart, and where the applause rang like a downpour". Yet there is the narrative voice, pessimistic and bleak. One feels that she wrote the book, after a bout of severe guilt at her position in the scheme of things and also disappointment with the world. And the book is her way of setting out to reveal these sad things about the world, and maybe assuage her guilt. In the detached way the book is narrated, I did not feel the delight that I feel when I read sad stories. This is were my disappointment rose from.

Perhaps writers and storytellers reach a point where they feel that their fiction must have some semblance to truth, to the realities of the day. Maybe as we grow and life burdens us with more complexities and worries, we feel that it is not enough just to write dazzling stories. That we must infuse in them those things that tug within us. Regardless of whatever it is one becomes; a stoic ponderer of society, a lover of Esoteric Poetry, an award-winning novelist, I guess one should borrow from the storytelling of one's childhood. It was not lying then, it was something else.

I once hesitantly asked this friend of mine if he writes fiction. He doesn't, he has tried, but cannot write good fiction.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

I am here now.

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Things are more stable these days. I feel like I am more in control of the things I say and do. I no longer feel like I am a slave to borrowed ideology or my sometimes absurd, impulsive mind. Now I no longer detach mind, consciousness from deed. Before, I felt that my actions were controlled, dictated by an almost subconscious, hungry part of me. Perhaps it is out of an inherent arrogance in me to always preserve myself, my essence, that I let myself be subservient to every little impulse in my mind. I've come to realise that doing this is not necessarily being free-spirited and authentic. Our minds are like receptacles that different kinds of things reside in. And I sometimes feel, that placed in certain situations, some of these things surface. We do not have to yield to all of these things. That is why we are human.

The things that preoccupy my mind all seem to revolve around my need for self-development; of reaching that point where I can sit, stare out to world and smile, and also look into myself, see the moments of foolishness, unforgivable stupidity, the moments of realisation, unusual wisdom, and know that out of all of these, I came out a confident, open-minded and self-accepting man. I dearly want to know about this world that I find myself in. I feel so inadequate when I do not know somethings. It isn't really about being eloquent in presenting stored knowledge that I am interested in, rather it is about knowing the nuances, the motivations and most importantly, truths of this world that I live in. The philosophers, rationalists claim there is really no truth in this world. I refuse to believe this. How can there be no truth, precious truth? Things happen, there are witnesses, and maybe these people who have seen sometimes tamper, embellish the truth, but our consolation is that something, regardless that many eyes saw it, happened. This is why I want to know, to discard the many layers of doctrines, norms, ideals that have swaddled, coccon-like, the truths of our world.

And there is the book writing. I think I have said this before, but I'll say it again. One needs maturity, understanding of people and the world to write fiction. You cannot write about this world, if you do not know it. I am writing a book about a family in a dilemma, people with little courage who are trapped and trampled on not by others, but by themselves. It is not going too badly, there are hurdles, here and there, where one looses faith, but my hope is still there. I have chosen to write this book, and I will try to do it justice.

I'm reading Achebe's Arrow of God, and I have glimpsed at Virginia Woolf's To the lighthouse. I stayed for two nights in a light house in front of a beach. The water was cold as it flowed directly from the arctic, and the shore had cobblestones on it. Sea weeds and barnacles squeezed in between the crannies of the rock, and the thread like, feathery ones were strewn on the rocks. There were rusted parts of a ship strewn around. I heard the ship had exploded on hitting, violently, the shore.One of the merits of having the lighthouse is to signal ships in the night, that they are too close to the rocky shore. At this lighthouse, with its six feet thick walls, and winding stairs, I thought of Virginia Woolf, and how I just had to read To the Lighthouse, because it was simply Woolf. She mesmerizes me. In a documentary on her, she was described as being the one who was great with language and would tell her family stories. I wonder what sort of sadness, realization of the abusrdity of life or one's misplacement in it, that made her fill her pockets with rocks and jump into water.
Arrow of God is not going too badly, I've heard good things about it, I'll read on and hopefully, I'll reach these good things.

I am a bit intoxicated right now. I apologize if you feel insulted. I do not wish to belittle or take you unseriously. I respect you if you visit this blog, and take you're time to read my blog, despite that I sometimes post some ridiculous stuff here. You are a lover of talent, that pristine element that some of us often like to trivialize and place beneath hardwork. I write these things because alcohol has a way of unfurling those sheets that cover one's minds.
I'm still travelling, but now, this is where I am.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Watchman


A glass cup placed on a wall, with one’s ear then placed on it, can not help isolate one from the sounds around so that the voices behind the wall can be heard. I proved this eavesdropping tactic to be a myth, as I tried, twice, to hear the sounds behind my uncle’s bedroom wall with a glass cup. But I heard nothing. I was curious to hear those sounds that my mind envisioned filled my uncle’s room. In that time of my life, with confidence, sometimes blind simmering in me, I was certain that there had to be the moaning of the woman under my uncle, or him releasing a groan on reaching some point. It was hunger, a ravenous brand of hunger that engulfed me, as I desired to hear even the creaking of the bed, my uncle and his woman lay on, or the tussle of their intertwined legs. But I never heard anything, but the silence that echoed back from my uncle’s bedroom wall.

There was the day my uncle strolled into the living room with the same woman he had brought over, a few days before. I, with my back on the throw pillow that had animated images of Polar Bears and clover leaves imprinted on it, stood up, on seeing my uncle walk in with the woman. Of course, I did not rise as though I was acknowledging the presence of a superior or commandant, but I stood up because, on seeing the woman, I suddenly realized that the manner I lay on the throw pillow with my right foot on my left knee, made me look childish, innocuous. I greeted my uncle and the woman, and then she giggled.

“I am Cordelia, remember I was here four days ago”

I shook my head, remembering her and how she had come into the living room and could not stop gaping at the Arabic words inscribed on the flower vases my mother had bought from Dubai. I remembered her very well, but confused her name with the girl, my uncle had sneaked into the house,the night before. The girl, or should I say very young woman, had short curly hair that was slightly above the length that the girls at the Government college were meant to keep. From the way that her skin gleamed a dark black different from those of the other girls in the estate, it seemed it had been coated and cast with coal and then oiled. I had first seen her when she came to fetch some water from our house, during the one week power outage in our estate in Port Harcourt. She carried a plastic white Jerry can on her head, with a cloth rolled into a spiral separating her head from the Jerry can's abrasive bottom. The white Jerry can leaked and so caused a trail of water to stream down the groove in her back visible under her white blouse. Her name was Ini and she was the housemaid of the family in the estate who owned less than two cars.

My uncle after waiting patiently for Cordelia to end her conversation with me, ordered her, jovially, yet not discarding his authority, to come over with him to his bedroom. I turned my head away from them, trying to hint that although I knew what went on in the bedroom, I had no interest, whatsoever, with what they did. Of course, this was fallacy. With them gone, I went back to my childish position on the throw pillow, switched on the television and then looked away from it. Music from MTV invaded my ears, as I looked up at the ceiling. It was somewhere in between my gawking at the perforations in the ceiling and glancing at the music video , that an idea, or more aptly, scheme occurred to me. But come to think of it, it was not really a scheme; it was only a thoughtful idea to let my uncle, who was busy in his un-shut bedroom, know that I was leaving for a friend’s house. Rising from the throw pillow, I concluded that it was only polite and respectful that I let my uncle know my plans for the day. And so I walked up to his bedroom door, and with two swift, three-second, yet revering knocks on it, I opened the door.

One would think that with the anticipation that I had of not only hearing, but also seeing what went on in my uncle’s bedroom, the first thing that I would have sensed would have been an image, something for my mind to capture and immediately store, for future viewing and relishing. But my first sensory perceptions had been auditory. It was my name that I heard first, before my eyes saw any thing.

“ Baddy, Badero” my uncle called out to me, his voice trembling.

“I’m going out now, I needed to let you know, in case you were looking for me. Sorry” I said averting his stunned gaze, and Cordelia's under him

I closed the door. I rushed out to the terrace and placed on my slippers. Throughout this time, my mind was not cluttered, but free like an open grassland with sparse trees, each of the sparse, spiny trees being the images of things my eyes saw around the terrace and my mind usurped and stored. It was not until I left the house and stood in front of the gate of my friend’s house, that my mind, without my control, began to play the images that it had saved from my uncle’s bedroom. There had been the burgundy silk cloth that had covered my uncle from the small of his back to his knees and had shielded part of Cordelia’s breasts. The veins on my uncle’s forehead were enlarged and more visible like the fibrous roots of Palms trees that reached close to the soil surface and bulged out. Cordelia’s face had been turned away to the wall, and so I could only see her garish red weave and how it had a similar hue to the reddish brown of her neck like the shaft of groundnuts. I saw one side of Cordelia’s unclothed buttock, and how it had formed cascading folds where it pressed on the bed. My uncle had not yelled out to me or spat pejorative Yoruba words at me or ordered me to get out of the room. He had only shook his head, still on top of Cordelia and replied to my thoughtfulness

“I have heard you. Thanks”

In this place where grey iron poles and chipped pillars evenly separated, hold up three storey buildings, I often wonder if what I saw in my uncle’s room on that day lead to my presence here. When I search through the dim, dusty archive of mind, I often wonder if my adolescent curiosity which fomented the other yearnings to see and hear what happened when a man and a woman were isolated from the rest of the world in their shut rooms, made me dismiss and reject offers from other universities, both here and abroad. Was my sudden curiosity in religion and the desire to attend a Seminary a way of dismantling the burdening guilt I might have felt on humiliating my uncle, and most especially Cordelia? Perhaps it did not end there with my uncle and Cordelia, and that me being in the seminary was a way of atoning for the sin I committed when I peered through half-shut doors, hid in
wardrobes, just to see those couples going at it. But that could not be, as I did not, or ever did feel that kind of guilt that people claimed festers in and corrodes one’s insides. And sin, its very concept was something that I never did accept to feel heavy whenever I did something that others considered sinful. In that case, if my being in the Seminary was not a means of seeking divine redemption, then it certainly was my route of escape.

In the seminary school here in Owerri, the routines are, at first difficult, sometimes inane to follow, but as one lives here, the routines become a second nature. At night, fluorescent bulbs, with insects congregating in front of them, light the verandas where students stroll to study rooms. The white light from the bulbs illuminate the Ixora hedges and Frangipani trees that line the front of the
verandas. The white Cassocks of prudish and reputation-conscious students and off white of the less-hygienic ones gleams when the white light showers on them. The white light of the fluorescent bulbs is essential to the boys here in the seminary, because out into the field and surroundings exists an enveloping kind of darkness, since the lamps are usually not switched on when the generator is in use.
But for those boys who engage in clandestine activities, the darkness is often a relief and shield from the predatory eyes of the head boy and housemasters.

I am a Seminarian and an altar server here in St. Barnabas. Not with the intent of sounding self-ingratiating, unlike the other altar servers who were selected for their father’s position in the church, I was chosen for my remarkable academic performance and outstanding self composure. On Sunday mass, that some other students complain of being dreary but I find immensely engrossing, I assist Father
Andrews in performing the Eucharist. With his back to me, I hold out the Paten containing the flaky, cracker-tasting body of Christ. Father Andrews inured to the routine of the Eucharist, does it a robotic manner, uttering the creed, as though not thinking of it or even realizing that he is saying it. He places the bread
on the lips of the communicant, places the grail containing wine on their mouths and then wipes away the spit or lip marks with a kerchief. If one does look at Father Andrews and sheds off, from one’s eyes, those misty scales of reverence accorded to priests, one sees disillusionment in Father Andrews’ eyes. His disillusionment seems not to sprout from his doubts in the Catholic beliefs indoctrinated in him, but
emanates from his observation of his congregation, of the world.

I have seen Father Andrews drink beer and sip brandy in his room. It was one of those nights, with an enveloping darkness and I had gone to respectfully inform him that a suspicious looking man had walked in with a bag, and left his room with nothing. When I peered in through his door, still left half-open by the suspicious-looking man, I saw Father Andrews drinking alcohol. He seemed, at that moment, not to care about anything, about the half-opened door or the possibility that someone peered in through it. Father Andrews staring into nothing in the room and seeming to ignore, yet at the same time listen, relish the Jazz music from his radio, looked like a man who had finally unravelled the secrets and lies of the world, and concluded, disappointingly, that it bore so much resemblance to the animal world. When he finished his beer bottle, he let it oscillate, as he seemed to ponder on how this race to attain so much wealth, and survival of only the most ambitious and the neglect of the inept ones, the casualties was similar to the primal rule of the survival of the fittest in the animal world. Then Father Andrews smiled a tired smile, and let the beer bottle rest in the middle of its oscillatory path as though he was mocking himself at choosing to be at the periphery of the world’s rag race and surrendering himself to be what; a puritan! A celibate man!

For a while, the seminary did offer me escape from the outside world and the curiosity to see others in their most intimate of human connections. But my eavesdropping on Father Andrews and he catching me ended that. Father Andrews, a disillusioned man, had stared stoically at me from his room. Without him speaking, his expressionless eyes were able to order me walk into the room.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asked.

“Not long Father. I’m very sorry”

Father Andrews stared back at me, his face still blank, yet demanding a precise answer.
“Two minutes, Father”

“I could have you severely punished for trying to steal from me” Father Andrews said, looking directly into my eyes.

“I am very sorry, sir. I was only going to report to you that a suspicious man had walked out of your room”

Father Andrews let his eyes linger on my face, and he pushed his head backward almost as if to get a clearer view of me. It was when a smile slowly formed in his face, that I knew he had found in me, a useful gift.

It might have been the way that I gave the excuse of the suspicious looking man as though it were truth that I even believed or that, for a short moment, he actually did believe me, that endeared me to him. I became Father Andrew’s wingman, and helped watch out, when he had a woman with him in his room. The women, most of them miracle-seeking and husband-searching, were the ones who sneaked into his
room, averting my gaze. But there were those tense moments when a student would want to file a complaint or a priest would want to see Father Andrews, and I would, inevitably have to badge into Father Andrews’ room to warn him of the incoming danger. These moments were rare, and when they came I used them wisely, my mind usurping every image it could in the short moment I stood in Father Andrews’ room. I would storm in making it seem that Father Andrews was busy attending to me, and the other people, therefore, had to wait. In the dimness of Father Andrews’ room only lighted by a half-dead orange incandescent bulb, I would see the woman first murmuring her discomfort, and Father Andrew chuckling as he engulfed her with his weight. In the dimness and stuffy room, they would be drenched in sweat and so their skins glimmered. Father Andrews would raise his head to me, stoically, and order me to go tell the person to wait outside, where he would attend to them.

Escape eludes me. Father Andrews’ midnight trysts have awakened in me, curiosities buried beneath my years of routine and devotion in the Seminary. Now, I can no longer stare past couples and hold myself from wondering and imagining what they were like in their most intimate moments. Now, at mass, as I stand behind Father Andrews, Paten in my hand, I imagine how the couple, both young and
old do it. I question under what lighting they do it, and if their breathings compliment or repel each other. Even the Nwabueze’s, a strange looking couple, with the husband being a scrawny man and the wife being overweight, rekindle my curiosity. I wonder if Mr. Nwabueze on top of his wife, which is most likely the position they take, almost sandwiched between her thighs ever unintentionally
holds on to the bed and then realizes “very big mistake, wrong cushion”. Now that I am upended by my curiosities and constantly wish that they free me , I experience the boredom and frustration the other seminarians feel. The seminary no longer offers to me, the escape which it used to. I have to leave. I have thought of going back home to Port Harcourt, and letting my family know and maybe their
repulsion and consequent pity would make me change. But I doubt if I can bring myself to do this. A viable option to me, at this moment, is a Sanatorium. Certainly, it would be a drastic change; moving from the jailhouse of the Seminary to the den of a sanatorium, but what else am I to do, in this eye-popping conundrum.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

EXCERPT

After Jaiye and his brothers were done drinking the soft drinks, Star and
Guilder, and eating some of the pieces of fried meat that Ahmed had bought, Jaiye
retired to the room upstairs. Abioshe watched her father undo his watch and then
place it lightly on the desk, so as not to awake her mother. Though he had the dense odour of Guilder, Abioshe knew that he did not drink any alcohol with his brothers. It was
during some period which she could barely remember, that he had stopped drinking and bringing Brandy and Gin to the house.

He watched Abisohe and Akin laying on the mattress on the floor, and in the dim room, only partly illuminated by light from a street lamp filtering through the window, he only saw the white mattress, appearing fluorescent, while they appeared dark and asleep. He walked in between the space Abioshe and Akin had ensured they left between them. With his back first, he rested on the bed, and then with his hands, he lifted both legs onto the bed.


Abioshe peering from in between her folded arms, had thought he was already asleep, when she, suddenly, heard him call out to Akin, and then to her. It was as if, the sound she made with her feet seemed to him too purposive to be from someone asleep.

“Are you awake Abioshe?”

“Yes, Daddy”

Then she felt and heard the thudding sound of his feet on the floor, and
felt his weight as he lay in the space between her and Akin. He asked her
how she was doing and if she had any problems living in his father’s house in
Tejuosho. Abioshe raised her head, letting the light, filtering through the
window net, illuminate the feigned smile on her face.

“It’s a big family, Daddy”

“Yes it is, but wait till you meet my other siblings who live on their own.
You know we’re fifteen, in total, now we’re fourteen after Kayode, the third born, passed away”

“So, is your mother the second wife?”

“Your grandmother, Abioshe, your grandmother is the second wife, and

as you know, I’m her only child”

They were both silent as Jaiye tapped Akin’s shoulders, but Akin shrugged and mumbled something inaudible, as if he was protesting from a dream that he did not want to be awoken.

“Your brothers all seem to be Muslim, how come you became Christian?” Abioshe asked, her face still brightened by the light.

“Remember that I told you that your Grandfather was a Principal of a
grammar school in Yaba. Principal was Muslim and a staunch supporter of
Pan- Africanism. He made sure that we were all well-educated and at the same
time, aware of our heritage, as he called it”

“But is Islam part of our heritage?” Abioshe asked, her face contorted in
confusion.

“You must understand that in that time, what mattered, for some, was doing what
was not indigenously white or considered European. As I was saying, all of his wives and sons were Muslims, except my mother and I. Your grandmother was Christian, and she would always take me to her Celestial Church”.

“You’re mother was Cele, you were?” Abioshe asked, amused and incredulous, yet
trying to hold back the laughter rising in her throat .

“Yes, we were.” Jaiye answered, smiling and then continuing “it’s not all
you think or picture it to be, though. At least, it was different, when my mother
took me. Principal always tried to convert her, and, especially, me. He did not
like the idea of us going to church, not to mention walking barefooted to
church, because some book claimed that the house of God was a holy place,
which was to be revered”

Abioshe began to recollect the stories her father told about her grandfather, and how she had, from them, formed the portrait of the Principal as a stern, almost impatient man.

“Remember when I told you those stories of my older brother Kazeem, who is now
in Canada. He would go clubbing on some nights, because he thought Principal was asleep. Only he would get back to find that the gates were locked, and Principal would be standing on the verandah, warning him to go back to where he came from or risk being man-handled by the vigilante” Jaiye recounted, looking at the ceiling, as if the tiny perforations on it, helped him remember the minute details of those moments.

“He seemed to have laid down so much rules of what not to do” Abioshe added.

“You are right. He even had a curfew that we were all bound by” Jaiye said,
smiling, as if to trivialize his father’s attitude.

“And on one night, my mother and I went to a Vigil and he did the same
thing that he did to Kazeem, to us. You can imagine, we standing barefooted
outside in the cold night, hoping that he would open the gate” Jaiye said, still smiling, and almost erupting into laughter.

Abioshe was stunned, almost petulant, but lowered her head, below the light, to conceal the look on her face. She tried to understand this man who her father called
Principal and why he was that way. Did it have less to do with his children and
wives, and more to do with him? Was it some kind of unhappiness or
discontentment buried within, that made him cold and callous?

“Did he later open the gate that night?” Abioshe asked.

Her father did not immediately reply. He remained silent, as if he could not recollect what had happened after his mother’s pleadings, as if that particular story, he had stored in the attic of narratives, that his mind seemed to be, ended with him watching his father’s unperturbed and obstinate face.

Abioshe turned to her father, to try to see, through the dimness of the room, if he still remembered, but his face looked like a black satin vieled mask.

“You know my father was very strict, and stuck to his word. He was a disciplinarian.” Jaiye finally uttered.

Then her father stood up from the mattress and moved onto the bed. Abioshe heard him murmur something to her mother, who had woken up, on feeling his weight on the bed. She heard his palms make a clapping sound as he placed them together, and rested his head on them. The image of her grandfather appeared in her mind. From the pictures of him, she had seen around their house in Port Harcourt, he appeared very formal, but from the pictures here in Tejuosho, he was older and more regal. Then she pictured him walking in a public school yard, with rows of grey buildings which had open verandahs and rough cement-plastered floors. In her mind, she saw him ordering
students to get into their classes. Then she thought of Tamunouh, and if he did
well in the Chemistry test, he was afraid he would fail. She wondered if she should call him tomorrow, or if he would call. Before she closed her eyes, she questioned how Aramide felt sleeping in that room, she wondered how the room looked and if it still hinted that an old woman previously lived there. Then all the thoughts seemed to slowly recede, and it was as if a void was left. She closed her eyes, and it seemed her consciousness drifted with her receding thoughts. She slept. Then the void began to fill with thoughts that were lucid and dream-like, in the manner frothy waves arrive on dry and beige sand. She was in her home in Port Harcourt, hurrying with a cup of juice, and suddenly, tea, in her hands, to go listen to her father narrate the story of why the shell of the tortoise is cracked.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

One of those things.

It's the middle of the semester, and I'm swamped with school work. And today, I decided that
I'll update my blog. Truth be told, I am not sure of what I want to write about. But I do
know, that the insides of my head feel cloudy; the hangover feeling. It's like the thoughts in
my head are blurred by this thick miasma, that I can't quite express them, coherently.
Anyway, a friend and I got into an argument, a few days ago, about corpral punishment and its
pros and cons. I've always been very questioning of corporal punishment, and I always did argue
and speak against it, even among ardent Nigerian and black crowds. But now that I'm starting to
realize that one has got to be silent,as it's the wise thing to do. Though, I do feel it's not me to be silent and risk appearing foolish and vulnerable to attack, these days, I'm beginning to understand compromise and commonsense. It's like these two similar things (if you think about it) are manners that I have to learn, and work to achieve!


Back to corporal punishment, which one of my friends corrected and claimed that it is
flogging, whipping and not what I called it. Saying it is corporal punishment is making it sound too grave, too serious like capital punishment, he said. So my other friend made a point that I find really poignant. She claimed that children who are not smacked, but raised under the whole "we can talk it through" way, tend to feel that the world, in certain ways, revolves around them, and that they think that they can solve all problems and feuds by simply "talking it through". And she said this from the point of view that these people tend to feel that others around them will always be there to listen to them, as if it is some kind of duty.


I had always attached this way of thinking to being spoilt, a trait that arises from
having people do almost every thing for you, rather than not being brought up with the whip. When one is brought up, with the maids, cooks, washermen, gateman and the others, one sort of has this
false notion of ones importance and place in the scheme of things. And with these false
notions of self, comes the whole belief that people around you will always be willing to listen,
because it has always been that way. I think that what my friend was doing was equating people
who are not spanked, with spoilt people. And I don't know if I agree with her, but her point,
sounds so strong, almost true. Here in Canada, where you see so many young people doing these
stupid things, as if they never heard of moderation, one wants to ask if it's flogging that will
solve their problems. Yet there are those who have these mature minds, and they were not spanked.
And it all just makes me wonder if corporal punishment inhibits that desire in us to question. I
mean, am I wrong if I say that spanking, sometimes lessens us into people who do not question the
state of things; the right or wrong of things. Does whipping inhibit that desire for us to
questions our own lives and choices, and dig deep into that pile of fears, secrets and motives
in our subconscious that define us.


As children when we were whipped with those cains and "Omoroguns" or "Garri-turners",
sometimes we knew what we did was wrong, yet, we were not aware of why that the thing was
inherently wrong. It was just something we were not supposed to do, and that was it. And I wonder
if this training, makes us not seek the good and bad, or analyze the values placed on us. Is
corporal punishment, one of the other factors, that creates this reactionary society, void of
movements, of people coming out with wild, provoking, questioning ideas. Maybe, I have rushed too
far here, drawing relationships between things that are too disparate.

I do not doubt the efficay of corporal punishment,it sure gets the point across, I still feel it should be questioned, and used less of. Isn't it possible to have a situation where a Nigerian parent before using his whip, the second time in a day, thinks about his action, and tries to speak, admonish or ground their child?