Saturday, 16 July 2016

Odimnobi - I smell his sweat



Odimnobi(my pet name for him, literally meaning ‘he who is in my heart’) is dead. Olufemi(his real name), my shield. He was part yoruba and part fulani, small frame, light brown in complexion, beautiful and 38 years old. I am 27. He died last month in the course of a heart surgery. He was unmarried and without a child, but he made me his everything.  He became lover, father, and protector to me. He always won all the arguments because he spoke better English, and I could barely keep up with the depth of his knowledge. We met and worshipped in the same church.
Image 1
He was subtle and calm. At first sight, no one would believe he was a medical doctor and part of the Nigerian Navy, a lion. There was this one time, he roared for me: It was Benin, Nigeria, 2014. I could not make out the several images in my head. I had not resolved the Valentine incident. It had been three years already. Still I could not help the volts that ran through me when a whiff of tobacco smoke twirled across my nostrils. Or the knife that thrust through my mouth each time a man’s palm met my nape. But I saw Dafe, a police man, stare me through and thin from across the restaurant.
I was there with Olufemi to celebrate his promotion to the rank of a Naval Lieutenant, just both of us . Dafe, whose age I have never known, had come with another police officer to have dinner.  A few minutes earlier, we had run into each other in the gents accidentally. He hugged me. I had not prepared for this meeting and I froze once more in his arms. He laughed when he let me go. ‘Timi, Timi. Useless boy.’ He called me, smacking and squeezing my butt as I walked away.
He was still powerful. Three years had done a lousy job at healing this scar.
The evening turned sour. All I could think of was this beast running lose. He hurt me again and again with his eyes, his laughter. He hurt me all over in my mind. Sweat trickled down my back, the memory of that Valentine night lashing at me all over again. Olufemi had ordered the cake, we would have to stay.
‘Timi,’ as I was saying Olufemi continued, ‘It was a mad evening. Every one was…’then he trailed off  into French, while I trailed off into February 14, 2011.
Onitsha had always been a busy and enterprising place. The Main Market had been the hub of everything under the sun from tooth picks to second hand clothing to office equipment. I had moved from Port Harcourt to serve as an apprentice under my Aunt Maria’s husband, Uncle Amadi. He sold auto-mobile spare-parts for Honda and Toyota vehicles. Uncle Amadi’s sister Aunt Sandra lived with us. She was on the National Youth Service Corp programme, and was serving in a bank in Asaba.  They were very nice and calm people. Everywhere except our home felt like Onitsha. It was calm and I never got to know the name of the street because Uncle Amadi would always chaperon me to and from the shop.
Aunt Sandra had a boyfriend, Dafe. He was light skinned and slim. He had red lips and silky side buns. Everyone at home liked him. He was a police man. He would visit whenever Aunt Sandra was home. And when she was not, he would still visit to spend some time with the family. Aunt Sandra spoke so highly of him. She called him ‘Odimnobi’ because, she said ‘he lives in my heart.’ He did not understand a word in igbo except ‘Nkem’ meaning ‘mine’ which Aunt Sandra had taught him to call her.
Olufemi snapped his fingers in my face, ‘Timi!’
‘Eh.’
‘I have been calling you for almost three minutes now’ Olufemi said.
‘Really?’
‘Yes.’he said, ‘And you are crying.’
‘Am I?’
He passed me a serviette. ‘What’s up?’
‘Nothing. I’m fine.’
‘You’re not. This isn’t you.’
‘I’m okay’ I insisted, forcing a smile as the blurry tears fell and my clearer vision caught Dafe winking at me.
A few minutes later, Olufemi had to use the rest room. As soon as he left, Dafe came through to our table.
‘I see you haven’t changed, you faggot.’ He said.
I was silent.
‘I still have those pictures you know.’ He said.
‘Please go away.’
‘Useless boy’ he called me again,‘I’m still using my old number. Make sure you call me tomorrow. We just arrested some homo-boys and they gave us this long list. Who knows whether your name is there. Eh. You know with this new Anti-gay law we are hunting for you guys.’ He looked up, ‘ Your magah is coming.’ he said ‘You better call me, I no dey joke.’
‘Hi’ Olufemi said.
Image 2
‘Good evening’ Dafe responded, stretching out his hand for a handshake.
‘Is there a problem here?’ Olufemi asked glancing down at Dafe’s hand before slipping both of his into his pockets.
‘No. Timi is an old friend.’ Dafe said.
‘I see.’ Olufemi said before returning to his seat.
‘My name is Dafe.’ he said.
‘Good.’ Olufemi said, ‘now get lost.’
While Olufemi’s response dazed Dafe and I, I danced Azonto in my head.
‘Do you know who you are talking to?’ Dafe fumed.
‘Dafe please go away,’ I pleaded.
‘No, no, I dey try dey polite to this idiot. Him dey follow me form.’ He pulled out his handcuffs.
Image 3
Those  handcuffs he used to arrest me on St. Valentine’s night when Aunt Maria and her husband had travelled, leaving me with no electricity. ‘Uncle Dafe will check on you once in a while’ they had said and I was comforted. The night he told me that he was the one I was chatting with over ‘2go’(social network) and had sent my nude photos to. The night he seized my phone and went through all my 2go chats, as he forced his erect penis into my mouth while his hand gun’s nuzzle pinned to the crown of my head, threatening to take me to the police cell and report me to my Aunt if I did not cooperate . And that if I mentioned 'our arrangement' to anyone he would kill me. The whole time, I was on my knees with both hands tightly bound in handcuffs. Sweating, frightened and surrounded by fate, darkness the smell of his sweat and the smoke from the cigarette he had smoked half way and left to glow bright red. His shoves piercing deeper, choking and hurting me. When he was done with my phone he threw it on the wall. At some point, he pulled my nape to a
Image 4
chair, knees sweeping across the cold floor that was now smeared with my tears and saliva. When he sat, he slammed my head on his penis, it almost got to my stomach. I thought I would throw up. He pulled back. The room was smeared dark and stale with the night. I could see Dafe faintly. He then banged my head to meet his jamming organ continuously, controlling the frequency of the thrusts with firm fingers around my head and nape. He was dripping with sweat, and smelling of everything wrong. The thrusts seemed to have gone on forever, the room increasingly throbbing with temperature, when he squeezed my nape and head tightly, groaned deeply and slammed his pelvis one last time on my face forcing sweat, semen, pubic hair and tears into my mouth. Then I felt the tightness of the handcuffs around my wrist and tip of his hand gun return to my crown.  ‘Swallow’.
Those handcuffs were dangling once more. The images smacking around in my head, the putrid taste of pubic hair and sweat, my mouth suddenly filled with everything wrong. I could hear the beeps from my phone. I could smell his sweat from my seat.
‘Stop. Dafe.’ I screamed. ‘Leave us alone’ just before storming for the exit. The other police man intercepted me.
‘Oga where you dey go?’ He pushed me back to my table.
Customers started taking their last sips and darting out of the restaurant. I was pushed back into my chair. Olufemi, who was just dropping his phone, looked at me.
‘Did he hit you?’ he asked.
‘I was too shaken to speak.’
‘In fact both of you’ Dafe finally said, ‘are under arrest.’
Olufemi stood to his feet, smoothened his shirt with his hands and said to me in a hush tone ‘let’s go’.
When I hesitated, he tone got firmer, his eyes now squinted, he was no longer amused.
 ‘Mon sir!!!’ four uniformed Naval officers walked into restaurant.
‘I want these idiots arrested’ Olufemi ordered.
Image 5
I did not tell him of my St. Valentine past. He did not want to discuss the idiots. He maintained that it was people like them that smear the name of the Police Service with mud and dishonour. My body insists that they have done more than that. But who can we tell? Who can I tell that I was raped? ‘A man cannot be raped. He is a man.’ A mouth cannot be raped, it’s a mouth. Who wants to be exposed as homosexual in Nigeria? What boy wants to be known to have been raped by man in Nigeria? In a place where being homosexuality is deemed contagious, and the police deemed always right and final. Who do we report the Police to when they destroy us under the guise of doing their job? We have the Police Service Commission to attend to police when they misbehave but where is the Commission, when it is needed? Can I tell them that I am homosexual and that a police man had violated my constitutional rights and committed a crime? Who will they arrest first? My ‘gay foolishness and criminality’ or  tell me that the law does not recognised oral rape, or rape of a man. Will they ask me to go the Police station? May I then go to the Police station to report Dafe for violating me and stealing my pride when it’s his friends who are at the complaint desk?
 Who will make Dafe stop now that Olufemi is no more? Who will make Dafe pay? Who will bring the rapists and oppressors, the bad apples in uniforms to justice? How can we say we have a voice when fear haunts our reality and crumbles our democracy? The worst of it, we barely know better than to succumb and pray for some magic.      Magic!? when the miracle of democracy lives in our home, dines with us every day. When things can be done better and discipline amongst public officers enforced. But what is the law without the will or implementation?
Olufemi roared for me when the law should have. Especially in a Nigeria where sexual minorities cannot, for their own safety, report any crime that begins with ‘ I am gay, and …’
Olufemi’s demise has filled me with fear. I’m still in Benin. Dafe has married Aunt Sandra, and they both live in Lagos. But the fear of Dafe lives in my heart, as he has moved into my home, my family. As I mourn Olufemi, I hear the Dafe’s handcuffs dangling, I smell his sweat, my fate and everything wrong.
Image 6



Image 1:   http://www.christianaid.org.uk/whatwedo/in-focus/africa-partner-speaks-out-against-male-rape/award-winning-article-changes-un-definition-of-rape.aspx

Image 2:  http://www.medicaldaily.com/first-emergency-services-unit-male-rape-victims-brings-attention-taboo-sexual-339248

Image 3:  http://www.foundmyself.com/Jacqueline+Cruz/art/mask-of-silence/45712

Image 4: http://www.copblock.org/116813/des-plaines-police-department-refuse-investigate-misconduct/

Image 5:  https://burgesmccowan.com/blog/increasing-police-accountability/


Image 6: http://spiritualcleansing.org/in-the-end-we-will-remember-not-the-words-of-our-enemies/

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Because ogbanje stories are demonic (a tribute to Elechi Amadi)





Elechi Amadi, Soldier and Storyteller
Whenever, the theme song came on for Revival Ministries television program, she would rush out of the kitchen with her garri laden ladle. The worst of it will usually be that I was just flipping channels. ‘Chai…Baba is on. Baba is on.’ She would scream just before snatching the remote control from me.
She loved Baba. The almost always sweaty Nigerian pastor who always insisted on wearing tight fitting suits for his television outreach programmes even when it was obviously too warm in the studio. Half the time, I did not understand what he said because he spoke too loud, and I feared that his suit would rip any minute. He was nothing like the calm Anglican priest I saw in church on Sunday, Reverend Bola. He never talked about ogbanje spirits. He never left the pulpit to pace about the church like Baba did. The best of all, she would never come with us. My elder sister, Anwututu. He was named the ‘the morning sun’ because of her very light skin. She was in the University and far ahead of me in age. It was almost difficult to have a conversation with her. How would I when she was always chasing me about for house chores or homework or bed time? Initially, I thought she was, like mum, dad and every other adult in my life, just fulfilled by caning me. Then one day she said that my  mickey mouse balloon, which I had cried my eyeballs out in order to be given at a friend’s, birthday party was demonic.
Kai! ‘like seriously?’ I thought.
Of course, I could understand that nothing was realistic for her outside Baba’s ranting. But Mickey Mouse?! Mickey Mouse?! What would she then say if she saw my Mathematics textbook which I had bedazzled with Little Mermaid stickers or my Health Science writing pad which had more Terminator stickers than diagrams? Anyway, something had cracked. And it was neither my love for Disney creations or disdain for Baba’s sermons. Had we not been Anglicans, I would never have thought that God was peaceful and capable of serenity. I was 8 when the Mickey Mouse episode happened.
Iyanga from Rising Sun
Four years later, I received a back to school gift which among other things included Elechi Amadi’s Concubine. I did not like that it had a bright orange cover, un-disney-like cover illustration and no pictures inside. It was practically shoved down my throat with the Passport of Mallam Ilia, Drummer Boy and Things Fall Apart. Ughhh. I could not be bothered. I stacked them all on the reading table in my room. At this time though, I had developed a keen interest in James Hardley Chase’s An Ear to the Ground and Sydney Sheldon’s The other side of midnight. They were quite erotic and I enjoyed how I had to lay flat on my tummy while reading so that the ‘Eiffel Tower’ does not frighten unannounced visitors whose heads popped into my room at irregular intervals.  I had also started falling in love with Nigerian romantic films like Ijele,  Power of Love,  Love without Language, Rising Sun.  Somehow they idolised womanhood. They made the Nigerian woman a person to be worshipped, fought for, loved and desired. These movies, among others, portray the Nigerian woman as priestess, princess and dictator of communal fates, servant girls with rich exotic destinies of ‘priestesshood’, lovers with unbroken and unquestionable faith and resilience. I can remember how everyone wanted to be ‘Juliet’ from Power of Love, or ‘Iyanga’ from Rising Sun. Most of us, however wanted to be ‘Emmy’ from Love without Language, the sophisticated hot black American  who had a kick-ass knack for karate and fell in love with the simple village girl, Oluchi. Then Oluchi, all of sudden becomes the only girl in the village and the attraction of every man, beast and spirit. Being a well-sought after woman is hot and all but who would want that in reality?
Well, the most reason I did enjoy the movies was that our parents saw them too, so even if Baba was given out free akara, Anwututu who had refused to stop demonising everything , would have to chill. And yes. Baba had been part of our lives for these four years. More ‘Baba’s had been added to the itinerary as well, I had lost count.  I had become an usher at our Anglican church, and she had stopped coming to church with us. So while we were both becoming more Christian, I could relate with her versions of how these love stories were demonic and filled with idol worship.  As such we would always have verbal combats of whose version of Christianity was better.  As if it was a competition?
Nnanna Ikpo
She told me that the movies were about ogbanje stories, about people who bowed down to evil idols. She also said she had heard testimonies of people who got possessed by ogbanje spirits and had spirit husbands. She always refused to see these movies with us, because ‘ogbanje stories are demonic’. She had even told me that women who use make-up are ‘ogbanje’. And women who wear high heels are ogbanje. Women who are unmarried are ogbanje . Women who drink alcohol or did not know how to cook or had men cook for them are ogbanje. Women who dance to secular music or were too beautiful and attracted all the men are ogbanje. However, I had later come to learn from Things fall apart that ogbanje were very fragile children who could not stay alive for long and could not help being reincarnated.  I also learned in Biology class that when a couple that has the AS or SS genotype conceived an offspring there were chances of giving birth to a fragile child who had slight chances of staying alive for long. And this fragility recurred as often as the couple conceived.  Wole Soyinka also wrote of this fragility in Ake as one that made a child special and beyond retribution and somewhat beyond discipline unlike other healthier children.
With time I also read Elechi Amadi’s Concubine, a phenomenal Nigerian love story, about a drop-dead gorgeous Southern Nigerian maiden, Ihuoma, whose fate, was believed to be tied to a jealous male sea spirit. All her attempts at matrimony failed because this spirit always killed the men who approached for marriage. ‘Ogbanje!!!’ I heard Anwututu scream in my mind. I never questioned the authenticity or the inspiration behind this story because I understand that a story teller struggles to be objective in the face of his/her own history and expectations. The present does not mean much because he/she never really exists in it. So perhaps, Elechi believed in ogbanje stories, and he chose to tell them anyway. He chose to touch and think them. Audaciously too, he chose to tell the story of Nigerian women who are more than they seem. He chose to celebrate the resilience of women in the face of difficulty of unquestionable uncertainties. Like Ola of Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood who powerfully and unconventionally had more than her own fair share of men, simply because of the ‘hurricane’ behind her, her father. Or ‘Iyanga’ of Rising Sun, whose blue eyes, beauty and unusual fate earned her the world’s mockery. Our women, ‘ogbanje’.
‘Ogbanje’ the label for every woman who breaks the norm and stands out for whatever reason.
But really, why haven’t we had a male ogbanje?
No one calls a man ogbanje. It is a one gender name.
When a man attracts too many women, he is a ‘dimkpa’ or ‘fresh-boy’. When he is too handsome , wealthy or influential, the same. When he is delicate in any way he is termed ‘woman wrapper’. Not that it is a demonic possession but simply seen as a character flaw. And then these boys are strangled with pressure until they develop thick biceps that serves no real purpose, that changes nothing really. But the girls, women. Ugghh..
And the most hurtful of this is that Anwututu, as beautiful as she is the chief labeller of other women. She can’t stand a woman who speaks her mind. She has to be an ogbanje, and needs to be delivered from demonic possession by Baba. She can’t stand girls who would spend more time studying and socialising than move permanently into the church like she does. She sickens me!
The day Anwututu she got married, her face was baked thick with foundation and bronzer. Her eyelids saddled with wood-thick plastic eye-lashes. Thick strings of red corals from the very sea adorned her neck, waist and ankles. Dark long silk weaves flowed down her back to her waist, spreading across royal blue damask fabric, one big wrap  her burst and a skimpy  around her waist failing to touch inches just before her knees. She looked like an African rendition of Disney’s little mermaid, oblivious of everything she had said about make-up. And she went on her knees to present her groom with palm wine, after she had tasted it first, oblivious of everything she had said about alcohol. Afterwards her and her groom danced to Mavin’s  ‘Dorobucci’ oblivious of everything she had said about ogbanje.
  

#RIP to an exceptional storyteller, Elechi Amadi, Thanks for shining. You struck hard, you struck differently.

 (Iyanga's image sourced from
(image sourced  from http://ibomdiaries.blogspot.co.za/2013/02/genevieve-nnaji-nigerian-superstar.html)
(Elechi Amadi's image sourced from http://answersafrica.com/author-elechi-amadi-passes-on-82.html)