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BN Prose: Mama’s Letter by Chimezie Anajama



Leo nwam,
Asking you how you are will be a half-baked question. The post card and pictures you sent the other day have answered the question of your wellness. I didn’t even recognise you – with that thick woolly cap on you head, same as the type one of those footballers Dubem loves as his phone’s screensaver wears; and the jacket that seemed to swallow your muscle body. Indeed I didn’t recognize your face too. Your skin looked like the big, fresh derica tomatoes of Jos lined up in Iya Aishatu’s stall – the ones she normally sell 150naira; four in a plate.

You lip colour has changed too. I didn’t know you had a drop of pink in that your ebony wood body. Your sunken eyes, now well rounded in immaculate white, were almost popping out from their sockets. Even your shrunken jaw looked fresh like that hibiscus flower at the front yard you played with back in the village.

America indeed is a beautiful country. Their golden rainfall is blossoming well on your body. You now look like a black oyibo. The type of pictures of men Ifeoma use as her wallpapers in her room in the hostel. But thank God you’re not half-dressed yet like one of her wallpaper men. When I asked her, she said that it was fashion, that I am old school. Small Ifeoma knows fashion kwa. Ohh! The world is changing so fast. When I was her age… Let’s leave it for another day.

Dubem and Ifeoma loved the postcard. For one week, Dubem kept starring and dreaming of that bridge on the postcard. His eyes enlarged with each glance – in awe of its giant and tall twin rails of steels. He made me think he will be a musician with that stereo headset always on his ears and music jamming in them like he was fighting for a listening space in the world. Your postcard, with its glittering lights and shiny steel brought fresh air to him. He now wants to be an Engineer. He wants to be a bridge builder, go to oversea like you, earn big money, and escape the horror of the country. Who will blame him?

Ifeoma is doing well in school. She wrote her second year second semester exam last week. The one she would’ve written in February was it not for the six months strike. But I must confess, Ifeoma is getting me worried. She once called that there were rumors that her school maybe bombed soon. She sounded frantic. When she came back, I brought up the issue, her sharp quietness screamed danger. Her eyes darted here and there, I came closer, only to embrace her frightening silence. She exhales suffocating air of strangeness. The other day, Dubem mentioned casually that days ago, he saw Ifeoma running her index finger on the sharp side of the kitchen pen knife in the darkening evening; he thought he saw something red drop from her finger on the wooden kitchen table, before he could reach to her, she pressed her long sleeves against it . The way she held it at first, thrusting the tip forward in the air like she was aiming at an invincible enemy within her reach. When he called her from where he stood behind the curtains, the knife fell from her hand, though it was getting dark, but the look on Ifeoma’s eyes was like a thief begging for silence when caught red-handed; softened and dreamy. I’ll have to watch here more intently.

Leo, the last time you wrote, you mentioned something like parole. Are you okay? I’ve been having nightmares of you and prison. Every day, Dubem reads frightening tales of Nigerians dying in American prisons from his Facebook wall. I hope you know what that is. Plenty Nigerians in prison, he said. Is it really true? Are we this bad that many of us are all bundled into that hole? Even Dubem’s face changed when I mentioned that you had something to do with parole. I knew he was hiding something, and I knew it had something to do with prison. I sensed it was on his lips, but his fear won’t let go of it, not in my presence. My knees nearly begged for his trust with those words; he said I shouldn’t worry, that you’re okay. I nodded in faith. I know I will never be okay as far your life is stringed with that word.

Are you still on Parole? Biko, chetekwa anyi o. our family is not known with prison. None of us has ever gone to prison, not even your father’s brother, Omeku that enjoys the company of these street miscreants. Each time I see him in the village, clutching his bottle of ogogoro like a bible in his left arm, striding in gait of a white garment priest under intoxication of anointing, but he knows how to keep himself away from trouble. I’ve to give him that. He is good with sneaking out of trouble’s pathway. The other day, police came and rounded up his friends; on premonition, he excused himself before the pickup police vehicle with windy swirling air it pulled along arrived. He alone escaped. I think he is hiding. Please, don’t bring shame to us. I didn’t sell one of my two stock fish stalls for American prison to tie you in embrace. If you can’t cope, just come home. Country bad, but e never bad to the extent of us going hungry and sleeping in those toilet cells.

Yesterday was independence, Nigeria’s independence. I went to shop and put off my radio. I didn’t bother listening to the president’s speech. The same old story. Old, stale, and vomittable. Nothing new to add. That man can’t sell hope, and talks like a university lecturer – all theories without practice. But who will blame him? The country is running short of hope.

Hope is very expensive. Nobody believes in hope. Costlier than twenty bags of foreign okporoko. Hope is far away from us. We are just pretending to see the silver linings when it is just fading copper linings that are starring at us. Each day, each line gets blurred.
Did I tell you that a bag of stock fish has tripled? That was the surprise I met last week. People now prefer to cook without – not without meat o… I mean without anything. No obstacle, even okporoko. Some days I go to shop, on passing, my old customers will just do eyes front, like say they didn’t see me. Not even to ask me how market dey. They also say they want to ban kpomo, kanda. Double trouble. These government people sef. They want us to cut our fingers and make mosquitoes part of our food. Prices of beef and chicken have gone up too. Anyway, man must survive. It is the law of nature. Survival of the fittest. I am getting old, but thankfully, body still does kakarankam. Strong. Sometimes, I wish you’re here. I wish condition were different. That your father was still around. It is all well. He giveth and taketh.

Please, continue to put us in your prayers as we’ll continue to do for you. This strong-head, Boko Haram, dey hala every day. Condition has worsened. Anything that happened, always the fault of Boko people. I don’t know if government people are now using it as excuse to do their works. Kerosene that I bought 120 Naira last week, became 140 Naira a litre this week. Boko Haram. Landlord increased our monthly rent to 3000 Naira extra. Boko Haram. Even prices of transportation have hiked. Boko Haram. I am just scared for the coming 2015 election. Addition of it to Boko Haram may turn to water-don-pass-garri case. We are preparing to travel down to Agulu that period. We can’t take that chance here in Yola. We just can’t no matter how these government singers want to sell their song of peaceful election. Cockroaches and spiders even know that country is no longer safe during election. Every man to his papa’s hole.

Ehem! Ifeoma told me the other day that Ebola is now in America. Anyway, I am not too afraid because America is not Nigeria. But, our elders say that lack of talking is the fault of mouth. I’ll talk. Nwam, biko, get that gel they rub on hands. That was what saved me when we had it. Health people advised us to use it. They say Miss Ebola is deadlier that Miss AIDS. Go on no-touching-body campaign for now. If people are spitting and talking, Leo, do four-forty o. Don’t wait. It is not everybody vomiting that you can ask “what is wrong with you?’. Days of that samaritaness have gone. Even if you’ll do, stay four metres away. Shout the question. I know why I am writing all these o. it is not like I don’t have market to sell. And it is not like Dubem that will type this in a cybercafé, doesn’t have anything he is doing; he is reading for his JAMB. We want you to stay safe. I think I’ll stop here for now. Please reply soon, and DHL-ing it with other “things” like the last time may not be a bad idea. Do you know the last time the DHL people drove by in that their tinted yellow bus with their big plastered red logo, I saw many neighbor’s heads on their windows. They now know I’ve an obodo-oyibo son. Some began to shine teeth for me afterwards. Naija with their oversea mentality.
Be good. I hope you write soon.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Logoboom

Chimezie Anajama is a Development worker, Sociologist and a Writer. Her development work with street children and teens inspired the “Street Rules”. She is currently co-campaigning for #iMatterToo Uyo Street Children Project to give alternative education to 30 street children/teens. Tweet her @ChimezieAnajama

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