Friday, October 17, 2014


Dear Sir,
I don’t know if you knew sir, but we called you ‘Amalgamation’. You stumbled over the word many times that first day you came to replace Mr. John-Paul as History teacher. When we laughed, you made us say the word over and over again. We stumbled over it too and you said, ‘You see, you think it is easy to say the word?’ Most people can’t remember your name but we all remember the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorate of Nigeria. It was the first time we paid attention in History class. Mr John-Paul spoke to himself and looked up at the ceiling like he was shy of us. Some days he would just walk in and start writing with chalk on the black board for us to copy and then walk out when he finished. (Many boys used to skip his class.)
You came in without an exercise book or even chalk. I think you wanted to impress us. Believe me sir, after that first class and maybe for the rest of the term, we all wanted to be history teachers when we finished school.
I don’t know if you remember my first question. You told us about the last Sultan of Sokoto who stood up to the British and who was shot dead by I think Lord Lugard’s men. I asked who was there to know all the things the Sultan did in hiding before he died since you said that everyone was killed. That day you beat Mr. Bulus the English teacher to become my best teacher. You told me that you did not know everything and that you would try to find out, but you explained all the sources of history and how history is passed on from generation to generation. No teacher has ever agreed that there is something he doesn’t know.
I always wondered how you memorised those names and dates and stories. It is so hard for me to do at the court where the Judicial Panel of Inquiry is, when they want me to tell them exact names and dates and exactly how everything happened over and over again. Every time, a new lawyer wants to ask me the same questions and I am tired of describing you and calling your name, swearing that it was you, my history teacher who did those things and that I saw you and you saw me. I wish you would just appear so they can ask you the questions by themselves. How should I know who sent you and where you are now? After all it is all about what YOU did. Honestly sir I am tired.
There is an Igbo man at the Panel of Inquiry whose wife and children were killed on the other side of Kaduna, when the fighting began. I don’t know his name. The other day I heard him (there were tears in his eyes) saying to another man that he doesn’t know why north and south are one country, that things would be better if they didn’t force us to live together. I thought of what he said for a long time. But if the north was different from the south, you would still be in the north, because Zonkwa is in Kaduna and Kaduna is in the north and we would still be in the same country. Even if we were not living in Zonkwa, we would even be in the same state because Zaria where my grandfather is from and where my grandmother still lives is also in Kaduna. So I don’t agree with him.
The white woman at the camp where we now live, (she comes from France but she speaks English like someone from America) she told us that we should talk about what happened to us. She said it will help us get better.  She told us not to hate the people who did this to us but to understand them because hate only causes more pain. She made us say, ‘Hate begets more hate’ many times until we all memorised it. Her hair is long and her eyes are blue. She has a black tattoo on her back of her two hands and she told me it means peace in Chinese. (When I asked her, she said she didn’t understand Chinese). The tattoos look like the lalle we use to decorate our hands and legs during weddings. But the tattoo won’t wash off after some weeks. (Sorry I don’t know lalle in English). 

I don’t like talking. Too many people come to interview us at the camp. When the women talk about how their Christian neighbours killed their husbands, some of the people asking the questions have tears in the eyes and some just shake their heads. It is easier for me to write it, that way I think, I don’t have to keep saying it. My mother can’t read, so she doesn’t know what I write. She doesn’t know I am writing you this letter.

It has been six months and my mother still cries when she talks about it. I used to cry too, but now I am just tired of living with so many people in one small space and all the flies and mosquitoes. I am tired of the open toilets where somebody can easily see you. I want a bed and I want to know WHY it happened because I do not understand it. Sir, you used to say a good historian is not just concerned with the what, the where or the when but also with the WHY.
I know the WHAT. I know that my father’s head was broken. I know his neck was cut and that he only shouted twice. The WHAT is that he is dead or should I say, he was killed.
I know the WHERE. It was at the back of our mud house in the village where the grass was cleared and our two rams were tied. It started from the maize farm where he ran from but it happened when he reached the house, on the dusty ground. I was in the house trying to get a little kerosene from the lamp because the firewood fire that I was using to cook had died out and my arms were hurting from trying to fan the smoke into flames. My mother hates it when I do that. It is wasteful she says and shows that I am lazy. But why inhale all that smoke when I can just use a little kerosene to start the flame? So I waited for her to go to collect some spinach from our cousins’ mother in the next house.  I dropped the lantern when I heard the footsteps and shouting and ran out to see what was happening.
I know the WHEN. It was past six, not yet seven in the evening on Sunday after the Presidential elections. It was not too long before the time for the evening prayer. I remember what I was thinking before I dropped the lantern. I didn’t like the long break from school and I missed chatting behind the class with all my friends during break time. There are two reasons I love school. English and History. I like English because of comprehension exercises and because Mr Bulus speaks the best English I have ever heard from a black person. I like history because of the stories. Sometimes I think that you add some things to it to make it interesting and lively. It is like you were there when everything happened so you are able to tell us why everything happened and what everyone was thinking.
This is the part that I don’t know. The WHY? I stood right there. I saw you hold him to the ground with your friends. You used the machete on his head and I ran to you and held your hand. You looked at me and I told you that it was me, Hajara from your SS1 history class. Hajara who got 70 in the last history exam. I told you that this man was my father, but you continued and you used the knife on his neck. I was there but I don’t know why. Why you didn’t stop even though you knew he was my father, what did he do to you?

It is not easy writing this letter. I am writing just in case one day I see you again. My mother says we will never go back to that village again, but I will carry this letter around just in case. Maybe you will change your mind and come to the Panel of Inquiry one day. I will like to know, like the men in the wars that you taught us, what was going through your mind when you decided to kill a man you did not know. Why you didn’t stop when I begged you and why you said sorry to me after you had killed him. What will sorry do for me?
This is all I want to know. Maybe if I know, I will be able to sleep without my father’s face waking me up and coming to me whenever I am in the dark.
Mr. Bulus will hate this letter because there is no introduction, body and conclusion, only a salutation and body and since you are not a friend or close family member he will say it should have been a formal letter. But I am sure Mr Bulus will understand. Sorry if my letter is too long. I hope you will reply.

Yours faithfully,

Hajara Musa (your former SS1 student, whose father you killed)

*based loosely on true events

Monday, October 13, 2014


You never lock your wardrobe door. One of the hinges is coming loose so there is now a method to closing the door -- lift gently, swing slowly from right to left, wait for the click, release -- but this is not why you won’t close it. You want to see what dangles from the yellow plastic hanger in the corner when you lie on the bed; which has hung limply there since September 16, five years ago. You never forget the date you hung it there; you remember it, mark it more religiously than your birthday or the day your now run-away husband almost died in his own vomit. The rumours don’t bother you -- that his many drinks were poisoned by the women from a certain Madam Kosoko’s brothel in Lagos to teach men who like to fuck and run a lesson. He was supposed to be on a business trip. You have not seen him since he left the hospital. Though you would never say it, you thought it was a brilliant thing those women did, because you did not know how much more you could take -- the sermons from your mother and his mother on how a good Christian woman never brings shame by leaving.
You look at it when you lie and think of the first one you remember actually buying. You shake your head when you recall how you still got the size wrong after all those lectures by the tall girl with massive breasts in your JSS3 class. The girl who had come from South Africa in JSS 2. The girl whose breasts knew the hands of every bad boy in school. It intrigued you as she told you the steps which you still so clearly remember in an accent which she you now know from having many South African friends was Xhosa:
 “Breathe in and hold your breath as you run the tape measure round just underneath your boobs. For even numbers add four, for odd numbers, add five. Save that number. Call it 2. That’s your boob size. But for your cup size run the tape measure round the fullest part of your boobs…”
You can still smell the garlic from the pores of the Indian doctor who cut your breasts to save your life on September 16. You remember your thoughts as you battled depression right after the operation: How you thought that at least no man will ever grapple you again to get a rise, like your husband, Yinka did mostly when he was drunk. Like Obiora the younger man you let touch you only to get back at Yinka. You stopped with Obiora after the first few times because you felt no freedom in doing it. Only attachment to another weighty thing. So you told him never to see you again.
This nightly ritual of staring at the last bra you wore before the operation is what soothes you at night. Mercy never stops telling you: shebi you know you can get an implant abi? You know you can, Bimbo got it in the UK where she had her own surgery. Some days you think about it, but your breast prosthesis has grown on you in a way that Bimbo cannot understand. She assures you that some days she even forgets she has an implant. And she has made you feel it twice to see that it is as real as it gets
This year you passed the five-year mark since the mastectomy and your doctor has told you it is unlikely for the cancer to return. Bimbo and Mercy want to throw a small cancer survival party for you but you plead with them not to. Some days you feel like people might compare you to Bimbo who had the same procedure as you had but has bounced back, doing charity work and appearing on TV. You are tired. It used to bother you but these days you say to yourself, I am not Bimbo, as you curl up in bed, switch off your phones and watch back to back episodes of the reality show, Cheaters
You call it the last man standing; you have stared at it so long, it appears in your dreams -- elastic straps, half satin, half lace cups, hard plastic about the edges, three hooks, milk colour. Bimbo does not know you call it that, or she would have given you a long feminist lecture about the philosophy of language and maleness of language and encoding of male worldview. You agree, but you do not have the energy to think up a more feminist-appropriate term. 
The therapist your doctor referred you to, before and after the mastectomy, told you to take it one day at a time. She still calls you to just check up on you but you know it is Bimbo who makes her do it. Yesterday when she called you wanted to tell her, I don't really feel depressed, just lethargic, but you said everything was alright. You still turn down Bimbo's subtle invitations to do cancer awareness walks and talks. But you love her because although she is different she seems to understand.
Mercy is dragging you to the cinema this weekend to watch Idris Elba's new movie, No Good Deed. You will go, if only to watch her gush like a teenage girl over Elba. She has even told her husband in jest, if Idris Elba ever says hello to me this marriage is over. Her husband has learnt to share her with the actor. 
You are mentally preparing what dress to wear. You close your eyes and travel five years back. You are wearing an off-white dress, black stilettos. And the bra. As you smile, you feel tears roll out of the side of your eyes. 

 *written to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Saturday, October 11, 2014


A Nigerian is not just a person who has a green passport or one whose parents are Nigerian citizens. A Nigerian properly-so-called, is one who knows how to live in Nigeria without bursting an artery, committing suicide, or running away to seek asylum somewhere else. If you have run away, kindly refrain from calling yourself a Nigerian. The acceptable term for you is ‘of Nigerian origin’. There is a difference.
Being a proper Nigerian, I feel like I should explain this concept thoroughly starting with how to conduct meetings. A Nigerian meeting is not just an event. It is that sacred, multipurpose, indispensable tool for living the Nigerian life. This is how to conduct a Nigerian meeting.
As a business owner, always call for meetings even for things you can do by email. Sometimes, meet early in the morning for morning devotion to commit your business and hustle to the hands of God. Meet to set the agenda for other meetings that will be held over the week.
Jobs are boring. You need a distraction. Meetings, especially ones with tea break, prevent you from losing your mind and picking up a gun to shoot all your annoying colleagues like white people do. White people need to have more meetings.
When going for a meeting, never arrive early. This will give the impression that you are jobless, desperate or too eager. Nobody likes Nigerians who are jobless or too eager. A true Nigerian, not one who is pretending to be white, will understand if you show up late for a meeting. They may feign annoyance, but usually they will wait. In fact the best of Nigerians will make excuses for you, especially if you live in a place like Lagos. You will walk in late to a meeting, panting, with that faux look of contrition and the person you are having a meeting with – if she is a good Nigerian – will say: Eiyah! Traffic abi? You will only have to nod or say something like: No be small tin o. Everyone will be grateful that you showed up and the meeting will begin.
When you are having a big meeting with an ‘oga’ (or oga-madam) it is safer to cancel all other appointments for the day. Because the oga will saunter in three hours late and you will have to smile and say “No, not at all!” when he asks: “Did I keep you waiting?”
If you are an oga, you should never, ever show up for a meeting on time. This is Nigeria. People disrespect ogas who don’t keep them waiting forever. They will think you are equals and before you know it one ordinary person will call your name without adding Chief or Prof or Honorable or Your Excellency. God forbid that after hustling to get those titles, some idiot forgets to mention them. All because you came early to a meeting.
As a proper Nigerian whose father is God, you must commit all meetings to His hands. You may work hard but it is God that is in charge of blessing our hustle. Never forget to say at least two prayers in every meeting. One Christian, one Muslim. You never know which of the Gods will answer favorably. It does not matter if you will be discussing how to steal from other people. God sees the heart and he knows that deep down, all you want to do is succeed.
When it is your turn to speak at a meeting it is rude to go straight to the point. Proper Nigerians are not rude. Because I care, please find below a summary of how to speak at a Nigerian meeting:
1.     Don’t be ungrateful. Thank the moderator for giving you the opportunity to speak.
2.   Don’t be disrespectful. Observe all protocol. People did not become highly placed by mistake.
3.    Show appreciation. Say how much it is a privilege for you to be at the meeting. Use the phrases ‘singular honor’ and ‘rare privilege’.
4.  Show understanding. Explain how important the meeting is to you and to everyone present. Thank the conveners for having the wisdom to organize the meeting.
5.    Show regard for the last speaker. Use words like ‘just like the last speaker has said’ or ‘I want to concur with the last speaker’ or ‘I totally agree with the last speaker’ or ‘I want to align myself with the last speaker’. Then proceed to say the same thing using your own words. It is important for everyone to have a chance to speak at a meeting.
6.     Be considerate. Promise not to speak too long with a phrase like: ‘I will not take much of your time’, after which you can speak freely.
7.    Always provide a summary of all you have just said. Use phrases like: ‘So, what have I just said?’ or ‘What am I trying to say?’ to introduce you summary. 
8.    Be observant.  If you still have more things to say and you sense that people are tired of hearing you speak, use the words ‘In conclusion’ to give them hope that you will soon end, after which you can continue to speak freely.
All meetings must end in a closing prayer. To avoid a fight however, take care to remember whether it was a Christian prayer or Muslim prayer you began with. When you are not sure, do both prayers. You do not want to annoy any children of the Nigerian God.
One last thing: Don’t forget that the only acceptable way of answering a phone call during a Nigerian meeting is to shout: “Hello, please I am in a meeting, let me call you back.” People will smile, seeing how important this meeting is to you.  

I hope that this helps and that God will continue to bless your hustle as you conduct meetings.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


The full-bearded bespectacled Minister with the heavy lisp who officiated at their wedding looked down from the high terrazzo-floored pulpit, into their eyes as he paraphrased the Bible: children were a blessing from the Almighty God. Even as they held back from chuckling at the way his large freckled tongue stuck out to the side when he said ‘blessing’, they believed the Minister.
‘Your brother is officiating, the one with the lisp,’ he joked when he found out that Father Isiaku was officiating. She spoke with a lisp too but her lips were far prettier when she spoke, he assured her each time he made fun of her. Father Isiaka wasn’t the one she hoped it would be, but it didn’t matter. She was just happy that the boring month-long marriage counselling classes had ended. 
August was the month they met. The month of unpredictable showers when algae, sprouted from just a slimy green thing on the fence to something shrub-like that you could harvest. He always felt like using a spatula to scrape the growths off the walls and ground but could never bring himself to do it. She didn’t care. When he complained about the algae, she said, ‘Ah, there are worse things than this.’ She said this that first day in August, the day they met at a wedding reception. They were both looking for seats and had to sit outside near a fence that was green and slimy. He was irritated with both the fence and her for being dismissive about it. He wanted to tell her to shut up but she laughed so sweetly she melted the irritation from his heart. She spoke intelligently about a repeat of the global economic crisis and the many stock markets, the DOW, the NASDAQ, the FTSE. He loved the way she pronounced ‘FTSE’, delicately with a slight lisp, like she was scared of the letters falling off her tongue or a vowel sneaking its way in between T and S.  He tried to think of something intelligent to say as she went on and on about financial issues---the only thing he knew well was literature, which he taught at the Polytechnic in town--but he had just finished a weeklong seminar in addition to his classes and was not in the mood to talk about literature. So he let her show mastery of her subject, sipping his Maltina and enjoying her lisp which he later told her he found rather sexy.
‘So where do you work?’ he asked, hoping that her answer wouldn’t make him feel ashamed of where he worked.
‘I am in the Accountant-General’s office. The new Ministry of Finance building on Ahmadu Bello Way.’
Civil servant, he thought. He didn’t feel so intimidated anymore.
‘I teach at the Federal Polytechnic. Language Department. I teach literature.’
‘Ah, nice. The campus on Ahmadu Bello?’
‘Yes at the other end, right after UMT. I mean the eating joint under the huge mango tree. We call it UMT for Under the Mango tree.’
‘Hmm. We call it UMT too. I thought we were the only ones who called it that. I eat there most days at lunch.’
‘Really? I do too. It’s funny I have never seen your face.’
‘I always sit on the right side behind the zinc building. I don’t like the front, it faces the main road.’
‘Oh, that’s why. I am always in front.’

They both resumed sipping their drinks which were no longer cold and they smiled knowing they would see each other again. He, to hear her sexy lisp and she, to see his fair slender face and broad smile which she later told him, made him look like her favourite Uncle.
Everyone said they were good together, so many times and so forcefully that it didn’t surprise anyone when six months after they started seeing each other, they got engaged and announced their wedding plans. Her friends thought she was lucky, especially Lami, noting that not many men around were as serious minded and straightforward as Usho. Her friends had taken it upon themselves to spy on him. Lami the chief spy never found anything.  At first they thought it was only a matter of time, but then they got tired of looking for what they eventually agreed was not there.
It didn’t matter that he didn’t like children. She had gotten him to agree to have one child despite his initial insistence on having none. He would learn to love them when he saw them, Lami assured her; they were good for each other.

They had decided to have one child. It would not matter if it was a boy or a girl. They would love the child, save for University abroad, maybe London but preferably America, and make the child learn many languages especially Mandarin Chinese because China was going to take over the world in a few decades. Music lessons and sports would be a must. The child had to be successful; nothing would be left to chance. It was going to be a straightforward affair, this child business - it would bring untold joy.
Over the months he had stopped complaining about algae on walls, the forks in restaurants being on the wrong side and dead bulbs in halls that weren’t changed because he hated how it felt whenever she told him there were more important things than that.
‘Please, don’t trivialise the things that irritate me,’ he would say to her.
‘I am sorry, boo,’ she would always reply.
She would always do it again and so he learnt only to feel irritated and not say it.

She wondered if the growing mass in her tummy was a girl or a boy. She smiled and agreed with Usho when he said it didn’t matter. It mattered only, to save more and fast so that little one could start to live their dreams at 2. At 2 the whole world would be different again. She would have gotten her waist back and wear her size 32 jeans without  love handles sticking out to gossip about her having had a baby. At two the Chinese tutor would start saying funny toneless Mandarin words into the child’s eager ears. When she had weaned the baby, Usho would no longer have to be scared of the tasteless milk her body made when his mouth ventured around her breasts. They would reach out for each other in the dark on the large bed like they had not done for the past six months and belong to each other again.
Her friend Lami always brought her glossy magazines about the latest fads in baby clothing and cut-outs of articles on infant care for new mothers. They had grown steadily in a pile on the glass table in the living room and now spread to the bedroom--by the dressing mirror, on the bedside stool and even in his side of the wardrobe. All photos of chubby, curly-haired, bright-eyed babies. She said to Lami that the girls seemed prettier. Lami agreed.
He didn’t complain about the magazines strewn around the house even though, however hard he tried to arrange them in one pile, he would always return to find them all over the living room, in the kitchen, on the bed and on the toilet floor. It was all to prepare for the coming baby he rationalised; he learnt to ignore the glint in many babies’ eyes, even though the thought of more than one baby in the house terrified him. Glossy magazine babies would be the closest he would come to more than one child in the house. At least he could stack them all into one heap at the end of the day.

‘Haba, can’t these guys keep their hands to themselves,’ Salama said angrily as she wriggled free from the shop owners who held her arm to show her their wares.
‘That’s the beauty of the market mana,’ Lami teased. ‘I prefer the market with all its madness to those boutiques. Whenever those boutique attendants give me one of those forced smiles I want to just smack her across the cheeks with the overpriced item I have bought. Here at least we can beat down the prices. No be de same tin all of dem dey sell?’
Salama agreed but still hated the way strangers touched her. They talked about names as they picked and dropped baby shawls and dresses weaving their way through the maze of tiny concrete shops and hordes of people.
‘I can’t stand all those lazy-lazy names. Faith, Blessing, John, Monday...’ Lami said as they stopped for Salama to rest a bit.
‘Ah, Lami, but your name means Thursday now. By your definition it’s also a lazy name.’
‘Exactly, my father named all of us lazy names.’
‘You are just a silly girl,’ she laughed. ‘I like Anya. The German Reverend Mother in the parish I grew up in, that was her name. She was old but had such sweet eyes. The woman made us all love church. She always had a sweet in one hand a Bible verse in the other.’
‘Anya? Hmm, what does it mean?’
‘Gaskiya, Lami I don’t know. I have to find out. I’ll just google it.’
‘What if it’s a boy?’
‘I really haven’t found a boy’s name I like. And between us I think it’s a girl. I can almost feel her.’
‘Ah, na wa for you o. You sound like you have had nine pregnancies. Just say you want it to be a girl.’
She sighed. Lami saw through her. Through the ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl’ rhetoric. Through the thinly veiled sparkle in her eyes when she saw pink little Cinderella dresses in the shops. Sometimes she joked when a preacher would say only God could read the heart: ‘Only God and Lami’. This was why Salama loved her. Lami could just look into her eyes and know that something was wrong; she didn’t have to explain every intricate detail like she did with Usho. But this was also why sometimes she avoided Lami- Lami could tell when she was up to no good. Since they met in the first class of Accounting in University, there was no hiding from Lami.

Usho had learnt to let go of some of the order in his life. Before he married Salama, the plastic, yellow alarm clock was always faithful. He would get up at exactly 5.45, ride his stationary bike for fifteen minutes, pray at 6, make breakfast at 6.15 and watch international news until a quarter past seven when he would head out to work. The towels were always hung out after use, underwear dried in the washing machine, ironed and folded in the drawer. Shoes were left out to dry, and he would never eat in the bedroom, not even biscuits. Crumbs in the sheets were horrible.
He no longer used the alarm because it gave her migraines; he barely left the house before 8, endured the sight of damp satin underwear hanging in the bathroom and rolled over sweet wrappers in bed because she had sugar cravings at night. Still it was ok. She was already in her final trimester and it would all return to normal, he told himself. Mostly though, he missed her. When she wasn’t out shopping, at the salon with Lami, she was obsessively reading the glossy magazines chewing aya seeds and answering him in monosyllables when he asked a question.
He came back one evening and saw her in the bedroom, folding all the Cinderella dresses, dumping them into a black duffel bag which she never used.
‘Welcome,’ she mumbled without looking up.
‘What’s up, you rearranging?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘But you only arranged them last week now.’
She didn’t stop or answer him. He took off his jacket and opened his side of the wardrobe beside her to hang it. He turned to look at her face. She was gritting her teeth, breathing hard, doing the folding angrily.
‘I didn’t realise you had bought so many dresses,’ he said.
‘Leave it, will you!’ she screamed, dropped the bag and walked toward the bathroom.
‘What did I say?’ he said, before she slammed the bathroom door shut.
Confusion rocked his head as he sat on the bed wondering what he did or did not do. Then he heard her sobbing in the bathroom. He walked over and turned the bathroom door knob. It was locked from inside. He called out her name.
‘Leave me alone,’ she shouted.
‘Are you ok?’ he insisted.
She didn’t answer and just turned on the shower and the tap in the sink to drown out the sound of her sobbing. He sat on the bed after he realised he couldn’t talk her out of the bathroom. He held his head in his palms, wondering why she was acting strange.
Fifteen minutes later, he heard the toilet flush, the taps go off one after the other, and the bathroom door unlock. His eyes followed her as she walked straight to the bed and lay down on her side, facing the wall behind him. He didn’t know what to say.
‘I am sorry,’ she said.
‘What happened?’ he asked, turning around to face her.
‘I just feel a little overwhelmed, it’s nothing really.’
‘Is there anything you want me to do?’
‘No dear, its fine. You have been good. Don’t mind me. It’s all hormones.’
He felt a bit relaxed. He was going to go for a quick run but changed his mind, took a shower and just lay by her side, holding her hands, until he felt her grip loosen and heard her light snoring. It took him a long time to sleep. This was what his father always said, one should not try to understand everything a woman does, it is impossible to understand. It will all be better in the morning, he thought, before closing his eyes to psych himself to sleep.
It didn’t get better in the morning. Or the next morning. Her smile and playfulness didn’t return. She stopped reading the glossy magazines and he didn’t have to pick them from the floor and stack them by the bed anymore. She didn’t talk about her visits to the doctor, about the annoying sweaty women in the antenatal ward. She just said it was ok, when he asked. He was worried when she started telling Lami she didn’t feel like going out and when she slept off during her favourite TV series, Mad Men.
He was finishing a two-day conference in Port Harcourt when Lami called him. They were on their way to the hospital. They had been trying his phone for a few hours and Salama’s mother had already arrived from Kaduna. He would not wait for the dinner that night. He took a cab to the airport to get a late flight to Abuja.
He reached the airport just as boarding announcements were being made for the last flight to Abuja out of Port Harcourt. The plane was full and he couldn’t get on it, even though he offered to bribe the guys at the ticket stands. They didn’t care that his wife was about to give birth. One of them suggested that he take the bus if he was in such a rush. Lami and Salama’s mother thought a road trip at night was a bad idea and insisted that he come instead in the morning.
He decided not to go back to the hotel that night. He would wait at the airport and take the very first flight to Abuja. There were a few others at the airport lobby. A Ukrainian man sitting near him wouldn’t stop talking about his life: he had missed his flight because he had checked out of his hotel late- because he had wasted time packing; he was headed for Lagos; he had one grown up daughter who had given him twins for grandchildren, a boy and a girl; his daughter looked like his late wife. At first Usho spoke politely to the Ukrainian but eventually he got tired of the conversation and started answering with nods and sighs. At three in the morning just when he was beginning to doze off, Lami called to say Salama had given birth without complications- mother and child were in perfect health. It was a boy, she said, before he asked. He screamed in the airport lobby, waking the Ukrainian who had started snoring. He didn’t mind the man getting up and hugging him tightly in congratulations. He didn’t mind that the man resumed his prattle. Lami said he couldn’t speak to Salama because she was resting. He would be there, first thing in the morning, he said.
When the announcement for the 7.45 to Abuja was made, he said goodbye to the Ukrainian who said his name was Vladimir and that he was Russian before the Soviet Union split. Usho laughed and walked away. He slept through the flight and woke up only when the plane’s tires touched the tarmac. As he ran to get a cab, the roller on his medium sized bag bumped over the uneven parts of the floor and he decided to carry it by the handle instead. Salama was still sleeping when he called.
‘Don’t worry, the boy looks like you,’ Lami teased, when Usho said he couldn’t wait to get to the hospital.
‘Do you guys need anything?’
‘Nothing for now, except that I think I left my iPod around the wardrobe when I went to bring her things this morning. Do you have your keys? Can you pass through the house on your way to the hospital?’
‘Yes, no problem. Is Mama fine, comfortable?’
‘Yes. We are all fine.’
The bedroom was upside down when he entered. Bags overturned. Clothes on the ground and bed. He called Lami again to ask where she left the iPod and asked if they had a wrestling match in the room. She laughed and apologised, saying she was in a hurry to get back. His wife was awake she said, and gave Salama the phone.
‘Hey honey,’ he said.
‘Hey,’ she replied weakly.
‘I hear the baby looks like me eh?’
She managed a giggle.
‘I know you are tired, I am on my way yanzu. I’ll see you ko?’
‘Ok. Sai ka zo.’

He cleared the clothes from the bed, picking up veils and head ties, before realizing that Lami didn’t even tell him where the iPod was. As he tried to stuff the contents of the upside down black duffel bag back in, his hand felt a crumpled piece of paper. He took it out and opened it. It was from the hospital, dated three months before. Usho stared at the paper. He felt his body gradually weaken. The conversation they had the week before she locked herself in the bathroom came back to him, suddenly making sense.
‘You know it wouldn’t be such a horrible idea if the baby had a playmate. Ko?’
Usho sat up in bed, in disbelief, turning to look at her face. She was half smiling, like a child who had just broken a glass cup.
‘Babe, I hope you are joking, we have had this discussion a million times. The reason we are having one kid is because you want it. You know left to me we wouldn’t have any.’
‘Two kids won’t kill you, Usho. The girl will be bored.’
‘Salama, please don’t do this. And we don’t know it’s a girl.’
She forced a laugh.
‘Of course we don’t. Abeg o, this one you are getting all serious like this, I am only playing o. Haba, you sef.’
He heaved a sigh of relief and lay back down, changing the topic so they wouldn’t end up quarrelling.

It scared him now, knowing just why she changed after that. It was no joke what she said that night. If they were going to have one child, she wanted a girl. After the conversation, she secretly went to do an ultrasound to check the sex of the baby and was disappointed that it was a boy. Now he knew that she would want another baby.
He didn’t bother looking for the iPod. As he drove to the hospital, he saw it all his head. He would not raise the issue until she got better and left the hospital. They didn’t want the same things. Their outlook on life was too different for any more compromise. He knew. This was where the end began.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


It is another celebration of Nigeria’s independence. Speeches have been made about how great we are as an independent country. However, I am disappointed in President Jonathan who showed what we Nigerians call ‘lack of home training’. He gave an Independence Day speech with zero gratitude to the people and institutions whose actions keep Nigeria alive and stable. As president come 2015, I have home training and know the value of gratitude. On behalf of our ungrateful president and Nigeria, I want to express my gratitude as follows:
Thank you English football and the UEFA Champions League. For providing a distraction for young Nigerians who would otherwise have had the time to worry about a failed country. You don’t know it yet, but English football and the Champions League have contributed to our stability as a nation, so that instead of quarrel about development, we can spend time fighting over Arsenal and Manchester United or whether Ronaldo is better than Messi. And for this we say, God bless you. 
Thank you Holland. For easing the nerves of Nigerians with our most popular brand of beer. Many Nigerians may not realize Star Lager is a Dutch product, but I do. Thank you for helping us effectively wash away our sorrows.
Thank you South Africa. For all the companies that make our lives bearable. For DSTV, without which we would be stuck with government propaganda and adverts. For Shoprite. For MTN which teaches us values like patience and knowing how to have a backup plan. For keeping some of our terrorists in your hygienic, safe jails. Because we cannot risk exposing our real terrorist leaders to our filthy overcrowded jails. That is why we either kill them extrajudicially or make their lives better with millions of dollars through a program we christen 'amnesty'. Thanks big brother.
Thank you Dubai. For keeping the wives and mistresses of our corrupt civil servants and leaders busy with interesting, expensive hobbies. For providing a safe haven when our corrupt politicians are too scared to go into America or Britain. You preserve our love.
Thank you Switzerland. For safely storing all the money stolen from our country. Your honesty is commendable. You even returned some of it. People think you people are boring. They just don’t understand you like I do. Hugs. Oh, also for Sepp Blatter, who has proven that corruption is not a genetic problem of black people – white people too can be corrupt, sit-tight leaders.
Thank you Germany. For Julius Berger. Without whom in the event of an emergency, we would be in serious trouble. Thank you for all our major roads and bridges.
Thank you Ghana, Cyprus, Ukraine, Malaysia… for providing not-too-rich Nigerians an opportunity to give their children a decent education.
Thank you America, for sometimes stepping in and telling our president what to do. For that accent that our radio presenters across the country try so desperately to copy. Radio would be dead without you. We love you.
Thank you Brazil. For all your unselfish women who give up their awesome hair that our women may look beautiful. And China for making sure the women who can’t afford human Brazilian hair can at least buy artificial hair.
Thank you Benin Republic. For all the cooks who keep the expatriates in Nigeria nourished while they provide us technical expertise and foreign aid.
Thank you UK. For helping us track some corrupt politicians so that we could find them and pardon them. Because if you had not caught them, how else would we have forgiven them. For DFID. Without which most of our hospitals would crash. For the projects which provide decent employment for our consultants and PhD’s and other development hustlers.
Thank you foreign journalists. For asking the questions our journalists are too underpaid to ask. For being the only ones our president will speak to. For telling us the things we would never have found out. May God bless your hustle and lead you to more of our leaders.
Thank you Malala. For informing our president about the plight of the missing school girls and extracting a commitment from him. We appreciate you.
Thank you Washington Post. For those editorials that spurred our President to action. May your business continue to grow.
Thank you, Western countries in general. For granting asylum to those who cannot be gay in Nigeria, both real and fake. We appreciate your patience in dealing with the flood of applications.
Thank you China. For the shinier, cheaper versions of all the things most of our people cannot afford. Ps. It would be nice if your people mixed with our people sometimes. We are Ebola free, you know.
Thank you Israel for all the guns. For helping our leaders spy on us. For protecting our leaders from us. What would we do without you?
Thank you Harvard. For providing a space for ex government officials to soothe their consciences and (re)write the history of their time in government. We love those books.
Thank you Germany, England and India. For preserving the quality of life of our politicians and making sure they are healthy and able to rule us well. For also treating their families and providing a decent place for our wealthy to die. God will bless your hustle.
It is my hope that these countries and entities accept my gratitude and keep supporting our collective hustle.

Friday, October 3, 2014


If you are interested in writing short prose and satire, there will be a one-day workshop on Friday 14 November, 2014 for twenty selected participants. Elnathan John will be sharing tips and lessons on writing and improving short prose, both fiction and non-fiction. He will also be talking about how to write effective satire. The workshop will be held in Abuja, Nigeria*. There is no provision for transportation or accommodation. Selected participants will be expected to bear their travel and/or accommodation costs. The workshop is free. However, participants will be expected to commit to staying for the entire program, from 9am to 5pm (with a one hour lunch break). Please do not apply if you cannot stay for the full workshop. The participants will receive texts by email which they will be expected to read ahead of the workshop. THIS WORKSHOP IS NOT OPEN TO PERSONS BELOW THE AGE OF 18 AT THE TIME OF APPLICATION. 

To apply, send an original sample of prose, (whether fiction, non-fiction or satire) and an application letter not exceeding one-page each to with the subject, "Workshop Application" no later than 25th October, 2014. The shorter, the better. As there are only twenty slots and selection will be based on the writing sample, send in what you think best represents your work. Only selected participants will be contacted.

Elnathan John's prose has been published in Per Contra, Evergreen Review, Otis Nebula, The Caine Prize for African Writing anthologies 2013 and 2014, and ZAM Magazine. He has a weekly satire column in Sunday Trust Newspaper and contributes to Chimurenga's The Chronic. He was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2013 and has a novel due to be published in 2015 by Cassava Republic Press. 

*the venue will be communicated to selected participants

Thursday, October 2, 2014


You are looking for a hairclip. It exasperates you how you can never find one when you need it. Your mum hates it when you try to share her stuff. You have an allowance. You shouldn’t cultivate the habit of borrowing. It’s bad for a woman. Aunt Ryan in Jos thinks your mum is just stingy. She has been like that since they were kids, she says.
Your mum does not use hairclips. She has been cutting her hair low since she had Jang nine years ago. She even went totally bald once. ‘Felt like doing something revolutionary,’ she said. Your dad almost passed out when he saw it. You couldn’t tell whether it was one of her happy or depressed spells. She did crazy things when she was excited. Crazy things when she was depressed.
You check her drawers anyway, starting with the one by the full length mirror adjacent her bed. There used to be two beds but your mum and dad sleep in separate rooms now. Your mum never throws anything away; perhaps you will find something from when she still had hair.
The first drawer has sequins, a new tape measure, her big turquoise marble ring that you have always wanted, two sewing needles stuck in a used MTN recharge card and a single key. You pick up the turquoise ring and slip it into your middle finger, taking note of the exact position of the ring- your mum pays attention to detail in a scary way. The ring looks perfect on you, you think. You strut up and down the room in mock model fashion making silly faces in the mirror.
The bottom drawer is always locked. You try the key in the top drawer and it opens. There are two diaries. You have always been taught never to look at another person’s diary, not even your brother’s which he started keeping right after his eighth birthday. Keeping a diary has never appealed to you. You are staring at the open drawer battling with your conscience. The front door creaks open and you hear footsteps. You jam your index finger trying to slam the drawer shut. The pain travels in quick circular motion from your finger through your entire body to your head and back to your finger. Tears fill your eyes and you double over squeezing the finger in your left palm.
‘Maggi,’ Noro, the housemaid calls out.
Her voice adds to your pain. You would scream at her but she really has done nothing but walk in with confident footsteps like your mum.
‘What?’ you shout.
‘I have gone. Till tomorrow.’
You do not answer. Slowly you release pressure from your injured finger and look at it. A blood clot is forming beneath the nail. Now you will have to wear coloured nail polish, which you do not like.
If this was all for the diaries, then dammit, I might as well read it, you say to yourself.

The bigger diary is the High Court diary mum gets every year from her friend who is a registrar. In it she writes shopping lists, lists of her debtors and how much they owe, addresses and phone numbers. The smaller diary- the black New Yorker desk diary she ordered from America with her name crested in silver- is the one that has a lot of writing. You sit on the hard bed.
The first entry on January 3 is short. Lidocaine. STUD 100. You whip out your smartphone and search the internet. As you scroll down and read, your eyes widen, your mouth assumes an O shape. The website you find says it is a desensitizer for men. It helps delay ejaculation. You struggle to suppress the combined thoughts of your father and quick ejaculations. You flip the page.

Met Q at the gym today. Flirty as ever. Not a good time to be running into Q especially as the one you are bound to is refusing to be reasonable.
You go quickly through paragraphs and pages looking for other occurrences of Q; through thoughts and feelings; through anxieties about weight and stretch marks; through resolutions to quit drinking; through unexplained frustrations about your father. You feel your blood rushing faster through your veins. Too much blood going too quickly to your heart. In her last entry on April 3, five days ago, you find the mysterious Q again.
Easy lunch. Then pool to burn calories. Went to see Q’s new gym at home. Impressive. I told myself no shenanigans. No resuming old habits. I hate feeling powerless, but with Q, you feel it’s all ok. Crazy how Q still knows every bit of my body…

You pick up the big diary. Carefully with your finger you search for all names beginning with Q. You scan every page. Nothing. After many searches, the closest you find to Q is Sadiq. You know a Sadiq that is nicknamed Q.
You have been snooping around your mum for three days now, waiting for her to leave her phone for a few minutes. Her phone is like an appendage to her body. Even if you get it, you still have to get past her lock code. You put your phone on silent and slip it into one of your sneakers in your room.
‘Mum I can’t find my phone, can you please dial my number?’
‘Ok,’ she says and dials. ‘It’s ringing.’
You make a show of searching. You search the living room, the dining room, the kitchen; everywhere but your sneakers.
‘Shit!’ you say.
‘I think I put it on vibrate.’
‘But why would you turn your ringer off in the house?’
‘Mum can you just keep dialing while I check?’
This is the plan: your mum doesn’t like to feel like she is being made to do something.
‘Here, do it yourself,’ she says.
You walk into your room and quickly search for Q in her contacts. It is there sitting pretty with a number beneath it. You take out your phone from your sneakers and save the number. As Q.
‘Found it!’ you scream.
It all feels so wrong, but you will not be able to sleep well if you do not finish this.

You compare Q’s number with Sadiq’s. They are different. You hide your number and call Q. As it starts to ring, you feel faint. The caller tune is Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.  Suddenly you realize, you do not know what to say to Q, what to ask him. You feel cramps in your stomach. Dozens of thoughts cram themselves into these few seconds in a way you did not know was possible.
Is Q an older, richer man? Richer than dad? Or one of those young studs, young enough to date me? How long has this been going on? Does my brother look like dad? Do I?
‘Hello,’ the voice comes, crisp, clear.
‘Q?’ you ask, a quiver in your voice.
‘Yes, Queen speaking, who is this?’ she says.
You drop the call. Grit your teeth. And cry.
‘How many do you need?’ the sales girl without eyebrows asks.
‘Just show me everything you have,’ you say.
She brings out a transparent plastic box.
‘How much?’
‘For which one?’
‘For all.’
The sales girl looks at you to make sure you aren’t joking. She gets the big calculator and starts counting, the surprise never leaving her face. This is an early eighteenth birthday gift for yourself. A box of sixty-seven hairclips.