What do you think?
Rate this book
464 pages, Paperback
First published January 8, 2019
Agbatta-Alumalu, the fathers of old say that without light, a person cannot sprout shadows. My host fell in love with this woman. She came as a strange, sudden light that caused shadows to spring from everything else.
She poked her hand into the dark and secret places of his life and touched everything in it. And in time, she became the thing his soul had been yearning after for years with tears in its eyes.
Guardian spirits of mankind, have we thought about the powers that passion creates in a human being?
All who have been chained and beaten, whose lands have been plundered, whose civilizations have been destroyed, who have been silenced, raped, shamed, and killed. With all these people, he'd come to share a common fate. They were the minorities of this world whose only recourse was to join this universal orchestra in which all there was to do was cry and wail.
“A poultry farmer named Jamike Nwaorji, having groomed him for some time, having plucked excess feathers from his body, having fed him with mash and millet, having let him graze about gaily, having probably staunched a leg wounded by a stray nail, had now sealed him up in a cage. And all he could do now, all there was to do now, was cry and wail. He had now joined many others, all the people Tobe had listed who have been defrauded of their belongings –the Nigerian girl near the police station, the man at the airport, all those who have been captured against their will to do what they did not want to do either in the past or the present, all who have been forced into joining an entity they do not wish to belong to, and countless others. All who have been chained and beaten, whose lands have been plundered, whose civilisations have been destroyed, who have been silenced, raped, shamed and killed. With all these people, he’d come to share a common fate. They were the minorities of this world whose only recourse was to join this universal orchestra in which all there was to do was cry and wail.”
“I think it’s the question of fate’s unknowingness, its unquestionability, its irrationality, its madness, its unpredictability, its mercy, its brutality, its generosity, its elusiveness, its banality, its vitality, and all the things you can ascribe to it. It is the most metaphysical of all phenomena—if we can call it a phenomenon. I cannot conceive of a greater topic for great literature ............. I’m more chiefly concerned with metaphysics of existence and essence as they relate to the Igbo philosophy of being. We believe that life is in essence a dialectic between free will and destiny. It is a paradox: that you can make a choice, yet, that everything is preordained? And it is in this space that I anchor my stories.’
Most of what he said pivoted around the perils of loneliness and the need for a woman. And his words were true, for I had lived among mankind long enough to know that loneliness is the violent dog that barks interminably through the long night of grief. I have seen it many times.
EBUBEDIKE, the great fathers speak of a man who is anxious and afraid as being in a fettered state. They say this because anxiety and fear rob a man of his peace. And a man without peace? Such a man, they say, is inwardly dead. But when he rids himself of the shackles, and the chains rattle and tumble away into outer dark, he becomes free again. Reborn. To prevent himself from falling again into bondage, he tries to build defences around himself. So what does he do? He allows in yet another fear. This time, it is not the fear that he is undone because of his present circumstances but that in a yet uncreated and unknown time, something else will go wrong and he will be broken again. Thus he lives in a cycle in which the past is rehearsed, time and time again. He becomes enslaved by what has not yet come. I have seen it many times.
Also, it became clear to him now that it wasn’t he alone who harboured hatred or a full pitcher of resentment from which, every step or so in its rough journey on the worn path of life, a drop or two spilled. It was many people, perhaps everyone in the land, everyone in Alaigbo, or even everyone in the country in which its people live, blindfolded, gagged, terrified. Perhaps every one of them was filled with some kind of hatred. Certainly. Surely an old grievance, like an immortal beast, was locked up in an unbreakable dungeon of their hearts. They must be angry at the lack of electricity, at the lack of amenities, at the corruption.
I was again mystified by the fact that, despite the dozen or so childish spirits playing, a market went on undisrupted below them. The market continued to teem with women haggling, people driving in cars, a masquerade swinging through the place to the music of an uja and the sound of an ekwe. None of them was aware of what was above them, and those above paid no heed to those below, either. I had been so carried away by the frolicking spirits that the masquerade and its entourage were gone by the time I returned to my host. Because of the fluidity of time in the spirit realm, what may seem like a long time to man is in fact the snap of a finger. This was why, by the time I was back into him, he was already in his van driving back to Umuahia. Because of this distraction, I was unable to bear witness to everything my host did at the market, and for this I plead your forgiveness..
Er-he, Nonso, I have been wondering all day: what is the sound that the chickens were making after the hawk took the small one? It was like they all gathered –er, together.’ She coughed, and he heard the sound of phlegm within her throat. ‘It was like they were all saying the same thing, the same sound.’ He started to speak, but she spoke on. ‘It was strange. Did you notice it, Obim?’ ‘Yes, Mommy,’ he said. ‘Tell me, what is it? Is it crying? Are they crying?’ He inhaled. It was hard for him to talk about this phenomenon because it often moved him. For it was one of the things that he cherished about the domestic birds –their fragility, how they relied chiefly on him for their protection, sustenance, and everything. In this they were unlike the wild birds. ‘It is true, Mommy, it is cry,’ he said. ‘Really?’ ‘That is so, Mommy.’ ‘Oh, God, Nonso! No wonder! Because of the small one—’ ‘That is so.’ ‘That the hawk took?’ ‘That is so, Mommy.’ ‘That is very sad, Nonso,’ she said after a moment’s quiet. ‘But how did you know they were crying?’ ‘My father told me. He was always saying it is like a burial song for the one that has gone. He called it Egwu umu-obereihe. You understand? I don’t know umu-obere-ihe in English.’ ‘Little things,’ she said. ‘No, minorities.’ ‘Yes, yes, that is so. That is the translation my father said. That’s how he said it in English: minorities. He was always saying it is like their “okestra”.’ ‘Orchestra,’ she said. ‘O-r-c-h-e-s-t-r-a.’ ‘That is so, that is how he pronounced it, Mommy. He was always saying the chickens know that is all they can do: crying and making the sound ukuuukuu! Ukuuukuu!’
She rattled a string of cowries and performed the ritual of authentication to ensure I was not an evil spirit pretending to be a chi:
‘What are the seven keys to the throne room of Chukwu?’ she said.
— Seven shells of a young snail, seven cowries from the Omambala river, seven feathers of a bald vulture, seven leaves from an anunuebe tree, the shell of a seven-year-old tortoise, seven lobes of kola nuts and seven white hens.
‘Welcome, spirit one,’ she said. ‘You may proceed.’ I thanked her and bowed.
Egbunu, the man of rage – he is one whom life has dealt a heavy hand. A man who, like others, had simply found a woman he loved. He’d courted her like others do, nurtured her, only to find that all he’d done had been in vain. He wakes up one day to find himself incarcerated. He has been wronged by man and history, and it is the consciousness of this wrong that births the change in him. In the moment the change begins, a great darkness enters him through the chink in his soul. For my host, it was a crawly, multi-legged darkness shaped like a rapidly procreating millipede that burrowed into his life in the first years of his incarceration.
Guardian spirits of mankind, have we thought about the powers that passion creates in human beings? Have we considered why a man could run through a field of fire to get to a woman he loves? Have we thought about the impact of love on the body of lovers? Have we considered the symmetry of its power? Have we considered what poetry incites in their souls, and the impress of endearments on a softened heart?
Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
I won't make it any other way**
“Oh God! Nonso, they are! It is like a coordinated song, the kind they sing during burial ceremonies. Like a choir. And what they are singing is a song of sorrow. Just listen, Nonso.” She stood silent for a moment, then she stepped back a bit and snapped her fingers. “It is true what your father said. It is an orchestra of minorities.”
He hadn't considered that he had been broken by the world. The birds were the hearth on which his heart had been burned, and – at the same time – they were the ashes that gathered after the wood was burnt. He loved them, even if they were varied while he was one and simple. Yet, like everyone who loves, he wished that it be requited. And because he could not tell even if his singular gosling once loved him or not, in time his love became a deformed thing – a thing neither he nor I, his chi, could understand.
All who have been chained and beaten, whose lands have been plundered, whose civilizations have been destroyed, who have been silenced, beaten, raped, plundered, shamed, and killed. With all these people, he'd come to share a common fate. They were the minorities of this world whose recourse was to join the universal orchestra in which all there is to do is cry and wail.
“You have,” she said. “I gbu o le onwe gi.”
Surprised by her switch to Igbo, he did not speak.
Oh, boy, you no sabi wetin you dey talk...Nothing wey person eye no go see these days oh. Im see nyash wey tripam – na im be say im love me.
Ijango-Ijango, the ndiichie say that if a wall does not bear a hole in it, lizards cannot enter a house...Egbunu, the old fathers say that a mouse cannot run into an empty mousetrap in broad daylight unless it has been drawn to the trap by something it cannot refuse...Agbaradike, the great fathers in their discreet wisdom say that seeds sown in secret always yield the most vibrant fruit.
"By that time, already, his life as he once knew it had separated from him like an ill-fated shadow hewn from its bearer and thrown over the cliff into a bottomless pit of oblivion, and even through all these years, he could still hear its dark voice screaming as it continued its fall."