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Welcome to SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY

Vol.4. No.1. October - December 2010

 


Fiction

I-links

 

Deep Night Winds

 

by Chimalum Nwankwo

 

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 event.

 

Have you heard?

Heard what?

Our room mate is not coming back.

Why 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 death.

What makes you think so?

Your idiotic laughter, he said venomously.

My idiotic laughter, I repeated as if he spoke in a foreign tongue.

We are second year students, Right?

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?

None.

How about our room mate?

Silence.

He has come close to blows with each of us at least twice.

True or false?

True, he admitted reluctantly

Why and over what?

Silence.

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?

Silence.

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 and destiny…

 

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 ?

Hm---

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.

But …but…

Control yourself 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.  Continue reading>

 

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