Life Abroad

Essays From Exile: Another Coming

We are never hungry. We eat when the time says we should be hungry. We went to the chicken place to get lunch, me and my mother, Izuma-of-the-restless-path. At the drive-thru, I punched the button for help and the voice called as if from the skies. The voice offered us a thousand combinations of a thousand offerings of a thousand choices that we do not need. I pine for my mother’s plate of steaming hot white rice and goat meat stew but it is not one of the thousand choices. I make a choice. I look behind me and the lines of the not-really hungry snake into the road, staring at the drive-thru like a malevolent beast that would love to devour the drive-thru window. Izuma watches me her son, her eyes welling with awe at the audacity of the white man’s witchcraft. The voice asks me for money and I give the hole in the wall the plastic that gives birth to money. The hole in the wall gives me my receipt and a chute comes as if from the skies bearing our lunch. I give Izuma her lunch:

“My son, this is food from alien gods. How can I eat what the gods cooked?”

“Mama, please eat! It is food; human beings that you do not see cooked the meals.”

“How do you know this? I see no one. And you did not pay for this thing! Will they not be angry with us?

I show Izuma my credit card and I try to explain the miracle of the plastic card to her. She holds her box of chicken and after a long silence the voice delivers the verdict that flogs my dignity each time:

“The white man is amazing. He knows where God is but he will not tell us black people because if we know where he is, we will kill him!”

We will die and return in a thousand moons and there will be no nations as we know them. All these structures, all these walls, they will be gone, sold on eBay, wretched souvenirs of a time long gone. The walls of our Jericho will melt into vapor, victims of the wrath of the bugler’s horn. Think about this: These new wires in the sky that we can’t see, this thing that we can’t touch called the Internet; it is like a revolution that came, like the thief in the night. My friend the computer genius bought a big house and now he has no job. His job fled through the Internet to India where young people with accents tell you in America how to fix what ails your computer. In the bazaars of Mumbai, the food vendor sells fried potato cakes at dawn and sells computer help to the Americans come dusk. For every dollar my friend was making in America, they pay the Indians pennies. The Indians are happy, but my friend is miserable. The bank sold my friend his dream house. He bought a nightmare. Change is not coming, Change has come. And why are my feet cemented to the tracks of a coming train?

Smell the ashes
  swirling up from the ashes
    dancing dizzy into the eaves
      of the hut of happy memories.

Smell the maize
  roasting merry on your fire log.
    Take the maize, tongue
      and this pear, tongue.
The chemist does not need your pipette
O heavens.

I am back from chasing mangoes in the mad man’s guava grove and my feet land in Nigeria, the land that houses my umbilical cord. The ashes of my childhood warm my pear and my memories. And my maize is done. Nothing has changed. Do you hear the beautiful wailing of horns? The sage Christopher Okigbo is leaning hard on his sorrows, trapped in a Fanta bottle of ogogoro[i], watching his words morph into the reality that Nigeria has become. The warrior, Isaac Adaka Boro stalks the dark, dank oil polluted Niger delta in his water taxi, refusing to be consoled. The bard Celestine Ukwu has been drinking non-stop in the tombo bar wailing inconsolably for the return of Rex Lawson. And Kongi[ii], angry wise bard, offspring of the loin of the fearless gazelle, he roams the land warning of the coming inferno. Our story teller Hubert Ogunde is back, telling the deaf of yet another conflagration. Nigeria Ronu![iii]

It is not evening yet, but all is dark because the myrmidons of darkness have descended on our land like a swarm of locusts. My uncle Diesel is dead and our village is dying, felled by change. Death is not permanent, for the good death nurtures a rebirth. We shall see. Villages are dying in Nigeria, felled by change. Villages are dying in America, felled by the gods of Wal-Mart. But all is well. Everything is as it should be. Death is not permanent, for the good death nurtures a rebirth. Good night, uncle. Good night Diesel.

And darkness descends
 wet blanket on a forlorn land
  and we are touched dew-wet
   and as one we have sinned…
    What have we done?

[i] The term ogogoro is one of many names for locally brewed gin, the Nigerian equivalent of the American moonshine

[ii] Term of endearment for the poet and playwright and Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka.

[iii] In Yoruba, means “Nigeria, think!”. It is a play on the title of Hubert Ogunde’s controversial play Yoruba Ronu( “Yorubas, Think!”). It was an incendiary commentary against the premier of Nigeria’s Western region that earned Ogunde’s company a ban from that region. This incident is regarded as the first documented literary censorship in postcolonial Nigeria. Incidentally, the ban was lifted by the military after it took over in a coup.

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