Saturday, 14 May 2016

Another Strike Story

        It's been a grueling one-month stay at home after the school had to be shut down on April 11th, 2016. I daresay that in this one month I've gone through all the stages of grief.


        First was the denial phase. On that fateful day, exams were slated to begin. I had no papers that day and so I slept pretty well the previous night. However, my beauty sleep was cut short. I was awoken by a loud noise. The atmosphere was charged and chants that the VC "Lale must go" rent the air. The protest started off peacefully  and unsurprisingly metamorphosed in the blink of an eye. I was confident that everything would be abated in a matter of minutes. The last time a protest , this one violent from the get-go, had tried to be staged, law enforcement officials were called in. Although school activities were suspended for that day, the next day was business as usual. 

       This was my initial thought on the morning of April 11th. I had a rude shock as after an hour, the intensity of the protest only seemed to increase. I and some people recounted stories of how we had once been chased out of our classes with machetes, cutlasses and sticks, yet order was quickly restored. Minutes turned into hours, there was still chaos everywhere.  I started to feel like a Hala Gorani. I attempted to take some pictures and record some videos with my phone. In retrospect, that was not one of my smartest moments. A guy with a stick chased me to make me delete whatever pictures I had taken. I escaped unscathed. 

      Law enforcement officials eventually made their way into school - hours after the students had put all campuses on lock-down by shutting the gates; hours after the protest had resulted in vandalism and flagrant destruction of buildings, and hours after in the name of protests some people had broken into the ICT building and made away with laptops. In the spirit of truth, I can't verify if laptops were actually stolen. 

       One by one, students started to leave school in dramatic fashion. It was a scene straight out of a CNN coverage on refugee camps and people fleeing war-torn regions. People carried heaps of boxes on their heads and arms and walked long distances. Cabs were very rare to come by. At this juncture, I realized it may truly be game over. But I'm an optimist and so I settled into my bed and started to watch a movie. I couldn't accept the stark reality that looked right at me. 

        I knew it was game over when a drama ensued at Choba. It seemed the presence of law enforcement agents only exacerbated the protest. I don't think anyone is quite sure of the events that followed leading up to the death of a student. Only thing that is sure is that it is a truly great tragedy that a life was lost that day. It's what some might term an unnecessary death. 

       I was angry for some time. I was angry at the forced holiday. At times, I was angry at Nigeria. I quickly realized that the statement that "vex no fit fry egg" is very apt. I sunk myself into my favourite past-time, watching movies. Next was my bargaining stage and my depressed stage. I resigned myself to fate. I steeled my heart and prepared for the worst, a six month shut-down like the time of the fabled ASUU strike.

       After all has been said and done, everyone has to step back and evaluate what could have been done better. How do we prevent this kind of occurence from happening again? It is certainly not the time to start laying the blame at anyone's feet. It takes two to tango. I might be in the minority but I was always against the protest. I must still extol the fact that youths could come together for a perceived common grievance. It bodes well for the future of Nigeria. I only wish the protest had been peaceful. The story would have been different. Exams will come and go, we will graduate but we would never forget this period. Just one of the experiences of the Nigerian educational system.

       Finally, I am at the acceptance stage. I have spent slightly over a month out of school with possibly some more weeks to spare. Last last, I have tried. We have all tried. I'm starting to forget that I'm a student.



     Some people fall apart in one fell swoop. Some people fall apart in bits and pieces - a chip everyday, finally a large crack until they fully disintegrate. I learnt this when I was nine or maybe ten. This was about the time mother lost herself. I don't know how it happened. I only know when.


Mother was a very pretty woman, still the prettiest I have seen. I could be biased, but she was pretty in every sense of the word. She was tall, her skin as light as condensed Peak milk and a figure that put many other women to shame. Her picture still adorns the living room. Father wanted to remove it after what happened but I fought and fought and won. I stare at mother's pictures sometimes and admire her. I would never be half as beautiful or graceful as she was. 


I knew something was not quite right. I suspected but I could never put my finger on it. When Grandma Ma- my maternal grandmother died, mother cried and locked herself in her room for 3 days. She didn't eat anything, no matter how much I begged her. She only accepted a cup of water once each day and only from Nonso, my elder brother and only sibling. I was worried but father said to give mother time. Death was a concept I knew but didn't grasp. I couldn't understand her grief - I didn't know if people as old as my mother seemed to me cried.   

When mother came out of her solitary confinement, her hair was unevenly trimmed all around like a barber had left a scissors in her hair to wreak havoc. I hugged her and told her sorry. She just smiled, a manic kind of smile that didn't get to her eyes. I hugged her tighter. 

It was August break, a period after the heavy rains of July ceased for a bit. People sat on their porches swatting housefly after housefly whenever there was no light. My family lived in a face-me-I-face-you apartment and so it was easy to know what everyone else was doing. Curses rang in the air as each house tried to outdo the other in describing their hate for the government. "It won't ever be good for this President and his family."  

I never failed to say Amen to declarations like that because I had heard that in America, there was always electricity. When my best friend's cousin had come back from the US, she went about the whole school prancing about like a princess with her foreign candy. 'NEPA doesn't ever take light in America and they share free chocolate and candies every break time', she'd said. This was when I started to hate the President and his government and make my own declarations that we would have a new president that would make candy free. 

On one of the days as the sun had just begun to set and father like every other person was swatting the flies on our verandah, someone rushed towards our doorstep. My head was buried underneath father's big arms and I could hear the soft rhythmical beat of his heart if I listened closely. I had a clear view of the person advancing towards us. I chuckled at how funny the person ran like one leg was shorter than the other. It was Nonso's friend, Peter. Father stopped swatting away the flies in annoyance. I could tell. 

        "Peter, your friend isn't home. Go and check the playground". It was then that I noticed that Peter's eyes were welling with tears as if his parents had just punished him with a whip. If sympathy was what he wanted, father was the last person to offer that to anyone. 

           "Uncle", Peter stammered. "Nonso is lying on the field. He can't get up."

      "Ehn, what do you mean by he won't get up?"  father questioned, subtly replacing the 'can't' with a sheer force of will. His heart skipped a beat. 

In a string of less than three coherent sentences, Peter explained that Nonso had been hit by a big man in an SUV. The SUV had veered off the road into the field. There were no more questions. 

Father leapt up from the verandah floor so quickly, his speed belying his massive six feet something frame. I stood up even quicker and followed him as he trudged on towards the gate. He gestured that I should stay behind. I didn't listen. 

The sky was blue with a hint of dusky orange. The grass was green and a bit damp. Everything seemed normal except for the way Nonso's teammates seemed to be crowded around a spot that was not the football. Everything seemed normal except for the way Nonso's brains were scattered all over the playing field, his right arm crossed awkwardly over his chest, lightly touching his severely battered left shoulder. I wasn't prepared for this. I doubt father was. I felt violated and angry and confused - all three emotions at once. Peter hadn't told us about this part. He had lied to us brazenly. He told us that Nonso couldn't get up. He didn't say that Nonso would never get up. 

Father held his head solidly from the base like his head suddenly weighed a ton. If I could still hear his heart beat, I knew it would be strong and fast bam-bam-bam like Lagbaja's talking drum.  

Nobody sent me. I left to go call mother, outrightly disobeying father who now insisted I stay by his side. I wove through the crowd of onlookers and passers by as fast as I could. Mother always knew how to fix any problem. She always knew how to make things better. 
This time she didn't. When she came, she only sat down on the grass beside Nonso's body and bawled. She had no magic words or prayer to save the day. I sat down beside her utterly disappointed and the tears gushed out. Fearlessly, with salty tears streaming down my face I rested my head on Nonso's chest. I heard no heartbeat. 


I used to know a quote that said - Madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push for everything to come crumbling down. 

Mother first took off her wig. She never did that in public. She was almost bald undderneath. Next came her wrapper. She had only one on her waist instead of her customary two. All she had underneath was a flimsy excuse for underwear. This happened in less than a minute. She tried to remove her blouse but father stopped her just in time as she made to unclasp her zip. Mother started to mumble some things. I'd seen her do this a couple of times, but always in the night when she sat on the kitchen floor biting her nails thinking no one would see her.

I knew mother would be the talk of the neighborhood for at least a week. What I didn't expect was for mother's pastor to order me to go on a 5 day fast to break the ancestral spirits of madness that were supposedly my destiny. I did it because that was what mother wanted as well. I did that because maybe then, mother would not bark like a dog in the afternoon while preparing lunch. 

A week passed and mother was still the talk of the little community we lived in. It didn't help that she was always unkempt -wrapper casually slung over her shoulders even when she left the house. It took a while for me to get used to the maniacal laughter and fierce outbursts that followed whenever anyone suggested that Nonso should be buried. In between her fits she smiled at me sometimes and hugged me. I looked forward to those times. 

The prayer sessions for mother seemed to intensify with the passing of each week. Nothing seemed to work and finally mother's pastor's visit became fewer and infrequent. Sometimes I wished there was a drug mother could take but father said there was none and we could only pray away mother's demons. 

Eventually, father got tired and fed up. He removed all of mother's pictures from the living room. I put them back up. It was a cycle until he finally allowed only one of her pictures to occupy the spot almost behind the bookshelf. It was a picture where she was at the peak of her youth and looking her best. 
Mother broke the picture. It was on the same day that mother said father was sleeping with Martha, the maid from next door. 'He thinks I don't know'. She told me in hushed tones like I were her co-conspirator instead her ten year old child. 

She stared at her sole picture and asked, "What does she have that I don't have? Is she even half as pretty as I am?"

I couldn't answer truthfully. Mother's once radiant yellow complexion was sallow. Her cheeks were hollowed out and her eyes looked dead like ghosts inhabited them. But I answered nonetheless. "She is nothing like you ma". That didn't seem good enough. Mother smashed her picture on the mirror, breaking the mirror as well. I had to replace the picture with another one. 

I woke up some days later to utter tranquility which was strange. This was early October, a week after school resumed. Father said mother was nowhere to be found. He said she had packed her things and left in the middle of the night after they had an argument. I asked what it was about. He told me that mother had accused him of cheating on her. Can you imagine? , he reiterated. I could imagine.

That day I didn't go to school. I stayed home all day waiting for mother to come back. At night I dreamt that she came back and lay beside me on the bed, my head resting against her bosom, her heartbeat clear as a clarion's call. My dream never materialized. 

The next week, Martha moved into the house. 




Cadaver Diaries

             I'm no stranger to cadavers. I'm in a room full of cadavers at least once every week. This has gone on for almost two years now. I'm almost used to the pungent smell of formalin that makes the eyes of even the strongest of men(and women) water. I always wear my glasses as a shield to reduce the formalin-induced tears that must drop. It's the harshest of environments that does not give you room to even dry your tears. The dissection must go on.             

            Four months from now, I will be done with the pre-clinical class. (This is where as a Nigerian I have to insert 'by the grace of God'). To me, most importantly, it means that there will be no more 'cadaver rooms'. I am not a fan of Anatomy practicals but I must confess that as I get closer and closer to finishing one half of the six-year race, a certain form of nostalgia envelops me. 
            This brings to my mind the first time we all encountered the cadavers - the look of awe and astonishment that was written over everyone's face. There was a certain revered look as we uncovered the various cadavers. Some people wanted to take pictures of the stiff bodies laying on the dissecting table in the most helpless positions. Arguments ensued and it was unanimously agreed on that it was against all rules of ethics to do that. I agreed, never mind that I had never read any book on ethics. I guess that some things are just common sense. I remember that a few people still took some pictures regardless. They probably thought they were flouting the rules - a daredevil sort of rebellion. I want to ask any of them what they eventually did with the pictures. I won't anyway. I already know the answer. They couldn't have put it on social media and with the pressure from all around, surely they deleted any photos. Also, I'm not sure of the people who may have taken any pictures. 
             That first time, we had already heard of tales of people that threw up once they saw the seemingly myriad of dead bodies. Others couldn't eat well for a while and for those heavily vested in believing that evil spirits roamed the earth at night, they had bouts of sleepless nights. Those were only tales and none of that happened to the best of my knowledge (or maybe they did). 
            The dissection ensued, but not before we took forever to put on our gloves and some asked stupid questions like 'ew are we really going to touch that?' . Identifying the necessary items like the scalpel, dissecting blade and others took some time that initial day. It's a whole different story presently. Our gloves are put on as fast as the speed of light and we all know what each dissecting instrument is for, in addition to the hack saws and drills we may require. Procedures in the lab take place as clinically as possible and certainly no stupid questions are asked. Any possible answer to relevant questions one might need must be in the Cunningham's manual. 


            So far so good, my most memorable dissections are for the brain and anterior chest wall (ermm breast region). The brain struck a chord with me. I'm not sure what expressions to use to capture the different thought processes that occur when one sees an unsullied human brain for the first time. As many times as you may have looked intently at the brain in the atlas(es) and textbook(s), it still doesn't prepare you for the intricacy and the delicate arrangement of structures found once the skull is cracked open. It might sound weird to a non-medical student, but it is a truly beautiful sight. As a class collectively, we must have spent so long 'appreciating' (to use Dr. Mike's popular expression) the cranial structures.
          I've had my last dissection (again by God's grace) and I can say with absolute certainty that I will miss the jokes that accompanied every cut and incision we made on the cadavers. We called ourselves surgeons and at times teased another person by calling them a quack. We bristled with confidence and half-baked knowledge of procedures derived mainly from popular medical series like 'Grey's Anatomy', 'House' and 'Chicago Med'. 
         Nonetheless, as is the normal way of life, everyone is already looking forward to the remaining three more years, ceteris paribus, when we will be in the clinical class. I feel the same way as well. I can't wait for the next phase where I will have to face the 'P- dragons' - Pharmacology and Pathology. I'm almost ready for words like Ciprofloxacin, chloramphenicol and fluoroquinolones. I'm also almost ready for my barely decent writing to get worse. More importantly, I'm ensuring I savour these present twilight moments of the pre-clinical year while fixing my eyes ahead. 


Sunday, 6 December 2015


Possible Titles: "MEN DO NOT CRY" , "THE LUMP IN MY THROAT" 

    Papa used to say to all of us that a man that could not provide for his family was worse than a murderer. He wasn't a very wise man, my two brothers and I agreed. If he were so wise, he wouldn't have married a second wife when mama was still there. It wasn't as if he wanted male children like Uncle Ndubuisi whose first wife had given birth to five girls.  Uncle Ndubuisi married three more wives. It wasn't as if he was a title holder in the village. It wasn't as if mama didn't take care of herself anymore. She did. She'd won best dressed in her women's meeting the same year father married his new wife. It wasn't even as if mama could not cook very well. Her ofe aku sauce was praised by her in-laws that would touch her waist and say "Nwere anyi" . Our wife. 

They never said that to the new wife, Amara whose Aja soup tasted like cement, the leaves always half-done. They never said anything to the new wife who hadn't given birth after six years of marriage. 

The only time they said anything to her was when she had screamed one morning that father was dead. I rushed to father's room and saw him lying peacefully unaware. I stared at his corpse from the side of the bed. Amara huddled in a corner sobbing, perhaps thinking about her fate. I touched my father's body, it wasn't slightly wrinkled and leathery anymore. It was hard, not quite like a stone yet. His body had the texture of made garri - eba - that had been untouched and exposed for some days. He must have died in the night. Goosebumps covered my skin. 

I stepped away from the bed as I heard footsteps. I could hear mama shouting, "It can't be. It's a lie."  I wanted it to be. 

She entered father's room flanked by Uncle Peter and my two brothers, Emeka and Ovunda. "You are a witch. You have killed my husband", mama wailed and beat her chest, pointing at Amara. "Why have you done this to me and my children?" She rolled on the floor for some minutes and pulled her hair. I feared she would hit her head. I did not understand why she cried. If I were her, I would have hated papa. I would not be sad that he was no more. 

I looked away from mother wailing and gnashing her teeth on the concrete floor. A child should not see such. I wished I could erase from my memory the little I had seen. Nobody tried to stop her or hold her as she rolled. My fears were baseless as her circular movements on the floor seemed to have a pattern that ensured she wouldn't bash her skull. Her voice also had a sort of rhythm and was at its peak whenever she exclaimed 'Chim o!' My God. 

My brothers said nothing, feeling the same way I did. We shouldn't have to see this. Uncle Peter said to mother, "Our wife, it is okay. Please stop crying.  Pick yourself up from the floor, you have to take it easy." It sounded like something the young Bishop at the diocese would say. 

Mother spurred, leapt up immediately and moved towards Amara and promptly gave her three slaps in sequence. I held her back from doling out more. "Mama, this won't solve anything". My brothers looked at me like I had just said I worship the devil. Amara looked at me as if to say thank you. I looked away and held on to mama. She clung onto me and sobbed, drenching my shirt with her tears. I felt hot tears trying to escape from my own eyes just then. I blinked them back and swallowed the heavy lump in my throat. 

Men do not cry. My father used to say this to us. 

" I will call for a family meeting later today.", Uncle Peter said, calling us away from our mother. "Jisike. Have you heard? You have to be strong for your mother".

 I was 14 and the youngest. I did not know even how to be strong for myself, not to talk of my mother. My brothers seemed to know because they nodded their heads. All I knew was that just like my brothers, I couldn't cry. The lump in my throat grew bigger. 

The walls closed in and threatened to squash me. I wasn't sad or bereaved. That was my mother. I wasn't numb - my brothers were. I was flat, an emotion I didn't even know existed. I was like an orange that was thrown away and run over by a car after being sucked dry and spat out. 

My brothers and I huddled together in the room we shared, needing space but needing something familiar as well. Some women from mama's church group came to keep her company. I imagined the women telling mama to be strong for her children in the same tone they would have told her to hold on tight when father had remarried. 'You are not the first, you know?' 

I played Whot cards with my siblings. Pick 2, pick another two, last card, check!  Ovunda, the eldest had just won me at the game. Everything almost seemed normal except  for the poignant silence that was ever present, interjecting our monosyllabic expressions in which we tried to say everything. Everything was almost normal except for the lump that threatened to choke me. I needed water. 

"You are lucky. You have three sons, three good sons my friend", a shrill voice said, repeating her words like they were supposed to have a deeper meaning. The voice was coming from the backyard where mama sat with some of her friends. "Didn't you hear what happened to Ebere last year?"  Mama must have said No because the voice proceeded to narrate how Ebere had been chased out of her husband's house with her daughters when he had passed away. "She didn't even take a pin", another voice joined in. "My dear friend, you are a lucky woman. Stop crying and wipe away your tears.". 

I made shuffling noises with my feet and turned on the tap seconds later. I didn't want it to seem like I had been eavesdropping from the kitchen. I drank at least three glasses of water with each gulp I felt a lightness in my chest. 

Later in the day by 4pm, Uncle Peter came with some other members of the family  - some of father's uncles, brother and cousins. We went out to welcome them. 

          "Good evening sirs", everyone said, my mother punctuating her greeting with a curtsy. 
         "Peace be unto this home", the eldest of them all said. "It is well." 
        "Where is Amara?", Uncle Peter asked. 
       "I have not seen that murderer ever since you left this morning", mother replied. 
      "I have not seen her either", Emeka said. Ovunda nodded in consent. I looked away. 

After Uncle Peter had gone in the morning, mama had locked Amara in the room with the corpse. I didn't understand why she did that. She said she wanted Amara to confess. Amara only cried. Mother said they were crocodile tears. When my brothers had said they wanted to call someone that knew how they could take the corpse to the mortuary, mother refused. It was strange this word corpse, that meant you were no longer worthy of the present tense. That made you become was. 
"I don't know where Amara is", I said. I should have kept quiet. 

The meeting took place in the verandah. It was long and tedious. Mama served everyone with a plate of okwu ose - peppered fried meat. I didn't know how she had managed to cook anything. Uncle Udoka requested for father's best brandy. I was angered. I never liked him anyway even when father was alive. 

Mother was dismissed and told to wait inside the house. Uncle Udoka and his nicotine-stained teeth said to her, "Your sons will represent you". It was as though mother and Amara were on trial only worse, they weren't allowed to make their case.
They broke the kolanut and passed it around for everyone to take a lobe, from the eldest to the youngest. I sat meekly barely listening, occupying a fraction of space on the bench. Ovunda did most of the talking with the family elders.

"It is important we iron out certain issues now to avoid future problems in this family", said the eldest uncle called Onye isi - literally, The Head. 

It was agreed that the funeral would be in three weeks time. Amara was to wash father's corpse the day before the burial and drink from the water used to bathe the corpse while mother watched her. It was tradition for a man's first daughter to wash the body but father had none. Also, they said, a suitable punishment would be meted out on Amara except she could prove before the burial that she had not killed their brother. I felt a slight pity for Amara. She would leave the house and go back to her people immediately after the burial.

The property division was concluded in the crudest way possible. Ovunda as the eldest would get father's house and crops. Father was a palm wine tapper. Emeka got the furniture in the house. There was nothing else left for me to inherit except father's clothes which was as good as nothing. I wasn't even angry. Father didn't really have much and it was the way things were. At least I wasn't a girl and I could say I inherited something. 

Nobody questioned anything. There was nothing to say. Onye isi said that effective immediately Amara and mama would have to shave their heads until it shone. 

"Why?", I asked the Head shocking everyone. My brothers looked at me like surely, Ike must be mad. 

"To pay respects to your father of course."
"If mother had died, would Father allow his hair to grow like a woman to pay his respects to her?"
"That is not the way we do things. It is not so."

There was a collective shaking of heads. Some of my uncles spat away their brandy to show their disappointment. Emeka looked at me solemnly, conveying without words that I had said what was on his mind. 

The meeting was over. My uncles were still eating their fried peppered meat, legs spread out and potbellies bobbing up and down as they swallowed. I was choking.
                                                         .        .        .

It was over fifteen years since father passed away. I barely remembered him anymore, only in passing.  I'd left home at fifteen to stay with an uncle in Lagos. Things had been difficult at home after father died. We barely managed to survive when he was the breadwinner and mama assisted with her job as a tailor.  At least we never lacked food. No matter how bad it was, people always bought palm wine. 

Uncle Uche, my father's cousin twice removed was a nice man but mama did not like him. She said he was too proud because he had not attended father's funeral. He thinks he is too good for this family. Yet, he was the only one that sent money from time to time to help out when things got too hard. None of the uncles that had attended father's funeral and eaten mama's okwu ose gave anything at all, not even when there was no money to buy a tin of milk. 

I hated to think about those times when it felt like I had swallowed a bone and it was stuck in my throat. I had done well enough for myself. I wasn't what people called a big man yet but I could be, in the not-so-distant future. Uncle Uche had helped me set me up my own truck company that delivered timber to people. I made enough money that I started thinking about settling down with my girlfriend. 

I was in my pastor's office for pre-marriage counseling. At thirty, I was getting married before my brothers. I had always thought I'd be the last. 
"Are you sure you are ready to take this big step in your life?". I was. I nodded.

"To be a husband is to be a provider, a giver. A man that cannot provide for his family is worse than an infidel." Father used to tell me this, only he said murderer and not infidel. Maybe, he was a little wise after all. 

Bad things happen in pairs or in threes, never alone. Armed robbers had hijacked one of my two trucks, the bigger one on its way to Ibadan. I lost hundreds of thousands of naira that month. The smaller truck couldn't deliver much timber. I made barely enough for my partner that drove the trucks and I to split and still settle certain people.

The next month, the small truck was also hijacked by robbers, this time on its way to Onitsha. It was later I realized that my partner had duped me. The scales fell away from my eyes. I was angry at my partner initially. It metamorphosed into self-anger. That was the worst. 

The next couple of months were the toughest. I realized money had an elastic limit. I stretched the little I had left to take care of myself, my wife and twin daughters. I still had to send money home to mama. My brothers didn't help out with finances a lot.  A lot of my money had gone into buying a piece of land and building my own house. I was not even close to completing my building project. 

I scoured the newspapers looking for a job. It was tough to get a job especially without being a University graduate. I was optimistic however. I couldn't afford not to be. Optimism doesn't change reality, it only makes it easier to bear. 

A friend helped me get a job as the driver of a big man's wife. Oga was a stingy man and paid very little but I couldn't complain. Madam Caro gave me foodstuffs at the end of every month. Things were not good, but they were not bad as well. My wife brought her relative to stay with us. It was an extra mouth to feed but I did not complain. She said she needed the help. 
My job as Madam Caro's driver lasted for exactly seven months. I told no one but Uncle Uche the reason I was fired. I had refused to sleep with Madam. "You ungrateful cow. You are not ready to succeed in this Lagos." Uncle Uche told me I was stupid and that I should go and beg Madam. I told him I couldn't because I loved my wife. He laughed. 'Let's see if your wife will eat love two months from now."

We stretched the money we had and exceeded the elastic limit. It got to a point that there was no money to buy a tin of milk. The lump in my throat grew and my eyes would water once in a while when my wife went to the neighbours to beg for some foodstuff. But men do not cry. 

My wife came home one day and told me she'd gotten a job at a bank in Ikeja. My wife was a graduate, but even at that jobs were hard to come by. "We are not living, Ike. We are merely existing." She told me she'd slept with the bank manager.  At least she was honest about it, I tell myself when the lump threatens to choke me. 

I know that if I could go back, I'd sleep with Madam in a heartbeat. 

Monday, 2 November 2015


           My future was planned from the start. My mother used to quote from the Bible Jeremiah 1:5 to me quite often so I knew it by heart. I knew a lot of things about my future like my husband had to be Yoruba. I knew that I was going to be a lawyer even though I hated art courses and loved Mathematics and Science. At family gatherings my mum would boast to everyone, "Our little Tola will one day be our family lawyer."
         I once tried to disagree telling Aunty Funmi, "No, I will be an Engineer."   
     Mother smiled adoringly and said, "Funmi, you know how all these children are. When you leave now, she will start watching all these tv shows with lawyers and say that's what she wants to be." Aunty Funmi would nod in acknowledgment and talk about how her son Peter said he wants to be a musician. 
      "Oh these children won't kill us", mother said and burst in raucous laughter that went cah-cah-cah. Aunty Funmi joined in. Her phlegm-filled voice disgusted me and I hated that I was standing in the sitting room and not lying down in my room so I could block my ears with my pillow. 
        Later that day after aunt Funmi left, mother dragged me to her room pulling my ears. 
    "Ow.", I squeaked. 
    "You better shut up your mouth. So you think you are now grown ehn that you can argue with me and in front of visitors for that matter? Ehn Engineer ko, bricklayer ni?" 
  I wanted to reply with something sassy but Aunty Dora had preached on wisdom in Sunday School. I was wise enough to know that the only reply to prevent slaps from raining on my back was "Sorry ma."
           Three years later, I pulled another stunt. This time I told my mother I would like to be a doctor . "Your older brother is already the doctor in the family . We need a lawyer now that your father is no more."
           I understood this perfectly and started to work towards this goal by attending only Art classes when it was time to make the great decision of Art vs Science. even though I dreaded literature class and history. I couldn't grasp why I needed to know in explicit detail all that happened millenniums ago and to be very honest, Shakespeare wasn't that great. I once voiced this opinion and my teacher made me write a thousand word essay on, "The Eternal hero, Shakespeare". 
          That was only my initial penchant for mischief. I quickly fell in line and got my Cs and Bs in school. I even got an A sometimes in Literature. Passing was not an issue for me. My own problem was how I would have to wear those scratchy wigs favored by lawyers in Nigeria. I was much too fashionable for that. 
          As I grew older, life happened. The post-JAMB exam kept me at home for 3 years. I was begging any university to give me any course at all because my family was slowly turning me to a maid. Law, farming, ritual killing, animal husbandry - I didn't mind which. I was just begging any university to give me any course. I wasn't tired of staying at home. I loved it, but my family had come to an unspoken agreement that Tola was the maid. 
         I eventually got my admission letter. It wasn't really a letter like in the American movies where the university would send you a mail to tell you your fate. I couldn't expect that luxury from a Nigeria that cared for nobody. 
         From the living room, my mother shouted. "Tola, wa. Come o. Bisi just told me that her daughter, Angela gained admission." 
        I feigned ignorance. I already knew but I was too scared to go and check. Now that I knew Angela had gotten admission, I knew I had to as well. Aunty Bisi could boast for Africa and I wanted to give my mother bragging rights as well.
          "Ah really? I did not know." I scratched my hair. I always did that whenever I lied.
          Mother pressed some notes into my hand. "Take this money and go to the cybercafe to check."
       My mother did not pray with me before she sent me off to check my results like the last three times. The last three times, her prayers were never answered. I prayed alone as I made the 15 minute walk to the cybercafe on my street. 
       "Give me 20 minutes time. I wan check my admission status.", I demanded. 
       "Na 100 naira. This year own no good at all.", the attendant at the cybercafe with yellow teeth said.
        "Okay, I have heard you", I practically screamed as I proceeded to check the university website.
Yes yes yes. I was accepted. That evening, mother threw a house party of some sorts and even Wale, my brother came home. It was just another excuse for a neighborhood get-together and hot juicy gossip. The jollof rice never finished. 
          I wasn't sure I was as elated as I portrayed to have gained admission to study Law . It just didn't feel like it belonged to me. It belonged to everyone but me - from my mother to Aunty Funmi to my father who'd passed on and even to the majority of my extended family. It was hard, juggling all these expectations. That night, I dreamt I was attending to patients in my consulting room. 

      There's such a thing as broken dreams, but what's even worse is unacknowledged dreams. Maybe that's why 11 years later I chose  to quit working for the firm that hired me right after graduation. I was frustrated of acting out the script set out for me ab initio. I really hated the wigs I had to wear in the court room in addition to my normal wigs. When I told my husband my decision, he looked at me like I was crazy and told me to talk to my mother. I did and the next day she came to my house with her pastor. 

         "Tola, I know you are not thinking right. You could be going through mid-life crisis."

        "Ma", I replied. "I'm not even forty yet." I was getting close.

       "Exactly. This is why I know my enemies are at work. How can you just wake up and              
         say you want to quit your job. Mogbe. You know your husband's salary alone can't
          take care of you and the kids." 

     I earned more than my husband and maybe my mother was right.  Mulling it over, my resolve started to weaken. "Pastor please. You have to pray for my daughter', mother continued. 
    We knelt down, held our hands and the pastor prayed for me not to make the wrong decision. In the same breath, he managed to kill the enemies and condemn them to death by fire. Intermittently, mother adjusted her scarf and squeezed my palms to urge me to say Amen.
    Two weeks later, I quit the firm much to everyone's dismay. I didn't know for sure if God had answered the pastor's prayers and I had made the right decision. 


       "What do you want to be in future?", I asked my nine-year old daughter.
       "A teacher", she said. Last week she had wanted to be an astronaut.
 I asked why. She wanted to be like her teacher Mr John that told them interesting stories in English class. I laughed at how idealistic she was. I told my husband about it that evening over a glass of wine. We didn't have much to talk about anymore. 
       The next week, she wanted to be the President. She had to write an essay in class on what she wanted to be in future and she wrote on wanting to be the President. I laughed. She wanted to have the ability to command a whole nation to do her bidding. Her essay was judged the best and she had to give a presentation. I was a proud mom until she came home sad on the day of the presentation.

       "Honey, what's wrong?", I asked. "How did your presentation go?". 

         She told me about a little boy that came second in the essay writing. He'd told her that she couldn't be president of Nigeria because she was a girl. There had been no female president. She argued that she'd be the first girl president. The little boy told her that President was a male noun like duke. My daughter argued that then she would be the Presidentess. She asked me if it was possible.
       "You can be anything you want to be", I assured her. She told me that she'd asked Uncle John, her teacher the same thing if she could be the President. He'd told her that girls were not to be Presidents but the wives of presidents. I could kill her teacher. 

         I hugged her close and reassured my daughter once more that she could rule the world. I didn't sleep well that night. I wanted badly to tell my daughter with more confidence that the sky wasn't a limit- that it went without saying. 
         I filed a complaint to the school management the next day all the while thinking that dreams that are not allowed to sprout is injustice. The next day, she told me she wanted to be a doctor and the wife of a president. A part of me wept. 




Monday, 26 October 2015

" Na Who Send Me Message? "

       I once heard a tale of how clay pots are made. My grandmother said that only the best clay is gathered from beside the stream. The molding process begins and it is put through a fiery kiln. It is then panel-beaten and molded once more into just the perfect shape. Finally it is then allowed to cool and various designs can be done to fit just about any purpose. 
     Medical school is a lot like this fiery kiln. The entire journey is akin to the production process. After the rigorous process of writing WAEC, UTME, Post UTME and perhaps myriads of other exams accompanied by detours in other departments, the final selection occurs. This marks the first induction into the cult that is medical school. The cult that threatens to cut you off and question your living for existence if you dare to hope for optimal hours of sleep every night. 
       Finally, you're in the revered secret society everyone knows about  and you garner the respect you of course deserve. You worked quite hard to be chosen. However, you're finally in and often times you find yourself asking "Na who send me message?". You ask time and again in your little room in Aluu, Alakahia or Choba as you read with poorly lit rechargeable lamp because you have not had electricity for 3 days.  
       In the night also, some others ask this question in class on chairs high enough to be bar stools and seemingly made of concrete. Every night, it seemed the esteemed cult made of medical students met in spirit or physically. You try to come for the meeting - mostly in the sanctity of the place called Ofrima. You forfeit your sleep because half-loaf is not always better than none. 
          In the morning, when classes are as early as 7am the entire class is yawning in synergy. It's an orchestra. By 9am, everyone already looks frustrated. As you try to grasp the new concepts, you ask yourself once more "Na who send me message?". You look around the class to be sure you are not alone struggling - your misery loves company. 
         After the class, everyone swears they haven't read in the past 2 weeks. Even an hour to the exams, people never say, "I've read.". Everyone constantly says, "I'm behind. I still have a lot of things to cover". It's quite easy to believe until the exam hall when 20 minutes in and your friend starts demanding for, "Extra sheet sir." Pretty soon, the entire hall is asking for extra sheets. You're astonished - an hour ago no one had read. 
          As you write, you shake your head at some of the 'toxic stuff' you write. You have to do this so you can also say 'Extra sheet, sir'. You know the system is designed to make you fail. Your response regardless must be voluminous enjoy to satisfy some sadist lecturers that tauntingly say, "Briefly discuss". You're disappointed. Medical is nothing like the fiery kiln your grandmother told you about. It's worse. After the fiery kiln, the pots get a chance to cool and are pampered with beautiful designs drawn on them. This never happens in medical school. There's a never a time to cool off as the case may be. It never gets easier. The higher you go, the hotter it becomes - a new rule you quickly learn that defies the physical laws of nature you know. 
       At the end of the semester exams, arms are stretched and hugs given freely. Joy is evident and you know you're home with people who understand what it means to constantly ask, "Na who send me message?" 


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Message From A Mini-Skirt Wearer

Message From A Mini-Skirt Wearer

           See ehn, I don't know why I'm writing this. I don't like to preach to anyone or blab inspirational stuff. I'm the last person that would walk up to you to read to you from the Gospel. If you know me, you'll know that I'm not the one. The reason for this disclaimer is so no one will see me walking down the street and start quoting the scriptures to me when I'm wearing my hot mini-skirt. 

           Anyway, even mini-skirt wearing, occasional cleavage-showing ladies do open their Bibles (even if na by mistake). I was once innocently listening to my One Republic while browsing through pictures of the goddess Rihanna on Instagram. To be honest, I was just appreciating the goodness of my new phone and downloading the requisite apps like the Bible of course so no one would call me a pagan. I even went the extra mile to download different versions. As it so happens, I happened to flip to a letter my lover Paul wrote to Galatians. I unabashedly love Paul and I think Galatia is a beautiful name for a city. So I really wanted to know what he had to say especially when he opened with "Live creatively, friends."  I was interested in knowing more about his friends particularly if there were any female ones. 

           I continued reading and well I struck a cord with verse 4 to 5 of Galatians Chapter 6. Luckily, because I'm not sure I could have gone any further.  I got to a line where the scripture categorically said, "Dont compare yourself with others."  In my mind I was like , 'Word!' ....(of God of course.)


         It's really easy to get lost in the deep sea of comparison. Parents compare their kids to others and mostly this comparison is in a negative light. "Edward, why is your head so big? Why can't it be as small as Junior's own?" Oh well, and other sturvs like that.  That's another story though. A more realistic one is when you look around and everyone is in Chapter 13 and you're still in Chapter 3. It's pretty easy to lose focus and throw in the towel.  You put yourself in a state of unnecessary  pressure trying to keep up with others. If you fail, depression could ensue. This is probably highly far-fetched but I really just want to say that eventually this depression could lead to breast cancer as a friend once said (Identify yourself). This paragraph is probably highly erroneous and steeped in fake-deepness. 

           One thing remains unmistakably true at least. "Don't compare yourself with others." The best thing is no be me talk am. I have to say this lastly, please please I am not a preacher just in case you still see me wearing my mini-skirt.