Child Story (1)

In the late 70s and mid-80s, it was wonderful to be a kid in Northern Nigeria. We had a pleasant childhood. You know all those adventures you read and day dreamed about? We had them all. Now, if all the adventures you read about were all Enid Blyton, flying broomsticks and brooks and meadows and snow and Harry Potter, then we are not talking of the same kind of adventure. I am talking real adventure. In the bush kind of adventure. Swimming in the dirty Chanchaga River, digging up and roasting yams from a Gwari farm, milking Fulani herdsmen’s cows, stealing mangoes and cashews from the Nupe village, throwing bangers, smoking hollowed sticks, hunting bush rats kind of adventure. As little boys, such adventures were the sole bane of existence.

The downside of growing up in that era was our parents. Our parents were mean. Very mean. They never used words where a whipping would do. It seemed like their whole purpose was to make our childhood dull and filled with koboko, homework and school uniforms. They didn’t succeed, but they tried. They really tried.

Do you know what a koboko is? It is a two-pronged whip made from donkey or camel skin. Its major attribute and only market value is its ability to inflict pain. And our parents loved it. They bought it more often than they bought toys; they presented it as gifts to other parents. Our parents were a cooperative society of meanness. They helped each other in the execution of disciplinary measures. If a parent was late for an outing and happened to catch her child doing something that necessitated instant chastisement, she would simply drag the child over to a neighbor and report the matter, going as far as pinpointing body parts the child finds most sensitive.

On Saturdays, a variety of cries and different wailing patterns would erupt all over the housing estate. All the parents somehow agreed that Saturdays were house cleaning days, which meant that most children would be flogged for not scrubbing or sweeping like they were paid cleaners. A lot of other things were agreed unanimously by our parents, like a food timetable. Monday: porridge yam with vegetables; Tuesday night: beans and yam or plantain; Friday night: rice and beans; Saturday morning: akara with pap. I swear, it was like that in every home.

Some parents were worse than others. It was my unfortunate circumstance to have a Holy Christian Mother. You know the type: old time religion practitioners, no earrings, no permed hair, no trousers. Everything I did was sinful. It didn’t help that I had the appearance of evil. My mother had no idea that to spare the rod and spoil the child was a proverb. Pity every child who has a Holy Christian Mother. Right when the evening play was at its most merry was when we were slapped all the way to evening fellowship, where we never understood a word except for “Hell fire.” At Sunday school, they showed us pictures of a bleeding white man nailed to a cross and told us with angry eyes that our sins put him there.

Vengeance is a dish best served cold, and our parents knew how to let the dish get real frozen before they struck. They would wait till that unguarded hour, which for children was mostly during sleep. We would be having important conversations with friends in dreamland, only to have the discussion interrupted forcefully by whip lashes. Many times our parents would be halfway through the whipping session before we were fully awake. We would find ourselves crying and writhing in pain and not knowing when or how the whole thing started. Our parents wouldn’t remind us that we were being flogged for that precious chinaware we broke two days earlier, or for deflating Baba Junior’s Passat tires that night. And we dared not ask. On rare occasions, however, we would be sat down and lectured on the dangers of “Hell fire,” and how we were going to receive these twelve strokes so that we would not end up there. “Hell fire” usually seemed more inviting than the whipping. I wish we had cameras back then to take pictures of the smug satisfaction on our parents’ faces after a successful vengeful whipping.

Our parents knew how to train children right. They beat us to nonsense. See, if we were white kids, we would all have slit our wrists or called the police on our parents. But we were Nigerian kids. We showed off whip scars in school. We were tough. We didn’t suffer depression, or borderline this or that. We didn’t see shrinks. There were no shrinks. We knew no doctors. We take Chloroquin when we have malaria; if symptoms persist, our siblings are sent off to cut dogonyaro and ugu leaves, bitter leaf, and lemongrass to be boiled together for the ultimate healing concoction. If symptoms further persisted, then it was an ogbanje, and in that case, we were in serious trouble. If ours was a Christian body, we would be taken to the nearest Deliverance Ministry and the prayer warriors would proceed to cure us of every hanky-panky ailment by flogging us over the head with pigeons or spitting in tongues all over our face. If our parents were Muslims, the marabout would make us drink concoctions mixed with Quranic verses washed off the wooden slates used in the makaranta Quranic classes. It was even worse for children from families where the religious affiliation was not well defined: those kind of homes where the children were allowed to join other kids at Jesus Club and Sunday school and still got to observe the Muslim Ramadan fast. For such kids, persistent ailments were handled by everybody, from pastors and marabouts to Maigida, the neighbour whose grandma had just returned from Bida with traditional reinforcements.

White kids get angry at their parents and run off from home. We tried that. We lasted only two hours. Hunger drove us back. When we returned we would be fed, but nobody would meet our eyes. Later that night or two days later, the koboko would address the issue. Chiedu lasted a whole night away from home. He achieved hero status. But if you see what was done to him the night after he returned, you would have wondered why he bothered to come home. He told us it was because he was adopted.

Not that we often got to run away by choice. Our parents wouldn’t let too much time pass before pronouncing disownment. I was disowned over a hundred times, especially on Saturdays and almost always on the day I presented my school term report card.

Ah, school! They killed us in those days, parents and teachers. They were cohorts – evil people and kid haters. Parents even told on their own children! Simon was flogged naked in front of the whole primary school because he apprehended a stray ten naira note at home. This was after his parents and the next-door neighbours had taken their turns with the koboko. What of the time Uncle Sam gave me twenty-four koboko strokes in front of the whole school because I punched Chioma and she faked a faint? Imagine a whole me, school band captain and class monitor of primary 4A, flogged like a nobody. I shed no tear, to the awe and admiration of the other pupils. I marched home to report the unfairness of the matter to my mother, and she beat me like she did not know me. She beat me like I tore her Bible. And all the while I kept screaming that Chioma didn’t die but that she only faked a faint. The next morning she came to school to thank Uncle Sam.

Our parents didn’t know we were kids. How could they not expect boys to play football? How could they not expect kids to come home with torn school uniforms? What is so terrible about pinching the fried fish from the fridge? Why should we not deflate Baba Junior’s Passat tires when he seized our felele ball? Why should we not go swimming? We were children.

Still, our childhood was pleasant. We had much more fun and experiences than the over-pampered kids of today who do nothing, know nothing, and say “Hi” and “Hello” to their parents. Many of them have never even climbed trees, not to mention breaking a bone. They shower everyday and have expensive haircuts; they go to fast food restaurants by themselves to buy ice creams. We had our hair cut only during festivities; the rest of the time, ringworms shaved our heads free of charge. The only ice cream we had was the ice we scraped from the fridge, and we even got whipped for that.

@kc2031uzor

Of Achebe, Abuja and Airplanes

You know you have arrived in Abuja by the slack in activities and movement. The place is calm and laid back, at peace with itself. Hausa is in the air, subliminally present; one can almost see the sonorous language floating above the tree tops. Upon my arrival, I breathed in the air of the land of my birth. My Eastern name can say what it will, but I am a dan arewa, a son of the north.

An hour earlier I was in the animal kingdom of Lagos, western Nigeria, a hobbesian state of nature like no other. Yoruba, the language of Western Nigeria swirled around like a tornado punctuated by loud curses, blaring horns and sounds of haste and struggle. In Abuja, I was in a city of relief and contented sighs. I could almost touch simplicity. The calm ambience of Abuja is inspired by the philosophy that “one gets only what Allah wishes to give.” So why hurry? Why struggle? Why leave your home by 4am and return at midnight? Lagos needs this philosophy. The quality of life here affirms its truth.

Outside the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, I was surprised not to be overwhelmed by cab drivers promising to drive me to anywhere, even to my own living room, as I was used to in Lagos. I wondered, briefly, if Abuja cab drivers were also on strike like the airport authorities who made me sit for four hours inside a steamy airplane. But this was Abuja – cab drivers here had style and clean air-conditioned cars.

A man in a danshiki approached me.

“Taxi?” he asked.

I nodded. “International Conference Centre.”

“The China Achebi program?”

I nodded again. Even though he pronounced Chinua Achebe wrong, I was still impressed at his knowledge. Cab drivers back in Lagos wouldn’t have known. They know only their enemies: Governor Fashola and LATSMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority).

The ANA symposium organised in honour of the late Chinua Achebe was to have started at 10am. My flight from Lagos was scheduled for 6.45am that morning. I should have gotten to the ICC in good time to cover the event for ZODML, but Nigerian air travel is characterised by “unforeseen circumstances” – something frustrating always truncates one’s best-made plans. This time it was industrial action by the air traffic controllers. My flight was delayed for six hours.

So there I was, at 2pm, urging the cab driver to speed up and hoping that somehow ANA would obey the Nigerian time rule and start the event late. We arrived the ICC in minutes (Abuja roads encourage and inspire speed). I walked through the wide doors of the conference centre and met everyone standing for the national anthem closing the event. My anger and frustration was palpable. The airport authorities were to blame, but how does one go about fighting an airline? They were not like the road transporters in Lagos, where you can cuss out the driver or beat up the bus conductor. Hours before, in Lagos, our hostesses had borne the brunt of the frustrations of the passengers. When the air traffic controllers finally took pity on us and cleared our plane for takeoff, people had expected the flight to begin immediately; they were not in the mood for the pre- flight demonstrations and security measures. One woman told the hostess that everyone knew how to buckle the seat belt, could the pilot just lift off? Another voice from the back, an Igbo man by his accent, told the hostess to shut up about that nonsense about emergency landing on water, and that if the pilot stupidly decides that the water was the best place to make an emergency landing then there really would be no point.

For some minutes passengers debated who thought up the silly policy of making emergency landings on water, and why they didn’t consider tree tops (which would presumably provide better cushioning). My neck developed a kink from twisting to put faces to some of the frustrated voices.

Then another hostess committed, from the furor it caused in the economy class, a treasonable felony. As she stood between the business and economy classes, holding the curtains apart, she paused to make sure we all saw her, then dramatically drew the curtains closed. People flared up again. “Mumu girl,” said one traveller. “How much will they dash you?”

“Nonsense,” said a bearded man beside me, “Shegia! If the plane crashes we will all not die?” Voices rose up in protest at him.

Haba! Why are you talking like that?”

“God forbid, I reject it.” “Blood of Jesus!”

“We will land safely, Insh’Allah.”

A baby at the back had had enough and let out her frustration in wails. I didn’t fully understand the angry reactions, so I asked the bearded man what the hostess had done.

“Kai, you didn’t see what the shegia did? The way she closed the curtain to make us feel like, like, talakawa, you know, poor persons, because we are in economy class? Irin, like there is something special happening in the business class seats. Instead of them to signal the pilot to move, they are… they are showing off!”

I felt his pain. As far as I was concerned we were all in the flying container together:those sitting in business class could still hear the baby crying at the back of the plane.

Thankfully, the plane did not crash and I even got a wink from the hostess when she handed me my snack of juice and a cake.

But as I stood looking foolish and trying to pretend that I hadn’t arrived ignobly at the close of an event for which I had travelled across the country to attend, I wished I had shouted at the hostess like everyone else and maybe broken something in that aircraft to prove my point.

The trip was not entirely fruitless, however. Part of my mission at the event was to interact with authors and raise awareness about ZODML.

“A free private library in Nigeria, in Lagos? Eziokwu! Ah, but if only Nigerians read,” said a professor who asked for my card. I told him Nigerians actually read. He beckoned two of his colleagues over to hear what this young man was saying. They came. We argued. I won. They promised to visit when next they came to Lagos. I discussed business with Richard Ali, a co-founder of Parresia Publishers and took pictures with our friends and Caine Prize finalists, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adamu Ibrahim. I also had a good time with the poets of Words, Rhyme and Rhythm, Kukugho Samson and Su’eddie Agema, and some of the Association of Nigerian Authors top guns (Mallam Denja Abdullahi and BM Dzukogi). Oh, and did I mention that Chinyere Obi-Obasi took me out to lunch? The trip ended up being not so bad.

 From left to right: Su'eddie Agema, the author, Abubakar A Ibrahim, Richard Ali, and Elnathan John


From left to right: Su’eddie Agema, the author, Abubakar A Ibrahim, Richard Ali, and Elnathan John

But we live in a strange country.

As I got into a cab to head back to the airport, the driver glanced at the programme of events and a magazine I had with me and then asked in broken English, “The man come?”

“The man? Which man?” I asked. “The man, now… Achebe come for the programme?”

My mouth dropped open.

“Driver, don’t worry, I am not going to the airport anymore.”

“Ah ah, bros why?…toh, come pay 2,500…”

I ignored him, alighted from his cab and hailed another. The cab driver had dispelled my illusion that Abuja Cab drivers knew things other than destinations.

My return flight to Lagos was scheduled for 5.45pm but of course, we landed at Murtala Mohammed Airport at 11.20pm. That return flight and my ordeal at the hands of the Nigeria police on my way home from the airport is story for another time.

 

First Published in ZODML News letter

Writitude (2): Matter and Manner of Characters

 

A character can be defined as a being in a story. But this is only for some of the time. Some other time a character may choose to be a non-being, as in the case of trees and mountains. A character can be anything: a person (living or dead), a dog, a flying boat, a fish or a wallflower. But one character should not be all these at any one time. In this opinion, it will be easier all around for us to direct our attentions to the general area of human characters.

Humans are far from perfect, and so a human character in a story should be sufficiently mortal with all the imperfections and limitations, except when said character belongs to the class of Spiderman and Superman and X-men.

Characters are creations existing in someone’s imagination and they have rights. As such, characters should be treated fairly and with respect and given adequate protection in a tale’s society. Continue reading

And Christmas died in Minna

First Published on Naijastories.

It starts with the sun: the large red disc that appears at dusk up behind the houses and right atop the Fadama. The sun and then the smells: the scent of dust and bush fires and finally the aroma of fried meat and frying tomatoes. The sun assumed that colour and particular position only when Christmas was near. As far as we knew, Christmas, fell from that red disc and arrived floating on the scents of the harmattan.

In those times, Christmas celebration was not confined to any religion. It was a communal festival that got all the angwa involved. For us children, it was the best time of our lives. Parental discipline reduced in severity as the scent of dust and bush fires changed to that of fried meat. On Christmas day itself, childhood freedom knew no restrictions. With merry hearts and with heads sporting the latest Bobby Brown or MC hammer hairstyles, boys knew Christmas was the onetime they could get away with any mischief.
Continue reading

Originally posted on 7venhillsmedia:

By Kechi Nomu

In 2009, angry militants lodged within walking distance from students in the University of Port Harcourt decided to protest against the Federal government for not paying the rehabilitation money it had promised it would pay them monthly. Their preferred means of protest was rape.

They had the advantage of strength (they were after all militants) and the element of surprise. On a regular Monday afternoon when people were going about their day as they would every other day—rushing between lectures, making brief stopovers in hostels, generally just walking idly along the road—protesting militants ambushed them. The rapes that followed were indiscriminate and surreal. Almost everywhere you turned, it seemed like a rape was going on: on the road, along the curbs, in corners.  Some militants carried girls back to their rehabilitation camp on their shoulders like sacks of rice.  Later, we learnt that one of the victims…

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WRITITUDE: The Behavior of a Story and the Attitude of a Writer

There are certain behaviours that are expected from good stories, and there are attitudes that good writers should exhibit. Aside from the great attitudes of arrogance, pride and superiority, a good writer should also exhibit some other qualities.  A story, on its part, should exhibit well cultivated qualities like dissidence, irreverence and intolerance, alongside some other courteous behaviours.

In these series, we will examine these other attitudes and qualities a writer and his story should have if they must be noticed, and if they have any hopes and rights or claimancy to the term of Story or Writer.

These are my feelings, most of which I was born with and others I have garnered from writing and from reading others. Note that I said feelings; most times it is all in the feel. A story’s only fault, many times, is in the feel. It may look right and read right, but if it feels somehow and anyhow then it is not a good story. Good stories feel good.

If you spot any errors in these lectures of mine, please keep it to yourself and avoid interruption. I am only a critic, and a critic should not be criticized. Continue reading

Candid Shot

A door sprang open, swung to the wall and began a slow return journey. Underneath the revealed curtain, two small feet searched for slippers. A little girl emerged and side stepped for the door to close.
Dark, shiny, 3 maybe 4 years old, clad in over sized white cotton panties, she squinted at the sun and rubbed her belly. It was the quiet time of afternoons, the time of lethargy and siesta. No one was about.

She was in a large compound with single rooms built in two rows with a large cemented courtyard in the middle. The block of rooms facing hers had 12 doors, some closed, and others open with curtains shivering.

She called. “Bingo!”
An ear perked up, one eye opened.

“Bingo, Bingo.” she cooed.

The other ear and the other eye reluctantly became involved as Bingo stretched, yawned and shook itself to power. All compounds like these had one or two of these ekwukes with no origins. They were completely useless and docile; communally owned, communally fed.

As Bingo approached, the little girl walked to an end of the compound, towards the latrine, her newly braided hair shining in the sunlight. Continue reading

Touch of Spite (2)

See, she did not break my heart. I am serious, she didn’t. Yes, I didn’t eat for some days, but that had nothing to do with her. I just didn’t have the appetite. For the whole week that she refused to speak to me or see me, I had no hunger for food. I was just worried.

That I did not date another female after her for more than a year didn’t mean that my heart was broken. I am a man, we don’t get heartbroken. Do not argue with me, it is my heart not yours. If a body’s heart gets broken, the body dies. My heart was just fine, still is, thank you.

Nothing really happened too. There was no offense on my part. The last time we were together it was all blissful panting and enjoyable sighs. This was routine. So when she didn’t take my calls the next morning it was no issue for me. I only began to worry when she didn’t call me or pick my calls the next day too. Then she sent a text telling me that she wanted to be alone for some time because she wanted to think through some things.

I have never put much stock in what a woman would be thinking, so I felt I just needed to up my game, you know, improve on the romance, even though I was sure I was up there with cupid and the other masters of the game. So I went back to my love dictionary,The Art of Seduction and marked some pages and underlined some great ideas. Then I persevered and wrote some other great insights at the book edges and between the lines. But when a girl is evil there is no strategy that will bring her back. That great book failed me.

Ok, it earned me one last audience with her for some minutes, but I don’t know if that should count because that interview that occurred at her door step was terrible.

When her door opened, joy flooded my heart; I observed that her eyes were a bit swollen and red. I also observed that she didn’t let me in.

“Sweetie, what happened? What is going on? Did I do something wrong?”

She raised her eyes at me, and for the umpteenth time I wondered what God was playing at when he made those eyes.

“I am pregnant.”

I swallowed, digested the swallow and swallowed some more. My heart stammered and then my lips exulted.

“What? Sweet heart! Are you serious? That is so wonderful! It is going to be a boy. I cant belie…”

The slap that slim fine lady gave me was worse than a gun shot. In my ecstasy I didn’t see it coming. My brain thought the world had ended. I could not see. I could not hear.

All those idiots who think women are weaker or harmless have never been slapped by a woman. Her door slamming shut inspired my brain to get hold of itself and give me balance. I found I was still standing and alive in front of the closed door.

I journeyed back to my car, flipped down my mirror and checked why the left side of my face felt like rusted heavy metal.

When a man survives blunt trauma, he naturally begins to evaluate how it happened. Now, in a saner world, pregnancy is a good thing. In the womb of the wise and proper women,ladies with pure hearts,no guile and no bad intentions, a child is a testimony. A man swells with pride at the feat of impregnating a female body. But my own things are always different. My achievement was a blunt trauma worse than a stroke. Judge this mater and tell me how I did wrong? How I deserved that slap, and how pregnancy is a cause for break up?

I have always told you women are not good things: that is the only explanation.

It is known that women are generally worse during pregnancy, and that their hormones and emotions swing like pendulum at many intervals. So, I had supposed, after that slap, that she will call me to apologize and tell me some nice things and blame the weather or her mother for her bad behaviour. I supposed erroneously for two days.

I trampled on my ego and pride, and called her. She didn’t pick the calls. I supposed it was due to the bad cell network in the area. I wanted to go see her but the left side of my face would have none of it; it didn’t want another trauma. So I sent her a text message. I put all my reason into that message which after five phone pages climaxed with the fact that I would marry her and will be a good man and father to our child.

My phone tringed with her reply message and I smiled in satisfaction.

“Go to hell!”

I removed my SIM card, blew at it, swiped it, blew inside the phone too for good measure and then reinserted the SIM.

“Go to hell!”

It was no SIM error. She wanted me to go to hell. And she didn’t say how long she wanted me to stay there.

Slowly, it took some hours, as I examined and cogitated on the three words of her reply text , it began to dawn on me, very gently, that she didn’t want anything further to do with me.

You find it strange too, right? She didn’t even want to marry me. Imagine that!In these days when men are scarce and lucrative. Just imagine. Besides, this is me we are chatting about here: everything loves me. Other single women play the pregnancy card to ensnare and enslave the hapless male, there I was, willing to be the unfortunate, yet she refused me. What do you make of that? Did i not say they were evil? Did i not?

While I was coming to terms with her message requesting me to go spend some time in hell, and if I agreed, how best I should undertake the enterprise, three sharp raps on my door interrupted me.

I opened the door and encountered three policemen. They looked at me, and my eyes replied.

A Touch of Spite (1)

True loves are the ones you reminisce. The kinds you remember with a pang and an ache. They are always in past tense, because you never really know love till you are out of it. You also never forget the worst romantic involvements of your life. It is a well known fact: love and hate are siblings -very identical.
The other day I saw an ad for a writing competition with the theme, A Touch of Spice. They wanted a steamy love story. These writer people and their captions. They believe all experiences are to be chronicled. If I were to write a story about each of my relationships, the caption would be A Touch of Spite, or better, A Handful of Spite.
I ran my mind over some of my relationships, ticking them off one after the other till I got to a particular one that refused to be ticked off. That relationship was terrible. You see, they give you no warning in the beginning, these terrible ones. They always start up like the best thing to ever happen to a man. A body keeps feeling lucky and blessed until the ultimate shock. It is not anybody’s fault: Spice and Spite are so similar that if, while in the middle of the act, Spice goes to the bathroom and returns as Spite, you won’t know the difference till the next morning or the morning after.
And the girls in such relationships are always exquisite. The one in this particular relationship of mine is not like the others you’ve read about or even thought about. You have heard people claim that someone is perfect and you have lied to your lovers that they were perfect. But I assure you, this one is no lie: she is perfect. I can repeat if you don’t believe. It isn’t a beauty one can capture on canvas or on any lens. God is the only artist that can draw her, and if He tries He might not even get her as He drew her in the beginning.

Continue reading

CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, FOR THE SCEPTRE MAY NOT HOLD

A sceptre has been looming over our heads, a sceptre called Biafra. For 42 years it has defied gravity and remained poised up above the firmament of the geographical location called Nigeria.

This sceptre most recently was brandished a little closer to our heads by the publishing of Achebe’s book, There was a Country.

It has brought wars. Wars for now, only in an intellectual capacity, fought with the pen and keyboards on Newspapers and on social media. Old friendships have been threatened and new alliances forged. 42 years ago, allegedly, there was no victor, no vanquished; today, for now, that status quo remains. But how long until the balance gives?

Some fear the war would soon be brought down from the virtual world. Tempers are flaring and grievances are being remembered. Stratagems are being mulled over and positions are being noted. This perhaps was a little more than Achebe intended as he said in the book, “My aim is not to provide all the answers but to raise questions and perhaps to cause a few headaches”. Achebe is causing more than just a few headaches. Continue reading

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