By Jekwu Anyaegbuna
Friday, April 22, 2011.
died, and her burial was a special one; but she should not have died
because her death led to where I found myself. The signs had been there
the day she was buried, signs of angels fighting in heaven because she
was buried with acrimony here on earth. Uncle Ibe, who started it all
as the ceremony progressed, never imagined this level of degeneration.
He spoke like a parrot until he began to accuse everyone in the family
of killing her, of crying without shedding enough tears that should
have flowed like a stream down their cheeks, to their chests, and all
the way to their stomachs.
He stood up like a pregnant woman, pointing
his stubby fingers at members of our kindred, his eyes the colour of
ripe tomatoes; wavy lines of grief travelled across his forehead. He
wore a deep frown on his tearless face. I wondered why he should say
our kinsmen did not shed heart-felt tears when his own cheeks were so
chubby and tearless. I connected his energetic and finger-pointing
gestures with his face, and concluded that if he did not stop the next
moment, he would talk Mama’s burial, and all of us, into trouble. So
Mama’s burial was special, and I really wondered if angels would refuse
to welcome her to heaven because of unnecessary combats during the
listened as Uncle Ibe held the microphone far from his mouth, as if the
device bred air-borne diseases. I had leant to beware when our kinsmen
listened that way as a man talked; I knew they didn’t listen for
nothing. The speaker soon provoked them when he said that what had
killed Mama did not come from outside but within. The microphone cable
rested on his protruding stomach as he rained accusations. I wondered
if the size of a man’s belly had anything to do with the way he talked.
He repeated “my sister” several times as he spoke. I knew it was to
impress it on the sympathisers that he was a caring uncle to us, that
he loved Mama more than his own wife and children, and that he had
taken Mama to several churches in search of a solution to her sickness.
All around, as he spoke, men drank palm wine and aromatic schnapps,
especially those digging the grave, to reduce their grief. Women drank
Coke and Fanta, and washed their hands with Sprite, before they dipped
them into huge plates of vegetable soup.
know that the person who killed my sister is from this family,” Uncle
Ibe said, pulling at the waist of his trousers that had an elastic
rope, perhaps to get a relief from grief that had accumulated in his
enormous stomach. “What makes a mature he-goat smell is within the
he-goat! The killers of my sister are within you people.”
stood in front of us, pointing at the canopy under which our kinsmen
sat. Some of them simply nodded like weak lizards and said, “Yes, yes,
O bu eziokwu, it is true,” as though they totally agreed with him.
Others chewed kola nuts and alligator pepper, crossing their legs as
they listened to him. He went on to say that there were two categories
of sympathisers: those who cried because they had not eaten and drunk
enough during the funeral, and those who cried because they pretended
they loved Mama. I agreed with him because some women laughed until
they came towards the front of our house, and then suddenly broke into
wailing and shouting, their hands placed on their heads.
woman even questioned whether this death was not too sudden for us,
whether we actually planned anything at all, because whoever served her
food did not put a big chunk of meat in it, accompanied with the
required bottle of Fanta. Uncle Ibe overheard her, placed the
microphone to his fat lips, and announced the woman’s questions to
everyone. He said she was an example of sympathy that came only from
the tip of the tongue, sympathy that came only when the stomach was
full. Since everybody around was a killer, as far as he was concerned,
Mama must revenge her untimely death and impose epilepsy on whoever was
responsible for her death. She should make the person mad to sweep the
market square, naked. He then invited everybody to the sitting room
where Mama was lying in state.
“My sister, use this knife to kill your killers,” Uncle Ibe said, and forced a small knife into her right hand.
sister,” he said again. “Use this broom and sweep away whoever is
responsible for your death.” He stuck a bunch of short brooms into her
left hand, and kissed her cheek.
wanted to cry but was warned not to, because according to tradition, a
man should not cry during funerals. The mortuary attendant had done a
good job. Mama was dressed in the Women’s Guild uniform – a white
blouse atop a blue wrapper. She smelled of peach and jasmine, her mouth
glistening from a glossy red lipstick, and she looked like a janitor
inside the coffin with the broom and the knife standing erect in her
my half-brother, known for his attitude that elders had said was
unbecoming of a mature man, was the first to react at that point. “How
do you expect a corpse to kill and sweep?” he asked, pointing at Mama.
Other members of the kindred stood behind Uncle Ibe, Okezie, my
siblings and me, craning their necks to see Mama’s beautiful corpse as
if to ensure that the coffin had a dead content inside it.
Ibe shrugged his shoulder, shook his head and the lines on his forehead
seemed to have multiplied within seconds. “My sister was a very
powerful woman with a high spirit. Even in death, she is still capable
of great achievements. She will not let her killers drink and
peacefully drop their cups. If her killers are men, they will urinate
through their anuses, and their sperms will dry up. If her killers are
women, they will menstruate through their noses. They will sweep the
ground naked. My sister will plant trees on the pupils of their eyes,
and they will chew nails with their teeth.”
“Then she must be a witch,” Okezie pointed out.
“What? My sister, a witch!” Uncle Ibe shouted.
“Yes, a witch,” Okezie said.
“Mama was not a witch, and can never be. She was a great teacher,” I said.
Ibe warned me: “Ifenna, leave that daft to me, let me finish him.” He
faced Okezie and said, “Okezie, so you called my only sister a witch.”
can you accuse everyone in this kindred of killing her?” one man who
had the habit of drinking alcohol with aspirin asked, his eyes
bloodshot, the eyes of one recovering from a severe case of
conjunctivitis. Others started to grunt, supporting him. Yet, they had
all been listening, as if Uncle Ibe had said the right things all
along. I had always known that the silence of the spider as the
housefly danced close to a cobweb was not for nothing.
“How can you accuse everyone in this kindred of killing her?” the man repeated himself, seeing that he was not alone.
“That’s the question,” Okezie said.
can’t take this rubbish any longer,” Uncle Ibe said, moulded a fist and
threw it at Okezie’s flat nose, which had always looked as though an
angry, heavy elephant stepped on it. As my half-brother collapsed, and
blood poured out from the nostrils, Uncle Ibe continued to pummel him
on the floor; yet the kinsmen did nothing to separate them. There were
smiles on their faces as if both fighters were rehearsing for a
wrestling match, until my older siblings, out of sympathy for Okezie,
came in between them.
relatives later buried Mama with the knife and the broom, but Okezie
moved about like a wounded antelope; he grumbled like an angry bee, and
eyed everyone like they should fall and die and follow Mama on her
journey. His mother too had refused to let any canopy stand in front of
her room, a surprise to everyone because it was rare for someone alive
to be jealous of the dead.
it mean their enmity continues even in the grave?” one of the women
from Mama’s church had asked when Okezie’s mother took a broom, earlier
on, and swept everyone’s feet from the front of her room. I had shaken
dust from my feet that time.
looked at my feet again after Mama was interred, as members of the
Women’s Guild of All Saints’ Anglican Church, prayed and repeated Psalm
23 several times, mantra-like, and danced and ate rice and hid bottles
of Coke in their bags. They overturned plates of rice and meat into
plastic bags which ended up at the bottom of their bags. I thought of
the woman who sold the crates of soft drinks to us. I tried to
calculate how much we would have to pay for every missing bottle, after
the sympathizers had all gone home. I didn’t say a word to my siblings,
as members of Women’s Guild engaged in the usual process of carrying
loads of food home for their hungry children. One reason was, I didn’t
want to cause trouble at Mama’s burial. I wanted her to rest in peace
inside the cradle of the angels in heaven.
kid sister, Aunty Oluchi, had already claimed money from Uncle Ibe for
expenses she claimed to have incurred on extra gallons of palm oil,
pepper, salt, fish and vegetables, maggi cubes, curry and thyme. I knew
it was all a lie because she had called her six-year-old son, and
loaded him with a bagful of raw food items that had been paid for. I
did not say anything on that too; if Uncle Ibe liked to boast of the
load of expenses he had carried for Mama, to the extent of offending
the kindred, I decided he should carry as much of it as this occasion
of the burial would allow. After all, Mama’s kid sister would not have
such an opportunity again. In fact, everyone had been surprised at
Uncle Ibe’s generosity at Mama’s burial; he was known among the kindred
as a tight-fisted squirrel clutching on a ripe palm kennel.
Women’s Guild finished their routine of praying and dancing and eating,
and their leader thanked our family, saying they never expected to be
so entertained with enough food and drinks. I wondered why she didn’t
mention that they had all come with spoons and plastic bags in their
big-bottomed handbags, expecting to cart home part of the sumptuous
meals. But the women’s leader’s words were soothing, and she gave
everyone a reason to nod their heads in contentment and smile, the same
way my girlfriend made me smile in my hostel room after the funeral,
rubbing and pressing my nipples, saying that was the only way she could
commiserate with me over Mama’s death.
was also the way I smiled the day Okezie phoned me at the University,
asking if I was interested in going to Italy to work. I was happy,
though pessimistic because I knew his mouth impregnated words. Okezie
would say he had diarrhoea, whereas he had only stomach-ache. He would
say he shook hands with Queen Elizabeth just because he came across a
British woman at an occasion in Lagos. I imagined that if I ever got to
Italy, he would place an advert on CNN to announce my departure to the
world. His voice on phone was cough-coated and he breathed so loudly
into the phone that I wondered whether he had not recovered from Uncle
Ibe’s blows on his nose. I also wondered whether the blows had made him
develop catarrh. At a point, I laughed on phone and shouted “Italy for
life!” to please him, to make him realise how important Italy would be
to my future, and to draw the attention of my roommates to the
conversation that would make me abandon my studies to become a factory
worker in Italy, and earn Euros per week.
“Ifenna, you must come to Lagos this week so as to get the visa,”
Okezie said on phone. He sneezed loudly, and I had covered my nose with
a white handkerchief, before I remembered he was on the other end of
“I will come immediately,” I said.
“Please do, because I don’t want you to miss this chance.”
“Brother Okezie, I will.”
is a great opportunity for you to leave Nigeria and make money abroad.
The owner of the factory where you will work is my friend. He is an
Italian, and I’m the sole representative of his company here in Nigeria
and in the entire Africa and Europe and Asia and America and everywhere
else in the world. Actually, if I catch anyone pirating his cosmetics
here in Nigeria, I will take the culprit to court and send the idiot to
prison. The man just wants a relative of mine to be part of his
workforce in Italy, so I’m offering you this rare opportunity of a
“Thank you, Brother Okezie.”
I forget, you must prepare to learn Italian when you come to Lagos
because that’s the official language in Italy.” He sneezed again into
will, Brother Okezie. In fact, I will start learning the language right
away because one of my roommates is studying it for his first degree
here at the university. I will ask him to start teaching me
Introductory Italian, Course 101.”
The Italian language student giggled on his bed.
“Good. Ensure that you come back to Lagos with all your
belongings because you won’t go back to school after your interview at
the Italian embassy.”
My mind juggled some things.
“Brother Okezie, I’m already in the final year, and we will
start our second semester exams next week. I want to write this exam so
that I can go to Italy with my degree. I think my degree in Business
Administration will help me to secure a better position in the company.”
tone of his voice changed to that of a towing van pulling out a trailer
stuck in the mud, as he shouted, “Ifenna, Italians don’t recognise
degrees from Nigerian universities. In fact, they prefer to employ
illiterate Nigerians in their companies. The same thing happens in
Spain. You’re going there to work in the factory, not inside a plush
office. Don’t you know that a factory worker in Italy is better than a
bank manager in Nigeria?”
“I don’t know.”
“Now you know. Get this fact from me now: a Nigerian prostitute in Italy earns more than an oil merchant in Nigeria.”
“Yes. So make your choice. Italian visa or a useless university degree?”
“I will think about it, brother Okezie.”
His voice rose sharply. “Think about what? Are you listening to me at all?”
a cow is offered a piece of palm frond and it refuses, then a goat will
take the frond and chew it. If you’re not serious about this visa, I
will give it to someone else.”
thought about the cow and the opportunistic goat, but when I wanted to
talk again, the phone line beeped and went dead. My roommates threw
“congratulations” to me for the opportunity, but I wondered what Mama
would think in the grave if I abandoned my degree for a menial job in
Italy. I began to imagine she might leave her killers for the moment,
and come to Italy with the knife and broom to sweep me back to Nigeria,
to complete a degree program she had solely sponsored after my father’s
death. I didn’t resolve the matter, but a roommate made a list and
placed it in my hand from where he lay on his bed. It was the list of
items he wanted me to send regularly to him from Italy: latex condoms,
second-hand bras and pants, second-hand brogue shoes, second-hand
toothbrushes, second-hand mattresses, and second-hand boxers.
will make money by bringing these items into Nigeria,” the roommate,
who gave me the list, said. Then he jumped down from his bed, touched
the floor with his right index finger, dipped it on his tongue and
raised the wet finger towards the ceiling, the way our people do to
swear and bestow authenticity on an argument.
m, maka Chukwu, you will sell all of them because Nigerians prefer
buying this sort of goods that white people have used. That’s because
second-hand goods last longer than the new, but fake ones imported from
China and Taiwan.”
“I don’t think I will go to Italy,” I said.
don’t disappoint me. You must go,” Cynthia, my girlfriend said later,
rolling her eyeballs wide like a globe, as we lay together on my bed. I
knew she would want to show off to her friends that her boyfriend was
travelling abroad to earn the almighty Euro.
won’t go to Italy,” I repeated, starring at the ceiling, at the writing
on it, done in black with candle flames by a former student: “The only
thing a man needs from a woman is her urine.”
sank to her knees and began to shed tears. “Ifenna, please don’t do
this to me. Just go to Lagos, get the visa first, and then decide
whether to use it or not. Italian visa is better than this university
“My half-brother said almost the same thing on phone. But I don’t think Mama will like this idea,” I said.
“Your dead mother?” Cynthia shouted.
list-writing roommate threw his pen at me and said, “Please, tell your
half-brother that I’m interested in the visa. What is the use of my
degree in statistics in Nigeria, where nobody is interested in
research, but in short cuts?”
We all laughed at that.
I laughed more in Lagos, in Okezie’s half-furnished house on Allen
Avenue, to show how happy and interested I was in the visa, to conceal
my unhappiness over my missed exams, over my abandoned degree. He still
had a small piece of bandage on his nose, and I did not ask him if the
wound still pained. He told me some other stories, that he was the
first and only one in our entire lineage to have a plot of land in
Lagos, that he had just signed a contract with the Federal government
to supply cosmetics to the First Lady.
said more in the following weeks, telling me to forfeit my plot of land
in Abuja to him if I got the visa. It was a plot of land that our
father had bequeathed to me in his will. I agreed, but wondered if it
was a sort of collateral, the kind of thing my interviewer at the
Italian embassy was interested in when I sat before him on the day of
my interview. Looking at me with suspicion like someone who had worn
the back of his shirt as the front, the Italian woman, with flat lips
and straight nose, spoke Queen’s English to a flawless rhythm. I took a
cue quickly and spoke Oxford-accented English to demonstrate how many
editions of the Advanced Learner’s English dictionary I had read. I
guessed I impressed her because she gave me the visa, and the ice of
happiness only thawed when I got to the embassy gates where I threw a
fist into the air and shouted, “Italy forever!”
walked across the lawn outside the Embassy gates, not bothered by the
strange look from the gateman. I wondered why he should be so close to
the visa office but never travelled to Italy.
night, I dreamt dreams. I dreamt of snoring in a dream within another
dream. I dreamt of Mama teaching me the Nigerian constitution in a
dilapidated primary school building, wearing wig and gown like a
supreme-court judge. It seemed to me that she was taller, as though
she added some length in the grave. As she disappeared, she said, “If
someone promises you a new shirt free of charge, carefully examine the
shirt the person wears before you decide whether to accept the gift or
wanted her to stay but she seemed to be in a hurry; she seemed to have
another class to teach. I gasped and woke up the next morning, only to
realise that Okezie had stolen the visa from my bag when I was asleep,
“I won’t release this visa to you,” he said.
“Why?” I asked, yawning.
got a message from the village yesterday that my mother has gone mad
and naked, that she sweeps the entire market square with a short,
wretched bunch of brooms.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I shouted, angrily. “Just give me the visa; I have made a lot of sacrifice to get it.”
won’t until your dead mother is dug up from the grave. Tell your stupid
Uncle Ibe to go back to the village and exhume that witch you call your
mother, and remove the knife and broom in her hands. She is the one
tormenting my mother. Moreover, your brothers must pay me five thousand
dollars before I can think of releasing this passport. After that, you
will have to attend our kindred’s meeting in Lagos where I will
announce to everyone that I am sponsoring your trip to Italy with one
hundred thousand dollars.”
sat down, scratched my stubble, and felt giddy as if I had tetanus in
my brain, my eyes popping out. I remembered just then that Okezie had
once banished my cousin, Ogochukwu, from entering his house when the
poor boy needed some money from him to buy an air ticket to Hungary. I
remembered other things, like my dreams the previous night, and that
Okezie had divorced his wife because she caught him raping a
ten-year-old house girl on his matrimonial bed in Lagos. I imagined
Mama would not want to be exhumed because she had become comfortable
with the mustiness of the grave, with the stabbing and sweeping of her
killers with the knife and broom. That should be the only reason she
hurried away in my dream.
I left Okezie’s house and called Uncle Ibe and my siblings in Lagos to tell them.
“You see, I said so. Now nemesis has caught up with my sister’s killer at last,” Uncle Ibe said across the line.
heard the sound of his hand landing on his chest as he beat his chest,
saying he had always known that my half-brother’s mother had killed my
mother with a rat poison. He also swore he would prepare a Juju that
would make Okezie release my visa and sweep the streets of Lagos.
my younger brother also spoke to me on phone and swore to kill Okezie
if he did not return my visa. I wondered if I would ever get my visa
back. I settled for Uncle Ibe’s plan. Sweeping a dirty street in Lagos
was more disgraceful and more surreal than an outright killing with a
gun, I thought. After all, Okezie’s mother had been sweeping the
market, walking naked in the village. I wished Uncle Ibe would get the
job done quickly.
“I am coming back to the campus next week,” I said on phone to my girlfriend, Cynthia, chronicling my ordeal to her.
“What?” she screamed. “Don’t even try coming back to this school.”
have been telling everybody that you are already a millionaire in
Milan, that you are now a Chief Executive Officer of a big company
“You can’t be serious, Cynthia.”
“I am very serious.”
“You should not have done that, Cynthia.”
“Well, I did. And if you care to know, I have a new boyfriend now and he has promised to marry me.”
“A student?” I asked. I did know what else to say, my eyeballs turning like wet corns inside a blender.
he’s a trader. He sells beans and rice in a shop outside the university
gates. When you come back here, don’t even bother to come and look for
I dropped the phone, I wondered if Uncle Ibe had begun to do what he
had promised. I also thought of including Cynthia on the Juju list of
those that would sweep. I would phone Uncle Ibe to include her, I
Jekwu Anyaegbuna, Nigerian, is educated at
the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. He has been published in literary journals in the US and the UK
including Orbis(UK), Other Poetry(UK),
The Journal(UK),The Bow Wow Shop(UK), Dark Lady Poetry, The Talon Magazine,
Breadcrumb Scabs, Haggard and Halloo, Vox Poetica and elsewhere, writes
poetry and prose. His short stories were published by Real Africa Books,
Sweden, in the anthology Taboo Love.
He attended the Farafina Trust International Creative Writing Program. He works
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