Thursday, 5 May 2016

Give him to the gods

The child I was is just one breath away from me" - Sheniz Janmohamed

This was the wrongest time to arrive in Lagos, he knew but then again, this mega-city sprawling with a multitude of both two-legged and four-legged at 4 a.m had never been known to posses the calmness of a millpond; no matter the hour of day. The hooting sound made by the many vehicles is a killer trigger for his migraine.The weather isn't right for his delicate radiation-exposed skin either and as his doctors had foreseen and forewarned, his exposure to viruses and germs was damn sure! Everything seems to be against this trip like boats against the current, but it was now or never, he thought. Picking up his noise-cancelling ear muffs from the hand luggage which nestled against his thigh - unfazed by the Lagos drama - he dons it over his ears like the protective shield it is meant to be. Lagos is so unkind to him, unsurprisingly as it had always been, but the penetrating noise is one evil he can squash.

As his Muritala Mohammed International Airport-chattered car speeds through the busy streets, he takes his time to study the view from his back seat, watching as firewood crackle to life; as a petite-looking woman singlehandedly positions a 3-ft high steel pot upon the stoked fire to begin the day's cooking. Food selling is one business that remains viable around the world, after all man must eat and Lagosians obviously need their food early - however it is prepared. He takes a few seconds more to study the gigantic buildings that seem to have sprung up in the once bare area, some things have sure changed. Then his gaze shifts inwards towards his driver and the Quran proudly placed on the dashboard. Mr Jamal, according to the name tag appears somewhat decent - or shouldn't that be assumed when you see Arabic scribbling and Quran around a man? Convinced of his safety for the remainder of the drive to Igando, his destination, he let his eyes droop as a response to nature's call.

"You'll never believe, let alone accept a word that any of those worthless uncles of yours say to you Akubundu.  Ozoemena is mine and I'll nurse him till I take my last breath. You shouldn't even open your mouth to tell me these things! Do you know how many years it took for me before bearing this child? How I cried and prayed? Accepting concoctions from this same family of yours? Visiting your dibias and letting my own faith slide, do you?" 'Mena's mother screamed shifting her weight from behind the door to face her husband. Her face was a contortion of emotions, her chest heaving loudly even as she forced herself to remain calm and to refrain from throwing objects at her husband. 

"Nwanyi!" Akubundu, seeing the fierce anger on his wife's face started, "my words are final in this house. I do not care for how long it took you and don't forget that I waited too for the gods to turn around your barrenness without succumbing to the pressures of my people to take another sturdy wife, I waited. If after waiting with you for e-i-g-h-t good years and all I have to show still is this thing only you have chosen to call child, then I will not be a part of it. Take it back to where it came from. In fact a better use would be for it to be sacrificed to the gods in the village and that is my stance on this!"


"Ooga. Ooga fassenger" Jamal taps again hoping to rouse his ajebo passenger. "Walahi, me I no dey phaind this kain trouble for early mo'nin o," his voice sounding solemn and shaky, he watches again as his passenger's body convulse, his arms flailing in all directions. "Ooga fassenger..." 

A succession of taps. A quick jolt. More voices in his head. Someone else is screaming out of fear and it isn't his mother...

'Mena opens his eyes to see another pair of eyes peering at him. It is a scared Jamal with his cap in his left hand and his right hand on 'Mena's shoulder. "Ooga, make I call anoda moota phor you or make I drop you phor one clinic across that road? Igando still phar small o".

An embarrassed 'Mena now fully aware of what must have happened forces a sincere smile at the distressed driver, "No it's fine Mr Jamal. Just take me to that address in Igando. I'll double your pay to N20,000. In fact I'll come sit with you in front so you can pinch me when it appears I am dozing off again,that's the only time these ehm 'anjonus' come," 'Mena pleads with his head slightly bowed. He makes a switch leaving his hand luggage at the back seat, sweat trickling down his palms.

"Ooga, if you say so. Gaskia no more sleeping," Jamal eyed

And so the drive continues, uneventful till he reaches House 406.

The house looks familiar, it had once been his inheritance before the family decided otherwise. His mother had told him the stories. She had told him how the house with the vast surrounding acres had been in his father's family for generations. How they were part of the few Igbos in Lagos who could lay claims to lands. How it had been a tradition to pass on to first sons or the first son of the next son peradventure the first son had no surviving one. 

So it was no surprise in the end that all the coons eyeing him and his mother several years ago when they would make the frequent trips to the clinic to treat whatever was ailing him, would eventually win over his father's mind over a generational property.  

He drags his luggage to the gate of the house to the joy of Jamal who is quick to bid him farewell. 'Mena knocks on the gate, the very same black-colored gate he grew up knowing, with a lot of corrugation this time. He listens for footsteps and hears none. He raps on the gate again using a stone he picked from the floor. Still no sound then a sudden creaking sound transported over the quiet Igando air. He wonders who it will be...his father? 

How would he face his old man now after these years? There is still so much bitterness from the years of deprivation his mother and him had to endure. He closes his eyes to stem the tears that threaten, after all he is a man and men don't cry. How would he inform the family that Chimamkpa, the son whom his own inheritance had fallen into his hands had somehow lost sight of what was meant to be tradition and sold the family land to a stranger in a foreign man's land - him? How would he explain to whoever was resident there now that they needed to vacate his property? How would he also explain that mama Ozoemena, his estranged wife had forced him to come all this way to mend burned bridges? How will he say that in his hand luggage is the urn which holds her ashes and her single dying wish was to be in the hands of her first and only love even if it was in death?

"Who is there this early morning?" he heard a voice ask. It belonged to his mother's husband no doubt, the man that sired him. 

"It's Ozoemena, papa. Your son". 

Silence follows, then a sudden struggle with lock and bolt. The gate flings open. 

Father and son stare at each other. Father with an old-looking cane in hand, his long kaftan almost as worn. 

Him and his family had thought he would die. A boy at ten who couldn't walk. Their gods had written off his destiny. Yes, it is true that he is still sickly and dying twenty-something odd years later after that confrontation between his parents when he was ten but he had so much to be thankful for; a happy wife and two healthy boys await his return back in America. His work as a Director for Instructional Design and Technology at McDonough School of Business is very fulfilling. 

The silence is disturbing...'Mena makes his speech. "This urn holds my mother's ashes, she wanted you to have it. This is my call card and a phone for your use too. These are the pictures of your grandchildren - your only ones I believe. I also know you've been living in that playhouse behind the main building over the years. This house and the surrounding land is now in my possession, you'll be moved to another location - comfortable I must add. I return to my home tomorrow and that's all I came to say," he finished, never once looking into the eyes that is just like his. 

“In the life of everyone there is a limited number of experiences which are not written upon the memory, but stamped there with a die; and in the long years after, they can be called up in detail, and every emotion that was stirred by them can be lived through anew; these are the tragedies of life.” 
― James Weldon Johnson

Image credit - Dream Imagination