A police patrol van, the siren wailing wildly, had sped past Adetona Street,
Surulere, shot into 2nd street and came to a screeching halt. The driver veered
the wheels and threw the van across the road halting the flow of traffic. Waves
of excitement were going in every direction. People were trotting
from the scene in the half-light.
This is not a detention diary or just a memoir. I address this letter to you
point-blank because you are the one, whose blind trail brought me to the
thick of the forest.
Blue Joe, Blue Joe - I have the urge to call you Devil Joe! Your soft lemon
breath caressing my face, laxatives to my nail-biting angst, did I know you were
the devils incarnate? It is one of the sordid paradoxes of life that you
conjured up my very heart, roused my creative fervour from inertia and when I
have warmed up to you, led me astray and cast me adrift.
I am where the sun cannot reach me, where in the words of natives - you peep
from the shutters to ask the lizard what obtained out there. I am in a place the
skeletal shadows of which scare even the dead. I am where I am because you sowed
I saw something yesterday - a snake, a snake, lying between us; a dart of my
knife and the snake was killed. I saw something today - mistrust, mistrust,
lying between us; a sweep of my knife but mistrust is abstract; it is still
living, lying between us, and that, forever!
Do you remember that as children we played together among the sand dunes of
District village; and that you were the first to open my eyes to the intricacies
of this world? In those blinking hours of our dawn, you have already wised up,
so that while we thought the world ended in a little grove in our village, you
already knew of Port Harcourt, Lagos and all those countries beyond the seas.
Your younger sister Konyelu always playing with me, and shyly coiling away soon
afterwards; she stood tall, as I remember her, fair complexioned, slightly
stooped even for her age - a mere six, full of life and ardour and with a mind
which belied her age, tough, strong, warm, older by a year, she walked me
through the rough, unenduring paths of infanthood. That path, its purity, its
nuances, we swung satchels, lugged slates to the nearby school, and with our
hordes of friends we plucked orange and apple trees, filled the neighbourhood
with a warmth that kindled the attention of even the aged.
We lived - your parents and mine - in the same neighbourhood that I remember as
one of childhood mirth and foibles, trees, hills, rivulets and streams; and
above all, of harmattan and its shimmer of mirage - the harmattan that sets my
mind ablaze with nostalgic thoughts of faces I was sure I had encountered but, I
could only hazily recall.
Even in my depths of anger and surge of emotion, I remember those days swathed
up in the cocoon of childhood. We would go together by the same path, which
wound through a tunnel of trees and fell in a range of hillocks towards the
stream. The sun shinning straight from our heads, our voices would ring in the
air as we struck at our infant chords. We would plunge ourselves, covered by the
dust and laterite into the watery stretch amid noisy splashing of water
and silvery ripples breaking against the shores of the rivulet. Those golden
memories fading away in my mind, and which now are like a speck of salt in a sea
You captured my mind from when I was too young to know what it all meant. I now
think it could have been infatuation. But infatuation, too, can ripen like an
apple fruit into the full season love. Those days one dared not call it love. It
was something a way from infatuation but not love. Mother complained of my
absentmindedness. Sister, during those moments, said I drift like chaff before
the wind. Father, who never really was close, saw no change but, mother was
worried: what was it that bleeds the reasoning off her veins, what spectre,
what bogey creeps through her little head?
What boy is it? and there was the knowing wink asked kid sister teasingly.
In my silence she repeated herself, louder, so that the
whole house heard. And I swore under my breath, boiling like a cauldron of crude
None of your nonsense, sister! I shouted
Nearby in the chicken run, a flock of hens had picked up the phrase squawking
None- none- none of your nonsense,
None- none- none of your nonsense
raucous echo fading in the distance.
And what boy is it
was so apt it struck me in slivers.
You were the one.
The first child of your parents, your mother ran a nearby
shop of assorted wares from which you secreted regularly to pawn in the market
for sweets, boun-boun and peanuts that you showered me with. Your father
dealt in whatever I can no longer remember and whatever it was, took frequent
travelling between towns, which cut him off from the world of our infanthood.
Our encounters with my father were few and far between. His gold-rimmed
spectacles appeared to magnify our faults and define us in more mischievous
terms than we actually were. My mother and yours were at the centre of our
world. Whatever it was, a fight, playing in the moonlight . never escaped their
inquisitive eyes. Nor did my platonic association with you!
You have a husband, havent you? my mother would tease, and I would at once wish
I had melted into nothingness. I would shyly bow my head.
Aah! Look at her blushing! my mother would continue; a warm, caring and doting
Your mother took things a bit further. Our association, she recognised by
calling me the name My sons wife, which always stung me with its incisive
And then the first parting that cut like a razor through my heart, and left it
bleeding... I still do remember! Like a dream it was. Wed woken up to heavy
rainfall that only ceased at sundown. To our house came two men. Their clothes,
whipped in the rain, clung to their shivering bodies, their teeth chattering
uncontrollably. I remember them engaging father in a low talk and my mother, in
the kitchen, stretching herself to overhear a word or two; and the words of the
men ringing thin and low and their bearing suggesting mishap or worse, death.
My mother came out of it much shaken, whisked me to hushed silence in the
bedroom where I sat by her in a pensive aspect. My small mind seemed to size up
the situation. Something was terribly wrong. I froze and a fear of the unknown
overtook me. Tears tracked my cheeks as father stormed out, jumped into his
Peugeot 306 and screeched into the night. My mother went over to your mothers.
They sat in hushed silence by the hearth, the tension so taut it appeared to
want to snap all of us in bits.
Soon, it was thick darkness. And not long after, a wailing concerto shivered the
air. This brought us all to a stand. The plaintive voices rang louder, nearer,
ringing in startling overtones, their sharp timbre threatening the thin roof of
my brain. Someone had died, it was clear; your father had died in a motor
A head on collision, a man who came to our house was
explaining, a head on collision with a lorry!