When I came home for the holidays, I looked forward to seeing Lucas.You know holidays in the villages are something special especially for those of us who claim to be educated or were regarded as ‘alakowe’ by our country cousins. It was a time to strut and be haughty with the village folk. Add the fact that I spoke English more naturally and understood very little Yoruba I was regarded as something special. I had watched with girlish amusement as the boys made a rush for me when I got home. My mother was nervous. We were growing apart and both worried about what to do. I was feeling stressed about her concern for my health.
Dad had insisted it was time I got to know my roots as a Yoruba girl and be friendlier with my grandmother, his mother that is, but it appears he was going to lose that battle as I had taken one look at her and shaken my head. I went up the stairs, into the bedroom and refused to emerge until someone called me to come down for dinner. That was another things. Dinner was at five! I stared at them like they were from another planet. I had been used to dinner at the decent hour of seven or eight who ever heard of having your evening meal at five I had grumbled as I watched in horror the children gathered round a big mortar containing pounded yam. The younger wives then poured steaming vegetable soup over it and all the young children in the house descended on the mortar. I simply stared and waited for my food. My grandmother rolled out and stared at me as I stared at the others dipping their hands and eating the food from the mortar! I was horrified. She asked me if I was feeling so arrogant that I did not want to eat.
I stared at her and looked at the horde round the mortar and asked her if she expected me to eat with them. She was angry and bellowed at me. I simply walked away and spent the night without dinner. I did not like her, I made it obvious and she did not bother to show her distaste for me too. My father was amused. This angered his mother who said I was too free as a female and too pert for her liking besides she frowned at my open preference for the company of boys and predicted I was heading for early marriage. So the last time I came home for the holidays I had met Lucas. Dark, small and with all the dreams of a young brave he offered me his cardigan when he sensed I was chilled by the cold harmattan wind. We would seat and chat for long periods. He would insist on speaking English, picking his words carefully and in soft tones.
It was good he could speak English well because I would have been stumped for peer conversation as most of my peers in the village only spoke my dialect which was not even regulation Yoruba.
Now on this trip there was no Lucas and I was lonely so I made friends with Olaiya a young cousin of mine and her English was atrocious, besides she was more interested in boys than she let on to her parents. This evening she came to me, her eyes round and unblinking as she solemnly told me she might not be going back to school. I was scandalized and demanded why she would not go to school. She said since she was a girl her parents felt she had learnt enough, they did not want to waste their investment.
What did they mean waste I asked completely puzzled. Well she replied in a matter of fact voice, she was going to learn a trade so she could be married off and start having babies. I was outraged and took the very first opportunity I had to talk to my maternal grandmother. We all call her Yeye and amongst other things, she was the High priestess of our village. She had been the only one I could really relate to. Yeye , beautiful one tooth Yeye would smiles at me and tell me stories in her soft voice making me feel safe. So I asked her why things were like that and was it wrong to dream? Still cracking melon seeds she gave me a long look then smiled. She asked if I meant Lucas, I stared at her I did not even know she had known about Lucas, so I grinned and said I meant dreams generally. She looked at me and I suddenly knew she did not see me or was she really thinking of me as spoke.
“The problem is you are not to dream. The reasons are simple. You are too late. You should be thinking of dying. The cessation of all feelings. That might be nice if all that you need is to forget you ever met him. If all the cessation would mean he never existed and they never stood at the sidewalk and laughed at your attempt at dignity as you watched them and your heart was pierced. Might be nice to stop dreaming if you were seventy and decrepit with all the worries of the world. But how could they demand a cake after they had taken the flour from you and given you vinegar to add as the oil to the buns of life you thought you had prepared? How could they imagine you will chew on nails while you had planned to eat lentils and wash it down with the fresh spring of hope? These maggots who walked the horizon of your dreams in tattered clothes of broken promises? They stood as chants in your dreams and their cackles kept the promises of a better day at bay. They called themselves the ones who will midwife tomorrow but they killed it and hung its carcass around their masses of shrunken necks evidence of their stolen promises. I am afraid to walk the streets at day, hemmed in by the dangers of their siren, the bedlam of their shouts, not dead but I am on first name basis with Hell. I am a member of the human race but dammed by the excruciating inability to see into the dawn and expect the sun to rise. Not because it won’t, but simply by my geographical location the prognosis of its promise for me is better imagined than anticipated. I am a member of the human race, but the color of my skin also has darkened my dreams from my fellow brothers who make merchandise of my dreams
So why dream? I have waited 50 years to give birth to a pregnancy at ten and the skeleton of the dead baby has refused to be buried? They have bowls of rotten promises and have negotiated my future across to my neighbors. There is nothing left in the kitchen. Father went to the farm and only harvested the stringy yams. It is cheaper to die and the burial is more expensive than the corpse. Why dream when all the children do is watch you closely and in their hungry eyes you see not their hopes for the future but their anticipation for your demise.
Don’t start a chant of hopelessness it only takes longer for the dawn to come. The sum total of life is not the quality of the meals you shared with the best of them, but in the quality of love you have garnered from creation and the garment of experience you have sewn. It is so easy to give up, even the shining sun might tell you a tale of two of its many struggles to gather enough heat to garner enough radiance from the glory of life and in fulfillment of the laws return it in manifold gratitude to all that was created. It is the only way it exists.
When life’s troubles becomes a howl that rises deep in your throat and comes out in snarl, take another breath, look to the ant, steeped upon and smashed and never considered, but necessary in the tapestry of the loom of life. The softer option is to moan and rant, it is good for the lungs of your soul for we must breathe the good the bad and the unseemly so we might sieve from the muck the shinning nuggets of life’s real lessons. Not all the gold of Fort Knox, nor all the jewels of the crown will bring you the lasting benefits for the working manual. Remember, even the dinosaurs, great Sango, the god of thunder, and his wife Oya the goddess of the Niger are today history.
Yesterday’s cup is stale, and we sip indifferently from all the opportunities. Hate is nice and is really the softer option but like a dark cloud it blocks out the sun and blocks out the chance to see love in the pain. For it is better to shine your spirit than to fill your belly and you know, the sun will come up again tomorrow.
There was silence and I turned to give her a look. She had not really been the woman talking but from the hills came chimes of sheerest sound and I distinctly heard the rush of the stream. Lights came on and I suddenly longed to be home. My home, the halls the bells and the stream. The banding lights came again then gradually faded and I was back in the sticks and mud of the humans.