Southern Pacific Review Editorial Services

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ward Four

By
Tunji Ajibade
Comments on the internet on Uzziah Demeni were about the prize, and now Demeni’s response to the comments made references to the man in the hospital room with me.  He could have been the one that made the response after he won the world’s most prestigious Literary Prize, except that he didn’t know who won. And he didn’t know that Demeni, his friend, was being congratulated from one end of the world to the other.
“…I cannot but mention my good friend, Buba Zamani,” Demeni wrote to thank numerous admirers who posted their congratulatory  messages on MissMe, an internet social network page. “He is the one I owe my humble beginning in writing. He fired my earliest interest and  if he had not, I would not have found the path that brought me this prize.”
“I am writing my story from them,” I said.
The man in the hospital room with me was Buba Zamani. Demeni now lectured at a university in Canada, and it was obvious he was not aware of the whereabouts of his friend. As I read Demeni’s response on my laptop computer, my mind went back to the time I was six years old, and my father was a teacher at the Central University in Benguda. “What are you doing with my papers?”
“Dear, come and see what your son wrote,” Dad called to Mom. Whiff of cooked rice came from the kitchen and I could hear shin-rin-rin-rin of plantain that she fried in vegetable oil.I sank into the couch beside Dad, and I continued to read his story in the paper in my hand, turning each of his sentences around in my head. I had done the same thing to some of his other stories, and I had been waiting to read them at the reading and critique session that Dad hosted at the University Staff Club House.
Dad bent over my shoulder to pick the paper on which I had written the first sentence of my story, which was his story. Where the opening line of the story in his paper read: "I was born the day the president came to our town."  Mine read: I was born the day the Queen came to our village, my father said so.”
Sometimes she would stand up from her seat and walk around the dinner table, placed my legs right under the table if I had sat with my side to the table. I smelled her perfume at such moments, and close up, she looked to me like my white class teacher back in London with her fair skin and straight hair held strictly to the back in a pony tail.
“O ginni? What is it, dear?” Mom said when she walked into the living room, a blue-checked apron tied over her dress. The apron was always the first thing she picked from where she hung it on the wall once she entered the kitchen, and if I happened to join her, or Dad did, she would not let me pick a bowl until I tied an apron around myself, just as she would not let me touch the cutleries at the dinning table without my napkin placed where it should be on my lap. “See, what your son has done with my story,” Dad said and gave Mom the piece of paper in his hand. “You mean you are seeing it for the first time?” she asked, after she read what I wrote and gave the paper back to Dad. “He has translated some of your other works.”
“Which R and C Session are you talking about?” he asked, his thick eyes brows raised, his hairy right hand raised, but it stopped midway to his head.
“Is that what you call it, ‘translate?’” Dad asked. “Well, you write, he writes what you write, in his own words,” Mum said, raised her shoulders in Dad’s pullover, and let them fall. She always wore Dad’s pullovers and T-shirts; I liked her in them, because they had round necks and I liked to wear pullovers and T-shirts with round necks. Mom looked like an athlete in them, slim and lovely, and sometimes I mistook her for Dad if I came out of my room and bumped into her in the hallway between their room and mine. Dad laughed at what Mom said, and then turned to me, “Where are the other stories you translated?” “They are for the R and C Session,” I said, meaning the reading and critique session of the literary organization he formed. “I will go with you today,” I said.
“You have to start writing your own stories. If you continue to ‘translate’ mine, you may never come into your own as a writer. Now, I am off to my reading and critique session.”
“You are meant to be in lesson by now, Ish,” Mum said. She called me ‘Ish’ like my friends did while we were in London.  But Dad always said, ‘Hey guys, his name is Ishmael, not Ish,” when he dropped me off at school, and he heard my classmates shout from they stood at the main entrance door, “Run, Ish, or we will be late for class.” “There is no lesson today,” I said to Mum. “There is.” “No lesson. Mrs Hassan said so.” “When did she say this?” “Yesterday. She said there will be no lesson today and on Saturday, because she wants to travel and she will not return until Sunday.” Mum turned to Dad and said, “How come she didn’t tell us?” Dad shrugged his shoulders, and stood up. “Ishmael.” “Dad.” “I am off to my reading and critique session,” I said, got to my feet, and ran towards my room to change my clothes.
“Well, some of the issues that I have in mind concerning this story have been mentioned by those who spoke before me. But I am more concerned with the content rather than the form,” Dad said as he held the work of one of the participants at the Reading and Critique Session.” He was the moderator, and he always spoke last after everyone else, in the circle participants formed in one of the rooms at the University Club House. “First I will like to commend the author of this story for the freshness of the form he had adopted. Using trance as the wheel to carry the story to us is good. I also like to commend the ending, which was a twist. It blew me off my feet, because it was totally unexpected.”
Dad and Mum laughed, and I knew they must have turned to each other, exchanged glances, before they did. Each time I saw them looking at each other, I felt they were saying things that I could not hear. And I was sure they did because at such times, Dad would be the one to speak to me, and once he did Mom would not say a word. If I happened to turn to her then, her eyes would have been lowered to her plate of food or the knitting she was doing, while she nodded her head. I looked at the students and the university lecturers who were in attendance. Many of  them were familiar to me although I could not easily recollect their names.  They were the same set of people I knew except for three faces that I had never seen before. At least, I didn’t see them the last time I attended the session two months ago on a day that happened to be the nation’s independence day and Mrs Hassan had said there was no lesson.
“This boy will beat you as a writer before long,” a lecturer said as he shook my hand when I returned to my seat. Dad laughed at what he said, a finger on his chin, the way he did when Uncle Jatau came to our house in the Senior Staff Quarters on the Campus.
Everyone listened as Dad spoke, and he had begun to say, “However, I will like to draw our attention to a few things as regards the content of the story, first on Page Four.” Everyone opened the pages of the papers in their hands. “What we have on the page is what I want to focus my critique on because it represents many of the other things that I had underlined on some other pages. Now what we have of Page Four is an example of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ which is the better way to write. Take a look at this sentence in paragraph Two, for instance, “Her father’s voice bristled with punctilious air of authority.’  I call this ‘classic telling.’ With this expression, the author told us what happened, but as a reader, I did not see ‘punctilious air of authority;’ I mean, I didn’t feel anything what the author told me happened. The way he expressed it didn’t get me to empathize. Take a look at another sentence on Page Five which goes like this, ‘She patted her shoulder consolingly.’ Now I regard this kind of expression as…” Dad continued with his explanation which I did not understand, and I read a story when it was my turn. He was the first person I knew among Dad’s relatives, Uncle Jatau. He had met me outside our house one day as I rode on my bicycle on the lawn. It sounded to me like he was greeting or something when he said , “Yaya ka ke?” where he stood on the culvert in front of the house, a brown jute bag on his back. The culvert was over the drainage that separated Mbani Odira Street from our house. I didn’t see him standing there at first, and I rode past him before I stopped. “Yeah? What can I do for you?” I said, my back to him, head turned towards him. “Na che, yaya ka ke?” “Excuse me, but I don’t speak your language.”
He and Dad discussed late into the night and where I sat in front of the TV watching  Alice in Wonderland, I sometimes caught Dad rubbing his tummy,  laughing each time Uncle Jatau said something. Dad told me later Uncle Jatau complained that Dad did not visit their town, Birnin-Kafe, since he returned from his studies in London two years ago, that it was time he came.  He also said Dad needed to do something for the people of Birnin Kafe, and that people said he was one of the highly educated few from the town but he never affected their lives in any way. Uncle Jatau said to be tagged as one who did not help the people was more serious than being leprous, that few people get stripped of it no matter how much they tried, and that Dad should do something fast before this kind of talk spread more than it already had.  When Dad said he would return to London for his doctorate degree, Uncle Jatau asked if  Dad didn’t think he had had enough of books, because he learnt that too much books in the head could make a man go mad. I suspected it what when Uncle Jatau said this that Dad laughed the loudest, the longest.
I left him there, rode across the culvert and went down the street to my friend’s house in one of the highrise buildings on Aman Dinbata Street. I found the man with the jute bag on his shoulder in our living room later. “Hi, Mom,” I said when I stepped inside. “Hi, Ish. Come and say ‘hello’ to your Uncle Jatau,” she said. I walked over and shook his hand, “Hi, Uncle.” “Yaya ka ke?” “He means ‘how are you?’” Dad said. “He’s been saying I should teach you Hausa, and that it is not good that you don’t know your father’s language.” Uncle Jatau spoke with Dad for long, and he ate rice, plantain, stew and fish  with his fingers  table while the fork, spoon and knife lay beside his plate on the dinning table. I watched his throat move up and down and I heard glot-glot-glot as he drank iced water from a glass cup. He wiped his mouth with the back of his right hand, drew up a part of his flowing babanriga and dried his hand on it. Dad took me along when he visited their town, Birnin-Kafe months later. I coughed as I stepped out of the car into the sun that hit my skin, and which was worse than the steaming water Mom made me bath with whether the weather was hot or cold. Dad said the dust in the dry wind that blew lightly around us made me cough, and I looked at the ground as he said so. The soil was like the red clay I molded with during Art and Craft lessons in the university staff school. Houses around were made of  red mud, more of those towards the back had  grass-thatched roofs, and some of the houses to the front were covered with brown-rusted roofing sheets. Behind the houses in every direction, there were hills of rocks, and I could see trees and shrubs growing from crevices of rocks. I smiled, and it was because Dad once said his own father used to say that he was as stubborn as a tree that grows on rocks.
I turned around when I heard goats bleat behind me. It was a herd, all brown with patches of white on their heads and on their belly areas. And there were sheep, too. A  cattle, with its calf, stood under a dogoyaro tree beside a house that I knew must be a mosque because it was rectangular, like the one on the campus, and it stood at an odd angle to other houses near it. Dad once told me the mosque on the campus faced a direction that was at odd with other buildings because worshippers must face a particular direction when they prayed.
“Dad, what’s that wall for?” I asked as I closed the door on my side and walked to the front of the car. I pointed at an open ground in front of a high mud wall that stretched far to the right and to the left of the dirt road where we stood. There was an entrance in the wall where men in flowing babanriga sown with green and red cloth sat. “The Emir’s palace,” Dad said, stepped out of the car and closed the door. “Sannu da zuwa,” a man who stopped beside us said. His caftan was torn on the right shoulder, and it was patched on the area I judged to be his belly button. The caftan was brownish, but I could see it was not meant to be brown. The man had a stick at the back of his neck, across his shoulders, and from it two large tins that once contained vegetable oil dangled, shifting this way and that way, making their carrier loll from side to side as he walked past. Dad said “Yahwa.” I ran and held his hand when I heard a high pitched noise hooof-hooof-hooof  as if someone  blew into a trumpet without adjusting the musical notes. “Are you afraid of donkey?” he said and laughed. “That’s a donkey?” “Yes.” “Where is it?” I turned to see where he point to an animal with a rope between his two front legs. “It was braying, wasn’t it?” “Is that what donkeys do? Bray? I don’t recollect,” he said. “See camels, Dad,” I said and pointed. They were at the T-junction down the road. Four of them. The one in front had loads on its back. It was the tallest, the biggest so I assumed it was the leader, because other camels walked in a single line behind it. Two boys walked behind them, a stick across their shoulders like a shepherd. “Buba, ka zo?” Dad and I turned around where we stood beside the car. Uncle Jatau was in front of a compound of houses. The house to the front had rusted roofing sheets, and others to its left and right had grass for roofs. “Eeeh, yes,” Dad said to Uncle Jatau. We walked towards him, and I could see a girl and two boys in the entrance behind Uncle Jatau that was without a door. There was no doorframe, just the space between two edges in the wall. “Tell your Uncle ‘Barka da,’” Dad said.
We walked with Uncle Jatau to the Emir’s palace. The men in green, red flowing babanriga at the gate got to their feet, squatted as we walked closer to the gate. I wondered what they were saying with each of their right hands raised, a little below their chins, the fingers folded into a fist. The men repeated what I heard as “Yanlabai, Allah ya jaa ma zamani.” Dad told me they said, “Great man, may God give you long life,” and that they  were palace guards. I had thought they would talk only to Uncle Jatau whom they knew well. They greeted him too, but I noticed they bowed more, and with wider grins that showed kolanut stained teeth said more “Yanlabai” to Dad.
I repeated it, and Dad said, “These are your cousins,” pointing to the kids who were looking into his face as they said, “Sannu da zuwa.” “Hi, my name is Ish,” I said, and extended my hand to the girl who was in front of the two boys. She drew backward, her eyes opened wide, her front teeth showing jagged edges, and her hands hidden under the hijab that covered her head and the side of her face all the way to her knees. Her bare feet were the colour of the soil under them. The boys took my hand one after the other, and we all walked through the entrance into the front house that turned out to be a passage into a large yard behind it. “Buba!” an old woman stood up from a wooden stool and ran towards Dad. The veil she draped herself with fell to the ground, but she did not stop until she got into Dad’s arms. They remained like this for a while, as I turned around on the same spot to look at the yard. Women sat at various points, with children on their backs, on their laps as others stood around their mothers. Smoke, like billowing a sheet rose from the firewood under black pots from which steam escaped from the covers, and I could smell fresh meat. “Say ‘hello’ to my grandmother,” Dad said. I looked up at the woman that hugged Dad and I said,  “Hello Grandma.” “You mean Great grandma,” Dad said. “Hello Great grandma.” The woman looked at me, the skin of her face in series of lines that she must have thought was a smile, the empty upper gum in her mouth showing; I would have turned around and run except that Daddy’s left hand was on my shoulder. He and Great grandma sat down and talked, and I later realized she said Dad should marry a young girl in town, that she had a girl in mind, and it would be a fulfillment of the faith if Dad had more than one wife. One of the men, the one that appeared to be in command of the rest, led us through the entrance into the inner parts of the palace. There were mud houses, each of which stood on its own in no particular pattern in the compound. Some of them had thatched roofs while others had rusted roofing sheets. As we walked further in, the guard branched to his left, stopped. “Ya na nan,” he said and pointed to the door.
As he drove us away from Birnin Kafe, Dad said his father was the immediate past Sarkin Birnin-Kafe. When he died, Uncle Jatau or he could have become Sarki. The men who had the responsibility of selecting Sarki said most towns had people with western education as Sarki, that Birnin-Kafe should not be left out, and so they rejected Uncle Jatau. Dad was studying in England at the time. He had met Mom and married her, so the selectors said he could not become Sarki because he married ani, unbeliever. They said they would consider him if he divorced Mom, returned to Birnin-Kafe, and marry a local. And they set a time limit of six months. Dad said he didn’t do any of that, so my grandfather’s younger brother was made Sarki. It had been ten years since then. Dad returned from England four years ago, taught at the University, and he let Uncle Jatau persuade him to visit Birnin-Kafe before he would return to London to do his doctorate.
Dad and I followed Uncle Jatau to the door. He and Dad removed their shoes, bent as they stepped through the wooden frame stuck into the mud wall. I unlaced my canvass shoes, and I had removed my stockings before it occurred to me that Dad did not remove his. Both stepped inside and I joined them in the room where a figure sat on the floor, his back against the wall.  I thought he sat on woolen rug until I stepped inside, and from the jagged edges of the sheets that touched each on the floor across the room, I realized they were sheep skins. Uncle Jatau and Dad knelt and raised their fist the way I saw the guards do at the  palace entrance. I stood close to the door until Dad beckoned to me. He pulled me by my hand when I walked over to stand beside him. I got to the floor on my buttocks and he said, “Greet Sarki.” I raised my fist in my seated position, wondering if I got the greeting right. Dad said, “This is my son, Yanlabai,” “By that woman?” “By my wife, yes.” Sarki’s eyes were on me. The ray of light form the open window showed a single straight mark on the left side of his face, the same kind of mark that was on Uncle Jatau’s face, and which Dad also had although his was not so sharp, and I didn’t know why. All the three men were dark, as dark as the hair on my head, while I had fair-skin like Mum. I recollected people saying it  was three goals to one in favour of Mom, because I had her nose and cheeks, but with Dad’s bulging eyeballs. The other two men had Dad’s eyeballs, too, and I asked Dad if he was Sarki’s son as we walked out of the palace ground. “He is my father’s younger brother,” he said. Dad said Sarki asked him not to return to England. “Will you stay?” He didn’t say anything as he drove to the campus from Birnin-Kafe, and not long after, we were back in London. I was in my last year in high school when Dad finished his doctorate, and had his first book published. It was a novel, and I was there when the citation was read at a book reading and book signing event. “This is a book,” the reviewer said, “that is Homeric in proportion and awesome in dimension. It is the story of a young man who grew  up to reject norms, the way of doing things among his people that he was convinced were not forward-looking. He fought against the system, against a father who was bent on having things done the same old way, and he overcame. The book takes a look at aspects of religion that are archaic in a twenty-first century world. It shows a tradition that is essentially retrogressive, and of no relevance to modern day demands. The style used in this book is unique, profound and makes Buba Zamani a writer to watch out for in the future.”
<em>“Son of Sarki Abdulhamid</em>
Dad left for Benguda later and took up an appointment at another university, leaving Mom and me behind in London. He came to see us regularly, but I went to see him during the holidays without Mom because she had started to work with an international organization. At one point, I noticed that Dad didn’t wear jeans trousers, T-shirts under leather jackets as he used to do. But he wore flowing babanriga, and he had a cap on his head. He had cut his hair which he once told me was Afro style, and every Friday he said I should come along for prayers. Dad never went for prayers before, and I found out when I read his novel that one of his characters quoted a famous thinker who had said religion is the opium of the masses. Each  Friday, Dad was made to stand in the front line, directly behind the Imam who led the worshipers at the university mosque. Sometimes, when prayers were over, Imam would announce that all Ummah thanked “Dr Buba Zamani for his generous donations to the work of the Omniscient, the Beneficent, the Merciful” which had led to the early completion of an official house for the Imam. He also assisted several students of the faith to gain admission into the University, and for all of this and much more. Imam said the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth would reward and grant him Aljanah Firdaus on the day when everything with breath shall be called to judgment. And “may good and better things come the way of Dr Buba Zamani. On that we are all with him,” Imam said before everyone stood up and departed from the mosque Dad took me along when he gave talks to gatherings of faithful on the “Benefits of non-interest banking.” And on some other occasions he spoke about “Hijrah, the lot of every faithful.” He had a red-checked rawani around the cap on his head on such occasions and he touched his beard once in a while as he stood on the podium and delivered his address. He had been appointed as Chairman of a Central Government Commission when I visited him on another occasion, and Mom would have come along but he said there was no need, and that he would come and see her shortly. We went together to Birnin-Kafe then, because he was to be conferred with a traditional title. Tents had been erected in the open space in front of  Sarki’s palace when we arrived. I was about to open the door on my side of the car when singers and drummers rushed forward. I smiled and touched the long flute one of them blew into, his checks puffed out like a clown performer at a children party, and I said, “Menene?” “Kakaki,” the flutist removed it from his lips, and said. The other man with a stringed instrument said, “Goge,” and his fingers moved up and down on the strings. The praise singers said: <em> The grandson of Sarki Muniru   </em> <em>Son of the founder of our land</em> <em> A land where warriors smiled to war   </em> <em>Land where warriors frowned on their way back from war.</em> <em>It is not because they had no slaves    </em> <em>Not because there were no gold and silver  </em> <em>Not because there were no virgins</em> <em>They frowned b’cos there was too much spoils    </em> <em>B’cos he that will last in the court of a king must reflect his mien</em> <em>He that will last in the court of a kin must reflect his mien</em> <em>‘Too much spoils spoil warriors </em> <em>War is made for warriors</em> <em>Not warrior for spoils,’</em>
“You were not so religious then so she didn’t expect you would ever marry another woman, and of course, you had a court marriage.”
<em>Sarki Muniru had always said.</em> <em>You are welcome, Buba - grandson of the founder of our land</em> <em>You are welcome, grandson of the one who warred but ruled with justice.”</em> Dad put a hand in the pocket of his flowing babanriga and gave the praise singers some currency  notes. They left him and came to me. I adjusted the cap on my head first, and I was at it minutes longer, while I hoped they would go away. They didn’t, so I put my hand in the pocket of my babanriga and gave them out of the notes Dad gave me at home, and had said, “You will need this.” I walked with him into the palace where we sat until Sarki walked out  among title holders in babanriga and turbans of blue, yellow, red, whites on their heads, and whom the praise singers raised their fists to salute one after the other, saying Damburam, Turaki, Magajin-Gari, Tafida, Matawallen. Dad and I followed them to the tents. Four seats away from where we stood, guards extended their hands, their green and red flowing clothes spread out like feathers around Sarki. When they withdrew their hands to themselves, he had taken his seat, and I thought it was forbidden for anyone to see Sarki as he took his seat. The guards drew back, sat on the ground at his feet, and I heard the Master of Ceremony announce that the ceremony for the conferment of the of the title of DanMansanin Birnin-Kafe on Dr. Buba Zamani had commenced. “What’s that?” I bent towards Dad and asked. “The title I am to be conferred with? It means, ‘Son of Knowledge.’” “Repository of Knowledge?” “Much closer to it.” The Master of Ceremony announced at a point that a Durbar in honour of the celebrant was the next item on the agenda. Horsemen filed out and there was a cloud of dust as they raced across the open space in batches of six, ten, and twelve.  They reined in their horses in front of the tent, stopped a few yards away from where Sarki sat, and raised their fists up a little below the chin, in salute to Sarki. Those who had spears held it up straight, and they extended the hand towards him. And there were others with swords and guns. Uncle Jatau led twenty men, all on horses; the horses were dressed in uniform blue collars, and one of the riders carried a white flag that had the words There is but only one God. Dad said it was the flag warriors carried when they went to war one hundred and twenty years earlier at the time they conquered Birnin-Kafe, conquered its surrounding villages, and that the men Uncle Jatau led were all from our family.  Dad knelt before Sarki much later, and I stood beside him as some title holders assisted Sarki to drape a black  alkibah aroun around his shoulders , and tied a white rawani around the cap on his head, before the Master of Ceremony repeated Sarki who had said, “I pronounce you DanMasanin Birnin-Kafe.” Dad sat among other men in front of a house the day after the ceremony for dauran aure, marriage ceremony. His marriage was to a girl from Birnin-Kafe. Dad said as a faithful he was entitled to more than one wife. I knew Uncle Jatau had four wives, but I didn’t think Dad would ever have more than Mom. “How would Mom take that?” I asked when we returned to his official flat in the nation’s capital city. “She knew before we married that I was entitled to more than one wife,” he said. Dad shrugged. “Must you marry another wife, Dad?”
Dad had laughed at what I said the first time I pointed my finger at him. But Mom had slapped my finger down in front of me as I said, “You cheated.” That was after Dad said I should throw  my ball up in the air and we would see whose hand got to it first. He was seated when he set the rule for our game, and I had caught the ball while I was on my feet, a four year old child. I rejoiced several times and shouted, “I won!  I won!” until I threw the ball up and he stood up to catch it high above my head.
“See, son, I have to consider my people. They are sticky with these things. I…” he said and paused as though he didn’t know how to continue with what he wanted to say. “I need to take a second wife who is a faithful and,…em there is the angle of my political profile to consider.” “Political profile?” “Yes, it is rising, and if it must rise further, I need to position myself for it.” “Position yourself? And betray Mom after all these years?” “It is not really that way. It is for the benefit of all of us. For you, for me, for her – all of us.” “How does this affect me, Dad? How does this affect me  - you suddenly becoming so religious, kneeling down to have your head wrapped as a title holder, and taking another wife after Mom? Who knows? You may soon feel compelled to take two more wives to complete the permissible four that your…” “Listen, it is for your good. You first, before any other person. Our people ain’t going to fully accept you if…” “I don’t need anyone’s acceptance. Must I live my life the way others expect of me? Must you live your life according to the dictates of others? When does it suddenly dawn on you that I need to be fully…” “Listen, if I don’t lay a good foundation for you among our people, it…” “How do you mean foundation?” “See, this is the way it works. I was once radical minded; I mean idealistic. That came with my high school and university education in England. Now, I realized there is politics to some things in life, and it must be played well if  one must to get it.” “You play politics by taking titles, marrying another woman after living with Mom for twenty-six years. You have followed a life of literature and learning for so long. You wrote a novel that was critically acclaimed even years after you wrote it. You have manuscripts that are masterpieces if only you will get them published. You are heading for the top in the university system where your brilliance, capability is well-known, well spoken of –  just for this? For tradition, religion, for a teenager as wife? You abandon all that I respect in you to take on the role of a traditional leader, rolling about on mat from morning till evening, people curtsying before you, courting the image of a pious, religious leader with the way you go about speaking at seminars about religion and all of that?” “No it is not like that. As I was about to say, you stand a better chance of being accepted among our people if I stay closer to my root. Who knows, you may become Sarkin Birnin-Kafe one day and…” “I don’t want to be Sarkin-Nothing, Dad. No! I don’t. And please, leave me out of this. Whatever you choose to do with your life - leave me out of it,” I said and stood up from the couch where I had sat opposite Dad all the while. I didn’t realize it but my finger was pointed at him as I spoke, something Mom forbid me from doing when I was a kid, because she would say, “It’s rude to point at your father that way.” Although Dad said it didn’t matter, Mom kept saying it was wrong until I became older and stopped it. That was one thing about Mom. Throughout my childhood years, and all the time we lived in England, she would tell me to greet people, especially adult, that it was rude to walk past an adult without greeting. And she would say, “You can only take meat after your Dad has taken,” anytime I chose to eat from the same plate with Dad.
One day, a phone call came through on my landline at Synergetic Inc., an Information and Communications Technology firm where I was a Senior Programmer. I was to come to a Specialist Hospital in London. I met Dad on the hospital bed in Ward Four; he was three times the size and weight that I knew. Dad had always liked good food.   Mom curbed the excesses when she was around him, because Dad could finish a whole chicken at a sitting and then overlay it two giant-sized cups of ice cream. Now his heart had become a problem and I was not surprised.   A blocked artery.   Heart attack.   Surgery was needed, and he felt he might not survive it.
Mom also told me stories of her Igbo people whom she said lived in villages at one point in their history without kings, that elders took decisions jointly at the village square, and that each age grade carried out the decisions as needed. She said her people worshipped Ala, god of land, and Amadiora god of thunder, until white missionaries converted majority of them from what they referred to as idolatry. Sometimes Mom cooked slimy ogbono soup, and unugu soup and we ate pounded cassava foofoo, which she said her people liked to eat. When I visited Birnin-Kafe for the first time, returned to the University campus and told Mom that Uncle Jatau had four wives, she said Dad would not marry another wife. Much later, she said she had thought about it when they met and agreed to marry as undergraduates at the University of London. But she believed Dad when he promised never to have another woman, and in any case, he did not believe in polygamy. All of this went on in my mind as I walked out of the living, Dad calling me, while I ran to my room, tears on my cheeks to pack my things. I didn’t let him stop me when I got to the door with my bags. I returned to London, and for long I did not see him. I was in the quadrangle of the University of London one day when a white man walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, are you not Ishmael Buba Zamani.” “Yes, I am,” I said. “Your father wrote a book called ‘The man of the land.’” I nodded my head. “Fantastic novel. Fantastic. I read it exactly two decades ago. Never read anything out of Africa like it ever since. Has your father written any more books after that book?” “Well, he has manuscripts. But he didn’t have any intention of getting them published.” “How sad. I am sure he would have been one of the great novelists of all times if he followed that path,” the man said and shook his head. “By the way, how do you know me?” I asked him. “Oh, sorry. My name if Jann Helmann. I am of the Faculty of Humanity, Linguistics Department. You once attended one of our reading and critique sessions. You made a comment then, and you mentioned your name. But it was months later when I played back the video recording of the event that I connected you with the name on the attendance register as well as with your father. Great writer, Zamani. Great writer.” Dad didn’t get in touch with Mom and me after he married in Birnin-Kafe, but I followed his activities. He remained at the Commission for two terms of ten years. And during the time he  appeared on TV as a scholar in the faith, his turban looked higher and bigger on his head, and his beard was longer, with a sideburn that I judged to be the length of my middle finger. And he had put on much weight, his cheek puffed out, his tummy three times the size I saw the last time I was with him. He had resigned his appointment at the university before he joined the commission, and he never returned to the classroom. He settled in Birnin-Kafe instead, where he became an active member of Sarki’s Council, married another teenage girl to bring his wife to two, apart from mom. She said Dad sent her a letter of divorce at the time he married the second wife. “You mentioned a political appointment at one time,” I said where I sat on a chair beside his bed to keep him company.  It was my third visit on the third day after I received the phone call. He cleared his throat. He was mentioned for possible ministerial appointment each time there was an opening, he said. Everyone thought he could be chairman of one board or the other. But none came. Yet he was active for his people in Birnin-Kafe, for the Emirate Council, and for the faith. “Why?”
<td><em>Tunji Ajibade is a Communications/Literary Consultant. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria. He has published short stories, dramas and children stories many of which have either won or been nominated for national and continent-wide literary awards. His short stories have been published in newspapers and journals such as Conte, Chamberfour, The Fear of Monkeys, Guerilla Basement, Dugwe, Cyclamens and Swords, as well as Untamed Ink.</em></td>
He shrugged his shoulder, and said nothing more. But I knew why. I knew because one of Mom’s friends, who was a lecturer at the same University with Dad before his appointment at the Commission spoke with Mom whenever she came to London.  She said each time Dad’s name came up for appointment, there were complaints that his conviction of the faith and tradition could not be trusted because of the attack he made on the faith in his novel.   It was said his book was an evidence that he was an apostate, and that there were better people than him.   What Mom’s friend said made me see why Dad instructed that I should never bring copies of his book with me each time I visited him.  And he had never allowed the book to be sold in Benguda. My mobile phone rang where I sat in Dad’s hospital room, reading the social networking page the day Demeni was announced as the winner of the Siayonu Prize. “Hello,” I said into the mouth piece.  The phone was on speakers, and I hadn’t realized I put it on speakers. “Hi. Jann Helmann here, Professor of Linguistics. “Hi, Prof.” I said. “Did you hear that Uzziah Demeni has been announced as the winner of …?” “Yes, I did. It was probably announced in the same hour that my father died.” “Buba died?” “Yes, in the early hours of this morning.” “My sympathy,” he said.  “But do you know something?” “No, I don’t.” “I brought his novel to the attention of the Siayonu Prize Award Committee the same month it was published two decades ago.” “You did?” “Yes. I am a member of the Committee, you know. We rated the book the way we normally do every work of interest. I recollect that it met with overwhelming acceptance among Committee members. So we kept it on our shelf, and we also kept your father in view, waiting to see more of the work he would come up with. We were ready to follow his career over the years the way we always do the works writers of significance; it was the same way we followed Demeni’s career over the past decades. That single novel, for us, established your father. And I am confident that if had continued to write over the years, majority of us on the Committee would have voted and awarded him the prize. Well, he is gone now. Please, accept my sympathy.” “Thanks a lot, Prof,” I said, and he rang off. I closed the internet page where I had been reading Demeni’s response, my thought on so many things, on so much promise that went unfulfilled. Demeni was at the University with Dad when I was a kid. Both of them attended reading and critique sessions together, and he was the lecturer who joked that I would one day be a better writer than Dad. Dad wrote his first novel before Demeni wrote his. But Demeni had continued to write over the past twenty years, churning out volumes upon volumes. And now at the age of fifty, two years younger than Dad, he had been named the winner of the world’s most prestigious literary prize –the Siayonu Literary Prize For Excellence, while Dad lay in a casket, a day to the scheduled heart surgery. I turned around on the swivel chair to face the room. The closed casket was there  -  in the centre of the room, between me and the hospital bed - awaiting the hearse that I ordered for. The hearse would take his body to the cemetery for internment, and the internment had to be on the same day that he died, because it was a requirement of Dad’s faith. The door was pushed open, and a nurse stepped inside. “Mr Zamani, the hearse has arrived.” &nbsp; <table> <tbody> <tr> <td><a href="http://www.gringolandiasantiago.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/DSC_0541.jpg"><img src="http://www.gringolandiasantiago.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/DSC_0541-150x150.jpg" alt="" width="150" height="150" /></a></td> </tr> </tbody> </table>
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