A LITTLE INCIDENT IN SHANTY TOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Isaac Mafuel

She was the unwanted distant niece. The little orphaned girl from the village. The one nobody wanted to adopt after the old lady who was raising her had died. AIDS killed both her parents, but the grandma died due to the extreme ware and tare that comes with poverty. (The old lady was made for the archaic world where one would survive on wild fruits, but global warming was waging a war against the creatures of her generation, extinction seemed like the right alternative.)

A distant aunt well versed in calculating opportunity costs saw the potential of having a house maid for free. All she had to do was feed her as little as possible and dress her as scantly as modesty would allow, she was all hers.

“When you feel like repeating the stupid things you do in this house, just remember who is putting a roof over your orphaned head,’ (A roof over her head? Well, anything that covers four walls must be a roof then. Even if it’s just a sieve that lets the rain in and allows one to read the stars from the dirty torn mat you sleep on.) “…the clothes on your body and the food in your tummy (if rags and leftovers count!),” The aunt’s way of ascertaining that the misdemeanour won’t happen again.

But kids are kids and misdemeanours are part of the process of being a kid and so she would find herself with whip marks and scars.

At first she used to cry. But when you have lost everything you had, even if it’s nothing, the tear springs dry up. What is a whip after all? The problem is when your aunt beats you and you don’t cry. Witchcraft is the only word that would explain your insubordination. And don’t dare look your aunt direct in the eyes because when you are a witch your eyes see her innards.

“Why didn’t you just die with your parents, you little witch? Don’t look at me like that. I will take you to the exorcist one of these days, you demon possessed idiot. Don’t teach my children your witchcraft.”

She would look down at her over fitting grease stained dress. A hand me down from the aunt. The one with more patches than the original cloth, her work dress. She had one more which she was made to wear at mass, not for prayers, but so she could play with the baby while the uncle and the aunt prayed to the merciful God, for blessings on their family, I guess.

At first the uncle hardly noticed the dirty orphaned child. Mostly working night shifts as a guard in one of the security companies, sleeping all day, waking up for meals, or for a smoke-the only luxury he indulged himself in. He had somehow managed to quit drinking, but the smoking got worse. Poor people should be allowed at least one vice to sooth their wailing souls, don’t you think?

Years have a way of passing by, and they go slowly when you are a little nobody in the middle of nowhere.

Two tennis balls started coming out of the bud of her chest, the uncle started noticing, “and he saw that it was good”.

With the aunt selling vegies at the market, and the kids at school, it was just the two of them for the whole morning, uncle and niece.

“Bring me the matches.” His way of inviting her to the bedroom.

Uncles are like that. First you bring them the matches, then you must scratch them in some evasive angle of their body and before you know it, your hands are playing with their thing.

“It’s a privilege to hold with your arms the plunger that your aunt adores.”

When you are ten it’s really an honour. After all, your aunt had to wait till fifteen to get married and have the chance to hold it.

“Let’s find out where this plunger enters, shall we?

“It’s hurting, uncle.”

“You will get used. Soon the pain goes and all you feel is sweetness. By the end of the week you will be an expert at this.”

You really get used, though not necessarily by the end of the week. And so it becomes a habit. Plus it feels so good to be noticed by your uncle, at last.

But aunts have a way of catching you when things are getting more interesting and your life is starting to have meaning and purpose. So they chase you from their home. To the streets where “ungrateful whores” like you belong. You must survive on your own.

When your parents die, a part of you dies with them. But when your uncle rapes you, every part of you dies. The aunt throws your corpse out of the house, to the streets where society tramples on your decomposing body. They close their noses to avoid the stench. They trample on you, to pulp, till your dust has no choice but to retreat to the monumental tombstones of society called whore houses. Then they come every night to pay their respects so they can feel good about themselves and use you as an example of what happens when one makes bad choices in life.

The irony of it though, being that you don’t start to live until you die, at least once. Jesus noted the same when he talked about a seed dying so it can bear many fruits. She died more than once so the fruits were a hundredfold. Anger, vengeance and all that constitute chaos. She had learnt not to expect much from anyone. She was a lone wolf plying the uncharted roots of individual survival. All she had on her side were sharp survival instincts, and she put them to good use.

Because when you are twelve and living in the gutters, it doesn’t hurt much to have the skill of pleasuring men, it’s an ace up your sleeve.

 

 Isaac Mafuel is a creative writer, theatre director, Actor and facilitator. He trained as a journalist with the University of Malawi.  He is passionate about literature and the theatre. He is the Co-founder and creative Director of Theatrik Interventions (a theatre group that focuses on Theatre for Development (TFD). He also works with Theatre for a change Malawi as Interactive and Legislative Theatre Project officer. Much of his writings are inspired by the characters he meets in his line of work. (Theatre for a change works with women in sex work and sexually exploited girls among others). His love of books led him to found Barefoot Readers Initiative. A youth led movement that sources books and donates them to Primary and secondary schools in need. (Barefoot is publishing a poetry anthology which they intend to sell to raise funds for their course.)

 

 

 

A Sister’s Dirge

by Yananda Nana Madhlopa

Chetamani Chiwawa chetamani Chiwawa
These were the sounds that welcomed me
That morning as I neared Ekwendeni
The village where my sister was to be married
It was a sad day
Ekwendeni wakukana kumuchupulila vyuvyu
My sister on the other hand was radiant
As these people insulted us!
Our sister was leaving the village
To join this man in this village

Yesu mwimilire mukati mwithu
This song rang in my ears as we sat at the grave yard
It was a sad occasion
My nephew welcomed me with tears
He was sad that his dad was no more
I encouraged him

I couldn’t see my sister!
Where was she
Where was the one who brought us to this village
She was inside the house
Sad and grieving
For the man who brought her to this village was no more

He has left her alone with her seven children and grand children!

 

Notes: Ekwendeni is a town in the Northern Region of Malawi. It lies about 20 kilometres from   Mzuzu, in the Mzimba district.

Chetamani Chiwawa is a song sung in northern Malawi.  It literary translate ‘Stop crying Chiwawa’ and is sung at wedding ceremonies to taunt the brides family.

Ekwendeni wakukana kumuchupulila vyuvyu is an expression well known in Ekwendeni (and surounding areas).  It literary translates ‘Ekwendeni does not allow dust being throw at it’ and is said to express the pride of those who hail from Ekwendeni

Yesu mwimilire mukati mwithu is a hymn sung at funeral.  It Literary translate ‘Jesus stand amidst us’

Yananda Nana Madhlopa is Lecturer, United Nations University Fellow and a Mother of Umsa and Nkosinathi.  Her Area of expertise is Gender and Child Care.  Apart for her academic work, she writes poems and prose

Children of Clay (for Gloria)

 

By Zondiwe Mbano

A girl took wet brown clay, spat
into it, and pressed and beat it with
Her palms; then spitting into it again
And carefully rolling it between her
Open palms, she moulded the torso
To which she joined the arms, legs
And head. Then with exactness, using
A stalk of grass, she formed the mouth
Nostrils, and eyes. Finally with saliva
On the stalk, she polished the boy firm
And glossy, and stood him in the sun
And wind. But when she came back
She found him fallen, dry and broken.

A woman, hopeless, at a mortuary
In Blantyre, poured out bitterness:
God, why did you snatch my son
My only son, Dongo. Cruel God,
Why strike an innocent woman?

Another woman, broken-hearted
At Makhanga in the Lower Shire
Lamented: who delivered my son
To the enemy? Who snatched my
Only covering, leaving me naked?

God on high, riding the thunderbolt
When will you take pity on children
Of clay? Look how they easily crack
And break up, in the rain, in the wind,
In the sun, leaving the mothers broken.

Notes
Dongo or Chidongo, a name that means earth, soil, or clay.

 

Bruce Zondiwe Mbano is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures(BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds(published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award. Mbano’s has published beautiful poems on Afreecan Readincluding, Eyes of AgeRoad to Emmaus and The Breadwinner.

 

Midnight Invasion

By Zondiwe Mbano

The forerunners, black ants, worms, crickets
Abandoned the comfort of underground nests

Causing so much pandemonium in the kitchen
As they fought with cockroaches and spiders.

Who knew this was the harbinger of a midnight
Battle with a formidable battalion of red ants?

Slowly, unlike hasty soldiers from nations
Of warmongers bombing schools or hospitals,

The innumerable army marched in silence,
With divisions already assigned the areas.

The spies, examining the blankets, awoke us
To see windowpanes and grilles all covered.

While the foragers were already gathering
Necessary provisions from the kitchen,

The battalion was soon inside, advancing
In every direction, and climbing the walls.

On the veranda, our trusted guards silently
Scampered away at the initial onslaught;

Their cousin, the jackal, pokes his long tail
Into ant holes to draw and chew mouthfuls.

War was on, sending geckos scuttling across
The ceiling, but soon the soldiers covered it;

A mouse, panic-stricken, thought it could hide
In a hot lampshade, but soon fell to the army.

We remembered village weapons: hot ashes
And coals, dust and sand to scatter the lines

But there was none, nor could we draw lines
On the cement floors to lead the army away;

So, with hot water, a few puffs of spray, powder
Even salt and flour, we fought the war to sunrise

When more weapons of mass destruction came
To clear a battalion that does not count the dead.

Even after this, suicide fighters would suddenly
Startle you by striking deep in delicate places

And during the following nights, we had to learn
To respond quickly to warnings of the forerunners.

 

Bruce Zondiwe Mbano is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures(BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds(published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award. Mbano’s has published beautiful poems on Afreecan Readincluding, Eyes of AgeRoad to Emmaus and The Breadwinner.

Memoir from the prison hall

 

By Dominic Ayegba Okoliko

I called it an unusual day, a day of rare privilege. That was what the new day seemed to promise. So I must look different – not in my usual jeans and polo shirt flying down my loins. I searched my box and found a well-starched and a long-sleeved white shirt ironed into crisps. I picked it up and laid it on my bed, and brought down a pair of plain cream-colored trousers from the hanger to join the shirt. When I paired the two to match, they were an appealing choice; and so, I set about preparing for the day.

I realised now that I would have to knot a tie.

“Damn it!”

I’d never succeeded in knotting one before. Never. I immediately wished my brother was around, or a friend. For the few occasions I had had to do a tie, it was one of them who helped me put it right. Until that day, knotting a tie was a no case for me as I could count the number of times I’d had to use tie anyways. I looked through the mirror in the guest inn where I was booked. I sighed.

“This is really silly!”

Almost at a flash, I discovered I had an oracle that I could consult. She had rarely disappointed me on a day like the one I was having. Gently, I knocked at her temple, pressing on the right combination of keys. Boom! She opened and I threw at her my puzzle. With a little divination, she popped me a slide.

“Ever want a perfect knot? This is it”; the oracle proclaimed.

I sat expectantly before my new teacher. One stroll, two, three, and I was at the sixth.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

 

“What’s the offence counsel?”

“My Lord, it’s stealing. And he’s been in the prison custody for eleven months. I’m applying for his bail, and if possible, a discharge”.

That was Barrister Jude Ogbunkwu of Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre (HRCRC). His voice, a gentle sound, was raised from among a host of colleagues who had gathered for the occasion. Barrister Jude and I had travelled down from Abakaliki that morning in the company of Chief Richard Unigwe and Mr. Ipa Oyene, the baba who steered our wheels. We were a team from HRCRC, a civil organisation that champions the cause of justice, peace and development with a preference for the vulnerable in Ebonyi State of Nigeria. We had come to offer our spontaneous services for some prisoners who had spent lengthy days in prison without trial. On my part, it was my first time being out in the field with them.

The court session was holding in a relatively small hall within Nigerian Prison yard in Afikpo, Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. The hall was about fifteen by twenty metres. Its walls were painted in what looked like creamy green but appeared to be worn-out with some hoary look here and there. The celling looked as if it had been designed to bear some inundated maps. From the faded whited ceiling hung fans having their coordinated dance to the entertainment of the guests. The breeze dusting from their waves provided coolant to the rather tensed ambience of the makeshift courtroom. The walls of the hall were adorned with pictures of the suffering Jesus; what Catholics regarded as Stations of the Cross. They were pasted in sequence following the fourteen steps of Jesus’ journey from the place of his prosecution to the place he was buried. The presence of the pictures suggested that the hall was equally used as a worship centre for inmates. And for some reasons, I could relate what was depicted in the pictures, especially in the first station where judgement was passed on Jesus, with what was transpiring in the hall.

In the hall, the prisoner, a very young man, about 27 years old was stationed right at the centre of the room with his hands crossed behind his back. There was no ceremonial look about him. He wore a buttoned long-sleeved safari shirt with arms loosed. He looked quite worn-out with weary face that seemed to say, life behind bars had not been well. On his legs were a pair of shorts very squeezed from a fresh wash that gave the impression that ironing in the cloister was a luxury. It was worn on a pair of bathroom slippers. No other form of indulgent appearance could be noticed of him. As I processed his image before me, I considered it a parallel to the common trial scenes I used to see in movies. The prisoner stood right there, in the centre, under full view of everyone in the hall. He was inexpressive and appeared anxious, not knowing what to expect of the proceedings.

Right behind him stood a prison warder. He was the opposite of the young man. He was neatly dressed on a khaki Nigerian Prison Warden uniform. His trousers were ironed to wear sharp edges that seemed capable of tearing through any surface. They were adorned on a pair of black force shoes, deftly polished to scare a fly. He stood also, with his hands crossed behind and had to his back a congregation of lawyers, activists and senior prison warders.

About two metres from the makeshift prisoner’s stand was a table for the court registrars. Two men and a lady sat around it. They took turns to read out files of prisoners to be attended to. The state prosecutor; he was called the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), from the Ministry of Justice, Ebonyi State, and his colleagues, were seated to the left-hand side of the registrar’s table. Their bench had about four lawyers. The leading counsel there was a fair averagely old man who seemed to run out of words each time he had to respond to inquiries. Directly opposite them belonged the sits for the different magistrates from the Afikpo axis of the State.

And right on the stage was the Chief Justice (CJ) of the State. He was flanked left and right with judges from different high courts within the State, about four of them. He presided over the court proceeding. It was a Gaol Delivery service and no one wore any ceremonial outfit except a show of legal suits and other formal wears.

“Has there been any information filed on his case?”

“None my Lord”, Barrister Jude responded.

“And has the Prosecutor anything to say?”

“Eehm, my Lord.”

The DPP turned towards the man seated on his left-hand side and made face to him as if to beckon on him to say something. The man shrugged, indicating he had nothing to say.

“My Lord”, the DPP continued.

“The state has not been able to file any information…”

Haba! For 11 months? I virtually said those words beyond my breath but had to choke it half-way through. However, almost in congruence with my thoughts, the court was thrown into a thunderous murmur with different clicks discussing what the DPP’s response could mean. Then, one of the clerks shouted: “Order!”, and quietness was restored.

Meanwhile, the CJ had become busy with his pen scripting on his pad. When he eventually returned his attention to the court, he pronounced:

“I hereby order the discharge of the prisoner …”

The young man stood up, and in a fleeting moment he looked entranced, perhaps he was confused. Perhaps it felt surreal for him. For the past 11 months, days had circled out on him in the closure. During that period of 11 months, no attempt had been made to present him before a judge. And there he was, on a first chance, he could hear the sound of freedom. As if oblivious of the environment, he made out for the door and started jumping with a loud yell that jolted even the prison walls from their slumber.

“Be quite and go back to your cell!”

That was an order from a warder standing outside the hall where a verdict had been passed. The hall was the last building leading from the entrance to the prison yard. It stood in perpendicular direction to the two rows of prison cells. One of them, the building to the left as from the entrance to the yard, stood nose-to-nose with the hall. It was made of pure zinc materials with no brick walls, safe for the foundation.

The freed prisoner was led back into his cell located in that zinc building pending when the judgement of the CJ would be effected. Not deterred by this momentary constraint, the man allowed himself to be led away while his spirit visibly celebrated his freedom. I could imagine him say, “just a matter of time. I will be free again”.

“Call the next case”, the CJ ordered.

“Ejim Uli…”, came the voice of the clerk woman.

The case was about theft. Ejim was led in by a prison warder and made to take his position at the centre of the room. Like the previous man, his arms were crossed behind. His own short was ostensibly tattered. It was a faded blue jean whose colour had become tainted by years of use. It was worn on a pair of bathroom slippers with a somewhat round-neck creamy polo shirt. He stood with his head bowed and hardly could look up while the case was opened.

“My Lord.” It was Barrister Jude again, from HRCRC.

“This man was charged for theft and had been reminded in prison for 2 years without trial. I’m asking for his bail.”

“What’s his offence?” The CJ inquired.

“What did he steal?”

“A fowl.”

“A fowl?”

“Yes my Lord. Just a fowl!”

Laughter rippled across the room with many mooning the charge. For stealing a fowl, an individual had spent 2 years in jail and without trail.

“But stealing is stealing, whether fowl or cow or towel”.

One young man seated directly behind me whispered those words. He must have been one of such fellows who proudly arrogated to themselves, the title of ‘learned colleague’. Gosh! I had always wondered what fate the rest of us who studied under different disciplines had if they and their colleagues remained the only learned ones.

“Order!” the Clerk ordered again. As usual, his Lordship was busy scripting.

“Young man. If you’re released, will you go about stealing fowl or anything again?” The CJ spoke, looking up from his pad. In response, the prisoner mumbled out a word that sounded like no.

“Eh?” the Judge quipped. Perhaps, he had not heard very well the prisoner’s response.

“No sah!”

It came rather too quick and strong. But it was genuinely remorseful.

“…you are hereby discharged”.

“And don’t go out there making troubles because if I hear anything; I’d make sure you rot in jail.”

“Thanku sah”, “thanku sah”.

The man’s head, hands and lips were raining the words as he made his way out of the courtroom into the prison yard.

Then, the court had had another fun again. A fowl must have been a really funny item to shoplift in any stall or market!

“My Lord.”

It was the Chief Welfare Officer of the prison who spoke this time.

“If you will permit me, I would like to mention a case please”.

The CJ consented and the warder went on.

“It is about one prisoner, Onyeka Uche”.

One of the clerk immediately rose and scrolling through the list, he provided the full information of the prisoner. Onyeka was then led into the court and positioned at the prisoner’s stand.

“My Lord”.

This time, it was one of the lawyers, from the other corner of the room that spoke up.

“I’m Barr. Benson Obi, ESQ. I’m asking for the prisoner’s discharge given the nature of his offence and the terms he has spent in the prison.”

“What’s the offence counsel?”

“It’s court contempt my Lord, and he’s spent 7 months”.

“7 months?”

“Yes my Lord.”

The Chief Justice became furious. It shocked him that one of his magistrates could retain an individual in jail beyond the legal term allowed for such a case. As if to douse any doubt about the maximum sentence for such a case, he took his time to read out the section of the law which stipulates that an individual convicted of court contempt cannot be retained beyond three months. In this particular case however, the man was rather thrown in the prison without a clear pronouncement of sentence and thus, left in the prison for 7 good months.

“Tell his magistrate that he must see me and explain why he would do such a thing”, the CJ ordered.

We all had our time nodding our head. I wondered what sort of explanations the concerned magistrate would give for such obvious abuse of office.

“Having served beyond the term permitted for this crime, you are hereby discharged”.

Unlike the others, the man in question walked out unceremoniously and went his way while being followed closely by the prison warder attaché.

 

Dominic is a nascent Nigerian writer with interests in poem, prose and essays. Some of his works have appeared in Afreecan Read, Pulse.ng, Words Rhymes and Rhythm, myNews24.com, and Poemhunters. Dominic works with Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre in Abakaliki and can be contacted via okolikoda@outlook.com or on twitter @Ayedom1

 

Wayfarer’s Song (For my father, died 1988)

By Zondiwe Mbano

They told me the day is long,
But the walk will be short

My father, I walked the day,
Sunset overtook me walking

They told me to light a match,
It will chase away darkness

My father, I have seen motes
Of darkness smothering light

They told me to plunge deep,
The water would not be cold

My father, I plunged: didn’t I
Faint? The water was biting

Now my teeth chatter, my ears
Buzz, and my heart is numb

Bruce Zondiwe Mbano is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures(BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds(published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award. Mbano’s has published beautiful poems on Afreecan Readincluding, Eyes of AgeRoad to Emmaus and The Breadwinner.

Faces in the Garrison

Image result for deep eyes

 

By   Dominic Ayegba Okoliko

Keep your gaze on
and look through in the deep.
Let it run up the hill
and down the mountain trail.
See through the green leaf scale
and in the dewdrops on the field;
here and there is beauty unfolding,
a flower bud bursting.
Turn your eyes upon the wood.
Let it traverse the neighbourhood,
and sweep through every gate.
Take in snapshots of every face,
and hold tight every gaze
until beams of warm rays
water the dryness of faces,
of faces in the garrison

 

Dominic Ayegba Okoliko is a Nigerian writer from Kogi State. He enjoys stories and love spending time creating some. His other interests include poem and social science research. Some of his works have appeared in Words Rhymes and Rhythm, Nigeria News24, Poemhunters and on this site. You can contact Dominic on okolikoda@outlook.com or follow him on twitter @Ayedom01

LOOK AT “EAT”

By Larry Onokpite

Stare scares: it scarce
The joint of meeting espoused
For the lookout in the outlook
Simplicity is betrayed in stare
Yet exhuming the dried
Dried, fried, fresh: still edible.

Meaning negotiated for admiration
Matter arising in beauty
Hectic junction for a question
Looking incenses the unnoticed
Wind noticed; yet invisible
Smoke greeted; smelled in indifference

Visible indifference of differing
All interested in our disinterest
Wittiness is our goalkeeper
Shooting the ball only to logic
Damn logic! It is allergic
Unity appears in a scare

The questions your mouth query
Your Einstein require no riposte
The reply our minds will afford
Our mouth pretends with silence
Accidental invocation of awkwardness
Flowers plucked for our pockets

Invisible mystery
Brimmed and oozing with a story
Visible mystery
Truth canned to can’t
For my adorable daughter
Touch and taste twin

“The taste of the pudding
Is in the eating”
One of our unfinished truths
The tasting of the pudding
The death of the pudding
Craving and tasting in swiftness

The pudding should stay
The tension of trust
Creates the exhortation
The pudding is tasty
Taste-sense is last on the roll
Touch, see, smell, adore!

Destruction is colourless
It is filled with odour
I stare; We stare
Staring is consuming
We plea for its stay
Tomorrow we love to look on

Looking calls us to depth
Looking invites us to growth
Looking names our maturing
That which is eaten is destroyed
Your fate before you:
Look at “Eat!”

Larry Onokpite is from Delta State, Nigeria. He considers reading and writing as great forms of spirituality. Larry previously published A Collection of Mantras and Ululating on Afreecan Read.

 

 

 

 

Python Dancers

By Nwanne Agwu

I’m sitting by the window, looking at my copy of Anne Frank’s diary. The sun has been drowned by the darkness of the early part of the night and the street is silent, save for the songs from the DJ at a night club down the street. Mama is downstairs, sitting beside the big radiogram in the dining room. She is listening to Radio Biafra. That radio reminds me always of Papa, the fragrance of his cologne, the roundness of his eyeglasses lying on the bridge of his nose.

I am trying to hear Papa’s voice. This is Saturday and he is supposed to be at home by now. The green Mercedes ML350 was in the compound on the Friday of last week, shinning and bringing the reflections of the Saturday sun into the kitchen. The glasses are always glittering, letting silvery tetrahedra move around the windscreens of the car with the sun. But Papa is not yet back. Ijeoma has already made dinner but we know that the food may not be tasted. My stomach is empty but my mouth finds it difficult to produce more saliva, my tongue suffers to pass it down to and through my throat and whenever my epiglottis shuts as I swallow the saliva, I feel some pain. A dry pain that hurts my nostrils.

I want to cry. I want to ask Ijeoma to get Papa’s blue shirt and trousers with yellow dots, the costume he wore at last year’s priestly ordination ceremony, from his wardrobe, and have them ironed. But I don’t know how to tell her. I couldn’t even say anything when she knocked at my door asking for clothes. First, I wanted to say yes. Then no. But I said I would not go to church.

Last Sunday, we were late to church because Mama did not know what to wear. She changed and changed clothes. And Papa was angry, angry-angry. He didn’t even smile in church. And he didn’t talk as he drove us home, only that he shouted at the okada rider who overtook him on the expressway.

Coconut head, he shouted. The windows were rolled down because the car was hot from the sun’s heat. Ignoramus, he added, as the final part of his initial statement.

Ekwensu, the okada rider shouted back. He hadn’t gone beyond the bonnet of our car. Papa said nothing. He was making as if he did not see the man cast his open palm and five fingers, in a cassava leaf shape, toward him.

Bastards. Harbingers of ill luck, searching for those to make victims. Papa sucked his teeth.

But he stopped being angry after his siesta. Sometimes, I want to think he is like my teachers in the kindergarten classes, always calling you a coconut head for failing to recognize letters and numbers. And counting to hundred. And identifying two and three-letter words. And reading the lines in our English textbooks, called ‘readers,’ which had illustrations of Ada, Obi and Musa and their parents, as well as monkeys and cows and goats. These same teachers will praise you for doing the opposite of those negative actions, for trying harder.

EEDC has not restored the power and everywhere is dark. It seems they have decided not to let us use their light this night. My phone’s battery is dead and I can’t check the pictures on Facebook or nairaland. Mama won’t talk. She won’t ask Ikenna the gateman to get the power generator on. Ijeoma can’t even iron the clothes if we had given them to her.

I’m just feeling tired. I want to remove my clothes and lie down on the floor and write. I just want to write because that is the only thing that can save me now, I think. But I don’t know what to write about. I don’t even want to write on paper. My phone has always helped. I’ve always written with my phone, listening to songs.

Now I want to hold my heart. I want to shave off this feeling of expectation. It seems my heart is hung on a stake. It seems it went on a journey and has not returned and now I’m feeling a bag of rice in its place. Heavy. Discomforting. And it is as though this room is compressing, coming together. The walls will hold me in their hands and crush me. I want to scream but my lips can’t even open.

***

On some Fridays, I’d hoped that Papa would not return. I hate the unease he brings with him. His presence makes me to not go outside or make calls to friends or chat with them on Facebook. All I do then is to sit down before my study table and read. And pretend to read. Papa will open the door and congratulate himself for having a responsible son. Sunday evening is for advice. After the advice he gives me some money.

This is a Saturday night and I’m wishing Papa is back. I’m wishing that nothing happens to him in Aba where the soldiers are dancing a dance on the heads of the residents. This dance involves guns and distribution of bullets, injecting them into people’s bodies. They say the Igbos in Aba are killing the Hausas and Fulanis, searching vehicles, bringing them out and shooting bullets into their foreheads, hammering nails into their heads, cutting their throats with knives. I don’t know why this should be happening. The python dancers are also doing their own. These dancers are the soldiers who have declared and commissioned the Operation Python Dance in Umuahia and Jos.

I don’t even know whether I love or hate this Biafra. But I know I dislike their leader. I dislike the whole belief that Igbos originated from Jew. The fact that we have similar beliefs and cultural practices or traditions should not mean that we are migrants who mistakenly settled here and a white man, with a bushy beard and moustache, joined us with our enemies. The fact that Nigeria is like a room shared by many wives of the same man does not mean we should call it a zoo. People still survive in polygamous homes. Children still grow there. And even if this house should fall, let it not bring destruction. Let’s do everything peacefully and have it burnt or bulldozed. I see a dictator in the leader of the Biafrans. I feel red teary eyes whenever I hear a policeman talk about Nigeria as a nonsense country. Whenever I remember that many families are looking for ways to leave Umuahia. Whenever I remember the children who have become and are becoming orphans just within this week. I feel nothing. I feel something. I feel sorrow. This is not only happening in Abia, it is happening in Jos, also. Sex always begin with foreplay. Wars always begin with riots, pogroms.

Papa’s phone is switched off and each time Mama tries his line, a woman’s voice tells her in a faulty, and assuming European accent that Papa’s phone is off, and that she can drop a voice message by hanging on, a little longer. The woman giving the instruction is slim, and dark, I think, because of her voice, because of the way each word sounds, crispy, weightless.

I don’t want to see Papa in my mind’s eye because I’m afraid I will see him lying on the road in a pool of blood, the glasses of his car broken. I’m afraid I will see a red hole in his forehead, a hole created by a bullet. And he is lying with his face on the ground.

I don’t want to see visions of him. All I want now is to see him physically. I want to touch him. To hold his hand. To hear his voice. To watch him walk to the altar to receive the holy communion. To watch him eat, and drink his tea on Monday morning. To sit with him in the front seat of the car and listen to him criticise the government. To wave to him as he drives out of the school yard, leaving me in Mama’s hands, letting me come to school in Mama’s car till Friday.

Papa was once a part of the government. And whenever I ask him questions relating to his achievements as the chairman of our local government council, he says nothing, then he says, finally. Nnanna, you won’t understand. It’s better for you not to know.

But he never tells me why I won’t understand. He never tells me why it is better that I don’t know about it. Now I’m thinking that I can understand. I think I am beginning to know, even though it is better for me not to know. The dusty and muddy road leading to our hometown tells so much of the story. The waving of hands to our car. The fallen parts of the school that was built during Papa’s administration. The darkness that comes upon the village at night because there are no wires or transformers or electricity transmission poles, lines. The darkness is only penetrable by the light from the generator in our home. Then, the yellow cone-shaped light from candles and kerosene lanterns from compounds, doors, windows in the village. Papa will not say anything. But everything talks about itself.

***

Now he is in Aba. Aba is in Umuahia. Umuahia is the capital of Abia. Abia is near Afikpo. Afikpo is almost my hometown – separated by a less than a half hour journey. So what if this dance and riots get to Okposi, my hometown? Will our home not be burnt? What if all those who misappropriated funds, packing public funds in private foreign accounts are killed? Will Papa survive it? Will we leave Abakaliki where we live now and travel outside the country?

***

Someone is knocking on the door. Heavy raps in quick succession. Mama is running, hurrying to open the door.

Welcome, she says. I can hear her heavy exhalation from my room.

Nwanne Agwu is a Nigerian teenager. He is the author of Nkem previously published on Afreecan Read. He has also published at Brittle PaperFlash Fiction Press and Pengician. His poem was among the top ten entries for the Chinua Achebe’s Iconic Ceremony, Awka, 2016. He blogs at nwanneagwu.wordpress.com

BLACK FRIDAY

By Udousung Blessed Abraham

The day seemed to go on forever, task after task kept coming. The sun was at its peak, its heat drenched her in sweat. The house was suffocating hot. The heat was unbearable. The noise from the moving vehicles and blasting speakers outside were driving her crazy too.

The near-absence of electric power supply which they were accustomed to, had become a burden. Power was being rationed and they got their daily share from 8pm of each night till 7am of the following day. The only consolation was that they at least got to watch Jenifa’s Diary every night.

Playful noise and rattles of kids filled the air. The boys were wrestling outside. She detested wrestling shows. She could never understand why grown men would sign up to get their asses whooped by other men; but her husband loved the idea. He even had a pile of wrestling DVDs neatly stocked under the sound cabinet, like trophies.

“From London, weighing five hundred pounds, the dead mann…. The… Undertaker!”

“From New York, weighing a hundred and fifty pounds, the you-can’t-see-me… Johnn… Cena!!”

She shook her head at the sheer folly, ‘they are at it again.’

She wished the children were at school. She loved it when they were in school, but today was a public holiday. She wondered how their teachers coped. Twenty-four hours with her children was enough to give an acute case of migraine to anybody. Her eyes drifted to Chioma who was standing on a stool, helping her with the dishes. A smile of relief crept to her face. She silently hoped that her wrestlemania boys would learn a bit of responsibility from their sister. With her subtle eyes still on her dish-savior, she mumbled that prayer in her heart.

Crash! The sound penetrated her thoughts.

A louder crash followed.

The shattering sound of metals and ceramics ended her prayers. Her stomach tightened. Instinctively, she ran towards the noise with Chioma trailing behind her.

She yelped, shocked. Lying on the floor was her husband’s favorite cutlery collection: ceramics and porcelain alike, the best of Chinese products. The ones they had intentionally never used since the dedication of Samuel. She felt a sudden surge of rage and pain rise in her head, as a throbbing headache beckoned. Yet she was unexpectedly calm. What ‘better way’ was she supposed to react?

The boys were safe. That was more important than the Chinese porcelain. But then the doctor-do-good was only a few steps away, and they needed to learn their lesson. She dashed for it. As expected, the boys took to their heels. Scattered like defeated soldiers retreating for safety, but years of chasing them had made her faster. She got to pelt them with few heavy strokes on their backs before letting out a confused shriek. She shut her eyes for a few seconds and rubbed her throbbing forehead.

“Children,” Her thoughts took flight. The memories of yells from her mum suffixed by “If your pikin do you like this, you go like am?” hit her like a thunderbolt.

Were those indirect curses?

Children! You make soup with the hope that it would last the week because recession had ceased from being just a dictionary word, but you end up finding the pieces of meat and fish reducing at an alarming rate. They leave debris in their wake. The marred sofa and missing decor pieces in the sitting room were testaments to their presence.

The psychological torture and frustration weighed her down, so much that her knees quivered. She reached out to the calling bed. It had never felt this comfortable.

••••••••••••••••••••

“Mummy, mummy, the rice have boil o. Come and check it,” her daughter’s cute voice sang in her ears, followed by a gentle tap from her. She shrugged and stretched. Just when the sleep was getting better, she thought. Her eyes opened, unveiling blood-runt pupils. She wished she could split herself in two and slump back into sleep even if it was just for a minute. Picking herself up, she dragged her legs languidly and made for the kitchen to attend to the boiling rice. She had become a superwoman.

“Mummy, I want to drink water.” Little Ike was up. Lines from sleeping on a rubber mat were imprinted all over his face. He would soon start crying for food. She scanned the house for the other boys; they were not in sight.

“Wait, I am coming.”  She hissed, shutting her eyes to push back the calling sleep. She entered the kitchen and made for the bubbly pot of rice. Turning to Chioma, she barked, “Go and bring the boys here! Tell them, if I open my eyes and they are not here, they will see what I will do to them!”

And then her head ached again, more severely this time. She shut her eyes tighter and rubbed the throbbing forehead. How could something be capable of causing overwhelming joy and overwhelming migraine at the same time?

She took down the pot, dished the rice into four plates, then placed the pot of soup on the burning gas. She wanted sleep badly. Finally done, she went to the sitting room in search of little Ike.

“Maybe he has gone back to bed,” she mumbled to herself. Her eyes fell on the Ragolis bottle that should contain methylated spirit. It was open and unexpectedly empty. A sudden wind of unease brushed her skin, cold went up her spine and goose bumps coated her flesh. Her head raced as her thoughts slowly became reality.

“No! No no no no no…”

Her pace increased.

“Ikem! Ikem!!” She froze, as color left her face. Sprawled on the ground like a rag was Ikem, the baby of the house, foaming in the mouth.

Her Ike was fighting against death.

“Ikemefuna!” She grabbed the boy and sprinted out of the house, into the open air, shouting at the top of  her voice. “Ikem o! Ikem o!!”

The neighbors rallied round her. The younger ones watched in confusion. The older ones grabbed the baby from her and ran inside.

“Red oil! Bring red oil fast,” someone shouted.

“Yes! Red oil go make am vomit wetin him swallow.”

Her mind went blank. Her brain logged off like a shut book. She rushed to the kitchen, grabbed the red oil and shoved it into the hands of the panicking life-savers.

She watched on in tears, with prayers in her heart. She could see them hold her boy and force the red fluid down his throat. She didn’t trust the old wrinkled women with her baby boy, but they were her last hope. She couldn’t wait to grab him and clutch him to her bosom; she would gladly give him water whenever he asked for it and feed him too.

She stared at him. He was barely conscious. Clenched teeth. Frail muscles. His pupils sunk into his skull as he vomited. Sighs of relief and smiles radiated the faces of the neighbors.

Then the air changed. The smiles faded to a frown as lines of confusion crept to their foreheads. He was convulsing again.

Large masculine hands grabbed him and turned him to the side. She reached out to touch her baby. “What is happening?” she mumbled.

“Wasn’t red oil supposed to help? What is happening?” She recoiled her hand, scared to touch him.

“Hold am, hold am. Rub the boy back.” “Bend the boy head.” “Find cold water.” “Raise the boy yansh up.” Different advice and instructions from different people. Despair beat their expertise and confidence.

“What is happening?” she screamed. Madness slowly descended on her as life ebbed out of him. She shuddered. Raising her head up a bit, she noticed her daughter running towards her, the wind slapping her tears to the back. Her entrails clenched, as she shook her head vigorously to knock out the dream playing before her eyes.

“Mummy, Mummy come o. Motor have jam Joseph.” The words rammed into her. For a millisecond blood seemed to leave her brains.  Her feet rose in action, with nothing but bewilderment trailing her thoughts. She fell to the ground and allowed the darkness in her soul take her away.

“Cut!” the director’s resonant voice boomed. Roars of excitement choked the air. The director was super impressed.

Udousung Blessed Abraham is from Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. Budding Engineering student of Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri. Writer and a lover of books.
His story has been featured on Tush Stories. He recently published his compilation of Short stories, “Spilled Hues”