Categories
Essay

How Many Ways To Love a Book

By Sindhu Shivprasad

The summers of high school were eight weeks lived between a haze of pages, books borrowed and exchanged (even secreted away) with abandon.

The exchanges were facilitated with much gusto in rooms, parks, benches by the streets, friends looking over shoulders as the item in question was reverently drawn out of the bag. Some sealed the exchange verbally — “I’ll give it back to you in two weeks” — and the deed was done. Others laid out sacrosanct rules. “Don’t fold the corners. Don’t mark the pages. And for God’s sake, don’t underline anything”.

I have an elderly neighbour who keeps two copies of each book — one for reading and the other for lending. When asked why, she said, “my books are sacred”.

“Sacred” has been used as a stand-in for “religion” for so long that it’s become almost synonymous. But there’s a class of ‘sacred” that refers to things set apart with special meaning and not necessarily connected to anything religious, spiritual or metaphysical.

Sounding very much like German theologian Rudolf Otto, American psychologist JH Leuba suggested that the experience of the sacred is characterised by “an element of awe… The sacred object has a hold upon us, we stand in dynamic relation with it, and this relation is not one of equal to equal, but of superior to inferior.”

I like to observe this in others — the reverent handling of pages, the ginger grip over a paperback so the spine doesn’t crease. Much like the devout scrabble to touch the feet of statues or hold hands with holy seers, even the most upright can fall to weeping at the sight of certain books, begging to hold them in their hands. In essence, they feel what author, educator and priest, Andrew Greeley describes: “By the sacred I mean not only the other-worldly, but also the ecstatic, the transcendental, that which takes man out of himself and puts him in contact with the basic life forces of the universe.”

If you’ve said— or heard someone say —something to the effect of “I lost myself in a book”, you’ve felt this. If you’ve curled up to read a novel and felt as though there were two of you — one curled up on the couch and one hurtling through the pages — then you’ve felt this sacredness.

But like there’s more than one way to love someone, there’s more than one way to love a book. Of course, some cults and sub-cults declare the other blasphemous, but the truth is simple: one book can be revered in many ways.

The platonic lovers read books and keep them only in their hearts and minds, if at all. They don’t actively disrespect the book, but they don’t leave way-markers to say they were here, either. If one “buys books intending to read them” and “reads books only in certain situations” were a Venn diagram, platonic lovers of books would fall into that overlapped territory. They’re most likely to pack a recent bestseller in their rattan bag for a beach day or optimistically buy one at the airport bookstore but crack open only a few pages before falling asleep.

There are the preux[1] lovers, for whom form is inseparable from message. These are the ones who strive to preserve the purity of a novel assured to them by their first-hand bookseller. They carefully mark pauses with magnetic bookmarks and high-quality post-it notes aligned to the line they stopped at. Not for them the creased spines, dog-eared pages, and watermarks from dropping a V.E. Schwab[2] into the bath one tipsy night.

No, these are for the physical lovers, the ones for whom some books are as familiar as a partner’s skin. Touch breeds intimacy — marks of use are marks of love. They leave their footprint — dried flowers, bus tickets, clean leaves off the floor, demonetised currency, letters from a daughter, strands of hair — behind with the boldness of a graffiti artist in broad daylight. The book itself is but a vessel, and they prop it open with whatever’s within arm’s reach: the dog’s tail, an AirPod, or the wrapper of a Twix bar. These are the people who know what it is like to love something to pieces.

And then there are the intellectual lovers, who care to pry open layer after layer and document what they find. The most permanent way-marker— writing in books — has haters and zealots in equal proportions, and this is the class of the latter. After all, the margins — or “sophisticated information-processing space”, as mathematician-philosopher John Dee calls them — often hold more heart-stirring epiphanies than diaries can hope to match. These people might also prefer to read vandalised books over virginal ones, getting caught as much in the flow of the text as in the passions of the reader that came before them.

When I was younger, I was much like the preux booklover I describe: a young novel for a young girl. Smudges, watermarks and left-over mementoes invoked the same ‘ick’ in me that vaguely disgusting bugs did. When you’re young, it’s customary to assume ageing is something that happened to other people — I, however, extended that belief to my straight-spined, pristine novels.

Cut to now: in my late twenties, grey hairs are shooting up from my skull at an alarming rate (a hereditary disposition I give my father much grief about). My oldest books haven’t fared any better, ravaged as they are by time, bathwater, and a 2-month sea voyage from Nigeria to India in ‘06. My early-edition Harry Potter copies, in particular, are now perilously held together by duct tape and makeshift covers. (I’m yet to find Inkheart’s Silvertongue in the real world, but I continue to hope).

Over time, I became less preux and more physical, choosing secondhand books over pristine copies for the same reasons that I’d once detested them. “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!” exclaimed Henry Ward Beecher[3] once, and while I can stand strong in a Crossword or an Amazon, before my favourite Church Street antiquarian store, I am weak. My excuse is that it’s a lot more exciting to be the next in line for the throne of a kingdom contained within 600 pages.

I still draw the line at marginalia, though. It feels too much like watching a movie at the cinema while Chris Hemsworth’s[4] dialogues are punctuated by boos, expletives or, if it were Mark Twain sitting beside me, vicious comments like “The Droolings of an Idiot”.

Inscriptions are yet another marker on the long-winding road of time and an invitation to re-imagine what circumstances this book has been through. These are marks that even preux lovers can’t deny because they rank highly in the eyes of a true bibliomaniac, glossing over the worst wear and tear. Even at their briefest, they tell a story, like a lovingly inscribed “To Mom” in a heartbreakingly unused novel on a used-book shelf. Indeed, a stroll through a secondhand bookstore is a study in betrayal, distance, and the melancholy effects of time. A secret taken to the grave is now out in the open for hundreds to witness.

In a Ziploc on one shelf in my library sits a battered first edition copy of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, passed on to me by another elderly neighbour whose home was suddenly devoid of seating space. An inscription on the flyleaf (instead of the title page where only heathens write) reads: “Berhampore, 1908”. This doesn’t hold a candle to most inscriptions out there, including Lord Byron’s 226-word note to Countess Guiccioli, which ends with, “Think of me sometimes when the Alps and the ocean divide us — but they never will, unless you wish it”. But it is a relic of our colonial history, bequeathed to me.

So it’ll remain: the small book’s journey over Hill Difficulty and the Valley of the Shadow of Death ending on this twenty-something-year-old’s shelf, cheek and jowl with other hand-me-down slices of history and mystery.


[1] Gallant in French

[2] American writer

[3] Nineteenth century US minister and speaker

[4] Australian actor

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Sindhu Shivaprasad is an essayist. Her work has been (or is set to be) published in The Yorkshire Post, Kitaab, The Curator, Thrive Global, and more. When not at her day job or curating for her magazine, Ex Libris, she’s usually curled up in a patch of sunlight with a paperback and lemon tea.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Editorial

Elephants & Laughter

Run, Painting by Sybil Pretious

Ideally, I would love to start the New Year with laughter and happiness! Then perhaps, the whole year would be dotted with humour …

Laughter clubs often practice laughing for health benefits. I know the pandemic makes both guffawing outdoors or in a group hard but think of the funniest possible thing and, perhaps, you will start laughing. For me what works other than children’s and monkeys’ antics, are my trips to the dentist, especially the trip where I wondered on the fringe benefits of ‘laughing gas’ (as given in the PG Wodehouse novel of the same name), only to be informed that it was used exclusively for young children. For me, an adult, there was only — you have guessed it — the jab that numbs your lip function to lubber. I discovered if I could make light of a dentist drilling by learning from Harry Potter (the spell to get rid of the terrifying boggart, who took the shape of the thing you feared most, was to imagine the funniest thing, focus on the humour in it, and shout ‘Riddikulus’ with a wand pointed at the creature in the form of your worst nightmare), then I could pretty much get rid of most fears.

The other thing I have been wondering for sometime is can one write an editorial that is humorous when the content is serious? I would have wanted to ask that question to many, including Ruskin Bond, who continues as one of my idols. I would love to touch hearts with the humour and the sensitivity that flavours his writing. It is tough to convey a complex thought with the simplicity and elegance of a writer who can be read and understood easily. I think we have a few of them around and I interviewed one. You all probably know him well— Rhys Hughes. I have given the reasons for the interview in lieu of Mr Bond, who continues a distant star beyond the horizon of online interviews. We discussed humour and its role in literature, leaving out completely in the cold, the fictional Mr Bond who answers to the names of James and 007 and has made entertaining films, which can be seen as serious or non-serious.

Hughes has of course, given some writerly advice not just in the interview but in ‘Making Something of Nothing’ – pretty much the advice that God had probably been given when he asked an unspecified friend on how to create the universe and multiple realities. Hughes has also added to our galaxy of poets where Michael Burch, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Anasuya Bhar, Vernon Daim, William Miller, Pramod Rastogi, Mike Smith, Jay Nicholls and many more continue to sparkle. Taking up the theme of God’s creations, Devraj Singh Kalsi has added to more humour with a dream of divine intervention to make the ‘New Normal’ in 2022 – a plan for this year. Will it ever be real?

Another major issue in this world currently is climate change. In keeping with the need for acceptance of this reality, Keith Lyons introduced us to a nature lover, author and adventurer Kenny Peavy, who loved the fictional adventurer called Indiana Jones and has been working towards living in harmony with nature. He moved to Indonesia from America and is trying to raise awareness. You can find much, though not elephants, in the interview that encompasses the story of a man who cycled across a continent on a bike made of bamboo. However, you can find some writing on a king who acquired the skill to ride and tame elephants in our book excerpt from Shazi Zaman’s Akbar: A Novel of History. The excerpt does not showcase his elephant taming skills as did the Bollywood blockbuster Jodha Akbar but is focussed on bringing out the syncretism in the Mughal monarch’s outlook which made him seek out exponents of other religions. Sangita Swechcha’s and Andrée Roby’s anthology, A Glimpse Into My Country, with excerpts of short stories from Nepal and Zimbabwe, like Kenny Peavy, cycle across multiple borders as does our fiction. We feature stories from within and without the continent with Fazal Baloch recombining a couple of folklores from Balochistan to a single tale. Fiction from young writers highlight compassion and a varied perspective. Steve Ogah has a story from Nigeria which almost rings with overtones of Alex Haley’s Roots. Sohana Manzoor has given us a poignant narrative with an inspiring twist at the end, an absolute antithesis of the humorous one she rolled out for us last month. Candice Louisa Daquin has also given us an exceptional short fiction along with her column where she discusses the changing face of families in the current context.

While Daquin’s focus is mainly towards the West, we have an essay from Sanjay Kumar on families that live in the greyer zones of big cities, children from an outcropping called Nithari in Delhi, where they or theirs suffered neglect, abuse, carnage and cannibalism in their formative years.  Introducing the impacted children, Kumar explains how they transcended the wounds that lacerated their lives. This piece is a precursor to a column called ‘Children of Nithari’. Starting February, the abuse victims will give us a story a month which will be translated by young volunteers from pandies’, an activist theatre group founded by Kumar, and published in Borderless. Another article from Balochistan reflects on the lack of literacy and efforts to bring children into the folds of schooling. Pakistan ranked 99th out of 132 countries on the literacy survey in 2021. We are privileged to be the voice of the unheard.

Two essays that ring of concerns raised in the Kenny Peavy interview are to do with climate crisis in the Sunderbans and waste disposal in Delhi. Both of these are written by researchers who are working on these issues.

We have travel pieces from Australia – one is a sailing adventure by Meredith Stephens and the other is about a trip to the Sand Dunes of Western Australia by Shernaz Wadia. Ravi Shankar has also taken us through winters from the Everest to New York with his globe-trotting non-fiction. Penny Wilkes takes us on a flight of creativity with beautiful photography.

We have a stellar layout of translations. Professor Fakrul Alam translated another poem by Jibananada Das and Borderless is honoured to publish it to the world for the first time. We have a translation from Korea and another of a Brahmo hymn, Aji Shubho Dine, by Tagore, which is sung often during festivals. The icing in our Tagore section in this issue is Ratnottama Sengupta’s translation of the Kobiguru’s ‘Two Birds’ (Khanchar Pakhi Chhilo) along with a musing which reflects on the perspectives of the two contemporaries, Tagore and Saratchandra. She has also translated a well-known Bengali poet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. Dutt wrote just before the advent of Tagore and had an interesting past which has been vividly depicted by Sunil Gangopadhyay in Those Days (Sei Somoy in Bengali), a novel that has been translated by Aruna Chakravarti. Bhaskar Parichha has given us a tribute on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Fakir Mohan Senapati, who, he claims, has the same standing in Odia literature as Tagore in Bengali or Premchand in Hindi.

Parichha has also reviewed Amit Ranjan’s John Lang; Wanderer of Hindoostan; Slanderer in Hindoostanee; Lawyer for the Ranee. It looks like an interesting read where an immigrant Australian came supported Rani of Jhansi in India. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Selma Carvalho’s Sisterhood of Swans, again a story of migrants and their lives. The theme seems to echo among the books that have been reviewed this time, including Gracy Samjetsabam’s take on Anuradha Kumar’s The Hottest Summer in Years, a story about a German immigrant to India in the twentieth century. Meenakshi Malhotra’s review of Somdatta Mandal’s translation of A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das (1885) highlights the views of a traveller rather than an immigrant as the lady did return home after a ten-year sojourn in Britain. As Meenakshi contends, “The process of travel offers opportunities for emancipation where exposure to other cultures offers her a way of viewing and of gaining a perspective on her own experiences and that of her sisters in India. Krishnabhabini constantly refers to her Indian sisters and bemoans their sorry state and ignorance when she sees how active British women were in their families and societies…”

I was supposed to try my hand at a humorous editorial, but I realise that is tough when the ground is small. For humour, we need rolling acres where we can etch out each detail till it cannot be milked further for laughter. But I promise you I will keep trying to please the readers till one evolves to write like Ruskin Bond.

I would like to thank my fabulous team who even if not actively contributing to content are always at hand to advise and help. I would especially want to thank both Sohana Manzoor and Sybil for their fantastic artwork, which is as wonderful as their writings. I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the contributors who have made this journal possible and each reader who comes back to our journal for more every month. Some of the pieces remain unmentioned adding to the mystery of the content, just like, Christmas gifts which need to be unwrapped and continue a reality even in January in some parts of the world – the Russians celebrate on January 7th and the Spaniards extend their festivities to January 6th.

Do take a look at this month’s edition for not just the stories mentioned here but for more.

I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with laughter.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Stories

The American Wonder

                                          By Steve Ogah 

“Come and see the American wonder.” That was the one-liner the band of energetic kids sang. It was the song of an old city magician who had once come to fret coins out of villagers with old card tricks and die games. But the New Yorker thought the song would be useful for what he had to say at the drinking hut, so he had made the excited kids remember the song.  This was a raggedy bunch of kwashiorkor-colonized kids, mostly naked from the top up. They clapped, danced and repeated the line as though it were the sweetest song in the world. Ahead of them, and not far away, was the New Yorker. He too was clapping with all the might in his palms as though he held two cymbals in his large hands, his New Yorker T-shirt sticky with soft sweats of the early morning, moving his thin frame as though the wind would cast him far away from land.

The on-lookers had no idea what the American wonder was, but most were eager to know what the astonishing thing was about America. So, the New Yorker led this gyrating group of kids through rutted village paths, headed for the village square and a drinking shack, where he would exhibit the bare American wonder. Some in the crowd thought he was the one and only American wonder the village had. They felt no urgent need to join the swelling throng of admirers of the circus.

Yet, they were those who felt the man wanted to lay bare some exciting features of America. Two sets of people flowed into the mix: those who assumed the wonder was a man and those who believed the wonder was a thing that had not been sighted in the village of Nkang before. Everyone who heard the shrieking kids was willing to tail them. Anything American was like a commercial hit in the village at any time of the day.

This area of the village was known as the wine groove and some villagers thought the village’s best speaker of high sounding words had perhaps consumed too much fresh wine at the root of a friend’s tree. He wasn’t a known tapster of wine and could only have intoxicated himself through the generosity of other benign villagers. This was the thread of thought held by most villagers, except Pa Okeke. The hut owner had seen the New Yorker before he monkeyed up a palm tree and the New Yorker had told him he wasn’t going to taste any other wine except his at the shack. “Your wine sets my tongue dancing like no other,” he had confessed to the amused old man.

“My palm wine must have a conga drum then,” Pa Okeke returned, forcing the New Yorker to wave him off with a laugh seated in his stomach, as he scanned the groove for the tree to bore a wine hole in.

Up above, at the neck of a tall palm tree, he hung as though a thing woven out of spider webs. He too couldn’t nail what this latest act of the New Yorker was about. If it were magic the man wanted to perform at his shack, he would fail with honors. He wasn’t turbaned like most Indian magicians. He wasn’t dressed in the long tail coats of television magicians, and didn’t bear any resemblance to the famed professor Pellar of Lagos. He hadn’t been to India to learn from the gods of magic. His abracadabra would yield no awesome tricks tonight. That was the tapster’s conclusion. Having drained the tree of its latest intoxicating content, he descended the lanky black and well-juiced palm tree. He would take a shorter route to his shack and lay out his drinking horns for the New Yorker and his crowd of enthusiasts. The day held the fat promise of drama and laughter at the village’s favorite haunt. It would be the night of American wonder by the African New Yorker.

The New Yorker had trimmed his caravan of kids as he went on his way to Pa Okeke’s drinking place. It was too early in the day for kids to wander away from their mothers. He had finished exploiting them and they weren’t allowed to sit in the shack, in any case. He had said to some, “You, off you must go to your expectant mother,” he sprayed them with intense looks of reprimand. “Some of you have not fetched water from the stream yet.” He shooed the kids on their backsides as if they were chickens who had failed to return to their coops on time.

With the kids out of the way, the New Yorker crowded his mind with the wonders he was going to unleash on the swelling crowd at Pa Okeke’s place. The kids had done a terrific job of advertising his presence to the whole village. Though, he was a well-known village lay-about, the New Yorker had needed the kids for a reason.

He needed a fix of wine and the more the crowd at the shack, the greater his chances of free wine. The children had been his talking drum. And they had indeed talked well to guarantee him endless jugs of palm wine from the whole village. The more the wine, the sweeter the tale, the New Yorker believed that; and the greater the intensity of listenership. His captivated audience would be the one to make his tongue set sail on its voyage of storytelling.

The New Yorker sat down at Pa Okeke’s hut. It was on this day and at this time, thinly populated. Well, he had the company of fat green flies buzzing around wine-stained benches and tables and used cups and drinking horns. This wasn’t the sort of company he had dreamt up and desired. He was disappointed.

“The Americans have decided to build a wall through their border with Mexico.”  That was what the New Yorker revealed to his crowd of enchanted listeners. He was seated on a deep green hard bamboo bench, flanked in by drunken men on either side in Pa Okeke’s palm wine-perfumed drinking hut. The long wooden table in front of the gathering was dotted with plastic jugs of dirty frothy white-shy palm wine, and colorful plastic cups and rust-color calabashes circled with giddy giant green flies. Several of the insects were drunk and dead while others had just begun their round of alcoholic somersaults. In a little while, the men in the haunt would be like the insects, each one a mess of retched up gut contents and drunken odour. They would perhaps go home washed down in their own mess since the sky had darkened with impending rain.

The tale spinner had spoken and there was a collective gasp of bewilderment from the house which was by now crowded with onlookers and drunken bunch of villagers. Some kids who had strayed away from their parents had traced the New Yorker to his cherished hut. They stuck their bulging eyes and eager faces in the tiny spaces created between men at the windows, desperate to see some real American wonders. But all they heard was:  “Wall! A wall? A big wall?”

Those were the words that flew around the gathering. The kids were as confused as those who had palm wine floating in their senses. Those villagers who had cell phones with them had begun to call out to absent regulars of Pa Okeke’s place. The gist in town was about the presence of the village’s best story weaver in Pa Okeke’s house. They believed his newest tale was yet another fabrication from his deep well of stories. This can’t be possibly true, many held. Those who had left the village in past journeys to townships had never seen walls between borders of two towns or between Nigeria and her neighbor, Cameroun.  The only embankment many knew of was in the Bible, the walls of Jericho that they had heard about in Sunday schools and catechism classes.

“The Americans can’t do such a senseless thing!” That was the assertion that rose like the sudden burst of water from a pressurized pipe, from somewhere in the crowd. It was from a man with a bloated stomach and face, who also wore the several litres of wine he had being drinking in his eyes. The words had come off his lips with some difficulty as they seemed to have mixed with the wine in his mouth. 

“What is it with these Americans? America, the wonderful!” That was his deep-rooted summary. He shook his misshapen ageing head from side to side, laced his fat lips with a derisive laughter and swallowed a slug of sour wine. “America, America,” he laughed, after the horn of palm wine had freed itself from the claws of his salivary mouth.  He spewed a jet of wine between his legs. “Useless things,” he had chewed on a dead fly. He stamped on the already dead thing with all the might in his spindly legs.

There were some ripples of laughter shooting through Pa Okeke’s hut of revelers.  The wine was working its way slowly through veins. This moved the old man to action as he dug into his hidden drums of wine for the best fermented drink for the house. He went behind and re-emerged in the gathering with a dull black aged gallon of palm wine. It was crusted with overflowing dirty white wine. Its embankment of security was made of fat green toilet flies that had found a permanent home in the drinking hut. They made sure no wine was wasted and knew which cup of wine intoxicated the most. They were the dutiful keepers of the shack and were rarely killed by the regulars. The people saw them as a congenital part of drinking in village huts.

“‘Americans are funny’, I once told us that.” The New Yorker reminded his audience and everyone nodded. Voices rose here and there. There were murmurs that the New Yorker couldn’t discern. Those who had been there when he made his revelation agreed that he was on point while those that hadn’t been there wanted to be told about the comic nature of all Americans, because they held the view that the Chinese were perhaps more comical than the Americans. The overwhelming view was that Jackie Chan was the most humorous and famous Chinese in the world. While Bruce Lee was another popular Chinese, he was seen as too consumed in his fights to want to grant the viewer some moments of humor.  Many had seen clips of the makings of some of Jackie’s movies, where he would fail several times at different acts, to his own amusements.

“Americans can afford the liberty to be funny,” That was Pa Okeke. His voice was aged with wine and his breath perfumed with sugar. “They have the life that we don’t have.” He had something for the gathering of drunken men and puzzled kids.

Pa Okeke deposited the gallon on a dying and Chesnutt-coloured bench in the middle of the room. “This is on me,” he declared with that authority of one who truly owned the house. He rubbed his flabby chest down.  Many shifted on their seats with itchy throats, anticipating the flow of fresh palm wine that was to come from the owner of the hut. This was going to be a night like no other for many. And Pa Okeke was dead certain many of his customers would crawl on their bellies to their various homes when night time fell. Those who wouldn’t be able to claw their paths home would sleep on their vomits, then wake to curse themselves and his wine. He knew they would still return when the clouds of drunkenness cleared from their eyes, because the villagers had once tagged his hut the “home of happiness.” He had believed the tag and had scrawled that in misshapen letters above the door of the hut.

“You want to get us all drunk?” The New Yorker asked without really meaning every word he had spoken. “Isn’t this one much for a gift?” He shot his empty cup towards the table. He rose and reached for the fresh wine which was dotted with dead bees and tiny raffia palms and flies. He shoved the undesired baggage aside with the bottom of his cup. He dug into the liquid with the force of one who hadn’t had a life-saving drink in days. There was a smirk around his lips.

“I want us all to be happy.” Pa Okeke left the scene. But he would return with more palm wine from his seemingly endless drums at the back of the hut.

The New Yorker wanted to be inebriated. He had come to the hut to get himself some drink and reveal the newest brand of wonder to the house. Many had thought he wanted to perform some sleight of hand tricks of some old penniless magician. But this man was from another world from most of his contemporaries. He wasn’t a magician and he just revealed that to his listeners.  He was a moving cinema and a radio whose power never went down and out. And not few had been impressed in great measures. While he was a known village comic, he still had some ears for workings of the wider world. “America wants to cage itself in. Not cage the rest of us out.  She will build a circular wall round all of her borders with her neighbors.” That was the summation of the wonder, the meaty part of his story.

Voices rose anew in the gathering. There were those who thought that was outlandish.  America was a land of the wild and the free, a place where every dream came to life. That was a popular view in the hut. Why would free people want to fence themselves in? Would America erect a wall with her maritime neighbours? That was a question that was thrown the New Yorker’s way from a man who hadn’t been drinking much. “A wall inside an ocean?” That was his question. And before the New Yorker would say a word, the man bolted up and screamed: “Impossible!” He repeated himself.  He drank what was a long draught of wine. He smacked his thin lips and waited for the tale bearer to bear down the fleshy parts of his tale on the house. And talk the garrulous New Yorker did!

“The Americans will build a wall taller than the Berlin wall and longer than the walls of Jericho.” That was how the New Yorker further shocked his crowd of enchanted listeners. “Some other cities will mount individual city gates.”

There was a collective breath of wonderment from the house. Not even the quarrelsome Koreans had erected a wall between each other. Was America at war with all of her neighbours? A question jutted out from somewhere in the crowd. It was from a man who sat with his jaws in his palms, stupefied by what he was hearing. “What is it with these Americans? America the wonderful!” That was his deep-rooted conclusion. “They are crazy! Today it’s a border wall. Tomorrow, they will yank us off the visa lottery list. Has anyone offended these people? I don’t get it!”

There were more ripples of laughter shooting through Pa Okeke’s hut of drunken men. This ignited a move in the old wine tapper. He went behind and reemerged in the gathering with a dull black aged gallon of palm wine. It was crusted with overflowing dirty white wine. The neck of the galloon was laced with fat green toilet flies that had attacked from all directions.

“‘Americans are funny,’ I keep telling people everywhere I go.” The New Yorker reminded his audience and everyone nodded. Some voices concurred while others demurred. There were grumbles that the New Yorker couldn’t understand. “And crazy too like someone has just told us, but Americans are not the only crazy people.” He drank some wine. “They will know what it means to be crazy when they finish that wall. Because some people will chisel that wall until it can let their bodies through. They will claw at it night and day. Sometimes it is better to die in a prosperous land than live in a wretched place.” Some heads nodded, while others drank up.

Pa Okeke deposited the gallon on a bench in the middle of the room. “There is more to come,” he declared. There was a certain audacity to the way he stood, as though he meant to dare someone in the house to a drinking contest. Many experienced drinkers saw danger ahead. He had much of the stale wine in his drums that he wanted to get rid of.

Voices rose again in the gathering. There were those who thought that Pa Okeke wanted them to swim home in alcohol and have their wives lock them out.

Would America stop receiving visitors? That was a question that was thrown the New Yorker’s way from a man who had being processing this latest revelation from the story teller. He even asked the New Yorker the source of his latest news.

“How many of you have a radio?”  The New Yorker began. There was no response to his question.  People just drank wine and adjusted on their seats. He interpreted that in many ways. “These homo-sapiens called Americans are capable of the impossible,” the New Yorker fired at him. “They killed a president that they voted for. They put a man on the moon when others were sending monkeys and tomatoes to the clouds.”

Now, there was a blanket of shock that descended on the house. Many in the gathering didn’t know about that. The New Yorker nodded his head after having drunk some wine. He told them that brutal act of killing a president was akin to children killing their own father. He told them the word for that was patricide!

“Wetin be dat?” Pa Okeke asked. “your grammar don dey too much: homo…wetin, partri…wetin. Abeg small grammar. No be all of us go America like you.”

The New Yorker found that gratifying and funny. Then he explained what the words meant as the hut owner had just reemerged in the scene and leaned on the door frame, his eyes glassy with wine just as his stomach carried more weight than before. He rubbed it down and guffawed. “Now, I get you.” He rubbed his chin. “But how will you enter America if you want to go back there?”

Most people in the hut found that an interesting question. They adjusted on their seats. Some took their cups and drank some more palm wine in anticipation of the response the New Yorker would give. “You don’t belong here with us. You are the only Americana we know.”

The New Yorker was deadpan. He told his listeners that the walls of Berlin and Jericho had since fallen. And he believed the American wall would collapse should it ever be erected. Some in the house didn’t believe his prophecy. Many felt the New Yorker had been drunk all along. Someone even said that to his wine-soaked face. The New Yorker needed to convince the house that he had his memory in place. So he told them to see Joshua 6: 1-16. But no one had the virtue of holding a Bible in the house.

“You have not answered my question?” That was Pa Okeke. He wanted the New Yorker to respond to his question, since he had often boasted that he would return to America any time he desired.

“I will do like the children of Israel did.” The New Yorker shot back, fuming. “I will join with other people and sing and dance and blow horns round the wall.”

Now, Pa Okeke was convinced the story teller had lost it. There was a general wild laugh in the house. “Will you be the priest?” Pa Okeke asked. “There were priests in the Bible.” He shook his head in disbelief. He returned to his large drums of overnight palm-wine behind his hut.

A man who had been sitting with his jaws imprisoned under his palms, emptied his cup, and began drumming on it, singing:

The walls of Jericho fell down flat

When the children of God

were praising the lord

The walls of Jericho fell down flat!

He was now standing and doing a jig. Some other drunken men picked up the lyrics of the popular church song and sang along, the wooden tables serving as superb percussion instruments.  A circle was quickly formed in the hut. The gyration was infectious and had a shocking fraternal spirit, but the New Yorker didn’t join in the song. He just sat swallowing up all the happenings, the scene wavy and distorted in his eyes. He blinked rapidly and washed his face with his left palm. He dug into his trouser pocket for a crescent of kola nut which he popped in his mouth.

The sky had foreshadowed rain all day. Now it began to drizzle and those customers who were outside the hut hurried in and found spaces for themselves. The kids had since left the scene when they realised no magic doves were going to fly off the palms of the New Yorker. The story of the wall around some unknown borders sounded more confusing than a simple equation at school. With more people in the hut, the New Yorker thought this was the break he needed to break out from the hut. He had gulped enough free wine for one day.  He felt some wine didn’t want to go down his throat again. The veins in his eyes had bulged.

“I don’t want this rain to meet me here.” That was the New Yorker. “I left some clothes out on the hanging line.” He meant those words to no one in particular as he was already on his way out by the time he uttered the last word. “Make way, please.” He forced himself through cracks between people.

He had given the whole place a life of its own and many customers were disappointed to watch him go. Nonetheless, different words of farewell escorted him out. Pa Okeke emerged on the scene with two jugs of fermented palm wine in both hands. He said he had brought them for his favorite customer. He too was saddened to learn that the New Yorker had vacated the scene. He left the wine for the house, wondering why the New Yorker had fled his place without informing him.

As the New Yorker staggered home, the lyrics of the song at the hut returned to him. He didn’t sing it the way he had heard it. He made up his own version instead. He began by whistling and clapping his large palms, hopping from one side of the street to the other; then he sang about how the great American wall collapsed when immigrants from all corners of the world gathered round it singing and clawing at it with hammers and crowbars. Those who passed him by suspected Pa Okeke to be the man who brought out the singing talent in Akpan Okom. Many passersby laughed at the man, and went on to tell stories to others that Pa Okeke’s wine had turned the storyteller into an international music maker. Some villagers even embellished what they had seen, adding that the New Yorker had gone mad and was hopping to the market square.

Two weeks passed without the New Yorker at Pa Okeke’s hut. This was a strange thing. Many regulars believed he had gone to America, to the wall at the border. Some who believed the tale about the inchoate madness felt he had indeed made it to the market square. They feared for him because it was a well-held belief among the villagers that any mad person who entered a market would never be healed. Other people felt his absence was because he had drunk too much wine weeks earlier, and had gotten home, vomited and fallen sick.

But several regulars still frequented Pa Okeke’s hut hoping to see the New Yorker and hear about the great border wall. They hoped they wouldn’t have to wait for long before the story teller draped them with the latest tale about the great American border wall.

Steve Ogah is a fellow of the British Council/Lancaster University Crossing Borders online writing program and the Voicesnet USA Poet of the Month (Feb.2002).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
A Special Tribute

The Many Faces of ‘Freedom’

Romanticised by writers and artists over time, freedom has been variously interpreted. There is the freedom of birds that fly, of the clouds that float across the connecting blue skies, of the grass that grows across manmade borders, of the blood that flows to protect the liberty of confines or constructs drawn by man, the river that gurgles into the ocean, of the breeze that blows.

The many-splendored interpretations of freedom and its antitheses in Borderless journal are presented here for you to ponder … tell us what you think. Can freedom come without responsibility or a tryst with circumstances?

Poetry

Then Came the King’s Men by Himadri Lahiri, tracing dreams of freedom through the ages. Click here to read.

Poetry in Bosnian from Bosnia & Herzegovina, written and translated by Maid Corbic, explores the freedom of speech. Click here to read.

The Storm that Rages from the conflict ridden state of Kashmir, Ahmed Rayees writes of hope, freedom and peace. Click here to read.

Prose

The Protests Outside

Steve Ogah talks of trauma faced by riot victims in Nigeria while exploring the bondage of tyranny. Click here to read.

A Prison of Our Own Making

Keith Lyons gives us a brief essay on how we can find freedom. Click here to read.

A Life Well-Lived

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses the concepts of the role of responsibility that goes with the freedom of choices. Click here to read.

The Parrot’s Tale by Tagore

Exploring the freedom from bondages of education social norms and more, this story has been translated by Radha Chakravarty from Bengali. Click here to read.

Categories
Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit

On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.

One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.

…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.

This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?

From Malaysia, Julian Matthews and Malachi Edwin Vethamani cry out against societal, religious and political bindings – quite a powerful outcry at that with a story and poems. Akbar Barakzai continues his quest with three poems around ideas of freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Jaydeep Sarangi and Joan Mcnerny pick up these reverberations of freedom, each defining it in different ways through poetry.

Jared Carter takes us back to his childhood with nostalgic verses. Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Michael Lee Johnson, Vandana Sharma and many more sing to us with their lines. Rhys Hughes has of course humour in verse that makes us smile as does Jay Nicholls who continues with her story-poems on Pirate Blacktarn – fabulous pieces all of them. The sport of hummingbirds and cats among jacaranda trees is caught in words and photographs by Penny Wilkes in her Nature’s Musings. A poetic tribute to Danish Siddiqui by young Sutputra Radheye rings with admiration for the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer who met his untimely end last month on 16th while at work in Afghanistan, covering a skirmish between Taliban and Afghanistan security forces. John Linwood Grant takes up interesting issues in his poetry which brings me back to ‘freedom’ from colonial regimes, perhaps one of the most popular themes for writers.

Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.

Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?

Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.

A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece.  We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.

We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends, is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion,Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra,  Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.

As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.

I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal, August 2021

Categories
Stories

The Protest Outside

By Steve Ogah

Here I am with my head swathed. The last time the doctor came to my room, I told him my demons hadn’t deserted me. I am losing confidence in this community health facility which is named after the military dictator. Do people ever get healed here?  It has been a week since I arrived here. Things are just the same. I am beginning to have a fight in my head with the doctor and the nurse.

“I need to see the doctor,” I find myself screaming at nurse Nkoyo when she comes to check my bandages. Though she is innocent of the pain I feel, I still find myself barking and shrieking as though a dog gone mad.

She smiles her signature smile, the kind of smile all trained nurses are supposed to wear at all times. “Kune, the doctor is rather busy at this time of day.” She says to me.

Disappointed, I sit up against the pillow which I prop against the wall behind my head. I move my forefinger in the air as though a radio’s frequency tuning needle. Then I say to her: “I don’t think you heard me.”

She is about to say she is not hard of hearing when I scream again, this time invoking God angrily. I hear my voice run through the quietness of the hallway, throwing up a storm in the ears of others in the building. I imagine all who heard my voice are startled. Some walk to the window and look out hoping to find a demented man in crutches and bandages standing in the centre of the courtyard. Some hope to find a mad man hopping down the corridor. Those sleeping pop open their eyes; shake their heads in regret that a man just lost his sanity today.

“Okay, take it easy,” the frightened nurse says to me as she gently places the tray of medications on the side stool of my bedside.

“No. It’s not okay until the doctor gets here!” I slam the side of the bed. She is careful not to spill the tablets and water as her eyes look up to meet mine. I stare, not willing to drop my eyes, wishing for her to see the anger and urgency of a sick man in an equally sick country. Of course, she sees the colour in my eyes. It is the pigment of pain and frustration. It is the colour of a man wishing for revenge. She sees that I am more than willing to conjure a world of torment for everyone around me. She sees I can only do that if I leave my bed in good health. Perhaps, she is willing to help me get off this damned bed. There is overwhelming pity in her eyes for me. They get teary all at once. She is about to mumble some words of sympathy when I ask: “What would the problem be?”

“I will get the doctor.” She walks away. The soles of her white tennis shoes begin to echo in my head as though they were stilettos. I feel I am going to scream at her: Take those cursed shoes off your feet. But I can’t say that because I find myself feasting on her all the way down, wishing I would leap from the bed and tell her this is a hospital ward and not a clubhouse. She is gone now, and the door slams shut. All is quiet again. I begin to wait for the doctor to come see me and use his magic to drive away my pain and frustration.

I close my eyes shut and try to sleep. I do not sleep for long. I hear footfalls and voices in the narrow corridor. The doctor is checking his white coat to see if he carries a pen with him. But he finds a surgical knife and his stethoscope instead. He tells the nurse at his back to hurry up. She bears a tray, and in it, is a cocktail of huge tablets, a glass of coloured water and a scary syringe. He is sure he can take care of me without much drama. He has put countless troublesome patients to sleep before.  But he still has the plan of calling in extra hands if I act like the craziest of the crazy. He could be violent with me if the situation demands it.

I imagine him at my side. He tries to appear like most doctors are — calm. Then he sees that his cultured ways are at variance with my primitive actions. I try to resist his caring touch. So, he lets the stethoscope slide down his neck. It hits the floor. It vibrates in my head a million times. The doctor hits me with his forearm. I collapse back to the bed. He lets out a jet of air, having overpowered me.

“Here,” The nurse says to him, as she passes the syringe to him. I am motionless as the tip of the instrument pierces my arm and the fluid in it travels through my veins and decides to stop in my brain. Nurse Nkoyo flinches as the tip of the needle is withdrawn from my body. But the doctor betrays no emotions. Mean doctor?

These images were in my head when Doctor Kpo walked in. He had a gift with people, and I had seen him offer sick people hope before giving them medical treatment. He would pray with them too. But it was that hope that the country needed. It was also in need of cure, and I imagined Kpo as the man for my country. He was the one to examine the heads of members of the supreme military council to tell them that only sick heads would lock up sane people who were merely asking for their rights and the freedom to associate among themselves. I also needed him to tell them that it was wrong of them to have armed men beat up people on the streets for simply nudging them in the arm unknowingly. He needed to tell them that the sight of soldiers smoking at street corners with AK-47 rifles was enough terror for the average Nigerian. Soldiers needed to be told that it was criminal enough to make people forget when they want to remember. They needed to know that military brutality was a crime, especially when committed against defenseless and unarmed people.

The doctor was unusually calm for my liking. His sky-white coat was in good shape. It was well-pressed with few creases and that made me think that perhaps, he hadn’t taken a seat since he wore it. He clutched a clipboard close to his chest as though it were a baby in need of comfort. And his stethoscope was slung down his neck. He walked like an angel who had come to transport me on wings to the judgment throne, without giving me the chance to receive the sacrament of penance, and without the chance to hug dearest ones for the last time. He looked like an angel who had come to transport me to mama. Mama, I believed, was glued at Jesus’ feet in heaven, free from the pain my country had caused her. I have never imagined mama in any place other than heaven. Mamas don’t go to hell or anywhere hurting. They are so kind and tender they deserve to dine with angels and saints and God. If God needed wives, he would have chosen all mamas. They never do wrong.

She had been a petty trader who sold tomatoes and pepper at the market in town which was named after the wife of the military ruler. Just like any other day in her quiet and lonely life, she had gone to display her articles of trade at her roadside table. She was trying to convince a young boy to add few coins to what he was offering her. She said that was the little profit she stood to make. Out of the blue, commotion rose all around her. She thought it was the usual anti-coup protest that had been taking place since the dictator sent the democratic president to exile.

“Hey. Run. Fast!” Many people had been screaming as she later narrated to me. But she wasn’t Usain Bolt. She had willed strength from her inner self but had found no youthful reserves. She was still at her stool when soldiers with blistering eyes, bearing horsewhips descended on her. They whipped with a searing horsewhip and kicked her while she called out for help that wasn’t going to come. The soldiers didn’t relent in their torture exercise. She believed some demons of sorts had possessed them. And the soldiers were so many that she thought a war had been declared on old fat petty traders who sat on low stools.

The soldiers had come from two angles, jumping down from ugly army trucks imported from some totalitarian countries. They were excited. They didn’t just beat hapless civilians and had them lie down on broken road; the heartless men were happy to destroy people’s wares with their jackboots. Mama had told me this on her hospital bed.

She had thought that by screaming and holding her head in her palms, she would find mercy with the invaders. But with each shout that she had made, she had gotten a heavier kick and harsher whip to her body. Soon, she found herself rolling in the mud and invoking God’s name to plead her case. That didn’t help. They brutalized her until the welts on her skin began to course with blood. Her screams were now dying. Slow. Slower. She rolled slowly and lay on her stomach, her face buried in the mud, her backside open to several jackboots and whips of a demented gang of military misfits. They only stopped beating her when she lay motionless on the ground. The pandemonium at the market was soon over, then the military men left, blissful that they had not been challenged. What was Mama’s crime? She had not been able to afford the high cost of stalls in the main market complex, which was already sold out, in any case. And that the curfew was due in thirty minutes, and no one had been expected to be on the streets.

In the weeks that followed, Mama never made it to the market area again. She was badly wounded. She could not understand why her country had done her so much harm. She found succor from the delegation of market women who visited her at the hospital telling her not to worry that all would be well. But Mama never got well. She was admitted to a local hospital. She had complained of pains in her stomach. I went to see her daily. I went one day and met an unusual calm at Hope medical center. I didn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary. I walked to Mama’s room only to find out that the door was locked. I went to the doctor’s office and there I was told the tragic news.

She had died. Now, I didn’t understand what death meant because I had never for one moment believed my mama would die. I thought death was a disease far from our home.  I didn’t want to take the news like one takes a loving present home from teachers at school. I told the bearer of the news that he was a terrible comic act and should never consider a career in comedy if he was trying to make me laugh. But he insisted that he was serious about the tragedy that had befallen my family.

Truth.  She had closed her eyes while a prayer froze on her full lips. She was Catholic and she had been praying the prayer for Nigeria in distress before she passed on. It was a prayer she knew by heart as she had attended masses without fail. Her death wish was that I prayed the prayer daily, but I had failed her religiously. I was still trying to shake off the memory of Mama from my mind when the doctor touched me; his usual smile was not on his round face. I wanted to ask what the issue was, but he spoke first. Doctors deliver tragedy best.

“It has been a bad day,” he said as he motioned me to lay flat. He placed his stethoscope on my chest and listened with that trained ear of his. He placed his left palm on my forehead and wanted to know if I still felt the migraines.

“Just yesterday,” I answered.

He reached for his clipboard and took down some notes. He was taciturn with the nurse who stood by. The Dr Kpo I had known would have asked about my night, would have poked fun out of the stories in the news of the television authority, and would have spoken about things in other wards. So, I had to ask him the question he had frozen a while ago.

“Doctor, I shouldn’t really be asking this. But is everything okay at home and at work?”

He looked at me and smiled. Or rather enacted what looked like a smile. He failed at hiding an emotion which wasn’t joy. He shook his head as if to shake the weight of my question away. He blinked rapidly and wrote hurriedly in his file. I wasn’t going to force him to words if he wasn’t going to speak willingly. I lay down for him to carry out his medical ritual on me. But he didn’t.  He stopped writing instead. He hugged his clipboard with sadness.

“My country is wicked,” he cast his eyes in sad colours. He went to the window and parted the curtains into two halves, each stuffing into the iron burglary. He stepped aside. The sharp rays of the rising sun bathed me in full. They were people on the streets marching and singing that they had lost the fear of death. They had just carried away a dead man from the health centre. 

“What happened again?” I sat up against the wall.

“The unspeakable happens in this country every day.” He was still speaking to himself. Rather, he was speaking to the sad, angry, and frustrated people outside the window, the trees down below, I thought. “We are told the police is our friend, yet they extort and clamp us into jails at will. We are told the army is to protect against external aggressors, but the army boys think civilians are enemies.”

I questioned him with urgency poking out in my voice. I had expected him to turn and address me. But he chose to glue his vision to the window. There was pandemonium outside, angry voices tearing through into the room.

“They snatched Amina away last night.” He spoke at last.

“And who is she? Who took her away?”

“My wife,” he said, and I imagined his eyes had grown distant as he searched for her in the cramped houses, broken roads, and dusty sky up ahead in his view. I imagined his eyes were teary too and he didn’t wish me to see the infant side of him.

“She had been returning from the market when soldiers and armed men in a patrol van screeched to a stop beside her and asked her to get into their van.  The doors of the van were plastered with the words ‘Operation Sweep’. She had resisted casually by walking ahead. Then she heard rifles snapping with fury behind her.”

“So sorry to hear about this. What time of the day did this happen?”

“Just before sunset.”

He explained that they seized her plastic bag, which was filled with beans and plantain, meant for dinner. They spilled the contents on the road. And what was her offence? They claimed they had sighted her at a corner talking to a man in whispers. They had lost trail of the man. They feared he was an activist, and his wife was one too. He said his wife denied the claim. The patrol van swept up people at random at street corners, blinding them with sharp torch rays at first. They would simply be told that they were ‘security threats’.

Doctor Kpo walked away from the window and announced to me that I would be discharged in a day or two. He said my injuries were not so severe anymore and the migraines would go away soonest.  He said I had been fortunate not to crack my skull when the soldiers raided the soccer viewing center I had been, searching for activists.

“Steer clear of crowded areas,” he admonished me. “They don’t want to see so many young boys gathered in one place, even if you guys claim it’s the English soccer season on satellite television.”

I nodded. The doctor left my room. “What’s going to happen to Amina?” I asked as he got to the door.

“She will be fine. She will be out. She will not be in detention for long.”

“How? When?”

“The director of the health centre has already petitioned the military administrator.” He shut the door. A vanishing act followed. Then he returned to the room without knocking. “Don’t join the protests outside. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the police just tortured a young man to death. I hear there will be end SARS protests in the days to come.” Another vanishing act was accomplished.

I closed my eyes, wondering why men with guns wanted to rule over us, bothered about what I would do to stop soldiers from flogging civilians at will, wondering if the confrontations in my head wouldn’t return. Then I saw myself joining the groups on the streets, confronting the army. The possibilities that I saw in my mind hit my eyelids, then they opened.  I screamed for the nurse. I would discharge myself from the facility.

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Steve Ogah is Voicesnet (USA) Poet of the month (Feb.2002) and fellow of the British Council/Lancaster University Crossing Borders online writing program. He is the author of Barack Obama’s Logic.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Poetry

The Poor Man’s Salary

By Goto Emmanuel

 

Everyday is a salary,

But the fruits we eat are more than the wages

The farmers toil taller than the seed they harvest.

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The hustle of life is to full the empty stomach

And make the frowning faces gleam.

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The world aims for more and more,

Hustle and struggle day and night,

But yields nothing in the shelter of the pauper.

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Why not come in bundle you salary!

Who knows the abode of salary?

Travelling like the sun rays in man’s purse

Deducting fare without notice.

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The empty stomach must be filled

The tattered cloths must also be sowed

Even the stale furniture are gazing with rust and dust

All must be filled by the same earn.

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The salary of life is an unending journey

Whose paths link to everything in life

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We stressed for the future

We earn; but when earn,

Daddy brings his shattered boots in the box

And calls “aboki” to beautify it

Mama also submits cost for the tripod

And we submit diary of the term fees.

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Poor man salary is like a weak soldier in my country

Who disappoints them in a million times in the battle field

.

Salary is salary — but not all salaries are rich

.

I heard the muttering of the poor man in the air

I read the long letter of the poor man to the NEPA body

Rejecting the light because of his probable cause

Cause; sooner, tax and the tattered bills will be asked.

.

If I will not be self employed

I will be salaried employed

If I don’t work, I will not receive

What we work, we earn.

.

We owe credit just for the name sake

But the rich do more exploit with the earns

Just like a rock to the needy,

burden to the poor, but blessing to the rich

Which blur the thoughts of the wretched

But brightens the sky of the rich in an island.

.

Man earns is a factor to his life

Shattered incomes has caused cassava to soak in the barn of the pauper.

.

The day sweat is an expectation of compensation

We expect more than Lazarus of old

We earn salary to fulfill our desire

But the short earns is the fire that ignites the light in the house

.

Fowl in caravan is like a country in recession

Whose budget is low like battery

Our budget now is no where to be found.

.

We worked, earned and spent but not satisfied

The poor man earns is a burden but the rich man salary is like milk and honey.

.

Goto Emmanuel hails from Opuba, Arogbo in Ese-odo local government Ondo state, Nigeria. An undergraduate in Niger Delta University, Wilberforce island, Bayelsa state. An ijaw by tribe. A christian. A poet, Essayist, fiction writer and a budding lawyer. Gentle and passionate. Optimistic and God fearing. His hobbies are reading, writing , swimming and football. He loves nature. Most poems of Goto Emmanuel are about nature, politics and love. A lover of book who strives to do his possible best in the work art.

.

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Categories
Poetry

Our Global Village & The Dawn after the Pandemic

By Obinna Chilekezi

Our global village
 
a global village indeed!
as while in school, we’re
warned of dangers of going global
for a big small village, but we thought only
of the passion and money, the beauty and trade

never before is man this caged, as
the wilds freely move daily activities, unconcerned!

never told to watch that one day
china would sneeze, the rest of 
the globe would catch virus
and locked down for days, and deaths
would rise to the mount and graves swollen

never before is man this caged, as
the wilds freely move daily activities, unconcerned!

here we are today, this virused world
revolving around in this global village
of national borders closed, states closing theirs too
even local authorities banging theirs strongly too


never before is man this caged, as
the wilds freely move daily activities, unconcerned!

can this be end of our global village
as the lights in the village went off, from house to house
to your tents O’ Israel, as local authorities banged their doors
and the villages return back to their huts
or could there be another rebirth of the globe, as we know it.

never before is man this caged, as
the wilds freely move daily activities, unconcerned!
The dawn after coronavirus pandemic

Loud smiles creep across the waves. Yes smiles were loud
At the meander of holding hands again together
All along the landscape of nesting
And the incredulous affectation, in the air
As we danced to the tune of the invigorated song of laughter

The weather in blue bright. Reminder of then days of isolation
From days of death, fear and rumours of
That deadly virus that swan across the
Gatepost of boundaries, darkly and oozing 
Out more deaths along every corners of the globe

The earth became sick. Sick of the deaths of its pride, mankind; 
our earth was sick, with its garters down, in the 
foam chest of doubt. Darkness became
The beginning of the morning sun, and love
Was kept at bay. Our lovely sandlot turned gray

Then this new dawn. This dawn
Became warn and grew like our Iroko of hope. And
It came as a time of relief, unimaginable
Or imagined - we all in unison said 
Bye bye to covid 19, bye bye to its death.

The Earth became sick. Sick of the deaths of its pride, mankind; 
our Earth was sick, with its garters down, in the 
foam chest of doubt. Darkness became
The beginning of the morning sun, and love
Was kept at bay. Our lovely sandlot turned gray

Then this new dawn. This dawn
Became warn and grew like our Iroko of hope. And
It came as a time of relief, unimaginable
Or imagined - we all in unison said 
Bye bye to COVID 19, bye bye to its death.

Loud smiles creep across the waves. Yes smiles were loud
At the meander of holding hands again together
All along the landscape of nesting
And the incredulous affectation, in the air
As we danced to the tune of the invigorated song of laughter

Obinna Chilekezi is a Nigerian poet and insurance practitioner whose poems have been published in journals and anthologies. He has three published collections which are: Son Chikeziri too died, Rejection and other poems and Songs of a Stranger in the Smiling Coast. One of his insurance texts won the 2016 African Insurance Organisation Book Award. He can be used on ugobichi@yahoo.com or obinnachilekezi1@gmail.com.