Wednesday, 22 May 2013
Memory Lane-A Short Story By Ngozi Eke Uwakwe
Dimoma-I want to take a trip down Memory Lane today. I do. It is not a path alien to me. But I wonder why I still slip and fall as I meander through this route. It beats me to know that I have not been able to maneuver the contours of this Lane knowing how often I have walked this path.
“Dimoma.” I let my mouth to say your name as I walk along as if it was yesterday that I last saw your face. My mouth says the name as if the lips of the person bearing the name are muffling the lust filled moans from my throat. My mouth says the name as if long nights of alternating intense heat and extreme cold have not gone by. Nights when I would stay awake listening to the chirping of crickets and the croaking’s of toads until cocks crow, and I’d realize I had passed through dusk to dawn without blinking an eyelid. Starless nights. Rainy nights. Cloudy nights. Moonless nights…and every night, I remember. But, those nights did not erase from my already fading memory that I am still waiting for you, Dimoma.
Dimoma, last night was no exception. I lay awake all through the night’s deep darkness unable to close my eyes for a second because I did not want to be caught in sleep the moment you’d walk back into the place you deserted after many long miserable years of exile. Yes. It is in waiting for you that I have subconsciously yielded to insomnia. As my eyes vehemently refuse to succumb to the seductions of sleep, my soul gratefully accepts the urge to play back our lives. The life we once lived. The life we shared until lethal emotions shattered the castle of love our hearts had already laid foundations for. For a moment, my heart pauses and I listen. I listen to hear if the owls would hoot, if the dogs would bark, if the snakes would hiss. But, all I hear is silence; a deep, piercing and almost eerie silence, smashing the tranquil of the night. Emotions surge through me.
Love emotions. Hate emotions. Pain emotions. Loss emotions. Fear emotions and I fight. I struggle with all the strength my weak muscles could muster to keep the tears from rolling down my eyes; from mocking me; from reminding me of my vulnerability. I fight fiercely and I restrain the tears from falling, and I win. Though, deep within my heart, I know I am bleeding profusely with blood or tears or both. I hold a rapper close to my bosom in a futile attempt to mop up the fluid. Frustrated, I put away the rapper and embrace myself with both hands wishing it was you instead, and I fight off more tears and I win again. Dimoma, that is what I get, walking down Memory Lane. Always. It is one compulsory ticket I must present to cross the borders to reminiscence. * * *Dimoma, my dark hairs have now faded into gray, gray-washed by age, seasons of planting and harvesting and the periods when the bushes are allowed to fallow. The hairs on my head, my eyebrows and eye lashes, the almost invisible hairs on my skin, the hairs under my arms, the spiky hairs protruding from my nostrils and ears and most absurdly the hairs that form a ‘V’ in between my legs have all bleached with age. Nkasi nags me continually about dying the hairs, but she doesn’t understand.
“I appreciate gray hairs.” I tell her. “It reminds me of those days of strength and vigor and conquest. The grays’ are laurels for all the battles I fought. Some I lost; others I won.”
“I don’t understand Mama,” she complains. “You always talk in parables.”
I look at her, and I fight off more tears. It seems the fiercest battles confronting me on this Memory Lane are tears’ battles. I seem to be trying to fight back too many tears whenever I visit Memory Lane. Remember, you used to call me Spartan because I never used to give in to tears, and it was because I did not, like Okonkwo, in that story Teacher Njoku read to us in Elementary six, want to be called a sissy. But now, I cry almost like a baby because sometimes, the only comfort I get is in the wetness of my wrappers. So, I let the tears fall when I cannot get enough will power to subdue them.* * *Dimoma, it had been during Ikeji and the village had livened up because those who lived in town had come to pass the Christmas and New-year’s seasons with their relatives at home. Remember? Remember, home is what we call the village because it is home. It is home because it is where dead bodies of sons of the area are brought to rest together with their ancestors.
After their living bodies, having roamed the entire universe searching for life but inevitably finding death would be brought home to decompose; to mix flesh with soil - a ritual which makes Ogori, Ogori. But Dimoma, we don’t see those things anymore. We no longer know how many of Ogori umunna’s have died and decayed in foreign lands and buried there, or worst still thrown into the sea or burnt to ashes as we hear is done in some strange lands. Tufiakwa! I know your soul will not wander in a strange land. It will not float to an unnamed shore. It will not be leaked in the flames of adulterated fumes. It shall rest here in Ogori with the spirits your Nna, Nnanna and your Nnanna’s Nna.
Remember Dimoma in Ikeji that the masquerades used to appear in the evenings to thrill the villagers but they would frighten and beat the women and children instead because they were the ones who feared the whips and the veil that masked the males that wore them. Males who were frightened by their own shadows; males who cockroaches frightened; males who lubricated their brains with kai-kai and then their brains would make them think they could kill lions with bare hands afterwards. Odiegwu! Dutch courage. On one of such evenings, I had gone to Iyi Akwaekwa and was returning, the clay pot balanced comfortably on the aju on my head while I held my waist with both hands and swayed my slim hips seductively for whoever cared to be seduced by them. Suddenly, a masquerade emerged from an adjacent path and knocked off the clay pot from my head. I ran mad. Not because the clay pot was broken into irretrievable pieces but because I had travelled through hills and thongs maneuvering my way to and fro the only stream in Ogori that our ancestors had sterilized to quench our thirst only for my efforts to be ruined just at my door step. I had gone after the masquerader charging like a wounded bull and to the amazement of on-lookers, ripped the mask off the masquerader’s head. Aru! Abomination! It was never done, had never been done and especially not by a woman, but I had won the admiration of the masquerader whom I unmasked. I had won your heart Dimoma even though my Papa parted with two big mpki in his goat house and had lamented for days.
“What have I used my head to hook upon myself? Nene.” He would weep as if he had lost a person instead of male goats. “Will you kill me before my chi says so?” Papa was in the class of weaklings. He was not Spartan enough to tackle issues with gallantry. I smile remembering. There are some few stops on Memory Lane that form smiles around my lips. I smile a little more.* * *Remember Dimoma the last night we had spent together before you walked away? That night had been almost perfect. Again we had exchanged fragments of our love in a kind of vivid passion that had you sweating like you swam in Iyi Ndu to pick up a treasure buried deep under water. You held me afterwards, your sweat soaking my skin; burning love sweat into my pores.
You had me as if you wanted to empty the all of you inside of me; as if you feared it would be our last. But did you know? Did you know it would be our last love liaison? I guess not because I remember your words. I remember you whispered right into my ears that the next time would be more passionate, and I had shivered. I had shivered as if plenty butterflies had perched inside my stomach to acknowledge my insides. I still shudder ruminating over that promise, savouring over that moment when my head will explode with sparks of fire as you steal me to another climax; another world meant for just us. Dimoma, I truly look forward to its fulfillment, and I am still waiting.
But, will you still find me attractive and desirable? I broke the mirror Nkasi bought for me deliberately, but I told her it slipped off my fingers accidentally. The face that looked back at me when I looked into the mirror did not resemble the face I used to know as my own; it had wrinkled and blacked. I shivered in fear as if I saw a ghost looking right back at me. Black rings surround my eyes; the eyes that now carry tiny bags underneath them like mini scrotum sacs. The gap teeth you used to tease me that a motor car could pass through without any hitch can now navigate a ship comfortably. Old age or disease that accompanies it has devoured my thirty-two. Nkasi says doctors could give me a new set of artificial teeth, and I reject her with the wave of hands. “Dimoma will not kiss the mouth with the teeth of a goat or spirit.” I tell her, but she insists it will be cute. I have since told her not to bring up the issue forever.
Again Dimoma, the breasts you so desired with their teats you enjoyed teasing and tickling with your tongue has lost tautness. They now falls flat on my chest like a second skin, like sand paper. Again Nkasi tells me there are special doctors in America who can give me breasts transplant, new breasts. Hum! Dimoma have you seen what education and technology have turned this world into? There are now fabricated parts for every human body parts. I just hope one day she shall not come up to say “Mama, don’t worry about konji, Oyibo has made artificial penis.” But what do you think about the breast transplant, Dimoma? I told her that though my breasts sags, Dimoma will still prefer them to the one stuffed with tissue paper or pieces of used clothing. Dimoma, I hope I spoke your mind?* * *Dimoma, remember that night in 1966? Whenever I talk to Nkasi about that night I call it ‘The Dark Night.’ It was that night the sun ceased to shine for me. It was that night I saw you last. Remember?
I always remember that night Dimoma and every time, the events seem fresh in my mind, like yesterday. Most times, I wish I do not remember, but I cannot forget. That night keeps coming back; sometimes, subtly caressing my thoughts, other times fierce like a whirlwind tormenting and torturing me.
Sometimes still, I think I do not remember, but I remember because I cannot forget and each remembrance stings dangerously like swam of wasp attacking me.
That night I had lain down on our bed with my head on your chest while you stoked my black silky hair. We were still trying to recover from the eruption our passion had caused, and then you promised me the next passion would be more rapturous and I had shivered. Then, without warning, they kicked the door open and one of them shouted, “If you move, I move you,” and I shivered again but this time, in response to fear. There was no time to pick up rappers to cover our naked bodies; you quickly shielded me with yourself. Those men all wore khaki and held real guns and smelt terribly of kai-kai, sweat, cigar, piss, and as I will recount later, sperm. They attacked you first, dragging you away from me. They repeatedly hit you with the butt of their guns calling you ‘yamiri’ and ‘bloody civilian.’ They then tied both of your hands together and pushed you to a corner of the room rendering you helpless. Then they turned on me, threw me on the bed and raped me. All four of them took turns to rape me one after the other.
It was gruesome. They did not pity me; they did not pity the pregnancy I was carrying. When they saw that I was almost out of breath, they abandoned me and fled. You managed to untie your hands and lose the rope that had held you captive as you watched the womanhood of your wife being eroded in despicable and condensing manners while the lantern gave you light. Then, you walked out in anger or frustration or both while my eyes begged you, beckoning on you but you refused to see; to heed.
“I should have died. It is what they did to me. They killed me that night.” I tell Nkasi, our daughter. It was she brewing in my womb that night when the khaki marauders desecrated my womanhood. It was she that survived after all the penile thrusts on my womb; after all that blood that gushed out from me like from a fountain. “There were no doctors available then in Ogori,” I tell her. I tried to heal myself with hot water and salt. I sat over salt in boiling water in an attempt to burn germs in my vagina and uterus.
It is not a new story to her, but it is not a story too that she is too accustomed to not to upset her. She puts her head on my laps and cries. She feels my pain; all the misery that night caused me in 1966, she shares with me. I too cry. We just cry. We need no verbal consolation. It is the tears that soothe us. So, we let ourselves cry.
Dimoma, do you know that immediately some anti-military sect emerge, and they want to reopen a wound that has refused to heal? They say they are kicking against khakistocracy so that civilians will take over government. They say that khaki is brutish, and soon if nothing is done to stop the khaki boys, the white people will come and re-colonize Nigeria again since Nigerians cannot peacefully rule their own country. They say people who have wounds, scars, and stories of what khaki boys did against them should speak out publicly and then they will be given rehabilitation compensation.
“You have to speak out about your experiences Mama.” Nkasi tells me. “So that khaki boys will be flushed out and so that I too will not be a victim seeing how they roam about victimizing people.” Stories seep into our ears how the Military people have assumed the roles of demigods. Silencing with their bullets any form of dissent and converting females into sex tools.
I shiver at the thought of Nkasi being a victim. I imagine the hands of those khaki boys on her; those short, blunt fingers dissecting her beneath; ravaging her womanhood and I shiver again. Tufiakwa! They will not get at my Nkasi too.
Dimoma as I screamed that night no help came. No rescue came to me because in every house in Ogori that night every woman and every girl and almost anybody that had been born with a vagina no matter how young or how old was being sexually ravaged. Even Mama Ogo remember her? That old woman who helped pregnant women deliver their babies; who had fallen seriously ill after Ogo, the energetic palm wine tapper, her only surviving child had fallen off a tall palm tree and had died instantly. Hum! She too was not spared.
Her weak and sick body could not endure the violence done to her. She died, I think even before the first khaki boy ejaculated. Remember also our neighbors’ daughter Mma? That pretty sweet girl was just about ten years old.
She had instant period after they did what they did to her. Many pregnant women dilated quickly and had premature contractions. Those women, they still look lost; disillusioned; demented. I guess they still remember because occasional bouts of insanity usually accompanies them; even me. Once in a while we would scream or cry or even laugh for long moments without reason.
Some women would drift off for days and walk back after their season of insanity has been spent. We would not raise any alarm on such occasions, we understood. Even when some women did not return from wandering, we understood too; death was better. I thank my chi for sparing Nkasi to comfort me. She lightens my grief and that was why I chose the name Nkasi for her. Comfort. That’s just what she is and does for me.* * *Dimoma after that night Ogori lost all its glory. Even till today, shame still lurks around corners in Ogori, mocking us. The guilt of knowing we committed adultery and had sex with other men than our husbands. The shame of knowing our men could not protect their women from fellow men. The misfortune of knowing we females have been denied coitus pleasures forevermore. The shame of knowing the sacredness of our earth had been desecrated. The shame of knowing the gods of our ancestors were quietly sleeping while we suffered. We try to pretend all is well, but we know that all is not well. All can never again be well.* * *Dimoma remember ushin? That is what that taboo is called in Ogori. That taboo which forbids women whose dowries have been paid from having sex with other men. I guess that is why most Ogori husbands left Ogori that night because they did not want to fall under the calamity of ushin. But, would the gods of our ancestors have punished the men according to the Laws of the Land, knowing that their women did not give their bodies willingly? Their women were taken under duress; stripped naked and compelled to cooperate as guns pointed at the place where their legs joined. Sometimes I get annoyed with the so-called Laws of the Land. They did not make provisions for exceptions; they did not make amendments for loopholes, for lapses. That is why I don’t quarrel with you for walking away. The consequences of ushin would have been too severe on you and invariably on me too.* * * “The leaders of the khaki boys on their part are saying they did not send their boys to harass us,” I tell Nkasi. “Then why did they fold their hands to our predicament? We suffered health problems; they did not send us doctors. People had miscarriages, people had wounds; they did not send us drugs. People died; people like the funny crippled Konti whose unyielding legs earned her a bullet through the head. Her wit would have made us forget, even for a second that we are suffering. We are still suffering since 1966. We still have pains. We still have hurt vaginas. No help came and just as we are trying to forget, they make us remember. They want us to talk about what has been too heavy for our mouths to speak. They want to scratch an open wound; they want to add insult to injury” * * *They bring us crusted bread, for relief that has begun to develop fungi. Nkasi says they are death, like cancer if we eat them, so she makes us throw them away. That girl, she has your good sense. Sometimes, I hide some and eat them when she is not looking but first I remove the grey moulds – the signs of decay and dip the bread in water. I would not willfully see fire and put my hands in it. So, I carefully remove the signs of corrosion on the bread then when I put the soaked bread inside my mouth, I shut my eyes to lock off the rottenness. I do not have enough time to indulge in this extravagance. Nkasi must not catch me dining with death. She makes us throw away the Blue Band that tastes clammy in the mouth because she says they are expired and have since been expired for a year plus six months. She says we cannot tell our neighbours not to eat the bread and butter. “They would curse us,” she says. “They would call us kill joys’ and enemies of progress.” So, according to her, she watches them clamber for bread and butter when the Good Samaritan Movement people visit with relief items, watches them dance and roll in appreciation for divine intervention then she prays for them not to die. Without knowing, she prays for me not to die too.
Nkasi only allows us to use the expired Close Up, “since we are not ingesting them anyway,” she excuses as she inspects the white and red tube. But, she doesn’t know that while I freshen my breath with the minty tooth paste, I lick and swallow the chalky red cream imagining how better if would have tasted if it was not expired.
Nkasi says all these treats are political medicines after death, killing us while we are already dead. They want us to believe that they are doing us good, they want us to feel something like gratitude to them because elections are approaching and our votes would go a long way to put their preferred candidate in power. And eventually, when they win the elections, we are forgotten, thrown to the backyard and left to die another death.* * *Nkasi thinks my talking would heal my wounds completely. “Maybe too Nmam, my Papa will hear your story and come back for us.” She urges me reassuringly. “Besides Mama, you’d be adequately compensated.”
Compensate! That word nauseates me. How much will payback a family shattered in less than a day by khaki boys? Which money will compensate for all the hurt, pains and pangs of seasoning my vagina with hot salt water? How much will pay for all the blood I lost? I couldn’t get ugu, vegetables to replenish the blood, but I was grateful for the mushrooms; not the white ones that resemble tiny umbrellas but the black ones that look like ears and sound like cartilages in my mouth when I chew them. Dimoma you walked out, and you have not walked back in since then. How much will compensate for the many long nights I held myself as I stared into nothing wishing it was you cuddling me instead? In Ogori, we still point at too many bereaved homes; too many maimed people deformed by brutality. From the peace we knew, we suddenly became prisoners of war; a war we did not know for which cause we became victims; for which cause some even fled their homes to share residents with grass cutters and snakes. For years, we have struggled to regain sanity; we have tried to work out initiatives to guarantee our sanity in every conceivable way all to no avail. We have tried to talk it out with God and ourselves, but those words would rather choke us dead rather than fall off our lips. The truth is that no amount can compensate for the brutality and inhumanity of that dark night in 1966. T
hey just waltz in from nowhere with their lip-touching-ear-but-not-heart-borne-smiles and want to complicate our situation. That night cast a shadow over our lives and what makes those Good Samaritan People with their cast-off harmful incentives think they can brighten our blighted lives? I get extremely angry and tell Nkasi not to mention ‘compensation’ again. Saying the word itself fills my mouth with bile.
Dimoma tell me. Did you join the khaki after you walked out? Did you also rape, wearing khaki uniforms like those men did as if the dead-green uniforms were rape permits? Did you rape for my revenge? Tell me. I will want to know.* * *I watch Nkasi seal the envelope as I approach the end of Memory Lane exhausted. She sticks out her tongue like I watch her do many times when she seals envelopes containing letters from me to you. Letters we didn’t aim to deliver because we did not know what addresses to send them to. We still write in the hope that one day you will read them, taking back every minute we spent apart. Then, she stops suddenly. She had been sobbing quietly, but something in her erupts like an earthquake and she lets out a moan with sporadic spasm afterwards. I too had been crying. We always cry at times like this after seeing some nostalgic scenes on Memory Lane. I have since given up my Spartan-hood. Situations I could not contain changed the course of things. This is what going to Memory Lane does. It collects tears like rain drops and uses our eyes as outlets to let out the torrent. We have since learnt to let the tears drop without trying to interrupt them and thereafter relish the aftermath; the calm that comes after the flood of tears has stilled.
She rubs her tongue over the flap of the envelope again, and I imagine the flap as your tongue. I watch her seal the envelope, and I heave a sigh. She looks at me and we both shrug. Between us, we know. We know that there would not exist anymore letters unless of course you replied all the ones you have not yet read. Memos from Memory Lane.
P. S.I know I will see you again. It is not guessing wishing, it is knowing knowing. I don’t know how, where or when but I know. This miniature faith does something magical to me and causes my heart to skip beats. When that day comes; I will scan all the male navels until I find yours engraved with that pea-like birth mark in the centre, right there where God put it.