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Mother will visit again to say she Is tired of holding her breath like a naira note. It is her silence that lets you know what it takes to be a Nigerian whenever she says many things about the Civil war, about the COVID-19 lockdown and Corrupt Leaders to your hearing. She is like a rising smoke, she doesn’t return to her words. She doesn’t know how to hold words back to their source. she’s a muted corpse that keeps quiet when eyes take turns to peep at its nakedness. Mother is a journey many start with a little hiss & doubt.

Tell me, when you hear my heartbeat goes off beat, how often do you stop yourself from dancing? Do the worries of my father’s death still make you want to lose your sanity? Do the stories of his miserable life still sour you? When you let loose of those agonies of those you lost in the hands of Corona in your heart, where do they go? to the cloud? among the debris of July rain? Among the smoke? Do they lose shape? Or do they stay thick like a hard wood? Or like a falling sperm? What is dinner if we’ve not prayed over the heat of chaos of the Lockdown in Nigeria?  what is food if we have not seen a dead body in the streets of Kaduna or if NEPA has not taken the light in the streets of Lagos? I am unsure if your prayers will hold me to my word. Whenever someone quote me among Nigerians — they always say that Nigerians have a thing with pains and how to manage it without a word.

When pain leaves the body, where does it go? Back to Hell? To Heaven? To the dungeon? No. Trump said it goes to Nigeria, her Leaders are fantastically corrupt. And Nigerians marry and worship corruption in the name of a saviour then, they allow their lips to keep reminding them that their land is a paradise or because she was in time past or in the first republic, we can’t remember when it was better than what it is now. Don’t break this Kola nut when an Igbo man is singing about the loss of his money during the pandemic, he might call down the gods on you. Or when a Yoruba man is eating a soup without Pepper or meat in Ileya day — or where a Hausa man has no cow to prepare Suya.

I used to tell Imade, my little sibling, (i think he’ll be two or three years old this September) how often i remember to forget that father is no more. Nigeria killed him and left his uniform in Sambisa in the hearts of his enemies.  How often have i told him that making my bed in the morning is the best time to allow my spirit curl up for another thing that makes Lagos to take one’s joy away from his heart. This is me recalling how to remember where my pain said it was going to before the Lockdown. Maybe i can’t remember now in spite of how terrible my eyes look. However, i will remember my girl now. Despite my calls and rants yesterday, she said she would be cutting her hair low. Last night, i told mother about it. when i called and told her about it, she said i should allow her do her bidden but my father’s brother must not know about it. Our tradition forbids a woman from cutting her hair low. Our tradition forbids a woman from standing while urinating. Our tradition forbids a bereaved woman to be seen in a new photograph one year after her husband has been buried. Our tradition forbids a woman from leading her people. Our tradition forbids women from owning a farmland. Our tradition forbids a woman from owning rather they are owned by men. Our tradition forbids a woman from going to the Obi while seeing her menses and these traditions are pains that our elders created in our communities and we inherited them unknowingly.  Perhaps, you’ve seen why i always keep my mouth shut like a toddler whose mouth holds his mother’s nipple whenever mother calls to remind me of all these pains that they planted secretly in us.

under the sheets

Mother said it’s a crime to see a python and kill it in our village. She said our culture forbids that. This is one of the Pains that came with fire and ice. We grew up to know that our people revere the python in as much as it brings so much fears and tortures our hearts. We grew up knowing it together with the pains it brings with it. We also know that the Python is free to come into our homes and leave at will. But if you do not want it to stay at that moment, it is your duty to gently take it away without stressing it, killing it is not an option too. it is sacred, that’s what our tradition says. It is said that if an indigene of any part of the community where the python is revered accidentally kills a python, such a person will have to perform the burial rites as if the dead python was a human being. Mother keeps reminding us of this like the Lord’s Prayer. But she failed to see the torture our heart goes through to have all these in it.

The other day, after mother told us about a man who killed a python in Imo State, that was where mother come from, although Father was Anambraran where the python is also revered and killing it is also a taboo. So, that same day, we heard that our Uncle Udoka, has killed one with his car. That night, as I prepared to sleep, the story of the revered Python as related by my mother came back to me. For a moment, i left my body and roamed in the darkness, pensively. My veins contracted and swelled. I was worried to see my family eating another pain. We always shed our bodies here in our home and wear it back daytime. Our home is not an empty vessel. I was worried about my Uncle, Udoka, who had burnt himself and drank the venom of our culture, the villagers would come the next day to keep the body of the python in the compound and discuss how it would be buried. It is on record that despite the incursion of Christianity and Islam, old traditions of our ancestors hold sway in some communities in Nigeria as locals still revere some creatures and dare not harm them. With this, we’ve learnt to excuse words between a husband and a wife who are in bed for love is better felt in bed with the serenity of the darkness.

Soon the next morning, I heard a cheery voice descending the stair case followed by quick smart footsteps. I soon came face to face with my Uncle, face painless. I think he must have been visited by a different spirit that night. My blood tied my body to the darkness in his face, in the arms of a broken mirror and I’m yet to know myself and hold my breath in a prayer running into streams of unwanted thoughts after he looked at me and said:

“How are you today, Nigerian?

Ever wondered why everything in Nigeria is designed to kill you in spite of your love for yourself? Ever wondered why you waited patiently for the Government palliatives during the Lockdown and none come your way? Ever wondered why a Nigerian pastor faces a child’s face to the sky while giving him name? Ever wondered why there are many Mushroom churches and mosques in the street of your beloved country yet there are corrupt leaders littered here and there? Ever wondered why the politicians are sworn in in the name of the Father, Son and The Holy Spirit or in the name of Allah yet they embezzle and loot the treasury of the land?  Ever wondered why a ram stops in the street of Nigeria to look at you then it changes its direction?  Ever wondered why those in the streets of Lagos don’t smile always? Nigeria makes their rooms fine with emptiness and flowers and she returns to hit them with unbearable pains to carry around. Poetry don’t heal anymore. It has more depressed words these days than it had in the days of our parents.

“How are you, Nigeria?”

Some of your pains look like civil war ghosts. some like a child in Biafran Movie, tortured and some like a dirty naira note trampled on the ground in the street of Ajegunle.

Who says Blacks are kings? I can’t remember who said this but I heard it somewhere that blacks are Kings. Someone said it. I was meant to ask that someone whether he falls from the sky or somewhere between the sky. Besides, has that person ever wondered if there is any single African Nations that are developed? Well-developed and rocks the Twenty first century’s bliss?  I don’t remember how I watched Black Panther again. How I took my time, stayed in front of my television perched on the wall, to watch Black Panther. I can’t remember listening to Beyoncé’s Brown Skin Girl track. No. Not even the Lion King Album. It irritates to see us deceiving us. The day I sat on my couch with a glass of wine and watched people gathered in front of White House screaming that “Black Lives Matters”, I knew they were not talking about Nigeria too. I don’t think they realized that Nigerians’ lives do not matter too because pains live with us and our Leaders are fantastically fire and water, they care not about the masses.

Last week, a politician fainted trying to recite his monetary pledge. A week before, Chinese visited Aso Rock for the debt Nigeria owes them. And, a day before today, the President traveled to Mali to settle a dispute while the country was on fire in southern Kaduna. My mother-in-law said she was denied Visa to the USA when Mr. Wallace looked into her papers and realized she was a Nigerian. she came home singing a song left in the hands of memory. I watched her danced here and there. When she saw me looking at her, she said to me:

“Son, out there is an abysmally abnormal world. The sun shines at night and the moon illuminates the day. A flower planted by the riverside die of drought. Out there, our government gives lights to other nations and lights candles at night. Doctors cure the ill with their pills and kill with their Bills… is Nigeria not a Powerful Country?”

Meanwhile, I could not answer her because water stuck in between my teeth for all the nonsense she has been vomiting in the wake of the day. I wonder why our soldiers would return home and send their wives to the battle front while they sit back to breastfeed the babies. I don’t understand anymore why people die of hunger seated before a banquet of food. i don’t understand why in Nigeria we don’t dodge potholes anymore rather we choose which one we can possibly enter comfortably and we still stare at the moon happily whenever a girl gets married to a man.

“May water stick in between Your teeth for that which you recite…”

Father said infuriated the day he caught me reciting the national Anthem. We prefer to wear three- Piece suits under the blazing sun and wear singlet and armless net clothing when the harmattan comes. That is the problem with Nigerians. I do not know how to hide myself from the problems of my people, I do not know how because if I do, it will come back to me or the children that are to come.

When cursing the gods in Nigeria, curse them in a language that is understood by you alone.

The afternoon’s receding sun, revealed a face that despite the demise of his soul just the day before his father was killed, he stood on a bridge, arms akimbo. He looked into the water. He saw his dreams going. He called out to them but they kept going. He remembered his father’s dreams went this same way too. He remembered his brother’s dreams made the same journey and never returned. He looked on and on and his dreams went on and on until they passed him. As they drove in numbers, He regaled with his father’s legacy of hard work, simplicity and humility.  He cried and wished he was never born here where breath is also a tormentor. And dreams die before they come to you. Do forget this land!

© John Chizoba Vincents

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