THE AUGUST MEETING

Every August, I try to post an August-themed story here. Last year I posted The August Proposal, you should read it if you haven’t (or read it again). Now, let’s do this.
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Three weeks after I officially (or traditionally) stopped mourning my husband, my husband’s father, his mother and uncle paid me a visit. I had formally stopped mourning by removing my black mourning dress and having it burnt, and going to church for thanksgiving. This meant I mourned my man for a mere three months. The mourning span used to be one year (my mother mourned our father for one year); then it became six months (my aunty mourned for six months). Now it is three months, some do it for a month, some do not even bother, calling it heathen.

But a year of wearing black and staying out of any activity that entails making merry wouldn’t be enough to mourn Mark, my kindhearted husband of six years. It was painful, shocking event, his death. One day, he was bubbling, overflowing with life, the next day he was ill and shaking like a bird on a thin branch; he died after a week. My heart was broken and my happiness crushed. I thought I would die and would have let myself taken in the wings of death if not for my kids who would be left as orphans, and from whom I summon the will to continue to live. Additionally, fortunately, I am alive with my sanity intact.

I was still in mourning mood when my parents-in-law came calling. I was still trying to get used to the mystery of widowhood and being father and mother to my three years old daughter and one and half year old son.

It was 9pm, my kids were asleep in the next room. I sat in the parlour, on the only armchair, facing the guests who were seated in the only good sofa. The lamp which lit the room stood on the table. After the small ceremony of pleasantries, and my weak offer to fetch food was politely declined, my father-in-law cleared his throat. He was about seventy, tall and aging with dignity. A visit of this kind four months back would have made me nervous. But tonight, I felt nothing; whatever news brought them would never match the agony of Mark’s demise. I listened.

“My people say that it is only when a child receives a haircut that we know the real size of his head. Nneka, we have always known you as a brave woman but even we might have underestimated your strength because it demands only a woman of super strength to endure what you have endured. My son was kind, strong and responsible. We know you enjoyed him. My wife and I have lost a great son but we have the luck of other children, so the pain is a little lesser for us…” He sighed bitterly

The uncle and mother made sympathetic grunts. My father-in-law continued. “The tragedy has happened and we cannot sue God. But we cannot continue to look at one direction otherwise we will have a stiff neck.”

I got closer to what he had in mind, but by getting this close I was further removed from the subject. I listened. “You have two kids, a daughter, and a son. We regard female children highly but it is only a boy that will keep his father’s name. A girl grows to become a woman and marries out. So in the aspect of keeping our son’s lineage, you have only one child.” He paused to let this sink in; if it sank in, my expression didn’t show it.

“My father used to say let my thing, not one. If you have only one thing you have nothing. A man with one eye does not play with sticks.”

Now, I got what he was trying to say but I wasn’t so sure. I looked at my mother-in-law who smiled benignly. She was a small woman in her early sixties; she was what we call “every year young” and looked fifty. She said, “It is true that the unexpected defiles the strong, but the unexpected is the test of strength. A great harm has befallen you but you have endured it well. You are still young and in the height of your fertility.”

“My husband is dead,”  I said in a small.

“Yes,” she agreed, “but as long as we do not ask for our bride price, as long as you still live under his roof and bear his name any baby born by you belongs to him. That is the custom.”

“That is the custom,” the uncle affirmed. He was the younger version of his brother and wearing a black shirt over something the manufacturer had designed as a skirt but sold as knickers in the last minute.

I didn’t understand. “Why should I have babies?”

My uncle-in-law answered. “Because we do not know tomorrow. The fowl says it will eat and eat until it becomes too dark to eat because it does not know what tomorrow will bring. You have only one boy. We do not pray for anything to happen to him. In fact, nothing will happen to him but getting him more brothers will put our mind at rest.”

A wave of anger swept from my chest and filled my head with gaseous fury. “I do not understand what you are saying. How can I have more children now that my husband is no more?”

My husband’s father smiled. His teeth, too white for his age, shone. “Your husband is dead and buried but for the mortar to get food it must turn its back on the ground.

I see; I should turn my back on my husband, I should abuse his memory, interrupt my mourning and open my legs for a man (any man) to give me children to keep my husband’s name. I found the suggestion obscene, ironic, and my tongue burnt to hurl bad words; I bit it down. I took a long breath then sighed. I would bare my mind to them the way they bore theirs, with wise sayings, riddles.

“One does not use another person’s eyes to see the road. I had been married to my husband, your son, for six years and in that time I have conceived five times. The first baby died the day it was born, the second conception ended in a miscarriage; and the third died before it turned one. I am fortunate to have these two with me. My husband is dead and I am not going to look for, at night, the black goat I couldn’t find in the day.”

The silence that followed was long and imposing. They had come with the confidence of experience, assured in the faith of their message. They didn’t expect me to react the way I reacted. They praised me for being strong but wisdom was one thing they didn’t think to accord me with.

My father-in-law was the first to recover. He cleared his throat. I sensed a hint of pride in his throat. “You are a great woman,” he said. “You are equally intelligent. My son chose well. It is said that he who sits on the sideline does not know what the wrestler sees. You have really suffered in your duty as child bearer, and now you suffer the loss of your crown. But each time tragedy comes, you have beaten it back because you are a strong woman.”

I nodded in agreement but my words were clear. “Too much praise makes the brave fight with bare hands and soon his corpse is carried in a long basket.”

“It is the firewood a woman gathered in her youth that keeps her warm in old age,” my mother-in-law said. “We do not advise you to get more children out of our selfishness, we may not be here when they grow up. Most of our concern is born out of sympathy.”

“Yes, but when sympathy becomes too much it looks like mockery.”

“Young woman,” the woman said, trying to suppress her anger, “a child does not defecate in a place where the grass is taller than her. You…”

“No, no my wife,” the uncle said, “let us not quarrel over this issue. Scratching an itchy eye is done with great care. We must not quarrel. The tortoise said that slaughtering a cow for his mother’s funeral is the dignified thing to do but if you ask him to provide the cow he has none.” He shrugged.

My father-in-law spoke. “These things we are trying to suggest are not things that are not done. In plain words, my daughter, why are you averse to the direction of our voice?”

I sighed silently. They started with poetry now they wished to hear me speak in plain prose. No problem. “Firstly,” I began, “I have already suffered greatly in my childbearing journey. I do not think I can endure another conception…”

“An old woman is never old when it comes to a dance she knows how to dance.”

For a moment, I allowed my anger show at my mother-in-law’s words; I successfully overcame this with a painful smile. “You are right Mama, but it is only those who can afford it fight with their walking sticks.”

“Not speaking is the elder’s fault, not listening the child’s,” she fired.

“My wife, I said let us not quarrel about this. It is all about our young wife seated before us. She has the knife and she has the yam. The farmer says if he likes he would shoot his plantain with a gun. It is his own. We cannot quarrel with our daughter over something that has to do with her body.” He turned to me. “My daughter, tell us, assuming you can endure another childbirth, what else are you afraid of?”

“It is not about fear nnam; it is more about respect; respect. I do not believe getting more kids in the name of my husband will do him honour. You have said that for a mortar to get food it must turn its back on the ground. True, but a fowl does not forget the person who pulled its tail in the rainy season. My husband is gone but I still love him, and I do not think frolicking with other men will please him. Secondly, look at the economic hardship today. One must consider the size of his anus before swallowing udala seed. I am a teacher, and a part-time tailor; I have the little money left of my husband’s business. With these, I can effectively carter for my kids. It will be harder, if not impossible to add more mouths…”

“If I may interrupt you my daughter, but an adult who sends a child to catch shrew will definitely provide her with water to wash off the odor.”

My father-in-law agreed with his brother. “One person does not raise a child. Children belong to the community.”

I nodded. “But a goat belonging to the public sometimes die of starvation.”

“Young woman…” the old woman began hotly but I didn’t let her finish. “Do not say I am treating your words with disregard but I do not want to be like the lizard who went to have his teeth filed even when he heard of the man rat bit to death.”

The silence that followed was deep and suffocating. I shut my eyes and eased back on my seat and relaxed. I could hear the gentle hum of my children’s breathing in the next room. The sound pleased my heart and comforted me like a warm blanket.

Someone cleared his throat. I opened my eyes. The uncle spoke. “We have had a good conversation, we have spoken like family, and they are good words.” He swallowed something or nothing. “It is not in our culture for the younger one to close the talk so I will leave it for my brother to say the last word.”

“Thank you Deji, you have spoken like a true son of Nnobi. As a whole, every word we said here tonight is good. Our family is a good one, both we and the wives we marry in are sensible people. Our purpose of coming here is to talk to you our young wife, to let you know our heart because shit in the stomach does not smell. We have done our duty the way we deem it fit. It is now left for you to do your part. You are not in agreement with our words but I implore you to sleep over it. Call yourself to a meeting and turn the matter around. You may be sure you understand all we have said, but I assure you that the snake is never exactly the length of the stick it is likened to. So think over our words. If you accept to do what we suggest, you are our wife; if you do not accept you are still our wife. The penalty for not dancing well is never applied to one who has legs. Thank you for opening your door and ears to our call.”

“Thank you, sir.”

They rose to go. I stood up and walked with them to the door.

“Kachifo.”

“Ka’obo.”

I shut the door and bolted it. Thanks be to Olisa for keeping my sanity throughout this tumultuous meeting. I allowed a sigh of relief, crossed myself and made for the bedroom to check on my kids.

Update: The August Lover

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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Ramblings Of An Angry Nigerian: 2016 HALF-TIME SCORECARD

Sigh. Six months have been chopped off of 2016. It’s July 1st. The first half is gone, gone forever and today we kicked off the second forty-five minutes of this year. First, I must say a big congratulation to you for making it past the half threshold of this trying Marathon. Surviving this hardministration alone is a feat. Forget, for a second, about your account balance, forget that ten percent of your goals this year haven’t been accomplished, forget, forget and just thank Olisa in heaven for life. My people have a saying that life is everything. Ndubuisi. Which happens to be my father’s surname. Yeah, life is everything, the main deal, because with life, they reason, you will have a shot. The God who preserved your life will give you the things to enjoy life with. They say. I agree with them. Ndubuisi. I suspect you are surprised I’m this optimistic. Well, it’s I forgetting, for a second, that I am a sadist; this is me leaving my cynical gloves on the doorstep, and coming into the dining to look at the half empty glass and call it half full. Optimism doesn’t kill. It won’t kill me. It’s just for today anyway.

My 2016 biggest goal was leave Nigeria. Being the prophet I am, I saw in late 2015 that Nigerian economy will get worse and suffering will ripen. It’s not actually prophecy. A little like simple mathematics. I looked at the poor oil price, I looked at my president, old, sentimental, poorly educated and surrounded with Lai Mohammed, Audu Ogbeh, Amaechi etc, I looked at the economic blueprint, zero; and I knew that we’re cornered and, like Lord Jim, I decided to jump from this ship. I am not saying that Nigeria is a sinking ship, not yet, but it’s a ship run by APC so you can never be too sure. I have a handful of my relations overseas so I began to bombard them with calls, and I succeeded in getting one of them agree to take me in. We began to make plans, I began to pack. There were moments I saw myself washing plates in China, there were moments I saw a red faced policeman chasing me in the cold streets of Belgium etc. These prospects don’t appeal to me and they weaken my resolve. But I never gave up, I continued to plan. I needed a lump sum of money and the only way to get it was to have my family give it to me or to rob them. But as Buhari bites deeper the harder it becomes to get the money, or even rob them, and the harder it is to flee this sinking ship.

Sigh. Nigeria. She makes it hard for you to get a job, she makes it harder to make money, more expensive to solve your needs and near impossible to escape. Motherland, the only people you permit to fly are the ones who don’t need to escape from this country; the only people you give jobs are the ones who don’t need jobs to live large; the only people you allow more money are the ones who never mind the rising cost of living in this space; why, mama? Why!

Plan B for me, this year, or rather goal number two was to set up a company, employ myself and boost the economy. It’s somehow connected to number one goal. It will keep me busy, divert my frustration of being caged and even provide the cushion for me in the abroad until I get that waiter job (chai). But setting up a business in this time and place is like trying to wrestle a wild cat. Bruises. I have a big plan, no, I am not going to give details now but trust me when I say it’s big. But no one will give me credit to begin. It’s people like Senator Ben Bruce they would give loan. This common sense senator borrowed eleven billion naira from Union Bank eleven years ago, eleven billion! And he’s yet to pay back a kobo, and when ANCOM came knocking he said he’s being persecuted because he employs one thousand people and pay them above the minimum wage. Minimum wage is 18 thousand naira and Mr Senator tells us that he pays one thousand people 18,100 naira with his eleven billion naira loan, after ten years! That’s an average of one person per eleven million naira. Where is the common sense in this matter? How is a normal being proud that he employs one person for every eleven million naira borrowed. This is why we will never go forward. Here am I, hungry, angry and creative, and no one would touch me. Gimme ten million naira and I swear to employ a hundred people and pay them 18,100 naira after ten years (since 18,100 naira is the yardstick). Then look for ten thousand hungry, angry and creative Nigerians like me and give them ten million naira each, and we’d transform Nigeria before 2025. Note to Mr Bruce, stop telling us to buy Nigerian to boost the naira, how about you pay your debt and save the economy.

Sigh. He will never pay back. This country is what it is, wired to sustain the rich, the connected and the powerful. You that is hungry, angry and creative is nothing. Help yourself or become a police recruit.

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My goal number three was to grab a decent job.

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahaha ahahahahahaha.

Nothing more to say. Next goal!

There are ten other major goals. A thousand minor ones including the one about reading fifty novels this year, something like one per week. Haha, it would please you to know that I just finished the second novel last night. Average of one book per three months. OK. There’s one about doing something about my singlehood, but of all the four billion women on earth it’s only the fat girl who roasts corn across the road that has a crush on me. Corn thirty, ube 3 fifty. OK.

Overall, the first half of this year has proved the worst time to:
Look for a job,
Start a business,
Leave Nigeria,
And, most especially, be broke (being broke has never been romantic, but this time around, being broke has a touch of the noose on it).

Sigh. What’s the first step of the second lap? Continue pushing, that’s the only thing to do. Or just google How to make it in life. Or just marry a rich man. I am not exactly bursting with ideas otherwise I’d be blogging from Hong Kong. But if I will give you advice, if I must, I will ask you to involve God. Those of you on my Facebook list will remember me singing ‘Take the whole world and gimme Jesus’ all over the place. Yes, because I have decided to follow Him, no turning back, no turning back. Because even Buhari is not a match to the Man of Galilee. Because there’s a place for grace and also a place for hustling. Because, I haven’t mentioned it, but this is the best time to follow Jesus.

I will be wrong to assume that everyone reading this is a Christian or even theistic. So generally, I’d say keep pushing, keep working hard, remain dedicated, determined and never give up. You must make it or die trying. You weren’t born to watch people live their lives, were you? Non.

And in case you want to invest in my company, contact me. Email, whatsapp or call me. Or say so in the comment box. You think it’s a joke, well, that is your cup of tea. You are doing yourself, not Okechukwu and Sons Limited; that was how they laughed at Mark Zuckerberg. Now, he’s the sixth richest man on earth. So keep laughing while we build the great company. And by the end of the year it will no longer be funny when, I, in my yacht, and you, in your kiosk, call my phone and it’s my Spanish secretary that would pick the call and say, in her beautiful formal voice, “La persona que llama está ocupado en este momento.” Sucker.

I am outta here.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

Update: Read 2017 Halftime Report