All posts by Nwunye

So, it’s almost goodbye to Harvard.

It’s been a thrilling ride, being a Nieman affiliate. I’ve enjoyed the same privileges as a fellow, part of which included access to the Nieman Foundation’s Narrative Non-fiction class run by Steve Almond.

At first, I was nervous. I don’t do non-fiction with good reason; I was raised in a largely conservative environment, my parents are alive and  my mother is really good with the internet. I was not sure that I would enjoy the scrutiny that comes with non-fiction, nor the exposure, the knowing. I like folding my truth into fiction, so the decision to do the class was pretty tough. And then, there is the judgement. I feared my classmates would look at me differently.

Turns out I’d spent a lot of time worrying for nothing. It was my first ever workshop in anything (fiction and non-fic) and let me tell you, the bar has been set pretty high for all future classes. It was a warm, welcoming envorinment and I like to think I grew a little. I don’t much care if anyone judges me now.

In this spirit, here is a piece I did for a class assignment on ‘My First Crush’. Been up all night with a newborn so off to bed now. Enjoy!

*****

DANDY

By

Chikodili Emelumadu

 

 

Nothing happened where we lived, in Awka, a town of a few thousand people stuck between their ancient traditions and modernity. At night, there were drumbeats passing around mysteries to initiated ears, town criers ringing their metal ogene gongs and yelling into the void, and in the day time, flattened dog carcases run over by owners of new cars, for good luck – of course.

There were four of us siblings at the time he appeared, squeezed into two spacious flats atop the massive three-storey building (plus basement rooms) which housed my father’s hospital. The gleaming sign on the rooftop could be seen for what seemed like miles to my eyes: Sefton Specialist Medical Centre (SSMC), followed by the postal address, blue on white next to what we assumed was the Moses snake curled on his staff.

I was nine, breast buds burning like embers on my chest. He was fifteen, a worthy distraction. He never seemed fully dressed and yet, neither was he undressed. He wore these brown knee-length shorts most of the time, or trousers, but was never without his brown waistcoat. Shirtless. I came to know him by it, walking down the street, with the careless swagger of someone who had no intent to belong, arms bare, the gap between where the waistcoat stopped and his bottoms started. He’d just moved down from the mysterious north, into the compound which lent the dirt road its name. The mysterious compound with girls my age – his cousins – who did things to day labourers for five-five naira. He was exotic. White teeth and dimples which more than made up for a head the shape of an end-loaf of bread. We watched him – my sisters and I – from the topmost flats. Four piteous princesses hanging from floor-to-ceiling balcony bars, wishing they could just go downstairs to play and the boy who dared to look up and wink, sending us diving for the ground in fits of giggles.

Everyone called him ‘Daddy’ on our street, a leftover family nickname like ‘Junior’. We couldn’t comprehend its ridiculousness. Who the hell named their kid ‘Daddy’? We changed it to ‘Dandy’ instead and it seemed to suit. Did I mention he liked me? I thought I was special but now I see; my elder sister was not that impressed or if she was, she didn’t show it. The younger ones, too young. Seven and five. I was just the right age. Errands to the shops below became fraught. My mother thought me slow and lazy where in fact I was afraid. Afraid of the breathlessness, the fear of running into him and the feeling of simultaneously being dunked into my own stomach and stretched beyond my head. I cannot remember our first meeting. I probably wasn’t conscious for it.

The rest I do remember though. That rare occasion when we snuck downstairs to the carport, to take advantage of the absence of cars and the ambulance, separated from the road by a gate made up (again) of flat black bars. Who am I kidding? I had seen him coming up Court Road from my vantage point and rushed downstairs to water the guard dogs, locked up in their kennels in the heat. I let all four of them out, not caring if any patients got terrorised. They scampered about, feeling the breeze, drinking, prancing. I knelt beside the newest, what was his name again? and stroking him, waited for Dandy to make his way past the gate.

“Hi,” he said, in a place where nobody said ‘Hi’. My stomach squeezed.

“Good afternoon,” I returned as coolly as I could. He showed his teeth and pushed his sunglasses up his head. I immediately looked away. His companion was a family friend, a boy whose parents were from my hometown as well. Permission granted. I approached the gate as close as I could. Sweat trickled down my temples and stuck my ‘I got lei’d in Hawaii’ shirt to my back. It was my best t-shirt, yellow, garlands. Didn’t know about innuendos.

His eyes travelled over the animals. “So, where is the other one? What’s his name? Teddy?” He stuck his hands between the bars and the dogs came, curious, sniffling. Pied Piper in his waistcoat. How? Our dogs were ferocious and trusted nobody but us. The oldest of them, Mann, stood some way away, eyes narrowed, but even he did not bark.

“Oh, Teddy? He died. Last week.” Unsuitable really, copious amounts of curly fur. Some foreign-breed present from a grateful patient, or else, a quick sale to a man who valued the security that guard dogs brought.

“Bullshit. Dead?”

My sisters sniggered at the cuss and I lowered my head, shamed by their lack of sophistication.  For weeks afterwards, we took turns playing out this scene upstairs, substituting ‘Bull shit’ for ‘Goat urine’ and so on.

I told you nothing happened where we lived.

The Christmas before I left for boarding school, my father threw his annual party for staff to which neighbours were invited, as a show of goodwill. His new hospital building had been completed, a brand-new institution glowing white in the full moon. Drinks, meats, jollof rice, plantain and noise. I darted about in an itchy, yellow dress which the year before had been treasured but now appeared childish. The round neckline hugged my throat and the net underskirts spread the fabric theatrically. Dandy stood in the dark, watching everything with his trademark raised eyebrow.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

“Why,” I said, instantly suffering from high blood pressure.

“Just do,” he said. “I want to show you something.”

With my eyes closed? I stared at the staff, the light pointing the wrong way, the streets full of people. Surely not. I began to shut my eyelids, noting the shadow flitting across them as he raised his hand. Something sweet, heavenly really, burst upon my senses.

“What is that?” I asked, hypnotically.

“Guess.”

“No, tell me.” I opened my eyes. He hid the thing behind his back.

“No, guess.”

I didn’t know. His skin was warm where I touched it, trying to get his hand out. My stomach again. He pulled out a sprig of green. “Orange leaves.”

There were orange trees everywhere. All it took was one scantily clad lad crushing a leaf under my nose to awaken me to their scent forever.

I started getting over him during school holidays, home from boarding school. More interesting boys. Plus, did he not have any other clothes? Did he have something against school? I had places to be. By the time I’d switched to my all girls’ secondary school, I’d gotten over him completely. We were amiable, but we had nothing of import to say to one another. He’d learnt the local dialect by then, heavy and coarse and just…no. He seemed aimless. Once I spied him lying on a mat in the middle of their compound, in the heat of the sun.

“Poor boy has malaria and his uncle doesn’t want to bring him for your father to treat,” said my mother, shaking her head. “Well, we can’t suggest. Not tomorrow now if something happens to him, they will say we used him for juju.”

The proverbial nail in coffin: Me, returning from ‘overseas’ with an MA and professional qualifications in tow and having his beautiful pink lips curl in disdain when I said hello.

“You won’t go and marry,” he said. “Don’t you know you’re old now?” I was twenty-three.

I cursed him for a bastard. He was dating one of my fellow doctors’ kids. Ngozi. Massive twin assets and all that. Even she left him to marry someone else.

Last I heard from one of my sisters, he is working for my father as an outdoor cleaner.

I’m not saying that’s bad, but, you know.

 

 

 

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Igbophilia in Amurika: De tings dat happun.

See eh, Amurika has tired me, I won’t lie. All through last year, I had serious problems with my blood-rise-up  because people with brains and anuses and freedom now went to elect Thing from the Addams family to be their leader, thereby bringing us closer to Revelations and see-see-sis.

Then, to make matters worse, I am tired of the snow and the rain and the cold and I just want some sun because I look ashy as if I have no relatives to make me look in the mirror occasionally. My hair is like straw – the one place I found in Roxbury that can do locs, the loctician swerved me after saying she would call me back. I don’t know why. Eez like people in Amurika don like money again. So, here I sit, separating my crackling locs and hoping not to start a fire. O di egwu. To think I used to be a fine chick sef. That one has passed.

The good news is, I have started Narrative non-fiction classes at Harvard so that I can be better at this whole truth-telling thing. But errrr, me I cannot leave this blog because I don’t have to put what I am saying into the kind of English that other people can understand, shey you get?

That’s how me I was minding my business, one old woman like this came and asked me if my name was ‘made up’. Never never in my life has anyone asked me that question before. I mean, made up how? Like my parents just picked a collection of sounds and thought “Ah, sweet music. That will be her name”? Only the woman’s age made me keep my tongue in my head. And another thing, I hate it when you tell people your name and they say “What a beautiful name!” How do you know it’s beautiful? Do you speak Igbo? For all you know my name means “She who will bring about the world’s destruction with her vagina.”

Just say my name sounds beautiful, and leave it at that. I have to teach people English again.

It’s raining. God is just crying over the sorry state of affairs in this country. Na wah.

Anyway, how are you guys? Leave me a comment abeg, let’s catch up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Igbophilia in Amurika: What is smiling everybody in Cambridge?

I am a news-watching person, and the news tells us that Persons of Hue have a way of attracting ammunition, much like Dwight Hendrickson does. Drawing fire is apparently our Trouble, so I just open my eyes when I am walking well-well. This was not something I worried about on my previous visits when I was (a) Single/a newlywed and (b) Here for a short while. However now that I am raising a black man-child, staying here for a certain duration, I gats to sharpen my eyes.

So, you can imagine my alarm as I was walking along minding my business, when one  woman like so greeted me. She looked me in the eye as if she knew my father’s name and our compound in the village. Me sef, I faltered and nearly stopped, so familiar was the gaze. She moved on.

A man the next time. I told myself ‘Nwunye, they have come. It is that thing which they have been discussing o,’ did my mouth hyo  and continued walking. Can you blame me? I’ve lived in South London for ten years, Newcastle/Bensham for two years prior to that. If someone says hello to you and you don’t know them, better jam your hands into your pockets or clutch your bag against your chest because verily, verily I say to you brother, sister, thou art to be divested of thine worldly possessions. Avert your eyes fast and…well, not run exactly, but do the hop-step-hop thing we all do while checking an imaginary watch and pretending our bus is late.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it. It’s a British thing.

This uncanny event occurred again. This time, the woman was walking her dog across the road, stopped and shouted ‘Hi!’ then  proceeded to have a conversation. I brought out my wallet and tossed it across to her. Her dog picked it up in its mouth and brought it back to me. I raised both hands in the air.

“That’s all I have. I know the value of the pound has fallen…”

The woman threw her  head back and laughed, ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ like that, her gullet moving as if she was swallowing mirth. “You’re funny!” she said, continuing on her way.

Hmm. I was beginning to pick up on the vibe of the place.

In the chldren’s  section of the library, I smiled at a pregnant woman with two children in tow. “Hi!” I said, showing her my thirty-two. She took her children by the hand and dragged them out of the library.

I don’t understand this country.

 

 

Igbophilia in Amurika: There is no tea in Amurika.

I am crying, crying, crying.

For two weeks our luggage has had to sleep somewhere else while we went from place to place like a bunch of vagabonds, kipping in various Airbnb’s: East Boston, Allston, Harbour Point (sorry, harbor) near Dorchester and now Somerville. In a few days we will move to our permanent abode in Cambridge and then I can rest properly.

Anyway,  a few days ago I was gasping for a brew. Gasping. The last few times I visited Amurika, I always had coffee because I still could, so I never noticed how little people seem to drink tea. I had been informed by reliable UK northerners though (the only people you should trust besides Kenyans to make a proper brew) that the tea was pigswill so I came prepared. However, the teabags were in my aforementioned luggage stored somewhere else. I hit the shops.

In a Star Market I found Twinnings, tagged with ubiquitous, quality-assured tag of ‘London’ and grabbed it like a drowning man grabs driftwood. I hurried home, crouched in anticipation, mumbling deranged drivel to myself whereupon I was confronted with the first problem: There was no kettle.

I mean! What kind of house has no kettle? This is when I should have packed my bags and returned home to London. No kettle means no tea and no tea…why would you trust someone who doesn’t drink tea biko nu? I persevered. Filled a mug with water, boiled it in the microwave and popped a tea bag it, hopping from foot to foot as it brewed. A heavenly smell, like the piss of angels filled the small kitchen. I salivated. Oh, beloved tea. Only the image of my onku in the village drinking Lipton with a tablespoon stopped me from doing the same. The way he would stick his lower lip out and blow, followed by the ‘sluuurrrrp’ that made me understand the true meaning of ‘avunculicide’.  I stirred the tea faster with an eku and prayed to the gods for breeze. After a while, I took a sip.

Hia!

It was as if someone had poured a gallon of water into a teaspoon of leaves. This tea was the weakest tea I have ever drunk in my life. It was so weak that a newborn baby could use it to rinse its gums. So weak,  that other teas could beat of this tea’s mother and stuff its mouth with sand. It was so weak that had I been so inclined, I would have douched with it and nothing would have happened. Upon all the tea scent, there was no flavour. What did they do?

The next time, I tried two teabags in a saucepan of water. Marginally better. I saw a Union Jack flying on Hooker Street and in desperation I went to knock to beg for tea but the owner was not around. I tried three. Oh my ancestors!

This is how I know this Trump of a person is not a serious somebody. You want to build a wall but ordinary good tea your country does not have. Even the coffee sef comes from South American nations. ‘Make America Great Again’? Tchiuuuuu! Give us us TEA!

My advice to you if you’re a tea-drinker like me is, bring your own bags. And go to Argos and buy a kettle too. Or find an Asian family to adopt you so that you can have unlimited refills.  That is the next thing I plan on doing.

*There is a joke about The Boston Tea Party in here, but I won’t make it.

 

 

 

 

 

Igbophilia in Amurika: ‘My Predicament’

Look, I swore to myself that there would be no ‘Hello from Amurika’ blog posts. There would be no ‘Oh look, forced-culture-shock’ posts or ‘I-am-immigrant’ posts because, let’s face it, they are boring and award-bait-y and I have visited the country several times before now. Besides, I have never seen anywhere I did not simultaneously belong to and yet be estranged from, even when I was growing up in Awka. I already belong here. I just have to get used to saying ‘Restrooms’ instead of ‘Loos’ so that people will stop looking at me strangely.

Bhet look eh, I am sorry because this one thing in Amurika ate my mouth and allow me to gist my story because it is an egwu of a something.

In London, I remember once running for the bus in heels, running so hard that breathing sounded like trying to suck akamu with a straw through my nostrils. My chest hurt, my calves pulled tight and yet I ran, exposing my ‘predicament’ as my dress blew up in the wind.

“Wait!” I shouted, hand raised. At least I thought I was shouting but seeing as I couldn’t breathe, it might have all been in my head. My bag slid off my shoulder and I clawed at it. Just as I was getting to the first set of doors and with the last passenger still beseeching the driver on my behalf, the doors shut and the driver pulled away.

That was the day I swore by Amadioha for the first time. What kind of wickedness was this?  A guy at the bus stop smirked at me. I wanted to cry. He’d seen my ‘predicament’ – my pink predicament under my dress, possibly my belly button too – and now I was going to be left alone with him until the next bus arrived.

A few years later, I saw this advert and realised that London bus drivers were collectively Legion, the spawns of Satan. It is known.

Fast forward to Amurika, the day before yesterday on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston, MA and my family and I were across the road when the bus we needed pulled up and loaded.  My heart skipped a beat. The red hand flashed red. We couldn’t cross. I stamped my feet and waited. The lights changed. I dashed across the road, signalling the driver. He waited….and waited…my heart fell. I knew he was going to pull away once I got to him.

HE DID NOT. The driver jejely opened the door and let us all in. And what’s more important, none of the passengers hissed, cursed, sighed or shouted at the driver. He even bid us a good evening as we entered his air conditioned kingdom. HALLELUJA SOMBORRI!

Amurika is sweeth. It might not be beans but it is certainly moi-moi and I shall eat it up, nyum nyum nyummy.