AGORA

It was their second day alive, the sky was blue, the sun was golden and the day was bright, just as it was yesterday: all ten chicks were on a jolly outing with their mother. The world, it seemed, was a mega playground, a smorgasbord of puny worms and bugs, breadcrumbs and cereals, all for the taking. Eager to take over the world, to find out what juicy treasures it was still hiding, some colonial chicks slowly strayed away from mother hen, deaf to her repeated clucking that they’d better not stray too far from her. A hawk watched keenly from a roof as one chick strayed farther than the rest. Then, swoosh, the sniper struck! Mother hen shrieked, the chicks sprinted back, all but one of them.

It was their second day but it was not to be like yesterday. The sky was still blue but theirs wasn’t. They were deaf a while ago but they now they could hear. They could hear their mother cackle in anguish as they huddled behind her wings in utter silence. They could hear a generator chug loudly nearby, beside the house whose roof the hawk had stood on…

A WITCH AND A BOY

The boy died.

I think he would have lived, though. If their perfumes had not snuffed out the only, albeit slim, chance he had left.

Six days they had been in church, praying and doing God knows what else. They most definitely were cleaning poop and vomitus anyway because that’s what they said he had been doing – pooing and vomiting – nonstop besides running a fever all the while. By day 4, the boy could hardly sit up straight let alone stand. And by then, he had stopped pooing loose stool, it was all just clear fluid. They said he was an olomi and whoever is an olomi in these parts they don’t give too much water to drink. It’s said that the more water they drink, the more they shrink until they shrivel up and die. So, they didn’t give him water to drink, even when he was strong enough to cry out for water.

Day 6, he could hardly respond to anyone calling out his name. His mother called him, shook him, tugged on his arms but all he did was roll his eyes. That was when they stopped swiveling to the entrancing drum beats that accompanied their melodramatic prayers. With her heart palpitating and eyes freely tearing, his mother heaved him onto her shoulder and walked out of the church. The incense kept burning right where they left it.

There was just a nurse at the nearest basic health center, there was no doctor. The child was to be referred to the general hospital which was kilometers away. The nurse knew he’d die before getting there. She knew she could give him a chance by giving intravenous normal saline. She was going to site an IV line when she suddenly began to have difficulty breathing. She was asthmatic. The dense smell of incense on them had exacerbated her asthma. The incense was bent on doing its job apparently – why burn for 6 days without snuffing out a witch?

The nurse needed her inhaler. The child needed an IV line. The inhaler was now more important than the line. While she sought that, the child gave his last few gasps.

They found a witch but lost the boy.

THE THING

Now and then there’s that thing that chooses to not tell you straight up not to write.

It does instead ask you what makes you think you’re qualified to write.

It asks you why you think what you’ve written will be good enough to make the reader not feel like they’ve wasted a few precious minutes reading your dour sentences.

There’s something fastidious about this thing as it takes away your power to oppose it in an ever politically correct manner: it stops just short of screaming at you: quit it, loser, you’re no good at this! It’s as if it’s wary of crossing a certain boundary beyond which its actions would be perceived as unlawful.

Its mission is obvious – to stop you from writing – but to achieve that, it administers a thousand cuts instead of a single executioner’s blow.

Wouldn’t it be easier and less agonizing on you if that thing just plainly tells you not to write because you’re not good enough rather than ask a range of poisoning questions?

LAGOS IS A COUNTRY

Work continues tomorrow. One must be up by 4 am. X looks out through the window at a Pepsi.

A heavily turbaned man enters and seats right in front of X. It’s a view-blocking turban. The bus continues to move again but not for too long. It gets stuck in a traffic jam, again. Some noise arises from someone seated in front. It’s a view-blocking turban so X can’t correctly figure out the perpetrator. Soon, a woman’s voice rises and takes over. She keeps yelling at the bus conductor. Something about the poor state of the naira notes she was given as change. She hurls expletives rapidly at the poor boy whose response does nothing but to further incense her, almost tipping her into a stammer.

Nobody, not even the bus driver, is paying either of them attention or so it seems until Turban attempts to pacify the more volatile of the duo: the woman.

It’s the month of fasting, the month of holiness apparently and he appears to be a cleric: an imam or so his four-inch goatee seems to tell. He’s a wise man; he tells the woman that the bus conductor is just like a son to her, that she should consider his actions exuberant: the actions of a butterfly who thinks itself a bird…She latches onto his first few words with an air of justification, wags a studded finger at the conductor and yells:

If my last child, whom this stupid boy can’t be older than, dared what this conductor just did I would dish him a dirty-stinking backhand slap, one that would turn him deaf in both ears.

Turban, wise indeed, lets go of a Yoruba proverb:

Àgbà tí ò bínú lomo ré n pòsi. Ìyá wa e fiyè dénú (Our mother, temper justice with mercy. He is loved by many, the elder who subdues his rage)

With this entreaty, the woman’s soaring voice gradually peters out. Quiet returns to the bus. Until the bus conductor who’d largely been the less noisy of the two starts to grumble increasingly, something about him not being able to fathom how shameless elders abound everywhere in Lagos these days.

Hey! hey! gbé enu e dáké níbèyen o! (Hey! hey! shut your trap right there o!)

Turban quickly yells at him, just in time to stop the woman from starting another tirade. He obeys promptly.

X sighs. It’s 9.26 pm.

Home is still a few kilometers away. The traffic jam stays jammed.

Aside

ON SINAI

images

What time it is
I don’t know:
I’m awake asleep
asleep awake
like a twitching laugh
at the seams of the lips,
hesitant to detonate
or defuse,
unsure which way to return –
surreal or real?
Voodoo drums shove me
into real to reveal
Christian drums shaving
heatedly into the heart
of the night…
Real shatters –
like a tablet of granite –
its chips fly like those of a detonated
bomb
And cause me to scamper for fortification
in surreal!

A-SHORE

The stones of time
speak every time
tho’ their voices ebb
as laughter and tide
rise:
bells that now chime
someday will be taken by rust
then dust:
dead shells were once
clinging barnacles.

The stones of time
sing all the time
their voices are echoed
by the whispers of palms:
we stand where once
was the seas lips
where she stooped to woo
but she’s since moved
on
to seek the sun.

Stones of time
in the sandpiper’s kitchen!

TWENTY FOURTH

b

Orange rays on the dusty brown road

Unconceal glass, bottle tops and dung

As herd and man move slowly along

Kicking the echoes of liquor sold.

 

Drunken men sing:

The liquor squeezing a cacophony

Of embalmed truths out through their mouths

From dizzy fractions of their brains.

 

My transistor talks of heaven and hell,

Of Peter, Paul, John and Jesus:

The message of a preacher.

His voice unearths memories of Sara and Abram

 

Who were here in this room.

There they stood, over the bed

Invoking the Spirit of God upon

My shivering shriveled self.

 

Brother, come fellowship with us – she beseeched

In the presence of God there’s fullness of joy

There you’ll be healed – he added

Stead I wailed that the fever wouldn’t let me

That I trusted in the anti-malarial pills

And a good rest.

They went alone.

 

That same night this same transistor

Stopped one of its nightly lullabies

To state in a somber smoky timbre that

A hundred people or more who’d gone west

To find their God had been shelled northward.

I wept.

 

Sara and Abram were here

On earth this day the twenty fourth last year.

I weep. I’m here but for my feeble faith.