Surviving The Peace

18 Park Road Aba 3

The aunties who lived in the next yard now had children, and some of the aunties had their younger siblings from the village come to live with them. There were more children, and play was more fun. The aunties now went out more in the day, and returned later in the evenings. The children played in their groups. They were well mannered and well behaved. In some sort of comical ritualistic fervency, they hauled timely greetings at any passing adults. These were totally not unsolicited but as elders poured libation, knowing it’s the right thing, they religiously hunted the ancestors with these necessities. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, the children will say to every passing adult. The adults always also promptly replied. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and sometimes they may add, be careful children, please play fair, please play well. Sometimes if the children observed the adult was in good moods, they may quickly add “Happy Survival!” The adult, unprepared but caught in the moment, will equally reply “Happy Survival!” Both parties will then burst a few suppressed surge of laughter.

Happy Survival! Adults usually exchanged these kinds of greetings among themselves in those days. Children listened, and often heard more than the words meant. Children giggled secretly, sometimes hilariously, sometimes at the backyard, they would stage a drama, mimicking peculiar adults public behaviours and would laugh out so loud at them.

The children carried the feel of this dramas over them. All day and sometimes with coded postures, they communicated among themselves. They used words with layered meanings. They giggled, laughed and sometimes were carried away even when they were amongst their parents or other adults.

These adults have survived the peace with their bare hands, the same way they had fought the war. It was difficult on them. Everything has been difficult on them. They have moved on and the nuances of the war’s various cranial, and dishevelling elements, with its compressed and brewed hangovers, have constantly left them with an overburdening aftertaste, sully mouth and an indelible debris of coloured eyes and bad behaviour. They are all surviving without intervention, counselling or outside assistance. In their villages, in their traditional institutions and various ways of knowing. They were conditioned to believe that God would be on their side when they are good. In the war, they knew and saw God on their side. They saw him as they were killed and plundered in war.

Now, if there is anything else to know, they want to know, whether he is not defeated now? How can they live without a God? As fallen hero, will he rise to Almighty again?

Those who spat up into the heavens, are yet to see the sputum all over their faces. It is really hard, it is extremely difficult to reconcile with your Chi.

On the street, children beamed with admiration and wonder on their faces, as they looked and argued about the colours on the walls of the houses, the motifs and signs painted on them. On others, you a saw a spring on their steps and energy as they darted across the street to touch things, run up the refuse dumps, and come back out again with finds and satisfaction.

From some houses, people looked at you and all the time, you saw them along with the houses and colours, or sometimes the houses as their backdrops. The houses had numbers on them. You can actually learn your numbers by following the houses down to the end of the street. If you counted on one side of the street alone, you could be calling only the odd numbers or the even numbers. If you looked on both sides, you would be calling them in serial order.

You could also go into all the stationary vehicles riddled with holes, pushed to the sidewalks along the street. You can sit and turn their steering wheels, step on their pedals or bounce on their seats while searching and calling out the house numbers. You did not see the empty bullets and the live ones, with pointed ends, scattered on the floor of the cars. You could not touch them or take them home for fear of what the adults could do to you. You did not also see the shelling and mortar cases stuck on wooden garage doors or the running roofing panels abruptly interrupted. No, in your mind, that red roof panel ran to its end and its ultimate completion was inherent.

The first house which usually starts with the odd number and the next one with the even number will stand face to face across the street. One could be a bungalow and the other a two story building with an elaborate balcony on each flour and several doors demarcated by double or single windows. On some houses, the numbers stood on top of the street name, and on some, it stood in front of it and on some, it was the numbers alone.

Children in the yards giggled and laughed a lot those days. Children did not have television programs nor did families have television sets. But they giggled and laughed a lot in those days. They saw enough laughter and had a lot of it, as they came to the front of the yard and looked into the street. Different acts came along. Some sang. Some showcased magical acts. Some flexed muscles and pulled stationary cars. Some were not former soldiers. None begged for alms. Others showed their war injuries and scars. Some told interesting stories, very long ones. Some did it for a shade, a cup of water, understanding and a long afternoon together. They temporarily suspended disbelief, and strode towards the apparition that beckoned them. They momentarily achieved closure and were war heroes returning to the applause of community and the embrace of family. Over new friends, new families and another place, other than the lone place, where they had slept the night before, they had reunited with part of their family. Happy Survival!

Then there was this uncle who comes along, whose peculiar nuance of the war’s various cranial and dishevelling elements, with compressed and brewed hangover, was called Artillery Shock. This uncle could not scrap the surface of his tongue, even when he was also constantly left with an overburdening aftertaste, sully mouth and an indelible debris coloured eyes and bad behaviour. Under the hot sun, along the street, he ran in vigilance. In peace time, he still ran in short steps, turning his head from left to right and back. He refused to speak, as he was not allowed to talk or make noise. When he ran up to you, he gazed demandingly and piercingly at your face. He looked to snatch the answer from your soul, and if you were unresponsive, he moved on. He ate whatever he had hurriedly and gave you what he did not eat, while still running or hopping. He never stopped. He never came into pastor’s place. He could not stop to come into pastor’s place and he did not have any of his smokes.

The evenings have eventual come. Some children in the yard are wiping the traces of sweat marks off their faces. Some have run quickly back into the rooms, flip the curtains, take a quick shot to see if they made the beds and everything is tidy. One is hurriedly washing a pile of dirty dishes and one is washing and hanging some wet clothes.

The aunties were returning from work. In some sort of comical ritualistic fervency, the children are hauling greetings at the aunties and other adults returning from work. Good evening, good evening, good evening. The aunties and other adults always also promptly replied. Good evening, good evening, good evening, and sometimes they may add, did you sweep the room? Did you make the bed? Did you wash the plates? Did you wash the clothes? One who was hurriedly hanging wet clothes, could not find any explaining why they were still wet and dripping water.

Sometimes if the children observed the adult was in good moods, they may quickly add “Happy Survival!” The adult, unprepared but caught in the moment, will equally reply “Happy Survival!” Both parties will then burst a few suppressed surge of laughter and giggles as the evening sun sets the dusk.

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

18 Park Road Aba

1. Reading The Right Books

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. One always stood up pretending he did not just fall down. This will happen several times before he walked the length of the alleyway.

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, 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.

The police men and the army men visited the next yard too. They came in their uniforms and they both wore straight faces when they came. The police men came alone and sometimes in a pair, when one policeman is introducing another colleague to the next yard. The next time they came, they came in a group, as policemen on duty, enforcing the law of the land.

The army men smoked when they came. They bought extra wraps which they put in their pockets and another wrap which they lit and smoked as they walked into Park Road. The army men were open in their straight faces and often they threw shinny brand new pennies to the children and the aunties.

In the yard, behind the curtains, the doors are 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 escape 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 he was calm now. 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 the suspecting boys. She also locked the room, 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.

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

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