Tell Nonso That We Are Looking For Him
Her lips are moving; Her face is wet. The oil lamp is on the table. She can smell smoke in the air. Her hand quakes over the paper, spilling words. Some live, others are impaled by straight lines. There are many lines, some straight, others crooked. The shadows flood every corner of the room; shadows from Mama bed, from Lotanna `s chair. They flicker in the light of the oil lamp. A heaviness constricts her heart and flood her eyes with fury: A volcano of it. The magma flows in her hands and, drip wordily onto the paper. More rows are filled on the paper, then more straight lines drawn. Mama makes an effort to raise her head, but it falls back again. A wheezing sound escapes from her nostrils and fills Lotanna `s ears with agony causing her hand to run over the paper again and write what Mama is saying through breaths snatched through clogged airways.
Outside brightness flashes momentarily. Then darkness, then brightness again. Lotanna hears a loud sound from high up. Outside . She hears it again. It swallows up every other sound. The temperature of the room drops. Through the window there is yet another flash of brightness.
“Tell him that we have seen three yam seasons ,”Mama says, “ Tell him that Adanna and Nnadi are now one and have two children; tell him that Ndubuisi is seeking your hand; tell him that it is only one piece of land that is left in his name; tell him that this cough is wasting me.”
Mama has grown thinner. Her once strong, clear voice which affectionately fastened on the stresses of Lotanna `s name now struggles to string words together. Her drugs are in a plastic container near her pillow, yet she coughs on breathing with difficulty
Three years ago fate pulled Okolobia down from the endless height of a palm tree. When he was found, his half-full keg of palm wine was lying close to his body on the ground near stones soaked with blood. Nonso had become the only man in the family.
If Mama lives, there may yet be money for Lotanna `s WASSCE sometime next year. She will do anything to take the examination that ends secondary school and gives students the lottery ticket of university education. Ndubuisi already paid a visit to wish Mama quick recovery and to say he would return with his people
Lotanna hopes Nonso will respond to the letter as if it were a summons of court; Hopefully, he will come and Mama`s cough and heartache will dry up; Hopefully, he will take a wife and their lineage will linger a little longer. Hope.
Hope reduces the constriction in her heart. The pen feels lighter in her hands; the paper is clearer. The room grows warmer. Hope.
“Tell him that Dumebi is married to a man who wears shiny clothes and drives an expensive car from Onitsha; tell him that Chigozie came from the city and bought three lands and went back with two boys; tell him that Obinna has gone to Ogidi to live with Chief Arinze who sells building materials; tell him that Igwe Dike`s Ofalla is this year; tell him that Obioma , Adaku `s daughter now has pointed breasts and men are visiting her father; tell him that here in Abagana we now have water coming from pipes ; tell him that the last time it rained, a puddle of water pooled in his father`s room.”
Lotanna turns to the third page. Its edges are wet.
The words of the letter cause a burning sensation in Nonso`s eyes. His vision blurs. He dabs at his eyes.
The early morning sun streaming in through the window bounces off the bathroom`s tiles and walls and mirrors. Some of the sun light comes off Shirley`s tube of shampoo.
The letter is rumpled. It is torn in some places. Words about Adanna , Lotanna and Mama burn holes through Nonso `s heart. From the three pages of the letter, hands from home wave at him. Frantically .
Adanna is now a mother. And a wife. A keg of palm wine, a sum of money, kolanut, wrappers, goats are about to be brought on Lotanna`s head.
He dabs at his eyes again. His friend, Chigozie now has lands and boys he is training. Mama is growing weaker from the cough.
The top of the letter is blurred. Nonso can only see November 13, 2017.Six months ago. Has Mama survived the six months? Is Lotanna yet unmarried; Has the leaking roof finally caved in?
Are they tired of waiting for him? He has enough money to replace the lands his absence made his uncle take away. Three years ago, he left Abagana with his two shirts and two trousers tucked into a nylon bag in pursuit of greener pastures. Now , while the pastures here have stayed lush and green, the fields in Abagana are wilting under the harmattan of his absence.
The call from home is shrill. He can hear it. It is not only because it is contained in a letter written in the hand of his seventeen-year-old youngest sister, it is also because it was spat out of Mama`s cough. He has had reminders to go home in the last three years, mostly from his heart, sometimes from his memory. But this letter is rumpled with nostalgia: a siren from Abagana, invoking the return of all her children. Our roof is leaking, We are looking for you. He can hear Mama`s voice strangled by cough, calling him to come home to her warm embrace, to her deeply felt words; to her thoroughly cooked food; to her fierce motherhood; to her solicitous maternal plans for him. He can see Lotanna `s trembling hands as they beckon to a brother she has not seen in three years; He can feel the dark power of the recurrent cough that has terrorized Mama and her family since he was a child. At least, since father died. They all always suspected the cough was from an enemy`s juju. This letter is defiant of that cough. Lotanna wrote that Mama tells me all I write in this letter. Someone who knows Mama and Lotanna knows where Nonso is. It is not Emeka; the man who brought him and two others to Tel Aviv three years ago slumped and died that same year. It was alleged that juju, the terror of all African diapora , followed him from home and killed him. He died leaving Nonso , Djibril who is a Senegalese, and Kofi who is Ghanaian, but surprisingly fair-skinned, to find their feet in a foreign land; to fend for themselves. In the blink of bewildered eyes, they had found themselves trapped on foreign soil. Dread of the squalor first encountered in Tel Aviv had been easily weaker than the dread of the idea of going back to Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana without making it, with their poor tails between their weary legs. They had chosen to confront survival in a foreign land with heads without roofs; hands without funds, but hearts flaring with hope – the kind of hope that emerged in the face of the ends of adversity and worked miracles. They had quickly found a community like the ones they left at home: many young African men praying for crumbs to drop off Jewish tables.
Kofi had ended in prison after he was caught with negligible quantities of cocaine. His Israeli “employers” had betrayed him to their own authorities. They branded his fate a “black fate”. He was deported. Djibril worked in a meat processing factory where the chickens whose feathers he plucked off for a living never found their way to his own mouth. Yet, he gratefully made enough money. This money in addition to softening the blows of his own squalor travelled to Dakar to support his widowed mother and eight siblings.
Nonso `s looks and ability to give good sex was his escape from the squalor which trailed Djibril and Kofi like an oversize robe for months. Shirley had recruited him to marry her in exchange for some stability in the face of gales of immigration and harsh security measures.
Shirley `s body touches his. Her probing eyes search the mirror he is facing. Nonso looks down. She is searching for his eyes. He will not allow her see them. Home is fast moving away from him like debris snatched away by flood.
He is twenty-eight. She is thirty-eight. She is elegant and leggy. Each time they go out, her glowing skin radiate the sun. She has a heart for Nonso, an immigrant, and for Yael, a Palestinian youth she calls her brother. Nonso also knows she contributed to Koffi`s deportation. It was during the whole deportation mess that he met her.
“When will are we leaving? ” Shirley asks.
Nonso is startled. “To where ?”
“Abagana .” The pronunciation amuses Nonso.
“How did you?”
“Yael showed me the letter before giving it to you.”
“So you know they need me to come home.”
Shirley places a hand around him. “You told me it has been three years. We will go.”
“We? You have done so much for me already. Let me go to Nigeria alone.”
“You know you may never come back if you go. Your papers will not allow you too and my life will never remain the same.”
“This is your home.”Nonso says. “It will always be. Nigeria is my home. My people are calling me.”
“You are married to me.”
“It was a contract.”
“One you are not going to breach.”
“Even now that I must go?”
“We take a lot of prisoners for that here, unlike in Nigeria.”
“I know that,” Nonso says .” My mum is sick and…”His voice breaks “I must go and see her .I am the only man left in my family.”
“I want to go with you to Nigeria.”
“My people will never accept you as my wife.”
“At least they will accept you back as a son.”
Abagana , Nigeria. Mama`s is crying and coughing. Lotanna, heavily pregnant is crying too. Shirley is blowing her nose into her handkerchief. The letter had been a dice to providence. When they heard that Chidi had returned from Israel, Mama was adamant that he helped them find Nonso and give him their letter. Chidi who on seeing Mama`s cough had vowed to reach Nonso with the letter.
Nonso cannot stop crying.
“You abandoned us,” Mama says. “Now they have taken what belongs to you.”
“I am sorry, Mama.” His words are audible above the sobs. “I was trapped in Israel. I could not get out even though I needed to see each of you every single day, to hear your voice, to feel your warmth. It is thanks to this Shirley- he points to Shirley – that I am back home today.”
“You know I did not want you to go abroad. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” Mama`s voice trails off and Lotanna pats her chest. “A lot of our children go there and never return. How can our children just disappear in the name of going abroad?”Cough. Again. “We even heard that they treat you people like outcasts there.”Another pat on her chest. Lotanna begs her to stop talking.
Nonso is grateful Shirley cannot understand the Igbo Mam is speaking.
“I missed you so much, brother,” Lotanna says. “Adanna did too. She will soon be here.”
Uncle Udoka is shaking his head and saying “Finally, finally,”
A cluster of the villagers is gathering outside. The big car Nonso and Shirley came with is their an attraction.
“Obodo oyibo , tufiakwa .” A young man says.
“I cannot wait for my uncle to come from Japan and take me with him.”Another says. “That place is heaven. All we have in this village is poverty and lack. ”
“Count me out,” another says. “That place is their heaven. He swings his hands around. “Abagana is our own heaven.”
“Which heaven?” the Japan-bound young man snorts.
“ We have our culture, tradition and values. We have our children here. These things are worth more than gold. It is heaven”
“Now that I have seen you, I can die.” Mama says.
“Tufiakwa Mama .” Lotanna says. “Look at me , I am heavy with my first child. If you die now, who will come for my omugwo?”
“You will not die, Mama, now that I am here” Nonso says. “You will have the best treatment available here or in the city so you can live to enjoy your son`s wealth and wife. Your son has made it”
“Which wife? This one? Tufiakwa ” Mama says.“ Obioma , Adaku `s daughter, has been waiting for you.”
Nonso is grateful that Shirley cannot hear any of Mama`s words.
“Mama, I will marry a woman from Abagana . This is only the woman I work for.”
“And you will not return to the White man`s land. We have lost enough children to those shores already. As Uncle Udoka here collected that land near the stream, he said you were never coming back.”
Nonso looks at Uncle Udoka. He is looking at the ground shaking his head.
Mama coughs again and again. Then, she falls silent.