Every Igbo person is a writer.
I don’t know if there is something in the water, or if we’re just frustrated because the art of oral storytelling has died out all over Igboland or whether it’s the Chinua Achebe thing, but think about it: At least three out of any five new writers will be Igbo (entirely made-up statistic by the way, but it feels true). Ndi Igbo revere education and books so it should come as no surprise that one has had a fair share of toasting from Igbo intellectuals. But there is one kind in particular that keeps coming back.
You know the type. His parents are frustrated academics from the Biafra era when they lost everything, so his name is something grand and all-encompassing like ‘He who is mighty in the art of war’ or ‘He who we shall use to cut down the White man’s tree of knowledge and sell him back its fruits’ or ‘He who we shall use to conquer many worlds and bring back precious cargo so that we can all sit together under the Ukpaka tree picking meat from our teeth with the bones of our enemies’ or simply, ‘Hahahahahaha! I laugh at you’. You get the picture.
Mine was called ‘Eziafakaego’ – A good name is better than money. Naturally he didn’t have any. His shoes were like hand puppets with the top part constantly sniffing heaven’s arse. Did he let that stop him from toasting girls? Did he heck.Typical scenario:
“Well met by moonlight, fairest lady. Your face is the East, your body, the sun.” Eziafa would shout at his latest toastee, going down on one knee and presenting her with a plastic rose from the market.
“Mba o! Eziafa I hope it’s not me you remembered today? Better go back and tell whoever sent you that you didn’t see me. Mschew! Nonsense. Am I your level? Biko, go away.” His prey’s friends would shriek with laughter while the girl tried to evaporate Eziafa’s blood with her eyes. People would look on and shake their heads ‘ That Eziafa is just a character’, all the while praying not to be the recipient of his affections.
Maybe I should have prayed as well, but he didn’t repulse me. I thought he was eccentric. And so the Fates conveniently went on holiday on the day my overzealous cupid let an arrow fly into Eziafa’s eye.
“If music be the food of love, play on. Give me more of it…”
“…And I will be your genie in a bottle. I will dance, like Bright Chimezie. Zzigima style.”
“Ok, first of all, you are murdering Shakespeare. Secondly, that quote has no bearing on this situation like it did in the play. There is no music playing anywhere near here to warrant…”
“The rhythm is my heart and the globules of your posterior are its drums. Now take my hand and together we shall to a place, where I can feed you nectar…”
“I am not a bee…”
“…And I can lay my weary head on your bosom…”
“…You mean on my sternum…” I crossed my hands over my chest, aware of my B-cups.
“And you can show your hairy diadem…”
“That’s enough!” Somehow I knew he meant the other meaning of that phrase in John Donne’s famous poem. After all my hair was not covered. “Look, Eziafa I’m going to be late.”
“Yes, but we’re in the same class.”
“Like I could forget. But while you’re going on, I need to be moving on.”
“Ah such wit, by Jove!”
“Don’t you get tired? Hia.” This went on for about a week and where at first Eziafa was just a quirky guy, I found myself going to sleep and dreaming of killing him in the most horrendous of ways. Poison in ear seemed the most fitting for obvious reasons. But how to get close enough?
“Look Nwunye,” he said after one of my harsher put-downs “Do you really think I don’t know how I look? At least I am putting myself out there. I have so much love to give and if I don’t try, how will I ever find the woman who will love me back? And there has got to be someone, otherwise what is the point of life? There has got to be someone, even for me. Why make fun of me for that?”
“I know, Eziafa, but you don’t take no for an answer. It gets annoying quickly.” I sighed. “I’m not rejecting you because you look…you don’t look…I don’t know how to say this…”
“I didn’t say that. You’re not ugly.”
“Great. So you will go out on a date with me. I knew you were different. Oh, I have been in Hades, but you my dearest Persephone…”
“I didn’t say I’d go out with you either. You’re doing it again. You’re being annoying.”
“Then speak ,my love, your command. I remain your slave.”
“I’m not your love. Any other person who was as presumptuous and as…insistent at you, I would have put down the same way. Why should I give you special treatment just because you’re…er…ah..”
“Different. And in any case, I don’t find you attractive. You’re too earnest for me. And don’t even think of making a pun out of…”
“…The importance of being earnest is that it gets you where you need to go in life, my dear Nwunye.”
“Oh, God. You didn’t just do that.” Eziafa grinned. His smile disappeared just as quickly as it came.
” You people think I don’t have feelings. I am your jester and will play my part with relish, but I ask you, to be true to yourself. Look into my eyes and tell me you don’t feel the same way and I will never…”
“I don’t feel the same way.”
“Ah-ahn! I didn’t even finish. OK then. I shall never darken your doors again.” He started to walk away but turned back. “Last chance or forever hold your peace?”
“Thanks, Eziafa. I’m sure I’ll survive.”
The rest of the semester came and went but somehow Eziafa was never the same to me. Or to anyone, now that I think about it. He still smiled and still talked and joked, but something was different. It was almost like he didn’t care so much about the people around him. We took our final exams; I finished with second class upper, Eziafa a lower second class degree. He came up to me and shook my hand, but he didn’t recite Shakespeare or Byron. He spoke Eziafa. “You’re a brilliant writer. I look forward to reading your first book. I’m sure it will be magnificent. I shall buy it for all my friends. I’m sure it will be out next year.”
“From your mouth to God’s ears,” I said and thought no more of it.
Ten years later, I open the Guardian Review in the UK to see an interview with a new writer who has just won an award worth £10,000 and a book deal of a further £500,000. Something about his image looks familiar. I scroll down:
Hot on the heels of the prestigious Preston award, Eziafakaego Nnoo chats to Simon Hattenstone about why being weird is not always a bad thing. Plus, the women whose love played a big part in his success.
I flipped through the two-page interview at break-neck speed. He didn’t mention me.
I looked at the picture again.
‘You know,’ I thought to myself. ‘He’s not that ugly.’