Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Ynaija post! Who do Men say I am?

Last week Thursday I woke up to see the alleys of Facebook inundated with numbers – decimal numbers, whole numbers and occasionally, even a GSM number. I saw things like “#123 is ‘bad’ as in ‘a bad guy’, he can be annoying when he wants but he’s really just a bad guy”. I wondered what it all meant.

I got the inside scoop from my sister, a chronic ‘twitterlet’ if you could call it that, who said an American rapper, Nicki Minaj, had tweeted that folks should send their friends peculiar numbers, so they could tweet about what they felt of the owners of the numbers without revealing their identity. Of course in keeping with the nature of the internet, which a colleague has aptly described as ‘anti–secret’, it spread like wild fire to Facebook , which is why it ended up in my news feed.

I thought the game was fascinating, and I indulged a bit. I chose the number 2202 – my son’s birth date – and sent it to at least 15 of my friends who were in on the game. I also received at least 20 numbers. I set about providing as much ego boosting commentary as I could, throwing in the occasional criticism to provide the balance I thought necessary to avoid being ingratiating. Facebook is, after all, a social network.

I received my commentaries too; glowing platitudes of my ‘achievements’. I really had to laugh, what would God think of this? I did receive a few strokes too; a dear friend said, “You can be bossy at times”, but quickly went on to add, “but even in your bossiness, there’s still something to be learnt”. Bless her heart , for remembering that the ego is like a porcelain vase; fragile.

The concept of wanting to know what people think of us didn’t start from Nicki Minaj. Legend speaks of ancient kings who would assemble their subjects in their opulent palaces and ask that they begin to tell what they thought of the king, his leadership and the vastness of his kingdom (it was never considered that the kingdom wasn’t vast). To be certain, those sessions were a mere formality, because anyone who dared to speak of a grievance with the king was immediately beheaded – a great price to pay for unrestrained candor.

Even our Lord Jesus felt a need to feel the heartbeat of his followers; to come to terms with their perceptions of him no matter how amorphous.

He said, “who do people say I am?”. After a series of interesting answers, he asked, “who do you say I am?” speaking to his close twelve, suggesting that maybe their answer mattered more.

Many of us know the inspired answer that Simon Peter gave, for which Jesus had to confess “flesh and blood had not revealed this to you”. His answer was rewarded with the privilege of being the foundation upon which the church is built. Ah, the importance of the right answer!

Jesus didn’t ask those questions because he didn’t know who he was. He had revealed who he was repeatedly, to the disgust of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. When Jesus said, “I and my father are one,” they spat and shook their heads saying, “How dare he compare himself to God?”

Since this faith which we share is about being Christ like, then we would do well to emulate his ways. Jesus went first to his father to receive insight into who he was. The same should apply to us. God gives the clearest, unbiased, honest opinion of us through his word.

The verses “For he that looketh into the perfect law of liberty” and “As we behold with open faces, as in a glass” show that there is a place for looking and beholding. Are you looking where you should? Are you doing anything about what you see?

It is still important for us to know what men think of us, especially the members of the household of faith. Even Apostle Paul, after hearing that the Corinthian church felt that he was a bit harsh with his first letter, felt the need to explain the reason for his fiery tone by writing 2nd Corinthians. There he explained that it was really because he desired the best for them, assuring them of his consuming love. There is indeed a thing as peer-to-peer review, resulting in a change for the better.

But our unique identity, in its purest form, is still only available from God. So if HE says #123 is a bad guy, he means just that – he is a bad guy.

And if HE tells me I am too bossy for comfort, I doubt that he would accompany his comment with a compliment to try to make me feel good.

My Ynaija post! Will you really walk past?

I was walking into VGC the other day when a woman approached me, clutching a young boy at her side. Now people who know me say I walk on the road straight faced, without looking to the left or to the right, but this woman was in my direct line of view, so I couldn’t escape. She came up to me and began a lengthy narration of how she was at Ajah and didn’t have enough money to get to Oshodi. She said she needed three hundred naira.

Now, I know that no one is unfamiliar with this scenario; it happens more often than we care to remember. Of course, I was thinking, “See me see wahala oh, is it that you didn’t know you were going to go to Oshodi tonight? How come you left the house at all if you didn’t have a means of getting back?”

We all know the common rationalizations. “They are all liars; lazy ones at that. They want to reap where they did not sow. I’m working hard for my money yet someone wants to come and share it with me.” Some of us even assess the ones with obvious limb deformities and conjure up images of the guy you watched on CNN who could paint with the brush in his mouth or the one who played the piano with his feet!

Now while it may be true that they are lazy liars, or that they really can do something with their lives besides begging, I believe that any one who can leave their home (or wherever it is they lay their heads at night), pick up a young boy as an escort, park themselves at a bus stop and beg for money is in need of some sort of help, whatever form it is, whether spiritual, emotional, psychiatric, material or financial.

If you, like Peter and John, can genuinely say, ”Silver and gold I have none”, you need to at least stop and heal, preach, save, encourage – do something – but please, don’t walk away. Walking away cannot qualify as a Jesus trait no matter how lofty your rationalizations are. If you are convinced that there is a demon of laziness, of deception or whatever it is, then cast out the bloody demon. After all, in HIS name, you will cast…

The point is DO SOMETHING. If you can’t cast out the demon, pray for the person, invite them to church or buy them a meal, then please just give the three hundred and smile and move on. Apart from the advantages of an assuaged conscience and the joy of seeing someone light up, there is still the matter of, er, faith with works to show for it!

Someone may say: “ah the Bible says ‘Anything not done out of faith is sin’. What if I don’t feel like giving?” God will not let us reach the point where we can’t give three hundred naira except we feel like it! If you don’t feel like giving all the time, you need to check that faith, if it exists at all. And no! Dont wait to hear God! It’s very unlikely that he’ll speak at that point, because he has already spoken on the matter, and because the traffic is moving and you may never see that little boy again.

I gave the woman her three hundred naira, moved on with a light heart, knowing that to give out of love can never be sin (so that’s one less uncertainty).

It’s really not your business if they are being deceptive or not, is it?

Only God knows!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

BIRD SONG by Chimamanda Adichie

This story was published in the New Yorker in the Under 40 fiction section in September 2010, and I absolutely love it, so I decided to share it. Enjoy!

BIRDSONG by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The woman, a stranger, was looking at me. In the glare of the hot afternoon, in the swirl of motorcycles and hawkers, she was looking down at me from the back seat of her jeep. Her stare was too direct, not sufficiently vacant. She was not merely resting her eyes on the car next to hers, as people often do in Lagos traffic; she was looking at me. At first, I glanced away, but then I stared back, at the haughty silkiness of the weave that fell to her shoulders in loose curls, the kind of extension called Brazilian Hair and paid for in dollars at Victoria Island hair salons; at her fair skin, which had the plastic sheen that comes from expensive creams; and at her hand, forefinger bejewelled, which she raised to wave a magazine hawker away, with the ease of a person used to waving people away. She was beautiful, or perhaps she was just so unusual-looking, with wide-set eyes sunk deep in her face, that “beautiful” was the easiest way of describing her. She was the kind of woman I imagined my lover’s wife was, a woman for whom things were done.

My lover. It sounds a little melodramatic, but I never knew how to refer to him. “Boyfriend” seemed wrong for an urbane man of forty-five who carefully slipped off his wedding ring before he touched me. Chikwado called him “your man,” with a faintly sneering smile, as though we were both in on the joke: he was not, of course, mine. “Ah, you are always rushing to leave because of this your man,” she would say, leaning back in her chair and smacking her head with her hand, over and over. Her scalp was itchy beneath her weave, and this was the only way she could come close to scratching it. “Have fun oh, as long as your spirit accepts it, but as for me, I cannot spread my legs for a married man.” She said this often, with a clear-eyed moral superiority, as I packed my files and shut down my computer for the day.

We were friends out of necessity, because we had both graduated from Enugu Campus and ended up working for Celnet Telecom, in Lagos, as the only females in the community-relations unit. Otherwise, we would not have been friends. I was irritated by how full of simplified certainties she was, and I knew that she thought I behaved like an irresponsible, vaguely foreign teen-ager: wearing my hair in a natural low-cut, smoking cigarettes right in front of the building, where everyone could see, and refusing to join in the prayer sessions our boss led after Monday meetings. I would not have told her about my lover—I did not tell her about my personal life—but she was there when he first walked into our office, a lean, dark man with a purple tie and a moneyed manner. He was full of the glossy self-regard of men who shrugged off their importance in a way that only emphasized it. Our boss shook his hand with both hands and said, “Welcome, sir, it is good to see you, sir, how are you doing, sir, please come and sit down, sir.” Chikwado was there when he looked at me and I looked at him and then he smiled, of all things, a warm, open smile. She heard when he said to our boss, “My family lives in America,” a little too loudly, for my benefit, with that generic foreign accent of the worldly Nigerian, which, I would discover later, disappeared when he became truly animated about something. She saw him walk over and give me his business card. She was there, a few days later, when his driver came to deliver a gift bag. Because she had seen, and because I was swamped with emotions that I could not name for a man I knew was wrong for me, I showed her the perfume and the card that said, “I am thinking of you.”

“Na wa! Look at how your eyes are shining because of a married man. You need deliverance prayers,” Chikwado said, half joking. She went to night-vigil services often, at different churches, but all with the theme Finding Your God-Given Mate; she would come to work the next morning sleepy, the whites of her eyes flecked with red, but already planning to attend another service. She was thirty-two and tottering under the weight of her desire: to settle down. It was all she talked about. It was all our female co-workers talked about when we had lunch at the cafeteria. Yewande is wasting her time with that man—he is not ready to settle down. Please ask him oh, if he does not see marriage in the future then you better look elsewhere; nobody is getting any younger. Ekaete is lucky, just six months and she is already engaged. While they talked, I would look out the window, high up above Lagos, at the acres of rusted roofs, at the rise and fall of hope in this city full of tarnished angels.

Even my lover spoke of this desire. “You’ll want to settle down soon,” he said. “I just want you to know I’m not going to stand in your way.” We were naked in bed; it was our first time. A feather from the pillow was stuck in his hair, and I had just picked it out and showed it to him. I could not believe, in the aftermath of what had just happened, both of us still flush from each other’s warmth, how easily the words rolled out of his mouth. “I’m not like other men, who think they can dominate your life and not let you move forward,” he continued, propping himself up on his elbow to look at me. He was telling me that he played the game better than others, while I had not yet conceived of the game itself. From the moment I met him, I had had the sensation of possibility, but for him the path was already closed, had indeed never been open; there was no room for things to sweep in and disrupt.
“You’re very thoughtful,” I said, with the kind of overdone mockery that masks damage. He nodded, as though he agreed with me. I pulled the covers up to my chin. I should have got dressed, gone back to my flat in Surulere, and deleted his number from my phone. But I stayed. I stayed for thirteen months and eight days, mostly in his house in Victoria Island—a faded-white house, with its quiet grandeur and airy spaces, which was built during British colonial rule and sat in a compound full of fruit trees, the enclosing wall wreathed in creeping bougainvillea. He had told me he was taking me to a Lebanese friend’s guesthouse, where he was staying while his home in Ikoyi was being refurbished. When I stepped out of the car, I felt as though I had stumbled into a secret garden. A dense mass of periwinkles, white and pink, bordered the walkway to the house. The air was clean here, even fragrant, and there was something about it all that made me think of renewal. He was watching me; I could sense how much he wanted me to like it.

“This is your house, isn’t it?” I said. “It doesn’t belong to your Lebanese friend.”
He moved closer to me, surprised. “Please don’t misunderstand. I was going to tell you. I just didn’t want you to think it was some kind of . . .” He paused and took my hand. “I know what other men do, and I am not like that. I don’t bring women here. I bought it last year to knock it down and build an apartment block, but it was so beautiful. My friends think I’m mad for keeping it. You know nobody respects old things in this country. I work from here most days now, instead of going to my office.”
We were standing by sliding glass doors that led to a veranda, over which a large flame tree spread its branches. Wilted red flowers had fallen on the cane chairs. “I like to sit there and watch birds,” he said, pointing.
He liked birds. Birds had always been just birds to me, but with him I became someone else: I became a person who liked birds. The following Sunday morning, on our first weekend together, as we passed sections of Next to each other in the quiet of that veranda, he looked up at the sky and said, “There’s a magpie. They like shiny things.” I imagined putting his wedding ring on the cane table so that the bird would swoop down and carry it away forever.

“I knew you were different!” he said, thrilled, when he noticed that I read the business and sports sections, as though my being different reflected his good taste. And so we talked eagerly about newspapers, and about the newscasts on AIT and CNN, marvelling at how similar our opinions were. We never discussed my staying. It was not safe to drive back to Surulere late, and he kept saying, “Why don’t you bring your things tomorrow so you can go to work from here?” until most of my clothes were in the wardrobe and my moisturizers were on the bathroom ledge. He left me money on the table, in brown envelopes on which he wrote “For your fuel,” as if I could possibly spend fifty thousand naira on petrol. Sometimes, he asked if I needed privacy to change, as if he had not seen me naked many times.

We did not talk about his wife or his children or my personal life or when I would want to settle down so that he could avoid standing in my way. Perhaps it was all the things we left unsaid that made me watch him. His skin was so dark that I teased him about being from Gambia; if he were a woman, I told him, he would never find a face powder that matched his tone. I watched as he carefully unwrapped scented moist tissues to clean his glasses, or cut the chicken on his plate, or tied his towel round his waist in a knot that seemed too elaborate for a mere towel, just below the embossed scar by his navel. I memorized him, because I did not know him. He was courtly, his life lived in well-oiled sequences, his cufflinks always tasteful.

His three cell phones rang often; I knew when it was his wife, because he would go to the toilet or out to the veranda, and I knew when it was a government official, because he would say afterward, “Why won’t these governors leave somebody alone?” But it was clear that he liked the governors’ calls, and the restaurant manager who came to our table to say, “We are so happy to see you, sah.” He searched the Sunday-magazine pullouts for pictures of himself, and when he found one he said in a mildly complaining tone, “Look at this, why should they turn businessmen into celebrities?” Yet he would not wear the same suit to two events because of the newspaper photographers. He had a glowing ego, like a globe, round and large and in constant need of polishing. He did things for people. He gave them money, introduced them to contacts, helped their relatives get jobs, and when the gratitude and praise came—he showed me text messages thanking him; I remember one that read “History will immortalize you as a great man”—his eyes would glaze over, and I could almost hear him purr.
One day he told me, while we were watching two kingfishers do a mating dance on a guava tree, that most birds did not have penises. I had never thought about the penises of birds.
“My mother had chickens in the yard when I was growing up, and I used to watch them mating,” I said.
“Of course they mate, but not with penises,” he said. “Did you ever see a cock with a dick?”
I laughed, and he, only just realizing the joke, laughed, too. It became our endearment. “Cock with a dick,” I would whisper, hugging him in greeting, and we would burst out laughing. He sent me texts signed “CwithaD.” And each time I turned off the potholed road in Victoria Island and into that compound full of birdsong I felt as though I were home.
The woman was still looking at me. Traffic was at a standstill, unusual this early in the afternoon. A tanker must have fallen across the road—tankers were always falling across the roads—or a bus had broken down, or cars had formed a line outside a petrol station, blocking the road. My fuel gauge was close to empty. I switched off the ignition and rolled down the window, wondering if the woman would roll down hers as well and say something to me. I stared back at her, and yet she did not waver, her eyes remaining firm, until I looked away. There were many more hawkers now, holding out magazines, phone cards, plantain chips, newspapers, cans of Coke and Amstel Malta dipped in water to make them look cold. The driver in front of me was buying a phone card. The hawker, a boy in a red Arsenal shirt, scratched the card with his fingernail, and then waited for the driver to enter the numbers in his phone to make sure the card was not fake.
I turned again to look at the woman. I was reminded of what Chikwado had said about my lover the first day that he came to our office: “His face is full of overseas.” The woman, too, had a face full of overseas, the face of a person whose life was a blur of comforts. There was something in the set of her lips, which were lined with cocoa lip pencil, that suggested an unsatisfying triumph, as though she had won a battle but hated having had to fight in the first place. Perhaps she was indeed my lover’s wife and she had come back to Lagos and just found out about me, and then, as though in a bad farce, ended up next to me in traffic. But his wife could not possibly know; he had been so careful.

“I wish I could,” he always said, when I asked him to spend Saturday afternoon with me at Jazz Hole, or when I suggested we go to a play at Terra Kulture on Sunday, or when I asked if we could try dinner at a different restaurant. We only ever went to one on a dark street off Awolowo Road, a place with expensive wines and no sign on the gate. He said “I wish I could” as though some great and ineluctable act of nature made it impossible for him to be seen publicly with me. And impossible for him to keep my text messages. I wanted to ask how he could so efficiently delete my texts as soon as he read them, why he felt no urge to keep them on his phone, even if only for a few hours, even if only for a day. There were reams of questions unasked, gathering like rough pebbles in my throat. It was a strange thing to feel so close to a man—to tell him about my resentment of my parents, to lie supine for him with an abandon that was unfamiliar to me—and yet be unable to ask him questions, bound as I was by insecurity and unnamed longings.
The first time we quarrelled, he said to me accusingly, “You don’t cry.” I realized that his wife cried, that he could handle tears but not my cold defiance.
The fight was about his driver, Emmanuel, an elderly man who might have looked wise if his features were not so snarled with dissatisfaction. It was a Saturday afternoon. I had been at work that morning. My boss had called an emergency meeting that I thought unnecessary: we all knew that His Royal Highness, the Oba of the town near the lagoon, was causing trouble, saying that Celnet Telecom had made him look bad in front of his people. He had sent many messages asking how we could build a big base station on his ancestral land and yet donate only a small borehole to his people. That morning, his guards had blocked off our building site, shoved some of our engineers around, and punctured the tires of their van. My boss was furious, and he slammed his hand on the table as he spoke at the meeting. I, too, slammed my hand on the cane table as I imitated him later, while my lover laughed. “That is the problem with these godless, demon-worshipping traditional rulers,” my boss said. “The man is a crook. A common crook! What happened to the one million naira we gave him? Should we also bring bags of rice and beans for all his people before we put up our base station? Does he want a supply of meat pies every day? Nonsense!”
“Meat pies” had made Chikwado and me laugh, even though our boss was not being funny. “Why not something more ordinary, like bread?” Chikwado whispered to me, and then promptly raised her hand when our boss asked for volunteers to go see the Oba right away. I never volunteered. I disliked those visits—villagers watching us with awed eyes, young men asking for free phone cards, even free phones—because it all made me feel helplessly powerful.
“Why meat pies?” my lover asked, still laughing.
“I have no idea.”
“Actually, I would like to have a meat pie right now.”
“Me, too.”
We were laughing, and with the sun shining, the sound of birds above, the slight flutter of the curtains against the sliding door, I was already thinking of future Saturdays that we would spend together, laughing at funny stories about my boss. My lover summoned Emmanuel and asked him to take me to the supermarket to buy the meat pies. When I got into the car, Emmanuel did not greet me. He simply stared straight ahead. It was the first time that he had driven me without my lover. The silence was tense. Perhaps he was thinking that all his children were older than me.

“Well done, Emmanuel!” I said finally, greeting him with forced brightness. “Do you know the supermarket on Kofo Abayomi Street?”
He said nothing and started the car. When we arrived, he stopped at the gate. “Come out here, let me go and park,” he said.
“Please drop me at the entrance,” I said. Every other driver did that, before looking for a parking space.
“Come out here.” He still did not look at me. Rage rose under my skin, making me feel detached and bloodless, suspended in air; I could not sense the ground under my feet as I climbed out. After I had selected some meat pies from the display case, I called my lover and told him that Emmanuel had been rude and that I would be taking a taxi back.
“Emmanuel said the road was bad,” my lover said when I got back, his tone conciliatory.
“The man insulted me,” I said.
“No, he’s not like that. Maybe he didn’t understand you.”
Emmanuel had shown me the power of my lover’s wife; he would not have been so rude if he feared he might be reprimanded. I wanted to fling the bag of meat pies through the window.
“Is this what you do, have your driver remind your girlfriends of their place?” I was shrill and I disliked myself for it. Worse, I was horrified to notice that my eyes were watering. My lover gently wrapped his arms around me, as though I were an irrational child, and asked whether I would give him a meat pie.
“You’ve brought other women here, haven’t you?” I asked, not entirely sure how this had become about other women.
He shook his head. “No, I have not. No more of this talk. Let’s eat the meat pies and watch a film.”

I let myself be mollified, be held, be caressed. Later, he said, “You know, I have had only two affairs since I got married. I’m not like other men.”
“You sound as if you think you deserve a prize,” I said.
He was smiling. “Both of them were like you.” He paused to search for a word, and when he found it he said it with enjoyment. “Feisty. They were feisty like you.”
I looked at him. How could he not see that there were things he should not say to me, and that there were things I longed to have with him? It was a willed blindness; it had to be. He chose not to see. “You are such a bastard,” I said.
I repeated myself.
He looked as though he had just been stung by an insect. “Get out. Leave this house right now,” he said, and then muttered, “This is unacceptable.”
I had never before been thrown out of a house. Emmanuel sat in a chair in the shade of the garage and watched stone-faced as I hurried to my car. My lover did not call me for five days, and I did not call him. When he finally called, his first words were “There are two pigeons on the flame tree. I’d like you to see them.”
“You are acting as if nothing happened.”
“I called you,” he said, as though the call itself were an apology. Later, he told me that if I had cried instead of calling him a bastard he would have behaved better. I should not have gone back—I knew that even then.
The woman, still staring at me, was talking on her cell phone. Her jeep was black and silver and miraculously free of scratches. How was that possible in this city where okada after okada sped through the narrow slices of space between cars in traffic as though motorcycles could shrink to fit any gap? Perhaps whenever her car was hit a mechanic descended from the sky and made the dent disappear. The car in front of me had a gash on its tail-light; it looked like one of the many cars that dripped oil, turning the roads into a slick sheet when the rains came. My own car was full of wounds. The biggest, a mangled bumper, was from a taxi that rammed into me at a red light on Kingsway Road a month before. The driver had jumped out with his shirt unbuttoned, all sweaty bravado, and screamed at me.
“Stupid girl! You are a common nuisance. Why did you stop like that? Nonsense!”
I stared at him, stunned, until he drove away, and then I began to think of what I could have said, what I could have shouted back.
“If you were wearing a wedding ring, he would not have shouted at you like that,” Chikwado said when I told her, as she punched the redial button on her desk phone. At the cafeteria, she told our co-workers about it. Ah, ah, stupid man! Of course he was shouting because he knew he was wrong—that is the Lagos way. So he thinks he can speak big English. Where did he even learn the word “nuisance”? They sucked their teeth, telling their own stories about taxi-drivers, and then their outrage fizzled and they began to talk, voices lowered and excited, about a fertility biscuit that the new pastor at Redemption Church was giving women.
“It worked for my sister oh. First she did a dry fast for two days, then the pastor did a special deliverance prayer for her before she ate the biscuit. She had to eat it at exactly midnight. The next month, the very next month, she missed her period, I’m telling you,” one of them, a contract staffer who was doing a master’s degree part time at Ibadan, said.
“Is it an actual biscuit?” another asked.
“Yes now. But they bless the ingredients before they make the biscuits. God can work through anything, sha. I heard about a pastor that uses handkerchiefs.”
I looked away and wondered what my lover would make of this story. He was visiting his family in America for two weeks. That evening, he sent me a text. “At a concert with my wife. Beautiful music. Will call you in ten minutes and leave phone on so you can listen in. CwithaD.” I read it twice and then, even though I had saved all his other texts, I deleted it, as though my doing so would mean that it had never been sent. When he called, I let my phone ring and ring. I imagined them at the concert, his wife reaching out to hold his hand, because I could not bear the thought that it might be he who would reach out. I knew then that he could not possibly see me, the inconvenient reality of me; instead, all he saw was himself in an exciting game.
He came back from his trip wearing shoes I did not recognize, made of rich brown leather and much more tapered than his other shoes, almost comically pointy. He was in high spirits, twirling me around when we hugged, caressing the tightly coiled hair at the nape of my neck and saying, “So soft.” He wanted to go out to dinner, he said, because he had a surprise for me, and when he went into the bathroom one of his phones rang. I took it and looked at his text messages. It was something I had never thought of doing before, and yet I suddenly felt compelled to do it. Text after text in his “sent” box were to Baby. The most recent said he had arrived safely. What struck me was not how often he texted his wife, or how short the texts were—“stuck in traffic,” “missing you,” “almost there”—but that all of them were signed “CwithaD.” Inside me, something sagged. Had he choreographed a conversation with her, nimbly made the joke about a “cock with a dick” and then found a way to turn it into a shared endearment for the two of them? I thought of the effort it would take to do that. I put the phone down and glanced at the mirror, half expecting to see myself morphing into a slack, stringless marionette.
In the car, he asked, “Is something wrong? Are you feeling well?”
“I can’t believe you called me so that I could listen to the music you and your wife were listening to.”
“I did that because I missed you so much,” he said. “I really wanted to be there with you.”
“But you weren’t there with me.”
“You’re in a bad mood.”
“Don’t you see? You weren’t there with me.”
He reached over and took my hand, rubbing his thumb on my palm. I looked out at the dimly lit street. We were on our way to our usual hidden restaurant, where I had eaten everything on the menu a hundred times. A mosquito, now sluggish with my blood, had got in the car. I slapped myself as I tried to hit it.
“Good evening, sah,” the waiter said when we were seated. “You are welcome, sah.”
“Have you noticed that they never greet me?” I asked my lover.
“Well . . .” he said, and adjusted his glasses.
The waiter came back, a sober-faced man with a gentle demeanor, and I waited until he had opened the bottle of red wine before I asked, “Why don’t you greet me?”
The waiter glanced at my lover, as though seeking guidance, and this infuriated me even more. “Am I invisible? I am the one who asked you a question. Why do all of you waiters and gatemen and drivers in this Lagos refuse to greet me? Do you not see me?”
“Come back in ten minutes,” my lover said to the waiter in his courteous, deep-voiced way. “You need to calm down,” he told me. “Do you want us to go?”
“Why don’t they greet me?” I asked, and gulped down half my glass of wine.
“I have a surprise for you. I’ve bought you a new car.”
I looked at him blankly.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
“I heard you.” I was supposed to get up and hug him and tell him that history would remember him as a great man. A new car. I drank more wine.
“Did I tell you about my first bus ride when I arrived in Lagos, six years ago?” I asked. “When I got on the bus, a boy was screaming in shock because a stranger had found his lost wallet and given it back to him. The boy looked like me, a green, eager job seeker, and he, too, must have come from his home town armed with warnings. You know all the things they tell you: don’t give to street beggars because they are only pretending to be lame; look through tomato pyramids for the rotten ones the hawkers hide underneath; don’t help people whose cars have broken down, because they are really armed robbers. And then somebody found his wallet and gave it back to him.”
My lover looked puzzled.
“Rituals of distrust,” I said. “That is how we relate to one another here, through rituals of distrust. Do you know how carefully I watch the fuel gauge when I buy petrol just to make sure the attendant hasn’t tampered with it? We know the rules and we follow them, and we never make room for things we might not have imagined. We close the door too soon.” I felt a little silly, saying things I knew he did not understand and did not want to understand, and also a little cowardly, saying them the way I did. He was resting his elbows on the table, watching me, and I knew that all he wanted was my excitement, my gratitude, my questions about when I could see the new car. I began to cry, and he came around and cradled me against his waist. My nose was running and my eyes itched as I dabbed them with my napkin. I never cried elegantly, and I imagined that his wife did; she was probably one of those women who could just have the tears trail down her cheeks, leaving her makeup intact, her nose dry.
The traffic had started to move a little. I saw an okada in my side mirror, coming too fast, swerving and honking, and I waited to hear the crunch as it hit my car. But it didn’t. The driver was wearing a helmet, while his passenger merely held hers over her head—the smelly foam inside would have ruined her hair—close enough so that she could slip it on as soon as she saw aLASTMA official ahead. My lover once called it fatalism. He had given free helmets to all his staff, but most of them still got on an okada without one. The day before, an okada, the driver bareheaded and blindly speeding, had hit me as I turned onto Ogunlana Drive; the driver stuck his finger into his mouth and ran it over the scratch on the side of my car. “Auntie, sorry oh! Nothing happen to the car,” he said, and continued his journey.
I laughed. I had not laughed in the three weeks since I had left work at lunchtime and driven to my lover’s house. I had packed all my clothes, my books, and my toiletries and gone back to my flat, consumed as I went by how relentlessly unpretty Lagos was, with houses sprouting up unplanned like weeds.
During those three weeks, I had said little at work. Our office was suddenly very uncomfortable, the air-conditioning always too cold. His Royal Highness, the Oba of the town near the lagoon, was asking for more money; his town council had written a letter saying that the borehole was spewing blackish water. My boss was calling too many meetings.
“Let us give thanks,” he said after one of the meetings.
“Why should we be praying in the workplace?” I asked. “Why must you assume that we are all Christians?”
He looked startled. He knew that I never joined in, never said “Amen,” but I had never been vocal about it.
“It is not by force to participate in thanking the Lord,” he said, and then in the same breath continued, “In Jesus’ name!”
“Amen!” the others chorused.
I turned to leave the meeting room.
“Don’t go,” my co-worker Gerald whispered to me. “Akin brought his birthday cake.”
I stood outside the meeting room until the prayer ended, and then we sang “Happy Birthday” to Akin. His cake looked like the unpretentious kind I liked, probably from Sweet Sensation, the kind that sometimes had bits of forgotten eggshells in it. Our boss asked him to give me or Chikwado the cake to serve.
“Why do we always have to serve the cake?” I asked. “Every time somebody brings in a cake, it is either Chikwado serves it or I serve it. You, Gerald, serve the cake. Or you, Emeka, since you are the most junior.”
They stared at me. Chikwado got up hurriedly and began to slice the cake. “Please, don’t mind her,” she said to everyone, but her eyes were on our boss. “She is behaving like this because she did not take her madness medicine today.”
Later, she said to me, “Why have you been behaving somehow? What’s the problem? Did something happen with your man?”
For a moment, I wanted to tell her how I felt: as though bits of my skin had warped and cracked and peeled off, leaving patches of raw flesh so agonizingly painful I did not know what to do. I wanted to tell her how often I stared at my phone, even though he had sent two feeble texts saying he did not understand why I’d left and then nothing else; and how I remembered clearly, too clearly, the scent of the moist tissues he used to clean his glasses. I didn’t tell her, because I was sure she would deliver one of her petty wisdoms, like “If you see fire and you put your hand in fire, then fire will burn you.” Still, there was a softness in her expression, something like sympathy, when I looked up from my computer screen and saw her watching me while her hand went slap, slap, slap on her head. Her weave was a new style, too long and too wiggy, with reddish highlights that brought to mind the hair of cheap plastic dolls. Yet there was an honesty about it; Chikwado owned it in a way that the woman in the jeep did not own her Brazilian hair.
A young boy approached my car, armed with a spray bottle of soapy water and a rag. I turned on my wipers to discourage him, but he still squirted my windscreen. I increased the wiper speed. The boy glared at me and moved on to the car behind me. I was seized with a sudden urge to step out and slap him. For a moment, my vision blurred. It was really the woman I wanted to slap. I turned to her jeep and, because she had looked away, I pressed my horn. I leaned out of my window.
“What is your problem? Why have you been staring at me? Do I owe you?” I shouted.
The traffic began to move. I thought she would roll down her window, too. She made as if to lean toward it, then turned away, the slightest of smiles on her face, her head held high, and I watched the jeep pick up speed and head to the bridge. ♦

Friday, December 3, 2010

My juvenile muse: Are you really going to leave?

I represent something to ChooChoo- belonging, security, strenght, solace, everything that speaks of a never dry fountain of love; reminding him of my breasts where he sucked at ( although he stopped far too early)

I was leaving for work today, and I tried to sneak out without saying anything to him. Sometimes his nanny carries him and escorts me out of the gate while I wave at him, my heart tugging as I behold his big teary eyes.
But this day, I felt I could do without the drama, and I tried to leave, but I under estimated him and his errr....acute awareness of his mommy's activities. I think he smelt my perfume and looked up just in time and the scream was ear piercing. I looked back and I was hooked. I can't just walk away, can I? This is after all the person that filled me up, cell by cell, round and round my middle until I was turgid like a satchet of 'Pure water'!

I went back to him and carried him up and I kissed him. He stopped screaming and laid his head on my shoulder. I meant to do this for about a minute, but we were still there after three. I tried to hand him over to the nanny, but he wouldn't just let go. He held on to my shirt with his tiny fists and just wouldn't let go.
'Tiny' must give you an impression of tiny strenght but I can assure this was far from the case. The grip was strong and manly and all that could be done was to force my fingers in and pry his open, but even that took a while. When I eventually succeeded and picked up my bag to go, I looked back to him and I saw his eyes. It said 'Are you really going to leave?'

And this my friends is the image that stayed with me throughout the day..

My heart is breaking in smithereens ... Juvenile muse...I'll be back soon...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


In the sitting room, there is a seven seater settee. In between two three seaters, there is a twenty centimetre gap. It leads out to the kitchen, the restroom, and other parts of the house. I do not like him to go there because there are many dangers out there. Okonkwo, the rat, may be passing by, a knife may be lying on the kitchen floor, and the bathroom floor may be slippery. So anytime he tries to pass, I snatch him up and drag him away. 

And there's that scream again. Yes, that one! But I ignore it. I feel the scream would be much louder if Okonkwo chews his feet or if he slips and falls in the bathroom. So, ChooChoo, your screams don't work no more :) As soon as I take my eyes away, he's back there, trying to pass. Then the Eureka moment comes! I can block that space with something, I say.  Yes, a big piece of something. Maybe, a throw pillow... Yes, I'm a genius. ChooChoo will never be able to pass. I do just that and he looks at the whole contraption with dismay, but I with glee. All's well with this part of the world. 

I'm back to reading my novel, and then minutes after I hear some scraping in the kitchen. "Yikes! Okonkwo again! Wait! Where's ChooChoo?" 
"Mfon, where's ChooChoo? I ask. What's that noise in the kitchen? "
Mfon comes back with ChooChoo in hand. "It was ChooChoo making that noise in the kitchen, scraping a breadknife on the ground", she replies.

Me? Outwitted by a crawlie? I look to see what became of the contraption. Nothing became of it. It was still there. So, how? I look back at ChooChoo and he wears the 'grin'. Yeah, you know the grin. It's a 'I'm a boss' grin. I look away and search furtively for the route of escape and I see it. 

The pillow is not quite the way it was before; it seemed squashed, and it is then obvious that my juvenile muse has showed me again why he is the boss. He squeezed past, flattening himself against the side hollow of the couch!

And this my friends is the lesson- DEFY ALL ODDS. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

He Broke Through My Womb's Door

A scream pierced the air.
5.00pm, 22th Feb, 2010, Grady Memorial, GA.
12 hours after, I saw him.
"Couldn't you knock?", I asked.
No answer.
He just screamed.
I should have known.
That's why 9 months after,  he screams when you take your phone away from him.
And no, the scream is not that of a 9 month old!

N.B Please don't be mad at me for making you scared;  it's not my intention but this entire experience was not funny, but you'll be aii! :)

My Ynaija post! How NOT to be Spirit filled

To be spirit filled is to have the Holy Spirit of God as your constant companion and not a person you whisper to at the door of your church on Sunday morning “Hi, I need you to get through this service, Come on!”

You may not assume that you are filled with the Spirit, because your face contorts in awe at the dexterity of the worship leader and that your knees fall to the ground of their own volition. You would check to see that the worship resonates because it is the worship of someone you know- someone to whom you are known.

You will not assume that those goose pimples indicate the conviction you feel when you hear the powerful word of God flowing from the mouth of your articulate, suave and charismatic pastor. You may simply need to check the AC! You would judge your conviction if present at all, by your obedience to the Spirit’s prompting.

You will not, because you have been inhabited by the Spirit go off on tangents that are idiosyncratic to you. You will be careful to check that all your expressions of that Spirit are in line with the word of God for God gave you that Spirit and wouldn’t have you do anything he doesn’t do.

You will not assume that being filled with the Spirit takes away your individuality, for He gave some to be apostles, some pastors, and the rest of them. You will take heed to pursue your unique destiny in God and tactically resist attempts to make you conform to a clonish gospel.
You will not be filled just for filling sake! You will be careful to see that you bear the fruits of that Spirit; a few simple things like love, joy, peace, goodness, faith, meekness, gentleness, meekness, temperance.

You will not, because you have a superior Spirit look condescendingly on the next man, for the one from whom the Spirit came loved all; sinners and righteous alike and was particularly fond of associating with the former.

You will not, because you house the Spirit of God imagine that you have a license to neglect the care of the house of your body. You will pay just the right amount of attention to it because you received it from God and the Spirit can only be of benefit as long as the house still stands.

You will not assume that because you are filled with the Spirit, you only have to be that –filled with the Spirit, you will take time to be filled with other things; knowledge, wisdom and a mindset of excellence befitting of that Spirit.

And finally, you will not treat the priviledge of receiving that Spirit as another acquisition to your list of accomplishments but as a definition of the fabric of your life as one having strength, the ability to stay constant after numerous challenges, and beauty in the face of differing circumstances.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The ceiling fan was making a whirr whirr sound, swaying from side to side in a last desperate attempt to do the work for which it was made; to circulate air. The Power Holding Company had just emasculated it. Mrs Effiong groaned. Her three month old who was sleeping soundly, would soon cry out when he became hot and sweaty. If she had known that PHC was this unreliable in these parts , she would have prevented her husband from paying for this flat in Ijesha. She lay sprawled on the couch, her well worn jeans skirt riding up her thighs, the copy of the church bulletin fanned out before her. She didn’t need this now, not like it was ever needed, but not now. Especially not now. She was expecting the agent to bring a new housegirl for her.

Mrs Effiong was petite and rotund; her stomach still reeling from the expansive effects of pregnancy. Her face was long like a sheep’s; but she gave no impression of foolishness, rather of hawk like alertness; she had the quick movements of a bird. The most remarkable thing about her was her voice, high, metallic, and without inflexion; falling on the ear with a hard monotony; irritating to the nerves like a constant crackling of biscuit wraps in a solemn burial service.

She liked to have housegirls; not that she couldn’t do her work herself, but she needed to have the company of someone, preferably someone she could control, since her husband would be at work; having escaped temporarily from her bilious tongue. The heat was already getting unbearable, and their Tiger generator had only recently packed up. After the four housegirls that had been through her hands in the last two months, her instincts were now honed to pick up even latent traits of stupidity; and heat would only serve to deaden those instincts. She had refused her husband’s offer to be present at the interview, because she didn’t need him empathizing with a girl just because she sat there, palms folded in laps, a doe eyed look in her eyes.

Mr Effiong was a Sunday School teacher at the Presbyterian Church in Yaba, and had been since 2007, and after two years of teaching youngsters, his constant refrain was “Honey, small small, no kill small pikin!” He was quiet, almost brooding and one who after three years of marriage to Mrs Effiong had learned that it was more conducive to peace to leave her with the last word or action. Mrs Effiong didn’t think any of those girls were ‘small pikin’ and she showed them by pummelling them promptly, and although she was thirty three, five years younger than her husband, she didn’t feel he was as world- wise as she thought she was.

“Madam!” someone called. It was Mr Akpan, the agent, hovering at the burglary proof just outside the sitting room, a young lady at his side. Never one to miss the opportunity of cutting someone down to their size or even below it, she said,unlocking the padlock, “Mister Akpan, I have a door. Knock ! No dey shout person name” , eyes roving all over the girl.

Mrs Effiong had resolved not to accept any girl who looked anything like all the others, and so when she saw this one; with her tapering jeans and white plaid shirt, a pink beret on her head, she smiled to herself. She thought she might be someone who fit . Someone who didn’t look stupid. Of course her judgement was biased; her mind had told her: as long as the girl doesn’t look like anyone your husband would call small pikin, you are fine. The baby’s wail pierced the air from the bedroom, and she hurried to pick it up while showing them to the couch.

“What is your name?” she asked as she returned, her eyes surreptitiously scanning the lady’s sillhouette and this time noticing pink toenails peeking out from pink gladiator sandals. This must have been to match the pink beret, Mrs Effiong thought.

“Monica, Monique for short”, she replied all the time twirling her shoulder length braids. Bits of pink could be seen highlighted in the thick mass of charcoal black braids. She was very conscious of fashion, thought Mrs Effiong. Just then a loud disco tune rent the air. “I go call you later, I dey interview”, Monica said into a phone pulled out from her jeans pocket. Mrs Effiong couldn’t help but notice that it was a well used blackberry.

After a series of questions such as how old she was which was twenty-four and her level of education which she replied, “School Cert” and an expert inquisition into her background, which was directed to Mr Akpan, who all the while had been quiet, a faint look of amusement on his face; keenly observing the exchange between ‘Madam’ and applicant; a verdict was reached. You fit start tomorrow? asked Mrs Effiong, her baby nodding off to sleep again in her arms.

Monica arrived the next morning at 7.00am just when Mr Effiong was preparing to leave for the construction site where he was head foreman. He clutched yesterday’s Punch newspaper in his left hand and a little basket in his right. The basket contained a meal of boiled plantains and fresh fish stew, which Mrs Effiong had woken up at 5.00am to prepare; fleeing not once , but twice to breastfeed her baby, who wailed just when he could no longer feel the warmth of his mother against his skin. At each point, she swore under her breath, cursing the last girl who had just left and simultaneously willing Monica to hurry up.

So it was with great anticipation that Monica was expected. Mr Effiong stopped in his tracks when he saw her at the door. What he saw, can best be described as the sight of a plate of jollof rice and chicken to his hungry labourers. Monica was dressed in a red knee length pencil skirt and black blouuse, breasts straining for prominence under a black blouse, with a black beret substituting for the pink beret of the day before. “Did she have them in all the colours?”, Mrs Effiong thought as she came out of her room, when she heard the door open.

“Honey, this is the girl, she said to her husband, who mumbled “this one no be small pikin”, and hurried out to his grey 1996 Datsun to begin the one hour crawl to the site at Apapa.

“Good morning, Ma", said Monica lugging her fifty pound travelling bag over to the center of the sitting room. Mrs Effiong eyed the bag from the corner of her eye. “You have load oh”, she said intending the question as a rhetorical one to which Monica mumbled something inaudible. Just then the baby cried out and Mrs Effiong hurried away, with Monica following closely at her heels.

His diaper was wet, and when Monica, showing great prowess in the process of diaper change, lifting up the baby’s buttocks with care and massaging Vaseline on it with the practised air of someone who had done this before. Not once , but a lot of times, Mrs Effiong was excited , but she kept it to herself. She had made a good choice afterall, and the days of woe as she insisted on calling these times would be behind her for good. “No small pikin and their stupidity” was her private mantra.

The days and the weeks passed with no casualties between Mrs Effiong and her housegirl, the house looking like one with no ‘small pikin’ housegirl, clean, orderly and above all without the familiar wailings and quick dashes to the backyard of a young girl accompanied by Mrs Effiong, hot on her heels, wrapper around her breasts, brandishing a gari stick. It was peaceful, because afterall there was no small pikin. The last girl couldn’t even hold the baby, for her hands shook and her face blanched and bore a resemblance to that of the baby. Of course the baby cried much more when it was carried by Ekaete, for that was her name; seeing that it was being held by one of its kind, howbeit a bigger version.

One day Mrs Effiong returned home after a trip to the market to discover that the money she had set aside for the baby’s christening dress was short. Of one thousand naira. She had a hard time reconciling her accounts, and she later, after exhaustive but unproductive brain wracking concluded that she must have used the money somehow, maybe in buying some things. It didn’t matter that there were no things!

Monica was up at night typing on her phone. Mrs Effiong found out because in the middle of the night when she got up to use the bathroom, and she had to pass by Monica’s room, she heard the familiar sound she usually heard from the phone of her neighbour upstairs. She restrained the urge to barge into the room, in a characteristic Mrs Effiong style and demand that Monica go to bed. That why was she wasting her light and a host of other questions. Dealing with an apparently non- stupid housegirl did that: dulled your instincts and Mrs Effiong’s instincts were almost becoming non- existent.
Sometimes when they were preparing for church on Sunday mornings, Mrs Effiong will not find her pink lipstick or the gold one her sister bought her from Dubai or the costume jewellery she bought at Balogun the month before. But Mr Effiong was always in a hurry to get to his Sunday School kids, and since they spent at least one hour preparing the baby for church, there simply wasn’t enough time to look for anything. And besides, she had at least ten other lipsticks, each about five years old, two pinks, three reds, three golds, and two silver ones. And lots of chunky, heavy jewellery, the kind available in Balogun for a cheap price. And of course when she came back from church, something always took her attention, and she soon forgot.

Monica remained dutiful, careful not to draw her Madam’s ire. At about 12 noon daily when she finished her chores and the baby was sound asleep, she had time to take her bath and dress up in one of her many clothes. On this day she was wearing a yellow T- shirt on which was printed the words “Big girl, big problem”, with brown leggings under it, when she heard the key turn in the lock. Was Madam back so soon from the shop? She usually returned at 4.00 pm and it was just 12.30pm. Monica was upset. She wanted some time to herself to chat on her phone sprawled on the couch, feet up, and no shouts of “Monica, come quick quick!”

But it was only Mr Effiong, which was strange because at least she had been here two months and he had never come home during the day.

“Gua’fternoon, Sir”, she said.

“ ’Afternoon”, he replied.

“Madam never come back? he asked.

Monica thought it strange that he would ask such a question.

Didn’t he know that she didn’t come back at this time? Hadn’t he called her that he was coming home and to know if she was going to be there too?“No, Sir” , she replied.

“How my pikin?” he asked as he settled on the long couch.
“E dey sleep”, she replied staring at the couch that she should have been on, sprawled, feet up, chatting away. And now this. She wasn’t sure what to say or do. She didn’t exactly deal directly with the husband. It was the wife who acted as intermediary ,saying “Monica go make semo”, while she, the wife carried the semo to him when it was done.
“Just forget about me oh, continue what you’re doing. Sit down if you want. Me, I’m just resting”, he said.

Mr Effiong didn’t forget the initial shock he felt when he saw who his wife had chosen as an alternative to small pikin. He wondered if it was a good idea for such a nubile young lady to be set aloose in his house, but of course he kept such thoughts to himself, bringing them up only in the time of private contemplation just as now. It was the kind of thing he taught his Sunday School kids. FLEE ALL APPEARANCES OF EVIL. Although he wasn’t sure yet just what to call Monica. It was preposterous to call her evil, because she was afterall very good around the house and with his child. But still.

All this pondering though, didn’t help him refuse the urge to spend his breaktime at home today. He had one hour everyday and he never came home, but today he said, “let me go home and rest”. Why he said that, he didn’t know. He wasn’t discerning enough to know just how much influence Monica’s presence in the house had on that apparently mindless decision. And why hadn’t he called his wife?

That rest of his time at home was uneventful. Monica chose to sit at the dining table, scurrying ever now and then to the bedroom to pat the baby.

Mr Effiong made that journey at least three times a week over the next two months: the journey to come home and rest. He told his wife after the second visit, but she thought nothing of it, saying “Ah , honey, you need rest, that work is too stressful”, and occasionally when Monica wasn’t busy and the baby wasn’t wailing, they would gist, Mr Effiong and Monica, tentatively at first, but soon with a burgeoning familiarity.

She would ask if he wanted some fresh fish peppersoup to cool off, or if the semo was the way he liked it. He would ask about her family and if she had boyfriend, to which she would reply, “Oga I be small pikin oh”, laughter crinkling her eyes which seemed to be saying the complete opposite. Monica liked the way he lounged on the couch after eating, his feet up against the head rest, his hairy calf exposed from under his trouser. She revelled in the attention he gave her these days, taking time to dress after her bath at 12.00pm, wondering and hoping he would come home at break time, because of course she couldn’t ask him in the morning and she didn’t want to be taken unawares.

Days and weeks passed. More things got missing. Mrs Effiong asked Monica if she knew about their whereabouts, not once , not twice, but she always responded with an indignant shaking of the head. Mrs Effiong would have slapped her for such impudence if Monica was someone else, but she held herself, for she reasoned ; “when last was my house this peaceful? and my husband even looks happier these days”. She attributed the ruddiness of Mr Effiong’s cheeks to those rests he was taking at home. Mrs Effiong even went in to Monica’s room one evening when she sent her to buy plantain and searched her travel bag for any of her missing things, but she found nothing.

One day, after Monica had been with them six months, Mrs Effiong was stopped on the road as she was walking to the bus stop by her neighbour; the one who shared the ground floor with them. Mrs Effiong and this lady were not exactly friends, in fact they were silent enemies, the kind who passed each other without greeting when they thought the other couldn’t see them, only to burst out in a flurry of insincere platitudes when their eyes met involuntarily.

“Aunty, I wanted to come to your house yesterday, but I say make I see you outside.”, the lady said.
“Wetin?” asked Mrs Effiong, attempting to disguise her haughty look with a cold smile.

“I just wan say, and she lowered her voice and looked over her shoulder to check if anyone was listening; at least anyone of importance, because of course everyone was listening; it was a bus stop! I dey see your husband every day for house for afternoon, I no know wetin dey happen”, the lady said in grave tones.
Mrs Effiong just smiled. A smile of cool condescension. “Nothing dey happen, e dey come rest”, she replied in the indulgent tone a mother would use in responding to her child who asked, “Mummy, who made God?”

The lady didn’t seem satisfied and was on the verge of saying more when Mrs Effiong’s bus came along. On the way to the shop that day, Mrs Effiong’s mind went briefly to what her neighbour had said. She was irked that, that little woman would have the nerve to walk up to her and tell her something like that. The only nagging thought was that the woman said “everyday”; she didn’t know that it was everyday, but maybe the woman had been exaggerating as people are inclined to do when “helping” others see what grave danger they were courting.

A week after this incident, Mrs Effiong returned home to find that her husband home too. He hadn’t called her to say anything and she was upset when she saw his Datsun in the compound. The sight she saw on entering the house was in Mrs Effiong’s opinion just the kind of thing devil used to tempt her in the old days of ‘small pikin’. The sitting room was scattered and Monica was lying on the floor, laughing hard at Mr Effiong who was lounging on the court singing a Sunday School chorus in an affected American accent.

Monica scrambled off the floor with the alacrity of a cat uprighting itself after a fall, tugging at her mini skirt, her eyes darting around the mess in the sitting room in dismay. In that moment of intense provocation, what passed through Mrs Effiong’s mind was that she hadn’t seen that mini skirt before. Mr Effiong wore the look of a child who had been caught with red oil on his hands, after his mother noticed the indentation in the surface layer of the new pot of Egusi soup. It didn’t matter that all he did was play with the palm oil bottle.

Mrs Effiong dragged Monica by the ear and slapped her right cheek first , and then her left. To this Mr Effiong paled, a look of consternation on his face, ”Honey,small small, no kill small pikin”, he said from a safe distance. Mrs Effiong shot him the ‘look’. That day it took a lot of explaining and pacifying for peace to be restored, so much so that he couldn’t return to the site. He had to call to say there was a family emergency. Indeed, there was for Mrs Effiong huffed and puffed, hemmed and hawed, pacing up and down the house, occasionally resuming her tirade of words aimed at Monica who scurried back and forth like a rat, cleaning up places that were already clean.

When her Sunday- only wristwatch got missing the next Sunday, Mrs Effiong’s alarm bells went off and this time they refused to be quietened . She ramsacked the whole house, this was of course after releasing her husband to go off to church alone saying” I must get to the root of this!”.Her husband slunk away in irritation casting a pitying glance at Monica, who would be the verbal punching bag for the day.

The watch was found in between the folds of the long couch by Monica who at this point was tired of the endless upturning of beds, shaking of clothes, and the accompanying rapid fire commentary from the caustic tongue of Mrs Effiong. When Monica presented the watch to her with an excited “I don see am”, Mrs Effiong thought she saw in Monica’s eyes a glint of foreknowledge.
Over the next few weeks as Mrs Effiong would return home in the evening to see Monica dressed up in clothes more suited to attending parties, the whole house reeking of lavender Fantasy body spray, her gait sure and practised like a graceful feline animal, Mrs Effiong became disturbed.
Mr Effiong, seemed more at ease, his face lighting up at the entrance of Monica into the room; it no longer mattered to him that his semo was served by Mrs Effiong; encouraging her to rest for wasn’t Monica up to the task? Mrs Effiong imagined that Monica was looking at her husband strangely, and spent too much time bending over the stool when she served him the semo.

Mrs Effiong spent hours in the evening sometimes on the couch with her chin in the hollow of her palm, the folds of her forehead drawn together in ridge- like furrows. She imagined a lot of other things, and soon became very paranoid. The whole house took on a different look in her eyes; it was still clean and tidy, but she almost felt like an outsider looking in, observing the unspoken communication between these two. It wasn’t suprising that she picked up her phone one Saturday morning; when her husband was out, and called Mr Akpan, the agent, and said, in a meek, weary voice “Come and take this girl away, I want small pikin!”

Thursday, November 18, 2010


And God said, “It is not good for man to be alone”

This is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. It is quoted only in reference to , perhaps marriage.
But could there have been a deeper and more far reaching idea in the mind of God when he said that, that for the first time something was 'not good'? Could he have meant that it is simply not good for Adam to dwell in that garden alone without someone of his kind, someone to serve as a sounding board for his dreams, and it need'nt be always a wife? 
This is why I say this. I think you need me to feel good.

Did you ever read a facebook status or note or look at a picture and didn’t first read my comment before writing yours?

Do you see how sad you are when you  organise parties and I do not show up , and when in fact too many people show up, you  complain about it only in a mildly irritated tone, and for someone that is supposed to be piqued, you tell so many people about it?

Does it happen that it won’t ever mean a thing to you if GEJ came to visit you in the dead of the night, when I was asleep,  and left stealthily by the backdoor without no one seeing him,  and you didn't even have an  opportunity  to take a picture on your blackberry and upload it,  so it’s up in my  face on my facebook wall?

Have you ever taken extra care to dress up and look good,  sometimes going as far as buying a new bag or earrings  just before you went for an event where you were sure to see me?

Does it  matter to you that your mother or father or husband come  to visit you at school dressed in their best clothes because you know I’ll be watching, when in fact it would matter much less, if they dressed in rags when you were with them at home?

Does it matter to you to throw a big birthday party for your one year old, with all the trappings of your peculiar economic circumstance;  party packs, bouncy castles, souvenoirs including buckets and flasks when  your one year old will sleep half way through the event, of course,  just because I’m coming?

Does it matter  to you , that I see you  making those steps,  looking like you’re succeeding,  looking like you never fail.

So in the case of the facebook commenting, you look at mine first before writing yours, because you want to write yours in the context of mine. You instantly assess the level of my intelligence, and you write yours to match it,  or if within your power, top it!

In the case of your parties, you need me to be there to celebrate you, to see how well you’re doing,  or in some cases how much you have ,  or maybe how well you’re able to allocate your lean resources to produce an illusion of wealth and worthiness (thereby becoming a member of the party with the slogan ('It’s not about how much you have!')

In the case of GEJ’s visit, you need me to see you with him, and/or see the picture,  because if I wasn’t there and you told me, I might not believe you, and even if I was there, I may later deny, so that’s where the picture comes in.

You take extra care to dress up, because you want me to think of you as beautiful, as lovely , and more fundamentally, simply as being capable of dressing up!

You are willing to place your mother or father on the altar of your personal ego,  sacrificing them to feed your  desire for my silent validation. You want them to look their best and be smart and be cool. It doesn’t matter that you think less of these things when  I’m not there.

And as for your one year old’s birthday party, you will need me to be able to say you threw a hot party! The child doesn’t know and doesn’t care and just wants to sleep or smear the ten thousand naira Winnie the pooh cake all over his face.  No! You say, "Aunty is here!"

So you see, you need me.

But don’t need me too much.

Feel free  to be yourself because I am myself.  Those times when you think I’m looking, I’m simply looking – at myself,  thinking you’re looking.

Feel free to be yourself,  and fail when you have to,  because I fail too.  I’m failing right now in not letting you know just how much I need you, even as you need me.

Feel free to be yourself because I am afterall not your God, but a fellow product off the assembly line. I may have come off first, or you first, but we still are products off the line.  I may have been made to write,  you to sing, but our shared sense of worth is in our Maker. The worth of a Sony freezer or stereo is just that. It's Sony!

You need me to feel good because I can challenge you to do better,  to speak better,  to live better.  And that is in fact what I want.

You need me to feel good only when I confer on you the empathy that comes from a shared heritage, a common struggle, a mutual destiny.

You need me to feel good.  I need you to feel good. Let's meet ourselves halfway!

Monday, November 8, 2010


You have just closed your eyes in sleep -- a different kind of sleep, and then you hear someone calling your name and you find yourself slowly slipping to the other side. But you are still hearing your loved ones, raising their voices to a feverish pitch. They are saying something that sounds like an unbroken string of mono syllabic words ; you recognize it as the tongues of angels, the tongues of spirits. This mysterious language is broken up by fierce, passionate singing and deafening clapping: “He has promised he will never fail”; the song goes....but you are going and they still continue praying and singing , singing and praying, voices hoarse, tears streaming down.
But then you go. It is final. You have gone.

The next day people begin writing on your wall on facebook. Hopefully your privacy status enables them leave a line or two. Some look for old pictures of you and put up on their own facebook wall and they say stuff about you. Just stuff.

Then hurriedly , your family amidst their mind numbing grief go about gathering your photos to send to the printer. For your funeral program. You didn’t have the time to pick out your photos, of course, so they pick out the nicest – in their own opinion. Someone thinks that the one where you wore your youth corper khaki looks nice, so they put it there.

People gather around and talk about you. They remember all sorts of things.

Someone remembers your kiss. She says you plundered her mouth. Someone says they owed you five thousand naira and you forgot to ask for it, up until you died. They say it with a relieved sigh. Yet another says that all you cooked in school was beans.That you put dried fish in it, that they can still taste it in their mouth although school was four years ago.They say the most inane things. At least they say something. What if nothing was said?

But some others try to remember more profound things. Some say you had a fine mind, that you were intelligent , that you were ingenuous. It’s all kind of abstract , if you think of it, but you see they have to write on facebook. So they marshall their thoughts, and try to shrink their perceptions into words. It proves very difficult and so they simply stop trying .

“What are they really thinking?”, you ask. Are they writing what they are thinking, or thinking what they are writing? Nobody is answering you—of course. All they can do is write on facebook or in a condolence register.

You give up wondering. You simply cannot know their mind. At least not from where you are. Especially not from where you are. So you try another angle. You say to yourself, “ I know what I did, who I was and so I’ll tell it to myself.”
If you had been a one year old for example, you might say, “ I never forgot to smile when my mother left for work in the mornings. I’m sure that helped in brightening her day. And yes, I did remember to cry in moderation when she returned.Because after such a hard day ,I didn’t want her nerves frazzled.”
If you were a thirteen year old SS1 student, you would think “Well , I tried to help my friends understand lessons better, I didn’t go putting my hands up no girls skirt , I did try to give some of my milk to that poor guy whose parents couldn’t afford anything , and I think I was a good son to my parents.” I think.
If you were a twenty eight year old guy, you think “Well, I was good to the ladies,treated them with respect and dignity, especially my fiancee, I was honest at work, didn’t try to take any money that wasn’t actually mine.I worked hard to help my mum and dad raise my siblings, and I never forgot to call home even when I was far. I tried to love God. It was hard but I tried.

A part of you smirks, but you insist, I tried.

Then you say, “I touched the lives of my friends, I shared everything I had with them , I was loving and cheerful and gracious and forgiving.

If you were a twenty eight year old lady, you say “Ah I refused to degrade my body , or let anyone lay a claim on it because of money, and I didn’t judge my friends.I stayed away from those mind defilers -- porn, vile music and trashy literature.

If you were a forty-five year old woman, you would think “I sent my children to the best schools, was faithful to my husband, was dedicated at church, and yes , was good to my staff. 

Or if you were a seventy year old man, which you weren't but if you were, you might say , "I was honourable, left an inheritance for my children's children, gave generously to the poor.

All this is supposed to make you feel better, but ironically, it doesn’t.

Then you exhaust yourself. Enough of the self adulation!
It’s simply not working. You try another angle. You say," Maybe I’ll just forget about trying to convince myself of my legacy or lack thereof.I’ll leave it to him to tell, but by God I hope I made him glad", all the while fighting a creeping feeling of anxiety.

“Him” is the one you are meeting very shortly, by the way .

”He will be with you in a minute. Please have a seat”, they say. The seat
is pure, brilliant gold.
He comes out shortly from his inner chambers and he looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before and says, and yes he is grinning like he is happy to see you,
“Well done thou good and faithful servant!"
You want to pass out in relief, but then you remember that you’ve already passed -- on!

A light-hearted fantasy for people who are grieving over the reality of the passing of a loved one, that is , a really loved one! I hope this bings some of the much needed upliftment.