18 Park Road Aba 2

The sun was steadily making its way down the west. The shade on 18 Park Road yard was now on the side of the room doors, while the shadow of the one story building stood heavily on its concrete wet floors. 

In front of the yard, cars, our cash and carcasses set on fire days after the war still smouldered. Ash and smoke strolled the air and skies like wiry cows parched for a drink.

In the next yard, the man who sells Indian hemp calls himself a pastor and those aunties who live there are not called prostitutes because they don’t live in a brothel.

Visitors who come from there seemed to wait at the gate for a little longer. They seem to  contemplate whether to walk back into Park Road or saunter into Pound Road through the foggy misty alley. 

In the alley, the children played happily. When one side scored a goal, the players on the other side took turns to retrieve back their football from the nearby gutters or refuse dumps. 

The children will often stop kicking their footballs to make a way for visitors from the other yard who walk through the length of the alley, past the misty spray, the open gutter, the slippery fray slabs and refuse dump. They often walk with their heads hung down, often in total silence, even when the children called out a greeting.

Inside the yard the row of rooms housed different families who had just survived the war and lost their time. Across the yard, the sun sparkled through the concrete wet floors, her rays of yellow flavouring brightness washing the dirty walls that demarcate the kitchen, the stores, the bathroom and the toilets in a row, redeeming its colourlessness with cleanliness and contentment.

The curtains on this side swayed and flirted with the gentle breeze while bouncing off the peeking curious eyes of probing adolescents.

From one of the doors, behind the swaying drapes, a gentle hand ran through the flowing edge, a woman peeped, looking at the space outside the room, next to where the doormat laid.

A slim smallish tall boy, sat on a short wooden stool, leaned one elbow on a long wooden stool and bent over an open book, placed on top of the stool.

The woman pulled her head back into the room unnoticed by her suspecting son. 

In the foggy misty alley, water gushed out of a broken pipe. It is drain from the toilet and bathroom of neighbours who lived upstairs. When these neighbours had their bath or flushed their toilets, the gush sprayed wider into the air, while the rest of the drain flowed through the pipe into the open gutter, with the stagnant green pool. We, didn’t flush ours, we lived downstairs, the night soil man emptied them because they were open bucket latrines. The surrounding slabs were green too and some parts were slippery. Often children ran through the slippery slabs to retrieve their footballs.

In the yard, behind the curtains, the doors were open. From the transistor radios, through the open doors and swaying curtains, pale waves of enchanting soukous rhythm, breathless commentary from football stadiums and roaring fans escaped into the quietness of the yard. 

Today, the noise and laughter of children playing at the backyard has not quietened since morning. They said the  mother of the boy who owns the football has gone to the market and she may not be coming back till afternoon.

At the backyard, the walls of 35 Pound Road; the Teachers Union building had fallen. It has given more breathe to the alleyway and the sanitation lane. Children now played more freely. Adults and visitors from the next yard also now walked past, without stopping the game. Children also played without noticing them.

The slim smallish tall boy, sat on a short wooden stool, one elbow leaned on a long wooden stool, his full trunk bent over an open book, placed on top of the stool.

Another boy had joined him. His mother has just returned from the market. He was sweaty, boisterous and outdoorsy, but now, he was calm. He sat nearby, peeping into the slim smallish tall boy’s open books and going along with him carefully.

Those were the extra books outside the basic list of books for primary five and six pupils. The boisterous boy’s mother could not afford these books or find anybody who could hand down these books to her son. Her son had read all books in his book bag for three years and had repeatedly failed his secondary school common entrance examinations. Three year have passed and the slim smallish tall boy has moved up to doing his secondary school entrance examination.

The woman behind the curtain drapes finally pulled her head back into the room, unnoticed by these suspecting boys. She also locked the room inside, unnoticed by the suspecting boys. The door next to hers was also locked. In some days like this, some parents locked their doors when their children played outside in the yard. Often it took a while and some scuffling noises to open them, when the children came back from play.

The boys went ahead to pass their secondary school entrance examination that year. Leonard was admitted into the prestigious Government College Umuahia, modelled after the ethos of Eton College London

In front of the yard across the road, the paw-paw trees had green and yellow ripen fruits. Across the fence, under the setting sun, the Recreation Club field lay lush and on the other side of Constitution Crescent, the white building of the Ministry of Internal Revenue nestled among the tall rubber trees. 

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

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. 

Hmmm…

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. 

Well…

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

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
Accommodation
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

Last Night

It is rather early. She should not be scratching me tonight.

Accustomed to the usual intervals of ten to nineteen days, however the last three sessions had been intruded on by erectile dysfunction.

Same old scratch, always at night, under the sheets, did anything change? Have I changed? We never discuss these things. We did not discuss this one.

I would think she should have given more grace, maintained her old intervals or would she act differently now that it’s confirmed?

But… it hadn’t been ten days. I am sure it wasn’t nineteen either. Why will she now shorten the days?

In the moment my motions laid on prayer, blurred the luring sights and restrained the wondering thoughts. The quiet was peaceful and I was there next to her.

I made my customary move to respond to her that am aware of the signals she’s giving. I waited to let her finish her usual rituals which included the scratches. But she stopped short, turned and resigned.

Would it be she was she trying to confirm something… was she trying to humiliate me now, or rub it in and declare the state chronic and permanent?

Did she say “well I am sorry I can’t wake a dead man. It’s your fault now not mine”?

Misreading the moment, I naively proceeded to climb on. The session lasted as long as she wanted. She eventually roared and exploded.

From God we both heard different news and went on to sleep till the new morning.

Broken Back Men


The streets of London are littered with

Broken back men

Muscles and sharp brains structured to menial jobs

Like the valley of dry bones

Shall these ones rise again

Alas there will be no dead.

New York is littered with the blood of bold men

Eyes which must not gaze at the Policeman

Straight shoulders pulled and bent to the concrete

Can I be me without you being pale

Could we all be gold on the setting sun

On the twilight screen that brings the dead to life.

The majesty of the bronze stallion is now taken away

Saddled by the marauding officer but her bushy tail still sways

She is called great but not in the wilds and plains

Her mouth is muzzled and reigns over her head

Her huffs of hide is cased in iron shoes that cling and clang

Sniffing and keeping the decaying me from smelling.

For herself and yet against herself

They throttle the street and dark alleys of my trespassing desperation

On their trails are the eyes of sunken skulls

In the ghettos of Salamat The Niger Delta and The Bight of Biafra 

Crude and rusted rigs lay clogged in sea of coral reef

Alas there will be no dead.

Must the chains crank on the force of difference

The potentials on which these tectonic plates grind

Their dark clouds of sacrilege now tower like babel

Over the layers of the ozone they grin at their colourless rainbow

With no one language they said not Truth

Their smoke go not to heaven.

The sacrifice of Abel came to heaven

It was like a fragranced moist smoke

Pure like the morning dew

His heart was simple but his blood cried

Of Cain’s New York and Pilate’s London

His gains made on my people’s back.

The streets of London are littered with broken back men

New York is littered with the blood of bold men

Cornrows with deep furrows ploughed on my back

Please can I come back without making you pale

Can we all be gold on the setting sun

On the twilight screen that brings the dead back to life.


Listening and Creative Communications

Leonard Chintua-Chigbu

15:57 Train to Southend

The train was crowded. He had boarded at Barking and found a vacant seat between two men, whose body language did not encourage any one to use the vacant seat in between them. 

On the same row, across the aisle four men sat in pairs opposite each other, dressed in suits like him. But they would have come from London, from some of those tall glassy skyscrapers with offices in the heavens and their clouds. They looked privileged, owned the journey, the train or the country in some way. Hopefully they would eventually get off at Shoeburyness, where the train terminates, after which there would be no land but the high sea. They lifted up their heads but soon adjusted to the welcome distraction of their newspapers, cellphones and kindle tablets. 

As he headed for the vacant seat, a fleeting but unwelcoming atmosphere weld up. In support of these men, it suggested that he should be sensitive, at least considerate of the decorum created by the earlier passengers before thinking of inserting himself. He would let his Light shine in all cases; steadying his feelings, not being prescriptive, but loving all in all people. But this has been another long day of exaggerated calmness and gratitude for all the hospitalities of living in this country.

In the facing row to where he intends to sit, there were three men. They wore similar shoes like those he would sit in-between. Strong booty shoes, splattered with dry chalky white marks; some old, some new, all on different boot-maker labels, worn by different pairs of legs. Their bodies were muscular. Their clothing were equally dusty, colourless and acceptably dirty-dry. He would make himself non intrusive, as soon as he is able to rest his hurting back on that seat, even invisible. 

“Excuse me sir, may l share… please?” They both knew he wasn’t asking for their consent, as such announced politeness was shaming and equally disarming. Not when he is within his rights to use the seat; having paid his fare, work and pay his taxes as well. The men caved, didn’t look up but reluctantly moved and he sat. Blanking him, and as loud as it were, they carried on talking in vernacular. Everyone who cared to listen, also understood that they were travelling to Tilbury Town.

His eyes were closed, his dispersed self eventually came together. Within the confines of his closed eyes, he could find himself. After all he was a human being; a spirit, a soul, who only lives in a body. At least he is now a British citizen; something of a luxury, considering that he is now also alive as well. His secrets, if any are hidden in plain sight; that he aspires to imItate Jesus, loves all people, himself, things, and in that, God. But would always be perceived first as Black, Nigerian before human.

His back had stopped aching. He had been sleeping. Once again he savoured the desirability and legitimacy of his aspirations. The couch was alive again, over the din came the electronic voice “we are now approaching Chafford Hundred, stop at this station for Lakeside Shopping Centre”. When the train came to a halt, he got off and walked home, as the setting summer sun cast its warm shadows over Mayflower Road.

Listening and Creative Communications Leonard Chintua-Chigbu