Let Me Tell You About Africa

Shall I tell you of the monkeys and zebra? Which I (and most Africans) have only seen on TV? Perhaps I should tell you of the mud huts and trees which everyone believes we live in, but that would be injustice to my water and electricity bills.

Maybe I should tell you of dirty children with swollen stomaches, mouths covered by flies but that wouldn’t be fair to the ones watching cartoons and quibbling over ice-cream, playing video games on second hand phones.

Aha! I will tell you about the bushes! Dense forest and sprawling jungles, But my grandmother’s farms have made way for the highway and our forests have been felled for estates. All my life I have lived in the city, I couldn’t tell an Iroko tree from a Baobab. I eat cornflakes, bread and pancakes. I have never learned the making of my traditional foods: Asa iwa, ato mboro, atong.

I long to tell you about Africa’s rivers the Nile, Niger and Limpopo. Her ever clement weather, summer all year round! But even I have only seen these rivers in Geography textbooks  and National Geographic documentaries. And the deserts freeze as fast as the snow topped plateaus.

One thing I can tell you about Africa is that she has the most amazing people. People strong despite their troubles, cheerful in the midst affliction, resilient in storm.

In Africa people carry each other. People sing each other’s song. And we dance whenever we can, to the beat of a timeless gong. We brave all odds. We laugh in the face of Death. We are magic, miracle and everything in between.

Africa is her people and her people are her. Ancient as the sea, strong as the mountains, that is what I can tell you of Africa, the rest you must touch, taste and see.

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The Nigerian god

The Nigerian god
Worshiped from east to west, revered from north to south, called upon by the believer and unbeliever,
as fickle as her followers, twisted and turned by their imagination, powerless to change hearts or create repentance,
Blind to the evils done in her name, quick to give vengeance,
without scruple, doctrine or creed,
Guardian of the thief,
Guide of the oppressor,
Giver of revenge,
Custodian of curses
Created in the image of her own, changing everyday, recreated in every breath,mirror of the masses,
sand, wind and ashes,
Thunder, fire, lightning upon our foes.

This Is How You Save Yourself

When you were 23 the suitors came in droves. Uko, the Americanah that wanted you to follow him to Huston. Anietie, the local one who owned a row of stores at the market and looked at you like he was inspecting a young nanny-goat. Michael, whose father tapped wine and lived in a small thatch house. Many others whose names you didn’t know because you never met them. They went straight to your father to ask for your hand. Each got the same response.

” Adiaha is still in school. I won’t receive any drinks from any suitors till she is through. Come back next year…”

And so the suitors left. Only they did not come back the next year. Or the next. Two years later your belly was swollen and your monthly flow was like a broken fountain, spurting, gushing, unending. The doctors diagnosed fibroids.

The gynaecologist’s twisted smirk crushed your aching heart.

“I’m sorry Joan. It’s a good girl’s scourge. The bad ones get abortions, the good ones get fibroids. Your womb may not be able to bear after this operation. We are sorry.”

You were tongue-tied, submerged in a pool of questions, doubts and fear. Food lost taste, soon you were going whole days without a meal. Your clothes began to sag then were entirely useless.

Your friends tried to console you. Amina came with her twins in tow and a belly so large it floated ahead of her.

“Joan, don’t let this get to you. You have so much to live for. A beautiful and intelligent girl like you will definitely find love. The doctors who said you won’t have babies are not God. Eat something, anything, please.”

You nodded and promised to try, but her visit just made you feel barren.

Pelumi brought you music, books and perfume but you couldn’t touch any of it, wouldn’t touch any of it. Was a song a man? Was a baby a book? Was the perfume something that made dreams come true?

Terwase cracked jokes at first, but when all he heard was his own hollow laughter he gave up. He sent you airtime instead; it piled up in your phone unused. The next thing you heard he was in England doing his Masters.

Soon the fainting attacks came. One minute you stood by the window watching the chicken strut past and the next you didn’t. You woke up to see your mother crying as she sponged your face and muttered prayers. Your father stood by the doorway with a worried look on his face, gripping his mug of coffee.

You thought of death. You imagined it to be a sweet release, an end to pain, shame and suffering. You traced your fingers over the fibroid op scars and wondered why you were still alive. Was this all? Was this worth it?

When your younger sister Peace brought  her fiancé home they were dressed in matching green kaftans. You smiled through out the introductory visit but already you felt like an old hag. The man never came back though and you as you listened to Peace scream out her pain, you realized it was time to heal. You realized that you had to save yourself, no super heroes would be rescuing you.

You took baby steps. First, you cut your hair and dyed it auburn. Then you began to jog. Your appetite improved and your cheeks filled out. Some old clothes began to fit again. You started yoga and liked it. You tried heavy lifting and hated it. You began to text back your friends.

When you saw the call for volunteer nurses you ignored it but it stayed in your head all day. You applied the next day and forgot all about it. Weeks passed with no reply. Then the email came. You were invited to spend two weeks in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Malkohi, Adamawa state. You began to sweat and nearly backed out but you didn’t.

The twelve hour ride from Umuahia to Malkohi left you drained and dizzy but the next two weeks were some of the most fulfilling of your life. You made new friends in the make-shift clinic. You tried new foods. You saved lives. And you met Gbenga.

Gbenga worked with an NGO piloting the use of renewable energy in household fuels. He was an inch or two taller than you were, he made you laugh. He said you were the most beautiful person he had ever seen and you believed him.

When the project was over, you didn’t want to leave. You stayed in for one more week and let Gbenga count how many kissed it took to cover your back.

You followed him to Abuja, to his nice little two bedroom flat in Asokoro and his overweight cat called Max. When you visited home a month later your parents said you glowed.

Gbenga called everyday. He wanted you back. He didn’t want to lose you. He even found a job for you in a private hospital.

You were late that month, but you didn’t notice. It wasn’t possible, the doctors had said so. But when you went for a scan eight weeks later there was no mistaking the heart beating furiously on the screen.

You couldn’t tell anyone but you knew you were keeping the baby. You found a job in a clinic and moved to your own place. You weren’t ready when Gbenga showed up at your house one Saturday morning. You cried when he proposed.

You hugged yourself at night and willed time to standstill while Gbenga smiled in his sleep. You didn’t know what would happen next but you were content.

Monica, Money Maker

I wake before dawn and  quickly create the days content for my social media platforms: a short article on “Women Winning at Work” for my blog, some sponsored tweets on a new restaurant to be posted throughout the day, and a short video on “Caring For Your Beard” for my YouTube channel. I meditate for some minutes and recite my daily affirmations: I am loving, successful, healthy and gorgeous and today is going to be an excellent day.

Breakfast is fried egg, toasted bread and homemade orange juice arranged and photographed for my Instagram page where I advertise my cupcakes, other restaurants eateries and some food brands. I shower and dress ln a flash,soon I am standing by the school gates welcoming the preschool kids in.

I teach them songs, we sing, dance and clap. Then we scribble, colour and eat. I keep an extra eye on Ola, her parents pay me to make sure their only child wants nothing. When she wets her uniform, it is a chance for me to shine by cleaning her up and dressing her in my thoughtfully provided play clothes. I take a few pictures which I send to her mother with a short note. Ola looks lovely in the pink dress and I know her mom will be pleased. Soon, the bell rings and we say our goodbyes.

By 2pm I am back home for my 20 minute power nap. The alarm rings and I am up filling orders for cupcakes: red velvet, vanilla, chocolate, coconut, banana and strawberry. Midway I run out of gas and the first batch flops. Daniel, my assistant, arrives on time to go for a refill. We work frantically over the next few hours and I can feel my heart thudding in my chest. What if we don’t make it? What if the cakes are late? Daniel helps with packaging and delivery. He is works fast and in silence with a small frown on his dark face. Soon we are done, he is off, and I start to breathe well again. Five dozen cupcakes sealed and delivered. Five credit alerts received and rejoiced over. It is gym time, so I change, whip up a smoothie and sail through the door.

On my way to the gym I sip my pre workout smoothie and look through my messages and emails. It is junk mostly, but there is a call for upcoming artists I note and pass to my followers. The women’s holistic fitness class I teach is waiting. We stretch and begin. when we are done two hours later, sweat is dripping from my brow but I am smiling and fulfilled. At home, I spend the next two hours making liquid soap and bottling beard oil. Before I sleep, I drink a cup of green tea. I fall asleep dreaming of a private island with dancing children, bearded men, happy women and coconut cupcakes.

ATM Rendevous Part 1

 

In her shimmering sheath dress and blue stilettos she is eye candy for tired eyes. I watch as she flicks her braids and fiddles with her phone waiting on the crooked ATM queue. I rack my brain for good pick-up lines but I keep drawing blanks. “Hello girl , I wanna talk” crosses my mind and I want to slap myself. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve spent 12 hours in a tiny cubicle preparing briefs for your boss at a private law firm.

I inched closer to Favour, my second hand Mercedes and survey my reflection in the glass. The medium height, honey brown man looking back at me is well dressed, clean shaven and attractive. I bite my lips and exhale. You can do this man, I tell myself.

She is just in front of me. The lights are in my favour. I take my time savouring the view. She is taller than I am but I’m sure it’s her shoes. Her burnt red braids cascade down her back to nuzzle a generous backside. A few inches down , the shimmering gown stops to show a long stretch of skin the colour of bitter cola shells that tappers down to dainty ankles and electric blue high heels. The left ankle glitters in a silver anklet and the right is etched with a floral tattoo. A kick in my boxers jolts me, I exhale and look away.

It’s not a long line. In front of her , there’s a teen with a grey knapsack wearing earphones and nodding like an Agama lizard.

In front of him, there is a middle-aged woman wearing an I-was-white blouse over a bright yellow flair skirt and rainbow bathroom slippers. The smell of rotten beans and stale cabbage wafts past. Someone has farted, I am certain she’s the one.

A tall bespectacled man in a brown safari suit is next. He stands still with his hands folded, and his head tilted upwards. He is greying at the temples and it gives him a distinguished look. Beneath his arm, there’s a book called The History And Philosophy Of Traditional African Religions. Ah! Definitely, a lecturer.

At the booth there’s a nurse with two school aged kids. I know because she has her uniform underneath a checkered overcoat. The kids, two girls, are dressed in bright purple tops and matching denim skirts. It’s a noveau riche sign that says ‘we aren’t wearing hand me downs, each of us have our wardrobes.’ The woman is paid and the queue keeps shrinking. Soon it’s just Blue shoes and I.

I am happy– we are the only ones at the ATM machine now. No one will witness my humiliation if things go wrong. I allow myself a smile, the scales were tipping in my favour.
She spends longer at the booth than expected and I begin to worry. As I attempt to intervene, she turns. Her shoulders sag and her face looks pinched at the lips. I know even before she says anything.

“It is not paying” she says and it sounds like child that’s about to cry.

In a flash my casanova mode kicks in and begins permutations at the speed of thought. It might be a ploy. After all this is Nigeria. Anyone can feign anything in a blink.

***

 

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My Precious ❤️

Oge_writes

I’m staring at my most recent picture of him. I took it months ago when we were to the bank to get some papers sorted out.
I remember being really mad at him that morning. My anger stemmed from impatience. I was in such a hurry to go out get the paperwork over and done with, he seemed to be taking his sweet, precious time talking to the guy next door. (If only I’d known in that moment how important that conversation was.)
But as we sat across from each other in the bank, I couldn’t help but think of how precious he was to me. How his very presence at that time assured me that all would be well, regardless of what the account officer had to say.
So while he typed away on his phone, I decided I wanted to capture that moment and save it forever. I…

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Training Partner

She swung her arms as fast as she could and moved her legs to a silent beat. The sun was dipping in the horizon but she had to walk one more block before she went home. She ignored the bemused stares most bystanders gave her and focused on a tree about a hundred feet away. She was almost there when she heard a voice behind her say, “impressive”.

Annoyed, she turned around to meet crinkled grey eyes staring into hers; she ignored them and bent over panting for breathe. She could see his legs: large feet in shiny black canvas, sparkling white socks with black lines, faded denim shorts. She wondered what he wanted but decided not to ask. She had been hoping for a training partner, praying even. He sounded pleasant enough, she guessed he had a degree at least. His clothes were clean and he smelled of a woody aftershave. Who knows? Maybe this was answered prayer.

She missed Ekaette her last training partner. She had been good company and committed to their daily routine. She had been sure they would be together for the next year at least.That was before Ekaette got promoted and transferred to Tokyo.

“I am Mike,” he said, offering her a tanned muscled hand.

She shook it and straightened. “Kara,” she replied, resuming her brisk pace.

They walked in silence for some time. Above them, the skies began to darken, the sun disappeared and large dark clouds hurtled across the plains.

“It looks like it is going to rain,” Mike said. “I think we should start back.”

They had barely turned around when the heavens burst open. They had to run the last couple meters to take shelter under a bus stop.

They weren’t alone: a homeless woman had her things propped up in one corner and eyed them angrily as they stomped into the shed, a teenage boy was dozing, huddled in a corner with a tray of bananas and groundnuts, a group of students were in the center arguing and laughing in the care free manner of young adults .

They found space to stand and she tried to catch her breath. The rain worsened with jagged lightening flashing through the sky followed by thunder that threatened to make the sky fall.

She clasped her hands on her ears to shield herself from the worst of it and soon found that she was shivering.

“Here, have my jacket, you look cold.”

“Thank you,” she said slipping the oversized denim jacket over her shoulders. It was warm and smelt of peppermint.

“So, how long have you been walking?” He asked, studying his nails.

Kara hesitated. She wasn’t sure what answer to give him: the detailed one covering all her starts and stops or the neat simple one. “A month,” she said after a while.

“Nice. I have walked on and off for the past year. I started when I stopped smoking. It helped me keep my weight down and stay focused.I hope I can walk for at least six months straight this time. I hate that, to keep starting and stopping.”

“Me too,” Kara heard herself say.

Soon they were talking like old friends. He was visiting Eket from Lagos. The telecoms company he worked for had laid him off. He needed time to plan his set of moves so when his sister invited him down he took the next plane over.

His sister worked in ExxonMobil. She was widowed five years ago and hadn’t remarried. She was glad to have him around now that all her kids had left for school.

Kara told him about her job as a administrator in the civil service and her one year old cat named Phillip. She didn’t tell him about her struggles with bulimia or the boxes of worthless weight pills and potions in her room. She didn’t tell him about her five year old daughter Sara or her ex- husband Chinedu.

When the rain stopped, he walked her home.

“Same time tomorrow, then?” he asked with a smile.

“Sure,” Kara replied shrugging off his black jacket.

They walked together all week. Kara found that with Mike she didn’t need to say much. She could just nod and listen as he told her about his former colleagues or his future plans. She got used it: the companionship, the stories, the sound of matching footsteps following her own.

One evening Mike didn’t show up. Kara thought he might be ill or out of town. She had never asked for his number and she had never offered hers. That evening she only went half as far as she usually did; the walk wasn’t the same alone.

After three days without any sign of Mike she got genuinely worried. “He has gone the way he came,” she thought sadly, making her way home after another solo walk. Maybe she should look for him, check on him, she thought. But where would she start? She knew he stayed nearby but she didn’t know the address. She wished she had asked him more questions, about his sister’s name or his house address.

The next day, she started off but she couldn’t take her mind off Mike. What if he was sick or worse…? She took a turn off her regular route toward the general direction she had seen him walk when he wasn’t seeing her to her door. The neighbourhood was noisier and the road bumpier. Tricycles and cars jostled along the narrow road. Pedestrians and hawkers thronged the fringes. She was beginning to feel foolish about the whole venture when she saw a small crowd gathered round a white house.

A police van was parked in front of it and three policemen where hauling a handcuffed figure into an open van she walked up to the van and saw Mike; or what was left of him.

His clothes were dirty and torn. His face was swollen and one eye was the size of an egg.

“Officer, what has he done? Why are you beating an innocent man like this?” Kara demanded.

“Madam, I suggest you stay out of this. This man is wanted in connection with the kidnap and murder of three women in Lagos.” A wiry police man in plain clothes replied as the van zoomed off.

Kara was stunned. She opened her mouth and closed it again. She tried to breathe but her chest felt like a burst balloon.

Over the next few days she would gather that his name was Cosmos not Mike. She would read with sick fascination of his alledged victims and their tragic fate. She would find that he had no sister in Eket, never worked in telecoms and smoked a pack a day.

She went to the police station to see him; part of her still couldn’t believe any of it. There had to be a mistake, the whole thing had to be mistake. She took him food and water, a T-shirt, a newspaper and a Bible.

The police station was located at the border of the town. She drove there in her white Toyota; anxiety bubbled in her belly like boiling oil. She filled all the papers and handed over the items she had brought for inspection. She couldn’t help noticing the blood smears on the walls were mosquitoes had once been or the sweat-soaked stench the place gave off. She was offered a chair but she declined and stood instead. After a while, a portly police officer beckoned to her and she followed him into a small office.

The office was a study in paradox. Several files lay on a polished table and even more files lay on the floor. Cheap blue curtains adorned the windows. An expensive air-conditioned unit hummed on the wall. Shiny new chairs contrasted with dull blue painted walls. The police man sat and asked her to do same. She sat and thanked him.

Cosmos had been transferred to Lagos. The orders had come a few days ago and he was sent via black Maria yesterday.
Kara rose and thanked him once again. She walked out of the station and down the road in the sunshine. A few blocks away she remembered her Toyota and walked back to get it.

She drove home and tried to banish thoughts of Mike Cosmos from her mind but every time it rained her mind went back to that evening at the bus stop and to the black denim jacket that smelled of peppermint.