Wednesday, 13 August 2008


When the military finally invaded The Cradle, everything around Tade seemed to pause and it felt like time and even things concrete were trapped in unmoving space. And in that entrapment, that seemed to take form as a round ball, everything shook and spun around him. It was raining heavily that day, and from the entrance of the housing estate, hecould here the skidding sound of their tires on the wet tar. The sound of their rifles hitting their trucks and vans , sent chill streams of fear down Tade and everyone’s body. Tade looked out of the window and past the row of buildings unto the Liberation Stadium that stood behind the white oblivious sky.
He saw that the sun made the clouds and everything around glisten in yellow, as it shed itself onto earth. The view, its rejecting people and expanse made him smile as they headed to the entrance of the estate to form a blockade against the military from entering into The Cradle, their home. They all filed out of the building and walked directly to the entrance, with rain dropping on their skins and on tar and releasing drum beats to their songs of solidarity.

Tade had tried to convince Afeni not to join the opposing group that decided to fight for the Cradle-'that they believed in and had laid down so much for'-even if it came down to them using their hands and weapons. He had grabbed her wrists, that night, in her fits of rage, and tried to calm her down. He begged her to join his group that believed peace would be the only way to resolve their problems.

“Peace! you talk to me about peace in this time. What is all this to you Tade? Just your way of separating yourself from the rest of society? Or because you’re the rebellious kind?"

“Afeni, please listen”

“Oh, this is your smart way of reinforcing your superiority over common folks? Look,
this to me is what my life means to me …and to lose The Cradle, is to lose myself” she had lamented and then finally declared “I will fight anyone who dare taint anything I believe in”. Tade had watched Afeni free her slim wrists from his grip and walk out of the room and his life.

They all came down the rain-glistened road, with their fingers pressed together in prayer position. From the view of anyone standing on the military side, with the bullet-proof clad and rifle-yielding soldiers, one would see a group of men and women in drenched clothes, their eyes vacant yet hopeful, walking down the road as if praying. The soldiers announced through their loud speakers, to the praying crowd, to stand back, else risk being shot down. The praying people then stood a few meters away from the soldiers, forming a blockade into The Cradle. Their arms were no longer in prayer position but the crook of their elbows were now linked together. The military barked their warnings again, still the crowd did not move. Then the soldiers moved ahead, using the rifles to break the blockade. They went smashing and slashing, all with intent of breaking this human blockade.

Tade felt the butt of a rifle hit him hard on his chin. He saw blood and its redness around his shoes and on the tar. And as he still linked the crook of his elbow with his neighbor’s, he felt the wind increase the pain of his open wound. But he still held on,even lifting his neighbor who fell to the ground, when the butt of a gun struck him on the stomach. Soon, the blockade began to break as the army began to hit hard with the aid of tear gas.

There was a wet and smoky whiteness over Tade, as he felt the grit of the wet tar on his cheek. He lay on the floor, his eyes barely opened and everything appeared so distorted. Then he saw a face and tried to discern if the image he saw was real. The blue eyes changed to grey as he watched, through the smoky whiteness, and theskin had the color of hay. It was when this strange image pointed something held in front of its right eye to Tade’s face and a purple-white flash escaped from it, that Tade knew it was some foreign reporter. As his eyes closed and he felt he was sinking endlessly into some chasm formed around the wet tar, he wondered if there were any Nigerian reporters covering the incident.

A ball hit his trousers, smearing mud on one leg. He looked at the child, who stood at the other compound, where he had been playing football. The child watched Tade apologetically, at the same time curiously. Tade glanced at the smear of round-edged square patterns on one leg of his trousers and then turned to the child. He tossed the ball at him. The child would normally have uttered a ‘sorry’, but to this strange man or boy who stood for so long in front of a building, he thought better. Tade looked at the building, where The Cradlelites had last gathered and divided into the groups that would fight with arms or peace. It was here that he had last seen Afeni and then he remembered what he had read in the papers on what the government had done to the terrorists that attacked its offices and sent threats. Although, they had all being arrested, he still knew of the ones with rich parents like Afeni, who were bailed out and sent off to other countries. He had not spoken to her yet and he missed her. It was already three months after they had being forced out of this place and it was already filling up with families.

Tade turned away from the building and hopped onto an Okada, he had waved down. As the wind rushed by him in that right speed that had the effect of making one feel the ability to hover and view one's life and choices from a bird’s eye view, he thought about the absurdity of having a Bohemian community in Nigeria. Though this thought had roamed in his head, since the fall of The Cradle, he did not regret his experience there. He was happy that he had been in The Cradle, when he was coming of age, defining and painting a portrait of himself. And yes, when all was done, he was content with the portrait he saw.

Saturday, 9 August 2008


He went with Afeni to her close friend’s house, a converted flat still with traces of its former occupants, like church pamphlets and tiny yellow toys. Afeni introduced him to the people in the sitting room, she referred to as comrades. Someone amongst the crowd had refuted claiming they were Cradlelites and should be referred to that and nothing else.
“Cradlelites or not, we are still comrades” Afeni replied, her vivacious face now
flushed with a rosy sternness.Tade thought it was quite a funny name for adults to callthemselves and Afeni sensed this. She turned to him, her face showing no traces of mirth.Tade had started to get used to Afeni’s mood changes. But, as she faced him, sternly andexplained the idea behind the name, he was slightly taken a back. She told him that thecradle represents one’s beginnings and that was what this place or Krey-city-as somedubbed it-meant to them. The Cradle signified their entry into freedom, self truth andexpression, which she then summed up as the New World. After her speech, which sheonly let Tade hear, he became very sober.

“You know, I don’t like to put down this society’s culture, but I feel we’ve heldon tight to old customs that are so repressive” Afeni said petulantly to her friends, butwith tiny sparks of hope still twinkling in her eyes.
“Afeni, you always put it right, it’s a society that is so blind with its expectations of itsyoung people, that it subjugates them to its hypocritical and overly moralistic ideals” oneof Afeni’s friend with a bald head and square framed glasses stated.
“Yup! Preach that talk, Omo” someone said from behind with a husky voice, passing
something to Afeni’s bald friend.
“I think we all suffer Nwoye’s plight and like him who wasn’t captivated by ‘the mad
logic of the trinity…but the poetry of the new religion…that seemed to answer a vague,and persistent question that haunted his young soul’ are we. And this just explainswhy a lot of us are attracted or turn to Western cultures. They give answers to thosequestions that disturb young people and don’t rebuke them for asking in the first place” aguy with a checkered beret said ardently, also quoting Chinua Achebe. There was a waveof applause that came rippling from the back of the room, after the guy spoke. He smiledand took the beret off his head, in gratitude for the ovation.

Afeni’s bald friend had passed a joint to Tade and introduced himself as Madu.Tade shook his head nervously and introduced himself. He first inhaled, the smell ofweed that rose from the burning end. He gulped a lump of saliva, and thought about whathe had put himself into. Afeni smiled at him, not in coercing manner but in an anxiousone. Not withstanding, Tade misinterpreted her smile for coercion and took a puff of thejoint. He felt the dry smoke flow roughly down his throat and into his lungs and as hetried to exhale out, he felt his eyes water as he coughed terribly. Afeni and some peoplearound laughed, not in an offensive manner, but in one that welcomed a new member.

The stick was passed around the room and after a while he found himself craving for it.At first, he felt paranoid, as those problems and secrets he had, came flashing in hismind. But when Afeni tapped him on his shoulders, and he saw that her eyes were now arosy-red color, he felt calm and at peace. He gazed at her, at her dark brown skin that feltbuttery under the pelt of sweat on it. As he watched Afeni, he saw her from two planes ofview. He did not have that usual feeling that his mind was that bodiless constituent ofhimself that needed his physical body as its medium of expression. He felt that his mindnow had eyes and lips of their own and they saw and spoke clearly. His mind saw her,beautiful with that smile of hers-even the tiny gap at her right molars enchanted him. Butthe physical plane of view, his face, which she actually saw, was emblazoned with a verywidened smile, with his teeth hanging out. Sadly, he was too consumed with seeingthrough his mind’s eyes, to notice this.

Someone had walked out amidst the people in the sitting room and pranced into
the centre. He could not tell from the curved lips, pointed cheekbones and beanie whichcovered the head, if it was a guy or woman. The person swayed on the dance floor,its’ hips tossing from side to side. And if he was to judge by this, and by the smoothcurviness of its’ legs under the tight jeans, he would have concluded that it was a woman,but when it spoke he saw that it was a man. He was shocked and slightly appalled. Butwhen some of the girls, including Afeni and some guys joined him in dancing, he feltguilty for feeling the way he had felt. That night he realized that The Cradle was not justa New world but a different and free one.

Like a handful of other young people who left home, leaving messages for theirsoon-to-be paranoid parents, who would try every means to find their children, Tade hadleft home and begun living in the Cradle. In the few months at The Cradle, he took to paintingand writing essays for The Cradle journal. Even if he loved his experiences at The Cradle,he still questioned himself on why he was there and tried to make sense of it all. He had to eatand live and Tade was not willing to depend on his parents anymore. He took jobs around town,which would have repulsed his parents and some friends, if they found out. Tade began to live a
Bohemian life in The Cradle, forming friendships and getting closer to Afeni. He formed a circleof friends around Afeni, Madu and Rasheed the androgynous ‘it’ he had seen on his first night. In all, Tade was doing those things he had dreamed of and was living in a place that created and
fulfilled more dreams.

Things started to change when protest groups , against this small and created communityin Port Harcourt, began to sprout around the country. Religious and ‘Moral- conservation’ groups accused The Cradle of promoting and housing vices like cultism,drug use, immorality and most especially waywardness. Newspapers and TV
announcements were made on this community that housed hoodlums and deliquescent
young people. People who had never heard or bothered about this community suddenly
became outraged and then there was a national outcry for the demolishing of this
community. The government yielded to the cries of these groups and its people and ordered a two-week evacuation period for The Cradle occupants.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


He gulped down a glob of air, trapped in his throat that had dried from the bottles ofGuilder he had finally forced himself to drink. How did she know that something was brewing inhis head, not to mention, it needing to be spilled?

“Hi, saw you at the party” he said, trying hard to distract her from his nervousness.

“Oh, I saw you too” she said, her eyes pointing to the beer bottle, held precariously in hands, that trickled beer onto the ground and his sneakers.
He quickly and firmly grabbed the bottle, now understanding what she meant by him justspilling it all out.

They had introduced themselves and shared their concise histories . They continued their conversation, while they walked, dazed and drunk, back to those estates they lived in; they had found out that they didn’t live too far from each other. Their conversation had went on without any halt, right from leaving the party and boarding a bus. He had watched her speak, and in thecrowded and street-lamps-lit bus, her words seemed to hover around like white and fluffy dandelion seeds. He tried not to get too distracted with the fluffy dandelion seeds and so listened
to all she said and contributed as much as he could to the conversation.Afeni had spoken about her thoughts and more elaborately, the things she disliked about society. He agreed with most of her theories and thoughts, and felt she had eloquently structured those disorganized thoughts heoften had. Before she got into her compound, with the unwelcoming dogs barking, she told him that there would be a revolution and they would be part of it.

The revolution Afeni spoke of, was what this place had become, before the military came.Cradle as it was called, was formerly a Housing estate, on the other side of town, wheremostly Civil servants and retired people lived. But the housing estate had changed, with establishment of a Liberal Art training centre by a visiting American artist. There was an influx of art students, who were not satisfied with their restrictive University curriculums, into the Housing Estate. And these artists were of the rebellious brand, some of them, including women, proudly wore their paint-smeared baggies around. Most of them had piercings that adorned their faces and other parts of their bodies. Their skins were canvases to their wild and imaginative minds. They hosted parties which other young people
living around were naturally attracted to. Soon, all these incited contempt from the parents and pious residents. Their lifestyles suddenly became proof for the churches and Christian fellowships around, that the end time was near. Those who could live the estate, left. Those who couldn’t, receded to the outskirts . And that was how The Cradle came to be, with theatre students, writers, socially conscious young people and generally those not content or willing to conform with the outside world, joining in.

Tade had been amazed on his first day at the Cradle. The two storey apartment
and flat buildings were converted into studios, make-shift theatres, bars and homes for the young people. The housing estate had undergone change from a being a quasi-suburban area to a very artistically conscious one. As Tade walked with Afeni, who
strangely preferred to prance than walk, with both of her feet clapping in the air and hereyes twinkling, he admired her and the new look of the Housing Estate. The bare walls of some buildings, which formerly had paint ripping out like molting skin, now had graffiti on them. Some of the graffiti were parodies of former military heads of statesand others philosophical declarations and quotes of people he didn’t know. But there wasone which was inscribed on the wall of a church, tucked in between two houses, that struck him the most. It read;

‘When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.’ - James Joyce

Tade knew that he was one, who sparingly got absorbed by quotes, but there
was something poignant in this one that seemed to give an answer to those many disorderedquestions that all unified to plague him. That thought rioted in his head, as he tried tounderstand those nets in his life and how he would fly by them. And the answers seemed so easy, yet they kept eluding him. They had walked past the church, but Tade who was stilldistraught, felt like asking Afeni on the questions that troubled him. Since, he had met Afeni,there were attributes about her, that made him feel she had answers to his burning questions,yet there was that part of him, that distrusted showing ignorance to Afeni.

"Is everything alright, anything around that you find a tad bit pointed?" Afeni asked,emphasizing the 'pointed'.

"No, not really...uhn, just the quote of the Joyce guy"

"Oh that one, a personal favorite of mine" Afeni said, smiling at a friend of hers

who rode abike, shirtless, down the street.

"What 'bout it do you find POINTED?"

"Nothing more than the obvious, but, do you not think that we have an obligation to honor our country and follow the values our parents pass down to us?

should we not...basically live by those culture and values of the society we belong

to" Tade asked, feeling like a heavy dumbbell, had been lifted away from him.

"Tade, my answer is- that in whatever way we decide to fulfil our obligation to society's expectations, we should never compromise our inner selves and who we truely are. And Tade,every custom or value that is repressive to any group or any person who does no harm, should be abolished. There should be no questions asked about it. None!"

Friday, 1 August 2008


Inspired partly by Another Country

On the mushy ground, he stood, staring at the army of ants marching in perfectly
straight trails. They crawled out of a hole in the ground, veiled by the lusciously green grass, and marched into a crack on the wall. Despite their diminutiveness, he felt that the
march of the ants mimicked those of the military men sent by the government to “sweep-out” the “travesty” that they created before “their very own eyes”. Though, he stood watching the two storey building with green moss on it’s base, spreading out like bodiless tendrils, he did not see the man in his buttoned-up shirt or the other people looking suspiciously at him, he saw a different time. A different time not too long ago, before the military came and destroyed, when they roamed and conquered this place.

He had come here with hopes that the desperation he had for his dreams and desires to be fulfilled would not be too obvious, but his wide and dreamy brown eyes betrayed him.It was not his first time in this place, but it was his first time since it got transformed. He lived on the other side of Port Harcourt; where people lived in detached houses and bungalows built on procured lands, in poorly planned estates with less attractive roads.He, like most of the teens who lived in these houses, was a former high school student preparing for his entry into university to study degrees that ranged from Medicine, Engineering, Law, Accountancy, Mass communication et al. He belonged to one of these groups and had already freed himself into the chains of studying and living by one of these career choices. His parents in their unquestionable love for him had planned for him to study at a British University. The master plan was that he would spend about eight years doing this degree and would come back home to take a core job at his father’s hospital.

All these would have come to fruition if he hadn't met Afeni.It had been one of those parties he was chanced to attend. His parents were out of town and he had been invited by a former class mate. The party was filled with mostly young people a few years older than him. And there seemed to be coolers with ice and beer bottles submerged in water, at every point he turned. He saw some people grab beer bottles, gulp them and some others tossing bottles at walls, jokingly. He left the scene, heading to where everyone danced, hoping that he would find his former classmate there. The party people formed a circle around the terrace of the host’s parent’s house,and in the space inside the circle, he saw people dancing, smoking and drinking.

Everyone seemed to have the same distorted face, as he stood behind the circumference of people , with the smell of cigarette smoke and alcohol disorientating him. He did not feel like drinking the Guilder beer, someone had placed into his hands, while laughing madly. His legs buckled almost giving way for his weakened body unto the awaiting and strangely comfy looking ground. But when he straightened himself and shook his head,as if that would shrug off his disorientation and stupidity, he saw her dancing among group of girls. Her Afro hair coiled into twined strips swayed in the black night’s breeze,like her cotton-white dress. She danced as if in a trance and at the same time drank her beer.She was the only one who drank alcohol among the girls around her. He quickly gulped down his beer. Her slim legs sliced the air as she danced and her oblivious but pearly eyes pierced him. A sweat pattern formed like an inverted gable on the neckline of her string-sleeved dress. She didn't seem to care about that or anything as she danced with her full-moon breasts bouncing, and her coral-coloured lips quivering. He was enthralled by her.

It was when she walked past him at the end of the party, that a storm brewed
in his head. He, with his alcohol-induced confidence, had promised himself to talk to her before she left the party. But as he stood watching her back, he punched himself-that is inwardly.

“You know it’s better to just spill it all out” she said, turning to him, with the dim and slow r n b music playing making her voice even more melodic.