March 7, 2009
It is a silent night and the world is locked in a deep slumber. Horrid snores and grunts seep through the cavernous silence. I try to close my eyes, take a quick breath and meditate but the entwined noise of croaking toads and hooting owls give me the creeps. My scraggy skin is suddenly a feast for mosquitoes. As usual, it’s all dark and you damn well know how it is insanely drummed into our ears never to expect light always. Sleep is so hard to come by and do I even need it? I am struck speechless by the echoes of distant memories that sweep through my mind. It all comes to mind so easily, you know. But wait a minute, how is it at your end? Is it a tragi-comic tale like ours? I can imagine how transformed you will be now. Away from the smell, noise and confusion that looms here. I do envy you.
So much has happened since you took that hasty exit out of this cesspit and I wonder if I can wait till we see before I reel out the stories. I will say a little and leave the rest. It’s so terrible how I miss you. It has been so long, so very long and the sadness of the feeling hurts. It’s even more painful that our locations are so far apart. This mail, I hope and pray will meet you in good health and soon enough. And hey, I am no longer the young boy whose head you fondly stroked. Not anymore. I am now a rugged and bearded young man who has ceased to look at life from a jaundiced angle. Thanks to the harsh knocks of growing up. Enough details later.
I doubt if the pleasures of your new homeland gives you a chance to remember this funny old Country. There were too many ethnic clashes shortly after your exit. You were a victim of a dastardly one anyway. I bet someone must have told you the Military has handed the reins of power to Civilians. Well, only the form of government changed. The madness (quite sadly!) remains. Not much of a change really. Billions of tax payers’ money is being wired to foreign accounts. Lots of young girls now try out a little prostitution; they clack their high heels on tiles and make a big mess out of randy men. It’s a growing trade my dear. Our educational system is fast becoming a relic, something that makes tourists want to puke.
Day in and day out, millions die of acute hunger. I feel quite famished even as I write but my consolation lies in a few crumbs of roasted Plantain and groundnuts that will tighten my belly afterwards. Do you still remember the long queues at the Embassies? My dear, it’s still the same old story. Religion is another comical issue. Virtually every street today can boast of at least five Churches and it is so hard to separate the true Prophets from the fake ones. There is this character, a Bishop who cruises around town guarded by a heavy convoy of Cars like the potbellies in power. There are anomalies in other religious sects and it’s all so funny. God will help us.
My very dear Onome, there are still so many malcontents in high places. Tax payers’ money now covers the medical and leisure expenses of half bent moon heads who should have retired. Any wonder why their initiatives are mostly obsolete and laughable? Could you believe one clown actually grabbed the Maze, that very symbol of motherland’s legislative house and hid it somewhere in his village? We thought he was better than the ones before him because he spoke so brilliantly, but he proved us wrong. Imagine a situation where lawmakers fight openly in the course of deliberations while millions stay glued to their TV screens at home and watch with disgust. And the very first time a woman got to the fourth most exalted position in our land’s political class, another drama came up. A very sickening one too. This lady was accused of stealing over six hundred million of our hard earned money. Not for once did she deny. But just like it is very typical around here, she sobbed, sulked and it was business as usual. I can imagine your very luscious lips parting now in shock over this news. Please save yourself from the shock. In your absence from home, I have learnt to get used to a lot of pretty nasty things especially when I know there’s nothing I can do about them. That’s the way we survive here. We try to forget, though it is hard to forgive. And suddenly, my veins quiver in anticipation of that homecoming when we shall be together again and share our experiences. I miss the way you hold me tightly in your arms. I miss the way you pricked my ears with your very smooth and well manicured fingers. I miss the way you chuckle when I play with your hairdo. I miss everything about our friendship, our love. And it’s just so hard not to keep in touch with you.
Anyway, let me remind you that we still parade a large number of beggars, hoodlums and lunatics- all victims of a leprous system. I weep for this beloved homeland. Need I bore you more and more? Please let me do. Yes, let me tell you about the bombs that rocked our sleep. The Armoury at the Military Cantonment exploded some Sundays ago and shook this land to its very roots. Thousands died and many were rendered homeless. And in a very absurd manner, the President hurt the feelings of depressed millions when he visited the site a day after. Quite gleefully, he asked the bereaved crowd-men, women and infants barely lucky to survive-to shut up their mouths because he wasn’t supposed to be there. Imagine the effrontery! Are you not shocked that we allowed such a clown to sit atop a serious nation like ours? Those bombs did rock our sleep. And the tireless tourist- sorry, I mean the President!- apologized for his inanities. We have tried to forgive him but God knows we just will never forget. Ah Onome, I recall the long walks we used to take by the creeks of the Niger Delta, how we used to savour the freshness of the early morning breeze, how we held hands and listened to the chirping of nightingales, and how we watched the river tides overlap. Do you remember how we used to marvel at the huge deposit of crude oil in that part of the nation? Well, that same Niger Delta the land of your birth that fed your lungs with cool air and dabbed you with the gushing rush of her waters is now a huge mess. That zone used to be your pride and mine. But not anymore. The rivers smell like bad breath. It overflows with crude oil, excreta, phlegm and urine. This is the same water that Uncle Hapini, Aunty Naomi and our extended families drink and bathe with. During my last vacation with them, they used the same water to cook Starch and Banga Soup for me. The deliciousness of the meals beclouded my observation of the diseased water. Call it the will to ignore, to survive. It’s the way we manage to live around here. You are lucky to be in that green land where you are at the moment.
Again Onome, votes hardly count around here. They never did anyway. Ballot boxes are snatched at gunpoint and left-footed candidates declared as winners. Politics is now a career. Everybody is getting into it with a passion to claim what they can and not what they can give back to the millions of people who stood for hours under the scorching sun to vote at the mercy of sun flies. Sweetheart, life keeps getting very funny in every way.
Different things just happen. And your motherland is now like a script being played out. You miss the drama, the fun. I’m saving the little I can on a video tape for you so we can watch it together someday. I am very sure you would laugh and laugh until you lose your breath. This is the part where I miss your tingling laughter that echoes through the room when we play and throw pillows at each other. This also is the part where I miss your passion for praying for the people, for the land. Most of your prayers are still being unanswered. Policies are still being made by mediocres. Kidnappers are on the prowl. Power supply is still a shame. The most irresponsible of men today are a few married men who spend more on young concubines while their wives rot and moan at home. Remember the choir leader in our church? She has slept with about ten male choristers, yet she still leads worship with her very sonorous voice. Our neighbour’s wife and her housemaid delivered two babies a month ago for the landlord while the husband was on offshore service for his company. Everyone on the street knows except the unsuspecting husband. So much drama, so much twists my dear. Did you not pray fervently for women empowerment? Too bad! Women are still being placed on the back bench of state affairs, some even in the kitchen where their confused husbands believe they belong.
I remember you also prayed for good roads and clean water. Sadly, the Orthopaedic Hospital is constantly invaded by victims of fatal accidents on the death traps we call roads. The other day, my very good friend and a jolly fellow had his left arm amputated after being dastardly hit by another car few metres to his house. And the clean water you prayed for is mere fantasy today. Millions are being treated for acute cases of cholera because it is just so hard to get clean water. I hate to be the one to share this news with you but then I have to. I need to bring you up to date. Let you know how far we have gone as a nation, as a fiction.
Onome dear, armed robbers are still on the prowl. They invaded our compound two weeks ago, beat every one of us and carted away money and property. Three of them raped Mrs. Clark in the presence of her husband and kids. The police showed up five hours after we made an emergency call to them. And just two days ago while I was driving home from the office, a Naval Officer shot a motorcyclist on the head for not making way for him and his gun trotting envoy. The newspapers made big headlines out of this murder but the accused remains untouched. He is busy popping champagne in his parlour with two maidens sitting on his outstretched legs. This shows you how easy it is for people to commit crimes and get away with it. Only in the land you left not too long ago. Are you shocked?
I tell you Onome, this is one land where it is wise to get prepared for any unpleasant eventuality. Our background of ruin, filth and shades of poverty are glaring testimonies. Yet we manage to live, love and laugh. I really wish you were here to see things, to have a feel of the hardships that have dented our senses. But above all, I wish you were here to see how I wobble precariously rung by rung on the ladder of progress. I wish you were here to spoil me with warmth.
Onome dear, I wish you were here to see Arinola my love and pride. A very sweet lady who puts up with me so lovingly. Soon we shall sign the dotted lines and it hurts to know you won’t be here to enjoy the moment. I miss you so much. The scars are deep, very deep. Onome, when the Cock crows I will be at your grave to drop a wreath of tears and flowers. But tell me sweet Mum, will I see you in my dreams tonight and always?