THEY THAT WAIT (A Review of Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel)

Three friends: Lomba, Bola and an unnamed fellow, set out to the beach to see a fortune-teller who prefers to be seen as a poet rather than a marabout. And just like the four brothers in Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, these three friends get to be told what will befall them in the near future. Some six months later, the unnamed fellow dies. Not long after, the superstitious and excitable Bola loses his parents to a fatal autocrash, loses his mind and then is rendered bed-ridden by men of the State Security Service. Of the 161 pages, (the edition published by Cassava Republic Press 2007), 6 are about the unnamed fellow; 24 are about Bola, and the rest are about Lomba.

The book opens at the end of the beginning, with Lomba already in jail as a political prisoner accused of organising violence even though he insists that he was only covering a peaceful protest. A school dropout, he tries his hands on a few tasks including teaching English and Literature at a School Cert preparatory class before he lands a job at The Dial to cover the Arts Page. It is shortly after covering the peaceful protest at the Secretariat organised by the residents of Morgan Street that he is caught and sent to jail.

At first encounter, the prison superintendent Muftau is the last person one would think should appreciate a thing as abstract as poetry. But it will be difficult to say who he truly is if one can’t discern when his behaviour should be attributed to his predisposition, and when to the situation. Success in his duty as the ‘King’, requires that he be stern and, to some extent, ruthless. To the incredulous Lomba he says: “Perhaps because I work in prison… you think I don’t know poetry, eh?… I write poems too.” And then shortly after their exchange, we see him (through Lomba’s imagination) with his date at a Chinese restaurant where he tries very hard to impress her. Still, it is amusing, isn’t it, how the Superintendent’s attitude towards Lomba changes immediately the former discovers that the latter is a poet. It calls to mind the book of Acts 22:27-29 where the army Commander who ordered the arrest and whipping of Paul did a total turnaround at discovering that Paul was a Roman citizen. According to the linguist Robert Oliphant, Athenian prisoners who could recite in full The Illiad and The Odyssey were spared from slaving away in Sicilian stone quarries because it was thought that they deserved a better life. True to his words, the superintendent makes life ‘easier’ for Lomba (by providing him cigarettes and newspapers and books), as long as the latter keeps writing poems for him which he passes to his girl Janice. That is, until it dawns on her that the superintendent couldn’t have been the one writing those poems.

This book is about Lomba as much as it is about Joshua. It is easy to suspect that the two men are the same person changing their names and looks depending on time and place. Lomba teaches English and Literature in a school cert preparatory class, Joshua teaches English and Literature at the Secondary School. Joshua writes newspaper columns on literature and politics just like Lomba does. Both of them are having a hard time with love. Lomba even admits to have lived in Poverty Street in some time past. They both say something brilliant about dreams and dreaming. Lomba is writing a novel.

“My teacher, Mr. Joshua, is also writing a book,” Kela confirms.

Lomba is a giver of hope to the hopeless and an inspiration to the disillusioned. “Everything will be alright”, he tells a weeping cellmate in page 10, almost the same thing he tells Bola in page 43. We also see Joshua in page 123-125 risking Hagar’s love and his own safety rather than disappoint the masses who look up to him to lead the anti-government protest. Because they fit so right like the two sides of the same coin, one continues to hope that they are the same person until one gets to page 133 where the two of them actually get to meet face to face. Lomba happens to be one of the people holding a recorder to Joshua’s mouth while the latter is reading out their demands to the government.

Reading Waiting for an Angel is like engaging on a multi-orgasmic sex. Just when you think you have climaxed, you sight another peak just around the page. And there is no lack of comic relief. At the party inn Emeka Davis’ house, we meet Helon Habila and Toni Kan who get so drunk they rush out to the balcony to throw up, barging in on Lomba and his new lady friend who are locked in an embrace. The killjoys keep appearing. Mike Jimoh, Nwakanma, Maik, Otiono and Chiedu. We later learn that even Odia Ofeimum is at the party.

The book is about people waiting for something to happen. But while some of them already suspect that this angel might never show up, others continue to hope it does. Aunty Rachael keeps and adores the polished portrait of her husband who was killed in the Biafran War. Nancy, a single parent who got impregnated by her college darling daily waits and dreams that her ‘Man’ shows up at the door and takes her away. Brother, a one-legged retired driver continues waiting for that day Allah will give him a million.

Waiting for an angel is like waiting for a train that might not come. With time, some of the characters finally learn to stop waiting for angels and to start acting by themselves. Aunty Rachael finally summons courage to destroy her late husbands’ memorabilia, curb her alcohol addiction and cleans up her house. Muda sells up his business and leaves with his family to the village. Nancy steals Kela’s Four Thousand and runs away, most probably to look for her ‘Man’. Mao plays an active role in the protest which is short of the full revolution he has been clamouring for but runs away to God-knows-where. Brother disappears in the government interrogation room.

The book is also about broken hearts and unrequited love. Janice walks out on Superintendent Muftau until whenever he gets Lomba out of jail which he insists he cannot. Aunty Rachael marries two times and loses both men to cruel death. Lomba loses touch with Alice (whom he calls the love of his life), and years later when they run into each other again, she is already betrothed to Ngai, a much older man whose money helps keep her mother in the best hospital in the country. Lomba falls in love again with one Sarimam who eventually walks out on him saying, “It won’t work”. Like Hagar tells Joshua, she is leaving him because he is too good for her. Hagar the prostitute breaks it to Teacher Joshua that it can’t work out between the two of them because he deserves better. But she still shows up at the protest ground to lend him support but ends up paying the supreme price when she is knocked down by a hit-and-run car.

The book is a cryptex. You think you have almost arranged the pieces only to have to scatter them again and start all over. The story is told in varying tenses and in no chronological order. It can be a difficult read. A crucial question that remains un-answered is the source of Lomba’s writing materials. Who is it that slips the pen and papers into his cell? Could it be that Superintendent Muftau, having read Lomba’s file, knows fully well that the latter is a poet, but needs to make the discovery appear accidental? We may never get to know.

In all, only two persons can be said to actually get their angels visit them: the unnamed fellow whose angel appears at the beginning of the beginning in the form of Israfael the angel of death, and Lomba whose angel appears at the end of the end in the form of Liberty.

THIS ROAD AND I

Another heavily-laden lorry drawls past. I think it is the sixth that I have counted in ten minutes. I think this one is carrying baskets of tomatoes or bags of onions, or tubers of yam. Or something else. But certainly, not cattle nor sugarcane like the previous ones. The driver keeps honking the horn either to keep himself from drifting into sleep or to ward off lesser elements that might want to challenge his claim to the fast lane. I am beginning to think that it is something both animate and inanimate things have in common: class consciousness. The Director bullies the Manager who bullies the Supervisor who bullies the Skilled Labourer who bullies the Unskilled Labourer. The trailer bullies the van which bullies the car which bullies the motorbike which bullies the bicycles which bullies the pedestrians.
I have formed the habit of coming out to Nnamdi Azikiwe Way which runs through the west end of Kaduna, to sit all by myself on the terrace in front of the defunct Textiles Workers’ & Garments Zonal Secretariat. I go out there to listen to the chaos in my soul; to the croaking of horny frogs in the drainage channel by the shoulder of the bypass; to the mechanical sounds of everything that drives on wheels.
It is over a decade now since I first sat out here. I was seeing X off to the bypass to catch a taxi to her place. But then an issue had come up which we needed to thrash immediately. And since there was no fun in standing by the roadside and being blinded by the headlights of moving vehicles, we decided to sit on the terrace. And then it became a ritual. We would come down here with bottles of soft drink or packs of biscuit to conclude some issue or to just cling to each other in the cold night. At first X had thought it meaningless and a waste of precious time to just sit on this terrace and watch vehicles speed or crawl along the bypass. The same way she had found it weird when I suggested we strolled down to the bridge to lean on the rails and gaze at the misty river as the moon and stars danced in its ripples. But I taught her. I taught her how to see aspects of life in some of these things. How the road is the life and the vehicles are humans. Some people run on this road, some others crawl, and some others break down along the line. X learned…
Another lorry speeds past, the hum of its engine diffusing in the cold night air. It is difficult to tell the colours of vehicles, except when two or three of them drive close together, so that the lights from one shines on the other. But for much part of the night, the expressway is freer as vehicles just whizz past individually, silhouetted against the pale silvery sky. A yellow taxi slows down and finally stops by the road side. The driver turns down the ignition and then steps out to urinate into the drainage channel, coughing spasmodically and spitting out thick lumps of mucus into the ditch. I watch on with infantile curiosity, hoping that an approaching vehicle would shine light on him.
I like to gaze from the left, from where headlights approach and to where taillights recede, and sweep the view to the distant right, towards the River Kaduna Bridge. I like how the road reminds me of traveling; of people and places; of experiences. I like how the road drenches me with sweet nostalgia. Nostalgia!
But nostalgia can be tormenting too. The longer one leaves a place or a thing, the more even the most trivial of issues begin to take up unimaginable significance. One remembers vividly the smell of the backyard, the exact shape of the tree in the front of the house, the distinct clatter of the roof of the town hall. One remembers the windy footpath that leads to the stream or to the farm. All these come to the mind with strange clarity. One thinks of the town crier and his peculiar gait, the talkative woman in the next compound, the drunk who always sings at the top of his voice in the middle of the night, and even one’s enemy. Yes. One remembers one’s enemy, but no longer as an enemy because time and space will have blurred the dividing line. One remembers one’s love too. One remembered the object of one’s love, from the first moment of meeting to the last moment before parting. One remembers the smell of the other’s hair or body or breath, their skin texture and the sound of their voices. And in cold nights, when the rest of the world goes to sleep, one might lay on one’s back for hours, staring into darkness, while the provocative silence almost drives one mad. Sometimes, one’s spirit travels back to those nights when the duo clung together and whispered to each other through the night. But then sooner or later the inevitable happens: one is catapulted back to the present, to the cold and lonely room. And when that happens, it is difficult to hold back the sad smile and the countless sighs and, perhaps, quiet tear drops.
It is true that it can be a long road especially when you are all alone. But these days, sitting out by the bypass some at twilight is what I do alone until whenever I will find another crazy soul that will be willing to play such melancholic game with me.

OF BARBERS, SOUL MATES AND SURGEONS

Whenever I set out to visit my barber for a shave, a number of thoughts begin to run through my mind in rapid succession; a number of thoughts that always leave me shaken to my very bones, chief of which is the harrowing fear that I might not find my barber due to one reason or another. Believe me, there is nothing a guy hates like not having a permanent barber. There is nothing more tiring than having to explain to every new barber how low you like your cuts, how sharp you like your carves, and whether you fancy aftershaves or not.

My preferred barbershop is just down the road by the corner. Nothing extraordinary for the slum I live in. A room barely two metres long and three metres wide. A miniature ceiling fan that squeaks like a rat caught in a trap; a television that needs to be slapped several times before the picture steadies; a wall mirror with more cracks than the scars on a Terminator’s face, and a swivel chair that doesn’t swivel. Orzaoh, my barber, is from Edo State. He is a good man who, I would swear, would not hurt a fly unless when it can’t be helped. I enjoy his funny talks said in a funny accent, an extra services which I don’t have to pay for. Which is why I get a heart attack whenever I arrive in his absence and find that I would be sitting under the operation of one of his boys.

Just the other day, I began to see connections between the barber and the surgeon. They put on special clothe before they start work. The one puts on a lab coat, the other wears an apron. They both sterilize their tools before they cut. They both ensure that you feel comfortable before and during the operation. The difference is that while the surgeon would sedate me before the operation, my barber doesn’t so that I get to feel the entire thrill and pain. Once the humming electric clipper begins to tickle my powdered chin, it is difficult (if not impossible) not to chuckle. Once I sit on that stiff chair with my eyes closed while the barber holds a newly sharpened blade just under the soft skin of my throat, I can’t help but remember all the animals that get slaughtered during festive periods.

And then, I extend this connection between the barber and the surgeon to include soul mates and tailors. Commonsense insists that it is best to stick to one sex partner (at a time), just the same way it is preferable to stick to a particular doctor who is already familiar with one’s medical history, just the same way it pays to have a permanent tailor who already knows your measurement by heart.

I like what visiting my barber (or my doctor or my lady or my tailor) does to me. It makes me know that I can be selfish and self-centred. It convinces me that despite my pretensions to reasonableness and civilizedness, I am no different from any other human. And that realization humbles me. For instance, I hate to find a long line of people waiting outside my doctor’s door, just the same way I hate to meet a long line of others waiting to get shaved at my barber’s, just the same way I hate to stroll down to my lady’s place only to find a couple of other guys waiting in line to see her. Again, while I expect my barber (or my doctor or my lady or my tailor) to spend the whole day with me, I begin to get uneasy when they are doing that with someone else before me.

It is a curious thing how seemingly unrelated things end up having a lot in common. It makes me begin to wonder if the world wouldn’t be a much better place if only we would pay more attention on finding common grounds than differences. Like someone I know very well would say, “Most things are not really what they seem; everything is what you make of it.”

SERVIO’S BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS

(A Review of Servio Gbadamosi’s A Tributary In Servitude)

One is tempted to say that A Tributary In Servitude is a tribute to the Congolese poet Tchicaya U Tam’si (1931–1988), whose works are basically on the (mainly negative) effects of foreign religions and traditions on Africa. Three out of the six sections that A Tributary In Servitude is divided into open with quotes or excerpts from Tchicaya.
On the one hand, Servio Gbadamosi delights in playing the griot and curator of the nation’s history/ traditions. On the other hand, he stoops under its crushing weight and bursts out in frustration because he doesn’t seem to have many, or even any, compatriot(s) willing to share his burden. And one of the wonders of this book is the way the poet fuses these two states of mind without seeming to suffer any cognitive dissonance.
A Tributary in Servitude is a dirge from a crushed spirit and a broken heart. I have wondered why or how Servio Gbadamosi could even afford to sing (albeit a sad one) bearing this crushing load. I remember the book of Psalms 137:4 where the captives at Babylon asked: “How shall we sing (the Lord’s) song in this strange land?” But then, I also remember Samuel Beckett’s: “When you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.”
The poem IRRITATIONS IN THE OYSTER is the outburst of pent-up anger and frustration. Indeed, every messenger despairs at one time or another in their prophetic career? The prophet Jeremiah has this confession to make: “… Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in his name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.” Jeremiah 20:9
The burning passion and zeal locked up in the heart of the persona in IRRITATIONS IN THE OYSTER eventually bursts and pours out in a wake-up call to the wayward country, nation and people:

“… the waters tumble

out with armoured fists to tame

a prodigal.

My country wobbles

fumbles, tumbles, crumbles…”

While showering encomium on the revivalist who diligently and tenaciously fashions out a new generation, he dismisses the present turbulence as labour pains that precede the birth of something good:

Hurray for the potter foraging clay

by the burrows of crab…

who, drawing from the ticktack

interpreted the friction within as

irritations permeating an oyster

just before a pearl is born.

He then calls on the new creation(s) to in turn liberate their brethren who are still in bonds of iron:

“O hatchling, o fledgling

crack with thine feeble beak

the bonds of their iron-

come taste the newness of dawn. “

The nostalgia in this book knows no bound. Even when in love, the poet doesn’t desist from looking back to the very beginning when he was still innocent; when he was “still holy to the bone”. By then, a woman was more or less something to be laughed at and teased; a hand to be shaken condescendingly. In the first movement of the poem TORRENTS FROM SILENCE the poet argues that it is not always a butterfly in the stomach “when two look at two”, be they civilizations or opposite sexes. For some people, it can be a rumble. Or even a hurricane. Which is why the persona begs this queen of hearts to desist from tantalizing him because “my passion jumps at your fickle light”. The persona is such a die-hard that despite being in love with this charming lady whose fickle light he cannot help but trail even to the point of dashing his toe and bleeding, he still mourns that:

“… suddenly

they now appear the guide

piloting the music of my dreams…

where is my innocence?”

And then, as if on second thought, he admits that not only does he enjoy loving her and that “she still leads the way to my morrow…”
There are times that A Tributary In Servitude reads like the transcript of a griot’s notebook. Or put more precisely, there are times the book reads like the transliteration of Yoruba incantation.

.

“I salute each nut

with a wand of rock.

I salute each nut

with a wand of rock.” (pp 44)

hus begins the poem, PRELUDE TO TEARS, which talks about ‘us’ and ‘them’; how ‘they’ robbed ‘us’. It is a mourning of lost pride and heritage; a mockery of naivety and gullibility. If the poems in this book were to be arranged chronologically (and who says they aren’t?), perhaps PRELUDE TO TEARS would come first. For me, it traces the very beginning of the end.

“Dreams die to the glory of famished gods”

Basically, there are two reasons why people abandon their gods: (a) when the gods under-supply peace and prosperity; (b) when the gods over-supply peace and prosperity. An instance of the first case is in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God where the people of Aninta destroyed their deity, Ogba, when it stops doing what it is looked upon to do. The Old Testament section of the Bible is full of accounts where the people become lax in their devotion to God once they begin to enjoy peace and prosperity for so long. But for whatever reason, once the gods are put away, calamity is bound to befall the people to the delight of the abandoned God(s).
A people in disarray is a people heading to the rocks. They get busy making so much bang with little impact; so much flash with no fire.

We were busy shouting

We were busy swearing

And things are busy falling apart. Will Durant (1885-1981) couldn’t have been more apt when he said “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”

“If you examine the stories

And force them through a sieve

You will see what I see-

The pot was leaking before it broke.”

And then:

“They laughed, we laughed, and they laughed

we cried, they laughed and laughed and laughed;”

This calls to mind some lines from David Rubadiri’s Stanley Meets Mutesa:

“No more the burning heat of the day

But song, laughter and dance…

The gate of polished reed closes behind them

And the West is let in.”

And then, things began to fall apart.
The most dangerous wolf is that which comes in sheep’s clothing; those who wave white flags while hiding daggers under their trousers. Perhaps, the situation would not be hopeless if not that:

“We walk backing the sun that makes us proud

We sleep looking the sun in the eye but

Receive no illumination for our awkward hearts.”

We walk away from our heritage. Even when we manage to look at them it is to spite them, no wonder we become lost. That is the danger of throwing away the baby and the bath water. The children of the world (referred to in this poem as “the tortoise”, an animal famed in folklore for its acute cleverness) has always been wiser than the children of the kingdom.

But do you see them

my story-telling fathers

they adore the surface

and swear at digging.

If they see a thing

a line of puzzle

they do not understand

they will cook a myth…

It is interesting to note that A Tributary In Servitude is Servio Gbadamosi’s debut. It is a daring move which, though might not have hit the bull’s eye, but is surely not far from it. I must warn prospective readers to brace up; to ensure they’re equipped with a complete set of cutleries before diving into the dish. The unprepared is bound to experience turbulence here and there. In some places, one might sense a strained effort to create metaphor and excessive use of colours in painting of imageries. A chain of words bound together by hyphens might be crystal clear to the poet but they can easily make an average reader lose track.

“Icing-sugar-laced” (pp29)

“The king-on-bundles-of-leaves” (pp44)

“Jesus-Christ-of-Lazarus

Father-of-the-bulky-albino” (pp48)

“pope-amongst-all-kings” (pp52)

“king-on-bundles-of-leaves” (pp81)

“the-breeder-of-life” (pp81)

One of the offences that virtually every poet makes is assuming that other people have their kind of mind and therefore ought to understand their poems even when it is written in codes. I suppose it is the same thing with every other guild. Soldiers are wont to forget that they are of a different mould from the civilian. One of the ways out of this is to make poems as simple as they can be without losing the qualities that make them to be called poems.

NOBODY HANGS A CALENDAR ANYMORE

Identify twenty people randomly. Whether those walking the highways or those sprawling in a hall. Ask them what day the 13th of October would be. If you’re shocked that over 80% of them would rather consult their phones and tablets than just flip through the pages of the dairy or glance at the wall in search of calendar, it means you are still far behind time.
Once upon a time, a room was not complete without a calendar hanging on the wall. Back then, one would be forgiven for having not hung an up-to-date calendar even when the year had eaten three or four months deep into its twelve layers. Better an out-dated calendar than a plain wall, it would seem. Not even a wall crammed with family photos would be enough excuse to not squeeze in a calendar, it would seem. Today it is mostly offices that endure the presence of calendars on their walls more because it seems to be a part of office fixtures than because of its perceived usefulness.

Did it never occur to you that, in some ways, calendars are not just about the dates they bear? Don’t the pictures that accompany the dates appeal to our various vanities? Now remember that retirement ceremony calendar of your former Reverend which used to hang in the sitting room back then. Remember how his smiling wrinkly face used to dissuade you from committing certain sins when the other members of the family were away.

The house I grew up in hardly used to run out of beauty products calendars with girls as pretty as ‘mamy water’. I remember, even as a child, how my eyes would linger on their gently-parted glossy lips and snow-white teeth. I remember swearing never to marry unless the girl unless she had those straight smooth legs like the girls in the calendars. These days, I begin to think that men back then used to like calendars of beautiful homes and posh cars because it reinforced their resolve to not give up on the stringent savings plan they just signed with their banks; women liked calendars with pictures of well-furnished kitchens because they gave them something to pray for; guys loved calendars with beauty queens because it made them feel the reason they were still alone was that they had yet not found the perfect girl; desperate bachelor girls hardly did without the calendars of newly-wedded couples because it assured them that if such a girl could hook such a man, then there was still some place for hope in this cruel life. But at the rate it is going today, it won’t be long until you will glance at the whitewashed walls only to meet the same old looks of family members both dead and alive. After all, who still needs a calendar when we have smart phones and all?

A BALANCED DIET, THIS CLINICAL BLUES

I just hope I have not broken any copyright laws by borrowing Emmanuel Abdalmasih Samson’s copy of Clinical Blues instead of ordering mine from Ibadan as he did just few days ago. Living out here in Kaduna, one is mostly left to either order books from far away or to only hear of them on social media. I long for the day that publishing houses will partner with some of the bookstores in Kaduna so that one can be sure of laying hands on books as they come out.

This will be my first attempt at critiquing a poetry book. So, understand if it does not follow the conventional pattern.

The title of the book itself is cryptic; poetic. Some of the meanings of CLINICAL are: scientifically detached; unemotional. And apart from BLUES being a type of folksong that originated among Black Americans at the beginning of the 20th century with a melancholy sound from repeated use of blue notes, it is also a state of depression. So, where in the world do you find unemotional love songs?

“Character and fate are two words for the same thing,” says Novalis (German poet). If predestination is really to be believed, then our very character, whether shaped by nature or nurture, will lead us to the foreordained end no matter how much we strive to foil it. In Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame, Odewale tries to alter the storyline but fails. And that is what I am reminded of by the first two stanzas of PROMENADE:

The deviant puppet strives

To detach fate’s pull strings

In a Beckett play.

Good luck!

And good luck to the stage actor

Who sets up a new character

From his head, from his stuttering,

Ungraceful fumble.

Beckett’s plays adheres to absurdism, a philosophical school of thought which has it that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail. His characters try to develop thinking minds which should help them make meaning of their world, but they fail because the system does not brook free spirits; because the system is programed even before the characters are thrown into the stage. It is in vain that the puppet tries to question the status quo and tow its own path.

To clarify the confused, the third stanza of Promenade tells why it is futile to want to break from the norm and chart one’s own course: the whole show is being ‘governed by unknown forces’. Life is not a democracy. Any attempt at rebelling will be met with the world’s ‘baffled silence’ if not its sarcastic ‘Good luck!’

And by the time one seems to have learnt that rebellion does not pay, it is already too late:

Burnt once, twice

Skin and heart thickened, proof

Against future mishap,

Then I got discharged

From the theatre.

Now I am a failed actor,

The artist who lost it all

While giving it all up.

PROMENADE is also about love; about a rehabilitating swain struggling to learn what love truly means; about the non-committal who would rather not say ‘I love you too’ and is not bothered when not told ‘I love you too’.

I used to go all the way

Like a pricey prostitute.

I used to be the good husband of

Unhappy wives who would gladly

Err on the side of manhood,

The alter-boy of feminine sacrament.

But towards the end of the road, the persona is buggered by a couple of soul-searching questions most-striking of which for me is:

Aren’t humans incapable of not

Loving?…

It is true that free spirit-ness may be a cool thing when you are in your teens or even in your twenties, but not when you are fancying forty.

REQUIEM FOR A YOUNG HYPERTENSIVE is about the self-inflicted death of a ‘hitman’. It is for all the young people who have died, or will die, as a result of their reckless lifestyles. And the beauty of this poem is in the way the poet tells it unemotionally. In other words, clinically:

You fought a small war too, brother

How many lives did you strike?

At the New Buka where you gulped

Codeine and lager, wrong poisons

That lodged a clot in your brain.

Although he brings it upon himself, it is a tragedy all the same. Yes, his lady friend might mourn him for only days, his family and friends will hardly forget him nor will they forgive him for breaking their hearts. How does one forgive a child one has struggled to train in the university only for him to kill himself shortly after graduation?

REQUIEM FOR AN ASPHYXIATED NEONATE is also about death; about broken dreams and wasted resources. But this time, due to the parent’s negligence/recklessness either by commission or omission. And then it shocks you how the parents will shift the blame and move on without any feeling of guilt perhaps to repeat the same mistake again:

They will take your death as a wave of fate’s wand

Comfort themselves on a creaking bed

Fondling sour breasts.

Before you conclude that the poet’s profession which exposes him daily to death (and pain and suffering) has benumbed his emotional part, browse through LOVE SONGS (pp 20-25) and see that the poet is not immune to temptation, heartbreak, loneliness and nostalgia.

Clinical Blues is a balanced diet; a complete dose. There is at least a poem for every human situation. And unlike most success stories which hardly cover the cost of greatness, THE LIFE OF I (p 53) comes close to the mental torture Dami Ajayi must have subjected himself to while etching these poems on stone tablets.

ALIEN SIGHTING IN KADUNA, NIGERIA?

Isn’t it interesting how history often repeats itself?

Just days ago, the same lowly Mary (mother of Jesus) who was elevated to immortality by Angel Gabriel’s singular visitation has also elevated another lowly virgin to stardom. She chose to appear and communicate to the teenage daughter of one Mr. X, an orthodox/protestant family living in the outskirts of Kaduna town. As you read this, the entire perimeter of the compound has been declared holy ground. Even the well in the compound has been blessed by a priest so that people expectant of God’s touch could draw water therefrom and drink or even take home for friends and family.

Not too long ago, more people would have labeled such news of divine manifestations as a sham. They would even ridicule those that seem to believe it. But recent happenings would show a complete turn-around of that trend. What has caused this change, you might wonder. Your guess is as good as mine.

The age of reason is also that of gullibility. Otherwise, how do you explain that highly educated ladies fall over each other to be laid by a ‘man of God’ who claims to have the only solution for their barrenness? How do you explain that professors prostrate to kiss the soles of one ‘man of God’ as a mark of their loyalty to heaven? But that is a matter for another day.

The news about town is that delegates of the Church have been visiting the ground from both within the country and as far away as the Vatican. It is most likely that mass would be held at the ground this coming Sunday. It is also said that the Vatican has invited the fortunate teenage girl.

The erstwhile worthless cottage of Mr. X has become something else since after Holy Mary’s visit, to the extent that soldiers had to be deployed to ensure orderliness by the crowd that daily throng the place. The land itself has become so valuable that word around town has is that the Church has decided to purchase it with money sent all the way from Rome.

“What if for some personal reasons Mr. X refuses to sell?” I ask.

“Well”, shrugs my mother who first cast me a disappointing look, “they’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” She doesn’t mean they would threaten or blackmail him as Mr. Michael Corleone is wont to do. Rather, she means they could offer him nine or ten times the worth of the land. She should know how these things work, my mother. She was a Catholic as a child.

“Isn’t he lucky,” I whistle.

I beg you not to be displeased that this news doesn’t seem to be covered by both local and foreign media ass it would have if this sighting had been reported in America or Europe. CNN and BBC would have kept bombarding you with updates on the case until you beg them to stop.

Apart from indirectly intervening in the economic life of some erstwhile unknown family, the teenage girl who had had the encounter with the Virgin Mary has been left with so much power and anointing that even the cripple come in contact with her and start walking. They say she hardly finds time to even eat these days, due to the growing number of people that are to be prayed for and healed. I met a guy just two days ago who claimed to have touched the wall on which Mary had leaned. According to him, the Holy Mother’s form has been left on the wall, dripped olive oil that could also heal.

When I wondered why the Virgin Mary didn’t choose to visit my rathole so that I would be the one in the centre of this vortex, my friends were quick to remind me that the teenage girl was still a virgin. Well, I might not be a virgin (I am not saying that I am not one) but I am definitely not the most sinful in God’s Books.

The message Virgin Mary brought from the Great Beyond is that the sins of the world is reaching boiling point while heaven’s mercy is reaching breaking point. In addition, she warned that the blood of the innocent which are unjustly killed daily is crying louder and louder at Heaven’s Gate.

At least, it is some consolation that heaven is aware of all the innocent blood being shed daily in this country. If for nothing, it reinforces your suspicion that there is God.

NOBODY PAYS UN-ANNOUNCED VISITS ANYMORE

In my world, very few would forget the first or the last time they embarked on a long-distance journey without having first written or called to preempt their hosts.
Mine was in 2002 when I rode all the way south to visit an uncle, a true gentleman from sole to crown. This uncle of mine, (bless his soul), was one of the “big names” in Umuahia back then so it wasn’t difficult to locate his house. I had first met him barely two years before, when I traveled for my father’s burial. It hadn’t taken many days for me to grow fond of him, and I might not be wrong to believe that he too had liked me. So, being family, it appeared so normal for me to visit him if I wished. Which was why, one fine morning, I just packed up a bag and boarded the bus to the south. Only now do I appreciate fully how out of his way he had gone to ensure I had a wonderful time throughout my one month-long visit.
Even today, many people still don’t understand why educated upper-class families
prefer you notify them and get their consent before appearing by their doorsteps. Not because you are less important to them as they might be to you, but so that they could make certain provisions before you show up, or even beg you to postpone the visit for a week or two until they are ready to receive you.
Many people are disgusted with this elite class who they claim have stripped themselves of their African values in their attempt to europeanize. Why should someone notify family members before visiting them? Many people still wonder. Why then are we family? They ask.
How can I forget the golden 80’s and 90’s when uncles and aunts visited us from various parts of the country? I still know that excitement of returning from school or playground only to find an unanticipated visiting relative lounging in the sitting room. I still know that feeling of being handed gifts I never expected. Particularly, I still remember that sweet afternoon when some dude showed up with a baggage taller than me. He said he was looking for one Mr. Frank who happened to be my father. Judging by his dimples and dentition, I could have guessed he was my father’s brother even without him saying it. Apart from knowing that I was related to some other persons outside the immediate family, it delighted me that my parents hardly used the whip on us throughout the stay of the visitors. All those were before mobile phones suddenly arrived and turned the world upside down. You now get to call and get approvals from prospective hosts before you even embark. Now your nieces and nephews specify over the phone what gifts they expect you to bring for them. Where, then, is the fun of it?
Indeed, there is that inconvenience in making provision for shelter and food for the un-welcomed visitor. Of going to collect food items on credit from nearby shop owners in order to cook something good enough to present before the guest. Needless to say, we children looked forward to having visitors in the house because of the change in food quality and quantity. Also, you might not be wrong to guess that despite all the inconveniences, the host would feel that bitter-sweet delight few days after the guest had left, and even look forward to a re-visit in the not-too-distant future.
But then as somebody I know very well will always say, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT.