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”

 

THE GRADUATE

By Sunday Paul C. Onwuegbuchulam

Trudging tirelessly through the street dirt,
The sweat on his face drips down,
Soaking the sodden shriveled shirt,
The soles of his shoes have thinned down.

His tired face reflects predicament,
As a result of wasteful trials,
With his hard earned documents
He cannot be offered even a trial.

But so optimistic he carried on
Running after an escaping honey,
At that middle hour not yet on,
How could he? When he has no money.

Under the burning blazing sun
He continued his eluding fight
His dry spit disappears under the sun
His sunken eyes looking left and right

Alas! There an opportunity shimmers
The chalk board shouts: ‘vacancy’!
The hope of a menial job glimmers
Even that is okay for his fancy

Knock, knock, knock, do you have “pay-pass”?
The manager’s head like Olumo rock
‘Yes’, the graduate answered, I had a pass.
The manager’s face frowned at this ignorant muck.

‘Zounds! I don’t mean that rubbish.’
Eyes blinking blearily in surprise
‘Excuse me sir, did you say rubbish?
These, for my academic endeavors are my prize.’

The graduate could not believe his ears,
Even as he returned to the streets.
The manager ejected him from there,
What a country! He was in fits.

A country where a qualified graduate
Could not qualify for a job, however menial
So that he could his sanity protect,
Which he sought, but turned to denial.

Yes, the corrupt system had denied sanity
From a man who fought tooth and nail,
To secure a place for future identity
Like a failed warrior, his aspiration fails.

Where is the employment to give him mandate?
Where are the two-tongued promises made,
By the pot-bellied hawks scavenging mandate?
Theirs was given, his was already dead.

This is his fate and others like him
In a country flowing with milk and honey.
They are gradually dying alive it seems,
But slowly the politician’s ‘pay-day’ looms surely.

 

Dr Sunday Paul C. Onwuegbuchulam is from Imo State Nigeria resident in South Africa. He is a researcher and lecturer (International and Public Affairs). He has published peer-reviewed articles in journals straddling the areas of philosophy, theology, conflict transformation and peace studies and political science. Reading and writing poetry, prose and drama is a hobby and passion developed early in life to which he devotes his pastime. The theme that controls his poetic thoughts centres on human existential realities and the plight of the alienated in African societies.