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 Paper, Flash 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