By Chika Onyenezi (Nigeria)
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A smile that snapped back after using, like a stretched rubber band – Attributed to Sinclair Lewis (1885 - 1951)U.S. novelist.
You wake – it’s twenty first century in the calendar, but your location reads eighteenth century in its wild attitude and wild lifestyle. You look around and are still in the same country - a country that contradicts your very existence and buries your goals before they are hatched. You smile though there is nothing to smile at. You are young in age but your heart is much older. You have endured the mishmash education of the body while your soul feels uneducated and yearning to be comforted. Your soul wants to hope on a job and a fat salary paid to you every month for your upkeep and luxurious lifestyle. But your body knows this is farfetched.You hope and hope because you are used to hope and live in a land of hope. You are a young graduate from the local university. You hope to have a job that will make you drive a car and walk boldly on the street like every successful young man in the city.
The mornings bring pain to you because they remind you of a new beginning and great expectation. You prefer the soft caress of darkness; its warm palms make you forget the rough edges of life and its troubles. You wish night will cover the day and let it go on and on; at least it will make you invisible before those that look upon you.
Lazily you rise from the mattress lying on the floor, wondering if sleeping on the floor will help your penance and meditation, maybe hasten your prayers before God. You have been praying all your life; when you were in primary school and wanted to enter Secondary school, you prayed for the best of best, but where did you end up? Don’t tell me. When you wanted to go to the university after secondary school, you prayed, you prayed. But again where did you end up? Don’t tell me. You are old enough to differentiate between dreams and reality - you know where you are, you know what works, and you know how many dreams that have come true.
You brush your teeth and gaze at the mirror to see if they are still white. You want something that will exonerate you before your interviewer - if the white teeth will, then why not make it? You had always wanted to be a banker, sitting on the counter and counting the money. You heard that with a second class upper result - you are sailing and perfectly on top of the job market. Yes you had it. You are with it now. But how many job offers have you had since after your graduation? You smile again and say to you believe, “God will provide. I have faith.”
You are now wearing the new clothes you bought yesterday, praying that they will uplift you before your interviewer. You wonder the magic that lies in fabrics so that when worn men tend to get attracted. You’ve not been that wonderful a dresser all your life. But today, you are better.
The shirt fits perfectly on your body; the trousers are slim, yet nice looking. The shoes are not expensive but they will do the magic of acceptance. You smile. You smile. You move closer to the mirror, taking a look at your slim tie hanging on the crest of your heart. The mirror will never lie. The knot of the tie seems out of place, bending at an unacceptable angle. You smile. You smile at your inexperience in knotting ties.
You enter into the sunlight from your back door. You look around at the wild-wild environment you are staying in as a bachelor. The gang boys at the far end of the yard smoking weed, the shoe-maker at another end, sewing shoes, and the driver that is your neighbor icarrying a bucket full of grease coming towards you.
“Gud morning Emeka,” he says as he passes by you.
“OgaMiko,Miko,” you hail, clutching your file jacket on your arm pit.
“You want to go and look for job?” he asks you mockingly.
“OgaMiko is like that oh,” you are tired of the same reply every day, swallowing your pride and telling yourself it’s just words, giving you the strength to go and on saying it every day.
After all, I know of a guy that searched job for 25 years, you tell yourself convincingly.
“I have told you to come and join me in my business, at least you will be making small change per day to feed yourself with,” OgaMiko says, smiling and mocking you.
“OgaMiko, it will all turn out well this time around, what is todays date?” you ask him.
“You tell me?”
“OgaMiko, it is 05.05.05. You see this number; my father won his best hand in pool with it. Last Sunday our pastor also placed a prophetic utterance on it. So definitely, I am getting this job today.” You hope.
“Ok now, educated man,” he mocks you and goes on to wash his bus for the day’s work. You stand there imagining yourself driving a bus or doing conductor after all these years of labor in the university - to escape such a way of living, to escape the life of feeding from hand to mouth, and from hand to wife and children. Your dreams are more than that; you want a fat reserve of money, if possible from the oil sector of the economy.
You sit on the greasy seat with your trousers waiting to be served Akara and bread by Mama Oluchi. The mad fellow beside you mistakenly pours oil on your trousers and says:
“Sorry brother, it was a mistake,” he says, taking out a worn-out dirty handkerchief from his breast pocket and starting to spread the dirt on your cloth the more.
“Is ok, is ok,” you tell the man.
Mama Oluchi gives you a plate of akara and bread. You make a big hole in the bread and put the akara inside it. You jam the akara and bread together and start to eat it. You push it down with two pure water sachets and enter the street.
People are walking up and down the tarmac; you enter the tarmac too and loose yourself in the crowd of men. You wonder the difference between all of you after all; you take your mind to the interview you are going to have today. After covering a distance by foot, you enter the suburb proper by motorcycle. Houses are on the high, rising and nearly touching the sky.
You are overlooking high rising buildings of the modern city. You remove your handkerchief from your trouser pocket and dust your shoes clean. You adjust the tie on your neck. Majestically you approach the banking perimeter. You climb off your Nokia torchlight phone so as not to provoke the security men who always say you should do so.
You think it will be you and few others that passed the aptitude test, but to your surprise there are many of them. The hall is filled with young men like you, the ladies sashaying and expecting to get the job anyhow, even if it requires selling their body. You are a strong man with a strong resolution. You know what you want. You will have it today. You imagine yourself driving your car out of your garage each morning with your dry-cleaned suit, pristine and neatly ironed. You smile.
The interviewer looks at you with scorn, like a piece of shit from planet of desperate men, as you close the door gently and walk up to him boldly.
“Young man, your name?” he smiles at you.
“Emeka Anyawu,” you state your name in a clean slate, without any error, conscious of yourself and fully aware of your existence.
“Why do you want to work with us?”
“I guess a young man has to make a living,” you say looking straight to his face, but minding your confidence as they might appear misleading at times.
“Where did you school?”
“Federal University of Technology Owerri,” you smile lightly at his questions, wondering how they will help.
He asks you an extra set of questions that will help them know you better and for them to make a decision.
You leave the office with joy and hope, believing you have secured a job in the banking firm. Like your pastor tells you, “Keep on saying it. Hold it. It’s yours!” you don’t want this one to pass you by. You hold it firmly; keep on saying it in your heart til you get to your friend’s house.
Your friend lives around your area. You met him during the University years, and he has been your friend ever since. You eat at his place when you don’t have, and he eats in your place when you have. He is looking for job too, but didn’t pass the aptitude test organized by the company. You wonder what a world without interviews and certificates would be like, nobody asking you to bring your documents over for perusal. You think of yourself as your own boss, employing people and giving orders.But the problem is, the huge capital needed to stand on your own. You smile.
Your friend opens his door to behold you standing in your job uniform outside.
“How long have you been here?” your friend asks you.
“I am just arriving” you say smiling.
“Ah, come inside now” your friend replies.
You follow him into his one room apartment which smells of dead cockroaches and insecticide. You sit down on the rug and roam through his CD rack to see if there is any movie that will interest you. You see one and slot it into the DVD player.
“Emeka, how was your interview?” he asks like the good friend he has always been.
“Brother it went very well this time around and I believe God for my miracle,” you say with a gladdened heart and eyes fixed onthe screen.
“Man will not die in this country oh, can you believe this, after two years of graduation, we are still carrying files from one office to another office. Nigeria will not kill me,” your friend laments about his own understanding of the blindfolded nation called Nigeria.
“Brother, I lack words. But you see this country is the best place you can ever be in. The elders of Israelites sent out men to look at the land God promised. They went, came back and said ‘We saw giants that will crush us before. The land is not worth it.’ Then the elders sent another; they came back saying, ‘We see opportunities, abundance; send us, we can defeat them.’ Brother, let it not be like I am preaching oh, but I believe Nigeria will be fruitful for me, since I can see it, I can grab it.”
“Emeka the Bomber, when did you even repent; you that don’t allow anything in skirt to pass you by. You that shot several bullets in campus... Let me not just talk. Mind yourself oh, once a sailor is a sailor for life. You understand my words. If the order comes now, I will obey oh ,”your friend reminds you of your past days in the university, days when you held the solid attacks at the front of the school and shot men down in the name of cult activities,days when you were hailed “Emeka the Bomber” by your fraternal brothers. But to you, now, old things have passed away and everything is new once you are in Christ Jesus.
“Brother, I have told you to forget the life we used to live. I shot men, I agree. I killed, I agree. But now I am for Christ; I beg he forgives my sins,” you plead with your friend to forget your past and look at the future which is brighter than light from bullets zinging in the air.
“Forget this, your lifestyle, come lets go out and eat,” your friend tells you as the close friend he is to you. You off the television and follow him outside the building. He flags down a motorcycle and both of you share the back seat, the wind pushing you back as the motorcycle races into the town.
He takes you to a place you don’t want to go to and have been avoiding. A bar at the end of town built off the street light and operating with dim colored bulbs hanging on the thatched roofs. You know where you are; many times in your university days you came to such an end to discuss fraternal matters with your fraternal brothers. Your friend shakes the men in black clothing with black eyeglasses, staring at the wind. They know you and respect you for the hellishness you unleashed back in the days.
“Emeka the Bomber, Three Star General ,“ they call your name, taking you back to who you were and who you have vowed not to be. But they are like fans you can just push away. If you do that, your dead body will surely be picked up from the gutter the next day. In your fraternity, you were a General, not even a star nor two, but a three star General. You forget your allegiance to Christ and not to go back to your past life. Since you are already here, what will it take away from you, nothing, just to spend the time and leave them to battle their wars.
“Joseph the Arimantia, GorgioAmani, Shooter Superior, Number one Striker, AKA Kill and Go!” you praise them back to remind them they are still part of you, once and forever. You know the fraternal brothers are something you will never leave even if you are out of school and bask in repentance. You smile. You smile.
“…we are winning nine is to Six,” Joseph the Arimantia says. You know what he means; you know he is counting the number of the dead men between your fraternal group and another in a fresh conflict. You know the languages and codes still used in communication. You know you will never stop being them, as a fruit once eaten bulges out of throat like an Adam’s apple. You fear the opposite group might storm the place and open fire. But you look around; it’s well secured to an extent, full of your fraternal brothers. You smile.
They start to smoke hemp wrapped in paper with a filter. They know you; they know you do smoke, although within you, you have quite the lifestyle of smoking anything at all. But you can’t fail them; they are looking at you and as their superior. They buy you more. You smoke along with them, laughing, drinking and playing cards on the deck. You are consumed with your past; it comes upon you like a river upon a fish. You smile.
It’s getting dark; you find your way back to your house, excusing yourself from the gathering, leaving your fraternal brothers behind.
You are high, higher than mountains; everything appears to be moving including houses. You know the feeling; it’s not new to you. You can control it. But what you can’t control is the urge building inside your pants. It’s been a long time since you had good sex. Since you repented, you vowed not to do it again till you get married. But the sight of Oluchi beside the mother blowing breeze into the fire builds it up again. You know what to do. It’s your life; you have done it several times in the past. You order akara and beg Mama Oluchi to send it over to your door since you are tired of waiting.
The knock comes on your door; it awakens every nerve in you. You are excited, you know it is her. She stands upright as you open the door. Her breast knocking its tip tightly on her shirt, she is young and pretty, maybe in her seventeenth year. You bring her inside and ask her to eat the akara with you. She refuses. You ask her to watch the television with you. She refuses. You then ask her to at least come in and take the money for her mother; she accepts.
You are a strong man, stronger than a woman. You hold her mouth and throw her on the bed. After minutes of struggling she succumbs to your demand. To your surprise she is not a virgin. You feed you manhood with a taste of her. At last, she enjoys every bit of it and promises to come another day for it. You let her use the bathroom and clean up before going back to the mother. You smile.
You wake up late in the morning. Today is a revival service in your church. You wondered what you did yesterday, worst of all had sex with Oluchi of all girls. You kneel on your matress and ask God for forgiveness. You wonder if he will listen to you. You wonder if he is still there. Without him, you know you have no hope in the Nigeria of today; Pastor Johnson made you to understand it last service. You look at your life and feel upright; you feel fulfilled and happy again. For God is in your conscience. If you feel forgiven, then he has forgiven. You smile because you feel forgiven.
It’s late in the evening; you pick up your Bible on top of your small desk. You say your evening prayer before leaving the house; you speak in tongues against all evil attacks and every spirit of accident. You hide away from Oluchi so she will not see the shame on your face. You stop a motorcycle to your church.
The evening service is titled “PROPHETIC NIGHT.” The pastor dances around the altar in his pristine suit and new shoes, the band singing halleluiah. He talks about money and how to make it, supporting his words with quotations in the Bible and encourages the congregation to always make it. In his words he says, “Don’t tell me you are making it, don’t tell me your business is not prospering, don’t tell me the economy is in recession, and don’t tell me any evil. Tell me the good news, be like Elijah and believe that your jar will never run dry even in this famine. Begin to prophecy in your life….” Every member of the congregation starts to speak in tongues, prophesying blessing into their lives.
You sit at the back and begin to speak good words into your life: “This year is my year. I will not return home empty handed. I will not tell anyone I am jobless again. I will be prosperous like the children of Zion.” You feel closer to God all of a sudden. You feel holy again. You can see the Holy Ghost descending upon you, Anointing and blessing you. You smile.
You know it, you believe it. You have experienced it. But you will not believe your own failure; you will not see how damp your country is and you refuse to dry it. To you, you, an apple of God’s eye, you are cleansed and shall not lack anything. You pray and pray and make a joyful noise unto Zion. During dismissal, you speak prophetic words into your life once again.
You smile as the text from the bank beeps into your phone. You believe the job is yours and you’re to keep. But to your surprise, it’s another rejection letter. You read it over and over, meditating along with each sentence and placing it in the roads you have traveled in life, to see if it’s what has been holding you back. You look at your new Bible on the table and smile. You smile and smile. You smile at time, you smile at your life in the university, and you smile at your own present life. You keep on smiling.
You sit on your mattress with energy drained out of your body and your tongue too weak to sing hosanna. Then a cinema draws open on your wall, large enough for your eyes. It starts with your childhood and the poverty you’ve perceived while growing up; by hand and rod you were brought up. The camera tunes over to your university days, counting the number of rapes you have committed, the killings and bullets that never hit their targets. You smile at your act of terror. The last film is that of your rape before going to church, your sins, and your sins. You’ve wrecked lives. You ruined them. You have nothing to do again other than to wonder if it would have been the same with other citizens of western world. You wonder if they carry files around looking for a job. You wonder if nemesis catches up with them so fast too. You look at your watch; it is still morning in Nigeria, twenty first century everywhere and within the long tongue of Africa. You smile, you smile and smile.
I still stay around the corner of your heart, just to gear your memory into place. If you wake up tomorrow, it will still be Nigeria, so learn to live with it.