As soon as I read
your words, our Hall of Residence at the University heaved
and swung into sight in my mind‘s eye; it shifted and loomed
like some dreadful boulder from outer space into my view.
I remembered you
and how you read the world. Each time I think about you, I
also remember elementary school days in colonial Nigeria,
and that silly rhyme about three green bottles sitting on
the wall. Looks now like among the three of us, you are the
only bottle standing or sitting on the wall. Of course, I am
not surprised. As room mates I always knew that if any one
among the three of us would make it through the forest of
life, it would be you. You always had the knack of standing
outside things, supreme outsider, an alien all-knowing spy
watching the rest of us in detached amusement. Yes, outside
the perimeters of winning or losing, with your supercilious
smile draping your face like a shroud on a dead clown's
face. Frankly, today, in the loneliness of this dank and
narrow prison cell called a room, I wish I had bought your
philosophy of there being nothing like winning or losing,
and there being just life… I know that I have acted
exactly like a loser, but that is okay.
When Our room
mate hanged himself on the weekend of our country’s
independence anniversary eve, September 1971, and broke the
news, I remember you falling back on your bed and laughing
as if it was one great exquisite construction, a new gem of
a hilarious joke. When I nearly descended on you trying to
decide whether to punch your teeth into your mouth or to
kick the hell out of what I thought was your silly callous
guts, you even laughed more raucously inviting me to go
ahead and kill you.
At that point, I
stopped reading, leaned back from my laptop to recall the
Have you heard?
Our room mate is not
He hanged himself
over the weekend in his elder brother's house at Enugu.
He hanged himself…
That's the news all
over the campus.
Then, I remember, I
could not hold back any more. Laughter contorted my whole
being and body, till I sank back in my bed in strange
exhaustion. I recall his bearing down on me, his stopping
suddenly with a murderous look on his surprised face,
changing his mind before the conversation.
You are not moved?
Moved by what?
Our room mate's
What makes you think
laughter, he said venomously.
My idiotic laughter,
I repeated as if he spoke in a foreign tongue.
We are second year
Right, he snapped.
We have been room
mates for twelve months now. Right?
Right. What are you
driving at? he pursued in impatience and irritation.
Look, you and I? how
many times have we had a row in this room?
How about our room
He has come close to
blows with each of us at least twice.
True or false?
True, he admitted
Why and over what?
Let me remind you,
since your memory appears to be tricking you at the moment.
He wanted all things proper and square. If his pillow
shifted in his absence, he was mad. If his sheets had the
slightest of wrinkles, he was mad. If his little mirror or
the comb changed spaces on the desk, he threatened hell and
brimstone. Is that the way life works? What do you think?
Life is more raggedy
than that. If you do not think so, you are in error. Be
careful, my friend, because you will be setting your self up
out there for either murder or suicide, unless you can see
how raggedy life is.
It is strange
that I should today, nearly thirty years after our
undergraduate school days, be admitting that perhaps you
were right. But even at that, some thing inside me beyond
the laws and courts of human society keep telling me that I
was right in what I did. I do not need anybody's mercy or
pity. Perhaps what I need is some kind of understanding.
Your poem hurts me. I knew Dr. Maduora. He was a man of
peace. But in crisis and war all kinds of people are always
casualties in the cross-fire... old folks, women and
children, people in so-called wrong places at the wrong
time. Am I really a coward? Am I a greedy person? Do I
really cut it in your imagination as a criminal, a possible
murderer? Think hard my friend; we were room mates for four
years. I love your ideas about our being caught in deep
night winds in life. That's indeed what it was for me. Deep
night winds. You were also on the money about the presence
of the devil inside those deep night winds... But I tell you
my friend, what I have been through is more like your
burning shores. I am truly the starved lion. For what, I do
not know. What did I do? Or what did I not try to do to make
my own garden of flowers and life beautiful?
I looked over the
poem again wondering whether he was reading too much into
what I was trying to say. I was quite impressed by his
closeness to the atmospherics of my lament.
I killed her
because from the woman I respected, admired, and loved, she
turned into a soulless bitch. How could she forget
everything? When she started making money here, all that
mattered became her family. Not mine. I am the one who made
all things possible, from her jewellery and expensive taste
for clothes to the grand SUV she drove. I married her back
in Africa, found her a visa to get her over to the USA,
spent all my money, and ruined my credit to pay for her
education in America. I rescued her from the poverty of her
village and family and helped her to become a high-flying
pharmacist logging in over one hundred thousand dollars
annually. Am I not entitled to some kind of reward or
compensation for all this? What people just see about me is
that I am a cab driver. All cab drivers are flunkies. Why
am I a cab driver with a Master’s level education in English
and a doctorate degree in Educational Administration? Nobody
wants to talk about that, about our plight as foreigners in
America plagued by our accents and our loneliness, tormented
by the guilt of living far away from home in exile, afraid
to go back home with nothing to show for our long sojourn
abroad. Nobody wants to talk about that. I have to fit into
a world which matches the popular imagination.
I know that one
of my victims was a man with a golden heart, a man of peace
who always had a smile on his face. I regret all that.
Perhaps it was my envy and jealousy and frustration which
transmuted Dr. Maduora, from a family friend who loved my
kids and tried some times to help my wife during our
estrangement to a rival lover. I do not know. I know I am in
for capital punishment but nothing matters now or will
matter any more. I am at peace with my fate, whatever
happens…Did my wife play any role in tipping my senses over
- by her refusal to contribute meaningfully to my efforts to
prepare our three children for their future, while taking
care of my poor extended family back home in Africa? Nobody
wants to think about that. My wife flirted all over town
with all sorts of men; and her comings and goings and her
shifts as a Pharmacist were one combined enterprise in which
I had no say. Nobody wants to talk about that. In her eyes,
clearly, I had changed from the man who loved her to
something no better than a room mate. I know what people now
think about me, but that is okay. Each man to his own fate
Here is a typical
conversation with my wife in bed from one Sunday night.
I had just tried
as gently as possible to make love overtures.
What are you
trying to do ?
Would you please
leave me alone? I am tired…
I know, but it is
now over three weeks since we…
Look. Leave me
alone. I am tired.
or I will call the police… You are not an animal…
There are several
variations of this kind of bedtime dialogue. Some ended with
my being lectured about not being tired of having sex which
I began having as a teenager. How many husbands out there
will tolerate all these? I am now an insane monster to
everybody. I shot Dr. Maduora and my wife and attempted to
take my own life. That is the story. Now, my friend, look at
your poem again. It jabs at my tortured spirit mercilessly.
You forget the Okere you knew as your room mate.