Fiction

Okorie Onyekachi Ujunwa | Metaphors of Madness

madness
Image: Colby Ray Unsplash remixed

What I see, sitting on this low stool my grandson made for me by nipping pieces of wood from his master’s shop, can make you cartwheel a hundred times, or run the long stretch of road leading out of the town, because your eyes may not want to behold these things. Ime Obodo is crammed with madness. The mess in the swampy gutters, with waters, always properly mixed with the town’s filths and abomination, wedged like the destinies of most people here. Gutters with smells like decayed intestines. Even the packed houses echo madness like a classical orchestra, houses that never give you a space to breathe, or wash your mouth without having the water snake to the next compound. And the dust! Chineke! If these children would kill anyone soon, it’d be with dust. Thick ones like fog, rising with their scampering feet, like dead bodies on the judgement day, and you can’t tell them to stop oo. Or you’d have one uncouth mother, with her mouth leaking and dripping with insults, coming to remind you of your neatly tucked-away pasts, how sullied you’ve been and how unworthy you are to reprove a child. De kain madness wey we dey see for here no go fit gree mouth to talk. Eziokwu. And have you seen the men? Men indeed. Are they not the ones playing game and back-throwing their heads like slaughtered chickens? Every day na so so draughts full-fledged men go siddon dey play. This world is turning into something else oo. Catastrophe. Yes. That is what Obumsere, my eleventh grandson calls it all the time. That boy must’ve seen something, and he will go far in life. I know it. If only his useless mother is able to grip any of the men that climb her and spits their disgusting semen inside her. At least, the smart boy would have a father. No, she is as dumb as she is ugly, with her scarecrow face. How did I birth this one sef? Maybe under the banana plants because this one doesn’t deserve the decency and luxury of stuffed hospital bed and antiseptic-smelling hospital verandah. Maybe I didn’t cry sef because we know a bad child from the womb. So maybe she is one of my children I just had to grind my teeth, slam my lips shut, and shit out.

Ah! That’s a full man, with a stick dangling between his legs, tumbling himself in laughter because of a game. And this one is slapping his lap, rocking himself back and forth, lips stretched widely like Onitsha gutters. Cackling stupidly like a hyena, his face even looks older than the gong our Eze uses to summon his chiefs. And he has no leftover shame in his life at all. Ewu Gambia. Indeed, that is what he is. Was he not the one drumming his wife the other day because the price of kerosene increased and the young woman requested a raise in feeding money? It’s not as if these men provide enough. But when you hear them hit their flat chests and boast of feeding a family, you’ll stop to imagine a store stacked with an assortment of noodles, choices of yam and trays of fish, their smell filling you with comfort. When I heard the pounding on the door, the squalls of a woman, brawls and stammers of an imbecile man, like a cracked CD plate (because that is how they fight here – without sense), I picked up my stick and tottered to the fool’s house (not as if it is a full house, but what do you call a cluster of bricks made into two rooms, with two openings for doors, and a rat hole for window?). Because it was becoming too much. I can’t have these men with shriveled things in between their legs hit these women anyhow, even though the women are not any good. They respect me, these women, yes, but you need to see their noses bunched up at my back in a sneer. People for whom my presence is like affliction. Na so affliction go wipe them comot.

They cleared the way for me. I knew that the quietness that greeted my presence was a matter of situation, of convenience; they were obviously burned out by the audio concert, this inside-the-room fight is always as scary as it is uneventful. No one sees the shredding of clothes so that they would note and titter at the flattened breasts, dirty brassiere, or trousers corralled at the waist with rope. So, my presence was as relevant as cowries in the hands of dibịa to quell Eloka’s madness, the raging one that banished entreaties from outside that he should stop. And I did still the roiling storm of rabidness in him. Rapping on his door, I glanced around. The eyes that stared back were those of hypocrites. Friend for my before, enemy for my back. You can trust what I would do at that moment. I spun. Glared at them. Even before I talk say make everybody comot go their house, Dem don start to dey run. Hehehe. The stupid Eloka finally unlatched the door and as I pushed it na so puff puff full him wife face. Under her eyes were so darkened I wanted to ask if she overused the ọtangelé. Her lips drooped in redness. She sprawled on the floor, her legs splayed before her and her open palms making frantic journeys from her knees to her ankles as though she were in supplication. She was indeed. The sight was worth spitting at, like badly butchered tozo. But that was not new; I have seen many women stripped to their brassiere, racing out of their husbands’ grips like the mad cows of Izombe. What I have seen in this place, I don’t think history holds something in comparison.

“Why will you do this to someone’s child? Ehn?” I asked the castrated bull. His face flew to the dusty wall that had children’s scribblings on it, and he couldn’t say anything. He kept stomping around. I darted my eyes around their room. So drenched in shabbiness. I know people are poor here and decent living seems to be a misplaced word, but this one is ultimate. Shameless man, he can’t even buy a decent bed for himself and his family. No, his wife. Because I’m sure his children kiss the floor every night while he thumps away on top of the innocent woman. I pray pneumonia doesn’t kiss those children’s ribs and lungs one day.

His wife (what’s that her wretched name again? Ehn Anulika) stretched her thin arms towards me. Biko I’m not Jesus. Call him to save you. I’m here to feed my eyes and ears. I’m here to take stories I would feed my thoughts with later in the evening. When you were raising your legs for that he-goat, your sixth sense never set off an alarm. And this is the third child. In two years! And you’re raising your hands at me. I will break it and invite my thrumming grandchildren for a nice dinner of suya if you put it forth again.

I ignored her and faced the man.

“What is the problem this time?” Not that I cared. Wetin concern me. After all, my house get im own fire. Who dey quench am for me? He began to holler again. Atụrụ. He could not speak with his voice lowered to a decent notch. His every word reeked of irresponsibility. Of a man whose trousers are almost slipping off his waist. Of a man whose bad breath can cause asthma. Of a man whose tangled hair would require a bulldozer to comb through.

“How much do you give her every day?” I asked him when he was done tirading. I could only make a little sense from all his growls and rumbles like a mistake of a thunderstorm in dry season, but you needed to see my face, dripping with his own spittle. My hands quivered, my weak muscles setting off the usual alarm of an approaching fall. My legs made mad dances of shivering, and me, I couldn’t risk a fall in this place and become a comic relief here. That demonic rheumatism again. It has been my bane for many years now. I found a box and sat on the dust.

He told me, his voice now abashedly low. No, why mumbling it? I thought. You could’ve waxed it into an “uri” and invite the world to dance to it. At this point, I couldn’t hold myself. I laughed well, threw my head down. These people would never cease to stun me. I don’t want to tell you what he told me because it’ll certainly make a mess of your day (or night sef). But, ọ dị egwu!

“Do you know you’re not a man?” I asked him, my eyes feeding on his face, and he flinched. May he flinch and jam naked wire there. “Yes,” I continued. “Do you even know the price of things now? Do you think you’re still in 1960? And you dare beat her. If she goes on prostituting now, you will run around like an aggrieved asa fish to report her and gloat in your stupidity.” I capped it all with a spit on the floor. I think that would make them clean the house finally. An old woman’s spit is not such a good thing. If that was the prompt they needed to be neat for a while, let it be.

I picked my stick, and tottered out, shaking my head, because I didn’t know what else to say to that ridicule of a man. And like you have imagined, those demons with craw-craw skins and mucus-running-through-the-nose children were outside the door listening. Even Mama Favour, straddling that her baby who has refused to walk even after two years. I eyed her. Everyone knows her story. But her case with me is different.

If you look closely at these men now, there is one sitting on a low stool, sporting a faded grey jeans with an oversized yellow long-sleeved shirt. I’m sure he’s wearing the leftover of rat’s meal the previous night because which rat would not nibble on dirty clothes that held in custody a heavy stench of roast fish, sweat, cigarette, kai-kai, all put together? If he stands, I always wonder if it is jute bag he has as scrotal sacs because which man has something that protruding in his groin area? Scrotal enlargement. Tufia! He is sitting beside Ojukwu now, tossing his arms, that hold more wrinkles than mine, up. He is just close to the gutter, and I wish he will topple over and fall headlong into it. That is the husband to Mama Favour. I won’t call him Papa Favour. God forbid that I give someone the credit for another person’s job. Yes, I said that. Who in this Ime Obodo doesn’t know that he carries infertile sperm inside that drum of a scrotum? You want me to tell you how I got to know? Who doesn’t know the nights his wife sneaked out to Ikedi’s house and returned in the morning balancing a bucket of water (that has refused to break her neck for me) on her head? We know. But we let it happen. It is a case of “here is a log in your eyes, and there is a dust in mine; pluck mine out and I’ll let the world cringe at your dirtiness.” So, for these things, you see them, you snort, and you walk away. We know that weeks after her “early morning journeys” to the stream, she became pregnant. We know about the last one. When her husband was away for outside work for months and he came back to a two-months pregnant woman. At least, she’s not Virgin Mary. Atrocious woman! Imbecile. Heavens exposed her in her last child. Just look at the way the little boy looks as if someone had sketched and painted Ikedi’s face on a paper and taped it on his face. Such replica.

You must wonder why I drag her husband to this. I only want to show you the rotten meat that woman married, the caricature of a man she calls her husband, the vulture of a man! Yet that shameless dog, Mama Favour, reserved an audacity to talk to me last week, when I pulled my own ears and warned her about the ball her stone-head, bastard children threw on my roof.

I don’t blame her oo. I blame my children for not taking me out of here. If not, will that mad woman loose her tongue on me, clapping my sins to my face, telling me I had five children after my husband’s death? Will that skinny woman, that the Ogbuide will strike dead for me, tell me that I don’t have any right to reprimand her children because I didn’t train mine well? I looked at her and smiled then. She no reach nau. Young woman with a sagging breast, flatter than my slippers that are riddled with holes here and there. If to say na before, she for no comot without her teeth grazing the dust, without her skin mopping the urine and spits and shits in this town. Who born am sef?

Please don’t draw me back to what that yeye woman said. What’s your business with how I had my children after my husband’s death. I call it providence. Yes. Providence. If you dey my position, you for do something different?

That fisherman husband of mine that I wouldn’t have married if not that my mother dragged my name with her lips as she went to the market, as she went to the stream, as she cooked, as she swept, making songs that had my name at the centre of derogation. I became a plague for my own self. I couldn’t bear the sight of myself. Even taking my bath became a tribulation for me because after looking very neat, I was still soiled in the puddle of insults my mother was very benevolent with. Others were getting married, she sang. Adaugo, our mate, whom we didn’t know if she was a witch for always stealing in on us whenever we wanted to talk about her, was already with her third child. How do you want my mother to keep mute about it, when I kept rejecting men for slappable reasons? One was for his noisy breathing. You think an engine is unbearably grating your ears with noise, you think you can’t bear the grunts of a hog? Wait until you meet this man with his belly that was so tucked in, I feared his farm produce were always carried by the lake every year and he had nothing to feed on. I kept vigil on the first night I sneaked into his room, and wondered how he could be so lean and snore like a buffalo. The next day, I told my mother I would only be in his house if she added otapiapia to my food and carried my corpse to him. The next man was for his big head, thrice the size of ukwa. I couldn’t bear giving birth to children that would tear my vagina with their watermelon heads. These things run in the blood, you know. Until this man came, and my mother couldn’t take it anymore. I was more like bundled to him and maybe that was why he did what he did to me because he knew my mother wanted me so badly out of the way. That’s why you see most of my girls are not married oo. I no fit force them for that kain tin. It is better it comes as their decision, so they can hold on to power, a little power at least. And when a man comes, I won’t be in haste to give them out even though their continuous presence here now darkens my days.

I hated my husband ehn. If he asked me to boil some water to massage his back with, I’d grumble. And I’d either make it so hot that he would jolt when the rag touched his back, or too warm that there would be no impact at all. Sometimes, I added too much pepper in the soup so that he’d eat and fan his mouth and forget about me all through the night. His thing was like a horse’s. A full arm. Even now, I’m still at loss at how someone would carry something that heavy with nothing in his pocket to show for it. When he climbed me, he wouldn’t wait for me to adjust, not even a thigh; he’d shove himself in and dig with such grimness that I thought if he put on his farmland, we wouldn’t be that wretched. They say it is only when you experience pleasure that pregnancy happens. I don’t even know if that is true oo because what I had with my husband was not close to pleasure and I conceived three months after our igba-nkwu. Our first boy came. The old goat was happy. He bared his teeth that was nearing blackness, everywhere. His late parents would be happy too, he said. Did I care? They could roll and disentangle in the grave for all my small buttocks could see.

Other tiny, crying pieces I shot out of my belly succeeded the first one and soon I was counting four. No, five, one dead. Three boys and a pale skin girl. My place has been secured, they said. Until one season, he went to the farm across the lake and didn’t return. Save for the food he provided us with, I prayed he never returned. He was blocking my chances. Chances of parading myself before those handsome, wealthy workmen at the lake. Have you seen where they buy fish for food? Or the bundles of money they count? I’m not a glutton, but my children must feed. After two years — two years of waiting in that tilting hut that looked as though it would cave in on us at night, two years of running to my mother’s backyard every now and then to harvest her vegetables for soup and sauntering around her hut for some money from the poor woman, two years of waiting and keeping myself for a husband that was fast becoming inexistent, and two years of sending men across the lake and beyond (only to fulfil the customary duty of a good wife) without a response that matched our expectations — they said something about my first husband’s death. That didn’t hold water, and the rumour was soon snubbed. Then, other news had it that he was kidnapped. Whoever would ask for ransom for that pig-head must be mistaking. Then the story of running away with another woman. Shameless man. I believed this one. But it struck me hard because I should be the one leaving him for his ugliness and nauseating attitude, not the other way round. I wasn’t good enough for him, that was what froze my bones the most. I packed to my mother’s house and began to raise my children. How? They must survive. We must survive. And my mother was ailing. That woman that pushed me into this entrapment of four pesky babies. Her cough could keep the whole town on her toes. Her breathing became dry and coarse. I couldn’t bear to see her suffering despite all she had done to me. I sped to the mouth of the lake where the ferry anchored every day. I hovered around like an aiming hawk, my eyes darting from man to man, woman to woman. Those people that sold things at the mouth of the lake could tear your name into shreds. They only needed to see you once, then you became an inexhaustible gossip item. But I didn’t care.

A man came along on my fourth trip to the lake. Men will be men. Foolish people. He had an air of formality around him, asking me what I did for a living. I told him plainly to go to my house and see if he could stand the earsplitting dirge of little babies going on. That was my “doing for a living”. Nonsense. Was that why I ran to this place? To be interviewed? He was handsome sha. Don’t ask me how when I say he was really good in bed, with his normal size and gentle and assured strokes, like a man who could pause the world until he’d had enough fun. It didn’t take me quite long to follow him to his small room of lurking shadows that sent fear kicking my belly. But, with him, I felt I should get pregnant ten times at once. With him, I had that big-head son who slapped his boss at the fish pond the other day. He is in no way his father’s resemblance. Maybe he is a curse for what I did; my nemesis.

This man left the town two months before my child came, and my mother couldn’t look at my face. She couldn’t sleep a second without gossips, the biting ones, filtering into her hut about my flirting. Her health was deteriorating too; her cough now constant, like breathing, her waist bending and bending. It was obvious she was going to die but I didn’t know when, and I wanted her to stay, to look after the children while I traded”. But she died in her sleep after my son came, after helping me bathe him and slathering his skin with camwood and singing for him to be quiet. And one week later, they brought news about my first husband’s body being found in Gedema, half-eaten by whatever it was and languishing twistedly in a gutter. If it was true, it served him right. I hissed. Although, at this point, I needed not just financial support, but emotional provisions. I was tearing up, not for my husband oo. But for these children. Five sickly children who couldn’t look at your face and seal their wide mouth, who wouldn’t know that you are tired of watching over them while they crawl and toddled about, from fire to water. I wished I had let them harm themselves even, so that one by one they must have reduced and eased me of this jail term.

Soon, I had one of those mariners coming again. Now visiting me in my hut every evening, sharing dry gin with me, helping me axe the firewood and hastening with me into the room, where I spread it out for him, even before the haunting presence of my little baby. Don’t ask me how I got this man. One thing you must know is that I wasn’t too beautiful but God graced my little head with wisdom. When people put two and two together, I was already adding four to four to give me a wholesome eight. Do you think I was sleeping with the man that got me pregnant alone? How would I survive if I didn’t diversify? If I didn’t vary my contacts. I just know whom it was that I slept with for the last time before the pregnancy. It didn’t even matter because they wouldn’t stay. This man now was slim like he was on pilgrimage in our town. He looked hunger-stricken, but that wasn’t my problem; he could be a sickler for all the world cared. All I needed was for these chortling babies around me to find something to shove into their wolf-like mouths.

We made two babies, all girls, right in my hut. He promised to take me to Bonny with him if the third became a boy, and marry me properly. I always laugh when I remember this. If he didn’t marry me here in my town with my people present, with their gluttonous throats and stomachs, to receive my bride price and bless whatever twisted union we might have, would it be in his hometown? Perhaps I would be his thirteenth wife. I only wanted him to fill me up at night, quell that fire between my legs, make babies if possible, fill my palms with cash every month-end and still be whatever he was. But the idiot didn’t wait for a third baby. He fell off the boat and drowned in the lake on a Sunday morning and his body was ferried to Bonny. Disgrace. What is in the skirt has killed him. People expected me to mourn; they lowered their eyes when they met me. Mourn who? Pesin wey multiply my burden? Abeg oo. Even my better correct husband, I no mourn am, nah this one I go stress myself join.

So, it was just three children after my husband left. Not that Mama Favour was wrong. I’m even pained to admit that she was correct. They were five. Two came later from a reverend father. Don’t just open your mouth like that! That was even the most excruciating of all of them because it was at the time my heart found a thing synonymous to peace but I couldn’t really be with this man that could make the sun smile at me forever. I don’t like saying this but let me tell you how it happened. When I tell you I’m very intelligent, it doesn’t just end in words. It happened at the time they brought a group they called Sanctuary Girls to the Catholic Church in our town, and asked girls my age to join. Girls who spent their weekends sprawled on the floor of the altar, mopping as if their lives could become clean like the altar’s marbled floor. I joined, not for Father, but because I wanted to be different, to do something for which I was not known, to dedicate myself to something that didn’t really give me money, and I was still young.

He liked the way I swept the altar, he told me, he smiled and his cheeks dimpled. Very womanly, he said. That was ridiculous. These men and the way they try to push forth their urge is very laughable. Who in this world likes the way someone sweeps? I was shy, I would twirl the rag in my hands whenever he came around, but I had my plans. A priest would be a jackpot. Big one. Soon, I shifted my domain to the father’s quarters. The girls might understand what I was itching to do (not as though they themselves wouldn’t fly to heavens and back if they had my good fortune), but that wasn’t my problem. Then, I found myself on his verandah, dusting already dusted benches, packing sands when there were no dirt to pack, praying the rosary when I couldn’t say beyond three decades and bow in reverence to sleep. Soon, I would be in his sitting room, faking confessions, manufacturing sins so that I could see his face. He understood. Was he not a man? So, one day, he simply stood up from the confessionary in his sitting room while I knelt, and walked to his bedroom. No hint, but I followed. Into his world. Into the neatness of his room, of his manhood. The miraculousness of his milk inside me. His thrust was divine, and he quivered when he poured. And I held him tight like he belonged to me, like I could grab his heart and seal it in mine, forever. I really wanted to belong to his body. To own his anointing, his divinity, his heavenliness. When the pregnancy came, he took me to his room, his voice suppressed to a frightful low, his shoulders hanging above my eyes, and made me swear to secrecy. Who I wan tell kwanu? I only needed his presence and all that it brought me. He was really munficient with the plantains and bags of beans from thanksgiving that found their ways to my hut. So, I sealed my mouth since.

The first one died in my stomach. Stupid foetus. That was the only child I really wanted to have. How fate always acted like zombie, always at war with expectations, with longings. You insert a different disc, and like a mad DJ, fate would reel out a jumble of absolutely different music.

You don’t need to know how the second one went again. How can I tell you that the second one was made in the toilet behind the Chapel? A holy one. Jesus in the blessed sacrament was overlooking us, before us, his steely presence resonating with every thumping and moaning. The cold that bit our bare skins was like judgement, like penance. I looked at Father while he dressed, nothing like the compunction, nothing like guilt, as if he was fulfilling one of Jesus’s ministries on earth.

It seemed Father’s sperm couldn’t make a living baby. It died upon delivery after a piercing cry that filled me with surging hope, such fulfilment. It would’ve been called Nwa Fada, in fullness, without metaphor, without connotations. But it straightened in the arms of that nurse, like Father’s long legs. I jumped out of the bed, leapt in the air, clenching fate by her collar, dragging her around, asking her to spare me at least once. I was ready again to tug the fringes of Father’s soutane like the haemorrhage woman, ready to repeat the process, ready to have something that belonged to him with me. But Father left the town a few weeks after my delivery (I think), on transfer, and we heard, during mass one day, that he died in an accident in Benin. I jolted from the pew I sat in; Jesus was coming for our heads, was coming to chase both the buyer and seller, was coming to cleanse his Chapel. Just that this time, he came with a bone-crushing car, not a whip, and I feared he would come for me next, now that Father had been dealt with. But somehow, Jesus forgot about me, and I forgot about him too, both of us shunning each other’s path. What should be my business with the church again?

Don’t ask me how all the men in my life disappear afterwards. I, too, don’t even know, and that was why I decided to pull my legs in and join some old women, who could wrench the life out of you with gossip, in trading palm oil at Opuoma.

But what I know is that Mama Favour’ s mouth will be twisted to the back one of these days. For making me remember this story. See her yeye husband only cackling like a five-year old girl who’s got a piece of fish. Onye nzuzu. Everything about that family reeks of abomination, of disgrace.

Or is it that ozu, that corpse of a man who is sitting bedside Mama Favour’s husband now? That one that doesn’t bathe, but knows how to wash his mangled intestines with beer at Echemkini bar. You don’t know Echemkini? Everyone knows Echemkini, that bar that will see to the end of most men in this town. That bar where men topple over bottles like children over sandcastles. That bar where more bottles have been broken on the heads of men than in Coca-Cola company. That bar where my grand-daughter wears her bumshorts to. She thinks I don’t know. Her mother may not know, that one with eyes at her back. But I do. And I won’t say anything.

That is the bar where this bulldozer of a man wastes the little essence his life has been able to grasp every day. He has refused to marry. Can he even keep a decent woman with his greasy self? All his girlfriends are either walking like they bear the world on one shoulder or stooping like they are older than I am or laughing too much like their madness just clicked another level or coughing like trailers that jammed brakes on the expressway. Something is always wrong with them. But he is the only one who buys things for these scattered children who can mistake their mothers for another if darkness suddenly falls on them. He is the only one who cooks for them. No, he doesn’t cook. He only buys the food, and orders one of those girls, whom he sneaks inside his room with, to cook them. I’ve got a share before. So, I won’t curse him too much. We know where his money comes from and I only pray that those soldiers at Egbema will one day confiscate his bus loaded with unrefined fuel and kerosene. He should marry. Or next time, I’ll talk about him.

Look well, that is dust rising on the road leading to the hotel. I’ve forgotten the name they call the hotel, but I’ll tell you when I remember. That hotel that has seen to the annihilation of many young people. Should it be called a hotel sef? No be ashawo joint be that? Speaking of ashawo joint, where in this Ime Obodo of Oguta Town is not ashawo joint? Is it by the lake? That pavilion where people competed who went longer in each round. Is it the roundabout? Go there at night. Beside that microfinance Bank that is only good at hounding their debtors. You’ll see them, legs raised, hallelujah to the sky. Or the primary schools. Those porn houses. Echoes of moaning and orgasms will deflower you right away. Or under the trees. Or atop them. Stay longer under each tree and be sure that your face will be decorated with semen and vagina juice.

But if you look at the road from the hotel, a car is speeding towards the place, calling dust to its company, children screaming and running after it as if their lives are hinged on the peeling red paints of the car. That’s Officer Dibua. A policeman, but his unruliness can make Egbenuka rise from his shrine and gut this town with his fire. I’m sure that officer has fathered about half of the children in this area. Even this my grandchild coming to me now with his bow leg like a crab, I’m not sure because look very carefully, there is the same hazel eyes like that officer’s.

I’ve spoken so much my throat is scorched, and my vocal cord has been so stretched and stretched, it won’t bring forth more words. But I don’t want to go in. Go in to where please? That house where there are more flies than humans, buzzing in daily merriment. That house that brings to mind a picture of an abandoned orphanage home with assortment of children  — pale-looking ones with yellowish skin, like malaria vomit; big-stomach ones that seem capable of lending us their bellies one day to store water in them; tantrum-throwing ones that have learnt how to say raw things like their mothers and they can insult the twisted blood vessel in you; the whimpering ones that seem to lose their senses anytime they cry, and not just their senses, it seems a water tank breaks inside them and decides to eject water only through their nose, because how do you explain this river cascading down their nostrils instead of their eyes when they cry?

I can’t go in. I’ll be here watching the sun, the only sane thing I’ve met in this town, the only consistent evidence of life, speed to the curve where I don’t know if life exists at all. Sometimes, I wish the sun remains and never sets. That way, I don’t have to go into my room every night to see a splayed body by the doorway, his nose a mini trumpet and his mouth opened like the gullies of Aba. That way, I don’t have to see my two granddaughters, who have been chewing gum and sending firecracking sound through the house all day, prepare at night to “work”. And the boldness with which they ready themselves, you’d think they have air conditioner over their heads as they worked. I wish well for them but they are well on their way to repeat a circle: raising legs for cheap currencies, dragging infections and, worse, pregnancy, back home. If the sun refuses to set, I don’t have to pretend that my two grandsons are just going out at night, because I know that whenever an alarm of robbery is raised in this town, they must have a hand in it. The last time was asa, a huge fish they brought back to their mother and she was smacking her large, cracked lips everywhere, and I asked them, “Is it that your bones will snap if you pick up a line and fish yourselves?”

This frail body has lived through so many events that dying is now a clichéd thing. I have seen corpse of naked girls taken away from here. I have officiated the burials of children in this place, where we all have to stand for minutes under the sun, women muffling their sobs behind me, because they know I’d tell them my mind if they wail openly. After all, I communed with divinity, with anointing some time ago.

Why am I telling you all these? When you come to Ime Obodo, we have shades of madness, a concert of the lunatics, more than the people that are actually mad. In fact, we are all mad here. It is in our packed houses that looks like prison cells, houses lacking spaces and vitality and essence of life, houses that raise terror and peace, oxymorons of life occurring and dying every day, and repeating the next day. Houses of madness. Metaphors of madness.

———-

Image: Colby Ray Unsplash remixed

About the author

Okorie Onyekachi Ujunwa

7 Comments

Click to comment. Comments held for moderation.

  • This is a beautiful piece, Onyekachi. I love the language and imagery (so delicious!). I love the deceptive simplicity. Above all, I laughed so hard… It’s been a while since a story tickled me so vigorously. That grandma takes no prisoners. Apt title too! Please write more. Please.

  • What a story!
    It’s sad in places, and mostly funny for the most part. It took me through a range of emotions. Your descriptions are amazing, and your similes and metaphors couldn’t be better.
    Btw, that grandma has a gutter mouth😂.
    Fantastic story, well done.
    Keep writing.

  • What other way to end the day’s hassle than with an artistically written, rib pinching piece? 🤣

    I had more fun with your story than I’ve heard watching some humorous movies.

    There are vivid pictures, smeared on imaginary canvas, all over your description.

    Thank you for this, Divine. Please, do keep your fingers forever burning on keys. I’ll love to read more from you. ✨

  • This is one of the stories that stays with you after reading. An intriguing and humourous story.

    Thank you for writing this, Divine.

  • I had a good laugh honestly. This is one of the stories you want to read over and ‘er again. It’s intriguing plus I can visualize everything with how detailed you wrote it.