I thought the city: its automated way of living; the luxury; mesmerising bridges; the skyscrapers; the security of a job; the boat rides; beach parties, car races et cetra would rid me of the pain. It exacerbated it. Some wounds heal with time; others fester, I guess that’s why they amputate limps.
“You need help but you just don’t know.” Yemi said
We were sitting at oriental hotel, in its restaurant that had good view of the water. Every now and then a boat would pass separating the water in white gushy streams. I felt like tasting these artificially created bubbles. I loved the way the water separated only to join back. I squinted a little. The sun was fierce and reflected rather intensely on the water, and chrome of the boats. It actually felt hot just looking at the reflection of the sun on the water out the large rectangular windows. The AC, humming quietly blended with clicks of cutlery on ceramic plates: giving an ambience of sophistry.
I poured red wine into my wineglass, took a sip, stirred it rotating my wrist, all the while digesting what she said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I finally added.
“Yes I do”
I shook my head
“Look,” she placed her hands on mine and said “you might hide it behind this your fake ever handy smile. I love that smile, I really do. But I see through it. The eyes don’t lie. I see this liquid sadness in your eyes”
“Liquid sadness ? What the fuck are you a poet now?
She laughed and ate a little of her rice and asun. Sipped Her wine and said pointing her fork at me. “ A kí í dá erú ìkùn pa ori”
“One does not weigh the head down with a load that belongs to the belly, Terfa.”
Foot abruptly step on the brakes. Tires screech. The landscape by the window slows down. Blind man and his little helper walk past the front of the car walking stick tentatively touching the ground. That was close. Imagine hitting a blind man? Hands nervously rub the steering wheel. Thinking about what Yemi said. But wait: So many beggars in Lagos these days? Had a box of pizza at the back seat one day. They begged and begged till my conscience started to scream. It’s the irony of life that poor people have more children than the rich people who can afford more children. Green light. Foot eases the brakes and steps on accelerate. The landscape is moving by the window faster now. The needle is at 60. Oh shit traffic. Brakes.
My mind went back to what Yemi said. She always has a way of peeping into one’s soul. I never told her what happened but she spoke like she had the information. Like my lips parted and i told her the ugly past. Queer thing she is. The end of the discussion held my attention I won’t lie. She said whatever is eating me won’t stop till it’s out. It must be let out voluntary she added. Pointed out I have black eye bags; having I been sleeping ? Why would she mention the guy jumping from third mainland bridge to me like I was contemplating suicide? Told me about something called Writing Therapy: It’s form of therapy where the patient writes about his trauma expressly. “It’s an exorcism using literature to rid the soul of the past.” Her words.
I got home and parked by the X6: my race buddy. Took the half bottle of wine from the passenger seat. Closed the door and clicked the remote.
In the house, white, big and lonely, i sat at the dinning table and uncorked the wine. It felt good in my throat. By the evening a bottle of Hennessy XO had replaced the red wine; With a quarter of it left Yemi’s words floated into my head. “ A ki i da eru ikun pa ori”.
I felt like unveiling the sadness. Write. Write. Write. Write, my subconscious probed. It was Like gas that necessitates a burb, the urge to share my story, my hurt, my trauma became involuntary, you could say my proper body function needed its release. When I turned on my computer to write. I stared at the blinking cursor for a long time thinking of how to begin; which word or phrase to start with; I dreaded pulling out those memories.
I poured a shot and gulped. Good I told myself. Fire up. But I just starred at the screen. It went blank and my face, stubbled, reflected. In my eyes I saw the “liquid sadness” and deeper in it, i saw a village burning, the roof on fire, the tongue of the flame cracking and expanding and crumpling the mud wall.
I heard screaming and twitched, touching the keyboard. The screen brightened; the blinking cursor resumed beckoned. Fuck it I told myself and started typing:
Market day is like a festival; on its morning you can hear people talking excitedly, and children chasing each other and cheering as if expecting a masquerade dance.
Then afterwards, everybody is in hurry. A pair of Feet seems like four or eight, depending on how fast the person is walking.
My village is built with mud and thatch.
In my village no building is Painted. Everything looks brown; the mud house are brown ; our pots are clay pots; the road is untarred. But the thatch roof on the huts have the hue of a setting sun.
We are a village of farmers. Every morning we wake up and go to the farm. Most of the farms are behind the huts , so we get to see the sun rise in front of the hut and set on our ploughing back. When food is ready mother comes out and calls us to eat. At times, when I’m farming the smell of mama’s soup whiffs into my nostrils, and my mouth waters. Papa doesn’t eat till he is done farming. He’s disciplined like that.
The farm is interwoven with our life. Mama gave birth to me on the farm, under a mango tree, on a wrapper placed on hay. I lost a brother to a snake bite, in a lonely hour, on the same farm. The farm that has been a source of joy, has also made us cry. The farm that has feed us, has also starved us. Our lives in the village revolves around the farm, like the Earth around the Sun. This farm is father’s heritage, and our family legacy.
We love market day and it’s spaghetti ball of rowdiness and chattering, the smell of food produce, the customers from neighbouring villages and the prospect of making money excites the village.
So on this day I was Late. The memory comes back with vividness. I sneaked out early in the morning. The moon was out, hung by invisible strings over the grey sky. Tete (my dog) wagged its way to me as soon as I stepped out of the hut. We went to Uttan river to fish. We roasted the fish by the bank and ate it hungrily. Tete loved the head of the fish. By the time I got home my parents had already left for the market. My sister who was preparing to go told me my parents directed i should carry the remaining yams and head for the market immediately, she repeated “immediately oh”; she had actually been waiting for me. And hurriedly left the house, carrying her bulk of the tubers of yam.
I went to the smallest hut in our compound: the kitchen. Because on the last market day I made the mistake of not eating; this time around adamant on overcompensating. I unwrapped the fish I brought from the river covered in leaf. I opened a pot and cooked it adding salt. When it was properly cooked, I ate it with the roasted yam my mother left for me.
Then I headed for the market square, with the sack of yam on my back.
It was rowdy when I got there. Stalls, tables, mats on the ground all had tubbers of yams and cassavas, vegetables, Bush meat, smoked fish etc., on display. People chattering here and there. I saw a man raise a tuber of yam and shake his head. He probably thought it was too expensive. I moved on, soaking the familiarity of this day we love so much. I was Checking stalls till I saw my parents. Immediately my father saw me he started shouting.
“Where have you been this boy. Where have you been?”
“Sorry papa” I said without any explanation, dropping the sack with heavy strain.
“We could have been at front of the market but see where we are now ehn. Have we ever been here? Noooooooo. Look at where we are now?”
“I’m sorry papa”
“You’re lucky this boy, you’re very luck, thank you ancestors today is a busy day, Mimi wam I would have dealt with you.”
My mother came and grabbed my hand and said “ Start arranging the yams, customers are coming. Don’t mind your father people have been offering poor prices.”
I looked at my father and he looked away.
So I started arranging the yams. I arranged them in a pyramid, and stood behind them. Not long after this, a woman carrying a baby on her back with another child about 6 years old, holding her hand stood in front of me.
She pointed at 8 large tubers of yam and offered a price that made me chuckle. But not to discourage her I immediately offered smaller ones for that price, she shook her head and her child by her side shook her head too.
To be honest I enjoy the market day with men buying from me. With women bargain is warfare and the bombardment of low price after low price makes you seek armistice
“No. No. No. that is too costly” she interjected.
“I have tried ma”
“Tried? Don’t tell me that. I will go to the next shop. You are not the only one selling yam.
“Ok ma, I’ll add one more tuber.”
“lets go “ she said holding her daughters hand and looking at me.
I said “ma, buy from me na, you’re my first customer I’ll add two more tubers for that price?”
She didn’t move; she stood there squinting at the yam in the early morning sun.
The daughter’s tiny hand shook her mother’s hand, as if to say Mama, are we not going?
“My son, add four more tubers of yam.“
“Ahhh, Ma I have really tried.”
“Okay. Come mimi, let’s go”
My mother came from behind the shed made of cement sack and asked what the woman had wanted ?
“To buy 10 small tubers of yam for 200 Naira I responded”
“How many did u offer her”
“She’s lucky it wasn’t your father; God knows what he would have told her. She doesn’t know New Yam hasn’t come. Lazy women that don’t farm want to exploit people. I’m sure it’s because she saw you thinking you’re a small boy so she would cheat you. When she saw me peep from the back that’s when she left oh. Imagine. Mistcheeww. Don’t worry wam wam people will patronise us”
My mother came by the tubers of yam and helped arranged the tubers I had dislodged to sell to the woman.
“Audo wam ma tellem. Terfa, why are those people running towards here ?”
“Which people “I asked then I looked. My lips twitched. Just then Five, six, eight I couldn’t count amount of people were running past us, Stirring dust with expressions on their faces antithetical to a market day.
It was as if the audio had just been turned on. Because, now, I heard gunshots and People screaming. The look on their faces; the strain on their neck; their Hands weaving the air in panic; feet pounding the earth in a steady drum of pandemonium.
My father, from behind, grabbed my arm firmly and said “Boy, run”
I held my mom. My sister started in front of me, her hair tie fell by the leg of the bench she was sleeping on.
I saw Papa Mfa holding his little son who was crying stretching his hand like he left something behind. All the faces I knew were in distress with fear in their eyes. We joined the crowd and registered our fear in the community’s eye.
The gun shot was more sporadic now coming from behind. Sheds were breaking in half. The crowd pushed on with panic limps, screaming, shoving, fighting for life.
Then a queer movement began to happen up front, as were rushing towards the other opening of the market, it seemed undistinguishable at first, then became apparent, the crowd was running back into itself like a snake eating its tail.
I saw fear in father’s eye. For the first time he didn’t look so brave and in control. The moment he held mama’s hand someone ran in between them breaking his grip, mama stumbled and almost fell but I was still holding her. People were shoving and pushing me all these while. I was standing with my legs apart for balance, and rocking with the motion. Papa held her again and told me to get my sister and head toward the forest. I let go of mama’s hand.
I couldn’t see msushima. I couldn’t see that wild hair around me. She had been running with us. I had seen her in front us with her hair floating in the air. Now I turned almost like an owl but couldn’t see her.
The crowd was moving toward another direction: toward the Forest. I was hoping I’d see her eventually. So I ran towards that direction, faster now, squeezing in between shoulders. The gunshots were louder now. People were actually screaming in pain behind me. I wasn’t thinking about family. Self preservation had control. Someone held my shirt back and struggled past me only to stumble on a low stemmed tree, I jumped over the person. I could hear my heart in my ear, they say if you don’t hear the gunshot that means you’ve been shot. I was hearing the metallic rattle behind me, I was hearing it past me into tree trunks, leaves were falling, branches too. Some people ran into trees. Twigs were tripping people. It was almost as if nature was abetting pogrom. Some places the branches were really low and you had to be careful.
We were thinning down, death was behind me, death was by my side. I was tempted to look back, tempted look at its face but I was afraid of what I might see or never see again like lot. So I kept running: Green leave Green leave green leave green leave slim rays of sun in between green leaves brown branch dark branch dark tree-trunk brown tree-trunk grey tree-trunk low branch bend low low stemmed-tree jump twigs slapping my face ouch that hurt slippers gone bare foot slapping green grass might be the last time I feel grass In between my toes Dear Lord I don’t want to die I don’t want to die I don’t want to die not like this not in their hands oh God help me
The landscape 30 feet in front of me disappeared and continued farther ahead as if someone removed a few Lego blocks. I couldn’t stop. I’d rather die from a fall than let this devil’s spawn of marauding herders get me.The machine gun was rattling, chucking bullets Into trees and branches. It hadn’t stopped, it was persistent still. I could hear my feet pounding the grassy terrain. My sweat, my heaving, my strain was an appeal to God; an appeal to dear life. Almost at the valley, preparing to jump a bullet brushed my ear, and I feel down screaming, and rolled onto the grassy slope that contributed to the valley; i rolled till I hit my head at the base of a tree at the bank of stream and blanked out.
There was a queer silence when I woke up. The kind of silence amidst which you can hear the soft tinkling of nature but nothing else. I touched my right ear: it had been glazed. I washed my face at the stream with blood dripping, creating little red ripples. The water stung touching my ear lope.
I grunted all the way up the steep climb. I saw blood on blades of grass and leaves. I saw somebody face down with a bloodied back, the grass flattened underneath. I put my hands to my mouth. I saw mama Kator holding kator with that lost look of the dead in their eyes. They were unaware of motion nor sight nor smell. Pa Taver had a hole a through his head and his hands were raised as if he was pleading for his life with his back on a tree trunk. Here was my playmate Zendisha hacked with a cutlass at the base of his neck, head hanging like a bad light bulb.
I was trembling. The next corpse I see could be my father, mother or sister with that lost look in their eyes. I ran toward the market square. Ran past corpses, some from the neighbouring village. At the market square: It was smokey with burnt sheds and stalls. Yams, cassavas, tomatoes peppers onions fish were scattered about;smashed; stepped on; burnt.
I fell on my knees and screamed. Tears ran down my cheek. I looked up and wondered what kind of God would allow this happen. How Thou is merciful? God the father are you there ? What kind of father would allow this happen to His children? Are you seeing all these? Is it part of Your plan ? Why? Why? Why Wou…I noticed smoke from the village stirring in the wind towards the sky. Oh my God It can’t be. I stood up and headed toward the village in teary blurry progress.
Feet slapping earth broken clay pots in front of Burnt huts black thatch black thatch black thatch roofless burnt mud walls with smoke seeping out of cracks Blood stained mud walls crumbled mud walls Dead chickens in compounds with straightened legs burnt goats bullets riddled pigs dead on their side Slashed pregnant women bulging and red Babies with big wounds on the face neck stomach wounds bigger than the babies Bullet shells on tuft of grass Smell of burnt flesh Men dead with cutlasses in their hands and broken arrows by their side in the halo of a bow dead with the look of the moon in their eyes Dead in positions that spoke of agony pain and inhumanity dead defenceless dead merciless dead on their father land.
I ran through the village in disbelieve as my thoughts churned and churned . On either side was mayhem. Compounds I had played in as a child were desecrated with mutilated bodies; splattered with blood.
I arrived at our compound, bare feet sore from running.The huts wore a sad aura of darkened thatch roofs and bullet riddled mud walls. On the ground I saw a trail of blood like someone ran into the compound and into my parents hut. I dashed into the smoke filled hut coughing and straining my eyes: there was a body on the floor, which was dead by its obvious stillness.i turned the face of the corpse. I had never seen the face before or death made it unrecognisable.I checked I and msushima’s hut, then the kitchen-hut. They were all desolate.
That day seeing all these deaths felt unreal. Only that morning I left in a happy frame of mind breathing the early morning air; anticipating market day and my return to eat mama’s soup. It was barely three hours ago. Barely three hours and my whole life upturned. One day; one scenario; one occurrence sapped my life of colour. I, never to look in my mothers eyes again nor feel her reassuring touch when my heart perturbed. I wasn’t going taste her soup nor Papa’s roasted bush meat. Who was going to talk to me like a man and give me his Palm wine to sip? My beautiful sister, the last image I have of my sister is her hair-tie falling by the bench as she stood up and ran, her wild hair floating in the air. As I wrote this I realised that early morning in the village before the attack was the last good memory I had.No one survived: My whole village; my whole clan; my community wiped in the most merciless, inhuman and degrading fashion. It was a pogrom abetted by the omission of the government to do the needful. Back then I didn’t know a lot of things. Things like the responsibility of a Government; Social Contract; the ultimate duty of a government to protect its citizens and their property. The irony is that this government paid for my education overseas to learn all these. But I have always wondered why this government waits for the worse to happen then try redeeming the situation. This wasn’t the first time not the second not the third time they had attacked us, only that this time it was on a scale unprecedented. The government was aware but took no solid action. We had always been neglected. We were left without the least basic amenity. As if that wasn’t enough; security wasn’t guaranteed. No community policing except the vigilantes whose spears and arrows were no match for the sophisticated weapons of our attackers. After the carnage they took me away and gave me the best education and a life that had all the best amenities. Tap water ! My father would have nodded his head being impressed. They Paraded me on live TV to score political points. All the while my clan had lived the government paid no attention to that rural area avoiding it like a plague. It’s pathetic. Why me I always wondered? I lived with this guilt that the blood of my kin and kith paid for my luxury; for my foreign education. It didn’t feel right, it felt artificial. This wasn’t luxury it felt like a modern sickness. What’s the point of having it all if you can’t share it with those you had nothing while growing up?
“My God. This is heartbreaking. tell…me…this is fiction?“ yemi said
I shook my head.
We were back at the restaurant in oriental hotel. Yemi wore her hair low and lipstick red. I thought she looked like Halle berry; the Yoruba version. She removed her reading glasses and placed them on the table beside her wineglass. Her eyes were moist and she seemed lost for words.
“It..it’s hard to fathom all you must have gone thro-ugh?” She finally said, then quickly added “I mean, you were just a kid barely over puberty to see all these horror blood murder, to see your loved ones murdered in cold blood and burnt and keep it inside you Oh my God.”
She was crying now. She would have called her tears salt streams I thought.
I….I…always won-dered why you never spoke about your family?
I said nothing but just stared at her. I knew she wouldn’t shut up and it was consoling to see someone, to see her, feel for me…