Our people! I am going home to Nigeria! Pray for me! I called my boss, my oga, I called him at our workplace at the McDonalds on 13th and U! I called my supervisor, the little oyinbo brat with the high school diploma and I told him that I would like to take a few days off because I am sick and tired of being afraid. You have to lie in America to get a sick day off from work. I told my oga that I was sick from being afraid and I needed a few days off, actually a few weeks off. He barked into the telephone until my ancient ears shook with fear: “Why, you moron, why are you not coming to work?” Well, I lied and I explained that in my dreams, angry planes swooped down from the skies and attacked my drive-thru window and I am afraid and I would like to go to Employee Assistance to process this issue and this will take several weeks of therapy. He said if I don’t come to work, angry planes will send me to back to Africa! Terrorists have to eat, he said, and we have to cook for them he said because we need the money because that is how America works. “You better haul your sorry ass in here asshole!!!!,” the semi-illiterate ant roared. “Who is going to cook all these chicken nuggets for the terrorists? Don’t you know terrorists have to eat?????” he shrieked!
Well, here I am standing in the fork at the end of the road. My mother calls from deep inside Africa and this time work must wait. My wife mama bomboy is taking me to the airport because I have to go to Nigeria to see mama even if it kills me.
OK, aw’right, Ehen! I am at the airport with mama bomboy. I am going to Nigeria My ears are holding my head. My ipod is holding my ears. The music is talking to me, really talking to me, chanting useless nonsense, njakiri like… you only die once! Who cares? I don’t want to die! I just want to go to Nigeria, see mama and come back. I don’t want to die! The music is teasing me from inside the safety of my ipod! I am swaying to the sound of useless prayers! Na wa! My legs are shaking, they don’t want to carry me inside the plane. My legs are afraid. My legs that survived the predators of my childhood, they are afraid!
How many gallons of apeteshie does it take to shake off fear? Na wa!
My chi doesn’t cross oceans! I am on my own!
My chi doesn’t do airplanes! I am on my own!
My chi doesn’t do trains! Mba O! Not even gods want to die! I am on my own!
Oya, OK, aw’right, Ehen, I am at the airport! I am about to enter the white man’s big bird, I am about to enter the tomb of fear. Mama bomboy, the plane is here O! Mama bomboy, let us pray. Cows will not wait for me in Nigeria, certainly not on my plane’s runway! AMEN! The air traffic controller will not be asleep when my plane arrives. AMEN!! I reject all potholes that are lying in wait for my plane at the tarmac!!! AMEN!!! Armed robbers will not be my cab drivers! DOUBLE AMEN!!!! In the name of the Lawd Jesus Christ! AMEN! And Ogun! AMEN! And Sango! AMEN!
Mama bomboy, the plane don come O! Inshallah, I shall be back to America! By God’s grace! Today’s ogbunigwe will not have my name on it. Mama bomboy, pray for me! The plane is here! Ehn, if in the unlikely event I don’t come back, Mazi Sunday knows where my life insurance is! Give my mama some of the money! Please don’t marry Mazi Sunday O, I know he likes you! If you marry that man enh, I will come back from my grave and hunt both of you down like wretched animals, you hear me?
Mama bomboy, hold me, let us pray an African prayer to our forefathers and foremothers. African prayers ke? Dis one pass African prayers. Let us pray to the gods of Olusegun Obasanjo, George Bush and Tony Blair: Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come… Dominus Vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo…
I am dreaming of Nigeria. I am addicted to my homeland and her fabu stories. I love to meet Nigeria at that junction where fiction spies fact and says tufiakwa to the truth! With Nigeria, you are never sure what is fabu, what is history or what is in between. It is a peculiar mess. Like the late great MKO Abiola accosting the pretty Cecelia at Murtala Muhammed Airport and wondering: “Cecelia, your face looks similiar! Have I nacked you before?” Ewo! Naija and fabu!
Nigeria is a fabu-fest of tales. Like this one: Three happily married Nigerians once participated in a bragging contest about their sexual prowess – a handsome Ishan man named Handsome Saturday, an ugly Ndiigbo we shall name Mazi Sunday, and of course an ugly Yoruba dude we shall name Alagba Monday! Well, these three happily married men were interviewed by a Nigerian American journalist about their sexual prowess. I give you the results of their alleged sexual prowess:
First, the journalist interviewed ugly Yoruba man, Alagba Monday:
Nigerian American Journalist: Ekun! Bawo ni? How many times do you make love to your wife every night?
Alagba Monday: Ah! Mogbe! E gba mi O! I can’t count O! Every 15 minutes!
Nigerian American Journalist: Wow! Gee! Golly! Whiz! And what does she tell you in the morning?
Alagba Monday: Every morning, she chants my praises thusly! “Thank you! Thank you! There are KINGS and there are KINGS! You, Alagba Monday, you are a double KING!
Then the Nigerian American journalist turned to ugly Ndiigbo Mazi Sunday and posed the same question to him:
Nigerian American journalist: Mazi Sunday! Kedu! Ye’maka! How many times do you make love to your wife every night?
Mazi Sunday: Nna men! Five times a night!
Nigerian American journalist: Wow! Gee! Golly! Whiz! And what does she tell you in the morning?
Mazi Sunday: She chants my praises thusly: “Na you biko! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Then, the Nigerian American journalist turned to the Ishan man, Handsome Saturday:
Nigerian American journalist: Handsome Saturday, how many times do you make love to your wife every night?
Handsome Saturday: Only once O! Only once! Who wan die?
Nigerian American journalist: That is interesting! And what does she say to you in the morning?
Handsome Saturday: She says: “Ewo! STOP! STOP!! STOP!!! Abeg come now! Abeg come!!! E don do O! E don do!! Ewo! ;-))))))))))))))))))))))
Yet another fabu goes that Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik of Africa) once attended a conference in London with the Sardauna of Sokoto where they were each offered a bowl of salad, you know the usual stuff; raw leaves, raw onions, raw tomatoes, raw cucumber. The Sardauna noted astutely that the cook had made a mistake; every thing was raw, the meal was not cooked! But the gentle soul could not understand the gusto with which Zik was demolishing his plate, even licking the fork and knife. After watching Zik in stunned silence, the Sardauna bellowed: “NNAMDI! ABI DEM COOK YOUR OWN?”
Each time I visit Nigeria, I am reminded that I am in exile in America. And I say thank God! Well except for one little thing. I speak as a writer who leads a life of cushy mediocrity in America. I have no stories to tell about my sojourn in America. Indeed what is the worst that can happen to me in a given day in America, forget to make the minimum payment on my maxed out credit card? But not so for my compatriots in Nigeria. I tell you, the writers toiling in that geographic entity called Nigeria do not know how lucky they are. You don’t need to be blessed with a creative mind to write a novel in Nigeria. Hell, everything na Act 1, Scene 1 for obodo Nigeria!! Nothing is so simple in Nigeria that it does not require a major theatrical production, from using the latrine to boarding a bus. I could write you a whole volume of plays based on my last trip home to Nigeria. And I would be rich. I would title it: “If Una See My Yeye Leg for Naija Again, Mek Una Cut Am!”
On this one trip home, our plane landed on Naija soil one hot June evening. Like most airline passengers heading for Nigeria, we fully expected our plane to either crash into cows grazing on the tarmac and/or into hordes of our “relatives” holding big signs saying: ABEG WETIN YOU BRING FOR ME FROM AMERICA? When the plane miraculously landed safely and we realized that we were ALIVE we all broke down in tears and started clapping and praising the Lord Jesus Christ! “The Lawd is good!” the pilot screamed! “All the time!”, we all wailed gratefully!
It was sizzling hot inside the airport; all the airport’s air-conditioning units were stolen, missing, or missing some vital spare parts. My daughter Di_Girl started wailing: “Daddy! Daddy! TURN DOWN THE HEAT!!!!” She did not understand me when I assured her that the heat was an act of God! In Festac, where we stayed, the mosquitoes were monsters; they were as big as sumo wrestlers; in fact they opened the bedroom doors themselves, with their own fists. My brother Lawyah had names for each of the one thousand mosquitoes that took turns harassing our lives in his miserable “face me I face you” Festac “flat.”
The first night we slept in Festac, armed robbers came knocking at the block of flats next to ours! Kpai! Kpai! went the gunshots. Resourceful American that I am, I swung into action – by immediately peeing in my pants after which I turned to my brother and asked him: “Abi you tell dem say I dey come?” He calmly explained to me that all was well, that tonight was not our turn in the hands of armed robbers. We were safe because they had visited his block last week. Enh? Which kind life be dis, I wondered? As you can see, a novel is developing inside me… So, I don’t understand why my fellow writers in Nigeria are still putting balls of “eba without meat” on layaway in the bukaterias of Festac. They should be fabulously wealthy from selling their tales of whatever passes for daily living in that country. By the way, if you don’t understand what “layaway” means, well, you must still be somewhere in Nigeria or Peckham, London. Same difference, Peckham or Festac.
One morning like this, my brother Lawyah, asked me to follow him to “work.” With great pride I watched as my brother dressed up in his lawyer attire complete with gown and wig. Just as I was thinking that we were going to arrive in court in a Mercedes Benz or a similarly decent means of mobility that suited his lawyerly status, foolish me, this yeye bobo proceeded to lead me to a molue “bus stop”, to use the term “bus stop” extremely loosely. We fought our way, I mean literally fought our way into the molue bus and arrived the court house smelly and sweaty from sharing a “bus” meant for 15 people, with fifty other people, plus assorted dead and live animals. Can you imagine you a defendant accused of murder and your lawyer alights from a molue to “defend” you? You might as well plead guilty on account of insanity for hiring a near-destitute “lawyer” to “defend” you.
One bad thing about enjoying exile in America is that poetry doesn’t come easily to you. It is so frustrating; what do you say?
Look me O!
I dey swimming pool!
My cognac dey look me like Lukwanu
Cold dey catch my Heineken like William Shakespeare!
So now you understand why Nigerian critics who should know dismiss most American poetry as bland; We have no stories to tell in America, life is all good. For which I say, thank God! Poverty is an overrated experience! Whenever I want to write serious stuff I flee the blandness of America and head for Nigeria. Once I get home, the creative juices start flowing! Take the traffic go-slows for instance. Man, every go-slow is a veritable carnival, a fabu-fest of original stories. It is also a vibrant market place where anything and anybody can be bought. I mean anything and anybody. The motto of the vendors of the traffic holdups is: Money na hand, back na ground! I once paid N1,500 at a go-slow for what I thought was a Panasonic AM/FM radio. When I proudly checked the radio back in my brother’s flat, miracle of Galilee, the “Panasonic” had been miraculously converted to “PANASOANIC.” A well placed “A” had made my “Panasonic” radio instantly affordable. As I was whimpering with suppressed rage at this daylight robbery, my brother ruefully recounted how at a go-slow he once thought he was buying premium Van Heusen shirts. He thought they were a bargain at N500 each. The cheapskate bought several dozen only to get home to find out, again, miracle of all miracles, the “Van Heusen” shirts had become “Van Hunsu”! Worse was to come. To use an Americanism, the shirts were apparently “slightly irregular” meaning that each shirt had one sleeve long sleeve and the other short. Only in Nigeria!
Once I went to Nigeria to visit my friend Cletus. One evening, as we were driving around in his “Mercedes Benz” to use that German term rather loosely, we ran into this go-slow. Suddenly Cletus asked me: “Ol’boy you dey hungry?” I was hungry and I replied: “Of course! Abirika na banana?” Before you could say Jack Robinson, we had bought pounded yam and bitter-leaf soup right there in the go-slow! We are talking serious bush meat, Oporoko stockfish, chicken parts, cowfoot and assorted malu body parts! The food vendors even gave us a bowl of water to wash our hands with! Just as I was polishing off the last of my pounded yam, Cletus turned to me again and asked: “Ol’boy, you go drink Heineken?” to which I responded eagerly: “Of course! Abirika na banana?” Before you could say Jack Robinson, the coldest Heineken my ancient hands ever touched materialized! As I was polishing off my Heineken, I kept praying for Cletus to ask me the question: “Ol’boy you wan nack iyawo?” To which I would have said: “Of course! Abirika na banana?” ;-))))))))))))))))))))))))