OF FEATHERS AND LIZARDS

This piece is a deliberate opening of a tiny space across the large curtain of my person; a revelation into my being.

It struck me as strange that I never actually do open up. I’m like a closed book. What made this realization more startling was that I never took time to think about it. The thought came during a cold morning bath. One would say that’s a weird place to get these very profound thoughts. And during this bath, as I introspected further on my reality — a process which, more often than not involved my speaking aloud and placing myself at the risk of being called insane, I wondered at the deep psychological domino cards that fall at childbirth and precipitate the fall of several other cards right until adulthood. And perhaps the cards kept falling. Who knows?

The core of that early morning exercise of introspection — or may I say retrospection, caused me to ponder quite unnaturally on the one singular flaw of the human mind: its vindictiveness.

The mind is one vindictive creation, and it holds on to the hurts and pains of many years and never lets go of any, carefully causing chain reactions in its victim. And sometimes, too, the mind is one confused creature, ignorant of the simple progression of alphabets. The moment it is expected to stamp down its letter A, it casts down a B; and when it is meant, by sheer rule of normalcy, to cast a B, it sets down an A. So was my deduction that fateful morning.

But I’d be doing a great disfavour to my introspections if I continue on my voyage into the workings of the human mind. This piece is about me. Many people know me. Many have seen me. Many have lived with me. Many know what I think and when I’m not thinking. Many love me. Many hate me. But I won’t be too forward as to absolve anyone of any blame in the hate or love business. I mean, everyone’s beliefs are their own personal, unique prerogatives. Rather than convert the many who hate to the Love camp, this piece merely does the job of making a first time explanation on the complex phenomenon on the figure of Nzube Harry Nlebedim.

I’m not a great talker. I have never been. I stuttered terribly as a child and still do, although almost unnoticeably in regular conversations. I have been one to write more than speak. I wrote my hurts down, with the future consequences I’d mete out on the wrongdoers: a stone throw to the head, a slap from behind, a knock on their heads, stealing of their food (for family alone), spitting into their teacups, down to full fledged physical war. I had even served poisoned bone to a dog that bit me. But I wrote them all down, anyways, or else I’d forget.

Growing up, I had very few friends and I stayed alone in my quite big head. More times than none, as a younger boy, I found the fist a better option than speaking. Speaking was too much of work in moments of rage (and they were many), and so in those heated moments, when the words couldn’t come out quickly enough in sharp stutters, I resorted to fighting the words out with my hands. As a boy, I made lots of “enemies,” many still outstanding who haven’t had a chance for a recent conversation with me. They still hold grudges of a decade and many years ago, with me in their heads still the young imp.

But over the years, many things changed, and I learned how to speak more slowly when angry, taking deep breaths in the process and resisting the urge to fight my words out. The stutter came out less. Otherwise, I simply keep mum and argue in my head the rage I can’t utter. I still rarely speak about myself and the true workings of my mind to anyone. Truthfully, I don’t know what I know about myself. To myself, I’m one large maze I’m trying to reach the end. And everyday presents new turnings. I hope one day I see the end.

I grew up with older ones: uncles, aunties, cousins and far living relatives who would come visiting. And this is where the core of this story lies. These people stayed close to us and I with them. And in my being with them, these elders made occasional promises: to buy sweets, take me out, get me a gift, the lot of things you gave a boy of below twelve. And it gets interesting here. These people never came through with what they promised. They said these things, and naturally, I believed them. Who wouldn’t believe a big uncle? But voila! They would go AWOL, never again to be seen to keep to their promises. They told me to wait for them, but they never returned. Those were the older folks I grew up with, the type that granted you access to trust but who broke it each time. An uncle who promised to take my brothers and I out to a beach died some weeks before he was to come do so. In my head, that was merely another tragic case of a failed promise.

Many people would have predicted I’d grow up to be like those people, too. But then the mind pays no respect to order. It does what it wills, flipping a Q card instead of a B. Those childhood experiences granted me a great package as I reached the entry border of adulthood. And this pack came with both good and bad gifts.

I had come to realize I took an almost diabolic interest in keeping to my words and keeping to them in time, at the time promised. I tell a kid I’d get them a doll on their 9th birthday, and I come through on their 9th and not the 14th. I tell my baby sister I’d take her out to the movies on a Tuesday at 10am and we are right in the cinema hall at that time. I get an assignment to be submitted at 10am, and I find myself presenting it at 9:50am!
Without knowing it, my mind had been programmed into a moving calculator whose dials must never be toyed with. I set schedules in my head, and I killed myself to meet them. Pressure of goals unmet jerked me up every time I sat down, and I’d make haste to clear the grass under my feet. Keeping to my words then became the price I paid for peace, a redemption from the nagging voices in my head to not be like the men I saw growing up. I make a promise, and come hell and thunder, I come through, beat and drained, but there with my promise. And for what? Subconsciously, without even thinking, I never wanted to be the people I grew up with. Great stuff, yes. I come up tops in teams. Medals and praises for doing jobs in two hours others would do in two months. Great guy!

But this came at a cost, one not so great as the shiny medals on the shelf. The mind is like the devil. It goes through the experiences in your head, sieves them out, separating opposite consequences, and saves them up, ready to serve them in time. We just wait. Over time, I had come to realize I never could trust. While I had become successful in being the fastest folk in the team, I became the most distrustful one, distrustful of the intention of others as well as their capabilities to work as efficiently as I would. I found myself always doubting the words people said, always confirming in my head that people were up to no good. I found myself unable to work with a team because people were too slow for me. I felt uncomfortable because I worked as a locomotive on overdrive and many worked at the pace of snails.
When I am told to wait so a task would be done, I say, “oh no, I’m going with you!” I say, “No, I’m going to watch you do it.” Because I know, deep down (and many times I have been right), they never would return. I am convinced they would forget. And while some returned, many never returned still.

I have become too aware of the weakness of the other person that I usually ignored their good. In my mind, they would never come through. So I found myself doing the work, because I know I’d never disappoint myself. It’s an almost suicidal task, but I can say I have become used to it. But that’s one terrible thing to get used to. I’d always get to work with people, and I must learn to trust people to do things well, the way I feel I’d do them, and better.

And so about two years ago, I thought to stop my clock for a minute, pick up a monkey wrench and begin to work to recreate my mind.

I work on this everyday. To trust people more, to know that some folks would come back with those sweets they promised, with the books they said they’d get, with the request they promised to do. I try, push myself to believe people would be good, that people can be good and would do the things set for them to do. It’s work that involves me learning to let people just do it! It’s work that has led me to deciding to stop waiting for people to fall on their words and then I say, “aha! I said it.” It’s work that forces me to believe that humanity is beautiful, and that other people are just like me, flawed and imperfect, working to perfection. But moreso, that everyone else is also a victim of their pasts, and of the confusion of the vindictive human mind.

THE SHALLOW TALES REVIEW LITERARY MAGAZINE CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR ISSUE #27

The Shallow Tales Review is an online literary magazine that aims to share the unique African story.

In The Shallow Tales Review, we accept fiction, articles, reviews, poems, drama, essays, art photographs, and thoughts that touch on the sensibilities of the African.

Note: Essays and criticisms must concern literary texts that are of modern and African temperament.

We DO NOT publish horror, sci-fi, travellogues or any sociological piece without a literary tilt. We could, however, break our rules for exceptionally great pieces that reflect the African/human condition.

For now, we do not pay contributors, but we hope to do so in the nearest future.

Entries should be sent in by mail to the editor at: theshallowtalesreview@gmail.com with “TSTR Submissions” in the subject line.
Works should be properly formatted and edited as best as possible.

Non artwork entries should be between 1,500 – 4,000 words and should come in .doc or .docx format. Poems could come in any length.

We would respond as soon as we review for publication.

Visit us to read our previous issues on https://theshallowtalesreview.wordpress.com.

Deadline: May 15th, 2020.

THE LOST AFRICAN

By Echioda Oche Joseph

Guest Writer Session with Echioda Oche Joseph

Issue #25


In this work, the guest poet interrogates the validity of Europeanism, and advocates the return of Africans to mother nature.


Tales beneath the moonlight
An antique phrase
For the African moonlight hangs buried by skyscrapers
To these younglings it is these tales by fluorescent
Hand-woven mats replaced by porcelain.
Modern boxes lay around ding-donging.

Dancing around fire barefoot
One with the earth with our jiggling flesh.
Now sitting on plushy chairs
Feets adorned with foreign wears
Towering inches above mother Earth

Offsprings uprooted from traditional roots
Plucked out by claws of civilisation
Sacred rituals considered obsolete
Once beleaguered crimson shrines lay forgotten.
The tattered clothes adorn the glorious edifice.

Identities lost in the Euro-African merger
African veins pumping with black blood,
Racing through veins on dirt roads.
The rippling savage dancing to the drums
The roads now tainted by gooey bitumen
Blood drifting on cemented paths of unknown tranquility.
The literate trapping to the drums

But as long mother root calls
Our hearts churn and yearn
Her comforting arms the final Rehoboth
From mother we came
From mother we return.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Echioda Oche Joseph was born on March 9 in Abuja. He is the first of three children, and he hails from Benue state. His strong spiritual background tends to play a part in his writing. He is a whitelion with fire on his paw to make a mark.

He can be reached on Instagram: whitelion_god and on Twitter: @Echiodaoche

Cover photograph credit: http://www.shutterstock.com

COME HOME, AFRICAN WRITER

Writers are intentional. We are divinely positioned, appointed and selected to tell the stories affecting our generation and effect the necessary changes, or at most provide solutions, to them. I take writing seriously, and it’s beautiful that I have naturally come to take good writings and writers seriously, too.

I have come to that point where I can’t help but reject — and even disdain, “writers” whose sole duty as writers is to talk about love, sex and red roses. I personally feel their writing “licenses” should be stripped off them.

Many young writers of this generation are victims of European literary propaganda — of the James Bond, Harry Potter and Hardley Chase fame. Many are victims of American literary sensibilities. So now, we want to write about America and set our stories in far flung places away from home. We have become dehomed and detribalized, so much that we don’t see the inherent beauty in writing for our people, for writing about our people. We now prefer Auriel to Somto, Jake to Okonkwo.

The moment young writers stand up and realize we have eaten the tip of the poisoned chalice given us by European literary propaganda, the better for African literature.

You African, you black! What more insult is it to spit at our fathers’ faces — Soyinka, Achebe, Tutuola, Okri, Okigbo, than to deign to write about the lives of strange men? We must realize we only plant in the garden of a stranger if we continue, as writers, to “write away from home.”
The condition of African literature is still an ongoing debate, I must say, and serious writers draw back the discourse if they continue speaking unknown tongues.
Let’s bring the pen back home where it belongs. Writers, let’s farm on the garden our fathers left us. Let’s come into our God-given responsibility!


EZEMMUO

For my brother,

It is a wonder how you forgot.

His instructions to your heart you shut.

Ezemmuowu said to you as you gripped your locally-woven bag

Your cap perched on your head.

I did not notice. Did the cap cover your ears?

I do not believe it blocked off your hearing

From attending to Ezemmuowu’s voice.

Ezemmuowu had said that it was unwise to leave.

It seems his wise words were foolish to you.

Nothing of his sayings did you sieve.

You let his revered words drain down uncaught in the basket of your mind.

I recall Ezemmuowu said,

“It is a foolish son that abandons the farm of his father to till the land of another man.”

Were you not skilled in the art of riddles and proverbs?

You should have understood Ezemmuowu’s words.

But, Chinedu, you left that same evening

As we bent our backs

Forward to extricate ourselves

From the hold of his revered hut.

It has been exactly ten years you left that hut.

Now you are back to Ezemmuowu.

You are back to the hut you left many moons ago.

But it is no longer a hut.

On that same spot you found a brick house.

You come back haggard and

Defeated… penitent.

You do not have to bend your back forward to go in now.

We go in together the same way we did many nights ago.

Ezemmuowu is still there,

He sits on the same aged stool

His wrapper, although changed now, is still wound over his lean buttocks.

Ezemmuowu smiles at you

He knows the reason you returned.

Ezemmuowu says to you without preamble

His voice quivers with age, but

His words have never lost Wisdom

“You have finished tilling the white man’s land.”

Words abandon your lips.

They move, but no words come out. Was it a question?

You close your eyes to hold back the tears.

You open them, and Ezemmuowu is gone.

The tears run freely.

Water released from its containment.

Ezemmuowu had never gone.

Ezemmuowu had been with you as you searched the bins for scraps of unwanted food.

He had been there as you were spat on by your white owners.

He had been with you in the cold nights on strangers’ corridors.

Ezemmuowu had sensed your sufferings, tasted your pains.

Ezemmuowu was always there

Ezemmuowu was your conscience

Ezemmuowu was you.

…the groit who returned.

YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THAT STIGMA IN YOU!

By Stanley Chijioke Osi

Guest Writer Session with Stanley Chijioke Osi

Issue #24


“Bad governance and corruption lie side by side each other like siblings in the process of incest.”

In this review article, the guest author interrogates what it signifies to be a Nigerian.


The twenty-sixth of February, 2019. A relatively calm and rainy day, I was at a friend’s place with his family. It seemed like a family meeting of some sort, only that the television was the convener and with the election results on screen, smiling with false intentions and smelly lies, I could have sworn that being born a Nigerian was either the greatest test from God to me, or a mistake made from heaven which I should try by all possible means to correct.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Nigeria; it is my home, it gave me my last name, and I cannot hate that. It is home to millions of black, young, smart people trying to do what is right. Alongside that, it is home to the sounds of the great Fela’s afrobeat records, the beautiful voice of Tuface Idibia and interesting Pete Edochie and Ramsey Noah’s flicks. Not forgetting that, perhaps, the most beautiful women on the surface of Africa come from Nigeria (I won’t deny this). But the idea of a continuation of an administration that led the previous four years to a place of little or no hope for its future, and its people, got under my skin so bad that I could barely eat without the fear of this environment being the cut throat that will possibly assassinate dreams of the life I envisaged for myself and my kind.

The present era would go down as one of the most defining one for the young average Nigerian. Of course, the older generation have tons of stories about this green and white nation, but it would be pathetic if we read memoirs in the future without a whole tome dedicated to the realities of this period, the harsh weather of Buharinomics with its VAT et al., the soft treatment of Boko Haram, the near murder of the naira, underground corruption, the influence and flow of tribalism and partisanship, and most remarkable being the growing cynicism of Nigerians.

Half the time in Nigeria, government policies and resolutions are great metaphors of social class distinction. It affects who it will, and the other, subaltern classes are OK with it; it changes nothing on their plate. Bad governance and corruption lie side by side each other like siblings in the process of incest. Of course, the average Nigerian isn’t left out of this feast; they also drink from the same wine cup as that of the government. The only difference is that the government drinks from the people while the people feed on themselves.

‘There is no bravery in stomaching oppression.’

Nigeria will probably go down the drain as a nation that failed to live up to its fullest possibility. It strikes me as a heavy joke seeing Nigerians growing in a web of celebrated ignorance disguised with the use of good English and Utopian follies clothed with philosophy. This, you usually find amongst the so-called enlightened Nigerian — clerics, motivational speakers, educators and celebrities, who stay in their comfortable abode with their fingers on various social media platforms, selling bundles of fake dreams and fool’s gold of an ideal Nigerian Dream with no correlation to the realities we see in the streets of Nigeria. Their brand of enlightenment lies in the ideologies and civil propaganda developed in Western climes, and it poses the question of whose interest really matters in the society: the average, proletariat Nigerian or its elitist clan.

People suffer a lot in Nigeria! Poverty is an operative weapon used by the elites to cloud the judgment of the class beneath them. As ugly as it may sound, the Nigerian system is not designed to kick you out of poverty. No! It is meant to keep you there and make you comfortable and happy with it, furnishing you with the impression that you are doing what is morally correct. The average Nigerian is plagued with mental poverty. This mental poverty is what births the denial which has become the cornerstone of their identity. This denial is why you seek comfort in beds of trivialities which provide temporary joy and comfort, but still not an escape from reality. This denial builds walls of negativity in your mind which you may never get to understand.

Of course we’ll love a move to places of greener pastures, secure, better lives and beat out the Nigerian system, but it will be ugly if we fail to understand that identity is like a stigma, and no matter where the legs run to, the stigma is still in you. One cannot be faulted if one is hopeless. The country has failed to live up to its prospect; however, hopelessness should never bring about outright condemnation. An exercise to beat the country generally would be throwing away the baby with the toxic bathwater. Truthfully, it is its leaders and not so much the country that must be flagellated. So, I will be sincere with myself in confessing my hatred of the state of Nigeria and what this current administration has reduced it to, but placing myself to hate the idea of Nigeria and what it represents is akin to hating what I am.

On the path to correction, there lies a need for the awakening of the Nigerian consciousness. This is a path to amendment and adjustment, a typical understanding of humanity and the obligation to understand that Nigeria has no choice but to live up to what it ought to be.

Frankly, I don’t believe democracy should be a major subject or agenda in Nigeria. In terms of information, yes, but on the path to conscious and critical thinking, herd mentality is a major enemy in this part of the world. What is the glory of democracy when the mind is not democratic to knowing what is, and what should be important? The average Nigerian as I said earlier suffers from mental poverty, and in connection with this, a stoic case of herd mentality. People want to follow and not think for themselves, and this poses an important question on the status of our democracy — how free can one get when they cannot think for themselves?

The world is a fast moving ball. The process of learning is unending. Growth and development are what comes with being alive, as a person and as a nation-state. It would only be tongue in cheek if I affirm that Nigeria is moving slowly or is stagnant. In all honesty, the country is moving backward, depriving itself of how great it should be. To the average struggling Nigerian, there exists a pinnacle of hope: a frontline of skills, talent and ambition. We have the blessings of our continental race in our blood. We are strong and totally resilient in the face of frustration, and we yield the will to be greater than where we come from. And through these visions lie a beautiful idea, and ideas change lives for the better, and the better our lives are, the better our nation; but till then, the truth remains…you will always have that stigma in you!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stanley Chijioke Osi: thinker, optimist, writer, critic and human. A graduate of the Department of English, University of Lagos, he is a lover of life and an ever-growing human who is keen on developing himself, alongside solving basic human and individual problems through generation of ideas that will serve as solutions to certain issues in the long run.