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FREEDOM; A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES

Old man once said we can only have a last unencumbered smile when we accept to preserve our tear for a mile. The faded color of flag the warship flagged, the number of casualties and spoils grabbed. It was a quest to end slave trade and suffering, Old man’s sticks against the White man’s warfare was on becoming. We brought the war to them, lost old man, lost the war; at least we showed them our united hearts knew freedom. Not all combats must be won, but every war passes a message. The ability to suppress the chain of bondage and think differently is an acceptation of the footprints of liberation. A freedom fighter that fights war without a conviction that he is above bondage is like a headless cock running into broken bottles. I make bold to say that no timid man can make bold to say that he wants to go against the sophisticated weapons and packaged military uniforms of an army without certitude or positiveness that helotry has long ceased to be a matter of his heart. Dom is a suffix denoting rank or status, the lost souls party in serfdom and equating their embrace of thralldom as freedom – such misconceptions that many fail to see or see but are too scared to scratch it off their poverty peeled skins. We just must salute the wit behind the phrasing that freedom is not free. A trip to bringing a limitation-free dream into reality must have a keg full of right strategies. A journey is a plan which comes after conviction of self the purpose for which freedom needs to be attainable. I have bathed with fate and her cousin, Faith, to know that maybe there is the existence of fate but it is of no preponderance when freewill walks in. Freedom is a sojourn that is best appreciated when fought for with tears and a big heart which faith only brings not fate. The journey of a thousand miles is what many now call unworthy verbiage; they look at me with wrinkled faces and curse me for inexorably persisting that I am under no delusion to scream freedom. Freedom is a pastor; he has the conviction that he has Christ-control. He fights because he wants to share his liberation to those without virtues – his fight becomes his journey, his life becomes his secondary. Old man died last year and I cry no more; he died for a purpose that I have swallowed as pills. Not every materialization of freedom on this terre firma involves blades and bows; some is a conditioning of the mind. Where the freedom does not come to us, we go to it.

We now block our ears when the national anthem is on air. We are guilty of losing hope, we are guilty of calling a lucid NO a YES on grounds that we are with feeble knees to begin the freedom walk, we make excuses like we cannot correct the wrongs with a thunderous vox suffering a mighty cough. We have abandoned our mother tongue and betrayed our Fatherland. The wounds she nurses because of our omission and bad decisions have we showed no concern to. We cannot stop evil and her corrupt practices – that is surely cheap talk, but we can grow men with purpose. It is true that all words have been spoken but it remains untrue that all words have been delivered to a man’s amygdala and in fact registered in the thoughts and deeds of same. Not all words should be digested but it will be nonplussing if matters of freedom are reeled out from a radio or a rubric and not inspiring at least. “To serve Nigeria with all my strength” were words in our Nation’s pledge but many read it with no sensitivity. It was supposed to preach patriotism and the SERVICE was not limited to those in power. It was supposed to equip us with a mind that we are to strive to be of value to our country, wealth acquisition being a secondary concept. A man who is lukewarm in body and soul is worse than a cold being for the sole reason that he knows the country is suffering but chooses not to fight for the necessary pills held by the cold hearted for a billion flimsy excuses. He calls this wise, and so suffers with the dying country that can now produce bad blood from her breasts and spoiled food. When a country retrogrades, the culprits become the rulers and sufferers, we civilians. Modern slavery has come to stay on the cradle bed of that born baby, it has come to register its interest in our way of life – a nouvelle cultural heritage which must be passed on to our children and grand children if we stay indifferent despite the dominance of oppression. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to die beside old man who fought against subjugation until he went six feet. But no, I can’t persist in such wishes as that is saying I have no hope in my generation. Our problem is that we bother how the society will give up corruption instead of us being the change. At some point in our lives, we had a reason to smile after accomplishing a difficult task. The effort put into such tasks must have been with an ultimate purpose, the end. A look into the history of our Fatherland evinces a house on fire and lot of souls willing to burn and put more fire in it. Maybe it is rightly said that we got our independence too early or maybe our freedom was not free. A man who has not been able to live above cupidity is a man of gall headed for the rocks with a poor state of mind having no peace in his veins. Freedom comes with a price – a price is a will to give up something for the greater good. My old man said people perish because of false evidence against reality. He said people picture reality to exclude a give back to their country. Our land is blessed but is displeased with the imposition the man with gun spits on her. We may not want freedom for ourselves but we can do some things for our country. I am dead; I am dead to contrary reasons. I refuse to be a minion to the oppressors; I am not moved by the threat of bullets or assaults, I died yesterday so what am I yet to hear? I love Nigeria and I can fight not because I want to, but because I need to. The wrinkled face woman will curse because she had her time to say something but subscribed to the will of those that bully under the political platform guised as democracy. Maybe we cannot change the world, but maybe we can change someone’s perspective. Freedom is not living life without self control, parental control, to mention a few, as that is what the free dumb without perspicacity must say. Rather, freedom is leaving life with a conviction that your inner mind is without bondage or oppression and dying trying even, to rub such idea on Earth’s face – it’s a legacy, it is fighting for your right, it is protecting your country’s pride, it is calling the promises of the evil man lies and vanity. Not encouraging we lose our lives, but we can start asking HOW with optimism. We outnumber the oppressors but remain in disunity so I say I am willing to start my journey to freedom as Jesus and Mandela but I believe we can do it together. It is a matter of what a man can do and cannot do – we can achieve internal freedom, and it is a matter of what a man is willing to do – it starts with a journey. It starts with us.

© OKOCHA OBED

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BLACK LOVE DIARY 3

Sometimes, the rains do not fall several months into a new year. When they finally fall, they come with little mercy. As if they’d been unjustly denied of their right to whip into mother earth, they attack with great relish; flooding homes, wiping paved streets clean, filling up river banks.

The weather that night was bad, muggy and overcast. I could hardly sleep. The torrent was heavy and the thunders never seemed to cease – a bad omen, presaging the terror that was about to come. Mom didn’t return until it was almost mid-day. She told us it was just an exaggerated emergency call; that Dad had been rushed to the clinic after a vomiting spree. I felt oddly pacified by her assurances partly because she had a knack for downplaying horrible incidents even where the average person would react in hysteria. But what could a little girl wish for; it may have been that he was only reacting to something he ate – I wasn’t quite sure – well, time would tell. 

Later in the week, we got to know better. Dad was hospitalized for days. The doctors took note of the symptoms; vomiting, dizziness and stooling of blood. After conducting preliminary tests and scans they became certain that it was not an ulcer. So, they opted for a CT scan. Mum was very optimistic that the tests would turn out good – we all were – but Dad had begun to feel serious pains. He’d neglected these signs in the past, for they were only momentary. Now, they turned out more frequently, each fresh episode of pain becoming more poignant than the former. The scan was carried out shortly, his innards pictured in shadowy forms and at different angles. Still, the doctors could not tell what the problem was. We were soon informed that Dad had to undergo a biopsy. His spleen was removed temporarily, along with other gastric tissues, to be examined. They were afterwards made to pass through the microscope – as the doctors explained – where abnormal cell growths were discovered. They were large in size and numerous, each possessing a J-like shape. Dad became pensive. He hated this; being wheeled into and out of the theatre room, held down by strappings, as his body was pumped with anesthetics time and time again. The horrifying hospital scent only served to add to his woes. He became aware that he was a carrier of a deathly ailment and the demons which had been terrorizing him of late where in fact the malignant tumors that lined his gastric system. He grew very afraid. This was the last thing he would have ever envisaged. 

For the doctors themselves, this was hard to comprehend. Their patient was only a forty two year old man; one who had no history of smoking or alcoholism. Besides, none of his family members had been diagnosed with the ailment in the past. They wondered what exactly had gone wrong. More so, in the history of ST. James hospital, GRA , there’d been just one patient admitted with stage 1 gastric cancer; a very rare disease with astronomic effects. They had to act and act quickly. After series of consultations, chemotherapy seemed the next logical step – if at all, to stem the reproduction of the tumors into other body parts. A change of diet was prescribed and in the following 3 weeks – the 6th of August; 2007 – treatment would commence. 

Of all emotions mum had sufficient equanimity to conceal, shock was the least of them. When she received the written medical report, she could not hide it. For some seconds her mouth was left agape and when she eventually managed to sit, she kept staring into empty space. This sudden turn of events was hardly easy for her to control. They moved too quickly and far too disjointedly. Divorce proceedings were just about to kick off when this sad news kicked in –  like a kick boxer—knocking everything in its path upside down. The lawyers had to compel the judge to hand down a stay-of-proceedings, at least, for the time being. For more than thirteen years, she had been married to her now estranged husband and during that time, he never showed any sign of cancer – he hardly fell sick too. What was more surprising was that he’d been diagnosed of gastrointestinal cancer; a very rare type. When he said that his family had no history of chronic illnesses, she believed him. He might have been a cheat, but he was never a good liar, for he gave away too easily when she confronted him with shy proofs of his extra marital affair. 

Amongst the three of us, Annalise was the only one who fared good at managing her feelings. For me, it was almost impossible to concentrate at school. Even when we were asked to engage in fun-filled extra-curricular activities, the smile would never come. Despair was virtually setting in. Everywhere I looked I would see his weary face, feebly supported by his gaunt neck sticking out from those grisly hospital clothes. I prayed every night that he would get better; that the sickness would not take him; that his demons would not drag him to the underworld where he would have no chance to shine like the stars he told me about. The preceding eight months could easily be said to be the worst days of my life. Everything seemed to fall apart – as Chinua Achebe ( of blessed memory ) said – the centre could not just hold. 

Life is so unpredictable when you are behind the wheels, speeding at the rate of 190km/hr through a long narrow bridge on a rainy evening. One wrong move, one second’s lapse of concentration, could lead to a series of events culminating in heart-wrenching tragedy. Dad completed chemotherapy in October. By this time, he was feeling a little better, managing to smile with less difficulty. This made us very happy; most especially, me. School closed and summer vacation began. I could spend more time with him now in his hospital room, laughing and chatting just about anything just like we did when we were a family – strong and indivisible – and when love was our most sacred value. Each time I went up to visit him that summer, I became more convinced that he never really changed. He’d made a mistake – we all do – but the chance to correct it never came easy for him. For mum, love and trust were two separable phenomena though pain is felt when the two are so carelessly detached. She still loved him. I saw it in her eyes. Not merely out of pity for a suffering man, but I guessed an unfair mixture of both emotions coursed through her. 

Soon after he had completed his chemotherapy, it became clear that he needed more treatment. The doctors were reluctant to break the news at first, but they finally did, as the funny niggling pains recommenced. The tumors had already spread to other body parts, scathing the liver and kidneys. He needed radiotherapy now. He needed it badly. If the tumors succeeded in riddling his delicate organs, he would be gone for good. 

Late in October, he went under the light. The first sessions turned out to be the most gruelling. He reacted awfully. His vomiting became much more violent. He could keep nothing down. His screams grew louder, sounding rather eerie. For some reasons which the doctors could not explain, the anaesthetics could not be administered any longer. The nurses doubled their numbers, shuffling up and down the long narrow hallway that led to the large theatre, moving supplies, trays and towels as the three of us – Mum, Annalise and I – stood, sometimes praying, sometimes pacing around, other times weeping, hoping the nightmare would cease quickly. When it did, we had to face the creepy aftermath. We walked into the large room gently, as he slowly dabbed at his eyes which were already bulging red out of his colourless face. I decided from that day onward to never leave his side. I told myself I couldn’t let him go through the torment alone. 

One Friday evening, I went to visit him as I now so often did. I moved towards the window to let some air into the room as his sad eyeballs rotated along. He was still holding incorrigibly on to the slick taut tendrils of life, though the pains racked him body and soul, so he continued to sink lower and lower into the profoundest depths of hell. The disease had turned him into a vegetable as tears frequently rolled monotonously down the sides of his face, amidst whimpers, while his body convulsed in pain. He was disappearing deeper into the sheets; his pale face appearing more like a poorly done artwork than a real being. He was vaporizing right before our eyes, becoming the shadow of the man he once was but I knew that shadow still loved me. He called out my name through his failing voice: “Amanda”. “yes Dad” I replied softly. Then he continued: “you know, I’m-I’m really sorry for what I did to you and Annalise. I should’ve never left the way I did. I know you may h-h-have hated me for what I did……….maybe even now……” I had to cut him short. “ please stop, don’t say that Dad”. The tears had started to build up – slowly but steadily. I walked towards the bed and held his shaking hands carefully, wishing that, in that moment, nature would allow me defy its course, so I could bear his cross; to absorb half of all the pain that troubled him inside; that made him writhe and whimper as a little child, leaving him with no faint trace of courage. Still fighting to hold back the tears, I said, “ I’d never hate you….not now, not ever……. I love you now Dad, I’ll love you always”. 

Two days later, – the 15th of November 2007 – he kicked the bucket. Somehow, someplace, strength filtered into his bones. He’d climbed up the stairs, to the top of the building. He spread his arms wide like an apparition and dived – head first – or so I heard. I sometimes blame myself for his death. I’d promised to be by his side always but I failed to keep it. I was rather found strutting the back of the massive hospital compound at the moment of his demise. I wanted some fresh air but I could hardly breathe when I arrived the scene. It was a horrifying din of wailing voices. Fresh lumps of gashed tissues and brains littered the floor, blood on the concrete, chaos, bedlam! This time the tears did come, stinging with every drop that did fall. He was gone, and he was done. 

In December, we had the funeral. To me, it seemed like fiction and ceremony was all there was to it. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t real. Just a little while back, he was here; not just as a part of a story or some recent history, no! He was blood and flesh. He was my favorite and I was his too. The vignettes of his existence still float seamlessly through my mind. Dad had once said that life was partially hot and sweet at the same time, but it was hotter in hell and sweeter in heaven. As he was lowered six feet under, the choir continued singing. lights will guide you home was the tune they rendered, their voice reaching a highly sonorous crescendo when they rounded off. I prayed tearfully that God would have mercy on his poor troubled soul. He’d begged for euthanasia but none was offered him, so he took the plunge. He dived deep, all in a bid to escape his demons – not minding if there were a thousand more on the other side. He spread his arms wide like a bird; willing to fly, willing to be free from all the pains and sorrows of this dreadful biosphere. 

Dad, I had no doubts when I said those words on that Friday evening, holding your hands while I fought back the tears although I can tell that I felt one drop fall and hit my outstretched arm, or was it two? I love you now Dad, always and forever. Loving you was hard but loving you was real. 
PRINCE ERIGO is a 400 level law student of the university of Benin. An imaginative writer, content marketer and loyal friend. Reach him at princeerigo@gmail.com 

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BLACK LOVE DIARY 2

BLACK LOVE DIARY 2

Whenever the clouds gather, you know the rains are about to fall. You could tell when the thunder rumbles, – low and even in the distance. You become more certain when a cold whiff wheezes past the back of your neck, and lightning finally makes its debut.

We could never had seen it coming: that Dad would be caught right at the centre of an extramarital office romance. It was too befuddling to process. The questions of when, how and why proved very difficult to answer. Maybe the signs were there all along. I myself couldn’t tell anyway, the slight nuances that had begun to chip away at the love and spark that existed between mum and dad. But, he had started coming home late from work, missing his evening meals more frequently. We would be lucky enough to see once together as a complete family during the week. He’d given the excuse of politics – having to keep a constant relationship with the people that mattered including party chieftains and lobbyists but now mum knew better. Finally, she got a meaningful explanation for the late-midnight calls and texting. It was politics, but funds, strategies and scarce resources weren’t the only things at play. 

Quite surprisingly, a big scandal was created. Somehow, the news percolated to the media. It just would not be kept under wraps. The fact that Mr. John Adeleke had become embroiled in an amorous relationship with his personal assistant sheila made for an interesting read. Different versions of the story were told. Some said he’d been the victim of the base cunningness of a seductress, who was bent on stealing him away from his wife. Others depicted him as the sexual predator seeking an avenue to satiate his wild sexual fantasies. A good number of them becoming more ridiculous with their needless animadversion. They wondered what sort of man there was, that would betray and cheat on the beautiful Asmina, as mum was popularly called. 

No doubt, following that revelation, my soft tender mind was full with questions; not that anyone around could provide the answers. Mum was a light-skinned Nubian damsel, possessing a smile that could compete with the shimmering iridescence of the sun and rainbows, but now, she wore a dark veil of melancholy. She’d taken into her recent broodings; sitting in the banana shaped chaise, knitting a short rounded cap out of light-pink wool — her wrappers tied snuggly against her bodice with her long hair running riotously down her bare shoulders. It wasn’t hard to see that things weren’t alright with her as she continued her knitting late into the night whilst humming a couple of her native songs – none I could understand. I knew she’d been hurt. I had been too. But while Dad’s betrayal pierced through my heart, hers had been smashed into smithereens. She trusted him completely; leaving nothing to calculation or cynicism. But he had repayed her in another currency; marked by deception and perfidy.

Some weeks later, Dad visited the house. He scurried past the corridor just beside the kitchen where I was making an awful attempt to fry beans — not even distracted by the acrid smell I was producing – and went up into the master bedroom, ready to cart away his belongings. I switched off the gas and tiptoed up the stairs, listening with rapt attention, in anticipation of what outburst might reoccur between their two. Luckily, as it turned out, mum had just left the house to purchase some groceries. On arriving a few metres away from the room, I would hear the rustling sounds of cellophane bags followed by the soft ripping sound of his box being zipped up. I stood in the doorway, my chest thumping slightly. Then, in a slyly unsure tone, I asked aloud; “where are you going dad?” As though he had always been aware of my presence there, he turned unsurprisingly, flicking a glance to the spot where I stood. And then, in one swift single motion, he picked up his box. “You don’t have to go!” I pleaded. “I’ve heard what they said, but it shouldn’t be like this…..If it’s that you want to marry another woman, fine. We-we can still stay to-to-together…….”. He looked amusingly in my direction, obviously not finding any sense in what I had just said, before letting out a loud raucous guffaw. “you always are full of surprises Amanda” he said. “unfortunately, this is how it’s going to be….don’t expect to always see me around because I and your mum have parted ways”. He picked up his things and found his way out. It wasn’t long before he was behind the wheels, and his foot on the gas, driving furiously out of the large compound into the coal tarred street outside, slicing the wind as he powered forward, almost succeeding in blowing away all the tender feelings I had for him — nurtured and soaked for eons in pure love, respect and sheer admiration.

It was difficult to reconcile the man who stormed out of the house that late November afternoon with the one I knew as my father ever since I was a little girl. The man who bought me dolls and little pink dresses, who stuffed my young pert mouth with cherries and strawberries, the one who carried me on his broad shoulders for the world to see. The vicissitudes of life, they say, are mostly hard to fathom; and sometimes, as shocking as they come. He never came back that year. Not even when we were marking the crossover – the  31st day of December. While the clock turned its long arm slowly towards the figure of twelve, an accurate reminder that a new year was about to be birthed, we held hands across the four-seater dining table to pray. Mum had been singing; her voice growing more melodious as each passing minute brought us closer to the dawn of a new day; a new month and a new year altogether. But sitting directly opposite where I was , was an empty chair – the place Dad usually positioned himself at meal time. At some point I would imagine he was right there, smiling and chuckling, his face ignited by the glowing slender flames from the candles, as his eyes sparkled with laughter. Instead, every time I blinked my eyes at that spot again, I met with the reality of his absence. Dad was always a compelling figure – chatty, witty, and humorous. A great conversationalist that could weave his way into most hearts; often making friends easily in diverse social circles. Even now, his absence seemed to send much louder sound waves than his deep attractive voice would most times produce. 

I reminisced the times while we lived at the suburbs of Ibadan, when we would take out a mat and chill out in front of the house — all four of us — in a bid to escape the debilitating effects of an insecticide recently sprayed. Sometimes, Annalise and Mum would retire early to sleep, leaving Dad and I out in the cool dark night. Dad would begin his interesting tales again – for some reason, he usually saved the best for me. They were the ancient folk tales of the great animals that inhabited the jungle – some funny, some educative, others a mixture of the two. One particular night, we were left alone yet again, with only the shrill cries of the crickets as company, and the soft thumping noise the squirrels made as they jumped down from tree branches, pausing just for a second before disappearing into the shadows once more. The sky was lit with so many stars; it appeared as though we had teleported into another galaxy. When he rounded off his amazing stories, we lay back ,gazing in awe at the marvelous constellations that littered the dark endless sky. Altogether did they sparkle; an assortment of possibilities like each little twinkle contained a promise – of hope, of light, and of peace. Dad often told Annalise and I that we would grow up to become immense stars; the kind that would leave indelible footprints on the sands of time. He said that we should never be the shadows of this dim world; but through each little good deed, each little help we could render, we should provide a ray of hope for the next person by us. That, by so doing, we would become like the stars. We would become the spark of light where darkness had dominated. We would be making the world a better place to live in; each and ever single day. On crossover night, however, there were no stars. The small amount of fireworks did little to make up for their absence. Dad was gone like the stars. His invigorating charm and presence merely a figment of my imagination. 

Days rolled into weeks and weeks became months and as time flew by, the relationship between Dad and Mum soured. All attempts at a reconciliation were met with a red-brick wall. Mum had grown more dispassionate. She would hear no more of it; of Dad and Sheila or Sheila and her protruding baby bump. She was done with the trash as she firmly stated; she had finally moved on. It was no secret that divorce proceedings were about to commence. Quite surprisingly, Dad was becoming the more amiable of the two. I thought he had made up his mind when he brisked past me that late November afternoon – not even taking a second glance at the things he once held dear. I guess he later sat down to think things over; to consider what he wanted more. Each time he paid us a visit, after chatting briefly with Annalise and I, he would beckon to mum, seeking to have a tête-à-tête on the veranda outside. His feelings were entirely limpid now. I could sense that he was genuinely sorry and wanted her back. But mum had her mind already made up. The betrayal was too deep, too visceral, too hard for her to swallow, digest, and have a bite at the cherry once again. Her trust had been broken and may never be regained. She wanted out and quickly as well. She assured him that she would take no part of his wealth – no property, no alimony – after all, one of her affluent admirers had secured a job for her with a top-notch media outfit as an entertainment show host. Her constant face-time invariably added to her overflowing horde of adorers, some wishing they would have a chance to date the ever-glamorous and scintillating Asmina Adeleke – a soon-to-be single mother. Divorce proceedings were set to begin on the 8th of July 2007 and little after that, she would be free from the “sham” she had termed marriage, to focus on her budding career as an on-screen personality.

One evening however, while we were in the sitting room, munching slices of turkey and sipping cranberry as we watched papa ajasco & co. on the television screen, a soft rap was heard on the door. The gateman introduced someone as a visitor who had news for mum.The visitor spent some minutes with mum; the two of them conversing in low tones. When he left, Mum shut the door and turned to face us. Instantly, I could tell that something was up. Her bright demeanour had given way into a pale downcast face. “What’s the matter?” Annalise screamed out impatiently. She wasn’t the type to take suspense easily. Mum stood there, at first struggling to find her toungue . When she finally did, she was mumbling something rather incoherent. “I d-d-d-don’t really kn-kn-know ………he said something about a-a-a-a-……….” Her voice trailed off again. She was apparently very disturbed. She excused herself and ran up the stairs. In less than two minutes, she was down again, clutching tightly to her purse as she wheezed past us, almost tripping over the last step as she approached the door. “I have to go now, I’ll be back soon” she’d said and left.
©OMO OBA