Tag Archives: Life

I’m a mother too

Mma Tata’s dark glittering skin had seen tough days, and that morning, it was clothed by the dust which spread as cars drove through St Bonaventure’s dual-passage gate under the dry weather. Beaten by the sun through days of sitting at odd and strategic roadsides, she was sweating through her pores, even at 9 o’clock in the morning. She felt sticky, yet wouldn’t care. It was a long walk from home; and everyday confronted her with the challenge to survive. “Why can’t I survive with ease?” she often wondered and asked herself. She had arrived the church gate quite early, in time to welcome the earliest comers. She wore a round-neck faded turquoise polyester blouse upon multi-coloured wrapper that had seen times and seasons. Her head was covered with a scarf of a different fabric. She was seated where she couldn’t be overlooked. Beside her, to her left, was a black polythene bag containing a few bread rolls, two litres of water and some naira notes, of higher and lower denominations. To her right was an enamel bowel, her offertory receptacle, inside which were one twenty and one fifty naira notes.
“Please, help us. God bless you,” she chorused, stretching out her beggarly hand repeatedly.
On her laps lay her six-year old son, face-down. She had her legs stretched out in yoga form. The boy wore no shirt, his upper backside covered with burns that seemed to have affected the dermis, darkened by some form of healing balm. There seem to be visible swelling, with the boy lying calmly, as one numbed by an excruciating and helpless pain.
“God bless you,” she prayed, as cars stopped, windows wound down and naira notes squeezed and thrown at her. Same was repeated as passers-by stooped to drop their alms into her enamel bowel. One could hear her sharp, coarse voice and see her left eye affected by cataract. She was visibly a woman in need. Periodically, her little boy writhed in pain, making tiny harrowing sounds. Passers-by could not help sympathizing with the little one who looked so helpless on the mother’s laps. She would draw the dark dirty blanket over his buttocks, using her left hand to drive off flies that sought to feast on the boy’s freshly dressed wounded back.
St Bonaventure Catholic Church was a highbrow parish, with parishioners comprising key politicians and high-flying corporate individuals. Even visiting businessmen and women to Abuja staying over the weekend would find St. Bonaventure homely to worship in. They would always see someone they want to meet, their business partners, top public servants, ministers and parliamentarians. The parish pastor even had a younger brother who was then the Chairman of Senate Committee on Public Accounts. The first Mass had just ended and the second one was about to commence. The entrance, which doubled as exit, was busy with people coming in and going out of the church premises.
An army green Audi, driving out of the church compound, slowed down close to Mma Tata, the glass wound down slowly and a lady, Mrs. Leeya Ekondo, a member of St. Bonaventure’s St. Vincent de Paul Association and the Parish Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACA), folded a one thousand naira note neatly and aimed at the woman’s bowel. She missed it, the note falling by the side. Mma Tata bowed her head in appreciation, chorused her blessing, stretched out to pick the alms, drawing the blanket off the boy’s backside. As Mrs. Ekondo adjusted her break from neutral to drive and the car rolled away gently, she thought to herself: Maybe I could help this woman. Today is first Sunday of Lent. It could be my work of charity. She turned off slowly on the main road, let the car roll some distance, and then stopped. She wound down the glass of the passenger side, picked her black handbag and turned to her thirteen year-old daughter who was seated with her younger brother at the back seat.
“Thelma, stay inside the car with your brother. I’ll be back soon. I want to help that woman sitting by the gate.”
“Alright, mum.”
“Mummy, are you bringing her home?” It was Cally, her six-year old.
“I don’t know, dear,” she said, as she stepped out of the car. “Maybe.”
She went to the back of the car, opened its booth, dropped her handbag and took out a first aid box that was inside the booth. Over her years of practice as a medical doctor, she has seen the first aid box as part of dressing code, never to go out without. As she banged the booth to lock, Cally was hanging from the inside, looking through the rear glass, then turned to Thelma, who was watching as their mother walked towards the gate.
“Sister, is mummy going to give the woman injection?”
“No. She’s going to dress her son’s wound.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know; maybe he was jumping up and down playing, and when his mother told him to stop, he refused. So, when he fell down, he wounded himself.”
Cally, who was actually jumping up and down on the seat, stopped when Thelma told him what might have caused the boy’s injury.
At the time Mrs. Ekondo reached the gate, Mma Tata was stretching her hand to her, with her chorus “Help me, please. God bless you. Help me, please. God bless you.” Her enamel bowel now had a single fifty naira note with a few twenty naira notes. She couldn’t remember Mrs. Ekondo, it appeared. Leeya dropped her first aid box on the ground and brought out a set of gloves.
“What happened to your son?” She asked.
“Aunty,” Mma Tata began. “I went out to sell by the roadside one evening, as I usually do. I left my two children at home. Ukpa and his younger brother; I don’t know what happened o. I was just sitting down there at the roadside, when I heard screams…” She paused, sobbing and breathing in fast-paced manner. “I don’t know. This life; my sister, my son was burnt to death. Yes. Emma. His younger brother,” pointing to the boy on her laps. She drew the blanket to cover his wounds. She shook her head, faced down, grief-stricken, “When I reached the house, I was told Ukpa wanted to use the pit latrine and so, tried to light the lantern. It was the lantern o…,” her sobbing voice in a crescendo. “It was the lantern. Yes. Yes. My son, Emma; Emma died. In trying to save my family, my little property, I lost one eye. Now, I can only see with one. Ukpa is dying o. Help me, Ma. God bless you.” Her entire composure was sobbing.
Leeya spoke, “Calm down, madam. It’s alright. Have you taken him to see a doctor or to any medical centre?”
“Ah ah, madam. Where will I get the money? A neighbour helped dress his wounds.”
“But he needs to see a doctor. The wound could lead to swelling and decreased blood flow in his tissue resulting in destruction of structures in his system. The earlier he is treated well, the better. You need to see a doctor.”
“That’s why I’m here, Madam. To raise money and see how to survive.”
“I’m a doctor. Let me see the wound,” she said, as she bent down, touching the hem of the blanket with her gloved hands.
The woman became agitated, shoving Leeya’s hand away, her face stale and withdrawn, as though talking to a doctor was abominable.
“Madam, don’t touch him,’ she said coarsely. “He might infect you.”
“I can see he hasn’t infected you yet.”
“I’m his mother,” she said, drawing her polythene bag close to herself. She pinched the boy beneath the blanket and he sat up, with the blanket wrapped around him.
“I’m a mother too.”
The boy let out writhing screams, gaining the attention of Leeya. She moved closer to him and pulled the blanket. She peered to examine the wound, just when the boy stood up in a flash, with a shout of “Run! Run!” from the mother. In an instant, there was commotion around the gate. The little boy ran off, gleefully across the main road to the other lane and disappeared into an undeveloped plot of land. By the time those around could make sense of what seemed to be happening, Mma Tata was seen running down the walkway towards the direction of her son, so swiftly. She had packed her belongings in quite a well-rehearsed manner. Leeya stood perplexed, as some parishioners who had observed the incident gathered around. For a while, Leeya was spellbound.

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Amidst the dark visage

This morning I awoke
To the voices of yesterday,
The disposition and the flair,
The striving and the settled.
They all sang one melody:
Amidst the dark visage
Of receding laughter
And pensive hunger
The world is a beauty
For the sake of our souls.

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The warmth and simplicity which Sue exudes in her writing made me consider this piece a befitting tone to begin the New Year. It is truly a year with variegated colours and opportunities and I invite you to come embrace the mosaic. Enjoy. Happy New Year.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

It is New Year’s Eve. Everywhere are posts about the year in review or hopes for the coming one. It’s sort of obligatory.  A mini rite of passage as the old year fades and the new comes to birth. So instead of jumping on that particular bandwagon today, I decided to write about painting. A voice from the past, words from the present and a hope for the future.

For myself, I have always scribbled and drawn. One of my earliest memories is of a very childish picture of Pearl Bailey in Carmen Jones… chalk on small blackboard in Grandad’s parlour. Of course, the film was in black and white on our TV back then, but the colours were vivid on the blackboard… I remember I drew the dress blue. It had felt blue.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.~ Vincent Van Gogh

I lack skill…

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The Animal Instinct

It’s just one of those moments when my mind spins on its orbit and my heart traces and retraces varied paths my consciousness has travelled. Now, I’m wondering what constitutes the subsistent element of human life. Though I wonder about this, I let not myself wander much into the abyss. It’s because I love life and its potency in bringing forth beauty, growth and life. I’m not surprised that blood remains life’s precious fluid. It might not be subsistent, but blood is certainly elemental to life, whether it’s human or non-human. Looking back through history, blood has always been viewed as being coterminous with life, and rightly so. It is not surprising that blood is shed during the birthing process in order to bring forth life. This is in spite of the fact that recent statistics point to hemorrhaging as the commonest cause of death among pregnant women in Nigeria. Shedding one’s blood to give life to another is an altruistic act which has sustained the human population all through the ages.

On the flip side, however, so much blood has been shed in Nigeria, deliberately and carelessly. When we talk about the shedding of human blood, I’m referring to the senseless murders that have taken place across this country in the past one year? I don’t mean only acts of terrorists who bomb people dead or slit the throats of innocent citizens as though they were readied for suya meat. I also mean the murder that bad roads have committed, because those who have responsibilities to repair them have embezzled the money with impunity and got rewarded with juicier positions in government, leaving the pot-holed roads to the recklessness of drivers and siren-blaring public officials. It feels as if there is a god-goddess enthroned somewhere, whose delight is to feast upon gourmet blood. When I talk about blood-letting, I’m referring to the hospitals, where the voiceless and poor are legally murdered due to lack of adequate equipment and competences. I’m also referring to the extra-judicial killings by agents of the state and the attendant reprisal killings. I’m thinking if all the blood that has been shed in Nigeria this year were collected and contained in some form, they would sure sail a ship steadily from Lagos to Maiduguri.

The country is soaked in blood and this is not good for true development. When bloodletting is not curtailed, peace is endangered. Our search for solutions through political correctness and maneuvering will lead us along a path that is not sustainable. I’ve often wondered how people feel when they take human lives, directly or by proxy. Thinking about this now, I remember a discussion I had some years ago with a retired Colonel of the Israeli Army. He happened to have been one of those who, as a young officer, carried out the Operation Entebbe of 4 July, 1976 during the reign of Idi Amin of Uganda. Knowing him to be a veteran sniper and blunt too, I believed he would be sincere with me. We were discussing his various engagements in the military when I asked him, “Looking back, how do you feel recollecting those moments when you had to aim the gun at someone and then pull the trigger?” The retired colonel looked me intently in the eye and responded “Charles, I’ve never let my eyes look into a man’s eyes when I pull the trigger. No true human being does that. At the point you pull the trigger, you must submit yourself to the animal instinct.” I was subdued by his frankness, but I learnt something deep.

Recently, a colleague’s brother was coldly murdered in Bornu State and months ago a video of communal homicide was posted on the internet, of how four young men were murdered by a community in Rivers State. During the year, there was also the circulation of a video of children, mainly under six years, who were murdered by some terrorists. All through the year, we hear stories of deaths, of carnage across the land. Going by the bloodletting that has become pervasive in Nigeria, I truly believe that it takes becoming an animal to kill a human being. Respecting the preciousness of human life and its sanctity bestows some form of purity on the human soul. Our land needs healing, as the cries of the innocent resound across the space and those they have left behind bewail their suffering. The healing must start from our hearts, as we seek peace, breathe peace, speak peace and work for peace. Each positive action we take to stop a human life from being a victim of the animal instinct is a valid action that contributes to our collective and individual healing and sanity. We need this healing to grow, to overcome the hurdles politics, religion, greed, hate and egos have placed on our way.

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“We take it for granted that our lives are ordinary because we are living them, yet every moment of each of our stories is unique. No one else lives them for us, no one else can feel them as we do. Each of us leaves our mark on history, even if it passes unnoticed and fades unremarked.”

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

dec2012 027I’m sitting here in tears tonight, exhausted and a little fragile as I am rather unwell, but that is not why the tears. No, the tears fall because of a realisation that has taken a few decades too many to sink home. I can be terribly dense sometimes. An idiot, really.

I had a message in my inbox tonight that made me cry. It comes from a man in the US whom I will probably never meet and yet whose life and dreams have touched and intertwined with mine for a little while along the way and who has become a friend. It was sent with love, in a momentary respite from a very busy days cooking, shopping and cleaning in preparation for the evening’s festivities, telling me how he and his wife are hosting a family gathering tonight. “I know that while there may be 23 folks here physically…

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The Uninvited Guest

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I’ve always known Nigeria to be soaked in the despondent slime of poverty, but the encounter of that Tuesday afternoon was not anticipated, as I walked into a roadside cafeteria in Hawan Hotoro area of Kano and placed an order for wheat and egusi soup which was promptly served before I stood up to a corner to wash my hands, only to return and see that a young man, disheveled and dressed in dirty and tattered clothing, with hair curled by months of combless neglect and dryness, had gone almost half-way in munching the food with such frenzy that my twitching belly and the hunger I felt suddenly settled into subdued calm as I beheld him while letting my eyes soak in the algid normalcy that sat on the faces of others in the cafeteria – including the one seated closest to him – wondering if I was normal myself to be surprised by the sight, waited until he was done with the last ball, stood up with the sachet water which he splashed to wash his soiled hands and then gulped the rest before doing obeisance to me as a show of gratitude, thereafter dashing away, while I followed on his trail, to find out more about this spectacle; and when I caught up with him and asked how he survived each day, he looked me up with a beckoning eye, then held me mildly by the wrist, leading me through footpaths, across feeder roads, saying nothing until we were at an open grassland, with large expanse sparsely dotted by deciduous trees, before turning to me to speak “I’ve no burden, so I live in the open field and survive each day on those like you who can feed themselves, either through the work they’ve for me or through their food,” leaving me to wonder about the various burdens we carry in life such that when I traced my path back to the comfort of my hotel room, all I could feel was emptiness and brooding thoughts about how complicated our lives have become.

Note: I’ve found some fun writing one-sentence stories and I’ll be posting some of these once in a while, hoping that you, my reader, would share in the fun. I’ll be grateful for your feedback. Thank you.

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Nunc Dimittis

Freedom
I’ve not been in my best creative mood lately due to the passing away of a beloved one in the family. I don’t think there is a creative way to mourning. Well, there are creative ways to coming to terms with the reality that strikes one, but I’ve had many encounters with death to know that the dead don’t truly go away. Every death holds my hand and leads me backwards to the beginning, to the earliest of my experience. But, I’m always trying to walk away, to live only in the now. While growing up decades ago, I served as an altar boy at several burials and each brought me close to the dead and the dying ones. I think we are all dead people or dying people, in some form. Each time we lose a loved one or encounter death, a part of us dies. Inevitably, each dying moment of life decays from our grasp and becomes history.

It’s two weeks since Elizabeth, my elder sister, left us physically, and her departure brings back memories, of the various deaths I’ve grown up to know. Her death was just three days away from five years memorial of Gloria, my young niece who lived with me and died out of careless medical doctor’s handling while I was thousands of miles away. Eli’s portrait has hung on my phone since her departure, as a memento of the love we shared, with a radiant smile that mocks death.

I gaze upon her face, intently, but all I could see is her smile, and memories. Memories we shared, growing up. There are so many cherished memories I have of her, but one stands out. Hers was the only childbirth I have ever witnessed. I was a child then, under ten, when she had her first child, attended to by a midwife at home. I was straddled to our mum’s apron string when she went into labour and everyone was so busy trying to attend to her. I saw her hung on the thin thread between life and death in that exerting trice, with her muscles contracting as she pushed to bring forth life; then, the pool of blood flowed. I never forgot and since then, I knew I had witnessed enough child birth. One was truly enough and I wasn’t going to be a midwife.

As I look upon her memories, a tear traces its feeder path from the reservoir of my eyes through the cheeks, branching off into tributaries downwards. Her smile is imprinted upon my heart as I keep vigil upon memories of her. Eli was a teacher with a passion and we had discussed plans of establishing an educational institution together sometime in the future, to assuage her teaching appetite and my knowledge-searching mind while experimenting an educational model. We had disagreement about where we would establish the institution, but it was something close to our hearts. She was my senior, but would readily concede to me on so many fronts, though our ideas often overlapped, after some fine-tuning. Our last discussion was on her son who just got admission into a private university in the country to study Mass Communication, on mentoring options for the young man. We had plans for the year end and even for February, 2013. She was a sister close to my heart.

With Eli, you could never relapse into the past. She was the Now person, with so much excitement about it, and glowing gaze upon tomorrows. Her disposition reminded me what St. Therese wrote over a century ago, “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I look only at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.” She was patient, diligent and full of life. Her love for simplicity and humility was exemplary and I loved her more for that. It feels so strange to refer to her in the past tense, as though she were a word, not the beautiful soul I know. Yet, I know, she is.

Since her departure, so many deaths have plagued our world. Many children have been killed in Connecticut, bringing the issue of gun-control in the United States to the fore. Since her death, a naval helicopter has crashed in Nigeria, killing six people. Since her death, a friend has lost his first child to stillbirth after waiting for eight years of married life. Since her death, many children have been born into a world ridden with guns, disease and debilitating human conditions. Since her death, we have found a reason to live the miracle of a new day. Since her death, we have shed tears we could not control and controlled ones we could not fathom. Since her death, we had wished a thousand times that she was alive. Since her death many have carried on as though their lives could not end today. Since her death many people have amassed so much wealth as though they would never die.

Her death is a reminder, like every other should be. We live not for yesterday or for tomorrow. We live for the now, for the only true day we live is the day we die. The day before doesn’t matter, neither does the day after. The day we die is the only definitive day of our life. It is today that we can do the good we can, express the love we can, pour out our soul into the moment as much as we can and connect with our purpose as much as we can. As I am drawn into this dance with death, I cannot extricate this consciousness from my mind. A friend heard about Eli’s departure and complained that I should’ve told her, if she were truly my friend. It was a comic relief for me as I wondered what was so newsworthy about death to broadcast as though it were a sympathy-seeking incident. I’d more readily talk about my daily struggles in preparation for mine than someone else’s.

I remember having to visit many funeral homes while growing up and watching the different mourning patterns, with a somewhat sociological eye. I often thought then that people cry over their loved ones for various reasons. Some cry because they would genuinely miss the person for the bond of relationship they shared; some mourn because of the material warranty they would lose; some cry because they are mindful of the cost of burial they are likely to incur; some mourn because they missed a chance to build a better relationship with the person. I don’t think the reasons have changed much. I try not to mourn for Eli in any obvious way, but my spirit grieves deeply over her departure and I know however reflective I may be over her death today, I’ll mourn her more appropriately in years to come. Our beloved ones don’t leave us alone; they live in us every day and a part of them grows in us. What we owe their memory is to live each day as though we are prepared to meet them. If we truly love them we would be prepared each day and live as though it were our last, not with nihilistic fear, but with conviction that each day is a sub-project that must be completed effectively for another to be built upon.

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When Memory Took a Walk

It wasn’t that I burnt the bridges
Nor set ablaze the ship at shore
To fight the battle of life and death;
Neither was I invited
By the drumming of a distant land.

I was choked by the flames of hate
And wantonness ravaging my land
As I ran beneath the thatched foliage
Just before the droning voices
Of Papa, Mama, Martha and Baby Amah
Receded in their screams for salvation;
The silence was deadly, choking me more
Than the blow of eternal extinguishing
Or heat of hatred could ever hit.

Drowned in the pool of extinction,
I bellied on wet grass, groping in fear,
Cloaked like a serpent: if only I could sting;
And when darkness threw its thick embrace
To hug my eerie eyes and stymied soul,
I knew I could crawl, lifted off the earth
To trudge along the penitent’s way,
My back turned to my woes.

Then in that dead of night I walked,
Sometimes afloat, formless and freed,
Receding in time and spaces unreached,
Lost to the consciousness of my being
Until I became a spark of nothingness
Inhabiting a stream of memories
Long interred in the voices I last heard.

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Floating in Space

There is something intriguing about death, something exciting, spontaneous and deep. I love the concept of death, its reality and persistent changelessness. Its ubiquitous presence, far beyond the preponderance of the Internet, makes it an exploratory delight. As a child, death began to lose its mystery grip on me as something far-offish. It had to be, after serving at many funeral services, for both the other-worldly and this-worldly rich. I think death should be intriguing for anyone who loses a father at ten, mother at twenty seven and several siblings in-between. Well, it may not be, if your reality isn’t real to you!

Death has a tangible presence on human consciousness and the more I embrace its truth, the more I come to value the dynamics of its Siamese twin, life. I’d be dead by now if death were not a living part of my life. There is nothing surreal about death. With every death, a part of me dies just as a part of me reaches out for life. On this threshold of life and death, I seem to always live on a wavy levitational sphere.  

It might interest you to know I’m writing this piece at about twenty thousand feet above sea level, onboard an aircraft from Calabar to Abuja. I write with memories of recent past, conscious that anything that gravitates can lose its gravitational bearing and crashes. In fact, I’m scribbling this piece on the reverse side of my e-Ticket Receipt and Itinerary. As I write this, the aircraft is struggling to steady itself on the uneven and stormy cloud. It feels so real, whatever it is I’m feeling. But I can’t help smiling at my thoughts.

Let me tell you the truth. As I write this, a fleeting thought crosses my mind. Two thoughts, actually.  There is that faint thought of not ever getting down to posting this on my blog. I even think about the countless people who never got a chance to talk about their last minutes and seconds. And just as the thoughts come, so they recede as I revert my mind to scribbling on, looking out and enjoying the thought of floating in space. Isn’t that what death does? Bestowing on us the capacity to float in some form? Even in life, some of us float through it, without ever steadying ourselves to actually live.

Do not assume I’m writing about death here. I’m writing about life too. As I write, I’m thinking deeply about the latest air crash in Nigeria, involving the Governor of Taraba State. I’m really not thinking about him as such. I’m thinking about something else, something far beyond plane crash, which I hope to return to very soon. Well, if you are reading this, it means I did get around to post it. It wasn’t altogether a safe flight, but we landed without an incident, and I am set to fly again within the next forty eight hours.

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