Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Excerpt: City of Memories

A week after his fiancée left, Faruk’s car treaded a steady seventy on Nigeria’s northeast highway, easing up only when he paused to change gears. The sun bore down on the white Toyota so relentlessly that every few minutes he cursed his not having fixed the air conditioner. He sweated profusely, even with both windows wound down—the underarm and chest of his crème cotton shirt was streaked with brown patches. It was just about 11 a.m. and he already felt lost in the featureless vegetation, fleeing as he was.

He drove past towns no larger than some suburbs of his native city and often, mirage oasis shimmered at the far end of his vision. Long stretches of road were poorly maintained, so every now and then the highway broke up into vague stretches that threw up geysers of dust the minute the tyres touched them. On both sides of the road, dry savannah bore the intense heat without bursting into flames. Yet, there were nomads all along the way in all the heat, herding more cattle than he had ever seen. 

When he drove past herdsmen, Faruk responded to their calls by tooting his horn and raising a fist through the window. All he and the herdsmen had for company were numberless cattle egrets, who were more interested in the cattle anyway. The mostly white cows, equally uncommunicative, wandered about minding their own business—eating grass and occasionally letting drop large blobs of dung. The muscles of his neck strained and twitched as he battled his thoughts, which always returned to Rahila and the flurry of his departure from Jos City.

“See, Faruk, be na son ka kuma. We have to call it off. It cannot work anymore, please.”
“Ba ki so na? What the hell does that mean? Face the issue and say what it is.  Is it you don’t love me anymore or that you are leaving me—which is it, Rahila Pam?”
Sudden anger sparked in her eyes as she yanked her arm from his grip, shocking him with her force.
“It doesn’t matter. Let me go!”
“It does matter, and you know it. Both things are not the same!”
But he had known. Her family. A foreign influence. Like witchcraft.

Her words kept running loops in his mind, broken only by Miles Davis’ 1959 ‘Kind of Blue’ album playing from the speakers. But when the music no longer soothed him, he slipped into his awareness of the heat and thoughts of Rahila—and the love she threw back at him as if it were ash.

He glanced at the rear-view in time to remember that on that particular stretch of road he was alone and had been for quite a while—an hour since he’d passed a lorry laden with assorted farm produce and rustic farmers hanging on to the tailboards of the old Bedford, laughing and singing. They had saluted him noisily, making faces and raising their fists. He had tooted his horn. He smiled at the memory, caught himself looking at the mirror yet again, sighed, and resumed whistling to the modal jazz. Rahila made him think of his mother Ummi al-Qassim, and her madness. She made him think of many other things. Faruk smashed his fist half-heartedly into the steering wheel, tilting his head back like a ram to be slaughtered, his eyes leaving the road momentarily. Rahila—he hated her now, for leaving him, and for leaving him confused.

But his thoughts of her led him to thoughts of her mother, Eunice Pam, who even at that moment was seeking to have him killed. Eunice’s meddling had already seen to the return of his engagement ring and the end of his affair with her daughter. By the time he visited Hussena Bukar, his mother’s closest friend until she died, he was anger-filled enough to burst.

The highway started up a sudden rise so he downshifted his gears, his mind running over the events of the last days, along with the wheels of his car as the Toyota laboured up the steep incline.

The first thing she said on his entering the house was;
"My God, what is the problem? Your face is as long as the Ka’aba’s door!"
And he did look drawn, sullen eyes beneath finely arched brows, thin lips; a lithe young man, he had an ovoid face, pleasant to see. Smooth dark complexioned skin. But only the mole just below his left eye remained untroubled. Hussena Bukar had been at the far side of her porch filled with potted plants, mulching compost with gloved hands unto the roots of a rose bush. She led him to a sofa and shouted for the maid. An old woman, soon sixty; grey hair peeked in neat cornrows from under her Dubaijin headscarf. Her skin was as pale as his mother’s had been.
“Ga abinchi, it’s just a snack, eat up. . .”

Hussena Bukar always adopted the spirit of a young girl with him. Smiling like a coquette, she listened to him. But it seemed to Faruk that a film appeared over her eyes while he spoke of Rahila, as if his words reminded her of something else. He did not know he was shovelling dirt off an event buried for three decades. Déjà vu coursed through Hussena Bukar’s mind as Faruk sat on her porch, telling her about his danger fraught love for Rahila Pam. She had heard these words before—from his mother.

Thoughts like a swirl around a whirlpool spun through Hussena Bukar’s mind.
She shook her head, placing her still supple thin-fingered palms behind her neck. Her thoughts flit to the face of General Hassan Abba, her friend. Hassan Abba had helped her make the most of it—when the twin eclipses of the love mad Arab and the fanatic Usman Waziri had come to destroy her friend. Bolewa! Now, the bloody Bolewa past demanded sacrifice. It wanted Faruk!
Hussena Bukar realized she could not just tell Faruk what had happened at Bolewa. She thought:
‘He needs to travel; he must discover what happened himself.’

Faruk looked up at her. She smiled—then took in a deep breath.
"Faruk, my love, this is indeed very complicated.”
“Yes, yaya.”
“And there is so much you do not know of what has happened before. Just as there is plenty I don’t know of what is happening now with this Rahila and her mother,” she said, slowly ticking off her fingers, shaking her head. ”Faruk, everything that happens has a background. In knowing the background of what is going on, lies clarity and strength.”
"I don’t understand."
"I know, my love, I know you don’t. But what is happening to you now has happened before. I’m thinking what I can do, so that the result won’t be the same as last time. I think we will pull this thing apart and then try to put all the pieces together again, hopefully better,” she said, turning out her palms to heaven. “But you can’t remain here. It will start with you leaving . . . then you will come back knowing. That is how to understand the past, my son. Come, my love, I have some of your mother’s things, her diaries, I think it’s time you had them."
Hussena Bukar led him into the familiar house past the living room to her quarters, a small room with large windows and a gold and green Oriental rug. He fiddled around with a paperweight, uncertain why she wished to give him his mother’s diaries just after telling her about his troubles. What did that have to do with foreknowledge, what was all her talk about the ‘past’? How did it all tie up?
The elderly woman straightened up and placed herself beside him on the ottoman, putting a large brown wooden box in his hands.

Two days later, Faruk went to the Employment Directorate and was informed of a placement for a teacher in the Northeast, if he was interested—a six-month stint while the substantive teacher was on sabbatical.
Fine. Where?
Federal Government College, Bolewa.

He remembered what Hussena Bukar always said, that something coming was on its way all ways. Or, had she manipulated it all? It did not matter, for Faruk trusted Hussena as much as he did his father. He was whistling when he left the Directorate. Yet, within hours of that, his assault on Rahila’s brother had given Eunice Pam the bloody excuse she needed to come after him openly—the protection of her daughters’ love was already stripped off him. Faruk become, in one week, merely the expendable son of a formidable opponent.

The day before his journey, Faruk sat in his father’s office for awhile before the secretary came in with a Thermos flask and coffee things.
“The Colonel will be here shortly, Faruk. Meantime, why not have some coffee?”
Faruk, embarrassed he had forgotten her name, smiled.
“Did my father go far?”
“No. He is in the business district; he called to say you were to wait. Do you want it black?”
“Yes, black. Thank you. I’ll add the sugar.”
His father, Ibrahim Dibarama, arrived just as he finished the cup of coffee, smiled at him and went around the large desk; “Make me a cup,” the older man said, “I see you’ve already imbibed.”
It had been four weeks since they last saw each other and an hour passed before Faruk brought himself to state why he had come, and for that hour his father restrained himself. Each knew the great love they bore the other yet each felt the need for an unexplainable caution. Ibrahim Dibarama’s caution came mostly from pride, of having raised a strong and independent son alone.
“Father, I shall be leaving Jos tomorrow.”
The older man did not reply.
“I shall be going to Bolewa,” Faruk stated. At the mention of that word, his father’s eyes came alive with a malevolent thunder. Just as quickly, Faruk saw the rage suppressed with a simple, superhuman will. The older man looked his son straight in the eye.
“You refuse to tell me about my mother. I intend to find out for myself.”
“Viper-of-a-son!” Ibrahim spat out, “is there anything I’ve not done for you? I have told you all there is to know about your mother, Allah rest her soul, what more do you want for God’s sake?” His voice rose with each question. The secretary, in her office fifteen meters away, felt the tension as one feels the heat of fighting lions even from the confines of a touring vehicle. Faruk, for his part, felt like a young lion caught between the passions of his mounting anger and his respect for his father. He stared back at his father for less than half a minute, opening his mouth to say the first thing that came to his mind. But prudence overcame all and he sipped from his coffee which was now so cold it tasted salty. He steeled himself.
“Father. Is it wrong for a son to want to know all about his mother, to visit the land of his parent’s youth?”
At these words, his father drew back, knowing there was nothing he could do to stop Faruk from this journey. Ibrahim Dibarama knew that not even a fight would sway this boy, his true son—it upset him to be on the receiving end of an obstinacy he himself had instilled. Ibrahim Dibarama’s eyes still held anger, but his mind was far from where they were—his mind on his last days at Bolewa; guns going off everywhere, the shattering windscreen of his car, his wife’s scream, the corpses and the billowing smoke. Bolewa. City of memories, a town of death; a town that had unhinged his life and taken his wife from him slowly, as a virus eats a memory chip. Bolewa. How could he protect Faruk from the legacy of Bolewa?
“You are not going to Bolewa!”
“I am, father. I ask only for your blessings.”
Ibrahim shook his head sadly. He had feared this argument for a decade now and the reasons he had feared it were still the same. His eyes settled briefly on his only child. Faruk sat still in his chair, unsure if his father would try to force him to change his decision again, wondering by what means—if he would. Faruk knew he would not be forced, no matter what.
Just then the grey intercom on the table beeped and was hastily picked up.
“Yes. . ? Who? Okay,” at this the older man nodded an apology to his son before saying, “Okay, put him on. . ,” proceeding to converse with the person on the other end of the line. Faruk poured himself another cup of coffee and finished it to find his father still speaking. Another glance passed between them.

While he answered the phone, Ibrahim Dibarama’s thoughts were on the situation before him. What was he to do? All over the country, unexplainable fanaticisms were breaking out and he and his friends realized that the existence of the Nigerian State was at stake. But, what were they to do about it? And now, his own son wished to leave him and go to Bolewa, that den of fanatics, he thought, that fortress of loss. Viper-of-a-son! Ah, but he could not say he had not expected this day. It was at this point the disturbing thought of his son’s liaison with Eunice Pam’s daughter first crossed his mind. He ended the call and dropped the handset carefully into its cradle.
“You want to go to Bolewa?”
“Yes father.”
“Are you telling me everything?”
“Yes I am,” Faruk lied without losing his composure.
“Fine then, Faruk, you are a man. You have my blessing.”
Surprised but glad at his fathers words, Faruk wanted to tell his father he loved him.
But he did not.

The music stopped but Faruk did not play it again nor place another CD in the tray. He drove on, his thoughts still far away in Jos.
“It cannot work, Faruk. It’s all broken down. I cannot marry you, I’m sorry.”
Rahila, her head bowed in tears, tried to remove the ring then. Faruk, angry, held her hand.
“Why are you doing this?” he demanded.
But she did not answer.
“Here’s your ring.”
Rahila turned away and looked out the window. He grabbed her by the forearm and turned her slowly so she could face him. He wanted to play a game they used to play but his voice had grown husky.
“What are you?” he whispered.
She looked up at him. “I am the mountains; you are?”
“Breeze,” he said.
“We cannot be.”
“I am the sun,” he tried, desperately.
“But, you are not.”
“You are rain.”
“I am not. Not anymore,” she said sadly.
The waters between them broke at that moment.
She tried, against the wall of his silence: “Faruk, I am sorry, I hate to be, but I am, now. You are from the Northeast; I’m from Central Nigeria, we are separated by a whole complication of history and things. I thought it was possible, but I cannot, we cannot, be indifferent to our distinct selves. I am my mother’s child; you are your father’s son. Neither of us can undo that.”
He stayed silent awhile longer—then he bent forward and pressed his lips on her cheek, feeling her shudder. His eyes were closed. Rahila’s eyes were closed as well.
“You are breaking my heart,” he said.
Then he turned away, leaving her alone amid the contradictory swirl of her emotions.
Thirty minutes later on the Northeast Highway, Faruk came to a junction. Straight ahead was Maiduguri, 200 km away. He took the road that led to Nguirama and then on to Maidunama and Bolewa. He still had 300 kilometres before he could present himself to the native land from which he had been for so long sequestered, unsure as he was if he was a pilgrim to his mother’s story or a fugitive from the avenging mother of his lover.

Richard Ali, was born in the early 80’s and has lived in Jos most of his life. He holds an LL.B from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and a BL degree from the Nigerian Law School and was duly called to the Nigerian Bar.

Ali has experience in both print and digital publishing, having been Editor of Sardauna Magazine, Kaduna [2004-2007] and being presently Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine []. He is at present a member of the PEN Nigeria Translations Committee.

His poetry has been published internationally in reputable journals such as the African Writing Journal and the Prosopisia Journal. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Excerpt: The Whispering Trees

The Cat-eyed English Witch, an excerpt from Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's collection of short stories, The Whispering Trees

The tiny corpse lay in a multicoloured bundle, cradled in the mother’s arm. She held out the bundle to me, showing me the innocent face that could have been sleeping but was now very dead. The mother’s brown eyes gleamed, not with grief but with a fiery hostility.

 “You killed him, you wicked witch,” she hissed angrily.

The words stung me, like a vicious blow, like the heat had struck me when we first arrived Abuja. It was not particularly strange that she called me a witch; they all did anyway. They found my blonde hair attractive but my grey eyes unsettling. I don’t think they have seen many white women here. They call me The Cat-eyed English Witch and then I’d thought it was kind of…I don’t know, amusing perhaps. But with Manasa standing in front of me, a dead child in her hand; a child I‘d adored, and accusing me of having killed him, it was…shocking, to say the least. 

It had begun in London one fine Saturday morning in Trafalgar square, six years ago, when I first met Bawa. I was sitting by a fountain, watching the pigeons strolling, pecking at the bread crumbs, pairing up and cooing, doing what pigeons do on a fine summer day. Behind me, I could hear the fountain, sighing sweetly like a lover’s voice. Then the pigeons fluttered their wings noisily, cooing wildly and scattered into the air from a threat I hadn’t noticed. Their soft under feathers seesawed gently down to the ground and then, there he was, standing.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.
I looked at him. He was young and handsome, and very dark. I guessed he was Nigerian but couldn’t be sure.
I’d thought he wanted to eat them but felt embarrassed immediately.
“Oh, never mind,” I said instead and giggled at my thought. When I drew out a cigarette from my purse, he lit up a lighter.
“Care for a smoke?” I asked.

He shrugged, sat down next to me and took the cigarette I offered.

We got talking. He’d been a student on international scholarship. He was studying law, he said. He was thirty then and didn’t mind that I was two years older. I told him I was a financial consultant and he wanted to know exactly what that meant. We actually hit it off, sort of. He too loved parties and Dan Rhodes but found English theatres “lame”. He said they lack the “African vibrancy”.

A year later, after he’d graduated, we got married. He too didn’t want anything elaborate so we had a private ceremony at a small chapel overlooking the Thames. His family in Nigeria called. Half the time, I didn’t figure out what they were saying. Bawa told me they were so excited but his parents weren’t too pleased.

“We have to go and get their blessings,” he said.
“Someday, darling,” I said. “Right now, I don’t think I can get away from the office after this honeymoon business.”
“Neither can I,” he said.

I crushed the cigarette in my hand in the ashtray and said, “Come to bed, Hon, we’ll figure that out later.”

One night, he’d come home and told me that his father had died and he needed to go back to Nigeria, where he hadn’t been in seven years. He asked me to come along and I agreed. We landed in Abuja and made the 130 kilometre trip to his village, Akwanga, by car.

I  didn’t have a clear idea what to expect but had half-expected to see semi-nude children, barely able to raise their skeletal hands, their wide, hungry eyes imploring, begging to be saved from…well, whatever. That was the image of Africa I had always seen on the BBC. But these people were vibrant, running about their businesses, displaying their colourful wares everywhere, their sweating faces smiling.

We were lodged in a single room – it used to be Bawa’s room. His grieving mother would not look me in the eyes as most of the others. We didn’t seem to have got off on the right footing. I hadn’t knelt to greet her, as my husband did. When I offered her a handshake she just put her head down. I later understood I’d been disrespectful. You waited until she offered you a handshake or a hug first. The family was large, the house was small but no one seemed to be complaining. I felt cramped by their communality but yet envied it. The way they did things together, like fetching water from the wells, preparing meals and just about everything else impressed me. Though, most of them spoke a kind of English; mostly pidgin actually, some of them were well schooled but still, they had problems understanding me.

“You speak English English,” one of Bawa’s cousins said, “you talk through your nose.”

Bawa was hardly ever around. He had to take care of the funeral and sort out his father’s assets, mostly with his uncles and aunties and just about everyone else in the extended family.
“Do you have to do everything?” I asked. “Your brother could handle it, couldn’t he? He seems responsible to me. He’s got three children, after all.”

“Lala may have three children but that doesn’t make him the first son. I am.” He didn’t need to add that the family’s been unhappy with him because he hadn’t visited home for quite a while. I think they hold me responsible for that too; apart from the fact that I hadn’t given the first son a child after six years of marriage. I’m a career woman, for Christ’s sake, I don’t want a baby!
Well after the funeral, Bawa was still kept busy with inheritance issues. I spend most of the day trying to read a book in the sun or watching the women work, pounding grains in mortars or blowing their breath into the embers in the tripods in order to cook faster. I could work on my tan that way. But Mama asked Lala to tell me that I am a married woman and ought not to be indecently exposing myself and smoking like that. Lala was very diplomatic in doing so but still, I felt trapped. I waited for Bawa to return that night.

“I’m going back to London.”
“I’ve got a great job with a nice corner office at Canary Wharf to think about.”
“But you took time off.”
“I’m mostly alone here in the middle of people who don’t understand me and you are not here most of the time!”
That got him angry and because I was wound up already, we had a row. He slammed the door on his way out. I needed a drink, so, I went out looking for a pub. I found a beer parlour instead; at least they had beer. I drank a little more than was good for me and someone had to call Lala to rescue his sister-in-law before she embarrassed the family any further. He made coffee for me and tucked me in.
The next morning, Lala came back carrying his baby.
 “Thanks for everything,” I said, embarrassed.
“You are welcome.”
“Made a mess of myself, didn’t I?”
“Well, I have done worse.”
“Is that your child?”
“Yes, a boy.”

The boy, just five months old, was cute. He made me think of having one of my own. I held him while Lala talked to me. He told me why most of them would not look me in the eyes because they thought them cat like. Only witches have such eyes, they believed. He told me a lot of things about his family and culture that made me understand them better, made me think of having a go at making things work. We became friends. It was so easy being friends with Lala. He was a teacher at a local secondary school and it surprised me how well read he was. Only he’d never heard of Dan Rhodes before. I lent him “Anthropology and A Hundred Other Stories.” He was so thrilled when he brought it back.

I curtsied when greeting Mama and though we needed an interpreter, her smile said more. Though I could hardly manage any of the chores, they appreciated me for offering to help. Mostly they declined, saying the guest should rest. They seemed less afraid of me and less scary to me as well; most of them anyway, apart from Manasa, Lala’s wife. She was not well educated and had grown less friendly since Lala and I became close. She seemed to have developed this notion that we were equals of sorts because we were both married into the family. I had, at a point, thought that Lala didn’t spend hours talking with her as he did with me; I couldn’t imagine them doing that because he seemed a notch or two above her, well, a lot more notches actually.

I have come to appreciate this people perhaps as much as they appreciate me and I have learnt that we tend to be afraid because we build fences instead of bridges. Their situation is not ideal; not to me at least. Power supply is epileptic, they have problems getting clean water and I waste a lot just to shower. I simply can’t imagine life without a steady power supply or clean water but yet, here are people, living in the midst of these challenges and are able to smile and laugh, even under the scorching heat, the corruption, the institutional brutality and everything else. I realised I lived in a luxury I hardly appreciate.

I had carried Lala’s boy, strapped to my back, as children are carried in these parts. I found it tiring but enjoyable. And the next morning, his mother, Manasa, had come to me with a dead boy, demanding that I bring him back to life with the witchcraft I used in taking him the first instance. She made such a racket and woke the whole house. I cried.

Everyone came out and spoke to Manasa but she wouldn’t budge until Mama came out of her room and slapped her across the face. Then she broke down and cried. Mama hugged me and I wept on her shoulder.

How can I tell Manasa that I could never hurt her child because I adore him so much that it made me want to have one of my own; that I actually have one growing in me?

It’s just that I can’t say precisely whose it is.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim holds a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria. He has written for Vanguard, one of Nigeria’s foremost newspapers, and his short fiction has been published locally and internationally. In 2007 he won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition and his first novel, The Quest for Nina, is due out in 2008 in the United States. His latest work, The Whispering Trees was published by Parresia.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Excerpt: Farad by Emmanuel Iduma

Earlier this year, we had a post about Parresia Books. In the coming days, we will post excerpts from each title, competitions and giveaways by the publishing house. We start with an excerpt from Emmanuel Iduma's Farad. Do let us know what you think of the excerpt. Have a great day!

The Museum of Silver Lights (An Excerpt from Emmanuel Iduma's Farad)
She was gone before I remembered. Her voice had sounded like the pouring of water into an empty cup; her eyes had seemed as though they could see things yet to be. Her life had always seemed to be on the verge of happening. She used to talk of doing something. Even when my elder brother was alive, and laughter bounced about within the walls of our house, and music was an early morning gift.

There was a mahogany plank fixed to the front door of my brother’s house. On it he had inscribed, “Because it is mine” underneath the words “Peace Villa,” the name of the house. The letters seemed to have been painstakingly engraved, such that they seemed buried deep in the wood. Even before he had died, she had spoken of changing those words to “Because it is ours.” She was my brother’s wife, see.
She was tall and appeared effortlessly athletic, and there was a gaze in her eyes that seemed awakened yet vulnerable. Her complexion, which I considered peculiar, appeared to roam through the shades—she could seem dark-skinned today and albino-yellow tomorrow. And she spoke of the Museum of Silver Lights. I heard her argue with my brother once about turning the hallway of his brick house into the “first phase” of the museum. He asked her, in a mocking tone, what she’d keep in the museum. She told him the word “museum” was a variant of the word “muse” and that it could mean “a place for muse.”

My brother, in his usual dissatisfied manner, asked, “What do you mean?”
And she told him, “I want to keep old photos in the museum.”
My brother shook his head and looked at her in a way that spoke of her longstanding madness. Her eyes met mine, and I bowed my head.

My brother died the next day in a big fight. He was a car dealer. His was, by all standards, the biggest car shop in Jos. The fight had started two shops before his warehouse. It went the way all big fights go. His shop was burnt. He went with his shop.

Her crying was the least pronounced. Our neighbours shed more tears than she did. They spoke to me in her stead. But even in my brother’s days, they would have talked to him to talk to her—even if she sat with them in the parlour. When a group of Igbo men came to commiserate, they considered me old enough and talked to me while she sat with us. If you had not known, you’d have thought she was an apparition sitting in the parlour while we mourned.

The Igbo Community in Jos staged a protest against my brother’s death—on the manner in which the authorities had treated his case. It was a clear case of ethnic hegemony. On the morning of the protest, I asked her if she was going to join. She shook her head and asked me if I had eaten. She was the kind of person who tied two unrelated things together—a protest and a meal, a death and a museum. So I wasn’t surprised when she asked me next, “You think I can start the museum now?”

I could have said I didn’t think museums were started, or that it was an inappropriate thought given the circumstances. But instead I said, “Yes.” And when she nodded, smiled, and rubbed my shoulder, I said, “Yes,” again.

I did not join them in the protest. I heard that only ten men had shown up, and that they had called it off when no one else joined them.

She replaced the mahogany plank that read “Peace Villa” with “The Museum of Silver Lights,” and underneath the words, she inscribed “Because it is ours.”

Yes, she had confronted my brother about the words he had inscribed on the plank. Incidentally, it had been the day just after I had come from our parents—they had insisted I go to my brother, so he could ‘speak some sense into my head’, for my decision not to go to university.  She talked about the phrase in a manner that showed she had spoken about it before. 
“You can’t just declare that this house is yours. If nothing, there are other people living here.”
My brother said, without turning to her, “Leave me alone.”
She pursed her lips and looked upwards then shook her head. She walked away from him. I wondered why she spoke of the words on the plank—I thought she shouldn’t be bothered about such little things.
She was the kind of person that was bothered about small things.

One day, she called me. She had come home earlier with photographs in silver frames. Now she had driven nails into the wall of the hallway and hung the photographs in a criss-cross manner. She still stood on the stool onto which she had climbed to cover the yellow bulb hanging from the ceiling with a silver screen shade.  They were photos of my brother and her on different occasions. She spoke of each photograph as a guide would do in a museum— “We took this in Abuja”, or “He had just come back from China, at the airport.” But I was angry. She hadn’t asked for my help in putting up the photographs. She said, “We’ll fill the house with more photographs. Maybe we can open it up to the public. They would see his face.”

I walked away from her. She spoke of my brother as though he had had no mind of his own.

While she slept, I took down all the photographs—all twenty three of them, despite the way the hallway glowed like silver. I carried them outside the house.
I took a stone and broke each of the photographs into bits.
In the morning when I woke, she was gone. There was a white sheet of paper on the table in my room. She had started to write something, but cancelled it. I could see where the pen had torn the paper while she scratched off the words she’d written.

The Igbo Community in Jos told me they were going to stage a protest against the manner of her death. I told them it was unnecessary. Their spokesman, a Reverend Father who kept dreadlocks asked me why. I told him I was going back to my parents in Ibadan. That was all.
“Is that all?” he asked.
I said, “Yes. That’s all.”
I told him that if he wanted to do something for her memory, he should have something important written on her grave. He asked what. I told him “Because you were ours.” Then I told him no. He should have them inscribe “Museum of Silver Lights” instead. He frowned. I told him to call off the epitaph idea entirely.

On the day she was buried, someone came with a handwritten invitation he claimed she had given him. It read, “Please attend the opening of the Museum of Silver Lights.” And our address was written on it.
They said she had been hit by a car while distributing her handwritten invitations.


I often dreamt of an empty room with light bulbs covering its ceiling. In my dreams, I watched the lit room from a distance, usually unable to go in. Sometimes this dream happened when I was awake. I knew then that it was fixed in my memory; I knew my dreams by heart. I had come to that point when I was the one who determined what I dreamt about, what I made-believe. And this capacity, this ability to stretch myself to such lengths, did not come by chance.

When my sister-in-law died, in the process of distributing invitations to her Museum of Silver Lights, my parents came to Jos and took me away. They had decided for me. I was going to Ife; I was going to study law. There are times when I assume I was beguiled, brain-washed. In my earlier stubbornness, I had not conceived that my parents’ could prevail over me. Yet, in a matter of time, it became my own wish to study Law in Ife; I made my dream. There were so many things that had happened – my brother and his wife, their deaths – that perhaps my grasp on what was real and what was not, the dividing line between both, had become blurred. In circumstances of this kind, you would ask yourself whether you were certain of what was and what wasn’t—and when you thought you had found the answer, the question would present itself to you again.

There were other reasons why I chose to attend the Chapel, aside from the fact that a classmate whom I admired had invited me. She was a girl I thought I loved, until I told her and she said we would spoil things if she accepted. So, even though she stopped attending the Chapel, and I began to see her with another boy in another Church on campus, I kept attending the Chapel. There was something about the size of the compound that intimidated me, made me believe that I couldn’t understand its complexity even if I tried. The hall could probably sit about five thousand, and; illusorily, less than five hundred were regular members.

I joined the Youth Fellowship as soon as I made the resolve to be a member. On my first Sunday, Tutu – that was her name – had given me a copy of Seeds, a monthly publication by the Youth Fellowship. Then, in my first year, I had decided that I wanted to write poetry. Seeing that Seeds had no poetry, I considered joining the Editorial Team so that I could contribute some. I asked Tutu to introduce me to the Editor. His name was Jackson, he was in his final year, and was bored; editing Seeds had become humdrum. In another two years, by my third year, I had become the Editor of Seeds.

Oko Egwu wrote for Seeds occasionally. He told me, after a Youth Fellowship meeting, that he wanted to write a short piece about the Choir, or that it would be better if I wrote it. I told him it was going to be difficult, seeing as we had a short time, a little over a week, before the next issue would be released.
He told me why he wanted me to write it.
“You think it’s going to be sensible?” I asked him. “
Well, let’s try.”
I shook my head, understanding the import of what he was asking. “We’re really inconsequential, here,” I told him.
“Really?” he asked. I took it to mean he was asking, “You want it to remain so?”

Before he left Ife, Jackson had introduced me to a friend of his, a medical student. He said that his friend was a good poet, the best he knew, and that while poetry bored him, his was an exception. Jackson said he had always been unable to get his friend’s poetry into Seeds, and that I could try, that I could succeed. So he introduced me to his friend, a certain Damilola Ajayi. I asked Damilola for his poems on the evening when Oko Egwu spoke of writing about the choir, and he searched in the bag he was carrying for something he had scribbled that morning.

I decided to use Damilola’s poem for the coming issue of Seeds. I had typed it on my laptop, but when I decided to write about the Choir it became likely I would do away with the poem, for space. I decided, also, to do away with an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ “God in the Dock”. Yet, there were lines in Damilola’s poem that answered the question Oko had asked me. He had asked me “you want it to remain so?” and I had been unable to answer. It was like the feeling of not knowing what was real and what was false, not knowing when you had caught a plague or when you were dying from natural causes. The lines from the poem were:

The story is a tragedy
But it’s a story nonetheless.

Oko’s objective was to get the young people in the choir, which he happened to head, to agree with the Assistant Choirmaster’s proposition to hold an election during the forthcoming retreat. Seeds was due to come out two Sundays before the retreat. I told him he was relying on a fluke, that not many people took our work in Seeds seriously.

He looked at me. I understood his concerns. It was surprising even to me that I edited Seeds but did not believe in my work. It was surprising that my life seemed to comprise of things I didn’t believe utterly in—commonplace, lacklustre, elements gave form to my life. Despite having accepted to write about the Choir, I did not trust myself, or my writing—Damilola had once told me a writer’s life was a hybrid of moments of intense doubt and moments of stellar brilliance.

I called Oko when Seeds arrived. There was a fight in my head even before he said he wasn’t sure we could distribute it. It was the first time he read what I wrote—our schedule had been tight. I smiled and asked him why.
“This is dangerous, Christian.”
I knew he was afraid but I asked myself if I was any different. We sat in a small room that served as an office for the Youth Fellowship, filled with musical instruments, a computer, a small collection of Christian literature and undistributed past editions of Seeds. I had called him because I had wanted him to see what I had written. And he had worsened what I felt by saying what he had said.
“That’s impossible. You know it.” 
“Are you ready for what will happen?” He asked.
I smile again. “You expect trouble when you are speaking the truth.”
He chuckled, nervously. “Is this the truth, Christian? Agreed, it might be our truth, because we want to believe it is. But there’s the truth of the older people, and they won’t fancy our truth, I tell you.”
I held his shoulder, showing affection I felt was unnecessary, and said, “It doesn’t matter whose truth it is . . .”
He retorted, sharply, “It matters.” But that was all he said; he looked crestfallen, a look that showed he was leaving things unsaid. He walked out. I wanted to call him back, talk to him, and convince him that I was not as scared as he was. But I could only see his hunched shoulders, the way his body seemed to sag when we talked, and I knew mine wasn’t different. It was sagging and unsure.

There was man in the Chapel, Dr. Addo, who always sat in the first pew. He was considered eccentric and unreasonable, but he had a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and lectured in the same department. His students said he cursed in class, called the Yoruba gods of thunder and lightning on all those who taught them that it was unnecessary to memorize whole textbooks or substantial parts of his lecture notes. But in the Chapel, during the sermon, mostly, he raised his hand in agreement, asserting himself in a way that made me think he was putting an end to doubts of his irrelevance.

I saw him walk up to the Choirmaster just after the Church service had ended. He walked as though on fire, casting his legs in front of him with absolute certainty. The Chapel was still filled with members who were chatting amongst themselves, making small talk before leaving. I stood behind, some yards from the Choirmaster, talking with Charity, Tutu’s friend, who had remained committed to the Chapel. We heard Dr Addo saying, “Did you see this?” over and over to the Choirmaster. The Choirmaster was surrounded by Choristers, who had assembled after the Recession. Then Dr. Addo stopped asking the question, and began to tear Seeds into shreds, bit by bit, littering the Chapel. There was now a substantial number of Choristers standing by as he tore up Seeds. Some members of the Chapel walked to where he stood.

Two minutes later, I heard Dr. Addo say, “Where is that Christian Ike? Does anyone know him?” A part of me wanted to walk to him, and surrender myself to any consequence they were going to mete out. But I considered that foolhardy. I walked quietly out of the chapel, hoping that someone saw how I escaped from the limelight, or whatever it was that could have happened if I had spoken to Dr. Addo.
As I walked away from the Chapel, I tried to think about whether it would be trite to put that issue of Seeds in a glass, and hang it in my room in school. Perhaps it would be better to take it home, where there were reminders of the life I had lived in Jos—the life my brother’s wife had  lived, the lights she had seen, her botched Museum of Silver Lights.

As I walked, I wondered what Oko was thinking, if he had got what he wanted, if he had not given himself the excuse that he did not know what he wanted. I imagined there were young people who would have been stirred by what I wrote, and I imagined there were those who wouldn’t have cared, for whom the Choir had no need for change. And there might be those in-between for whom nothing was right or wrong—for whom all that was necessary was the continued functioning of the Choir, irrespective of what I wrote, or did not write.

I heard my name being called. I stopped, and saw that it was Oko. He was panting from running, but he was smiling. I wanted to ask him why he was smiling, but I can only imagine that he had dreamt my dream, of an empty room, whose ceiling was covered with light bulbs, waiting for us to enter, awakened, dreaming no more.

Emmanuel Iduma is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and has received recognition in each genre. Emmanuel is the co-founder of Iroko Publishing, which publishes Saraba.  In 2011, Emmanuel participated in the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Initiative, a road trip aimed at creating photographic and written material that addresses Africa from a more individualistic viewpoint. Farad is his first novel.