The Seventh’s Blood Ends a Week

 Aganaba Jesudubami Jemima

It was a Sunday, but then, it was many Sundays past, and days before those many Sundays gone. 

It’d been a long time coming, and many people dying, and nobody that could aid seeming to care, save talks of how we needed God to come down to help us, as if the big people that led us weren’t “the God” we have put in front of us to see and be helped by. If the people who were to play “God” were now seeking the help of the God that had made them “God”, then…

What?

What was the fate of the many that were struggling in a country that had more than half of its days, covered in darkness and drowned in the noise of power generators — for those who had been able to get three proper and complete meals, that is?

What could the millions who perished of hunger and general frustration in a country that was rich in resources and then in leaders that took home — monthly — what could feed a generation for two years, do?

What could young people like me who had big dreams in a land they watched crumble daily on the news do? 

What could folks like me just at the beginning of their lives do when they woke up to the news, an addition to the many sad and aggravating ones, on a Sunday, of humans wiped out from a community by people who kept livestock?

Just what?!

So my Sunday started like that of the other ones had — alarm clock on my phone buzzing, and me rolling around on the bed and snoozing it every other 10 minutes for as long as I could till I realised another 10 minutes would mean lateness to church in the long run, and short run, my dad coming out of his room to find out I was still scheming on my bed when I should be done with bathing so he could carry out his one hour-30 minute-long activity of shaving his hair (because cutting hair here took as much time as cooking two pots of soup in Nigeria, literally), taking his bath, and whatever else men did in the bathroom apart from bathing. 

I didn’t get breakfast. Somehow, I never really got to on Sundays or days when I had to leave the house in the morning. Not that there wasn’t time to; I just somehow always had the thought (most probably a misconception) that every missed meal equalled five pounds dropped; I really still have getting an “Agbani-figure” as a goal, for whatever reason that is.

We got to church without hiccups.

I tied the banner on the railings outside the church as usual, because in this place, in this America, you never really have anything to yourself even if you paid for it, talk less of renting it like in our case. So, we take the church banner from the property after each service and tie it back the next Sunday morning — yeah.

In this America too, you can’t cajole people with words, or guilt or scares of God taking away their jobs or allowing the devil smite the children, to get them to be in church; so church was virtually empty when we got into its enclosed space. Religion doesn’t seem to be the opium of the society here as it definitely, partially is at home.

It was to start at 10am.

9:50am. My stomach was rumbling, and I started to ask myself why I had worn heels, as I felt it propounded the hunger because the legs were stressed more. But that didn’t mean I would not wear heels the next Sunday or the Sunday after, and maybe the numerous Sundays until I was 80 or something. Everyone wondered why I wore heels when I was tall; I always wanted to ask just how tall their eyes thought 5’9” was, when my goal was to be as tall as my dad before I turned 25.

Dad started the opening prayers, and it was all normal-normal — the prayers thanking God for life, health…food; the prayers for the churches at home and in the US; then the prayers for the nation, which used to be just Nigeria — of course — back home, but now encompassed America too. 

The prayers for America were light because, though those who lived here complained about the country, we who were just coming knew how much of a jelly it was, compared to the Olumo Rock we were coming from; a rock so hard that its centre of power was named “Aso Rock”; a place of wonderful people who were being frustrated daily by a system set up to benefit a few people who were so smart that they could get people to sell their next four years and probably the other four  after that for a bag of rice or N2,500 only — a toddler’s chicken change for the weekend in America. Apparently, it isn’t Esau’s deal of stew-for-a-birthright that is the most stupid deal in all of history.

So America is definitely a lightplace and so doesn’t deserve the fire-and-die prayers we believe should be our daily lives back home. In fact, my mum always says the reason people are so irreligious here and have time for what she calls “nonsense” is because they don’t know what hard life looks like. She says if they just happen to experience a day without power supply kpere, they will understand the reality of heaven and hell. It’s always funny the way she holds her face when she says it, but I understand her even as I laugh. There’s a way a working system can help you better overcome  whatever shit  life throws at you. I understand her well. 

But then that doesn’t mean America doesn’t have its problems of racism and thousands of homeless folks and the many struggles of mortgage payments and the fact that here, the system can drain you and your years without you being conscious of it so that you can wake up one day, at 80, to realise all you had done with your life was repeat days at a job and pay bills with its wages. There are the many promises the government makes and then don’t do, and the fact that people are used for the systems and not the other way round… You know NTA and  news channels don’t tell all these to the many Nigerians who see the place as heaven and an escape from their “hell fire” na — our news media mind our business, our huge, sad business. [Very funny!]

But the prayer for Nigeria was heavy, made more so by the story dad told. The one I had definitely missed because I hated checking out news; the details always depressed me.

Dad’s story was more than depressing. He told of what had happened the previous day.

He said he had gotten a distress message on WhatsApp that was made by someone who was the head of a boarding school in a village that was under a Fulani herdsmen attack as he was sending the message. The man, dad said, had been calling for help because the massacre had started somewhere and was progressing closer and closer. He was locked up with the students in the school, and they were praying earnestly that the attack wouldn’t reach the school and penetrate the gate.

He was calling for help via the WhatsApp message, whatever help could be sent to stop the herdsmen from getting to the school and students, and I knew, even as dad was speaking, that the help didn’t come…the help had never come. 

And I wished the head of the school had built an underground tunnel or cave instead like they did during the times of war, because this was war—

It was war to be a child in a boarding house and be knowing that the next moment, armed men could break into your school and burn you and it and your friends to the ground for an offence you knew nothing about; it was war to have a nation with armed officials and yet have no protection on ground when it was no small news that your town was prone to attack; it was war to know that your blood would be shed when you had many things you had promised yourself you would accomplish before you were 80, not knowing some people who they said weren’t even from your country would kill you before you were 20, and your leaders would still eat and sleep that night and your musicians will still carry on with their “bum-bum-shaking” songs and videos with no mention of how people were dying and you were about to die and many people could still die because everybody was silent and “the God” you elected is saying you need another God to come and help him help you…

No, the head of that school shouldn’t have been praying then; he should have been ready for the war.

So we prayed for the school, and in general, asked God to help Nigeria and the Christians in it.  But I knew my heart wasn’t part of the prayer; my heart was crying and dying as I knew that this thing we were praying about had been done hours before, and those children were most probably with God now — Nigeria was a good six hours ahead of us, and our prayers, for Pete’s sake!

I wondered how I got to eat lunch that day, but I did, and after I braced my mind with cement and gravel, I checked out news feeds… 

I died again.

They said, at first, that people died.

Of course, people died! That’s what happens when a place prone to attack is left defenceless and people come in carrying guns and machetes and things to burn properties with!

They first brought a report on the media of a lesser number of people dying, as if that reduced the number of lives lost; as if that would reduce the pain in the hearts of the surviving people who had lost; as if that would forgive the fact that people, even if it were to be just two, had been murdered in their own homes for a crime — if it were to be one at all — they knew absolutely nothing about.

So they said a lesser number of people, according to the counts of government officials, had died; people’s comments falsified the counts. People who survived the attack, or at least knew people who survived the attack, said more people had died, definitely.

They counted again.

Videos went viral of people running away, sounds behind them…getting closer…

There were videos and images of bodies, dead, unmoving; some burnt.

Then…

There were the perpetrators, walking free and celebrating the death of humans, as if they were chickens that deserved to die. 

Lastly, I went to bed, knowing nothing had been done. Not that anything could be done to bring back dead people, but at least something could be done to make people know they were still in a country and not some lawless jungle. Something could be done.

But nothing, really, was done.

The killers, who hadn’t even bothered to hide, could not be found or at least made to fear their night sleep.

I guess the tragedy I had seen influenced my dream that night. God and Satan didn’t have anything to do with some things sometimes, that is a known knowledge.

I dreamt that we were under attack; that people were running into the bush. I was too.

Now, outside the dream, I lived in a place that was far from attack. But in the dream, me being in a place under attack meant the attack had come to my place, the “faaarrr away place”.

“Far away” had become the “now” and “here” reality.

The sounds were all around me, and I saw no one around me.

I knew what “sound of thunder meant”, in that dream; it was the sound of weapons of destruction that left your heart beating dead before the owner of the sound actually got to you and you died for real. I understood why those saying “thunder fire you” weren’t merely ignorant and hilarious — sounds really did kill.

The sounds killed me, but my legs kept moving. That’s what the knowledge of death approaching did to a being who wanted to survive; it gave you speed to crawl when the last of your blood’s drop was wiping the floor.

I ran through the bush with those running with me.

We dived to the ground occasionally, and it didn’t occur to me to ask my subconscious self how it and the other actors in it knew when to dive to the ground and when to get up and keep running. I guess that’s another thing the sound of death did to a human — it made you know the unknowable. It made me, us,  know to keep running.

You don’t recall everything in dreams, but I recall getting to a place in the bush where I became the only actor in my mind’s movie of escape. I looked around, and it was only me running, the sounds still behind me.

There soon appeared, like in a silly, animated movie, three or four shacks with lights on in them. Humans were in all of them, it meant; my tired legs and patchy throat led me to run into one of them.

I blinked my eyes to greet the light when I found myself in the shack.

When my eyes finally could see what it had been seeing, I saw that the scene before my sight had frozen…the people before me held as if “pause” had been pressed on their actions.

There was a woman hunched over a small pot of something steaming, serving spoon in hand.

There was a man at a corner, staring at me, two children, huddled together with him; a large plate of food, that was really small for three hungry people, in front of them.

But then, it was the child, caught inches in front of me, plate of food still in hand and clutched to the chest that really got my attention.

The pause held for a little while longer, and then it broke.

There was something in the man’s eyes as he put his hand to something at his back and asked me who I was—It was fear.

I told them, these remainders of the actors in my mind’s dream-play, how things were—I was running away.

I didn’t need to tell them where or what from; they knew.

The woman, beginning to scrape what I now knew as the burnt remains in the pot, said out loud that this was the only thing left to eat, left for her to eat.

The child in front of me moved then. She was a little girl. She walked up to me and placed her food on the ground and sat in front of me and told me with her young eyes, to sit.

I did.

She gave me her spoon and told me to eat.

The food was small; smaller than what I would give my pastor’s kid her age that I took for mine in the real world, as lunch.

I said “no”.

Her father said “yes”, and walked up to us with the food for him and the other two children and put some into our plate and gave his daughter a spoon.

We ate. 

The food was too little, but at least, we were alive eating it, and I couldn’t hear the sounds anymore.

Soon, we talked. 

They weren’t from the Nigeria Delta like I was, but the attack had met them in their place and they had fled here and now, it had met us in our place too. Where exactly we were, I couldn’t figure out in the dream, but we sure weren’t in the places that were the “prone to attack” areas. It had come to us.

They were running too, they said. 

At this point, timing and location of things ought to have been confusing, but as with dreams, uncertain things were the acceptable norm.

The food and talk finished, and the little girl was almost falling asleep on my legs when the sounds began again…loudly…coming…

The children started to cry all at once.

One of the parents blew off the candle.

I began to hear the clang of metals and other things. The woman was packing her kitchen stuff into a bag.

The children were howling…

The woman was shouting at the man, asking him if he had packed the other things.

The fear was in her voice, in her husband’s guttural response, in her children’s cries…in my legs that suddenly received life and went out the shack.

In the confused way time operated in dreams, the family was soon beside me, running in the bush; the parents, managing to clutch necessary belongings and joggle three kids between them at the same time. We were running.

Other people were in the bush too.

And the sounds of death and the dying were all around us, deafening our ears, stopping our hearts, and giving “survival-life” to our legs.

We weren’t the people who had been huddled up in a shack seconds ago, sharing a minute meal; we were humans, worthless to a bunch of other humans, running for survival for a crime we knew nothing about but had to pay for.

We ran, and the sounds drew near and people shouted and screamed and my heart attempted to stop severally, until I woke up to the unique quietness of an alive midnight and the echo of my dad’s snores from his room.

I woke up and felt like I had been in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water novel pages.

We are Christians; we pray when we’ve had a “bad dream”. So I prayed, but even as I did, I knew this wasn’t some dream the devil had directed, but a future possibility I was being shown, since Nigeria had become a land were “bumbum” was the centre of many songs, and people wanted to make money, to drive cars and get visas and run away, and government was more not-for-the-people than it had ever been. 

The dream had shown me the reality of the consequences of the “we are far away; nothing can touch us here” thinkers—people who would not speak up or act however they could because they were far away in fancy, gated estates or “secured states” or even “the abroad” everyone wanted to run to, though they still carried “Nigerian” in their blood.

It was a warning against not yet seeing this problem as our problem—as the problem of those who we knew one way or the other and had nowhere to run to or hide like we could.

The Sunday killed my spirit.

Not that my spirit ever was alive when I thought of Nigeria and the big joke we seemed to be, and the fact that a group of people trusted to lead, concentrated more in telling tales by moonlight and using cunning sense that even a two year old would decode, rather than doing the right thing.

The Sunday depressed me the way I avoided listening to news in order not to be, because listening to news about one’s country made one annoyed beyond one’s wit at the display of wickedness and sheer inhumanity to and amongst citizens of the place.

The leaders, we see as our set back…as our powerlessness, but the truth, the real truth, is that we are all the problem.

It’s the little things that show how much of abusers we all are to the country.

It’s the little things we don’t do once we enter the arrivals terminal in another country, but find it okay to overdo and dump when we are in our own country that show how we over burn our own food by ourselves.

In other people’s countries, we are orderly — we learn to hold the door open for someone coming; how to eat biscuit and look for a dustbin before thinking of disposing the wrapper; how to say “please” and “thank you” for a favour asked and received; how to not emotionally and physically abuse a child in the name of correcting them; how cooking is not something a woman owes you because you are a man, because there, women run quite lengthy shifts too that exhaust their very spirits and give them limited time for their own souls and bodies (that’s another thing they don’t tell you about “the abroad”). 

Away from home, we become well behaved; we add to an ordered system.

In our own land, the reverse case is what we do. We behave anyhow we like and say it doesn’t matter since the government of the people is corrupt too — so it becomes a competition of who can behave in the most disorderly and crass manner; our home has turned into a place of mindless groping, our acts killing our future more than we know.

But our children will be born into this “Nigerian” blood and tag, no matter where we try to run to and stay until they bring back just dead bodies to be buried, as if Azikwe, Macaulay, Balewa and the rest fought for the home to be turned into a burial ground for children who  ran from home. The labours of our heroes past have become more than in vain, and we don’t see how this is a great problem for us and generations to come. We care less, and yet we blame the government for all our woes.

Every minute, another Nigerian gets the visa they have been fasting and dying on mountains for, and instead of mourning another potential taken from our home (because they never want to come back), we use them as testimonies and prayer points for ourselves, asking God to pick up our own calls so we too can “japa” and stay away till only death brings our lifeless and valueless corpse back.

We misplace priorities and blame it on a selected few we ourselves put in power because Esau is our surname, we all, children of beings who sell a lifetime for small bags of rice and slim wads of naira that end in a pot of stew lasting just four  days. We chop and clean mouth and then undergo four years, or eight, of complaining and misbehaving and praying for a way to go to countries where people don’t do anyhow because they think they can, the way we do.

The money we go to church to pray for, while also shouting for our enemies to go blind and die, is not so we can build that school or that library or publish that book or visit that orphanage or adopt that child or record that song that will encourage that fellow going through depression; no — it is so we can drive that car that will show that man; buy those clothes so we can intimidate people in church; build that house so our village people can know that we have arrived; travel to “the abroad” so we can turn on our locations on our devices and post pictures of where we’ve been on our social media apps so we too can be been tos, as if our being abroad changes the fact that they have electricity all day and we don’t, and they take making life better a priority while our children are taught to know poverty/suffering as a way to value life. 

We are selfish and not really far-thinking, and we think the government is the only problem we have.

I am angry our government seems to be a sham, and is quite similar to the childish stories my 11-year-old goddaughter writes because she is learning to be a storyteller too, but more than that, I am angry at myself…at everyone else.

I am angry because there seems to be nothing I can do to stop people from dying daily because of cattle.

I am vexed because the people who have the recognised voice and money — and I am not even talking about politicians — don’t know, and wouldn’t sit their butts down to understand the power they have to effect change.

I am annoyed that even those who think they don’t have the money or voice, can do the greatest things from the little places they are in, and yet do nothing because we all believe Nigeria is our problem, as if “Nigeria” is not just a word  used to term us — human beings — bound together in a federation. We behave as if God gave non Africans better sense or land than us.

I am angry because we are all being sucked into the belief of powerlessness.

This is not the nonsense our heroes died for, mehn. This is surely not what they envisioned when October 1, 1960 was looked forward to.

This is the Nigeria we are all putting hands together to destroy by our words, self-centred priorities, disorderly actions and the carefree attitude we don’t even realise we have.

“Change begins with you” is turning into an annoying cliché, but it cannot be more apt for these times and for us living in the times as it is. My anger, after all, no fit fry yam; who I hepp?

My anger will not help anybody until somebody sees this and maybe gets angry too and writes something, and sings something, and says something and does something… My anger will not be, until somebody starts choosing to be.

I am talking too much, I know, but I think that’s the only way my anger will not burst through my chest.

I am talking too much for the sake of the Nigeria we are leaving for our children and the children after them.

I am talking too much because, though many people do not believe it, the land is fertile and bursting with opportunities that we blind ourselves to.

I am ranting because social media is now filled with sex talks, not in an informative/educative manner, but in disgusting, meaningless outbursts of joblessness and perversion; with unimportant gender fights; with posts that just don’t add anything of value to the state of emergency in the nation and the world at large.

Still, public servants take bribe; parents prefer to slip their average children through school, instead of sitting to talk to their brains and listen to their hearts and employing lesson teachers for those hated subjects; parents think taking a child to church and giving them things to do while they are never at home is raising a child—and yet, we all want the utopia of a society we all watch in Hollywood movies.

Shior! Kelembe — tweh!!

We are getting nothing!!!

We are getting nothing if what we say is continually different from what we do.

We are getting nothing if that “I-don’t-care” attitude will not leave our brains to start having sense.

We are getting nothing if all we do is complain and dream and deceive ourselves that we are praying and waiting on God to help us.

We deceive ourselves if we want to bring the bag-of-rice-and-N2,000-sharers back, even when we say we love our children and care about their future.

We get nothing when life is still about us, our selfish us’, and us.

It doesn’t help that we think we can run away and bury ourselves somewhere and behave like the nation and what’s happening in it doesn’t concern us — we are just being the characteristic ostrich who buries its head in the sand at the sense of danger, believing it is safe, while its whole, gigantic body is waving at the danger.

It doesn’t help to be pathetically stupid as to forget that blood and name cannot be totally washed away, and that no matter how far away a place is, there is always a location close to it.

And, I think we must have noticed, darlings, that the diameter of the world is reducing day by day, and we are gradually all becoming one people, meeting at the core of a very small circle. Aunty…Uncle…No place is far away from you again; stop deceiving yourself.

If we don’t get up to fight what is approaching — be it the silence, or the more havoc silence causes, or the kind of future a havoc from silence causes — we will wake up one day and discover that bum bums always knew about their place and didn’t have to be constantly sang about; sex knew its functions and didn’t have to be constantly joked about in a profane way; nonsense knew its valueless worth and didn’t have to be constantly reminded of it by humans usage; and, time never waited for us to get our shit together and start saying and doing beneficial, necessary things.

It is good to pray against evil, but the “amen” will never be said if we are not careful, if we don’t realise — like I did in my dream — that the bush and sounds came to me…they found me, in a way I never believed I would ever be found even in my subconscious state.

Nothing really is far anymore, and we are all drawing evil closer, even, by our actions and inactions.

And,

Japaring…

Japaring will never kill the fact that you and I are children of a place that needs you, that needs our…everything.

Japaring, if at all, should equip us with tools, not just for ourselves, but for a nation that is truly ours in blood and soil; not in burial ground neediness.

And, for you who kill and eat dinner and clean your mouth and ride your tired wife (or husband) and believe you are doing the right thing, blood speaks. Its words are redder than thunder, and louder than death.

Let my mouth close for now.

Peace be unto us…

Aganaba Jesudubami Jemima is a Bayelsan with a passion for stories. She studied English and Literary Studies at Niger Delta University. Her work has been published by F-bom, Kalahari Review, Creative Freelance Writerz; in “Coloured” and “Go the Way your Blood Beats” (both anthologies), and Michael Afenfia’s “Write Now 2018”. She was shortlisted for The Island Prize 2023. Her Website— jemimajaphet.wordpress.com —can lead you better into her mind.

 

*Image by Abel Marquez on Unsplash

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