Friday, January 2, 2009
LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW
Far away from Kaduna, the smell of roasting cashews, surfing the morning air, assails the clean-shaven boy featherly. Framed by the barred windows, he looks beyond the walls of the house, far above the trees, and though his eyes at their farthest never leave the pleasant green spread of palm trees and cashew trees, he feels an uneasy wave in his stomach. With his palms to the wall holding up the curtain he wonders about Falmata and familiar places, about the reasons that have led him here.
“Shall I get you some water to bath?”From his thoughts, he turns only lightly to smile kindly at the gap toothed Igbo boy. “Yes, Nnamdi. Thank you.” He is unaware of the accent in his speech which Nnamdi muses about, as he makes his way down the stairs, fascinatedly. Back in the room, looking out the window, our boy is in another space, in another time. He has effeminately arched brows, thin lips, his complexion is a dark chocolate brown – he would be beautiful were he not thinking. But the concentration of his thoughts takes the expressive from his eyes; his face becomes curiously plain, like a sheet of paper when a pen is hanging over it.
The night of drinking and talk, that last time. He had arrived early, as Falmata expected him, to see to the final arrangements. Within the hour, by 7:30 p.m., their friends started arriving the Hanwa GRA apartment which for the last time would host Falmata’s salon. The music played, Afrobeat and neo-soul; Fela Kuti and his son, Badu and Whitney from the 90’s, Alicia Keys. Fifteen guests – the usual habitués being Ahmed, Emman, Elnath, Tirnom, Hauwa Dogo, Ibrahim Tagwai, then there was the priest called Beckett and Waziri, the sufi mystic. Ahmed and Emman, with big boned Tirnom, were at a corner tending the raised spits on which a fifth share of a ram he had marinaded in spice since the day before lay roasting – a fragrant offering to what, he couldn’t say. Maybe to youth. Some of the others were drinking; Guinness or orange juice according to their morals, Hauwa Dogo and Ibrahim were dancing, surrounded by Elnath with two of the girls,cheering. He looked at them all; there had been stars in his eyes.
“It’s going well, isn’t it?”
“Yes, my love, it is.”
“For the last time.”
“Beauty does not fade,” he’d said, “ . . .yes, for the last time.”
Maybe she said “Yes.” Falmata had moved away to a table where the Jesuit and the Sufi were and he’d heard laughter, hers, sweetly, as she dragged them both to dance. The priest obliged her. It was Fela Kuti; Sorrow, Tears and Blood. His Falmata, dancing with stars in the sky above her. Falmata, who had studied English Literature, Fulani, dark as he was, dancing; she, the second half of his soul poem. A month before today.
The boy looking out the window sighs, unaware that for a while a little girl had been watching him, had watched him three long minutes because she wanted to say good morning to the new teacher - and she had turned away sadly. His thoughts had returned nearer where he was, to the market he had been at the day before – the Udenu market where he had gone to buy coffee. He remembered the many thin, emaciated faces beckoning him to be cheated and the smell of rot – unable to say if the rot was not a living human one. Dirty market, fat women and children with sunken eyes. Then the boy with the wheelbarrow brushing past him but not fast enough for him not to see the butchered remains – the head and tail of a horse. He had almost collapsed, throwing up and gripping at a wall for support, immediately withdrawing his hand at the thought that horses were killed within those walls. And eaten. “I am all right,” he said, but not one of the spectrae hadnoticed him. His thoughts had been of his pony, Wutsia, stabled at Jos – in this land, amongst these people, Wutsia would be butchered and eaten. The nauseaus boy, Almasi George, had run away out of the market then.
Emman and Ahmed had done the steaks marvelously; all had been eating and drinking and talking a long while already. It was about 10 p.m. Mostly, they had talked. They had talked as they always had over the years, about dreams and their introspections because that was the forte of those still young, for whom beauty was a token granted. He talked. Falmata, who did not drink, sat by him in the makeshift bar – an open Guinness before him and their friends clustered all around in a rough semi circle. He read one of his poems. Dispersion stood just out the gates of her house waiting to bear each of them away. They talked, soon, about their country, the integrative forces and of Civil Wars in the 60’s and of militants in the southern delta.
“If they send me to the south, I will abscond. I will not serve,” Musa had blurted out. He wore a rust colored tee-shirt and neutral colored trousers, his glasses hooding just under his clear eyes. He was speaking of the Volunteer Teachers Corps to which every male university graduate who refused military service was called up for a year.Almasi had smiled,
“You can’t do that, Musa.”
“It’s true, I will abscond. Why should I do anything for the country? What has the country done for me?”
But Falmata had stated then in her breezy way, “But you, Musa, are a noted misanthrope. Nobody has ever done anything for you!” and this was met by laughter. Even Musa smiled, removing his glasses. He had studied Political Economy and hoped to lecture.
“Your only option is to go for military service.”
“And be killed in the Niger Delta? Allah ya kiyaye!”
“No one will have you anyway, you’re too skinny.”
“Bloody country. Why can’t they leave me alone?”
“I agree with Elnath. To be left alone, here with you people. I would rather be here.”
“But we cannot be young forever,” the priest, Beckett, said, and his words shrouded the night with silence; they sat drinking their despairs, they, the best and the brightest in the heart of a Nigerian dystopia. Yet, every one of them loved the idea that was Nigeria – only they did not wish to see the underside of that ideal, the patches sewn there; they were afraid what the cardinals south and west and east would show them. For it would be a violation – same as losing one’s virginity, the ideal shattering in the face of the real or the forced face of old maids, an ideal held unto in spite of the real – both ways were rapes, and there wasn’t a third way. But the elegant boy with his arm around his girlfriend was not afraid.
“I will go wherever I am sent. I think I must know the complexity of the country and not take it for granted. If I am sent, to the East or West, even to the Delta, I will go. They are, after all, Nigeria.”
A month before.
And that had led him here, to this window through which the smell of cashews could be perceived each morning, where the inhabitants ate horses and rend the air at night with gunshots celebrating another poisoning, where a slashed at sun tipped into a murky sea. All around him, ideas swirled, for when we stand beside windows things go into us and things go out of us; it is, all ways, a journeying away and to. He thought of the girl who waited for him in Jos, and of his beloved pony and the diaspora into which his cusp had been swept – he wondered if he could make it back from knowing the dynamic of existence and meaning in his country and his heart despaired. For the underside of Falmata’s salon was those faces he had seen at the market, and those faces were vicious.
But the little girl had returned more determined this time.“Good morning sir!” she said, in her little girl voice, from right behind him. Almasi turned on her and smiled.
“Good morning, little one, how are you?”
“Fine,” she replied, clutching her purple and green Barney toothbrush.
“So what’s your name?”
“Kambili. I am six years old!” she added proudly.
“That’s wonderful,” he said, unsure now how to proceed, “my name is Almasi George.”
“Is it true that you will be staying to teach us at the school?” she asked.
But he glanced through the glass again before answering, catching the point where green met blue, but this time he did not sigh. He looked back calmly at the clear, earnest, future eyes peering up at him.“Yes,” he said.He put Kambili’s palm in his and together they walked away from the glass, unaware now that he had let go of the curtain which fell gracefully, covering the window behind him and with it a viewful of many things.