August 3, 1999
I’m at Aunty Patty’s place. Jesus is hanging on a crucifix, the crucifix is hanging on a wall. The wall is concrete. The wall is choked with hanging chaplets and hanging rosaries and old calendars and four-by-four frames and three clocks and ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for Me.’ and ‘Je Suis Le Pain De Vie’ and ‘Jehova bụ Eze’ and ‘Happy Married Life Patty and Obiokala.’
“Divine, eat your food and stop looking around or we’ll leave you and you won’t see your sister.”
Uncle Nduka is laughing. He puts an eleganza pen in one eye of his Marvin Gaye cassette and spins it in the air. It is on its center of mass. He’s rewinding the cassette. The tape reels, unwinding from one spool to the other. He slots the cassette into the Sony triple bass sound system.
‘Get up, get up, get up, get up!
Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!
Oh, baby now let’s get down tonight…’
He’s winding his waist and throwing his hands heedlessly. He’s dancing salsa with a spirit woman. My cousins and I are laughing. My brother is sucking on his thumb. My father is straining his brow and tapping his leather loafers on the terrazzo floor. But he’s not tapping in rhythm. If he did relish any part of the song, it was the waw of the electric guitar and the sheer soul of Marvin but nothing else. And it was the same for me. The rest of it, along with its sinful lyrics just escaped in thoughtlets from the back of my cerebral cortex and rushed to hell. Maybe so, because my father was a reverend.
Aunty Patty is winding her rump to the rhythm. My cousins and I are laughing harder. My brother is sucking on his thumb.
“Chai! See as Marvin just die like that, that year.” Aunty Patty is lamenting, sitting on a dining chair.
“Na him Papa kill am now. He shot him dead. And him Papa na pastor.” Uncle Nduka is commenting and winding his waist.
“Na sexual healing make am kill am?” My father poses.
“E be like so” Uncle Nduka finishes.
I raise my face from my plate and look at my father. He has been looking at me. He’s standing up and coming to me.
“Na rubbish be that now. I mean I wouldn’t want my son singing—that sort of song—but how you go kill your pikin because—o forget it ol’ boy.” My father is saying this to Uncle Nduka and Aunty Patty and adjusting his glasses.
“Divine, that’s enough food. We’re running late, visiting time will soon be over with and I don’t want wahala from those nurses.”
“Daddy, what is wahala?”
“Trouble. Wahala is trouble.”
I’m wearing my sneakers. I’m fondling with the lace. My father stoops and makes it into a bow. Red and green lights flicker from the sole when I walk to the door. My cousins are jealous. My brother is crawling toward the flickering lights and my father picks him off the floor.
“Divine, won’t you tell us bye-bye?” I wave my hand and smile.
We’re on a bus to Obalende. A bell is chiming in the distance, a boy is chasing down a blue taxi with his balance. A drove of school boys are returning from school and taunting the school girls with pinafores that are too short. A bus driver is sparring with his conductor and woman is calling them off before they tip her bowl of boiling corn and pear into the gutter. And I’m on my father’s lap. My brother is on the other, sucking his thumb.
“Don’t mind your uncle back there. Pastors don’t kill people and I wouldn’t kill you. You hear me?” My father is saying this to me like a lion limping on three feet, licking a wound from a terrible scuffle. He would regret that he hesitated a lesson on how good people do evil things. Once he’s telling me that the crucifix isn’t a way to God and it was wrong to pray the rosary like Aunty Patty and my cousins did.
“Does Aunty Patty have a pastor?”
“Yes, they have priests, like pastors.”
“If her pastor knows it is wrong why does he still do it?”
“Well, maybe he doesn’t.”
“But if you do something wrong you got to hell?”
“If you don’t ask for forgiveness. Yes.”
“So Aunty Patty is going to hell because of her pastor? But you said pastors don’t do bad things like kill people.”
My father shut his jaw and replied for too long. Long sentences like the McMillian reader. He adjusted his glasses. Round metal frames. I’m sleepy.
My father is tapping my shoulder. “Wake up. We are here.” The building is tall. I can pronounce the big letters. My father waits for me to pronounce all of it.
“FUHst LEEn HOsPeetl”
My father laughs. I pucker up my lips and fold my arm and cry.
He says “FURst LAIn HOSPeetl. Furst Line Hospeetl. First Line Hospital.”
I repeat after him. I’m repeating it all the way up the flight of steps to Room 23.
“Ruum twenty- [and I put my tongue between my teeth and produce something that sounds like free]”
A nurse is watching. My father is smiling.
“Eziokwu” she says.
“Montessori money bụ nka o” They laugh.
My mother is sitting up. My father strokes her hair and hands her apples.
“Where’s my sister” I ask
“Have you lost your tongue?” My mother says.
“Good evening mummy.”
She smiles. The nurse takes me to my sister. She lifts me up to look in the cot. My sister is deep brown and healthy and little. Her fingers are coiled and she’s jerking her head in little angles. There’s something that pins her navel like a cloth peg. And I’m crying.
“Daddy what is her name?”
He looks at my mother and back at me. He smiles.
“Deborah” He says.