Leaves aren’t always green. Sometimes, they turn brown.
1st October is Nigeria’s Independence Day celebration. We should’ve been marching thadump thadump thadump in greens and whites and flying the flags and singing the anthem and reciting the pledge, but we did not. We tucked our legs under the blankets, eyes on the television now and then, to see what the President had to say. We sent text messages to our kit and kin, and let out our hearts on social media. We did not, because we’re afraid that Boko Haram would catch us, squeeze us piiiii, torture us, slice us, roast us, eat us and wash us down their black wrinkled intestines with fresh cow milk.
You know that red meat is cooked when it turns brown. You also know that paw-paw is ripe because it turns yellow. There are many things you do not just get to know, however. Like whether General Sani Abacha died of a natural cause or of food poisoning. Like how much a member of the House of Representatives can make by sitting in the conference room and making a lot of noise or idly sleeping away his time. Like my having a brother from another mother. Like how some Biafrans could survive so much hunger during the Civil War.
Speaking of wars, when my Grandma Ona was still alive, she said life was beautiful with the white men. But of course, only if you were willing to learn their language – their asumiri sumiri. She said that they lived fascinating lives and were white in colour, like ndi muo ozi – angels. She said that a lot of things happened – none beautiful – that were not meant for our ears. That it was a nightmare which lasted for days and nights unending. That Children suffered because their parents were dead and hungry or because they were abandoned or simply because of war.
On one of the really bad days, the ogbunigwe came so close, she took my father and his siblings down to the bunker Grandpa Iloka had built. The bunker they shared with the extended Echendu family. Even down there, the gbim gbim from the war front sounded so close that they all shuddered. Soon, Ego, her only daughter, would shiver until there was no breath left in her lungs and she would die of shivering in Grandma Ona’s hands. Grandpa Iloka was out on a mission. He would later come back, mute and expressionless, without emotions. Whatever Grandma Ona did would not loosen him up, even with such great connection they had – like square pegs would fit into square holes. Grandpa Iloka would never get back to his old self until he dies, twenty seven years after the war.
“That’s how you met him, bitter and unfulfilled. He wasn’t always that way. I would’ve seen reasons with him but he wouldn’t tell me a thing. There are things better left unsaid, almost like letting sleeping dogs lie.”
I cannot imagine that Grandpa Iloka would’ve been anything different. He was quiet, soft-spoken, and rigid and would let out a few smiles occasionally. Nothing more.
“He lived a very normal life after the war,” Grandma Ona said, “but of course, that depends on what living entails, for you. People who survived this war were no longer able to distinguish between living and dying anymore, and the war lived on in our hearts, in our heads.”
- I got an offer to study Psychology but we didn’t resume on the official day, 2nd October, because they said they wanted to be patriotic Nigerians.
When lectures finally began after Independence Day celebration, they took up all of my being. I had the challenge, not just of meeting new topics for which I had no interest in, but also of getting to see happy, frustrated, interesting and weird persons who were nothing like me.
We’re all insane.
I had the privilege of a quasi-orientation from older students who simply wanted to familiarize. They said all the lecturers were typically insane. I could manage to study a course I didn’t know about but I did not know about coping with mind-wrecking talk given by men from the moon.
There was one who always said stuffs; like a schizophrenic. Dr Abamara.
“Imbeciles! I’ll kick your asses!”
“Goddammit! All of you will fail my course!” He bellowed stomping out of the hall.
He actually kicked someone’s ass on one of the days. Jungle justice.
Then, there was the perfectionist. A tall, handsome, trim, well-groomed fifty-something year old man who would say during examinations, to dot our aies and cross our tees. And for each class, there was a new word to be added to our vocabulary, as if we were in linguistics. Dr Harry.
My favorite was Professor Mike, a Clinical Psychologist. He could say just about anything to us. He once said that sex was a good thing and that orgasm was like paradise. He said women shouldn’t clean their vaginas with soap. The next day, I used only water – warm water – and I was clean. So, I stopped using soap. He could be mistaken to be histrionic but I know him, he is not.
Mr. Leonard Onoh looked like he had a personality disorder. He taught Industrial/Organizational Psychology and would always tell us that any employer, who was able to manage his employees to the point that he could maximize profit, was a god already. He used to be an atheist and said we were all out of our minds to have believed in the deception of independence. He said Nigeria was a mere illusion and that we were being bathed in neo-dependence. He said he would die for the just cause of Biafra. This was the second time I heard someone make a conspicuous statement on Biafra. The first time was from Grandma Ona, you remember?
The lecturers were not alone in this. Overtime, their students would become something like them. Several personality types at the start, we unconsciously went on to form groups that could be likened to be groups of symptoms in the Classification of Mental Illnesses by the DSM4TR.
October 1st is Independence Day. I did tell you a little about this didn’t I?
Several years ago, this is how it was done – Children, always Children, would dress in outing uniforms, feet in white socks – always white socks, heads high on necks, and march thadump thadump thadump to the stadiums. They would be full of hopes, singing anthems and making pledges and listening to stories of how Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe helped Nigeria become an independent state. They would wait for the coming of the Governor who would arrive at 14 o’clock and give his salute. They would march thadump thadump thadump back home to their holidaying parents or guardians.
Today is October 1st but not that year.
Children are not marching. Because fear of Boko Haram. But people still wait on the President to make his speech, in the confines of their homes. They’re never tired of hearing this annual message as if it was an antidote, a kind of sedative for their ceaseless frustration and array of woes. I do not want to listen. I have become bored. I decide to get out of here. Pot holes, some as large as River Niger and others small, brown, and thick just like that tea in Mr. Emeka’s teacup. I would’ve taken a scoop had it not been sparsely decorated with pieces of rubbish and dirt, here and there. That’s not tea, is it? We swim and swim, in and out – shambles. I go on and see people; most of them are wearing white or green, or white and green. Green like moss and algae. People are celebrating and singing. Power suddenly goes off, as always. They hiss and walk away from merriment. Did they think it was going to be any different on October 1st? No one is happy on this road. Perhaps you do not know what I’m talking about because you’re either from a primitive land with bush paths for roads or you spend every hour on the fine highways and subways of Manhattan in New York.
I am talking of messy. Bad, really bad. Pathetic.
I want to go and dance away the day with the Darling. Because what are we celebrating? Neo-dependence? I want to go and dance with the Darling. I will tell you about him.
I think I am a prostitute now. The first time I shared my nakedness; it was with a married man. An interesting and loveable sweetheart of a man.
I was on some research-based work that took me far away, for a very long time. By the time I returned, passion had built castles inside us both. As soon as we were inside our make-believe-eight-hours home, he kissed me. He kissed me again and I kissed him back, with so much desire. We drew circles and triangles around love and ecstasy but I wouldn’t let us go any further. Because virginity.
Then, we talked.
“I didn’t know you would want that.”
“Honey, I want all of you, I want it all hot and wet. You and I, in our world of beauty. It is good enough I don’t need coitus to get satisfied.”
“And I want you to want me like I want you. Ask for it; ask for more when it is over.”
Kisses. Wishes. Regrets.
The next time we met, I asked for it. This time, in our make–believe–five–hours–home. He gently stripped me of every covering and led me to get him bare. We were us, in our world of loving, riding to paradise. He was my prince in shining amour, everything I could wish for. We danced while they sang. Man and woman, like Adam and Eve.
They hummed, and our limbs and torsos and hips were entangled with the sheets and hairs and moistures. He was taking his time to love every piece of me and I swear I could eat him raw. Because I thought I saw a big nice pink hot dog. I couldn’t tell which was my leg or his tongue or my organ or his thick dark fingers used to create sounds that inspires people to dance. Suddenly, he wanted in.
“What? Not so!”
“I need it; I need it more than anything. I need coitus.”
“I love you so much and want you to be happy, but not this.”
“I want it all now, I’ll be gentle. I’ll take care of you.”
“Oh my love!”
Love is a very dicey thing. It didn’t happen. He placed a few naira notes in my palm and I cursed in my heart for being so loose, for selling my dignity so worthlessly. But what did I know of dignity?
It happened on Independence Day.
I got fed up watching other people dance on television, so I called the darling up.
“Can we meet up today? I want everything now. You’re my hero and I want to crown you today. I need you inside of me. Take me to that place you promised.”
“I will be right there my queen. I’ll take you through it all, slow and steady. Make you beg for more right under my breath. Make you scream my name in ecstasy. Cry aloud declaring your love for me, your legs wide apart for good coitus. I will drive in, slowly and gently, I’ll come and welcome you to a new world you’ll always remember.”
I passed through the bad road and we met at another make-believe-three-hours home. I imagined that the call girls on Allen Avenue, in Lagos, would do exactly the same thing; only they would do theirs at night. So you see how I am a prostitute, right? I thought of it for the last time and without sparing a minute, I pulled off the last piece of his underwear.
“Please stay on, wet it up, feel my presence. Can I take you on it?”
“Now honey. Drive me crazy. I’ve waited so long for this.”
We danced a lot while they sang, and the we had it – bitter sweet at first, then beautiful, heaven, bliss, ecstasy, pleasure, loving, oneness – coitus. On Independence Day.
When I had finished the dance with the darling, I lazily broke away from his presence. People do not dance all day and night, do they?
As I stepped out, onto the bad road again, reality imposed itself on my senses. I had to get home, and by road. But I tell you, I never really got home. About two thousand men, women and children wouldn’t let me go through
They were singing many different songs, just moving a little forward and backward. So, I walked gracefully to an elderly woman around me because old age was definitely wisdom.
She said it is Biafra, that Nigeria was dead. She said they have come out en masse, to mourn dear Nigeria and enthrone Biafra, the living. She said the world does not become static because one person has gone to the world beyond, that life should go on, and that the citizens of Biafra have been stretched beyond their endurance limit. She said frustration, bitterness, anger, terror and revenge.
I thanked her and quickly moved ahead, trying to find my way through the multitude. They were like the Children, marching thadump thadump thadump, for the Governor. Like those soldier ants on a stampede along Grandma Ona’s C-shaped cooking stand outside the main building, very close to Grandpa Iloka’s Obi. Grandma Ona would make kernel stew each time we came for a holiday. She said we were missing out on a lot of things because of city life and urbanization. The chaff from the kernels is usually heaped nearby until it is dry and can be used to make fire. But before it can even burn, these ants would hold feasts and festivals on it. I didn’t care a bit about that. The only thing that annoyed me was that they would stampede and they would also bite. Sometimes, they have not just come to eat kernel chaff; they have also come to eat me.
Then, I saw the road block and I heard sirens.
“This is madness!” I cursed under my breath.
Another civil war is imminent but what I do is call up the darling, the second time today. We continued our dance. We danced into the night and through the night, they did not stop singing. Whoever said people cannot dance all day and night?
Independence Day is not always patriotic marches. It is neither a presidential speech nor a workers’ day off. It is not only Biafra. Nations would usually commemorate their freedom from foreign, non–indigenous rulership, but you can see how a lot happens on this day. Celebration, protests, dances and coitus. Yes, Independence Day is coitus too.