Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Open Road: Goodbye Papa; Goodbye Chinua Achebe.

That call that breaks the darkness in the room at night and wakes you up from sleep; I’ve always dreaded it.
My grandpa passed on in the wee hours of Monday morning, and before then, I was already mourning the demise of the erudite professor, Chinua Achebe. These are two men, of the same age who I admired and looked up to all my life. Achebe is like god; I was so sad and overwhelmed when I heard the news and I started reminiscing of the days I read Things Fall Apart and knew I wanted to be that great a man. Or half. I remember especially one night, reading it with a flashlight because I shared a room with my siblings and I didn’t want them to wake up. And it was in that blackness of the night, with the sighs of frogs and hiss of the winds that I knew I wanted to tell stories. 
There are so many things everyone must seek to emulate in this great hero Achebe: his integrity, the audacity of his truth; his impeccable will to not compromise. Achebe told stories when they burned like tea slurped without bread; he stood and spoke the truth when the birds hovering over his head held nsi in their buttocks, and he sat, gentle with the poise of royalty when he couldn’t stand no more and told all that he had held back in There Was A Country.
Chinua Achebe’s books and essays were instrumentals in giving a voice to the dead and dying of Africa, to histories that we are often ignorant of. It's like that unspoken thought people have when hearing of fresh tragedy in China: oh well, there're too many people in China already, they can afford to lose a few million. No one will say it aloud, but it hovers there like a black cloud of superiority all the same (in the same way as westerners always looking at China and India as the real problem when it comes to climate change). There was a human story in every line Chinua Achebe had ever written, aimed in bringing to life the different layers of the Nigerian society, giving them back ownership of their African identity and heritage even while telling the story of it being taken from them.

Last year, I coincidentally stayed in the house Chinua Achebe lived in Nsukka. I was visiting my uncle who is a Professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A faded colored detached house sat, as if carelessly, in a big compound with picket fences and a decent green area. I was to stay for three days. I could not sleep; I felt like some sort of ghost would surround me and bestow on me the ability to tell stories that skip through air. It was in this same house that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie moved into, with her family, after the Achebes moved out. It was in this same house I would imagine, Achebe wrote “Girls at War”; a book from which I learned the act of telling short stories.
My grandfather’s death will not make headlines or become a trending topic on social medias. But people will flood our country home like rain on roads without drainage, they would wail and shake heads and hold their shoulders high in a tensed manner. They will say, “Oh yes, Nze was a greatman” and I would know it is not the voices of the empty bottles of beer on the table in my grandma’s living room. I would know that if you stop two villages away, and ask a young boy, the height of a maize tree in the middle of May and say “Oh, I’m looking for Nze’s compound”, he would wipe his hands on his round, exposed belly and point towards left and right, or right and left, and the rain would not wash away your footprints till you get to the compound surrounded by almond trees.
My grandfather was quiet; spoke sporadically and ate with the grace of a cat. I remember his last visit to Lagos, driving him to hospitals and to see his friends from Nigeria Airways who retired and didn’t go back to the village. I remember the days before then, when his visits to Lagos was frequent because the Nigerian government delayed paying his pension. We would all go to FAAN, at Ikeja and wait. The air was hot every time; there was always an aura of grey around everyone. It was like a mist that wouldn't rise. Everyone there waited, most times for long hours and when they needed to stretch their bones, they would buy groundnut from the young children under a tree shade.  I remember playing the Kenny Rogers record in the car because it birthed a different, intensely fragile, depth of mind that I felt both of us could connect to. He would grab the headrest of my seat and say “ka nwam, ji ri ya nwa yo”. Take it easy, Lagos has been here before me and it is not going anywhere. My grandma will rebuke him, and apologize to me. Maybe she thought I was offended by it; maybe she thought her husband had forgotten that the only way to get through Lagos was to hurry. But I would look at them from the rear-view and smile.

For so many reasons, my relationship with my maternal grandparents was estranged for such a long time, and it wasn’t till I was old enough to stop bathing outside with the ruthless harmathan, that I realized why. (Story for another day, please). So, yes, I was deprived of so many Christmas memories with him, and when I was ready to listen to stories by his bedside, he grew ill. There was an overwhelming emptiness with his presence each time he visited Lagos, and sometimes I didn’t know how to react when his eyes burned at me unconsciously. I knew each time he stared at me and I would make up his thoughts; sometimes I would want to tell him how I learnt to ride a bike, or how I sometimes wish to hear stories of the Biafran war from him. But I wont. He was worn out; weak most times to the tick of the clock in the solitude of his room. But still, with that weakness, we danced for victory. We danced for misery. We danced for miscarriages. We danced in garbage, too.
 I was left to make up memories of my Grandpa from what I thought would be; memories and stories of him holding me as a child and remembering my birthdays and buying my favorite fruits from the junction, holding the village to the city. But now I only hold two stories: one- which I will learn of after his death- is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other- which I saw through his sickness -is of how he became a child again.

My grandma has been gracious. She’s as slender as Nneoma and strong like a basket woven under the sun. But soon she would be weakened; soon she would put her husband in between a thicket of long almond trees, where the green seems to still have a hollow voice in the branches, spreading out to catch the sun. She would try not to think about the birds that soon would gather, and so we would all stay beside her, desperately trying not to weep. Our throats would tighten. Our heads would pound like the throbs of heavy rain against a zinc roof. Everything would hurt inside. Someone; one of us; all of us would try to take Grandma's hand. One of us will, and would think it belonged to a glass doll.
And so we too would gather around, with spades and shovels and set brown sands over Grandpa, trying our best to protect him from the birds. We would pile heaps of earth gently on his stomach, his legs and over his round face, until he becomes one with the almond trees.
Then we would all stand, and study our work, feeling like these heaps of sands and rocks are on us instead. And my grandma will tear her cheeks in grief, knowing that his flesh will rot away- more birds than family flocking round his body.

I don’t know what I’m feeling, to be honest. Writing most times puts me in check; of where I’m supposed to be and what emotions I should process. I feel like when it comes to death, the most interesting thing about it is grief. Grief is captivating; it is it’s own size and it’s own boss and it’s own determiner. It’s not the size of love, or hurt, or sadness or even anyone else who looses someone. It is its own size and it comes to you when it sees fit. You understand? I’ve always loved the phrase that someone was “visited by grief”, because that is really what it is and how it operates. Grief is it’s own thing. It’s not like it is in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing and one needs to be okay with it’s presence when it finally arrives. If one tries to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at one’s door.
But I’m indifferent. I feel like I don’t own my emotions yet. It’s hard. But we are human; we all own our emotions at a price. With indifference, I can sell my emotions out to the highest bidder: to whoever can plough my thoughts, loot them and then drive me with them. I say, here’s my worn out white sheet. I don’t want to sell it to the virgin and I don’t want to sell it to the prostitute…so whoever finds it, please use it. That is indifference. And meanwhile, a child just might come around and use it to wipe the dog’s poop.
But it doesn’t matter who I sell the bed-sheet to…the virgin isn’t always better than the prostitute. The most important thing is that I can decide to sell it to one of them and defend my sale with all my might. Because it is careless to leave an unused sheet hanging.

So now I decide to be happy. Happy that I was lucky to be born in the era of such a great man, Chinua Achebe; happy to be able to look up to him and learn from his knowledge and be inspired by his integrity. Today I decide to be happy for African literature; for its woes and triumphs, its bitter histories and lost treasures; its glory and its unsung melodies. Happy that when the white men found our culture to be like chaffs from coconut juice, Achebe gathered it all and used it to make candy. Happy that there are distant shouts in my head, of the pressure to leave a remarkable legacy as these men did; to lay in, hands crossed in an open coffin with a laced-up shoe too big for anyone to fit in. Happy that these men have paid the toll and the road has been opened up for greatness; that when I look in the mirror, it doesn't shatter with shame nor my face sour with disdain. Today, I’m happy that a good man lived long and well, and that he passed by my window on his journey home, and that he didn’t send me ahead of him when he should go first.


Some of my favorite quotes from Chinua Achebe:

“I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.” 
"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n'ani ji onwe ya: "He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” 
“When Suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat left for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” 
 “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past - with all its imperfections - was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them” 
“Those whose kernels were cracked by benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.” 
“It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have - otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.” 

My dear friend, Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun (Rubayo Ibin) -the founder of Baliff Africa (www.baliffafrica.org)- is the well of my inspiration . We had talked( and we are literary twins separated at birth), and sought depth, but ended up getting lost in the simplicity of some life situations. She tells the story of the virgin and the prostitute poignantly. And her wisdom is unfathomable.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Moving Clocks Run Slow: SECRETS.

Here is the 3rd part! Sorry it took so long (as opposed to the weekly ritual), but I hope it's worth it. If this is your first time here, read the first and the second below on the blog). Enjoy!

Moving Clocks Run Slow: SECRETS.


At night, four women lay with different secrets.

They all tried to sleep, somehow convincing themselves that if they shot their eyes and hoped hard enough, they would drift away from the reality of what they did till the light of morning comes upon their windows and the rays of gold and honey cover them in the sweetness of dawn. But they struggled with these secrets that threatened to choke them. One paced around the balcony of her bedroom, and the second tried to distract herself with the could’ves and would’ves and should’ves thoughts of a failed marriage. The third watched the knife by the side of her bed glitter under the lamp while her husband snored and the last tried to force herself to sleep, her secrets clasped between her hands.

Still they vowed to cover them up, to conceal it; divide these secrets in their souls into smaller and smaller bits and scatter them in places no one would find them.

Tracy tried to cover hers with her day to day living; dropping the kids at school in the mornings, catching up later in the evening with her girlfriends at Ikoyi Club where they talked about shoes and expensive hair extensions. That was what she did, and the last time she went to see her parents in the village, the ladies she went to the stream with to fetch water while she was still in the village beamed from molar to molar with hidden envy. She did not tell them of the unbearable loneliness that sat in the empty seats of her Prado jeep or the strangeness in her husband’s embrace. She smiled and gave them all of her old shoes.

But that night as she lay on her massive bed in the solace of her Luxurious home in Lekki, she thought of several things she could have said to Sam and mourned the fact that her strength usually bloomed late, peaking when it no longer mattered, during the solitary hours close to midnight. It was her friend Joyce, that first told her about Ashley- the woman she described as being so beautiful that it made the stars at night envious. Joyce had seen them at the airport waiting to board an international flight, and it was something in their eyes that gave her an assurance that they were playing with each other’s hearts and body parts.

Joyce was the loud one; the not too pretty lady who quit her job with the Insurance company to be a stay-at-home mom. And her husband, a good looking man with broad shoulders who went around town planting kisses on the necks of strange women. The women at the club that evening in their Polos and skin-tight jeans thought her to be crazy when she told them that she hired a woman to seduce and fall in love, or mutual lust, with her husband. She was trying to save her marriage.

“No!” The women’s eyes burned with shock towards Joyce. “How could you?”

“My sisters, isn’t it better that I have a say in whom I’m sharing my husband with?”

Joyce was not remorseful.

“She’s doing her IT with the Insurance Company and she needs some money to take care of her parents. It’s a long story of how we met but it’s been on going for three years now”

Their brows were raised. “What has been on going?”

“The relationship. Or love. Or lust. Or contract. Or whatever.” Joyce round eyes shadowed a disinterest.

“She would take him from you completely!”

“The minute he decided that I wasn’t enough for him, he ceased to be mine”

“But half puff-puff is better than none...”

No be for woman wey dey watch im weight” Joyce intruded. “I’ve had just about enough with Nkem and his shenanigans. I’m currently watching how much more I can swallow before my suitcases are packed.”

“No way!” The women chorused again, with a little warmth in their eyes this time around.

“You can’t do that”, one of the women said. “You will leave with nothing. This is not Hollywood, my dear shine your eyes.”

Joyce looked at Tracy on the other end of the table, who sat numb with her head buried, before she giggled. “My eyes are crystal clear. Chidinma calls me about twice a week when they meet.”

“The girl, her name is Chidinma” she added.

“Does she tell you when they…”

“Make love?” Joyce chuckled. “The shameless bulldog gives it to her from the back.”

“You mean she tells you?”

“Every gory detail. I always insist, its part of the contract”

“And it doesn’t get you jealous?”

Lately, jealousy wasn’t a temporary state for Joyce any more. It had become an inherent part of her personality. She found herself being jealous of a madman’s contended solitude and of something as mundane as a dog following a stranger through the narrow streets of Osborne estate.

“Not a vein in my body responds to it”

Meanwhile Tracy had kept quiet all through as the other women talked and sipped from tall glasses. She listened as the women lashed out advices and bible passages that fell through Joyce’s’ jeweled ears. And then they talked about their children and the impending summer vacation they all planned to go on. Tracy made a decision that evening that would change the course of her life.

Tracy followed Ashley from that day, and in no time, knew everything there was to know about her. On Wednesdays was when Ashley went to the African restaurant off Adeola Odeku, while she picked up her laundry on Thursdays after 4pm, and she watched Sam’s driver pick her up every Friday at 6pm. She would always leave the girls with Esther, the house-girl, and run out just to watch the evening breeze get caught in Ashley’s hair as she walked out down the stairs of her office building. And she didn’t do all these with the thought that maybe if she tried, she could emulate Ashley and win her husband back. Tracy did not feel threatened by her, somehow she felt relieved; somehow along the line love wasn’t just enough for she and Sam. As a matter of fact, it made them miserable; made them yell over little nothings while their kids fidgeted behind closed doors. Most of loving someone that ceased to love her back somewhere between three girls and a couple of added pounds made Tracy feel powerless. She had gotten used to the late nights and sudden business trips that happened frequently. And those nights when the other side of their matrimonial bed was cold with his absence, it reminded her of the cold feel of diamond against her neck. Even she herself wouldn’t deny the comfort of Lorraine Schwartz jewelries.

Long before her husband’s affair with Ashley began, Tracy had been trying to pull her worth from Sam. For so long she had been trying to extract her beauty from his skin. She had been trying to rescue her words from the layers of his mouth. She had been dying to be loved by him again...but he will always leave her empty. Until that night he came home, and she could taste the colors of happiness on his breath and the scent of a strange perfume on his neck. Suddenly, she was free. Serving as the only audience for his love and frustration, his anxiety and worries, his mistakes and triumph, exhausted her. The buried thought that he might have found comfort elsewhere was almost a comfort to her.

As Ashley forced herself to sleep that night, she couldn’t help but notice the discomfort her sister was in as they shared a bed. When Addison turned, she felt like she lay beside a heater in the heart of a desert. If it wasn’t an expensive furniture, the bed was bound to make squeaks from all the restlessness Addison exhibited. Still, Ashley shut her eyes tight and hoped to a God she didn’t believe in that the morning would come sooner. The morning was to bring her peace because the darkness in the skies seemed to multiply her secrets like the stars that hung. It was not regret that she felt that night because regrets don’t steal sleeps from people like Ashley who are headstrong; it was a longing, a silent plea for her sanity.

It was just a night, she thought, each time the light from Addison’s phone interrupted the darkness in the room. One wrong, beautiful night shared between two people that wanted it and knew they should never have shared it. It was two minds, being stimulated and engaged on a level they have never experienced with another. There was easiness in the air and they both could feel it; they could speak the truth about how they felt. They were confused, attracted to the connection, but not wanting to mess things up by taking it to the next level. There was no next level actually. Ashley knew that whatever next step was taken would lead to a free falling from a mountaintop. It was just that night, no next levels or second chances; just that moment when they were alive, in tune, in the moment. It was in the blackness of that night that two very different people met minds and shared one heartbeat.

It would be the third time now Addison’s phone had began to ring in the dead of the night and each time she reached out for it with, there was a certain urgency in her actions that worried Ashley.

She took the call and was quiet.

“Did you do it?”

“Yes” Addison replied in hush tones.

“I told you you could!” The person on the other end sounded joyous.

“Yeah you did, and look where it landed me”. There were no bubbles in her throat.

“Why are you whispering, who is there with you?”

“No....” Addison looked by her side before she continued in a much lower voice “Ashley is sleeping, I don’t want to disturb her”

“Fair enough.”

They both dreaded what will come next and neither of them was willing to say anything.

“I just wanted to find out how it went with Denise since you said you would do it this night”

“Yeah, thanks, I would call you tomorrow” Addison promised, and thought almost immediately, -if tomorrow would come.

“I’m at Bacchus, I just came out to take a blunt and decided to check on you”

There was silence on both ends.

“Goodnight Di”

“Bye yo”

Sharon watched her husband sleep, her secrets far beyond where his snores traveled. For so many years she had cultivated the habit of wearing a face, a kind of mask that made it almost impossible for Otumba to figure out what ran through her mind. She was proud of this and it kept her marriage through two grown daughters and sleepless nights.

Now she wouldn’t sleep. She waited for a call; her heartbeats corresponding to the ticks of the clock above their bed. It took her so long to come to this decision; though it was unspeakable and she vowed to take the secrets to her grave, it was meant to give her peace. Sharon knew that a woman could not truly experience what it meant to be a woman till she became a mother, and with all the screams of labor pains lay a vow to protect that being till their last breath.  She felt accomplished; she had held her own side of the bargain and she couldn’t wait for her daughters to experience the beauty of raising kids. Addison was doing exceptionally great at the law firm; Ashley was at the bank, reaching her targets and getting promoted regularly. And each time looking at portraits of when they were little in ribbons dresses on the stairwell sprung up feelings within her, Sharon would go into her bathroom and look at more old photo albums.

Then she would see those other two people. God knows why she kept looking, but each time she would run her slender fingers over their faces and trace back the memories in every cracked line in their smiles. The wrinkles on her hand told her age and lots of memories; of mistaken moments of peace and fleeting scenes of love; of shocking strides of betrayal and diminishing rays of affections over the course of time. The wrinkles allied with her veins and ran through her body like the long lines of secrets that weighed down her soul. It was in the past, she would tell herself. Many, many years ago and she was done with that phase. She was done.

But wasn’t it amazing? How she called it the past and yet thought about it every minute of her life and had it rubbing itself against her skin like the hairs on an old sweater.

The light from her cellphone was rude to the room. She picked up before the second ring.

“Hello Ma.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to call since, this is why I said you should give me your number that first time.”

“Trust me ma, me calling with a blocked line is for our best interest.”

“Okay, how was it?” There was panic in her voice. “How did it go? Did you…”

“Do it?

“Yes...”She tried to keep it together but her voice wavered.

“Of course. I told you to consider it done”

She wanted to feel a certain relief which she had hoped for, for thirty-five years since Otumba started paying money into a strange account; to feel her chest lowered to the warmth of dew grasses at a park. But it was a knot instead that formed.

“Hello? Are you still there?”

“Um, “

She thought it was the happiest thing she could ever imagine hearing; that she would thank him and offer him more money for a job well done and go down stairs and pour herself a glass of Baileys. And that thought was what kept her on her toes throughout the day as the clocks ran slow towards nighttime. Now she couldn’t feel anything.

“Okay, I just wanted to let you know. It was nice doing business with you”


“So I’m going to hang up and we have never seen each other before”


“I need more than an Um madam, I have never seen or spoken to you before, do you understand?”

“Yes, yes, I do. I neither.”

“Goodnight and wait for the news”

The voice went out on the other end of the telephone and the room lay with just ticks and snores. And then she put down the telephone next to the glittering knife under the lamp and waited for the little rays of bright yellows to crawl through the clouds and shine their beauty down on the ugliness of a broken world.

None of these women could find rest as they struggled with their thoughts. They waited for morning with hanging breaths and withering souls, and not one of them could think of the consequences of their actions.

Each individually dug places far beyond their souls and buried these secrets in little coffins. Coffins were for dead things, things that birthed heartache and sadness. And so tomorrow they will put these coffins in the little graves they dug and lace them with ribbons of plastic smiles and charming eyes. They were women and they all had that single closet that skeletons didn’t dance out from. Closets that held on its shelves an array of faces and emotions they could wear to compliment their couture dresses and cold diamonds and sky-high heels. But none of these women would know exactly which face to put on tomorrow; none of them was ready for what came with the sunlight.

As for the dresses, it would be a Sunday morning and neither had a clue.

Copyright © 2013 Keside Anosike. All Rights Reserved.


My favorite part of every blogpost! YAY! Well, I'm currently obsessed with these songs and strongly suggest you guys check them out. They are great and worth every muscle in your ears. :-)

1, Time After Time- Eva Cassidy.

2, God Only Knows- Bonnie Raitt.

3, Blood Bank- Bon Iver.