The story of how we naturalized in America makes me sick for it seemed we had traveled earth’s farthest borders to hear that our country suffers from acute corruption. In a hilarious article I read yesterday, a writer named Stephen argued that Satan once lived in Port Harcourt city before he and a host of his angels were flushed out of heaven for breaking the rules. If I had my way, I would stay put there for it seems to me a more peaceful and hassle-free place to reside in. Were I the son that Papa wanted so badly, I would have sued for peace between him and Grandpa Ojemba who chased him out with a big coconut knife for refusing to help Obidiya wash off a pile of soiled dishes. Possibly that would have spared us this arduous task of living in diaspora.
Grandpa Ojemba finds it difficult to discipline his sons because he rooted in them the erroneous belief that they are super-humans. He disciplined sons by assigning them female tasks to test their loyalty to his teachings. Anytime I try to paint a panoramic view of home; even after I put out the carroty jack-o'-lantern Papa gave me for graduating cum laude; I linger in a mental blankness. How big was the coconut knife? Is Grandpa Ojemba still married to Obidiya? What would happen if I told him that Papa washed dishes for pay in a restaurant? It is this mental vacuum that makes me stay here without question.
Our house in Port Harcourt city had big fusain gates with ornamented patterns like the red-hot center of charcoal. Healthy green bean seedlings curled round the waists of gnarled pawpaw trees like knotted shoelaces, and there had been a giant mango tree beside my bedroom window where insects met. But after the swollen river washed away the old overcrossing, it was cut down to build a footbridge. And thereafter, Mama swept the spread of sand on our frontage with stunt broomsticks that left comely patterns on it. We didn’t pay tons of taxes there. Neighbors didn’t collect naira simply to babysit toddlers. And whenever we put on the black-and-white TV with antennas resembling giant nailheads, we never saw as many gunmen and serial killers on NTA as we did on cable TV. I am yet to precisely center these striking pictures of home in my brain.
This mental vacuum makes me ask questions. How did Stephen know that Satan once lived in Port Harcourt city and when is this “once”? Why hadn’t he stated Satan’s new residence: the country, its resources, the president? His response lacked answers for his theories take off from a prejudiced mind. And out of boredom, I once wondered what made him so.
Regarding these incontestible questions, I have shown willingness after these twenty-four years to remain in America. It is a decision that roots in sadness so I live here with my tail between my legs. As I knotted Papa’s necktie this morning, we talked about home. And when I wouldn’t stop philosophizing about the big coconut knife- the blade, the tip, the haft- he said it was my prerogative to extrapolate. After Papa shaved his mustache and tied his shoelaces, he said that Grandpa Ojemba had set aside some lashes of utali for me on my return. Such whippings would raise scarlet welts on my skin but I didn’t care for I have reserved some tears for that day.
Jill Okpalugo-Nwajiaku has been published in Snap online literary journal, Identity Theory, All Things Girls, Glint and Poetry & Writing.