Downscale or Upscale, What?

I love this job compared to the one I have done in the past eleven years.

You mean working as a teaching assistant?

That of course

But you have been good with children… Your depth of emotional intelligence, empathy, and love for needing children, all came together in that position.

The new job is entirely the opposite, except when am packing products ordered by pregnant women or ones for little babies. 

The story goes, that the door bell rang, and a little girl ran ahead of her mother to the door. She peeped through the key hole, and exclaimed.

“Wao!” Also curious to know who had pressed the door bell, the mother asked
“Who is ‘on-there’ darling?”
“Amazing-on there already, mom”
“Waaoo!” they both exclaimed…

That was the unique and personalised ‘trigger-of-joy’ the delivery man from the ‘Fulfilment Centre’ brings.  Otherwise.., it’s just dumb and physically tasking.

So the former is better?

No! This is a break. It’s a type of being invisible, or under a cover or ‘huddie’. The buzz, the field of machines, the endless stretch of vast space and people dwarfed by sky-high ceiling makes you a nobody but a station and a number. You won’t believe this. In the neonate plantation with the tech, bells and whistles, all is here, jostling and hustling big. But we are kept out. We are now the minority.

So, is the former is better?

Doing that for eleven years was good, but in the last year or two years, it has been impossible. These new ones, categorised as ‘severe’, spit and cough at you. They slap, hit and bite, often they are non verbal and you can feel their anger and deep frustration too. 


These last months have been like the poor wife in an abusive relationship.., the depleting self esteem.., strong lethargy to break and lack of courage to be free.

Other than a break.., any vista or redemption?

May be not. But I like the deafening buzz of machines, sometimes I imagine it’s raining out there. Like the proper rainfall we have in Africa. I find that soothing. 


Also you won’t believe this, When I fart, no matter how loud it sounds, no one hears it. It’s really relieving. Over there, we were just like bloated fart bags in classrooms wishing for any little opportunity to rush to the toilets to deflate, and of course to exhale…

Talk about mental and physiological pressures. Anyways, you sound relieved. I wish you the best. I must be running now. See you later.

Leonard Chintua-Chigbu
Listening and Creative Communication Artist
BA Fine Art (Painting) University of Benin 1986

Promise To The Gods

18 Park Road Aba 2

In the next yard, the man whose name is Pastor, who sells Indian hemp, continued to walk around the blocks today bare bodied. He was between the alley gates of the next yard and that of 18 Park Road. He was bent over a woman. Now, he begins to raise his voice and started barking seriously. He stops suddenly and abruptly breaks into a loud laughter. He cools to wide grin with eyes popping out. Then he begins to smile. His breaking into a soft tender smile with all his facial muscles relaxed sober. Then he again began to smile some more. Clutched under his invisible priestly paws he once again looked into the eyes of the woman he had preyed upon. He moved his hands down from the sides of her head, down to the plateaux of her shoulders and finally dropped by his sides. Face to face and a foot apart, the woman’s head was bowed and his shoulders were arced. He turned to go back into the next yard. A little boy who had watched the scene raised his gaze. In full face, his eyes met with the the boy’s, and he smiled more brilliantly, absorbing the golden rays glowing between him and the little boy.

He had a beautiful clean smile. He had the perfect set of white clean teeth. They were saying precisely what lied beneath his heart. Over of his heart, was a generous lump of tender flesh, kneaded to a seasoned dough, pampered and marinated under a brown ornate skin. His heart pounded and his gentle muscles rippled to the music and dance of the known distant vibes. Laced over his skin was the stems and pinnacles of the sprawling black hair, flowing from the Abyssinian mountains, plucked from the banks of the Nile river, to the dense foliage of her Mediterranean tributaries, glistening under the hues and shades of the ebony son, who has been crying and dying for the missing humanity in men.

His luscious black beard touched his heart because he tilted and bowed his head to the small man, and his teeth continued to swim in cleanliness, hedged by his umber brown lips, containing the pull of waters that gathered, and continued to gather as the smile prolonged.

His bare brown torso was tucked into a beautiful tailored pair of smart black trousers, flowing down to his knees, down to his ankles, to the embroidered yellow motif on the back of his black bedroom slippers.

He was still smiling, but his shoulder was now at ease. The woman he had barked at, was still serious and was explaining how she had no money and could not afford to send the boy to school yet. He encouraged her to do it. He said the boy sings the songs better than those who are going to school. He sings war songs, but he also sings school assembly songs, even when he hasn’t been there yet. He is a clever boy, he must have heard it from those who go to school. Send him there, we must survive the peace.

In the next yard, two of the little girls who had survived the war with their mother, were leaving. The uncle who lived with them had gotten a baby boy with their mom who worked as a nurse. They are moving to another part of town to resettle as a normal family. Uncles were becoming fathers. But this did not happen to the little boy and his sister. The uncle who lived with them had married another woman, where he had been transferred after he was called back by the Post&Telegraph. They had been eventually alone lately.

Street children worked the streets, even when school children walked on the street. Only one school wore uniform and their pupils were rarely seen on the street. The boy’s mother loved school uniforms and loved this school too. The number of children walking the streets also grew at the time of day when school children were returning from school. All children on the street had some clothing and those returning from school also had some clothing, but none of the fades and shades they wore were close to the colours or combinations of a school uniform. All children were street.

Back in the village, long before the war, the woman’s father did not have a male child. The dwindling of his estate, took the first dive, six months after she was born, the month her father died. The uncles apportioned what they had considered sufficient in, farm crops, palm and raphia tress for her mother to carter for her household. Later, everything was then taken from them, the year before the war ended, when the woman’s mother died. Since then, she has resorted to leasing land from others for subsistence, and to maintain her mother’s aged maid.

Being unmarried and a mother to a son and a little girl, living in the city and coming to the village from there was the perfect arrangement for a disinherited girl child. However she made frequent trips to the village, to support her mother’s aged maid, who became her step mother, after she gave birth to her only sister, who was now deceased. She leased land from others for her step mom to farm, and to support her living and feeding in the city.

In recent months she has made more frequent trips to the village. Now, it still seems, she might still make more trips to the village.

She pulled up the inner edge of the mattress adjacent to the wall under the pillow. She pulls out an old Van Heusen men’s black long tie, fallen unto the floor, under the coils of the eight springs bed. She carefully opens the wider end of the old Van Heusen men’s black tie. She carefully pulls out all the notes and coins. She carefully counted everything, subtracting the amounts her friend had given her to hide away for her from her husband.

The money fell short again by more than half of what her neigbour, Imios International Tailor who runs the little tailoring shop in-front of the yard, had promised her to make her son’s school uniform. She came to realise that, even with her frequent trips to the little village farm, the proceeds from the garri and palm oil would hardly bubble to the surface of a secure saveable secure. It all too soon, evaporated into higher levels of her unsaturated daily survivals and other expediencies.

She wondered what else would be the reason why her encounter with the man who sold Indian hemp, took her back to the solemn promise she’d made to her ancestors. A promise she agreed to, to deter the river Goddess from taking her son back to the great beyond. The promise that she will commit to sending him to school to be educated, to the best of her ability.

She also remembered, how recently, she had this promise day flashback, when, during the war, her son had walked past that famed ‘shelter of trees’, before the shelter was bombed that same afternoon by enemy planes.

This promise she made, perfunctory at the time, was gradually becoming her life’s purpose and a reason now, she wants to survive the peace. She strongly believed the ancestors had sent the man from the next yard, who sells Indian hemp, whose name is called Pastor, to speak to her soul.

Later that week, the uncle who lived with us, who had married another woman, when he was transferred to another town, after he was called back by the Post&Telegraph, sent us money.

My mother jumped at the money, ran to the second hand stalls of the Ahia Ohuru market, rummaged the charity wares and brought home some amazing and beautifully tailored boys clothes.

I was eight years old when I wore the school uniform she loved and dreamed of. A white shirt, a red short and a brown pair of school sandals. She took me to Constitution Crescent and enrolled me in Sancta Maria, the premium Catholic elementary school where the elite and their children were educated.

In the next yard, the police had made another raid to Pastor’s place, the second time in a week. The uncles who were arrested have been released for lack of evidence. They’ve come back to buy and smoke some little more and to thank the Pastor for the bail.

Leonard Chintua-Chigbu
Listening and Creative Communication Artist
BA Fine Art (Painting) University of Benin 1986

Curtains On Our Doors

Why don’t we have curtains
On our doors anymore
Why has only
The doors, sufficed
Why don’t we care anymore
If a curious boy took a peek

I remember seeing
Very wretched and torn shreds
On people’s doors
Yet they hung proudly
And the mothers still felt safe
When they were changing
And had no clothes on

I remember how we suffered
I remember how we saved
To install one of those
I am here
I am different
I am somebody
How much this was our marker
Of some illusive social mobility

They were black
They had thick skin
And they were cotton curtain
They were hardly white
Or off-white as they say
Of thick cotton skin
Others were red and people
Found green ones
Sparingly, but always
In their minds

In the Night
All curtain is black
The haves and have-nots
Pushed sideways
As people moved about
Hung with strings
On to the door post
Of life and living

In those days
We didn’t have extras
But in suspended existence
I don’t remember when people
Who took them off to wash
Was this then why
They eventually tore
And shredded
Discoloured, worn and dirty

I remember seeing
The doors tightly shut
With no curtain adorning their skin
As they often did
When the patrons came to pay
And the madams failed to care
Of curious boys eavesdrop

Face me and I face you
As curious as can be
The door is shut
The power is out
The corridor is dark
And the lightbulb is buried
Into the cobweb of her hairy groove

Spurious spiders web
Screening her door to life
Yet babies were born
And music was made
Patrons would leave
But neighbours would not
Some with laughter
Others in thought

In the darkness
The stoves or kettles
Will still be on the table
The buckets and brooms
Next to the wall
The bathroom slippers
Next to the door
Or on the door mats
Where there is one

If the door opens
Then the curtain will sway
The light will jump out
Be attentive, soon they will go
Keep walking
But look to the eye
You will never stumble
Your mind is light

Indistinguishable units
Of a clustered slum
Cacophony of prayers
And escape
Harmonious discordant
Existence that still says
I’m here, I’m somebody

No, we still have
Curtains on our doors
Yes, its just that you
No longer live amongst us
Its just that you
Have walked the dark corridors
Stumbled and fell
Stood and kept walking
Looking to your eyes
The light in your mind

Listening and Creative Communications
Leonard Chintua-Chigbu