……apparently, Theo had a lot of people in his corner. Chief amongst them was my best friend Amaka. One evening, she called me a witch with a black heart for breaking my former’s heart. It was too much insult to take in my own home. Something feral was released in me and the end result was that we went at each other by means of blood red acrylic claws. The ferocity of enraged vixens was a kiss amongst lovers compared to how we lashed out at ourselves. No quarter was asked nor given. I could not bear her sit on her high horse and look down her uppity nose at me. That evening our relationship rested in pieces. I buried it and my heavy heart was its tombstone.
Sleep evaded me as twilight evolved into dawn. All through the sweltering night, the red hot pitchfork of insomnia tormented my brain, prodded my eyelids and tore the mental burlap within which I had wrapped up my past.
I grew up in an area called Lawanson with my mother who sells “pap” and seven siblings in a one room apartment “face me, I face you” house. My father had drunk and smoked himself into an early grave after being the security man of a primary school for the most part of his life. Mother was saddled with the grueling responsibility of caring for us all.
Due to deplorable drainage of the area where we lived, gills were needed to survive when it rained because the whole area gets flooded and the overflow filled the homes. We did not watch any TV for years since the only one we had got submerged during such an episode. We were reduced to watching “Voltron and Tales by moonlight” from “Iya Sikira’s” window. God help us when we did not help Sikira fetch water from the communal well because that was the end of our shows for the week.
Living in such conditions was hellish. The toilet had no water supply, so whoever went, had to take a bucket of water to flush after the “business”. We could not complain, most other places used pit latrines. I remember an incident that nearly led to blows when Mama Azubuike said “I no my shit and my child shit, no be Azubuike do this one” after my brother accused her son of going and not flushing.
Food was mostly garri that had been soaked for hours to enable it swell to about three times its normal size and when we were lucky, we got stale, fried, fish head from mummy Obinna, the lady that fried “dundun” and “akara” down the road.
Hawking naturally became a way of life for us to help out mum. My siblings dropped out and mum passed on after years of labouring without help. She died of cholera because we could not afford N10,000.00. I swore I was never going to suffer like Ma.
Thankfully, I discovered books and had to struggle my way through having a degree. A lot of guys did help me and it was not for free, believe me. Sometimes being good looking can be some kind of a curse. I really got to know that there are no free lunches even in Freetown like some people say.
My humble beginning was what unconsciously and consciously determined dropping Theo and hitching my cart to another.
Amaka had no right whatsoever to castigate me. Her words still rankled (maybe because they had stirred up the cauldron of my conscience releasing an odor of guilt I refused to acknowledge). We were in the university together and I know how many foul breathed lecturers she coupled with to get good grades to enable her land a good job after school. Even now, I know the several “Alhajis” she canoodled with to meet marketing targets in the new generation bank where she worked. Her parents even forced her younger sister to marry a frail rich old man who promised to build them a house in the village. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. That night, the truth hit me that almost everyone in this nation was like me. We had all been scarred by poverty!
So why should I feel guilty when I conformed to the mould of a whole country? No one had any right to point fingers at me. We were all part of the same national orchestra conducted by the hands of poverty (it is just that while I was working the Oboe, someone else was on the violin). The man who committed ritual killings, pounded little children and cut out people’s genitals, the public officer who stole and embezzled billions of funds that he did not need and stashed them away abroad while people under his constituency died of malaria and little children were unable to afford an education. Poverty was the explanation for a financial system that was not credible in establishments all across the nation.
It is what made Stella my cousin sit in an oil and gas job while her potential for creativity (she used to be an awesome musician), rotted away and became vestigial (however, if she had taken the leap of faith, how would she have managed without all those dollars she received baring stress at the end of every month). For crying out loud, Stella was unfaithful to her gift, skill and talents in exchange for a better life.
What about the kidnappers and robbers who ravage the countryside relentlessly? The doctors who made out wrong diagnosis in order to inflate treatment bills or the accountants who cooked the books eternally?
I am not trying to be self righteous here but am I not better than those who swallow drugs to earn some cool foreign exchange? Growing up not having was what made the police officers rough handle and extort money from the ones they are supposed to protect. The dearth of resources is what influences the university graduates to become a 419er. To escape the oppression that the privileged ones mete out to the unprivileged, people did everything it took even at the risk of imprisonment and death to become the oppressor someday. When the money started rolling in, they oppressed with cars, houses, wives and chieftaincy titles. God helped anyone who addressed the new upstarts without the chief in front of their names; the offenders were struck down with lightening from “Sango”, the god of thunder. Millions are shown off in crazy ostentatious displays at weddings and celebrants were sprayed with freshly minted foreign currencies by the new Chiefs, when others merely throw notes of small denominations around.
The papers were daily filled up with stories of charlatans masquerading as clergy men who give false divinations while salivating in anticipation of huge tithes and offerings. Most of these pretenders usually have a history where paucity played major roles.
No one must judge me; we were cut from the same cloth of economic and financial insufficiency! We are kindred spirits. Poverty is the fungus that blights the whole green landscape of this country and to escape it, we would sacrifice everything! It is the grime that stains the pristine white backdrop of our nationhood. It is what shapes our destinies and takes us on a roller coaster ride of destruction. It leaves a mentality that makes us fight one another while rushing to enter decrepit buses even when there are enough to accommodate everyone albeit uncomfortably. Its effect lingers and corrupts, down to the spirit of our homeland. It colours all we do. I am even beginning to think its hue is green.
Deprivation and scarcity are the factors that make artisans in this environ cheat a client out of a few thousands while forgetting that a happy customer who trusts your services could fetch you millions in the long run. We torch today and see tomorrow go up in smoke. Poverty has cultivated arsonists of the future out of this country. However, most of this diatribe is in retrospect.
That morning as the sun escaped its incarceration and its rays exorcised misty ghosts tormenting the foggy dawn, the last traces of guilt were erased and I dressed up to the hilt. Gritty eyed and all, I was still the kind of dish you would want to break your fast on. After spraying my perfume, a cloud of heavenly fragrance followed me. I jauntily walked out of my apartment; head high, daring the world…game on…..
Please, watch out for the concluding part.
© 2013 Ekpo Ezechinyere