Talk to Me

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Talk to me about days unending
Dawning uncertainty that pinches your forehead
Cool darkness thinning into light
The faces, dead and smiling past
Pain etched in their palms
Clenched and holding tight to emptiness
The quiet retreat to sleep
To prayers, to grumbling homes
Hungry children and angry spouse

Talk to me about life
The golden gift tarnished with every breath
Grey drudgery for which we must give thanks
Dreams wrapped in mystery
Failures told as tales through missing teeth and tears
Eyes straining and peering desperately
At a future black and shrouded
Like a young bride amidst the northern sand dunes

Talk to me about hope
When, crushed by yesterday
We gather our ragged souls
And place our dreams in empty pockets
A fierce glint in the eyes of the living
Daring the sun to set on our strength
Does this make heaven laugh?
To see us struggle?
Chanting words of faith to hollow clouds?
Clutching charms and omens
Winds and stars to tell us
To answer us but they never do

Talk to me about fear
It’s in each creak in wooden doors
The cryptic call of night birds
The clap of thunder in a storm
At the doorstep of the new year
In the exit of the old
Shivering, stepping cautiously and murmuring
Prayers and dropping copious libations
Disease, death, want, all elusive spirits
Taunt us from behind their invisibility
Too scared to cast our bread on many waters
We cast our faith on many altars

This is hard, this lot of man
The sweat in glistening blisters on our brows
Old clothing and worn shoes
Looking out to this same shrouded elusive future
Shy like a young bride
Far and farther with each step
But talk to me about hope,
We keep on walking

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Mother

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It’s funny what people will do for money.

She was so alive last night, like she knew I was coming. It was the same as it always has been – the dream. I am a little scrap of a thing running on wobbly legs through the rain. I never could be quite carefree while she watched me with that odd look in her eyes. Questioning and suspicious and tender in an unsettling way. She screams and charges at me with her hand poised above her head, ready to strike; the terror imprisons my tiny body as she approaches and swats a mosquito on my right arm with unnecessary aggression. As I open my mouth to scream, she enfolds me in a fierce embrace and I feel her tears on my cheek. Waking, I am alone and the tears on my cheek are my own.

She is just like I see her in my dreams. It isn’t the hair or the clothes; you expect that from people in her condition. It is the way she looks at me. I am the only thing she really sees; and even then I don’t fit into the plane she lives on. It is the resemblance; I see my lips, my skin beneath the layers of grime; I see me less than two decades down the line give or take a few years I guess, I don’t really know her age. It scares me that she retains some eerie freshness about her. As if the dimension on which her mind has been suspended for so long also preserved her body, her figure is stunning for one her age – whatever that is.

Aunty Rose doesn’t know I’m here; she wouldn’t have approved anyway so it’s just as well she doesn’t. The thought of her busily cooking up some extravagant delicacy to celebrate my homecoming brings a ghost of a smile to my face. I have just returned to Lagos after completing a Master’s programme in England, or at least so they think back home. I’ve been back for a week now, staying with Ifeanyi while I mustered the courage to find the phantom from my dreams.

I  grew up with Aunty Rose and her husband whose name I often forget, I just call him Uncle and everyone else calls him Pastor, I don’t really know what Aunty Rose calls him; they barely speak. Their entire marriage seems hinged on unspoken boundaries, shared responsibilities and church activities. I’m not sure how to describe Aunty and Uncle, they’re like my parents even though we are not in any way related. Adopted parents ddoesn’tseem right either; they always made me call them Aunty and Uncle back then when I joined them in fervent prayers to God that they might have a child of their own. Here I guiltily recall pleading with God not to grant their request; in my childish mind I saw myself becoming Cinderella to their own children, should they have any. It was easier being a ward if you were the only one. When I was about thirteen Aunty Rose came to my room one night with a huge smile and a big brown Teddy Bear with glowing eyes and red ribbon around its neck. “You know you are like a daughter to me,” she murmured as she stroked my hair, I nodded wordlessly and lowered my eyes to hide my confusion. Not that she and Uncle weren’t nice but such displays of emotion were foreign to us. I often wondered if she and her husband forgot to have sex as they prayed diligently for children. “I want you to start calling me mummy mmmh? This Aunty thing doesn’t make sense anymore. We are a family,” she continued as if we were in the middle of a nightly routine in which we decided to snuggle, exchange presents and confer honorary titles of ‘father’, ‘mother’ and ‘child’ on each other. I nodded once more and faked a yawn, she took the hint instantly and stuffed the bear into my arms and dropped an awkward kiss on my forehead before leaving my room. I heard her sobbing late into the night as I lay awake next to this odd and slightly terrifying teddy bear she had given me. That was the first night I had The Dream.

Years later I learned that she had come to my room after discovering that a late period she had thought to be a pregnancy symptom was actually the beginning of menopause. We never prayed for a child after that. When I told this story to Claire, my best friend in England, she nearly choked me with an unexpected hug, somewhat reminiscent of the woman in my dreams. “I’m so sorry,” she said tearfully, “I can’t believe they would do that to a child.” I was speechless as she stared at me with pity and horror in her pale blue eyes. “They saw you as nothing but a consolation prize, no one deserves to feel that way,” she wailed and hugged me once more repeating between sobs and sniffs how sorry she was that I had to go through that. I patted her back gently and comforted my dear sweet English friend over a tragedy I never realised was mine.

I’ve been here for almost an hour, my feet are starting to hurt, I wish I knew what to say, how to communicate with this person. Just as I reach out to touch her and say… anything, she gives a loud piercing shriek and runs into the darkening evening. In my fear I stepped back and tripped. I feel hot tears on my face as I watch her receding figure; what was I hoping to see? I am barely conscious of Ifeanyi’s arm as they slip around me, lifting me from the pitiful heap to which I crumpled. I lean into him and give a loud scream of my own, even my voice is hers.

He leads me gently to the car and we drive back to his place. I feel like he says things on the journey home, but I hear nothing; I see nothing but this demented woman that haunts me in my dreams. I see myself in her eyes, an anomaly; the product of what may well have been a perverse ritual between a desperate young man and the poor, mad woman I know I must call mother.

The word pushes itself through my lips before I can stop it, “Mother”.

Prophecy

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Talking to strangers in hushed tones

Tell them of the aching in my bones

Begging for mercy their curious eyes

Pleading release that heaven denies

Under wind and crushing rain

Bearing endless proliferation of pain

In glistening trickles

Like laughter from tickles

Fissures in vision

The solem sound summons

Echoes of brooding terrors

Shadows pulsing vibrantly

Hearts pounding to an eerie rhythm

The end is here closing in quick

Crocodiles snapping at ribbons

Blood steadily spewing into the street

Strangers blind and deaf

And all but dead

Tight smiles in the cautious curves they walk

As if the wind did not carry clandestine talk

As if time would not lend credence to my rants

What prophet is known among her own?

Fourth Man

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It was the smell; hot and lusty

Like desire too long denied

Swelling, dangerous waves,

Tossed by careless winds

It was the listless darting

It was the ashes

Black patches where men walked

But their knees gave way too quickly

It was only the image of a man

Unforgivingly straight, a blind eyed gaze

Glistening bright under sun and polish

Called Maker by his skilful makers

Three fools still standing

Like blooms out of season

Amidst bowed heads and hands raised

In desperate supplication to the dead

His Majesty’s fury was a terror

How their voices shook as they stood

Clipped commands carried them

A flick of furious fingers

One, two, many cries

Stop!

Strolling in the raw red glow

Amidst the greedy licking inferno

Three fools strolling and still

A fourth man in the furnace

Son of a God not cast in bronze

Walked among them in the impotent blaze.

Storm

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This happened once, on a long day
Shuffling breezes stroking weary windows
Eyes of humble houses lining up
Like beggars on a busy street
An old man on the roof praying

Silent sacred songs bleeding slowly
Singing patiently to an impatient wind
That carried the songs away

Then it happened swiftly
Solemn clouds gathering in ominous circles
Threatening like stern fathers towering haughtily above
Tell me fear did not grip in deathlike vise
Unrelentingly tight, choking out prayers from the irreligious

If you never saw a bleeding sky like a wounded man
It was above us
If you never felt a trembling earth like frightened child
It was beneath us

Then it was gone again
Swift as a nightmare or a terrible lover
That comes and leaves you empty
And in its wake…
…nothing…………….