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Chinonye Omeirondi: Celebration of Life

Photo by Aliane Schwartzhaupt on Unsplash (modified)

Nigerians are supernatural beings. They’ve evolved past every ethnic group, these wide-nosed, thick-lipped creatures. Each one, whether it’s a screaming pickin’ or a wrinkled, crooked-wigged auntie, possesses powers that far surpass human capabilities. Now, this superpower is not found in their ability to shout in the receiver of every long-distance phone call for hours at a time, nor does it have anything to do with the carryout trays packed with jollof rice so tasty, that it’s fabled on multiple social media platforms that a teen was rushed to the hospital after sustaining a heart attack because the rice was too good. Their true power lies within the ashy soles of their feet. It activates on the dance floor, when Flavour’s upbeat throwbacks about love and prostitutes blare from two-feet speakers, and their feet step along to the pulsing vibrations, in sync with swaying hips in patterned dresses and bobbing, bald-headed uncles with sweat that glisten like fried plantain. Mommy and Daddy sway with them, bodies moving with Wizkid’s smooth autotune, and they stare at me with outstretched arms. Come dance, they say, get up and dance. Shake your body. Mommy’s face is stretched into a vibrant smile that I fail to mirror, and I remain seated. I want to tell her that I’m already shaking my body, that the music is so loud that it rips through my skin, that I can feel afrobeats pounding in my lungs—my organs are dancing, see?

Rather than shake my body, I shake my head. I’m tired, I tell them. It’s long past 1 a.m. and their magic feet refuse to leave the dance floor. They dance!! dance!! dance!! with such big smiles, that none would think that Ogechi Nwachukwu died in her sleep two weeks ago. A low-quality picture of her in a red gele and a pixie-cut wig that was obviously made for white women stands on an easel in front of the hall. She too, is smiling, like the bustling of sweaty, middle-aged flesh and unattended children pleases her. A celebration of life, they call it.

*

When Daddy’s not dancing beside Mommy, he’s drinking fancy, velvet-colored wine from a plastic cup. I watch him drink, watch him drip velvet onto white tablecloth, and watch Mommy watch him from the dance floor. I can tell, from the way her eyes and movements stiffen, that she knows he’s cheating. Using alcohol to stay standing, to keep magic feet moving, is cheating. But she won’t tell, and neither will I. It doesn’t matter though, because everybody already knows. Daddy’s magic is a fraud.

*

I think I lost my powers when I was about twelve or thirteen. They disappeared gradually, in the same way a full plate of chin-chin will empty until its last piece, and I soon forgot how that coursing magic felt when it pooled at my toes. I no longer remember what it felt like. Being powerless has wiped my memory clean, but from the way it oozed off my two Nigerian classmates, I can say it has a quiet, prideful warmth to it. Their power radiated off them in waves, and if you looked close enough, you could see pieces of it licking off their dark skin. They had American names: Francine and Gabe. They danced all day to rhythm-less chatter, shaking their tongues, teeth, and eyes, shake it shake it, like they enjoyed the tuneless music.

*

The dancing rages on. Ogechi Nwachukwu gazes upon the men and women and children who’ve gathered for her death, and her frozen eyes rest upon Daddy, whose cheating has become noticed by every swaying hip and bobbing head. He raises his arms in the air and hoots when the beat drops, lips still slick with velvet, and sways his body back and forth, side-to-side, kicking out a leg at each pound of the drum. Ebony wrinkles born of high blood pressure and insomnia loosen with drink. He reflects Ogechi’s tight smile with loopy grins; swaying hips and bald heads watch with amused eyes and guarded smiles, like Daddy’s become a four-faced masquerade that carries biting palm fronds and ancient spirits.

Nigerians are prideful. They won’t tell.

*

Mommy has so much power within her feet, but she’s a slow runner. When my siblings and I take her on runs, she straggles behind. The power must be weighing down her sore feet, like a carton of Malta Hatuey chained to her ankles. She paid me twenty-five cents for a foot massage, and I smothered her ashy soles with Jergens lotion before I rubbed thumbs against magical skin. I pressed hard enough to make the joints of my fingers ache, hoping I’d absorb warm power through the pores of my fingertips.

*

Flavour sings of Ada Ada, his tomato baby. I mouth the lyrics and tap my feet, but that’s the farthest I’ll go. A little girl named Angel is howling again, her second time tonight, and her mouth opens up so wide I can see the pink flesh hanging in the back of her throat. It dances with each shuddering cry—it’s a good dancer, deserving of a crowd of aunties who’ll tie patterned fabric around its hips and breasts, decorate its body with waist beads and crowns of coral, line its wobbling face with washable tribal markings, and send it to the floor to shake it, shake it, shake it.

The other kids glare at Angel with hatred-laced pupils. Mchewww, they say. Angel cries too much. No one gets up to console her. Angel stands among those biting eyes in her pretty silver dress, lips parted unnaturally wide, and remains rooted in place. She stands so erect, unmoving except for tears that glisten like fried plantain; Angel too, holds mystical powers in her toes.

No one knows why she cries like twisted-faced masquerades cursed her with wild dances and strange tongues. Nigerians don’t cry in public.

*

Nigerians cry in private, sometimes with streaming tears, or no tears at all. In Nollywood films, Nigerians often cry with dry, shining faces over dead bodies, and their mouths will open up and dance a grieving dance, a shaking choreography of wails and groans so lengthy they circle the village and back, fueled by power from ashy soles.

*

A hunched woman of folded skin reaches Angel with shaking hands. Ndo, ndo (Sorry, sorry). Stop crying. Her aged voice, like bitter kola, is not kind.

*

My parents don’t cry like their village people. They came to America and started to wail in silence. Their tongues no longer danced—they were still when a policeman knocked on Daddy’s window, or when 2008 overstayed its welcome, or when Mommy worked so late I entwined my fingers and begged God to bring her home safe, except I only spoke in my head for I feared my voice would shake.

I entwined my fingers, locked them like long grass, when Daddy came home dripping velvet and Mommy would only shake her head, shake it shake it, as Daddy’s tongue shook of love and loneliness, bellowing notes so loud the house danced too.

Out of every Nigerian I’ve encountered, Mommy has the strongest powers. Her ashy soles possess strengths unimaginable. She can dance!! dance!! dance!! until 3 a.m., smiling her stellar gap-toothed smile, a feature none of my four siblings inherited, and she’ll remain on the dance floor as Daddy’s velvet words burst from his mouth in fits of rage, an angry orchestra so loud I would’ve gone insane ten times over, but Mommy remains rooted on the dance floor like her soles birthed roots dug deep in carpet. As Daddy’s fake magic lulls him to sleep, I watch my dancing mother, and wish for my powers to return.

*

The DJ stops the music and the supernatural Nigerians disperse. My organs are still.

About the author

Chinonye Omeirondi

Chinonye is a high school junior from Southern California who often prefers the flexible world of fiction rather than harsh reality. She has a love-hate relationship with writing, but she keeps practicing her craft for the sake of a childhood dream. In her free time, she listens to music and stresses about how humans are destined for destruction. Chinonye has prose published in The Heritage Review, The Incandescent Review, Wintermute, and is the founding editor of Afro Literary Magazine. She also hates onions.

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