this story has been published in Tuck Magazine
It was in class one that I began to feel hated and disliked by some Yoruba pupils not because I lugged the faggot of maggots on my head, h ad a swell of varicose ulcer on my face that convened grunge-legged Luna moths, a rain of putrid ridges on the bridge of my nose that magnetized legions of sooty flies. Not because I had the red eyes of a castrated hill dragons that drive and mail hot shells; Not because I had heavy durable legs that earthquakes acres upon acres of the western land. I was disliked because I came from Ebonyi, because I was an Igbo boy, speaking Yoruba smoothly with no crooked Igbo accents and Igbos eat human flesh.
Of an hammatan morning I stood there few years ago beside the vibrant frangipani flowers. I was certain my fingers were not on the glistening leaves, but I couldn’t point why I stood stiff there with my fingers crossed in my back. Perhaps for the singularity of the flowers’ morphing pink petals, but I was sure my weedy eyes were fixed in the setting sun that would soon begin to burn as kindled oven.
Quickly, like the spinning wings of a crude windmill, an oblong-faced lanky Yoruba boy reached closer like the large nuzzle of bazzoka to my still side and I felt a violent shove. So feral was the impact that not only did I had a jerk that twirled within the pit of my stomach, a howling unseen swirl of spiteful tsunami heaved my legs off the ground so that not only did I flung my fingers into the ripening sun in the ways of a drowning child, I fell headlong down the ditch of green liquids that collected and shuddered like the fat woman’s buttock and I felt my mouth bellowing as a stepped stag’s, opening wide and gulping the dirty floods.
My spirit yakked like a ravenous cage-zoo wapiti. I grew feral like an entrapped nightingale. More downcast than the discredited angel.
I remember seeing a native boy vaguely running away through the school Sigidi canteen, close to Olarewaju staff cafeteria and a crowd of passionless Yoruba pupils pressing toward and around the horizontal pungent ditch, gawking laughing and hissing boisterously just at me . I remember struggling solitarily in the brimmed ditch. I remember crushing a dead tsy-fly and a lifeless pregnant luna moth with withering wings among my teeth and vomiting their nauseating dismembered bones.
The Yoruba pupils that crowded me were mostly growing boys with chests abhorring egotistic hearts that pumped hates underneath them, inspired by ethical consciousness. They smiled. They moaned and largely laughed. Their laughter, jarring snarling and preening. I tried to swim up but each stroke my fingers slipped and I went drinking in the repulsive ditch.
I called to my forbidden soul to render a wee lift; I reported to the divine tripartite for a minuscule raise but as though they too were handicapped, they were snubs. I felt they were helpless, ignoring me , opening their faceless eyes , droning pitifully at me , telling me they were vulnerable too and needing help too like myself.
It was like a common notion that in some parts of the Nigerian West an ‘Omo ibo’ would have to struggle out alone from a ditch even in a school like St. Patrick Primary School. I thrashed about in the choking ditch. I gulped disgusting nauseating fluids and finally climbed out. My struggle, the process of climbing out of the stinking trench was a fanfare that provided the pupils an almost infinite exhilarating moment of laugh-spree and they so relished every moment with corporal and taunting audacity.
Lurching with a startling red pair of miserable red eyes out of the ditch I fell down before the feet of few Yoruba pupils that scornfully laughed and plunged sideways. On the ground, a nap bounded on me. Soon I muttered strength above the sounds of chirring snarling voices of the ‘same blood’ of ‘the united species’ and stood on my feet , though feebly. Choking odour dribbled down my body with the pungent waters. My school uniform, a wrinkled cyan and a light-green navy-blue was wet with bland stains of spirogyra.
The Yoruba boys mostly, definitely gobbled at me but few Urobo and Tiv pupils had empathy and gorged out of the scene shamefully for the aura of revulsion and wafting ethnic hegemony .
I did not have to waste my time asking them of the boy, Kolawole, for I was much aware they wouldn’t indicate him should he hadn’t scuttled out to the canteen but stayed among them so far he was a Yoruba boy. The native boy. The son of the west. The son of the soil. He was one of their bloods; I knew they would jealously shield and garrison him from an ‘Omo ina’ the uncultured. The son of a swine, of a derelict, the son of the ‘Ibo man’ doomed to wrath in the west. Garrison him away from my blows with attitude bulwarked with chauvinistic sense of egocentrism, with ethnic partition that flowed from the hearts.
I knew he lopped through the rows of fluffing bourgavalia and tulip flowers into the food canteen . I ran into the canteen with a host of native pupils that bleated and howled after me. Native teachers ran after me too, native security officers darted across the lobby. The puffing birds that perched on the window louvres and the eaves of the roof of Adesina Memorial building chirruped into the air exasperatedly as if they too loathed what Kola did to me just because I was an Igbo boy studying in the West, in Yoruba land and performing more brilliantly than most of them in the class. I briskly ran and Auntie Titi busily wobbled after me , calling at me, telling me ‘if I get you, if I get you’. I ignored her .I Snubbed her . I defiled fears. And I headed for the canteen. I ignored laughter, yelling and callings and everybody determinately trailed me like an earthquake.
I wept with smelling wet body into the canteen. I came to the native plumb woman that sold moi moi, amala with ewedu soup and crook eja kpanla. So bold. So confident. So brutally my voice gonged before her face. I quaked and yelled nervously.
“Ibo lo wa ? Where is he?” I purred , burning
“Tani? Where’s who?” The native woman screamed, throwing her ewedu-brew covered gloved fingers to her nose and mouth just to avert my odour.
“The boy that pushed me” I glowed
“Onrun. You are smelling. Get out of here” she hummed whisking me away.
“You hide him, I know. He is Omo Yoruba, you hide him I know. E mo ibi to wa.” I growled .
“Lorimi? In my head? In my mouth? In my teeth? Am sure you must be one of these Ibo pikins that spread about Yoruba land plaguing us with problems and dirtiness” She said. I ignored her, ran through the opened back door. I met a ripple of boys creaking, humming, grunting and arguing some issues in Quran . I felt they would be influenced by the holiness of the Quran, I stood before them
“A yellow boy ” I screamed , clicking my teeth, quaking , blazing in fury that so dooked like the forest ferrets.
“Which yellow boy?” One of the sweaty boys snarled , ignoring me after he dipped his pinky to his nose and palm pressed to his mouth. He too lied I suggested.
“Oloshi buruku. I saw no any yellow boy. Omo ina”
“Must you call me Oloshi buruku and Omo ina? Oloshi buruku you too, Omo Yoruba you too”
“Get out” They chorused with the voices that blasted like Jim Reeves.
“And if I did not go?”
“We’ll swat your smelling body for you”
“With this heavy Quran in your hand?” I asked
“Yes , such is called mini Holy Jihad, the mini holy war”
“May God forgive you all” I brayed tearfully and ran past them into the next Cinema hall but I saw not the boy. I saw not Kola. The native boy.
In the pool of malodorous and fetid water, bigger Yoruba boys and security officers caught me and took me to the headmaster’s office. I was smelling and was crying before the bold hefty native man’s desk.
“See what he did to me?” I squeaked, soliciting pity and consideration
“Who did this? Your fellow Omo Ina”
“No. Yusuf Abudul Kola ”
“Yes sir, he did this to me” I said and he said
“You this Omo ina, I know you sure offended him so he couldn’t bear it , Yoruba folks are cultured”
“No sir , I was beside the frangipani blooming bushes watching the rays of the setting sun and he pushed me into that ditch in Obalende Matrix lane. I did nothing to him”
“You lie” he boomed “for constituting noise and uproar in the school am giving you fifteen strokes of whip” The long whip made from the hyena’s fur .
“Ha! Because am an Igbo boy? ”
“Whatever ” And he gave me fifteen on my buttock , I burned , I booed , I bawled and felt hated.
After I wept into the school’s fountain luxurious landscape. I washed myself and let my eyes to drift into the rigors I had had to subscribe to ever since I became a pupil in St. Patrick Primary School. It was in class one that I began to feel hated and disliked by some Yoruba pupils not because I lugged the faggot of maggots on my head, h ad a swell of varicose ulcer on my face that convened grunge-legged Luna moths, a rain of putrid ridges on the bridge of my nose that magnetized legions of sooty flies. Not because I had the red eyes of a castrated hill dragons that drive and mail hot shells; Not because I had heavy durable legs that earthquakes acres upon acres of the western land. I was disliked because I came from Ebonyi, because I was an Igbo boy, speaking Yoruba smoothly with no crooked Igbo accents and Igbos eat human flesh.
In the first week of the third term in class one Jibike Balogun who shared a desk with me jumped up the day Jide Omawunmi whispered into her ear that I was an igbo boy , an omo Ina that feed on human flesh. She told my best friend that human ear was what I wolfed into my stomach for breakfast that morning and as I dejectedly strolled through the hallway during the first short break , almost the whole pupils stalked me , observing me in awe as if to capture the glimpse of blood dribbling from a partly-crushed human ear at the side of my mouth and that day I nearly collapsed.
Auntie Lekan Titi had just finished her talk on reading the alphabet and walked out when Omawunmu who had been jealous I took first position regularly scuttled to our desk. I greeted her but her snub was evident and when I noticed she came for my seat mate and not for me I focused on what I have to read that morning. After she intoned a thing into Jibike’s ear my friend hopped up and stared at me suspiciously like I has a dismembered rotten bird on my head and she just saw it. And how her eyes grazed my skin that I almost plummeted.
“Is it true ?” was what she yelled with such hostility like we never played together, like we never swam together in the odo, like we never discussed the coming oro night, like we never expressed how we loathed Agemo day because you must have to stay indoor or your head would be sliced into a blood-filled drum the leader of Agemo carried on his head to Ojude-Oba of the king of Ijebu-ode “what?” I confusingly asked feeling like a fish in the lake. And the eyes of the pupils were all over me and I felt the floor would cave in , collecting me to it’s depth.
“That you are an igbo boy and you eat human flesh and you ate human ear this morning” that was what he said and like other pupils just realized they were at risk, they had played and exchanged words and pens with a cannibal they shook like the leaves of a blooming thyme on the perch of breeze and rested their eyes on me nervously, with senses of savage and I felt like death.
“You know I’m an Igbo boy Jibike, my names are Achebe Onyerijuluafor Chichindo. Omawunmi is a lier , the Igbos have conscience and do not eat human flesh. I sucked pap and Akara this morning. Like seriously Omawunmi I’d report you for defaming my character and people I belonged”
As I spoke someone stood up to spoil it all. He was Omoba , a very dark boy , called akpoti because he was a dullard knowing nothing than make noise an bump about like the buzzing bees on the honeycomb of shame, stood up and said
“Omowunmi o kparo, ooto lon so, Omowunmi is not a lier, she says the truth, my mother said I should be careful the way I deal with the ibo pikins. My mother told me they fled from East to the West because they feared their fellow igbos would use them for lunch or breakfast”
“What?” was what I yelled and I lost my friends and I became the worst enemy of the class. The ringlator chimed the bell and they amazingly stalked me. I reported to the teacher and the response I got from her was better I had not met her. She said if I know I eat human flesh truly I should stop it. And imagine that. And she never said anything when the pupils called me ‘human eater’ . I told my parents but they said I shouldn’t fight. And I didn’t fight. For I was aware the ibos do not eat human flesh any where in the East of Nigeria. In Enugu, In Ebonyi , in Anambra, in Imo and in Abia. `
I rewashed my face and headed indigenously and brutally with the breathing sense of denial and the idea that fairness was dead and buried in the hearts of SOME Yorubans , not all. I repeat not all, great people like Amosun, Adeola and Tunji sew me with a different, noble prism. I was a challenge to them , an ibo boy taking first position every term in the West.
I leapt to the top of a broken wall in the sunshine and sat silently there until I became dry again. As I bent my head I was furious and shame-laden so I didn’t know the time I blurted
“It is not my fault . Is it my fault am an Ebonyian and my mother never came from here?. Is it a crime to be the son of an Igbo parents in the Nigerian West .Some Hausas kill the Igbos in the North and here we will not have rest too. What have we done? Is it my fault. I wasn’t born in Ibadan, Ogun, Eko and Ondo. Is it my fault I bear Chichindo and not Keyinde, Bolanle, Fatai, Tope ,Bukola and Saidi such and such” I hissed and dropped off.
School ended for the day. I hung my school bag and walked home. Few steps into our vast compound walls tears decanted from my eyes . My mother was the first woman to lay her eyes on me before the Yoruba neighbors that began to laugh and croak as the conceited peacocks perching on the spine of the elk at me from the balconies. She quickly grasped me to the warmth of her chest and led me in. I wept and told her what happened in the school and she promised to inform my father when he’d be back from work. My father was molue driver.
During the nighttime on the dinning table, mother prayed for unity among us and the natives who would always ‘divide and abuse’ us because we are ibos and not descendants of Oduduwa. The progenitor but not the creator of the Nigerian West. My mother prayed for me. She prayed that God should protect me from the sons and daughters of the SOME Yorubans , the SOME natives sent to make life distraught for me . She prayed on the food but before we began to clangor the saucers of Jollof rice with orange spoons my father prayed for the insurgence that loomed heavily in the Northern Nigeria. He said ‘God you know what’s wrong, really wrong in Nigeria,you know why some men were angry, the reason may be clear to them and you I don’t know yet all I pray is you fix up the issues so the Nigeria Government and these vague nebulous , frantic, faceless warriors that throw bombs , crush out the skulls of a new born-baby with a jack knife, disfiguring the lush verdant Nigerian Landscape would come to term with the Federal Government and bury this fratricidal gory war of attrition so Nigeria the Giant of Africa would once again roar like the king-lion she had been and stop quaking like a crust that has a monumental lozenge-shaped hollow underneath it.
A little while longer we were right through with the jollof rice that tasted dodo and sun-burnt coriander and cooked turmeric spices. And the family began to observe the regular section of confession. Spurned by the tribal hitch. Framed and sharpened by the fierce fingers of ethnical character. Before this section was observed the family kept a roughed face so the section noticed the family dread it, is too holy to be it’s regent, it’s regular keepsake , wished a change in the status quo cleared it.
Often my mother the loquacious teacher would bang her fist heavily on the metal bronze-framed dinning table not excessively so the carafe of ornate base holding a yellow sherbet wouldn’t fall headlong and shatter on the floor and she would come gently with the story of a Yoruba teacher that slapped her face for fairly striking on the palm of a Yoruba boy for abusing a black Igbo boy, that Igbo land and the East is the dirtiest place in Nigeria , in the whole of Africa.(And I had wondered why such anti-unity heritage-defaming of a comment should so be allowed and indoctrinated in the heart of a growing pupil so that it formed the bases of the appreciation of his fellow beings ) And that is why an Igbo man would migrate to Lagos,Ogun,Ibandan and Osun with his family to avert the fangs of malaria, guinea worms, cholera , tranchoma, kwashioko and all other conceivable pleagues that threathed life and now they are here in the West to infest them with their diseases
And my father , the lover of peace and ardent Pentecostal Christian would slowly and quietly ask ‘ dear I hope you did not retaliate?” of course what he expected , my mother, a moonbeam, an elegance would let out her tongue, smile indulgently and say ‘Never! It was ignorance that stirred her’. I and my babe sister Akalaugo would sulk and nearly cast our fists toward them. We expected them to always retaliate, this way they would be feared and respected. But no matter what, the family twisted her face against this section when everyone tells how he was maltreated, advocated peace and wished to non-violently hoist the placards of Anti-ibo chauvinism in the West skylines.
The clock ticked ten and my mother began. ‘Honey it’s gotten hold of me here’ she said trudging at the under of her chin ‘if the headmaster of Bai Primary school would be writing against my removal just for not permitting some Yoruba pupils to always strike on the Igbo pupils and insult them for no justifiable reason, my son for God sake shouldn’t be pushed into a deep ditch by those heartless pupils for no reason, no reason at all..
God is love . God is friendly . My father reached out to her and blew a fresh eddy of breeze to her face . The breeze that smelt chicken stew , my mother smiled and he said ‘unto this are we Christians, do not be much upset’ and kindly like an angel, like God he raised and sang a soothing sacred hymn with a sonorous strain , read a popular verse from psalm and touched mama’s lips and then mine and I felt an exhilarating divine entente shrouding my bowl so that I loomed in the fantasy that I would eject balls of gold than the sticky usual yellow substance.
“You didn’t retaliate or do you”
“Father forgive me I tried to?”
“No now , report! . I told you that, always report. Can’t you see, the other day those women threatened your mother in odo river I reported to the Baale”
“Papa you talked like you were new in the west , you talked to Baale, and what response did you got?”
“Anyway, in the West , some Yoruba teachers hate omo ina . My teacher slapped me for ever mentioning I was pushed by omo Yoruba.
“Then the headmaster?”
“A more worst, in my tears , in the tails of spirogyra that filled my body, that wet me he gave me fifteen strokes ” I droned “and I wept terribly father”
My father dragged out a yellow table , picked his glasses and wore it. Under the silver frames his eyes radiated and dilated , eyeballs turned orangey and dim so they cast harsh noisome hues, and instinct caused me to be sure my father was planning , planning to do something. My mother picked out the oiled bowls and used cutleries and bent to pick out few spoons that fell on the floor. When something happened to the limit that my mother left the important to do the trivial and my father abandoned the soulful to embrace the secular like wearing his meager glasses, it was a bad omen that have me cast straight to the depth of solid suspense so much intriguing. My father stood up silently and walked to his room. My mother put out my cardigan and mopped with hot water the spiral curly wavy welts on my skin. And I felt the mother’s love overwhelming and overpowering the callousness of the natives.
Early morning of the next day dawned and I saw myself standing with my sedate father before the headmaster’s desk and the sitting headmaster that seemed restless for years with his fingers ransacking on the Atlas of the Nigeria map.
“Good morning headmaster” my father said politely and in a relaxed mood. I grew rugged. I grew hard. Feeling I should slap the fat man as if I was sure he’d trivialize the issue again.
“You can see I am busy, how may I help you? If you can’t speak up, am busy or you get out ” The fat headmaster ,Adunlaye Coker Ogbomosho boomed like a bitten bittern not raising his head.
“We are not quarrelling, headmaster ”
“This man, say what you have to say”
“My son was pushed into the ditch by a boy called Kola, he reported to you and he said you gave him fifteen” my father kindly and slowly said and I burned for such sluggishness , for such gentleness ,for the dullness of my father. I wished what some Yorubans needed was a rogged expression and a folk that would brutally twist his words so they were menacing, so they argue it was wrong to be chauvinistic anywhere in Nigeria. But my father was a moral coward. Not a coward but a moral coward because he had been a foot artillery soldier during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war
The brutal bloody war I had not cared myself to ask him and many years I thought the fear , the flights , the bloodiness, the gruesomeness , the wildness of such terrific warfare had kept my memory from inquiry. But some days I unlocked my fathers war diary I saw sabon gari how it was the place where the Nigerian Northern soldiers slaughtered the Biafran escapees and armless or rather ill-trained Biafran soldiers. I saw Abagana written in bold letters, how the place was the place in the East where the Nigerian convoy that conveyed millions of Nigerian war ammunitions were burnt by the ambushed Biafran soldiers. Often I saw and noticed a shallow spiral hollow underneath my father’s hairy ear. The days I made to know how the scar came to perch there met with a snub. I had asked mother to tell me the root course of the Nigeria-Biafra war, mother had hissed and simply yelled ‘the 1966 coup cursed it’ that was after she had tried to avert my mind from forcing her tongue to explore the war that rendered her orphan; from dissecting such preening old past archive of gushing blood. She never talked more about the stupendous civil revolution of excessive human massacre that has no match after the monstrous gorilla-exploits of Adolf Hitler in the World wars. And she had not continued the story until the following cryptic days I debunked the detailed accounts of the dreaded events in books, journals, Tv and novels.
“And you are here to beat me back?”
“Never” my father said adjusting his glasses like an academia whilst he had barely gone to school and he was a cab or taxi driver.
“I said you have come to strike me thirty I hope so?” the native headmaster bleated.
“I can’t do that. Is it fair you beat a small boy pushed into a smelling ditch fifteen without calling the boy that pushed him? He gulped dirty waters headmaster?”
“Your boy behaved like any other ibo boy and I flogged him”
“I’ve..ok how do the ibo boys behave” my father asked him.
“Just like their parents they loved to be diplomatic, domineering and stubborn in other peoples’ territory ” and now I should agree the headmaster’s words must be the basis of the Natives’ hate for the Ibos.
“Am disappointed sir” my father whispered
“Are you here to abuse me?”
“My son said you’ve not seen nor called the Kola Yusuf since yesterday for questioning and now see your judgment. I hate trouble and you know it , several cases of these Yoruba boys maltreating my son I had heard and bore with heart. If you won’t call out Kola so I know what happened my son is quitting this school.
“We don’t need him anyway”
“You don’t need my son?, The Federal Government that employed you would not behave this way . Everybody is relevant. President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo will never be happy to know that some Yorubans treat the ibo’s this way. Like they were putrid grapes ”
“Why not go to Abuja and report me. Live my office with your stupid son”
“You mean you won’t call him?”
“Leave my office”
“My son drank things mind you? ”
“Ibo man leave my office” The headmaster blasted and we walked slowly out of his office.